Wheel alignment

Friday 24 December 2010

For the Northern Hemisphere bloggers!

Well, it's Christmas Eve Down Under.  I have a task list a mile long courtesy of my CEO and am under orders to have all tasks completed by the time the family starts to arrive in a couple of hours.  Our daughter is bringing her new(ish) boyfriend whom we've yet to meet.  I'm under orders to be nice to him or the carving knife will be used on me rather than the Xmas ham!  Perhaps not a good occasion to push my luck :-).  Anyway, one of Victoria's protective brothers recently met him and said that he's a really nice guy.  That's high praise indeed from someone who is not noted for diplomacy when it comes to her boyfriends!

The excellent Troubadour had a dig at us Southern Hemisphere types regarding the weather, trees and everything else in his recent post, showing a complete lack of sympathy for the warmth, blue skies and approaching the longest day of the year.  I took the photo below just for him and the snow-bound British bloggers on the way back from collecting the Christmas ham from town **sly grin**.  Xmas day and Boxing Day have temperature forecasts of around 30 degrees C, so we'll drink a toast to you at the evening BBQ!

Jennie's MX5, just 200 metres from home

All the very best from Upside-Down Land and catch you after Xmas.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Classic racebikes and other stuff

Decided to slip in a quick post before Xmas whilst I was sorting through some photos!

For a country with a 4 million-odd population, it's surprising just how many gems from the automotive and aircraft world lurk in people's sheds in NZ.  As an example from the aircraft world, there's an elderly guy at the top of the south island who bought some surplus aircraft in the decade following WW2 and stored them in a huge barn on his property.  All he does is go and sit in them and one is a De Havilland Mosquito.  How much would that be worth to a restorer????? Virtually priceless I guess.  Amazingly, there are four Mosquitoes reputed to be under restoration in NZ, one at an advanced stage.

Anyway, onto things automotive and motorcycling in particular; there are a huge number of classic race bikes which come out to play now and again, many very rare or one-offs.  In the latter category is the original Burt Munro Indian (World's Fastest Indian) and some of his other bikes.  They are permanently displayed at a hardware store in the south island town of Invercargill where Burt lived. Here's the link to photos of the real bikes: E Hays Hammer Hardware .  They even sell Burt Munro memorabilia.

 Some of Burt Munro's bikes

The February 4-6 International classic meeting at the Pukekohe track in south Auckland is not to be missed because classic racers come from all over the world to take part.  I'll be there snapping away in 2011 but in the meantime,  here's a few interesting local ones I photographed at various domestic meets over the last few years.  The fact that they're still in existence at all is wonderful, but that they are wheeled out time after time and given a real caning on the track is both testament to the bikes themselves and the care and time which the owners lavish on them.

 A brace of Excelsior Manxmen

Built in the 1930's in England in 250cc, 350cc and 500cc sizes, they were overhead cam driven and really innovative considering that Japanese bikes tend to be popularly thought of as introducing OHC to production bikes in the 60's.  The Excelsior closest to the camera has had the girder forks replaced with telescopic units.  Great to see 75 year old bikes still being raced and raced hard at that!

A Norvin

The Norvin is a British Vincent 1000cc engine shoe-horned into the legendary Norton featherbed frame.  Considering that the first Vincent V twin appeared in the mid-30's, they have remained remarkably plentiful and there are plenty of specialist companies around the world dedicated to keeping the name alive.  Wicked-looking bike and they sound magnificent with straight-through pipes - nothing politically correct about a racing Vincent engine!  As an observation, the twin leading shoe front brake would have its work cut out hauling up a Norvin from speed.

NSU Sportmax

The German NSU 250cc Sportmax racing single from the mid-1950's was a pretty uncomplicated racebike with pressed steel leading link forks. However, it's yet another example of a pre-Japanese overhead cam motorcycle.

The final photo isn't a racebike (you don't say!) but I photographed it at a classic meeting.  It's a Triumph from the early(ish) 1900's which has been impeccably restored.  It wasn't the bike which took my breath away but the beautifully made sidecar in green buttoned leather and woven cane.  Most regular readers of this blog will have gathered that I love the work of what might be described as "traditional" craftsmen.  This sidecar most definitely falls into that category - what a magnificent piece of work. Hope that the Health and Safety morons haven't seen fit to interfere with its ability to traverse NZ's highways.

