Wheel alignment

Thursday 23 September 2010

Supplemental post - not about bikes but still way cool!

Our proud son Lyndon with new twins

Delighted to announce that Alexander Geoffrey James (~6lbs) and Benjamin Luke James (~5lbs) arrived in Melbourne, Australia last night NZ time.  Typical James trait of arriving early for an event - about 2 weeks in this particular instance!  Mother and grandkids all well.  Jennie will be flying over in a couple of weeks or so to play Grandma and generally help out until everyone finds their feet in coming to terms with twins and a lively 2 year old sister.

Can't wait to give them politically incorrect toys and do stuff with them which their parents would approve even less of.  Hmmm...  sweets with plenty of food colouring would be a good start ;-). It's just soooo good getting your own back on your kids, hehe!

Might just have a celebratory drink or two this evening.....

Wednesday 22 September 2010

A scary day for motorcycles!

There's always someone with a stupid idea and this time, it was my turn......

NZ has been battered by a huge storm for the last few days and cabin fever had set in.  Seeing a promising temporary abatement in the awful conditions on the weather forecast the previous evening, it was time to get out on two wheels. What the forecast actually said was, "Long, fine periods with storm force winds abating".  Good enough for someone who has been cooped up for the last 2 or 3 days though!  The historic gold-mining town of Waihi was chosen as the end destination as it was a while since I'd been there and I had never seen the active Martha Mine pit which is only a few hundred metres from the main shopping street!  A good destination and the 160km to get there via the east coast is virtually all bends and sweepers - magic.

There's a phrase which says, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger".  Little did I know that this would be rather too close to the mark for comfort.  Setting off from Coromandel Town in light rain, it was blowing a bit but was quite manageable.  After half and hour, all that started to change.  Pulling in for a quick photo at Kuaotunu Beach was decidedly tricky.  The offshore gale was at least 40-50 knots and holding the bike up between the knees whilst taking the photo could have lead to tears! 

Kuaotunu Beach - white everywhere

After one huge gust whilst parked and nearly going on my side, the notion of calling the ride off and going home for a decent cup of coffee had quite a strong appeal.  Unfortunately, the dark side of the brain was saying, "Ya big girl", so the decision was made to press on.  Actually, it wasn't too bad as far as Whitianga with a largely following wind and a fair bit of shelter but when turning south towards Waihi................ oh s*it!

Just south of Tairua on a short straight with a distinct lack of wind breaks, a gust was so strong and sustained that I was leaned right over and countersteering just to stay in a straight line, but was getting progressively pushed towards the edge of the road and a ditch!  Had less than a metre left and was looking for a soft landing before the gust abated - a very close call.  Interestingly, there was no fear or panic at the time, just concentrating on trying to get a good outcome. However, with the immediate drama over, I was a bit gun-shy  and slowed right up, sticking close to the centre line.  For a few minutes afterwards, any anticipatory skills were completely shot and it took a conscious effort to relax and start scanning again, including looking at debris swirling about as a pointer to what the wind was doing in corners and cuttings.

Just as I thought everything was under control, a curling gust in a blind bend pushed the bike just over the centre line - no time to react.  Fortunately, the intelligent residents of the Peninsula had elected to stay indoors, leaving the road to a few congenital idiots (i.e. me), so it was fortunate that the road was virtually empty of traffic.  This second fright caused another significant drop in pace, not that there were any illegal speeds previously and scanning for evidence of gusts became a preoccupation to avoid getting hurt.  In some parts of the trip through the Tairua forest area, airborne debris in the shape of small branches was an additional distraction, but not really dangerous.

Arriving in the small town of Waihi, it became apparent just how tensed-up I'd become fighting the wind with aching wrists and shoulders, plus a sore ear and neck from the pressure on one side of the helmet; so it was up to the open-cast gold mine viewing platform for a look and the chance to get off the bike and stretch for a few minutes.  The wind was fair screaming through but fortunately, a big display board provided perfect shelter for the Triple.

