Wheel alignment

Saturday 29 May 2010

Wet weather gear

 2005 - "Multi-layered Man" has just ridden 650 km in freezing temperatures and sleet!

Winter is upon us in NZ.  It doesn't get particularly cold in the coastal region where we now live but when it rains, it can be torrential, like over 100mm (yep, that's right!) on a REALLY wet day!  July is the wettest month but the chances of getting a good dump in other winter months is pretty good too.  Time to clean the bugs off the leathers, stick them away and dig out the Cordura.

Anyway, I have a  question - how come so many manufacturers take such a liberal interpretation of the word "WATERPROOF" without breaching the Trade Descriptions Act or similar legislation?  I've scoured the fine print to see if it says "Waterproof, but only for 30 seconds" or words to that effect but no, they all seem to claim that not a drop will pass onto your skin unless you happen to be riding underwater.  I guess that rain intensity, time out in it, whether you're on a faired or naked bike and so on has a significant bearing but to my mind; you really do have to tread a cautious path when buying wet weather clothing.  Am I just unlucky with wet weather jackets or have others had similar experiences?

Let's deal with rain suits first....

As a young 'un in the UK, I wore waxed cotton jackets and pants which from memory were impervious to everything including chemical and nuclear fallout.  However, it didn't take long for the wax coating to attract general road crap and dead insects.  Both the ensuing smell and lumpy appearance were hardly attractive to members of the opposite sex either.  At least they largely did their intended task though, even if the gloves and boots of that era left something to be desired.

My first exposure to "new technology" rain gear was when I started riding again in the 80's with the purchase of a Frank Thomas Aquasuit one-piece plastic coverall.  Nice design and could be folded into itself and carried on the waist like a bum bag.  Generally speaking, it was pretty good but in heavy rain with the bike I was riding at the time, the seat seemed to direct water to my crotch area and the welded seams were not 100% waterproof.  Not a good look at all after removing the outer layer at the final destination and appearing to be seriously incontinent!

The second attempt to stay dry but project a racier image was to buy a Teknic cordura jacket in 2001 or thereabouts.  Nicely fitted at the waist, bright red with armour and a quilted detachable thermal liner, it looked the part.  It didn't have a waterproof membrane but the blurb on the label talked about the material itself and the way it was woven being a superb water barrier.  There's a sucker born every day.....

Here's a photo:

Big, bad bikers with ice creams!

Imagine the crushing disappointment when it leaked like a sieve first time out.  The vendor wouldn't come to the party so I was stuck with a lemon.  The Nikwax range of waterproofing products were fairly good remedies, but only for shortish periods without having to be re-applied. The only course of action was to spray it with Scotchguard Heavy Duty silicone spray for outdoor fabrics.  Effective result, but with the same drawback of waxed cotton in terms of dirt attraction and lack of breathability. It's still sitting in my biker gear cupboard, unused and unloved apart from providing a home for the resident spiders.

Next jacket was a black Arlen Ness textile cut in at the waist but this has a membrane as well as a removable thermal liner.  I like this jacket and still use it.  Extremely comfortable and effective apart from having the weird property of leaking a bit from the elbows to the wrists in prolonged heavy rain!!!  The other thing I discovered is that the pockets outside the membrane leak.  A soggy wallet proved that on an early ride so mobile phone and wallet now reside in small plastic bags.  Here's the jacket in question:
Moeraki, South island NZ

I'm sure that there are textile jackets out there that don't leak at all in even the most horrendous weather after riding all day but I've yet to find one.  Rukka have a great reputation but they're horrendously expensive.  Reading motorcycle forums, a lot of people seem to have had similar experiences.  Not wishing to continue flushing good money down the toilet, I'll simply continue wearing my $120 Spool brand plastic motorcycle jacket shown in the top picture over leathers or cordura in really bad weather - it's the only 100% effective solution I've found.  I do a lot of long distance riding and being caught in torrential rain when I'm on a mission is an unpleasant experience.

I've always worn plastic pants over leathers so have had no experience of cordura pants until recently.  There's a small NZ company (1 Tonne Motorcycle Apparel ) which has rain gear manufactured directly in India.  Prices are about 40% cheaper than the major international brands so I decided to take a chance.  When they arrived, the quality was as good as anything else I'd seen, the pants being equipped with CE armour, reinforced stitching and so on.  I haven't ridden much in the rain recently but on the odd rain day ride, they've been perfect.  Early days yet I suppose but perhaps is an indicator that the only major difference compared with some of the well-known brands might be mark-up!  Update: The 1 tonne pants were used in the 1000 miles in 24 hours event  in October 2010.  They endured several hours of torrential rain on a naked bike with no leaks whatsoever.

Just one further comment on plastic overjackets which is quite important.  Overjackets are generally made of fairly lightweight material which means that they have a propensity to flap if they aren't a fairly snug fit.  Flapping can be really distracting on a decent run, a genuine safety concern.  On my Honda Blackbird, the shoulder area flapped at 100+ km/hr, causing my helmet to shimmy slightly.  Not a good thing to happen in terms of concentration or vision.  I guess it was a combination of the crouched riding position and the airflow over the double bubble fairing screen which caused it.  On my Street Triple, it doesn't happen at all.  Just something to bear in mind!

The boots I bought 10 years or so ago were Styl Martin made with lorica.  Generally waterproof in all but the wettest conditions but you could compensate for those events in the time-honoured Kiwi tradition of slipping your feet into plastic bread bags before putting your boots on!  However, some SIDI waterproof boots were purchased about 5 years ago and they've proved to be totally waterproof over that time so no need (yet) to search for replacements.

