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Monday, 12 August 2019

Road to Zero - oh really?

The NZ Ministry of Transport has recently released a working document for reducing the national road toll.  This is the publicity video:

Admirable sentiments, but let's dig a little deeper.  In the name of consultation, questionnaires are available on line for the public to make submissions.  Here's one such "tick the box" questionaire:

You'll note that at the top of the list is "Unsafe speeds", whatever they may be.  Seeing this is hardly surprising as every road safety campaign in recent memory is based on the "Speed Kills" mantra.  Sure it does, but it's only one part of the total picture. No-one would argue that enforcement of speed limits is an important tool in any safety campaign but punitive measures are "ambulance at the bottom of the cliff" and taken in isolation, they don't address the root cause.  As a respected Kiwi police officer involved with road safety said a few years ago, "Speed doesn't kill, stupidity kills".  Presumably, that didn't go down well with his political masters.

I'm trying not to be negative about the latest initiative as it does try to take a holistic approach with one notable (and critical) exception.  Regular readers might remember that I was involved with two government departments looking at motorcycle safety on a well-known motorcycling route called the Coromandel Loop.  That post is here: HERE .  You can read it for yourself but in summary, the government departments were a joy to work with and recommendations for roading improvements, signage, sightlines etc were accepted and swiftly implemented.  Since then, there has been a significant reduction in serious harm incidents involving motorcyclists.  There's a significant distinction here between effective public servants and politicians.

An integrated approach to raising motorcycle skills has also been implemented.  It's now much tougher to get a motorcycle licence and applicants have to go through a higher level of training and competence tests before they are granted a full licence.  Post-licence training hasn't been forgotten either with the introduction of the Ride Forever programme.  As you might expect, returning riders pose a particular risk and Ride Forever has achieved a 23% reduction in accidents compared with riders who haven't undertaken post-licence training.  I posted a summary of the programme HERE .  Above that, there's IAM training based on police roadcraft plus numerous commercial programmes.

A dodgy bunch of NZ Central North Island IAM Observers and Examiners

Going back to Road to Zero, can you see an apparent omission in the questionnaire (and detailed material on official websites)?  There is no specific mention of driver or rider upskilling, despite the undeniable success of the initiatives mentioned above.  Why might that be?

Call me cynical but I reckon that any genuine moves covering all road users (as opposed to targeted good initiatives by public service departments - examples above) would be seen as political suicide by whatever government was in power.  Imagine the public outcry if testing standards were raised, or retesting was reintroduced every 5 or 10 years for example.  Perhaps if you accrue a certain number of demerit points for driving offences, you have to attend some form of retraining at your cost?  Hardly likely to win a government votes but until raising skills becomes a visible priority across the board, accident levels (and all the knock-on effects) are unlikely to have a significant dent made in them.

I try not to get too frustrated by trying to ride to the best of my ability and giving time to help others who want to learn through the IAM programme but seeing a lot of public money largely wasted through sheer politics grinds my gears.  I'd imagine that it's even worse for the public servants like those mentioned above who do have a good record with effective initiatives.

Rant over - summer's coming and I'll be out riding rather than hammering out my frustrations on the keyboard!

Monday, 22 July 2019

A couple of midwinter runs

I've been a good boy for the past week, finally organising the purchase and installation of a new pyrolitic wall oven which Jennie's been waiting nearly 12 months for me to measure up and get my a into g .  The argument that good things are worth waiting for didn't seem to carry much weight in this particular instance.  Nonetheless, it attracted a few brownie points and allowed me to go for a couple of rides without the domestic task list being pointed at.   I'm exaggerating slightly of course, but not about Mrs J being of especially charitable disposition at present.

The oven no doubt played a part, but I suspect the real reason for her joy is the acquisition of a new furry friend to replace her beloved Thomas, who passed away aged 17 earlier this year. We drove to the cat rescue centre down the coast about 30 km from us a week ago and she fell in love with an 8 month old kitty called Sam.  Sam and his brother were rescued from a farmer's field when they were tiny and amazingly, his brother now resides further down our road!  This is the exceptionally handsome Sam, a silver and grey tabby with gold eyes and a tail like a lemur.  And man, can he talk!  Usually at around 2 am when he's running amok whilst the rest of us are trying to get some shuteye.

