Wheel alignment

Monday, 12 April 2021

The Occidental Tourist

Excuse the title which is a play on the award-winning book and subsequent movie "The Accidental Tourist".  The new title is perfect for my geographic origins and the fact that we've spent the last few days taking a break (a break from what, I hear you ask!) and  doing tourist stuff with friends from Wellington that we catch up with annually.  This year, it was in the Rotorua area.  We used to live not far from there many moons ago and had visited the various geothermal hotspots many times.  However, there were lots of fun things to do besides that, so no motorcycling adventures this time around and showcasing a bit of NZ instead.  Here are one or two of the multiple things we got up to.  Not a very PC thing to say, but nice to go sightseeing without being over-run by seething crowds!

Mamaku Railcruising
The rail line was closed to commercial traffic in 2001 and 10 years later, some entrepreneurs opened a 10 km stretch through native bush for a 90 minute return journey as a tourist enterprise.  Continuous improvement currently sees computer-controlled electric vehicles which trundle along at about 20 km/hr which is great for photo ops. It's not an all-action activity but allows people access to parts of the countryside which are not all that easy to reach.
Loading up

Ready for the off

Native forest - young Lancewood trees in the foreground

Lake Rotorua caldera - still geologically active

Not exactly a high speed thrill but great to see parts of the country that you wouldn't normally see.  The owners have plans to extend the line but I guess that will be down to the level of tourists over the next few years.

Redwoods eco tree walk
Part of the Whakarewarewa Forest includes a stand of Californian Redwoods covering some 6 Ha.  They're around 118 years old and up to 75 metres in height. Walkways are slung between the trees and can be traversed in both daylight and at night.  We did the night walk first and it really is a world class spectacle with all the superb lighting.  The photos really don't do it justice.

Access spiral

Suspended Walkway

Walkway at night

Another fantastic feature was clusters of suspended lights up to 2 metres tall, made by artist David Trubridge.  They looked sensational at night.

Light clusters at night

More light clusters

During daylight

More suspended walkway

It was great doing the tree walk in daylight but the night walk was truly breathtaking with ever-changing lights illuminating the trees and tree ferns below the canopy.  The best was saved for last with perhaps a couple of acres lit up by continuously moving points of light in green and red which smothered the ground, tree trunks and foliage.  It looked like luminous insects (or fairies if you prefer!) and we could have watched it for hours.  Nothing can replicate the real thing but I switched the camera to video and the short clip that follows just focusses on one nearby tree trunk.

An amazing light show

Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre
Established at Rotorua in 2002, Wingspan is heavily involved in the conservation and research involving birds of prey; rehabilitating, breeding and returning them to the wild.  The principal activity is centred around the NZ forest falcon, or Karearea in Maori. The Australasian Harrier Hawk and the small native Ruru owl are also cared for, as is the Australian Barn Owl which has also become established in small pockets in NZ.

Jennie with a native forest falcon

Who are you looking at, human?

A tasty bit of fresh chicken

In addition to more traditional methods of training the birds to hunt, Wingspan also uses a bird-shaped drone for them to attack. Seeing a falcon smack into the drone at speed was an incredible sight.

Wingspan member Heidi launching the drone

Falcon closing in on the drone


Heidi with an Australian Barn Owl
Landing craft lake tour
There are multiple lakes in the Rotorua area, mostly filling old volcanic vents - more dormant than extinct!  We thought it would be nice to enjoy them in a genuine WW2 landing craft which has been modified for tourism.

Ex-WW2 landing craft built in 1944

View of the controls

The first lake visited was Okareka, which has houses scattered round the foreshore.  Good trout fishing and the photo below is of a house with a private beach and various toys - nice!  We were told that the Thai royal family also has a lodge on the lake which I guess could also be a bolt hole with all the recent unrest.  However, paying guests are apparently charged NZ$6000 per night for the privilege of staying there.  I hope that includes meals and use of the exotic water-borne toys they allegedly have there!

Private house at Lake Okareka

We were also amazed to see an air boat being retrieved from the lake.  Didn't know that there were any in NZ!  It's used by a contractor to spray Diquat, an aquatic herbicide used to kill hornwort, a non-native invasive weed species.

