Wheel alignment

Friday 28 January 2011

One of those magic days

Yesterday, we woke to a beautiful sunny day (again, grin!) and it would have normally been a super-early breakfast and away for the day on the bike for a few hundred km.  However, Thursday was a special day.  Not only was it sunny and hot, it was also flat calm with a high tide in the early afternoon.  With the remains of a tropical cyclone due to hit at the weekend,  it was a timely opportunity to take the boat out fishing!

As usual, we motored to a spot about 20 minutes from the ramp just down our road and tied up among the commercial mussel beds which are a haven for marine life.  It was our best day ever and in 3 hours, had completely filled our large chilly bin with snapper and run out of bait!  Given that snapper is over NZ$30/kg in the shops, not a bad haul!  Beautiful cooked, or diced and marinated raw in lemon juice, then mixed with coconut cream, diced red peppers, onion and fresh chilli, then chilled for a couple of hours - yumm!

Jennie with 4lb snapper

Me with 11 lb snapper

 Bobscoot will note the lucky red shorts being worn - certainly lucky on this occasion!  No pink Crocs though, just boring brown.

The only downer was having to fillet them all whilst a bit dehydrated and tired but never mind.  Just one cold beer was a mistake 'cos all I wanted to do was doze!

After an excellent feed, we sat on our deck with a cold gin and tonic and watched the sun set - and spectacular it was too.  Here's the photo:

Dusk from our deck

Doesn't get much better than that - have a great and safe weekend everyone!

Monday 24 January 2011

Speed doesn't kill, stupidity kills...

The "Speed doesn't kill, stupidity kills" title is deliberately provocative as I disagree with the official "Speed Kills" campaigns.  The police and other sundry bureaucrats in this country periodically run campaigns about speed being the root of all evil when it comes to accidents. Personally, I think the bald statement about speed being a killer is disingenuous and does a disservice in shifting focus away from some other important issues. How fast is too fast?  It clearly depends on prevailing conditions but no doubt some public servants would only be happy if we reverted to having someone walking with a red flag in front of us just like the early days of motoring.  After all, politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.

Some some road users who drive slowly are an utter menace as are some people who drive quickly - it's all a question of competence.  So what do we mean by competence?  Does the word "experience" mean the same thing? I certainly used to think so.  A short while ago, I received the latest free newsletter from an NZ organisation involved with motorcycle safety. (More on this organisation later).  In the newsletter, there's a piece on some new research at Nottingham University in the UK by researchers in the Engineering and Psychology faculties.  Funded by the Institute for Advanced Motorists (IAM), the research project investigated different rider behaviours, including forward planning, hazard perception and levels of risk taking. A unique approach was designed to find out whether or not riders with advanced training ride differently to novice or experienced riders who don’t have an advanced qualification.

Advanced training, in the context of the study, related to people who had recently (in the last 3 years) completed the Institute of Advanced Motorists, 'Skills for Life' advanced training.  The idea of the research was to explore issues associated with behaviour, skills and attitudes of the different rider groups.

Moving to the findings of the research, the research subjects were novice riders, experienced riders and riders who had taken advanced motorcycle training.  The summary of findings are:

  • Experience on its own does not necessarily make riders safer on the road and in some cases the experienced riders behaved more like the novice riders.
  • Those riders who had taken advanced motorcycle safety training used better road positioning to anticipate and respond to hazards, kept to urban speed limits, and actually made better progress through bends than the other groups of novice and experienced bikers.
"Whilst experience seems to help develop rider skills to an extent, advanced training appears to develop deeper levels of awareness, perception and responsibility," Dr. Alex Stedmon noted, "It also appears to make riders better urban riders and quicker, smoother and safer riders in rural settings."

"This is real cutting edge research and the hazard perception results, in particular, have shown that advanced riders were quicker to identify hazards and had a greater awareness on their responsibility to themselves and other road users," Dr. David Crundall from the School of Psychology added.  "The results indicate that, indeed, the advanced riders had a different mind set to the other groups - especially when we looked at other aspects of the research such as hazard perception skills and interpretations of liability.  We referred back to 'locus of control' theory and used a standard questionnaire to investigate if our rider groups had a fundamentally different mindset from the outset - they didn't (which was good!) but then when we looked at their interpretations of the hazards, we found that the advanced riders placed a greater emphasis on rider responsibility. When we looked back at their riding behaviour from the simulator we found that advanced riders took more defensive road positions that allowed greater views round bends etc. Interestingly, our 'experienced' group (standard riders with at least 3 years full licence and no advanced training) behaved in some respects like advanced riders and in others like novice riders - illustrating that experience (length of time riding) alone does not necessarily make people better riders."