GPS was spot-on in locating the viewing platform

Waihi is an interesting place.  Gold was first discovered there in 1878 and originally it was extracted by tunnelling. One consequence of this was localised subsidence and about 10 years or so ago, several houses collapsed into a sink-hole!  However, most of it is now extracted from the Martha Mine open pit, just a 5 minute walk from the main street!

Martha Mine pit - several hundred metres deep

Drilling blasting holes near the pit bottom

Parked ore carrier -  wheel over 2 metres in diameter

Old tunnel winch house from the 1800's right by the main street

Old winch tower at the end of the main street

The pit was an impressive sight, especially being part of town.  After a bit of sightseeing, the intention was to grab lunch in a nearby cafe and look round the mine information centre (a mine of information?  Sigh...) before refuelling and heading home.  However, black clouds were looming down south and as the wind showed no sign of abating, discretion dictated a stop in the next town instead; some 30 km north where the nearby hills offered some degree of protection from the elements.

With the wind coming from the rear quarter, riding was pretty pleasant, although a bit of caution was required through bends and cuttings.  However,  Lady Luck decided to spring another surprise!  Rolling into the gas station at Whangamata, the attendant strolled out with the news that the high winds had cut power to town so there was no gas, or food for that matter.  Come to think of it, town did look kind of empty on the way through!  My stomach was rumbling but of more immediate concern was fuel.  Was it just Whangamata with no power or had other parts of the Peninsula been affected too?  It wasn't possible to get home without refuelling and the attendant hadn't got a clue about the big picture so it was on to Tairua, a further 37 km north.   A bit of short-shifting on this leg to conserve fuel was in order!

Rolling in to Tairua and my favourite cafe, it was obvious that the gas station opposite was open for business, albeit slow due to the lack of traffic on the roads - quite a relief.  The cafe is in a sheltered area of town and it was delightful to sit outside in the sun with a large bowl of latte, home-made steak and mushroom pie with salad and re-gather my wits!

Fuel, good food and all is well!

Amazing what a break and some nourishment does and mentally refreshed, continued on my way home.  Again, with the wind predominantly on the tail, it was an enjoyable run and even when turning west, having the wind right on the nose was a darned sight better than the earlier crosswinds.

Reflecting on the ride later, would I have gone out had I known what the conditions were going to be like?  Probably not, but despite the odd stressful moment, the ride was great in that the Triple (and me) got tested in fairly extreme conditions and I now know how it will respond.  Its lack of weight does mean that it will move around a bit more in wind than a heavier machine like my old Blackbird but by the same token; it's probably easier to get out of trouble if things do go pear-shaped.  A full fairing would have offered more protection punching straight into the wind but in cross-winds that strong, the slab sides of a fairing might have been a liability.  By crouching and leaning forward towards the Barracuda screen on the Triple, it was surprising just how much protection it afforded to the head and shoulders.

Next post in a couple of weeks' time - off on a road trip on Friday to Wellington and points in between  (sadly, in the 4x4, not the bike!)

Thursday 16 September 2010

Airhawk seats and other stuff

No riding last weekend due to some domestic chores and torrential rain for a lot of Sunday.  Heavens above, when are we going to string several dry days together???  Earthquakes, rain - it'll be a plague of locusts next.  However, I did sneak out early Saturday morning on the mountain bike for a bit of fitness training.  Hard work and the sweaty gear,wobbly legs and burning lungs all say that I've got to do a lot more riding yet to build up the remotest semblance of fitness.

Not a pretty sight....

On the way up to the hills, the signs that Spring is in the air are everywhere with early blossom coming out.  I was particularly captivated by a large magnolia in full flower so here it is:

Good opportunity to stop pedalling and take a photo....

Walking like John Wayne (or Donald Duck more accurately) on return from the mountain bike ride on account of an aching butt reinforced (no pun intended) the smart move in ordering a certain farkle a couple of days previously. Y'see,  I've been increasingly fretting about the likely state of my arse on the forthcoming   1000-miler.  The Street Triple standard seat could never be described as luxurious although in all fairness, a couple of 700 km days a few months ago only produced mild discomfort.  However, as that was less than half the daily distance to be covered this time next month; being driven insane with pain is a distinct possibility.  Didn't want the expense of a custom seat like my Blackbird and initial thoughts were that I'd simply resort to taping large-cell packaging bubble wrap to the seat when the throbbing started.  This is allegedly a trick employed by a few other distance riders in NZ but as I've never actually seen it used, paranoia set in about it being an urban myth. Cut down car seat beads have been recommended too but apart from raising seat height, I don't like the looks.