1915 Vintage Triumph and cane sidecar

Finally, nothing at all to do with classic racebikes.  I'd like to mention a book which I read over the last week which may well appeal to motorcyclists everywhere, given their love of interesting challenges and a healthy disdain for conformity and boring normality.  This book was so funny that frequent hysterical snorting and choking, followed by wiping of eyes and blowing of nose was earning me sighs, tuts and rolling of eyes from my nearest and dearest whilst in earshot.

The book has an unlikely but true storyline. It's about a battery-powered domestic milk delivery float, built in the 1950's with a top speed on level ground of perhaps 20 mph or a tad more with a storm-force tailwind. Three guys decided not that long ago to drive one from the most easterly location in England to the most westerly part.  Not for a charity or any purpose other than it being good fun.  Adding spice to the tale, they did it with little or no forward planning - an interesting proposition considering that the batteries require re-charging every few hours.

If you enjoy a tale of quirky human endeavour coupled with the very best English wit, then you could do a lot worse than reading this.  You'll laugh yourself sick.  Here it is:  Three men in a Float, by Dan Kieran and Ian Vince - ISBN978-1-84854-015-6.  I was lucky enough to find it in our local library, but I know it's available at a modest price from at least a couple of international web-based booksellers.  The human race would be all the poorer without people having crazy ideas like this.

Sunday 12 December 2010

The non-human members of the family...

Following  Nicos' recent post about his soccer-averse moggie and Trobairitz'  photo of the majestic Squire Basil, plus seeing that it's close to Christmas, warm fuzzies and all; I thought I'd take the opportunity to introduce our non-motorcycling feline layabouts, Henry and Thomas.  For tenuous reasons, we have cats named after people from the literary world.  Pushkin was our 18 year old black Persian who passed away 11 years ago.  Henry (James) has just turned 11 and Thomas (Hardy) has just turned 9. Like cats everywhere, they're an integral part of the family and have very definite and diverse (psychotic?) personalities.

After Pushkin passed away, Jennie wanted another cat and spied a kitten at the local vets.  The vet nurse told her that blue-eyed white cats were invariably deaf but she was hooked anyway.  I was less happy because of the worry about it getting run over but was naturally over-ruled.  This is Henry a few days after collection from the vet:

Henry, the chocolate box cat in 1999

Henry promptly repaid Jennie's affection by completely ignoring her and attaching himself to me - he's been that way ever since!  For a deaf cat, he's remarkably talkative - how does that work????

After being ignored for a couple of years, Jennie lost patience and visited the local cat rescue, finding an abandoned Russian Blue cross kitten.  He had one bent ear and slightly runny eyes which triggered a typically  "aww...." response from my Chief Executive.  Now there were 2.....  Thomas immediately bonded utterly and completely with Jennie and it's been that way ever since, although he does acknowledge my presence when he's hungry.  This is Thomas on the day we picked him up:

A little waif with runny eyes and a bent ear tip - awwww....

Like most cats, they have their moments of insanity.  Here's Thomas, killing the cat flap:

Pure insanity!

Before we retired and moved permanently to our beach place, they used to come with us at the weekends and holidays, loving it there.  So much so that they developed a 6th sense for when it was time to go home and would promptly disappear into the undergrowth just before we were due to leave.  Thomas did a runner for 5 hours on one occasion and nearly had to fend for himself or scrounge off neighbours until the following weekend.

A few weeks after that incident, Henry got wind of imminent home-time and sprinted up a tree on a steep slope in the neighbour's garden.  I managed to coax him onto a lower branch then lunged.  At the same time as I grabbed his fur, my feet lost grip on the slope and we both rolled down the bank, flattening small shrubs and accumulating a lot of mud and debris in the process.  I couldn't let go of  Henry as we were ready to leave and he'd just bolt for hours.  Jennie witnessed the whole sorry affair and was in hysterics.  Mustering as much dignity as was possible covered in mud and leaves,  Henry got thrown in the car; followed by me. The cats and I had to endure muffled sniggers for the whole 2 1/2 hour drive home.  After that debacle, we resorted to shoving them in a bedroom before packing the car for the trip home and an uneasy truce existed until we moved full time.