Waterproof gloves were also an issue for me until last year.  The issue is that I hate the lack of feel/control with big, bulky winter gloves.  I had a pair of Teknic leather winter gloves which were waterproof and warm but so bulky and stiff  they gave an insight as to how mediaeval knights must have felt.  The problem accidentally resolved itself when in an incautious moment, the lining in one of the fingers turned itself inside out and I was never able to get it back properly.  There was a residual small lump that pressed on a finger tip which drove me insane after a few km so they were also consigned to dark recesses of the bike clothing cupboard.  The favourites are my Spidi armoured racing summer gloves and with Icebreaker merino wool liners, are adequately warm in all but the coldest weather.  They're supple and superbly comfortable, the only problem being that they don't keep out the rain for long.

A solution to the dilemma came early last year and whilst I'm not normally big on product endorsements, this one is so good that I'll share it.  They're called Rain-Off over-gloves, made here in NZ.  This is their website: Rain-Off over-gloves .  The over-gloves are made from a fully-welded thin but very strong rubber so that you don't lose any feel.  The extra layer is also a highly effective wind and cold barrier so you can wear your favourite lighter gloves underneath and stay warm.  Best of all, they only cost a little over US$50 a pair which is fantastic value when you think of the price of new hi-tech waterproof gloves. They fold up into a little pocket-sized pouch which means they can be kept on the bike for those occasions when the weather catches you out.  A product which delivers 100%.
Rain-off overmitts

Whilst it has little to do with waterproofing, I might just mention clothing for under your protective riding gear. Polypropylene thermals used to be the favourites but they had one serious shortcoming - at the end of a decent ride if you worked up a bit of warmth, you found that you didn't have many friends on account of the horrendous odour emanating from you!

When I entered for the Southern Cross round NZ endurance ride in 2005, the idea was to travel light and the prospect of wearing polypropylene clothing for that length of time was not a palatable one.  A friend who is a keen tramper (hiker) raved about the Icebreaker merino wool layer system which is allegedly the gear of choice for trampers everywhere.  He said that Icebreaker merino has a natural antibacterial property which prevents body odour for up to 15 days.  Whilst distrusting marketing hype, I bought some anyway and was amazed to find that the claims were true - even confirmed by my riding partners who smelled a sight less sweet than I did! I wore the same shirt and leggings for the entire 5 day ride plus the 3 days from home to get to the event and back again.  Not 15 days admittedly, but still impressive.  I'm a confirmed fan now and as they manufacture both winter and summer weight gear in a range of fashion designs, I rarely wear anything else on the bike. They do socks too!

The other item I wouldn't be without is the Pin-Lock anti-mist visor insert for my Shoei helmet.  I first came across these in the 90's when I used a Nolan helmet (I think Nolan were the originators) and they were so much better than other anti-mist inserts in terms of their primary purpose plus no distortion and scratch resistance that I've stayed with them ever since.  Available for a wide range of helmets and in clear or a variety of tints, they work perfectly, particularly at night in the rain and cold.  A lot of Kiwis use Pledge furniture polish on their visors to help the rain to bead off fast.  I've never tried that, but use Rain-X repellent used for car windows and helicopter plexiglass bubbles works superbly.

Pin Lock anti-mist visor insert (light tint)

 There - I've endorsed more products than intended but in each case, they are fully deserved after extensive use!

Addendum August 2012:  The 1Tonne cordura pants which I've owned for just over 2 years now leak and is probably exacerbated by the fact that I ride a naked bike.  Might be able to improve things by washing them with one of the Nikwax products.  However, any fix will be temporary and from now on, I'll be sticking to my plastic 2-piece waterproofs over the top until I find a better solution.  They get sweaty in warm, wet weather but at least I don't get soaked.  I've given up in my search for a perfectly waterproof cordura suit without the need to sell my first-born to pay for one!

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Motorcycle accidents - half-truths and lies?

On April 16th, I posted a piece about motorcycle safety in New Zealand.  I won't repeat it in detail as the article is here: Road Skills - what keeps you from harm?.

What I will summarise however is that:

Firstly, vehicle licensing costs for motorcyclists are due to rise substantially and the reason is likely based on either flawed/incompetent assumptions by public policy makers or even worse, a deliberate political agenda. This is bad enough but it does nothing to address the root causes of accidents, leaving motorcyclists still open to harm as well as being a waste of taxpayer money from probable inappropriate use of increased revenue.

Secondly, the protests and suggestions for safety improvements by NZ motorcyclists have apparently fallen on the deaf ears of public servants.

However, motorcyclists have found support from a prominent NZ academic, Professor Charley Lamb, Head of Business Management, Law and Marketing at Lincoln University.  Charley is also Director of the Australasian Institute of Motorcycle Studies (AIMS) Project. Using the same base data available to the public servants (including the police), he has dispelled the "myths" that public policy towards motorcyclists is being based on.  This research has only reached public domain the last few days so it's too early to tell whether the sh*t will hit the fan, or whether the research will be conveniently ignored.  He's off to the U.S at the end of the week to present his research there so keep your eyes peeled! I have a full copy of  Professor Lamb's research, plus his slide presentation and am happy to make it available on request (My contact email is under the blog profile).  However, I thought I'd attach a few of his summary slides to give some background and an indicator of the myths he has dispelled. (Click to enlarge) This is important for motorcyclists everywhere, particularly for public policy setting.  Incidentally, Professor Lamb's material is not inconsistent with UK research: Car Drivers’ Skills and Attitudes to Motorcycle Safety: A Review  and IAM Motorcycling Facts.