Airboat driving onto the trailer

Being inspected for weed

Landing craft on Lake Tarawera (file photo courtesy of Duck Tours)

With no overseas tourists, it's nice to indulge in a bit of tourism in our own country and support local tourist operators.  Also great to catch up with our Wellington-based friends whom we first met some years ago on a holiday in Rarotonga.  Great weather throughout although the 200+ km drive home was in torrential rain and gale force winds.  Dinner that evening was a makeshift affair as a tree had fallen on power lines not far from where we live so the BBQ on our deck was pressed into service.  The storm was abating but it was still as windy as heck and right on sunset, everything was bathed in an eerie light.  Made for a good photo though whilst I was cooking!

Aftermath of the storm from our front deck

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

The learning never stops....

There's a saying "Every day is a school day" which basically means that we never stop learning, no matter how old we are.  The first lesson was a week ago when we were having neighbours round for dinner.  I'd volunteered to make crostini to for a salmon and pesto entrĂ©e.  This involved cutting rings of French bread, brushing on garlic-flavoured olive oil and sticking them in the oven for 30 minutes to crisp up.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, paying attention to what I was doing would have been helpful.  Instead of putting the rings on an oven-proof teflon sheet,  I stuck 'em on Jennie's prized pastry-rolling sheet which is definitely not teflon.  At the end of 30 minutes, it was nicely deformed and welded to the bars of the oven shelf it rested on.  They say that honesty is the best policy but it earned me a bollocking of some magnitude.  That's inevitable when you're married to an ex-primary school teacher but at least I wasn't made to stand in the corner. Jennie totally failed to see the strength of my argument that the crostini were fine so it didn't matter. She was pretty darned cross as she'd had it for years so I ordered a replacement online within the hour and it arrived 2 days later. Further recriminations avoided.

A new visor for my Shoei GT Air helmet arrived the other day.  Where we live presents a particular visibility problem.  The 50-odd km home is along the edge of a body of water called the Firth of Thames.  Late in the day, the sun's reflection off the water is horrendous and limits visibility on the twisty road - a genuine safety concern.  The internal drop down tinted visor on the GT Air helps but there's still a lot of light scatter.  An iridium-coated visor offered promise but at nearly NZ $200 for the genuine Shoei article, I wasn't prepared to take the risk.  However, a Chinese knock-off via AliExpress was available at 1/3 of the price including delivery which was worth trying.  Quality is absolutely fine and it's set up for a Pinlock anti-fog insert.  The gold iridium finish went well with the helmet livery and added a certain je ne sais quoi to my riding gear.  My mistake was mentioning it to Jennie who replied "It still won't turn you into a chick magnet".  Presumably, I was still in the dog box from the loss of her pastry sheet, sigh...  Anyway, it worked an absolute treat with little or no glare and being reflective rather than tinted all the way through, it can be used in relatively low light.  I must say that of all the Chinese products purchased in recent times, only once have we had a quality issue.

Nice bit of bling...

The next learning experience was with a slower form of transport, my 30+year old Diamondback mountain bike.  For some time, the crank bearings have been wearing quite badly and had recently started to make strange noises and occasionally semi-jamming .  Not wishing to be stranded somewhere, it was time to remedy the situation.  Special tool required to pull the crank arms off the hub, a tool which I didn't have of course.  Ditto for the special tool to pull the bearing covers.  There are a lot of advantages to living out in the countryside but shopping ain't one of them!  Two days waiting for an internet order to arrive.

The knackered bearing cassette

Removal of the bearings was straightforward with the tools and from what I could see, at least one or two of the balls had disintegrated. Time to order a complete replacement but first, a bit of reading about what were the key measurements needed to place an order.  Turned out that the exact part was no longer available but searching a UK mountain bike forum, someone had experienced the same problem and a respondent had listed a suitable upgrade.  Mercifully, this was available in NZ.  Another 2 days until it arrived.  A minor tweak of the gears and everything is better than it's been for years -  more great learning!

Last Sunday was official IAM duties and I'd been booked to take someone for a no-obligation IAM assessment ride to see if they were interested in officially joining and being mentored towards their Police Roadcraft Advanced Test.  The person in question was Barbara, riding a Yamaha MT-09 with a cool grey and flouro yellow paint job.  In her 60's, she was a latecomer to motorcycling although her partner David had been riding since his teens.  David was riding a Suzuki GSX-S1000 F with a nice red and black paint job.