 Our NZ south island bike trip - no room for error here!

As soon as I saw the broad parameters of the research and the preliminary findings last week, it struck a strong personal chord.  Regular readers of this blog will probably remember that I started riding in 1963.  Because of the length of time riding, I was quite comfortable being regarded as an experienced rider.  The concept of being an "Advanced Rider" didn't really register at all because "experienced" and "advanced" meant more or less the same thing to me.  To use the proper description, I was "Unconsciously Incompetent" - didn't know what I didn't know and that being experienced still left knowledge gaps and uncorrected bad habits.

Then along came  Honda Blackbird ownership in the early part of the last decade with its effortless, insane performance.  It exposed my shortcomings rather quickly and to maintain my license and well-being, enrolled for an advanced riding course.  That seminal experience (read ego-damaging) was posted in Memorable Motorcycling Moments .  Since then, I've undertaken other forms of advanced rider/driver training but it was that first one which opened the floodgates to learning.  Although bike handling was part of the course, it was the emphasis on situational awareness which was the real eye-opener..... and a life-saver come to that.  The continuous process of identifying potential hazards and applying actions for mitigating them.  Most of the techniques are quite straightforward but not necessarily intuitive so you need to be shown them and equally importantly; make their use second-nature on every ride.

It's my perception that as motorcyclists are vulnerable road users, they may well be more receptive to all forms of on-going training.  Many courses specialise in bike-handling which is essential but courses which go into Situational Awareness in some depth seem less common, certainly in NZ.   I'll be forever grateful that I found one that did pretty much by accident.

In an earlier post, it was suggested that some of these techniques should be taught at a practical level much earlier in a persons' motorcycle riding or car driving career.  If they were, imagine what that might do for worldwide road accident statistics as opposed to the politicised and largely innefective offerings by authorities in most cases.

Maybe now, the phrase, "Speed doesn't kill, stupidity kills", makes a bit more sense, as does the difference between Novice, Experienced and Advanced Riders.  Food for thought!  How long is it since you've done any formal re-skilling or advanced training?  Nothing like getting a 3rd party to observe your riding for a reality check.  If it's more than 5 years since attending a course, I hope you have the good grace to blush!

Going back to the NZ organisation I get the free newsletter from, it's available to anyone on request.  Published by Allan Kirk at NZ Motorcycle Safety Consultants, simply email Allan at nzmscon@paradise.net.nz and ask to be put on the mailing list.  They also have a website at http://www.megarider.com/  through which various beginner and more advanced training documents are available.  I don't have any connection with NZMSC other than having purchased some of their training material which has been excellent value in initially raising my awareness (emergency braking in particular).  Allan is also very open to discussion about safe riding issues.

"Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student"
  - George Isles
"Boys Riding Weekend" in Coromandel, NZ 

Wednesday 19 January 2011

How's this for great service?

I've owned the Street Triple for 18 months from new and my admiration for it still remains undiminished from when I posted the extended rider review in August 2010.  Fast?  Plenty for the area I live in.  Handles?  Has brought a new dimension to cornering ability.  Ergonomics?  An amazingly comfortable bike for a 5'8" old fella!

Despite all the positives, towards the end of winter, I noticed what seemed to be small rust bubbles appearing on the mirror stalks.  You know how it is when you're familiar with something, you tend not to notice day by day change but  last week, I suddenly noticed that the corrosion had spread.  This was quite disappointing given that the bike is garaged and has an inordinate amount of fuss lavished on it, including good quality wax.

Right mirror stem

Left mirror stem

The greatest corrosion on the right stem is on the locknut with only small pitting on the stem itself.  The left stem has more corrosion on the stem and a little less on the locknut.  Both stems have corrosion beneath the rubber boot where they attach to the handlebar mount. Root cause is problematic.  The majority of the corrosion is at the front, suggesting that the weather whilst riding could have had some influence but why isn't it apparent on other forward-facing parts of the bike? Everything else is in excellent order.  It's possible that the metal could have rusted before painting but looking at the paint on the locknuts and stems, it looks VERY thin indeed and I'm not actually sure there's any primer/base coat!