The following slides hopefully show NZ public policy is being based on flawed interpretations (or deliberate political connivance!) and that's a warning for us all.  The only major thing I'd like to add to Charley Lamb's recommendations is raising the level of compulsory training for car drivers and motorcyclists alike.  The standard of car driving in NZ is lamentably poor and most drivers seem to think that once they have a license, no further driver education is required.  Incidentally, the reference to "red mist" concerning the police in his recommendations is some recent pursuits which have gone badly wrong.  I'm a supporter of the police as they have an unenviable task but having said that, some recent pursuits have exposed some flaws in the system.

I might also add that whilst motorcyclists in NZ and elsewhere may be unfairly penalised by flawed policy, there's still a lot we can do to help ourselves.  The motorcycle community in general tend to be scornful of the lack of skill or situational awareness displayed by the average car driver.  That may be true but experience shows that there's an awful lot of riders out there who also display a lack of skill and improved situational awareness would also substantially improve the accident rate.   From a survey which American motorcycle author David Hough and I conducted, resistance to re-skill or upskill is widespread.  I put my money where my mouth was and enrolled with the Institute of Advanced Motorists and whilst I've been riding for 40+ years, the learnings since joining have been humbling and somewhat ego-denting too.  There are some later posts on my experiences - just type IAM or Institute of Advanced Motorists into the blog search engine.  Yes, we can moan about the "I didn't see you mentality" of many motorists, but it's entirely up to us to get off our backsides and improve our own roadcraft skill sets!

I hope that the slides  below provided by Prof. Lamb are of interest.

Friday 21 May 2010

Antidote for blue Mondays

After a wet weekend and no riding for 3 weeks because of more pressing priorities, Monday dawns fine and warm.  Too good to miss a ride, even if there are things to do later in the day.  An early breakfast and a 200 km trip round the Coromandel Peninsula Loop would be a perfect wake-up!  If you'd like to come for a ride, throw a helmet on and hop on the back for a guided tour........

First port of call ('scuse the pun) is to have a look at the Kia Toa fishing boat down in Coromandel Town which is shortly to undergo restoration.  She has quite a bit of history. It may look like an old hulk but she's clearly a magnificent sea boat as it regularly used to motor up the 6000-odd km to Mururoa Atoll in the Pacific to protest against the French holding nuclear tests there.  Must be a tough old girl with her double-planked wooden hull!

Heading south toward Thames, the next stop is at a lookout in the hills that affords a 180 degree view of the Firth of Thames.  The first photo is looking north to Manaia Harbour, the second is looking directly down to a sheep and beef farm with its own bay and launch ramp (cows and sheep are bred with one pair of short legs to compensate for the hilly terrain) and the third is looking south across the Firth through the misty conditions to the many commercial mussel beds.

A slowish jaunt along the waters' edge towards Thames as I feel a bit rusty.  The sea is like a mill pond, just stunning. Pulling up just north of Thames shows the old weatherboard holiday homes by the water.  These are called bach's in the north island - short for bachelor pads.  The second photo is of a newly-restored old hotel in Thames which is now a private dwelling.  There was a proliferation of such watering-holes in the 1800's to satisfy the considerable thirst of the gold miners in the area!

After Thames, it's out into the hills on the Kopu to Hikuai road which runs from west to east across the Peninsula.  Through steep hills with a mixture of sweepers and twisties - a biker's delight.  However, no high speed antics this morning on account of wet roads and probably slippery too in shady parts thanks to a massive thunderstorm in this area last night.

Leaving the wet hills behind and heading north up the dry east coast, a comfort stop in Tairua is necessary - perhaps too much coffee for breakfast!  The photo taken during the stop is across Tairua Harbour to the extinct volcano called Paku.  At least, we hope it's extinct as there are a lot of homes on it now!

Continuing north through the twisties at a good clip with hardly another vehicle in sight, the stomach starts rumbling in anticipation of a scallop burger at the Coroglen Tavern.  The scallop burgers are a sight to behold, all the normal trimmings but packed with local scallops shown a buttery hot pan for a few scant seconds - just divine! This place is packed with bikers at the weekend but on a Monday, where is everyone?  Working presumably but heck, I've miscalculated the time and they don't open for 20 minutes - oh nooooo....!

Despite the strong pull of a scallop burger, I'm hungry and can't wait that long for a feed so it's back on the bike for the short(ish) ride north to Whitianga.  There are lots of good eateries here which would please even the most discerning palate (blogger and foodie Bobscoot to mention just one).  Sadly, a leisurely "slow food" experience isn't an option today as I have an afternoon appointment so to be safe, a relatively quick stop at Subway is made.  It's down the dining scale a bit but healthy and nutritious, not to mention easy on the wallet.

Feeling refreshed, it's a reasonably rapid journey over the section of the Coromandel Loop of which the Triple knows every centimetre, back to Coromandel Town.  Half way back, a quick double-take and photo from the saddle of some creatures in a field which look like they've come from a Stephen King novel, perhaps the Langoliers - can you guess what they are? No prizes for the sheep in the background, but the other two?

They're actually made from the lower part of palm leaves (the NZ Nikau palm) where they attach to the trunk - really clever but nightmarish if you've had a drop too much to drink!

Back in Coromandel Town, The king tide 2 days previously has brought some interesting boats down the creek nearly into the town centre so a quick stop is made to see what's about . The vessel shown in the photo is Sirius, a local all-alloy crayfish (rock lobster) boat which has probably been slipped for its annual marine survey.  Looks pretty big against the Striple!