Some nice hardware

Barbara had the view that as a relative latecomer to riding and with David being experienced, she'd better get serious about the quality of her training.  Getting her full licence was with an instructor who just happened to be Chief Examiner of IAM at the time which was a great start.  That was followed up with both her and David attending the California Superbike School track-based training and then the government-sponsored Ride Forever programme (HERE).  What a fantastic attitude to upskilling and David was also keen to upskill and correct any bad habits he may have picked up over the years.

Without going into tedious detail, we spent a couple of hours on expressway, city and challenging country environments assessing, debriefing and demonstrating.  Barbara's riding was really impressive, riding quickly with no apparent effort or showiness, which is the hallmark of an excellent road rider and both she and David will absolutely lap up the mentoring.  Over the last few years, there seems to have been a change in NZ where upskilling is no longer regarded as something negative.  There are still the one percenters and a few others who wear an inability to ride as a badge of honour but things are definitely changing.  It's certainly allowed me to safely extend my riding career for longer than I'd have imagined when I joined in 2011.

Yours truly and Barbara

Before heading off for the assessment ride, we met for coffee with other members and prospective members of the IAM team who were heading off on a social run.  A complete mix of bike types and ages which is a great sign.  There were even 3 KTM's - a 1290 GT, a 790 and a 390 plus a very nice Ducati Desert Sled (which I secretly lust after!)  Not a bad way of spending a sunny day, is it?

Some of the other hardware

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Enjoying summer

 As previously mentioned, life in NZ has been close to normal since mid-2020 with the exception of on-going basic C-19 precautions and the odd community case which has been effectively dealt with.  From a motorcycling perspective, it's been business as usual with hot summer days and minimal rainfall - wonderful (apart from our garden suffering with the drought)!

Last Sunday was a scheduled get-together for the central north island region of the Institute of Advanced Motorists.  The format varies depending on who turns up.  Potential new members can have a 1:1 assessment, we can take existing members for a coaching session or simply go for a social ride.  It also happened to be the IAM national AGM in the south island and a number of our regional members were heading for that, so uncertain what we were going to do.

The meeting point was in the city of Hamilton, 160 km from where I live so it was up before sunrise to get ready for the 2 hour trip south. Staggering out of bed, this was the view from our deck to get the juices flowing in anticipation of a great day on two wheels.

Dawn over Coromandel Harbour

A bit of a mental debate about which jacket to wear .  The forecast was for 29 C later in the day which is a bit warm for my full leather suit.  Dawn temperature was 16 C, so the choice was to wear a mesh jacket with the liner removed - shouldn't be too cold even with wind chill.  Hmmm...... big mistake and wish that I'd packed a light wind-proof jacket as the temperature dropped to 11 degrees at one point as I rode inland to the south.  It certainly affected my concentration for a while but it soon warmed up as the sun rose.  Silly mistake not to be repeated!

A pleasant breakfast at a Hamilton cafe as others trickled in from around the central north island, including 3 potential new members from the Bay of Plenty.  One was a member of the Patriots NZ Defence Force motorcycle club on his Harley Davidson, plus partners on an MT-09 and a GSX-F 1000F.  Lovely to see ummm... "mature" riders on sporty hardware :-) ! Due to most of the mentoring team being down south at the AGM, the decision was made to make it a purely social ride through twisty Waikato province back roads out to the Nikau Caves cafe for lunch.

Breakfast at the Coffee Club - Chris, Libby, Ra, David, Barbara and Scott

Libby and Ra ready to roll

Scott, Chris, Barbara and David waiting for the photographer to pull finger and get on his bike

Chris, who was leading the ride had planned a really scenic but challenging route through back roads with minimal time on significant public highways - sheer magic!  I volunteered to be Tail End Charlie to keep an eye on things from the rear and connected to Chris by helmet to helmet comms.

Around 100 km of almost continuous bends!