Presenting the handsome Sam

We're keeping him indoors at present until he fully settles down.  Annie cat is relatively indifferent to his presence at the moment unless he sits in her favourite place, namely my lap.  Anyway, all this is a prelude to a couple of days motorcycling, even when there are jobs still waiting to be done!

My good mate Tony, who is also a key member of our regional IAM observing team has just taken delivery of a Yamaha MT 10 SP.  He flew to the city of  New Plymouth to pick it up last Thursday and rode it round to a renowned suspension guru in the same city to have it set up from the get-go.  A combination of new tyres, damp roads and an unfamiliar bike of course, meant that the 300+ km delivery trip home was naturally a fairly cautious affair.  When he rang to suggest a Sunday ride on the Coromandel Peninsula and what with the perfect weather forecast, it would be rude to say, "Sorry mate, got a few domestic jobs on".  Like that was ever going to happen......

The MT10 SP is Yamaha's flagship naked sports bike based on the crossplane-engined R1.  With electronics controlling everything you can think of and a heap of stuff you've never heard of, plus Ohlins suspension front and rear, it's a real weapon that handles like it's on rails.  The paint job looks fantastic in the sun too.

Bike porn -  part of Tony's semi-active Ohlins suspension system

On Coromandel wharf

Tony and his new beast at Whitianga 
Does his headlight assembly look like it's got an open mouth ready to bite?

Following him as he fired it out of tight corners, the note from that crossplane 4 cylinder motor sounds amazing - quite unlike any other 4.  As the school holidays have just finished and it being mid-winter, there aren't too many visitors on the peninsula so it's perfect for a brisk(ish) ride on the bikes.

Two mature, respectable citizens at the Kuaotonu boat ramp

Kuaotonu again - no shortage of scenery to gawp at on the Peninsula

Lunchtime saw us at the Coroglen Tavern for their delicious scallop burgers and curly chips, washed down with ginger beer and lemon, lime and bitters - yummm!  Incredibly, we were the only bikes there as in the warmer weather, it would be packed.  We started the ride in sub-10 C temperatures but by lunchtime, it was a balmy 16 C.  I guess that the early morning heavy fog in the Waikato and Auckland provinces would have put a lot of people off but fog is a rarity on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Two lonely bikes at the Coroglen Tavern

A starving Tony

After lunch, it was time to part company with Tony heading south to home and me in the opposite direction.  What could be better than great company, good food, empty roads and two wheels?  As Tony remarked, "My bike is not a toy, it's a lifestyle investment of the highest quality and efficacy".  Sounds like a speech that he might give to his wife for justification, but who would argue that they're genuinely good for the soul?

Today saw me retrace yesterday's route, then travel further to the small town of Whangamata and back.

Today's wee run, but in rather less time than Mr Google suggests!

Although one doesn't need an excuse to go riding, it was a great opportunity to go and collect a watch which I've just had serviced.  Sure, it could have been couriered back at a fraction of the cost but where would the fun be in that?  

I've had a TAG dive watch for over 2 decades.  About 6 years ago, it needed a full service including seals.  I foolishly sent it to the main importer and they duly charged me close to NZ$600 for the privilege - bloody hell!  I guess it's a bit like taking your Merc or BMW to a main agent for your service - they screw you because they assume you can afford it.  Anyway, it recently came to my attention that there was a genuine old-time clock and watchmaker living in Whangamata.  It was time for a replacement battery and service so a call was made and yes, he was happy to do the job and no, it would not cost an arm, leg and first-born.  

Another lovely day, albeit low single digit C temperatures early in the morning but nothing that heated gloves couldn't handle so off we went.

Tairua with Paku extinct volcano in the background

Although Paku is classified as extinct, one can never be sure as NZ sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and has several active volcanoes.  I admire the confidence of the residents who have built houses on the side of it as shown in the photo below.

 Paku, adorned with houses.  If the volcano doesn't get you, a tsunami will!

The watchmaker was a delightful chap and clearly knew his stuff.  The cost of the full service including fixing a partly working day/date function with a new part? A princely NZ$90!  Wonderful service and value but it makes me rather annoyed at the main service agent/importer who thinks they can rob people blind.  