All in all, a wonderful way to start any day - must do more of it and hope you enjoyed the quick trip round the Coromandel Loop.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Another nice "special"

This post is an appropriate sequel to the last one about the Tricati and what might have been.

After emigrating to NZ, there was another "special" which did occasionally get to run on the road in the late 1980's and 90's, albeit highly illegally. One of my direct reports at work was a remarkably resourceful ex-UK Special Air Service sergeant who seemed be able to lay his hands on anything at a moments' notice. Among the things which came into his possession was a single cylinder racing Yamaha 50 motor with boxes of spares and go-faster goodies.  He was somewhat vague about its provenance but the layer of dust on the boxes suggested that ownership had long ago shifted to the "possession is 9/10ths of the law" category. This thought might have been uncharitable on my part but knowing him.....

Anyway, Len asked me whether I'd like it and whilst it was manifestly unsuitable as a road-going special power plant, it might be just the thing for a "bucket racer", especially as I had two sons who may have been keen to have a go if the hurdle of permission from their mother could be negotiated.  Bucket racers are cheap entry-level race bikes for raw beginners or those who want to have low cost fun.

Len ran the well-equipped apprentice training school on our manufacturing site and once a few second-hand bits such as front forks, wheels and swingarm had been obtained, the training school equipment was pressed into service to make a frame and other cycle parts.  The frame shown in the photo below was bolted construction whilst we played with the configuration, although it would eventually be welded.

The eagle-eyed amongst us will have spotted a cable running from the front hub and crossing the frame down tubes above the engine.  This is further testament to Len's amazing skills and was in fact, a mechanically- linked brake anti-dive system which actually worked!  Fuel was supplied from a small tank just above the rear of the engine so the principles of mass centralisation combined with a low C of G were alive and well even then.

The apprentice training school was in a highly visible location on site and although most people including the CEO were aware (and highly appreciative) of  Len's ummmm... unconventional ways, it was decided to fire it up at our house for the first time.  This was because the euphemistic term "silencer" was actually a racing expansion chamber with no noise control whatsoever.  For those who have never heard an unsilenced racing 2 stroke at close range, it's quite an experience.  The occupants of our street certainly thought so, together with small furry animals of a nervous disposition and even normally phlegmatic farm animals just down the road.  Len immediately saw that the James family reputation and well-being in the district might be under threat and briskly manufactured a stinger that unsurprisingly resembled a covert weapon suppressor which presumably, he was previously well-acquainted with.  On the next-fire-up, the bike was still noisy, but it had lost the frequency that made your teeth ache.

Len was a big guy so the first test ride shakedown was all mine.  As the bike was road legal only in the sense that it had 2 wheels and working brakes, it was fortunate that we only lived a few hundred metres from a largely deserted country road.  Nonetheless, the noise was still quite a head-turner and I was glad when the confines of town were left behind.  By any standards, there wasn't much torque but it still accelerated cleanly through the gears and the exhaust note was the stuff of erotic dreams!  After the ride, the conclusion was that it was a quick little beast and handled pretty well for something in the early stages of development.  Looking at the photo, a silver object can just be seen on the headstock between the fork stanchions.  This is a simple, but effective steering damper!  It consists of a curved plate attached to the bottom yoke, backed with a flexible asbestos pad which can be tightened against the headstock.  Quite innovative really and another of Len's ideas.

A few more sneaky rides out of town were undertaken and it was a delight to ride but let's face it, anything with the smell of hot 2 stroke oil is great.  However, dreams of getting it onto the local track were fast diminishing as the kids were showing more interest in soccer and rugby and to be honest, most of the enjoyment was gained from building it.  My height might have been passable, but there was no way it would perform at the track with lardy me on it so it got parked in the shed with a tarpaulin over it for a year or two until it was given to a work colleague with similar thoughts for his kids.  Same result, but at least we all had a lot of fun!

As a poignant postscript, Len passed away peacefully in his favourite armchair at home a few short years ago.  A lovely way to pass, given his earlier profession. His technical and motivational skills were legendary and his funeral showed the huge esteem in which he was held, including ex-apprentices coming back from overseas for the occasion and even representation by the NZ SAS; but that's another story.....  A colourful and giant of a man in every sense and in these days when conformity seems to be accepted as a virtue, Len was a wonderful antidote to both conformity and mediocrity.  I don't use the word lightly but it was an utter privilege to have known him and to have counted him as a friend.

Sunday 16 May 2010

What might have been... Tricati

In the mid-late 60's, there was an article in the UK magazine, Motorcycle Mechanics, about a guy who shoehorned a 500cc Triumph twin unit construction motor into a 250cc Ducati rolling chassis, calling it a Tricati.  That article was subconsciously filed away in the back of the brain for future reference.

After giving up competitive drag racing in the early 70's (a combination of building a career and being financially strapped at the same time!), there was a hankering for building an exotic road bike based around my 350 cc Triumph drag motor (Drag Bike) and that article on the Tricati was remembered. 

You may not have heard of the Ducati 200cc Elite as there weren't many about but in my humble opinion, it's still one of the most beautiful bikes ever made and the fuel tank shape is pure sex!  Here's a pristine example:

As it happened, a local bike repair shop had a Ducati Elite tucked away in the back of their workshop.  The motor had a cracked crankcase and heaven knows what state the internals were in.  I'm sure they thought I was insane for even enquiring about it but my interest was in the cycle parts and got the whole thing for next to nothing.