The route was an absolute cracker and a smooth approach to attack the bends to make good progress rather than on and off the throttle and brakes - we would have been stuffed in no time!  The new riders in the group fitted in seamlessly and really enjoyed both the scenery and the riding.  The Harleys performed really well in the slower tight stuff despite their conservative geometry, using their low down torque and engine braking to good effect.  Of course, attitude and skill far outweigh what sort of bike you ride. The Duke 790 was in its element - it ain't called The Scalpel for nothing!

Biking heaven!

Arriving at the Nikau Caves cafe car park in high temperatures

Drone shot of the cafe (source: Google)

With plenty of space both indoor and outside, the Caves cafe has long been a popular destination for motoring and motorcycling groups.  This time, the Mercedes car club were there.  Good food, great company - what's not to like?

Lots of rehydrating and adding calories after a hot ride

Our region covers the best part of 50,000 sq km and the IAM members live at all 4 points of the compass within it.  The decision was made after lunch to return to the village of Te Kauwhata to fuel up and then go our separate ways home.  I still had a fair bit of fuel so would say my goodbyes when the rest stopped for gas and I'd stop closer to home.

Within 5 minutes of setting off from the cafe, my ride took a turn for the worse when I was stung twice on the back of the neck by a wasp.  It really hurt and a few choice expletives were sent over the comms airwaves.  Hard to keep up the concentration when it feels like someone has stuck a knife in your neck and 2 hours to get home for some antihistamine! Must add some to my medikit.  I always wear a tube scarf irrespective of weather since being stung years ago but this little sucker must have crawled into a gap between my scarf and the back of the helmet.

Being distracted by the pain, I forgot to gas up for the last leg of the journey where there's no fuel available.  Noticing a rapidly dropping gauge,  I started short shifting, wondering whether my mobile phone would work in the numerous black spots on that stretch of road if it was necessary to get Jennie to bring a can of gas.  All was well in the end, getting home with a splash of fuel still visible in the bottom of the tank.  Handy information for the future, knowing that the fuel gauge is fairly reliable and that I can squeeze nearly 300 km from a full tank if I can control my right wrist. All in all, a wonderful day out with just over 450 km covered on some superb roads.

Just to add a nice finale to the day, I got a call from a mate saying that at the AGM down south the previous day, I'd been awarded lifetime membership of IAM "for services rendered" in establishing the Central North Island chapter 4 years ago.  Incredibly moved and honoured to receive it although at the moment, it doesn't sit all that easily.  It feels wrong to be honoured for something which has had such an impact on the way I ride and which has lengthened my riding career by a good margin.  Paying it forward to help others is the least response, given the massive personal benefits.

Beauty and the beast

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Learning new skills

A number of motobloggers, me included; have made recent posts with some degree of philosophising about life in general, thanks to the nightmare of 2020.  Call it a mental recalibration about priorities, if you like.  I've certainly been thinking about "where to from here" more than usual, probably because I'm 74 this year.

Learning new skills is always uplifting, no matter what the subject matter.  Sometimes it's a matter of necessity, sometimes just for fun.  I've long wanted to go back to uni to attend U3A (University of the 3rd Age) lectures for senior citizens in philosophy, archaeology or similar; simply out of interest in doing something different.  My last formal academic stint was a postgrad diploma in quality assurance systems back in 1990 which was necessary for a major company project but bloody hell, it was terminally boring!  Unfortunately, where we live now involves a 4 hour round trip to the nearest university campus to attend U3A courses so attendance would be a real hassle.  On-line courses just aren't the same.  Back to the drawing board for something new and enjoyable then....

Regular readers will have seen the previous post which included a bit of garden landscaping whilst lockdown and its aftermath was in full swing.  Construction of a flight of steps and a decently-formed path through part of the garden was really enjoyable and also showed that with a modest number of woodworking tools, it was possible to get pretty good results with a bit of thought and planning.  Our eldest son thought he could leverage the newly-acquired skills and enthusiasm to his advantage and asked me to build a 1600mm x 1100mm substantial gate between the garage and fence at his house.  He's flat out with a young family so it would be good to help him out.

Having never built a gate before, the wondrous YouTube was consulted and there was a great "how to" video by local hardware chain Mitre 10. Some of the rebating involved the use of a dropsaw which I don't have.  However, careful use of my circular saw and a razor sharp chisel was a great substitute once I'd got the idea.  Didn't have big sash clamps either but a pair of vehicle ratchet tie downs were a perfect substitute - yayy!!!