Enter Jennie a few days ago asking me what I want for my birthday (an ancient 63 the day after the1000 - miler).  Hadn't a clue initially - maybe an MV Augusta for the stable?  Getting laid? (Don't push your luck, Geoffrey....at least, that's what "THE LOOK" inferred) then a thought struck.  What about one of those Airhawk inflatable seat pads?  Accuse me of getting soft by all means, but using one on the Grand Challenge might be a fair test of how good they are and perhaps lessen a whole world of pain.  A quick peruse on line and an Airhawk was ordered from the USA. Because the Triple seat is quite narrow, the smallest one in the range looked to be the best fit, and it's a pillion pad at that.  It arrived 5 days after ordering from Dennis Kirk (absolutely superb service - highly recommended) at a cost of US131 including tracked air express freight to NZ.  Here it is:

Airhawk air cushion

Cushion with innards exposed (NOT a muffin tray!)

The photo above shows the interconnected air cells fully inflated just for photographic purposes but all you do is inflate it slightly (part of one breath - see pic below) to raise your anatomy pressure points from pressing into the OEM seat underneath.  All I've done so far is a continuous 300km run and it feels just fine.  However, as the OEM seat is ok for a good deal more than that anyway, the real proof will be next month on the big 'un. Update:  refer to 1000 miles in 24 hours outcome to see just how good this product is!

This is all the inflation you need

Just had the annual renewal notice for my motorcycle insurance..... hmmmmm!   I've been with the same insurer for 5 or 6 years as they were the principal insurers for Honda Riders Club when I had the Blackbird and gave pretty good discounts.  However, the renewal sum for the Street Triple seemed extortionate at NZ$840 (GBP400/US$611) for fully comprehensive cover given my clean record and age.  There is a component for "no fault" accident compensation cover but  even so, it shouldn't have increased that much.   Just been on the internet asking for quotations from the most reputable NZ  insurers and 15 minutes later, received a quotation for NZ$590.  Great service and a fair price too. I'll hang on until some more replies come in as the renewal date isn't until early October, but it really does pay to shop around!

Friday 10 September 2010

A bit of exploring

 Another fantastic day ride, 470 km

The forecast for last Sunday was overcast and windy, but dry.  A great day for a ride with the lads to get in yet more practice on back roads for the big event due in 6 weeks' time.  On this occasion, the ride destination is into largely unknown territory - the Awhitu Peninsula, south-west of Auckland. The Peninsula is sparsely inhabited and has a network of narrow, twisty roads.  The only person to have been there before in relatively recent times is Andy, and it's rumoured (well, a bit more than rumoured, *snigger*) that he ran out of gas miles from anywhere on that occasion!

Setting off after an early breakfast, it's a solo run through country lanes south-west to Huntly to meet up with the lads who are riding up from the Waikato province, plus Andy; who is riding  down from Auckland.  Huntly is situated on a massive coalfield and has the only coal-fired power station in NZ.  It's the perfect rendezvous point on account of all the fantastic back roads in the area.

 Huntly Power Station

Kaitiaki - Maori wood carving, spirit guardian of the nearby Waikato river

Arrival is about 15 minutes ahead of schedule on account of non-existent traffic but being super-keen, Andy has already arrived.  Not long afterwards, the Waikato contingent show up, also ahead of schedule in eager anticipation of a great day out.  John P turns up on a Kawasaki ZX9 R which he bought from a mate for a very sharp price because of cosmetic damage and has made a beautiful job of restoring it.  John H has brought a mate, Dave, on the latest Hayabusa - fantastic paint job on it.  Looks like it's not going to be a slow ride then, just like old times but hope I can keep up!

Andy: "Sorry Richard, my cojones are nowhere near that big!"