Thomas also enjoys a walk on the beach just behind our place and spends ages investigating the rock pools.  He's an 8kg solid muscle Alpha Male and initiated an unprovoked attack on a neighbour's Weimaraner dog once - highly embarrassing having to apologise for that episode!!  A couple of years ago, he dragged a highly ticked-off live pheasant through the cat flap which then proceeded to poop and flap all over the house.  Nice of him to bring home fresh food though although it's pleasing that headless rabbits have now stopped appearing on the lounge carpet first thing in the morning.  His alias is "Zarg the Destroyer" as we're certain that's how he thinks of himself.

Zarg the Destroyer patrolling the beach

Henry's much more of a pretty boy with fewer bad habits, although he does enjoy regularly ambushing me out in the shrubbery and drawing blood, the bastard. Maybe as retribution for the tree incident.  He loves travelling in the car, grinning out at surprised pedestrians and following motorists.
Butter wouldn't melt.......

Whether it's us or any of the neighbours, the cats always know that boats being towed back up any of the driveways equates to a completed fishing trip and they're there as soon as filleting starts.  They don't scrounge, just sit there with big, soulful eyes - they really know how work a crowd!

Orderly queueing for scraps

Inspecting a neighbour's Snapper catch!

Now, I've already mentioned that Thomas is the alpha male of the district but there's one cat who has totally got his measure.  This is Minka, our neighbour's Tonkinese.  She's 13 or 14 years old and diminutive but has such authority and class that she can stroll in and eat Thomas' food when she feels like it with absolutely no repercussions.  She has that famous stare which all females instinctively posses (hereafter known as THE LOOK)  which of course is guaranteed to make any guy's eyes water!

Here is Minka:

Minka - Supreme Ruler of the Cat Universe

So there we are, indolent members of the household who don't do any housework, are suspect in terms of guarding the property, and don't do anything else particularly productive.  Hmmmm... sounds like our kids before they left home!

Currently, it's around 30 degrees C (90F) and Jennie and I have just been digging up and stacking about 30 sq meters of small block pavers in the garden ready for someone to come in and properly level the area.  Both overheated, dehydrated and stuffed.  A cold beer followed by a nana nap methinks!

It's my last post for the year so......

Wishing you all a wonderful Xmas with all that you would wish for yourselves.  May you also have a magnificent 2011!

Pohutukawa - the NZ Christmas tree

Sunday 5 December 2010

Bikes and Planes - a great combination

Some spur of the moment rides can often be some of the most memorable....
After having visitors from the UK for a few days which was great fun but didn't involve 2 wheels, I was itching for a ride.  Woke up early, decided to go for a blast, grabbed a shower and the heavens immediately opened - couldn't believe it as the forecast was supposedly for great weather.  Resigned myself to aborting the ride and doing something productive indoors, only for the sun to come out after a few minutes and start drying the roads.  An hour later, I was on my way.

Decided to ride to Ardmore airfield, south-east of Auckland.  Ardmore is the home of several flying schools for various types of aircraft and it's also home to the north island chapter of the Warbirds - WW2 aircraft or thereabouts.  You never know what you'll see up there!  The 320-odd km loop through the countryside to get there and back is almost continuous twisties with minimal traffic - what more could you ask for?

320 km of heaven!

 The intent had been to head inland and approach Ardmore from the south but travelling down the Coromandel coast, the rain which cleared from home earlier seemed to be heading across that way, so going anticlockwise and travelling north up the western Firth of Thames coast road seemed a sensible option.  Beautiful warm weather with a mixture of cloud and sun, deserted roads..... magic!  A quick drink stop in lovely Kawakawa Bay and then on to Ardmore. A Highway Patrol car was discreetly tucked away near a hedge along a tempting country straight near Clevedon but the officer was being lazy and not using "instant on".  My detector picked him up the best part of a kilometre away which saved any grovelling explanations to Jennie.

Kawakawa Bay - not a soul in sight

Arriving at Ardmore, what struck me is the completely relaxed nature of the place considering that it's an operational airfield.  You can wander right up to the aircraft and whilst there must be some degree of discreet security, it's certainly not obvious and long may it be so.

First port of call was to the far end of the airfield where the Warbirds hangar is located.  Unfortunately, the hangar was shut so it wasn't possible to see what treasures were inside but right outside, there were some Harvards and Russian Yaks being readied for flight.  Alongside them was a PBY Catalina flying boat, one of a handful still in flying condition.  A rare treat to see it close up!