Be that as it may, the first instinct was to rectify it myself as it was hardly a big job.  However, after a bit of thought, decided to email the Triumph dealer in Hamilton with the photos above, asking for their opinion.  Next day, I received a reply from Heath, the dealer principal saying that it was well worth notifying Triumph NZ and that he'd ask Matt, the workshop manager, to get onto it and see what eventuated.  Two days after that, I got a call from Matt saying that Triumph were happy to replace them and that a courier pack had just arrived with 2 new mirror stalks.  Because it was a warranty job, they were required to fit them and was I likely to be in the Hamilton area anytime soon?  Isn't that extraordinarily good service?

Always a good excuse to ride to Hamilton with most of the 160-odd km being on largely deserted back roads so last Friday, it was up early with clear skies and cool air...... perfect!  Pulled up outside the workshop 2 hours later to be greeted by cheery waves and a handshake from both Heath and Matt and then straight in to replacing the mirror stalks.  I felt pretty special and guess that's the sign of a top dealership where all the clients are made to feel so valued.  I'd seen comments on a local website bike forum that Triumph NZ were difficult to deal with.  Indeed, one person said that they "moved with glacial speed" on complaints.  I mentioned this to Heath in light of my outstanding service from both them and Triumph.  He replied that there was a formal process which they followed and there had never been any problems.  Maybe it's all in the approach - I can't speak highly enough of them. The corrosion issue hasn't actually disappointed me as it's more than outweighed by the fact that once the problem was acknowledged, it was resolved without delay -  the sign of an organisation which has systems and processes which work.

As the whole business had been settled at quite the opposite of "glacial speed", I didn't spend as much time in their wonderful showroom as normal, but here are some shots:

Triumph Sprint GT

I was very much taken with the new Sprint GT.  Beautifully finished and a true grand tourer.  Very good value for money with ABS and a whole host of goodies.  This is what my Honda Super Blackbird should have evolved into rather than the fuggly over-priced VFR 1200 with abysmal range.  No wonder world-wide sales of the VFR are poor and it's nearly NZ$8k more than the Sprint GT too.  Got it badly wrong, Honda San!

The legendary Bonneville

My current preference is for something a little more sporty but there's no denying that the Bonnie in black looks absolutely stunning.  Maybe later???

A brace of Thunderbirds

I couldn't resist the semi-arty front end photo of the two Thunderbirds - black and chrome looks soooo classy! Going for a big capacity parallel twin to differentiate the T'bird from a sea of V twin cruisers seems to have paid off handsomely in terms of market share.  Data from the UK market  indicates that Triumph sell more bikes there above 500cc than any other manufacturer.  There are strong rumours that they'll soon be entering the small capacity market which should worry the Japanese manufacturers, particularly with sales into S-E Asia where bikes are essential family and commercial transport.

As homage to Triumph's design team, a few photos of componentry from the Street Triple whilst it's clean!  If you didn't know what sort of bike it was, I'd bet that more people would pick it as European rather than Japanese origin.  Not that I'm anti-Japanese bikes in the slightest but as has been remarked previously, they seem to have lost their way a little in the last year or two in terms of innovation compared with Europe.

A sensuous tangle of piping!

Predator mates with Short-Circuit!

Each component a design gem

A lady with curves.....

As an aside, my route home from Hamilton was slightly different from the outbound run.  Going down a long straight  in the country miles from anywhere, my radar detector started to chirp - no big deal as I was legal or thereabouts.  The detector had picked up a brand new fixed speed camera on a pole by the roadside! (Presently puzzling as I thought that fixed cameras weren't operated by microwave).  Anyway, the point is as far as I'm aware, this area isn't a hazard black spot and has clear visibility all around for miles.  In the absence of data to the contrary, it's probably safe to assume that revenue collection is the primary objective given that it's in the middle of a nice long straight.  I suppose the one good thing is that in NZ, speeding fines incurred by cameras don't carry the additional penalty of demerit points against your license!  I fully expect one of the rural locals to have taken a hacksaw or shotgun to it shortly - if they haven't done so already.