Getting the frame square

Next step involved getting the angle-brace installed which was the trickiest part of the entire construction.  Each end had to be precisely cut into opposing corners, with a rebate in the centre for connecting to the centre brace.  Again, great learning watching the carpenter on the video on how to mark it up before cutting.

Adding the vertical facing boards

Cutting the facing boards and screwing them in place was a piece of cake apart from my mental math quantity calcs letting me down and having to return to the woodyard to get an extra length of board, sigh......

A bit of filler in the screw holes and it was time for priming and painting - here's the finished article, minus the hinges which were on order at the time.  Crikey, heavy duty stainless steel 125mm broad butt hinges are expensive - nearly NZ$90 for 3 of them (US64, 46GBP).

Just about worth their weight in gold....

The finished article minus hinges

All that remains is to trailer it to the city of Hamilton and install it with a decent latch.  A very satisfying first-time project, particularly in learning new techniques which are transferrable to future projects.

I also managed to fit in a very pleasant 450 km day on the KTM taking a serving police officer out for his Advanced Roadcraft Test.  Andy is a member of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Team, ensuring that road transport operators meet their legal obligations.  He just rides for fun as well as being an ex-road racer and active trials rider.  Theory test first which he aced 100% - 80% is required to pass.  Then it was out onto the road to assess his riding in motorway, city and country road environments; with him giving commentary about what he was observing and how that was impacting on his riding.  It was a close to flawless ride in surprisingly challenging conditions with high temperatures and a fair bit of tar bleed-through.  The latter called for a fair degree of vigilance on narrow, winding country roads.  Both of us thoroughly enjoyed the day and returned home in a fairly knackered state.  Good hydration and a mesh armoured jacket made it more pleasant than it would have otherwise been.

A delighted Officer Andy and his immaculate Africa Twin

Whilst being an IAM Examiner is really enjoyable on days like this, it's rather less fun on cold, wet days.  Part of the problem is that I live a long way from where most tests need to be conducted so it makes for a lengthy day in less than pleasant conditions.  As a nod to my age and a whole load of post-Covid mulling things over, I'll be retiring from an active IAM role at the end of the year but still plan to occasionally ride socially with them to maintain skills.  As mentioned earlier, it's quite a healthy thing to take on new challenges and learn new stuff!


Friday, 1 January 2021

A year that wasn't all bad


From home - first light 2021

My first inclinations were not to write anything about 2020 for obvious reasons.  I also felt a bit of guilt because NZ dodged a bullet compared with most of the world, thanks to prompt and decisive action by our authorities following good science advice which allowed us to resume a pretty much normal life from mid-year.  Nonetheless, there was much to be quietly thankful for and in hindsight, it did provide an opportunity for a mental re-set with respect to the things which are truly important in one's life.  There were actually a surprising number of positive things which make for good memories.

Thinking back, our story started in mid-2019 as we found ourselves in Wuhan to start a boat trip up the Yangtze river as part of travelling through China (HERE).  No hint of things to come of course although we both developed head colds shortly afterwards.  

Moving through to February, 3 mates and I did a 2100 km "Green Badge" tour of the north island, combining it with attending the Institute of Advanced Motorists  annual conference  (Part 1).  What a grand trip that was, sticking to the back roads as much as possible with minimal other traffic about.  The Duke 790 proved to be a competent tourer with minimalist luggage and its light weight and razor-sharp steering really reduced riding fatigue.

The Forgotten World Highway - Moki Tunnel with Tony, Lloyd and Rex

It wasn't long after the tour when all hell broke loose.  Jennie had just flown halfway round the world to visit her sister in the UK when NZ announced the intention to close its borders, then go into lockdown.  A couple of days of panic ensued to get her home.  It was extremely close but thanks to our travel agent, she got home with no dramas, apart from it being a very expensive 6 days away from home! 

Lockdown itself wasn't particularly difficult as I behaved myself and Jennie didn't end up sticking a knife in my vital organs!  The main project was to digitize 35mm slides, negatives and old photos that we've had sitting about in boxes for multiple decades.  We bought a high quality scanner and some imaging software and have digitized about 2000 images to date.  It's been great fun although some of the fashions were cringe-worthy and have provided endless merriment for our kids.  The only consolation was that we all looked fairly similar in those days!  