Getting ready for the off....

I'm the only one who has previously travelled on the westbound Hetherington Road, so get to lead out.  It's fairly narrow but the twists and turns and altitude changes make for a wonderfully technical ride on a bike.  Andy thinks it's his new favourite road and is having a ball but John P is having a tough time wrestling the ZX 9.  The bike doesn't want to turn into some of the tighter corners and it's really hard work for him.  The rear tyre is a Michelin Pilot 2CT in good condition but the front is an older Pilot Power with an odd wear profile.  It's clear that the suspension and steering set-up will need to be checked, plus a likely replacement with a new matching front hoop.  Good job that John is a very experienced rider and knows bikes and cars backwards.  Interesting how faults manifest themselves at a slightly elevated pace and something to address before the Grand Challenge.

At the end of Hetherington Road, John H takes the lead for the blast up route 22 as he's familiar with it and I take up the Tail End Charlie role.  A nice, fast smooth lead by John.  It's wonderful watching the bikes in front taking identical lines through all the bends and even with ear plugs, listening to the wail of aftermarket pipes is magic!  Reaching Tuakau, John pulls into a rest area for a short break and to allow Andy to take over the lead for the run over to Waiuku, a small provincial town which is effectively the gateway to the Awhitu Peninsula.

A quick break at Tuakau

The trip over to Waiuku is in a semi-built up area but it's not a big distance and everyone settles into cruise mode.  Most people need to refuel so it's into a gas station and to maximise riding time, that staple Kiwi and Aussie biker food is consumed on the forecourt - the ubiquitous gas station meat pie. (Gastric repercussions at no extra cost).

Andy sets a cracking pace up the Peninsula - not much likelihood of the Highway Patrol out this way.  In some places, the road runs along the top of a ridge and the views are spectacular, not that there's much time for sight-seeing.  However, near the northern end, the roads get a bit confusing (not blaming Andy of course) with lots of poorly-marked side turnings and after a few aimless circles, the decision is taken to take one marked "Manukau Heads".  After a while, the sealed road gives way to a steep gravel track leading down to the lighthouse at the Heads.  It's only a couple of km long with plenty of visibility, so no dramas in riding down there.  It's a fairly steep walk up to the lighthouse itself but the views are supposed to be spectacular.  Crikey, it's a trudge up there all right and warm motorcycle clothing causes a fair bit of perspiring and lots of heavy breathing!

Unaccustomed exercise!

View of gravel track from lighthouse

The walk up the track is very much worthwhile with spectacular 360 degree views.  To the west, the Manukau Harbour Heads and Australia some 2200 km further on.  To the north east, Auckland City and the Skytower can just be seen on the skyline, around 30 km away as the crow flies.

Manukau Heads, next stop Australia!

Inner harbour and Auckland City

The lighthouse was built in 1874 and is in beautifully restored condition.  There's no guide hovering to tell you what you can and can't do, but lots of historical info and photos, a notice saying what the opening hours are, and a polite request to close the balcony door when you leave!  An unattended donation box sits by the door and is gladly contributed to for both the great restoration and lack of bureaucracy.

The lighthouse in all its glory, only spoiled by yours truly

A very windswept Dave, John H, Andy, Richard and John P

Back down to the bikes where Andy has to take his leave and head back to Auckland to take family and friends to a women's netball international between NZ and Australia.  Some ribald comments are made as to whether Andy's interest is purely sporting or whether 6 foot tall athletic, attractive girls in short skirts provide a more likely motive for cutting a ride short.

I lead back to Waiuku and only encounter a handful of cars, so the pace is brisk again.  Only one slight embarrassment - having to pull in for a moment when realising that my helmet strap wasn't secured - doh!  The bends have clearly caught out a young woman driving a lowered Japanese car as she's gone off the road onto soft grass and is in the process of getting it bogged in her attempts to return to the road.  Plenty of people standing there though, so we carry on to where I fill up ready for the haul back home.  The guys follow me back through Pukekohe and out onto the Southern Motorway for a few km until I turn off to Coromandel and we then head for our respective homes.  Must head back sometime to the Awhitu Peninsula for more leisurely exploring of the regional park and beaches - it's gorgeous up there and the roads are superb for bikes or cars that actually handle.