Finally, I was delighted to meet for the first time yesterday a couple of really nice people from Auckland, a father and son; who have been reading this blog for a while.  They were holidaying in the area and I got an email from them asking whether they could drop in and see/chat about my Street Triple as they were thinking of getting one in due course.  We chatted for the best part of an hour and a half about the Triple and about motorcycling in general and it reminded me that informal networking like this is one of the special things about motorcycling - it draws people together irrespective of background, cultural or any other differences come to that.  Wonderful!

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Cynicism, scepticism and other odd stuff

Whilst I have an optimistic outlook on life in general, scepticism is nonetheless alive and well in the James household, particularly when it comes to topics which don't have a whole bunch of data to support some pretty outrageous claims. You should see me froth at the mouth at most TV adverts - devices for allegedly improving vehicle fuel economy, magic creams for restoring lost youth and that's just for starters. On top of that, so-called clairvoyants, televangelists and so on - all good for raising a head of steam.  Jennie just sighs and says that's just one of the downsides of living with an engineer who has dealt in facts and data all his life.    However, I might, just might, have to eat a slice of humble pie.  Feel slightly uncomfortable in talking about it, but never mind; I've got broad shoulders to take the expected teasing!

Someone near and dear says that sometimes (mostly??) I have the maturity of a 5 year old. I'm not going to debate that here but would dearly love the physical resilience of a 5 year old.  Overall, I'm in good nick for 63 not-so-careful years but old sports injuries to my knees a give a fair bit of grief.  Fortunately, this shows up when walking, not riding so we can be thankful for small mercies.

We're off to Vietnam, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in March.  There will be a fair bit of walking involved and some concerns about how well my knees will handle it.  A couple of months before Xmas, a local friend who is a fellow biker and ultra-keen cyclist was suffering from a hip ailment that had curtailed all forms of riding.  To cut a longish tale short, he bought one of those "power" wristbands endorsed by numerous sporting personalities, which apparently work on acupressure, magnetism, voodoo or Lord knows what.  Within a very short time, he was running around like a spring lamb and said that when he left it off for a few days, the symptoms started returning. Improved dramatically when he wore it again. Hardly rigorous medical evidence of course but my friend is a smart, well-grounded guy with a healthy dose of scepticism so wasn't inclined to pull his leg.

Fast-forward to last weekend when I had to run an errand to the nearby town of Whitianga.  Sun shining, so decided to take the Street Triple as it was early morning and the lunatic holidaymakers would hardly be out of bed, let alone getting on the highway and spoiling a great day by choosing which side to drive on at random.

Last Saturday's shopping trip to Whitianga - a tad hot in full leathers!

The main purpose of the errand was knocked off in double-quick time and for no strong reason,  remembered that my mate had purchased his power wristband at a shop not far from where I was parked.  Sidled in to enquire about them, being met by a young female shop assistant.  Not quite with the embarrassment of a guy buying a marital aid or Viagra (only guessing, hehe), but still felt a bit uncomfortable about the whole business.  The assistant was remarkably unfazed and down to earth and as they weren't outrageously expensive, decided to buy one.

Slipped it on a wrist when I got home and forgot about it until a couple of hours later when I realised that my knees were nowhere near as sore as they usually are when standing or walking about for longish periods.  The improvement has continued all week.  Not a cure, but a significant lessening in the pain.  Placebo effect?  Possibly, but isn't a sceptic supposed to be largely immune to the placebo effect?  The claims of why they work may well be pure horsesh*t, but that doesn't mean that they don't work for another, unknown reason.  Whatever has caused the sudden improvement , I'm simply grateful for it. Just hoping it lasts until Vietnam!

Finally, there have been a few recent posts by motorcycle bloggers from around the world, me included; where feline members of their family featured prominently. A recent thread on a local bike forum brought back memories of a Kiwi guy, Max Corkhill; who adopted a kitten whilst living and working in Canada. Max and Rastus were inseparable, with Rastus travelling in an open tank bag on Max's BMW throughout Canada and the USA. There are some wonderful tales of their adventures in North America. When Max returned to NZ, Rastus came with him and the two of them raised a not inconsiderable sum for charity. I had the privilege of meeting them both at a classic bike meeting in their home province in the 90's - absolute characters. Rastus clearly regarded himself as Lord of All He Surveyed and wasn't alarmed by anything.