The first job was to see how difficult it was going to be to squeeze the 350cc Triumph twin into what was a pretty small chassis.  There was no intention to transfer the supercharger too, so there was adequate room for replacing it with twin carbs.  Clearance under the tank didn't look like an issue as the short-stroke motor was already lower than standard and it also looked shorter overall  than the original Ducati motor.  Some very crude engine plates and spacers were made and the motor pretty much went in first time. This photo is of the motor although the head was reversed back to standard configuration and the supercharger removed before the transfer.

But aha, I hear the knowledgeable ones say, "The Ducati final drive is on the right and the Triumph is on the left".  Well spotted!  This wasn't much of an issue actually.  Inverting the swingarm and re-welding the suspension lugs on the other side was all that was required and the bonus was that the front and rear chain sprockets were almost perfectly in line.  Precision alignment could be achieved by carefully machined engine spacers.  With all that sorted, some engine plate patterns were sent to top drag racer Alf Hagon and back came some fantastic alloy plates with an engine-turned circular finish; simply magnificent.  Spacers were machined from stainless steel and the engine slotted in perfectly. 

Next step was to sort out some of the cycle parts.  A half-fairing identical in style to the original Ducati 900ss was fitted and a single racing seat not unlike that on Cal Rayborn's racing XR TT Harley was made from polystyrene and glass fibre.  The intention was to manufacture high level pipes and mufflers like the factory 500cc Triumph Daytona racer shown in the last photo of this post: Nostalgia.  However, events were taking an unexpected turn.

Because of other commitments (including the minor issue of getting married and buying a house!) progress was slower than originally anticipated and construction activity virtually stalled.  At best guess, detailed finishing including a new wiring loom and painting would have taken perhaps 18 months working most weekends.  A further complication was that a good job offer working on the other side of the world in New Zealand was made - too good to turn down in fact.

It would be fair to say that the focus at that time wasn't on motorcycles, more on the upcoming new life and when an offer for the rolling chassis was made, it was accepted.  The drag engine was given to a friend I've lost touch with and for all I know, it might still be sitting in the back of his shed.  It was some 12 years after emigrating that an active interest in bikes was re-kindled: Getting back into it and memories of the Tricati also surfaced again.  Not one to have regrets about the past but I'll admit that with the benefit of hindsight, I was a complete plonker to sell as it wouldn't have taken up a lot of space in the container when we moved to NZ.  Also wish I'd had the foresight to take to take photos at different stages of construction just for the memories.

Ahhhh... what might have been! (But there is a happier sequel to special-building which will be the subject of the next post).

Update: For an amazing sequel, go to THIS post.

Friday 14 May 2010

Beware Canadians

This isn't about  motorcycles but I feel compelled to post it as a salutatory warning to my Canadian blogging friends if they have any intention of coming to New Zealand (Sonja, you are mercifully excluded for reasons which will become obvious).  We don't have any snakes and only one poisonous spider, the Katipo.  It's so rare that very few Kiwis have even seen one and whilst it's poisonous, it's not deadly. It's a distant cousin of the Redback.

On an NZ internet news site not half an hour ago, the following report appeared.

Katipo bites skinny-dipping tourist

A venomous katipo spider bite on his penis was the high price a tourist paid for a skinny-dip at a Northland beach.
The 22-year-old Canadian left his clothes in the sand dunes while he went for his nude swim and slept on his return, according to a report on the case in today's online NZ Medical Journal.
"He woke to find his penis swollen and painful with a red mark on the shaft suggestive of a bite. He rapidly developed generalised muscle pains, fever, headache, photophobia [light sensitivity] and vomiting," wrote Dr Nigel Harrison and colleagues who treated him at Dargaville and Whangarei hospitals.
By the time the man reached Dargaville Hospital, his penis was severely swollen, his blood pressure was up and his heart beat racing.
Chest pain and other symptoms developed the next morning and it was presumed he had been bitten by a katipo. He was treated with anti-venom medicine and rapidly improved.
However, heart problems persisted and he was treated at Whangarei Hospital and Auckland Hospital before returning to Canada.
Katipo spiders are known to have a highly specialised habitat in New Zealand sand dunes and will bite only rarely, and in defence.
This was the first known case of myocarditis, or heart inflammation, caused by a bite, Dr Harrison said.
A prompt diagnosis and the use of anti-venom resulted in a good outcome for the tourist, he said.

I am more concerned for the sanity of a Canadian who wants to go skinny dipping in the ocean on the edge of winter in NZ.  I know it's Northland, but this is hardly equivalent to Hawaii.  With the Pacific North West having just emerged from a cold winter, I'm inclined to think that the victim was from this region, thinking how tropical it is by comparison.  I'm sure this isn't a regional trait and perhaps we have an example of Darwinism at work.

Nonetheless, if you see a fellow motorcyclist who is wearing ultra-baggy trousers and walking with a stoop, perhaps you'd like to offer him some sympathy before you turn away and snigger.

Fond regards,


Thursday 13 May 2010

4 decades to discover scooters!

This post is principally directed at esteemed blogger Bobscoot, but also at other scooter enthusiasts.  It is, in fact, an apology for taking so long to discover the joys of riding a scooter!

Let's go back to July 2009.  For much of Mr and Mrs James' near-38 years of married life, we've had a tradition of taking turns to arrange anything between a weekend and 2 weeks away to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  The rules of engagement are that the destination has to be kept a secret from the other party for as long as absolutely possible.  Lies, false trails and any other subterfuge are considered fair play for this event.  Fortunately, we have a good friend who is a travel agent and has long been a willing co-conspirator to all this. This is not without stress you understand, particularly when it's my turn to organise things. Mrs. James, in keeping with female traditions everywhere on the planet always wants to dress "appropriately".  That is to say, she doesn't want to pack a range of flimsy tops, shorts and sandals only to arrive at Scott Base in Antarctica.  My evasive techniques have come close to being too successful on occasions and 4 years ago, she threatened to stab me in the eye with a pen she was holding if I didn't come clean.