Just time for a decent coffee, a trip to the local marina to see the floating gin palaces and then re-trace my steps back home in minimal traffic.  All in all, a soul-lifting couple of days and not a bad week all round!

The Duke at Whangamata marina

Monday, 8 July 2019

T time!

Life with Bad Girl Lola, the 790 Duke has been pretty darned good.  It makes me grin every time I ride it, quietly whispering in my ear to misbehave.  I can ignore those whisperings..... mostly.  Goes like heck, sounds fantastic and handles like a dream..... but now winter's here, something needs my urgent attention.

The OEM tyres are Maxxis brand pure sport, designed especially for the Duke.  They've done about 3500 km and probably have another 1500 km in them before replacement.  Up to now, they've gripped pretty well, even in the wet on warm days.  However, pure sport tyres need heat to maximise grip and that's hard to achieve once the mercury starts to dip into low single figures Celsius.

Winter in NZ - equipped with the OEM Maxxis pure sport tyres

I was going to replace them with a longer-lasting sport touring tyre anyway when they were closer to being worn out but an IAM coaching ride last weekend suggested that I'd better do something pronto.  Towards the southern end of our peninsula, some stretches of the twisty main road get little or no sun for a few weeks.  Things can get a little slimy on the surface and on a really cold day, maybe even a touch of frost.

A bit of prudence is required at those spots and with low single digit C air temperatures, I was riding accordingly.  Rounding one corner, the front end started washing out, then gripped.  It wasn't a trouser-soiling moment but it certainly got my attention!  For anyone who had lost the front end on a bike, it's not a pleasant sensation.  Easing back even more, I stuck the bike in rain mode to get maximum traction.  No more incidents thank goodness but even on dry roads, wasn't game to really push because the steering felt slightly vague on corners when I upped the pace.  It was only when temperatures climbed to around 10 degrees or thereabouts that I felt comfortable.  With more winter rides coming up, it was time to do something.

With my IAM responsibilities, I don't always get to choose the conditions I ride in, so a sport touring tyre makes a lot of sense.  Sport touring tyres warm up quickly, disperse rain well and give excellent grip in marginal conditions.  They last a sight longer than pure sport tyres too.  First thought was to fit Michelin Road 5's like I had on the GSX-S1000.  A fantastic tyre in all respects with one slight worry hanging over them.  On the Suzuki, I had 3 punctures in 4 months last summer on the Road 5's and in one case, the rear tyre was a write-off.  It may have been sheer bad luck, a susceptibility due to the conditions and road surfaces I normally ride on, or a combination of both.  Living a long way from a source of new tyres or professional permanent repairs, getting stranded somewhere is a real concern, even with a decent repair kit on board.

Whatever the reason for the punctures, it's left me slightly gun-shy of Road 5's so started looking at alternatives.  Without going through all the options I looked at, the one which stood out on all the road tests was the Bridgestone T31.  I've never used the Bridgestone brand before but the T31's stood out, both when fanging it and in adverse conditions.  A mate had also tried them on his Hayabusa and was glowing in his praise.  The rain groove pattern isn't as radical as the Road 5's but any innovative work on the carcass or compound is well out of sight anyway.

Bridgestone T31 sport touring tyres

Arriving at the Drury Performance Centre in south Auckland, the bike was put straight on the hoist for the changeover.

No mucking about - 2 minutes after I arrived

Rear fitted with new rubber

The front away being balanced

Less than an hour after arriving, I was on my way again, having also been given freshly-made coffee, a new neck warmer and a polishing cloth - excellent service.  I use two dealers for tyres, both about the same distance from home.  Both of them give terrific service so I tend to use them alternately. 

Took it fairly steady for most of the trip home as it wouldn't be a good look to bin a bike with new tyres.  The roads were also damp and distinctly green in places where the sun doesn't reach.  Even so, the T31's felt really good, with a nice, progressive roll-in into corners.  A proper evaluation will have to wait until later, but no anxious moments at all.