1976 - Jennie expecting our first child.  Least said about the fashions the better!

1971 - me (right) at a mate's wedding in Wales.  Oh dear.....

There are still undiscovered slides lurking somewhere in the house which I'm very keen to find. One set is from the 1969 Isle of Man TT and the other is from the 1970 UK-USA Transatlantic Match racing series with legendary names like Cal Rayborn, Gary Nixon and Paul Smart taking part.  Those photos really will be a blast from the past!

Post-lockdown, it was back into fishing from our runabout with Jennie still catching more than me!  Motorcycling also resumed but interestingly during lockdown, I wasn't jumping up and down waiting to get on the road again which was slightly worrying.  However, when the time came, the first long solo ride in sunny winter conditions was absolutely wonderful and great for the soul.

Jennie waiting for the big one just outside Coromandel harbour

Unfortunately, a cataract in one eye had developed, arising from emergency surgery I had at the end of 2019 for a retinal tear.  It wasn't bad but was distracting when riding the motorcycle.  Further surgery to replace the lens was necessary.  It took just 20 minutes with no discomfort at all and I now have great vision again.

Part of our garden was in dire need of attention and we took to the foliage with saws and slashers.  That part sloped quite steeply and was also pretty slippery so we decided to get a tradesperson in to build steps.  That plan backfired big time as it was impossible to get one so we did it ourselves.  The downside was that took a solid month of hard work to do all the landscaping and put in new plants, plus being completely stuffed every evening!  The upside was that we saved money by doing it ourselves and it was really satisfying to learn new skills!

The first photo below is before we started the rebuild, having just cleared some of the foliage.  The second photo is how it is now.

Before the landscaping

How it is now

Back into regular riding, the slightly "snatchy" KTM front brakes which had manifested themselves from almost new had got worse and made slow speed handling rather tricky.  Some measurements were taken and both disc rotors had warped.  Fortunately, both my dealer and the KTM importer supported them being replaced under warranty and they're now as they should be. Actually, better than they've ever been because the EBC HH pads fitted in lockdown really give them some bite!

Brand new rotors being bedded in

Taking out a couple of serving police officers for their advanced assessments was a personal riding highlight.  One was a car-based Highway Patrol officer who was an ex-UK Class 1 bike cop.  Following him "making progress" on his big Honda ST1300 down tight country lanes was an utter privilege.  He'd lost none of his skills and made riding at pace look easy, which it certainly wasn't.

Officer Trevor having sailed through his Advanced Test

Another delight was that our 15 year old Jacaranda tree has flowered for the first time.  Patience had worn a bit thin and the bloody thing was edging closer to the chainsaw every year.  Perhaps trees can pick up the vibes as one morning, there it was covered in blue blossom - amazing.  A new gardening technique - waving a chainsaw at plants that aren't living up to expectations!

Jacaranda in full bloom

With Christmas having come and gone, it's worth mentioning a "Santa" present I got from Jennie which typifies her wicked (warped?) sense of humour.  I spent much of my working life as a professional engineer.  Jennie thinks that all engineers are socially awkward, bordering on AS or OCD.  Indeed, in her more exasperated moments, she has remarked more than once that it's like living with a 5 year old.  Personally, I think that says more about her school ma'am background than about me but however....

Anyway, unwrapping one of the Santa presents, this is what appeared:

The Engineers Activity Book for Children

It's from a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics series encouraging young people to follow one of the sciences as a career.  She clearly thought that it was pitched at my level and that's why I love her to bits - she doesn't take prisoners!

Overall and despite the horrors that Covid has inflicted on the world, there has been a good amount of normality and high points for us.  Hopefully, a travel bubble will soon open between NZ and Australia, allowing us to catch up with our daughter and her husband.  They moved to Melbourne at the start of 2020 and she now holds a senior psychologist position in the Department of Justice.  Not bad in less than 12 months.

Wishing everyone everything that you'd wish for yourselves and may 2021 be a whole lot better for all of us!

Jennie, granddaughter Molly and me, Christmas 2020