However, I digress.  Last year, the planning fell to Jennie and when we left home in the car on a mystery route, my suitcase carried a range of clothing (boy scout motto: be prepared) and we eventually ended up at Auckland International Airport.  She finally revealed the destination as the tropical South Pacific island of Rarotonga.  Whilst waiting for the plane, she handed over the travel pack for perusal. I looked no further after noting that part of the package included the use of a scooter for our stay!!!  I started riding motorcycles in 1963 and in all that time, had never ridden a scooter.

On checking in at our accommodation, we were told that before the scooter could be ridden, a local driving license had to be procured, so it was down to the main police station early in the morning to get one.  I flashed my NZ motorcycle license, produced NZ$25 and within 5 minutes had my Cook Islands driving license.  Behind me in the queue was an American with the same intention but was unable to prove that he had a motorcycle licence.  Trying to intimidate the woman behind the desk with "Goddam, I've ridden Harleys all my life and my say-so ought to be enough" was not a smart move. He was promptly sent to the back of another signposted (and lengthy) queue for non-licence holders to take a test which involved riding a scooter in a circle at the back of the police station for all of 30 seconds (at presumably additional cost).  He'd failed to grasp that licensing was not a test of competence or a challenge to his masculinity, it was simply a significant income stream for the island. Politeness may have seen another result entirely.

Motorcycle riding laws in Rarotonga are delightful.  The island speed limit is 50km/hr.  Some laws were passed a few years back making helmets compulsory but this was amended to no helmets being required below 40km/hr.  The reason for this unlikely legislation?  Pressure from Rarotongan women, that's what!  "Big Hair" is the prevalent fashion and they were outraged at the idea of getting "helmet hair" so a face-saving compromise was reached.  In practice of course, the legislation was unenforceable so everyone continues along helmet-less at whatever speed they choose.  Oh to have the power of those women on our policy makers!

Back at the resort, Jennie and I leapt on the black Yamaha Cygnus 125 automatic that had been allocated to us and promptly leapt off again as the seat temperature due to the sun was close to that of molten lead and we were wearing shorts.  Probably provides continuous amusement to the girls running Reception.  Wheel it into the shade for a few minutes whilst the intricacies of getting it started were explored and eventually, getting back on and heading into town.  A few nervous wobbles with the little wheels up the resort driveway which consisted of crushed shell and then out onto the main road to town.

My safety helmet was a baseball cap turned backwards.  It's well-known that a cap turned backwards bestows magical powers of invulnerability on spotty youth all over the world but my reason was far more pragmatic - with it facing forward, the darned thing blew off within a few feet and was run over by following traffic.  Here's a photo of me and the scoot down at Avarua harbour in full safety gear.... cap on backwards, chick magnet sunglasses, tee shirt and shorts.  As someone who pretty much wears full protective gear including gloves at home to even nip down to the local shops, I was surprised how relaxed I was on the island without all that gear.  Everyone is so chilled-out and courteous that the most likely risk of harm is through a coconut landing on your head.  I did draw the line at riding in flip-flops though having seen what even a minor spill can do to toes. Not possessing the ultimate fashion accessory of pink Crocs, our Asics walking shoes were pressed into service.

The Cygnus was an absolute delight and the perfect choice of vehicle to become acquainted with the island's sights and smells.  The island circumference is about 32 km and no matter how many times we circumnavigated it, it hardly seemed to use any fuel.  Scooters must be the ultimate local commuter vehicle.  The underseat space was cavernous for holding food, trinkets and fallen coconuts procured during the many circumnavigations.  It would have been used earlier if I'd actually been able to find the means to lift the seat in a timely manner.  Nothing more embarrassing than an epic fail on an unfamiliar machine!

As confidence grew in the Cygnus, some spirited riding was attempted but stability seemed to decline a bit and besides; the speed governor on the back delivering the odd blow to the side of the head was a powerful disincentive, so laid-back cruising soon resumed.  The only tricky moment was riding 2-up through soft sand to reach the deserted beach in the photo below.  There was no risk of physical harm, just a blow to dignity if we decked it.  All turned out well though.

So my one and only scooter experience in a long motorcycling career turned out to be a magnificent one and I can see what the attraction is to the legions of scooter owners throughout the world.  Before I finish though, I've add a couple of photos of another bike we chanced upon outside Avarua shopping centre - the Sachs Madass.  Have never seen one of these before and they're really funky - projector headlights, upswept exhaust - a honey of a bike.  No storage space but a great machine to ride, I'll bet.

Addendum:  Since writing this post, I've accidentally discovered a nice, simple article written by NZ's Accident Compensation Commission on scooter safety.  It's presumably aimed at young riders, but has wider application: Scooter safety

Saturday 8 May 2010

Model motorcycles - never again!