Something else happened on the low temperature ride last week which triggered the thoughts of getting new tyres pronto.  Leaving home early in the morning, the air temperature according to the instrumentation was 9 degrees Celsius.  Heading south, it progressively dropped and looking down at the instrument at one stage, it had gone completely white with a large snowflake icon!  The words "Ice Warning" were clearly displayed.  The digital speedo km/hr readout was the only other data showing at that stage and even that was displayed in much smaller font.  

It was all a bit of a surprise and as the lack of other data irritated me, I started prodding various buttons until the normal display returned. Even then, it had a small lit warning triangle displayed until temperatures climbed somewhat.  Went through the 790 manual on my return and it's not a listed feature.  However, I went on line to do a bit of research and it's listed in the PDF manual for the 790 adventure model.

I'm not really one for adding stuff to the bike for aesthetics alone but I broke that rule the other day.  The original KTM brake and clutch levers are pretty basic-looking and finished in matte black.  On eBay, I saw some levers with a titanium and black finish which are fully adjustable in terms of both hand span and length.  They looked good, weren't hideously expensive so decided to take a punt.  They arrived a couple of days ago and are beautifully made.  Took less than 30 minutes to fit the pair.

Cool-looking levers

I also fitted a non-reflective film to the instrument face as it's hard to see when the sun is reflecting off it.  Have yet to test how effective it is.  The only other modification on the cards is to spray the rear face of my mini-screen matte black.  The LED headlight reflects some light onto the inside of the screen.  It's absolutely fine in daylight but when riding at night, it can be a bit distracting.  A matte finish should take care of that.

To end on a non-motorcycling note, winter is the time when various birds come into the garden looking for a bit of supplemental food.  The succulent shown in the top photo weeps nectar and attracts Tui, a songbird a little larger than a blackbird.  In sunlight, their plumage is a spectacular dark metallic green-blue.  Here's a photo I took a few days ago.

The Tui (also known as a Parson Bird because of the white ruff)

The most spectacular bird in the garden is the NZ native pigeon.  About twice the size of a European pigeon, the plumage is stunning.  Pigeons come into the garden to feast on Kowhai tree leaves and in a few weeks, on the Kowhai flowers. They don't show much fear of humans and allowed me to get pretty close for the following photo.  Gorgeous, isn't it?

NZ native pigeon

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Travels in the Land of the Dragon, pt 8 (final)

Hong Kong

If you've managed to wade through all the previous posts, congratulations on your stamina!  It's been great to re-live the trip by writing this and editing the 800-odd photos taken as it helps to cement it in our minds as everything was so full-on at the time.

Flying from Beijing to Hong Kong was only a bit over 3 hours and we arrived to high temperatures and crippling humidity.  We were staying at the Park Hotel in Kowloon, right amongst the shops and restaurants.  The Park isn't to the standard of the hotels we stayed at on the Chinese mainland but is nonetheless well-appointed and comfortable.  The staff were excellent and the dining room for both breakfast and dinner was superb.

During the last part of the China trip, we'd both developed coughs and colds so the plan was to take things a little easier.  Ha!  The best-laid plans.....

A Kiwi friend of ours (thanks Bruce!) had lived in HK for 3 years and before we left, had given us a great guide of things to do and see.  The weather forecast (high temperatures, low cloud and heavy showers) affected our plans but we were able to hire a guide (Rex) to show us the sights, some well-known and others less so which provided a great mix.

Kowloon waterfront, looking towards Hong Kong Island

Note Jennie's light cotton top, she's a sight smarter than me.  I wore a lightweight travel shirt which was darker in colour.  With the humidity and heat, we were both soaked with sweat in minutes. Jennie looked as fresh as a daisy throughout and I looked like someone had chucked a bucket of water over me.  (Ok, dangerous mistake on my part - ladies don't sweat, they glow, sigh....).  By the way, the observation/ferris wheel across the harbour is 60 metres tall, just to give an idea of scale.

Hong Kong Island

The observation/Ferris wheel is 60 metres high and the International Commerce Building on the right is 484 metres and apparently the 9th highest building in the world.  No charge for these fascinating facts.  We crossed the harbour on one of the ferries shown in the photo which only took a few minutes.