PBY Catalina and Yakolev aerobatic aircraft

The pilots started walking towards the Yaks, so it was time to scoot down to the other end of the airfield to see them take off.  However, just as I arrived, 4 Harvards were taxiing down the approach and parked in formation waiting for their turn to take off.

Clearing its throat or practising laying smoke?

Formation lift-off.  Big radials sound magnificent!

Low pass before flying off into the wide blue yonder

Ardmore has a slightly genteel air about it.  A vintage Bentley cruised slowly past whilst I was munching a bag of corn chips.  I think the occupants looked down their collective noses at someone in leather eating junk food.  The occupants were in period costume - strawberries and champagne for them rather than corn chips methinks; perhaps in the beautifully-restored DC3 which does charter flights around the Auckland area.  The genteel atmosphere extended to the photo below.  It looks like an English cricket pavilion but is in fact the Ardmore Flying School

Caviar and a cigar before your next flight old chap?

Shortly before I left, an aerobatic aircraft came out for a bit of practice.  Hard to see in the photo below but they're tiny little things - more like a home-built than a serious competition aircraft. It had only rolled a few metres before it took off - power to weight ratio must be enormous.

Tiny little aircraft but really, really fast

Finally, I couldn't resist a photo of the Triple against what remains of an English-built Bristol Freighter transport plane.  Hard to accept that these were front line cargo planes when I was a kid!  They had clamshell front loading doors and were pretty basic in their construction.  One Kiwi pilot likened it to 40,000 rivets flying in close formation!

Old meets new - pity about the vintage rider on the new item

The ride home through the Hunua range of hills was magic - literally two or 3 cars in 50 km and also pretty light for the rest of the run home, perfect for behaving irresponsibly (well, just a bit).  Guess we have to thank the nation's wives for keeping their husbands off the roads and busy on domestic tasks before they're allowed out to play.  My turn will come tomorrow but what a great day today has been!

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Definitely the last embarrassing photos

Well, Sonja and Bob in particular have come to the party regarding their old photos, so I'll throw in a handful more to finish off my contribution then it's back to the much safer world of motorcycles!  Bob, my Agfa Snapscan 1212 scanner must be close to 10 years old and works just fine, no software problems at all *grin*

We start off in 1963 when I was 16.  The standard school photo taken in the library at the local technical grammar school in the UK.  Passed (to the complete surprise of everyone including me) all my national "O" level exams and my maternal grandparents must have been especially surprised and thankful as they kickstarted (sorry about the pun) my motorcycle ownership with a present in the shape of a Suzuki 50!!  It was certainly better than going everywhere by bicycle, even if it did only have 5 horsepower.

 Oh dear.....

My other great love as a teenager was building model aircraft of all types. Here we are in 1965 (I think) with a glider.  Forty-five years later, I can still remember that it had a black fuselage and yellow lifting surfaces, even if I can't remember what I had for dinner last night :-).

Lousy clothing choice - a lifetime problem!

The following photo was taken in 1968.  Heavily influenced by the Mods (on scooters) and Rockers (on bikes) era in the UK where the opposing sides would regularly meet in the coastal town of Brighton to kick the living daylights out of each other.  Being a devout, practising coward; I avoided the antisocial stuff. Besides, our next door neighbour's son was a Mod and he was a cool guy!

White silk scarf, waxed cotton jacket, fur-lined flying boots - what a jerk

A very special day in 1972 in the county of Kent, UK.  Hair a bit long, but otherwise tidy.  Mother-in-Law definitely DID NOT approve of a dark brown suit with flared trousers and a cream shirt.  Never heard the end of it. The other person in the photo totally eclipses me of course.

A very proud moment

Fast forward 20 years to 1992.  Big hair and big glasses and a silk trouser suit were apparently the "in thing" for females. Why oh why did I have a crew cut?  Probably as an embarrassment to our kids!

Hmmmm..... one of us looks ok......

Still with an excruciating crew cut, this photo was taken in 1996 when on secondment to our parent company, International Paper in the Southern USA.  Judging by the "Do not Feed Alligators" sign, the relaxed pose was a very fleeting one! Certainly wouldn't trust the colleague taking the photo to give me any warning!

Absolutely no intention of donating a limb to the local 'gators!

That's it folks - laugh all you like!