And now for something completely different..... (With a nod to Monty Python)

Hadn't done any model-making since my teens but about 15 years ago, the kids bought me a Tamiya Ducati 900ss plastic kit for Father's Day.  Just the thing for a winters' night so went out and bought some brushes, paints and cement.  Now, if anything is going to show up eyesight problems as the years go by, it's plastic models with a million microscopic parts. Dexterity was also an issue and it felt like bunches of bananas were attached to my wrists rather than fingers.  Whilst the challenge of putting the Ducati together was quite enjoyable, concentration span was an issue so a limit of one hour per occasion was about right to avoid loss of temper.  Being a pedantic engineer, the exhaust pipes were given a bit of colour too.  Here's the result (click to enlarge):

Whilst the outcome was reasonably pleasing, there was no intention to do any more model construction but as is the way of things, in 2001, fate stepped in.  Back then, I owned a BMW K100RS but had just bought a Honda Blackbird.  A workmate was wanting to get back into bikes and made an offer for the Beemer which was duly accepted.  When he came round to pick it up, bless his good heart; he gave me a Tamiya K100 kit to keep the memory alive! It was a naked K100, not the faired RS as there was no RS kit available but it was a lovely, generous gesture so building started again.  This is how it ended up:

Getting eye strain at the dining room table for nights on end was hard going and there was no intention of building another model in the foreseeable future.  However, eating my own words seems to be a speciality and when a Tamiya model Blackbird caught my eye, how could it be resisted?

The temptation to be pedantic again reared its head as the kit was an early carburetted Blackbird and mine (the real one, that is) was injected. Now, train-spotters, obsessive-compulsives and other anoraks (an English term for sad bastards like me who need to get a life) will recognise the dilemma.  The ram air intakes in the fairing of the kit had mesh in them and the injected real bike had vertical bars.  Consequently, I started rummaging through boxes of bits in the workshop to see if there was anything which could be adapted to make it look like an injected version.  Here's where a slight miscalculation was made by mentioning to Jennie what I was up to.  Her reply was laced with words that I hadn't heard her use before so it was a fair pointer that some sort of invisible line had been crossed.  Oops, mesh grilles they'd stay, and there was no way that I was going to add fuel to the fire by mentioning that  there was a small difference in the tail light between the earlier and later models which was originally going to be addressed too!!!

Although plans to build an exact replica of my bike were now clearly in tatters, there was nothing to stop a paint job to match it, so some Tamiya translucent blue was procured, along with silver metallic base coat.  Buying an airbrush for just one model would have seen me sucking hospital food through a straw so the plan was to apply multiple coats (7 from memory) of highly thinned blue over the silver base.  It worked out pretty well too as you'll see from the pictures below.  Oh, and I did adorn it with my own numberplate as a silent act of geeky defiance!  Construction and painting was such a difficult process that it nearly got hurled against the wall on several occasions and there's little likelihood of another one being built - EVER! Even the rear shock and chain got painted - really obsessive!  We still have all 3 models but they remain packed in one of the many boxes that haven't been opened since we moved home a couple of years ago and there are absolutely no plans to add a Street Triple to them!

Saturday 1 May 2010

Radar Detectors - worth having?

On NZ motorcycle forums at least, one of the regular topics is radar detectors - do they work, what make is best and so forth.

I've used a detector since 2005 so thought I'd take the opportunity to share my personal experiences about what they will and won't do.  There's clearly things I'm not aware of but the experiences and knowledge listed here will hopefully be a good starting point.  These are in the New Zealand context but apart from legality of use issues, the technical aspects will largely apply to any country. Legality of use varies from country to country and state by state.  In NZ, they are legal but if you get pulled up and the enforcement officer sees a detector, don't necessarily expect a sympathetic response!  Interestingly though, an academic research study from Western Australia on the use of detectors shows that there is a strong international correlation between the use of detectors, safer driving habits and reduced serious injuries.

Before going any further, a radar detector  merely confirms the presence of transmitted signal activity. It is only an aid, not a guarantee of avoidance and relying on your situational awareness in combination with a detector is still essential.  Too much reliance on a detector will still see you in a world of grief! Active countermeasures will also be commented on further on in the post.

Why would you want a detector?
Owning a detector doesn't automatically mean that you're Public Enemy #1 who has no control over his or her right wrist!  Most riders like a good blast from time to time but choose an appropriate time and place to do it.  It's not normally these circumstances where a detector is really useful.  It's where speeds are over but closer to the legal limit where your attention is perhaps temporarily diverted from your speedometer.  The trigger for me getting one was in 2005 when putting in an entry for the Southern Cross 4500 km round NZ in 5 days endurance ride.  I doubted that I'd be hitting hyper velocities on the ride but a detector could be a useful warning when, for example, overtaking slower traffic at "perhaps" 20-30km/hr above the legal limit to minimise overtaking time.  Get the drift?  I can also say in all honesty that having a detector on the bike and being paranoid about it going off has increased my overall situational awareness.

What do detectors detect?
There are several radar bands used to detect vehicle speed, the most common of which are X, K, Ka and Laser. Most quality detectors will emit a different signal for each type of band.  Personally, I only look at the detector visual display AFTER I've hit the brakes as scrubbing speed off is a sight more pressing than knowing what band has been picked up! Similarly, the rate of beeping and intensity will increase as the emitter gets closer but that's academic for the same reasons.

X band is largely outdated these days but most detectors will pick it up.  Unfortunately, X band is commonly used for automatic door openers and other security systems in shops and offices etc, so any X band signal is likely to be a "false" warning.  Good detectors will allow X band detection to be turned off, cancelled or muted to stop it becoming an annoyance, particularly in town.

K Band is similar to X Band in that it has commercial uses although some K band mobile speed cameras in unmarked vans have recently appeared in NZ.  Consequently, I've re-activated K band detection and simply switch it to mute in town.