About to get on the Ferris wheel

Jennie looking fabulous, me looking like I've fallen in the harbour

Great views from on high

At the start of the tour, we were under the distinct impression that our tour consisted of mainly motorised transport as Rex rattled off the words, ferry, open-top bus and tram.  These were merely short connectors to what was essentially a walking tour covering several kilometres in sweltering conditions.  Our plans to take it easy were rapidly coming off the rails.  Oh dear......

Next stage was a trip on an open deck bus for half a dozen stops to the next part of the walk.  At least the breeze sitting up top helped dry my shirt out in readiness for being soaked again.

Yup, that's tall all right - all 118 storeys of it

Arty farty reflections

Traditional Chinese medicine outlet (I think)

Lovely blossom in a courtyard

Scooter with decent weather protection - a good idea in Hong Kong

Bye bye bus - back on foot

Traditional bamboo scaffolding - not much in the way of lashings!

Our guide Rex, thought we might to see something a little different from routine sightseeing, which is how we ended up at the old Police Married Quarters (PMQ)!  Originally opened in 1951 to provide accommodation for an increase in police numbers, the small multi storey apartments often housed large families.   One example had 9 family members living in an apartment of 350 sq ft!  Beds were tiered or simple fold-away mattresses and cooking and meals were often done on the balconies outside the apartments.

Model showing the original apartments

In 2014, the building was re-purposed and turned into studio workshops for creative young designers and the like at attractive rents. We wandered round several floors and these designers and artisans were producing some impressive art objects, jewellery, paintings and so on.

Apartment converted into a designer store

Cool children's chairs

Nice place to chill between the two apartment blocks

A painted "graffiti" wall on one of the side streets

Next spot was a stroll round the old central police station, jail and courthouse.  Part of the complex dates back to 1864.  It's been renovated with part of it showing what the jail was like, plus cafes and restaurants.

  Shadow projection in a cell showing corporal punishment

Two new arrivals being processed!

What was once an exercise yard for prisoners

We were rather taken by the tree at the far end of the photo above.  Although they can't be seen in the photo, it had gorgeous pink flowers.  A plaque said that it was Plumeria Rubra or Red Frangipani, native to Central and South America. Really attractive.

Plumeria rubra

We were becoming rather footsore with the slog in such taxing conditions but thoroughly enjoying diving in and out of the lanes and alleyways.  Next stop was Pottinger Street, extremely steep with uneven cobblestones.  Bad enough in dry conditions but would be really tricky when it's wet.  There are market stalls towards the bottom which Jennie took advantage of for a bit of shopping.

Steeper than it looks

After a bit of shopping, we hopped on one of HK's famous trams to get us to a place where we could have some afternoon tea.

Hong Kong tram

Tram internals - nice to rest our feet

Photo op - soaked through again and stuffed

Rex lead us to the tea rooms which were at the top of some narrow and winding stairs and said his goodbyes after showing us where to find the nearest underground station (The MTR) which would take us back under the harbour close to our hotel.  Really enjoyed his company.

A delicious selection of cakes for afternoon tea

Refreshing China tea

Negotiating the MTR including changing trains was incredibly easy with good signage and trains departing every couple of minutes.  Why can't every country be that good?

The other thing which was really noticeable was the sheer number of supercars in the streets - Lamborghini, Maserati, Porsche and so on.  Given that they would rarely get out of first gear, status was clearly the main objective.  Of all the high end cars, the Tesla electric brand had a significant presence.  Far more practical for Hong Kong conditions, I would have thought.

We had the best part of another day in HK but with our sniffles and with it pouring with rain, we decided to chill in the hotel before heading for the airport in the middle of an electrical storm.  Fortunately, our flight departed on time and we were able to lie flat and get some reasonable shuteye before landing in Auckland some 11 hours later.

A wonderful holiday full of surprises and meeting lovely people.  Wonder what's next?

Friday, 21 June 2019

Travels in the Land of the Dragon, pt 7

Beijing, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

Another early start to avoid the worst of the day's heat and crowds - it was a 3 day public holiday.  At least it was in Beijing itself and only a half hour drive from the hotel.  It involved over 4 hours of walking in high temperatures, covering a good few kilometres so good hydration and walking poles were a great aid to enjoying the day.