Left home at bang on 0800, got back a touch before 1600 and covered 480 most enjoyable twisty kilometres in great company.  Every rider will recognise the satisfaction which comes from a ride like that.  Thanks again for the great companionship guys and see you soon for a decent ride in the dark as final practice for the Grand Challenge!

Friday 3 September 2010

Celebrating the first day of Spring

The weather forecast for the first day of Spring looked promising so arrangements were tentatively made for fellow 1000 miler entrant Richard and I to have a mid-week ride to keep up our ride fitness training schedule and enjoy the sun after the last group ride in torrential rain.  The 200 km Coromandel Loop looked a good prospect for misbehaving as traffic and Highway Patrol presence is relatively light on weekdays.

The Coro Loop - 200 km of heaven!

Sure enough, the day dawned fine and I rode down to Kopu just south of Thames to meet Richard, who was riding up from near Hamilton.  Impeccable timing as he'd just pulled into the gas station to fill up as I got there.  Richard is a sport bike rider at heart but bought a 1200GS BMW two or three years ago to explore the backroads.  Well..... this is what he says, but popular opinion is that getting away from sport bikes has allowed him to keep his licence for a little longer!

Richard and the GS - they have serious range!

Leaving Kopu, we head east. The road is a little damp in the shadows from rain the previous evening, but it isn't a big problem.  Traffic is light as predicted but isn't it typical of bikers everywhere that if you catch up to a slow car or two on a twisty section of road, it becomes incredibly irritating!  Fortunately, most cage drivers on the Peninsula realise that bikers are there to have fun and normally move over as soon as they're able.  Always good to acknowledge the courtesy with a wave.

As we reach the east coast, the roads dry out completely and it's a fast run up to Tairua, near Pauanui.  Time for coffee and a chocolate brownie, smothered with fresh cream!  The cafe owner told us that the calories dropped to zero if heated and served with cream, so that was good news! Whilst sitting in the sun enjoying the break, a local customer who was calling in to pick up a coffee turns out to be a rider too and seethes at us being out for a mid-week ride!  It seems that he retired about 12 months ago, was persuaded to return to work on a "temporary" basis to fill in and is still there.  Would we rub it in?  Simple answer is YES - no mercy shown whatever! 

About to leave Tairua

Conditions are warm and we head north to the small coastal settlement of Whangapoua where Steve, another entrant for October's 1000-miler owns the general store at the beach. Richard hasn't met Steve before so a few minutes are spent shooting the breeze before heading on to Coromandel Town.

Whangapoua Harbour

 The journey from Whangapoua to home is less than half an hour, but what a journey - one which most people would kill for!!  The last 12 km or so is over the Coromandel Range, one bend after another and a magnificent, grippy road surface too.  All traffic excepting bikes should be banned from it in daylight hours.  Not much to say except that this part of the trip was rather quick, leaving Richard to slyly remark, "So this is your personal playground, then".  Mind you, those GS Beemers really fly too and they handle exceptionally well in the twisties, especially with an ace like Richard on board.  See below for a video of this wonderful bit of road.

Lunch at home consists of fresh smoked fish, home made bread and home made fruit loaf to finish with - a superb end to a fantastic ride in great company. Richard still has 170 km to cover to get home and takes his leave - a very respectable day ride for him.

Finally, here's a video (my first and probably last!) taken the previous day (the last day of winter).  Simply fixed my Canon Ixus 105 camera to a mirror stalk and set it up in video mode.  The video is of me riding over the Coromandel Range, only 10 minutes from home.  The quality isn't high but just wanted to show what an awesome, highly technical road it is with no straights at all other than the one I took off from in the foothills.  I could have set it to music to get rid of the wind noise but decided to leave it "as is" because you can pick up the howl of the triple as it drives out of corners.  Stayed in 3rd gear all the way once I got to the hills and let the torque of the Triple do all the work.  Fantastic to have such a great playground only minutes from home!