Ka band is the most commonly used form of microwave radar used by the police in NZ and is fitted to Highway Patrol vehicles as well as most mobile speed cameras. It's early detection of this band which has saved me multiple times more than the cost of a detector! The broad signal beam (or scatter) paints a large area and good detectors have 360 degree signal detection. Microwaves will pass through objects like windscreens and the human body.  Consequently, you can pick up Ka signals from other roads but that's no bad thing anyway. OH, AND THERE ARE NO PRACTICAL MEANS OF JAMMING Ka SIGNALS WITHOUT TOWING A VIRTUAL TRUCK LOAD OF ELECTRONICS!

Laser band is less common in NZ than Ka band and as far as I know, can only be used statically as opposed to on the move like a Ka microwave radar.  Once you've been hit by a laser particularly if you're not in traffic, it's likely that you're going to be a goner if you're above the legal limit as the beam width is very narrow and therefore very specific in its aim!  A laser beam won't penetrate a solid object and is also affected to some extent by tinted screens and the like so the positioning of a detector for good pick-up is more critical than with microwave radar. The good news is there are laser countermeasures, although there are a few considerations which go with them - more on that later.

Detector in waterproof case mounted on left handlebar

Hearing any warning
Most detectors have a an inbuilt speaker with volume control but even on maximum, it's largely inadequate for motorcycle use.  I started off using a small speaker attached with velcro inside my helmet and connected to the detector via a jackplug and cable.  Whilst it worked well enough, there were times when I'd accidentally disconnect the jackplug or break the lead by forgetting about it when I dismounted the bike! Bluetooth is another approach although I have no personal experience of this

Another alternative is a commercial system called H.A.R.D. which uses a helmet-mounted LED on a small stalk just within peripheral vision.  Connection to the detector is by radio frequency and when a signal is detected, the LED flashes red.  The system works well although there are two potential downsides.  The first is that it is battery-powered and it's essential that the batteries are kept charged and the unit switched off when not in use.  Secondly, a visual cue is less effective than an audible one in terms of the brain's reaction time.

I use a device called a "screamer" which is of proprietary manufacture.  It emits a scream similar in intensity to a domestic smoke alarm at the loudest setting and I'm told **grin** that it's perfectly audible at well over 200 km/hr!  It's compact, hooked directly to the detector and powered by the bike electrical system.  It's the round black object in the picture below mounted on the right of the Blackbird top yoke. (Not the heated grip control on the left).  It's mounted behind the twin headlights on the Street Triple.  It has 2 volume settings and an "off" position, all easily reached by the thumb via a switch mounted next to the left handlebar grip.  I haven't found any significant disadvantages with this system.  It's also worth adding that a friend built his own version, using the internals from a smoke detector.
 "Screamer" is black circular object to the right of the headstock

Practical experience to date
I've only been lasered once and was travelling at legal speeds so all that can be reported is that the signal was picked up at about 100 metres with no other traffic around.  However, with Ka microwave detection, the number of potential "saves" have been numerous.  The terrain has a bearing on detection distance but in flat, uncluttered countryside, my maximum known detection range was around 5km.  On twisty, hilly roads, range has been as low as 100 metres but still provided adequate warning in those conditions.  Camera vans using Ka band are usually picked up at 100-400 metres.  This is probably due to the beam being angled across the road and perhaps the strength of the signal itself.

The biggest influence on early detection is how the Ka signal emitter in the police vehicle is being used.  If the radar is left running in target acquisition mode, then it's easy to pick up a long way out and this is a relatively frequent occurrence from personal experience. I guess that members of the Highway Patrol can be as lazy or forgetful as other sections of the community.  More of a problem is when police are using the  "instant on" technique and then there's almost no warning unless you pick up the ground calibration pulse and react immediately.  Your best chance of "instant on" detection is when it is is being used on traffic further down the road and the wide microwave beam scatter and reflection off solid objects allows it to be picked up by your detector.

It's worth adding that as with most things, you get what you pay for and there are plenty of detectors on the market which perform poorly. The Escort, Bel and Valentine brands consistently score highly in independent tests (available on the 'net). I've used an Escort Passport X50 for several years.  You really do get what you pay for.

Laser countermeasures
Laser countermeasures are a bit of a minefield for two reasons.

Firstly, from the legal perspective.  Technically, they are legal in NZ as well as some other countries.  However, the understanding is that it would be possible to bring a prosecution under perverting the course of justice or a few other legal avenues.  Even so, no known prosecution has ever taken place, perhaps because they can be discreetly located and also, because not many people have them.  2019 edit:  I read about a court case in early 2019 where a UK driver was jailed for 3 weeks and incurred a massive fine and driving ban for perverting the course of justice!

Secondly, product performance.  Independent testing has shown that a number of so-called countermeasures simply don't work - a rip-off in other words.  The only two I'm aware of that have solid credentials are the Blinder and Escort jammers although there may be more.  There's no intention on my part to buy one because of the relatively low frequency of use of lasers in NZ.  Besides, detection and active jamming are rather different issues.

In summary
So there we are.... detectors are a very useful device but personal vigilance is still required.  My Escort X50 has saved me from trouble countless times, not from hyper velocities but those times when you're "a bit over" the limit.  It has certainly paid for itself many times over.  They are also a genuine aid to better riding which is only fully appreciated after you've owned one for a while.  Hope that the post has been of interest.

And one more thing......  in NZ advertisements for radar detectors, you will frequently see "Tuned for NZ conditions".  This is marketing nonsense presumably aimed at deterring you from buying from overseas often at a significantly lower price. The "tuning" is simply turning off the bands which are not used by NZ law enforcement to reduce the risk of false alerts.  This is a job you can do yourself in about 5 minutes or less by following the detector instructions, so don't be fooled!