On the way, it was a good opportunity to look at the architecture and Beijing was like the other centres we visited - modernising at a rapid pace, good infrastructure and clean.

Home base of China Television

Modern hi-rises

Like any other city in the world, only with more courteous and patient drivers

Arriving in Tiananmen Square on a hot sunny day, there was little or no personal sense of history or connection back to the photo which captivated the world of the lone protester standing in front of a tank almost exactly 30 years ago to the day.  It was planted with colourful flowers and although the government buildings and museum which  flanked two sides were more severe in terms of architecture, there was nothing particularly remarkable about it.  Just a pleasant area to stroll about in.

Tiananmen Square - a landmark place in the world from another time

Mass plantings in the Square

On one side of the square was the entrance to the Forbidden City with a photo of Chairman Mao, showing that he hasn't entirely been consigned to the past.

Chairman Mao gazing across Tiananmen Square

The one emotion which struck both of us on entering the Forbidden City was one of being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the undertaking - it's HUGE. Constructed in the early 1400's, it consists of 980 buildings and covers some 180 acres.  Mind-blowing stuff.

Spectacular glazed roofing tiles and ornate decorations

Amazing detail

An internal moat

Only a fraction of the total area

One of the many lanes leading to other parts of the complex

Large bronze dragon

It's a big walk in hot weather and we were more than ready for a late lunch.  Eating out, particularly among young people is as popular in China as it is in the West and there were large queues at some restaurants which were clearly favourites.  As always, a great selection of quality foods.

Colourful restaurant entrance

Spoiled for choice!

Delivery service on the restaurant strip

On our last night in China, we went along to see the Legend of Kung Fu show.  It's a story about a young monk's mental and physical journey to becoming a warrior monk, encountering physical and mental challenges along the way.  As with the previous show, world-class computer-aided visual effects supported the performers.  It was fabulous and easy to see why it's renowned, both in Beijing and when it goes on tour round the world.

The novice monk being initiated

The novice growing up

Into training

Into temptation.....

Finally becoming a warrior monk - full circle

After the show, it was final goodbyes to the people we'd become close friends with as Jennie and I would be the first to leave early in the morning for our connection to Hong Kong and doing our own thing.  Sad, but hopefully, we'll catch up again sometime.  

Some general thoughts about the China part of the trip.

Viking.  Outstandingly organised in every respect.  Although we've travelled extensively (mostly on land-based trips but a couple of other cruises), it was our first trip with them. We were seriously impressed with both the itinerary and organisation - pretty much faultless.

Viking escorts.  All the escorts on the trip were ultra-competent and couldn't do enough for their groups.  As previously mentioned, our escort Iowa (Aihua Xian) had extraordinary people and organisational skills.  A tireless worker with an unflagging sense of humour.  I would have jumped at the chance to employ him pre-retirement.  A great ambassador both for his company and country.

Airlines.  Chinese airlines and airports are modern and efficient - no adverse comments whatsoever.  We arranged our international travel through our regular NZ travel agent.  It was Cathay Pacific business class and it was really good.  The main reason for travelling business class was to be able to sleep horizontally on a long haul and hit the ground running.  The best business class airline we've ever experienced is Qatar Air.  Fantastic in all respects which made an 18 hour non-stop flight to Doha tolerable.  They have justifiably won world's best airline again. 

China.  Hugely impressed with the rate of progress, infrastructure and cleanliness. People treated us with warmth and friendliness everywhere we went.  It's easy to forget among the political posturing between nations that most people everywhere want a safe, comfortable life and are thoroughly decent people.  It's normally the politicians and their self-interest who screw it up for others.

Rating the trip.  Going on safari through Kenya and Tanzania in a Toyota Landcruiser has been our No.1 vacation but that's a highly personal choice, longer and more expensive.  However, the China trip is right up there in terms of overall enjoyment and seeing another culture.  Highly recommended to anyone.  From our perspective, the trip starting in Shanghai and ending in Beijing was ideal for us as it progressively increased the amount of walking we did and was good preparation for the longer walks at the end of the trip.

Beijing airport business lounge - got it to ourselves for the trip to Hong Kong!

Next and final post - Hong Kong