Tragically, Rastus, Max and his partner were killed instantly by a careless driver in the late 1990's. The affection in which they were held is clearly shown by the huge motorcycle presence at the funeral cort├Ęge. Here's the link to a very good article on their life and times: Rastus and Max

Rastus and Max Corkhill - what a partnership!

Thursday 6 January 2011

Using a GPS - what do you really need?

We've owned a GPS for 4 years and a joint Xmas present recently saw the acquisition of yet another.  Not because we really needed one, but simply because it was something we both readily agreed on as being handy.  In other words, mainly a "want" rather than a "need" or put another way, a new toy... 'nuff said!

By and large, navigating on sealed roads in NZ doesn't require a GPS.  It is, however, useful for city driving, particularly when there's no navigator in the seat next to you.  NZ has a lot of unsealed back roads, off-road tracks, paths for tramping (hiking) and plenty of bush to get lost in so a GPS is extremely handy for these activities as well. A pure automobile GPS won't necessarily meet some of these broader requirements.

This post isn't intended to be a rigorous comparison of an older style GPS with something brand spanking new, merely some observations by a motorcycle owner who now has experience with both of them.  Nor does it cover all the features of  each; those are readily available from the Garmin website.  Some of the following comments are motorcycle-oriented, some of them general.  I've also tried to be honest about "fitness for purpose", i.e. features which are essential compared with those which which are merely "cool"!

Let me admit right now that I'm not a big lover of too many "farkles" on a bike (radar detector excepted), which biases my views.  The personal attraction of a bike is that it's a simple, uncluttered means of travel (carefully avoiding the word transport).... far-removed from the general purpose of something with 4 wheels.  IMHO, adorning it with too many farkles moves it inexorably towards a 2-wheeled car!  Get the drift??

This is the older GPS:

Garmin 76Cx

We bought it in 2007 with versatility in mind so it was already something of an overall compromise.  It was to be interchangeable between the bike and car and also to be used on foot, both in NZ and travelling overseas.  The 76 Cx fitted these criteria quite well with the following features.
  • It's waterproof and rugged.
  • Replaceable AA batteries with a practical life between recharge or replacement of at least 10 hours if not connected to a power source.
  • Compass and other options associated with travel on foot, especially in the back-blocks.
  • Some specific marine applications for use on a boat.
  • Garmin MapSource software is supported by the NZ developers of Open Source maps (free on line) should we ever want them at a future date. (More on this shortly)
Its 1.6 x 2.2 inch screen is small by modern standards but is surprisingly readable on a motorcycle, in part due to the auto-adjusting map scale.  Excellent visibility both at night and in bright sunlight.   There is a 3D view option but it's pretty basic.  Having said that, the plan view (2D) is perfectly adequate. I have the GPS hard-wired into the switched ignition circuit but it's pleasing that battery life is pretty good, particularly for use on foot.

Plotting an entire route with waypoints, as opposed to simply an end destination, is a bit cumbersome and is much easier done using the Garmin MapSource software on a PC, then downloading it to the GPS.  I used this approach for last October's 1000 miles in 24 hours ride involving a complex back-road route and it worked just fine. On that ride, in the middle of the night miles from anywhere when I was a little on edge, watching progress round the route was surprisingly comforting!

RAM GPS mount, adapted to fit in steering headstock of Street Triple

The 76Cx doesn't have voice direction capability but just beeps when approaching waypoints, turns or other trigger points; also throwing up a text warning and direction arrows on the screen.  I don't use an earpiece and a visual cue is just fine for open road riding if you periodically scan the scrolling map for turns.  It's a little more tricky in urban areas where turns may be more frequent.  Not a good look to mow down a pedestrian or tail-end a stationary vehicle whilst looking at the GPS!!!

Our maps on the 76Cx were getting a little dated and we were recently caught off-guard with a new road being opened from the Auckland Southern Motorway out to the international airport. As it's only been open for a few short months, commercial map software won't show this change for some time yet and by the time it does, there will be route changes elsewhere; principally in and around the cities.  This is where NZ Open Source maps ( http://nzopengps.org/ ) enters into the scheme of things.  They are totally free auto-routing maps for all Garmin GPS models and have direct and on-going input from the user community in NZ.  This means that error corrections are almost instantaneously fixed and updated, as are the inclusion of new roads, roundabouts and the like.  I recently downloaded them and am extremely impressed with the level of map detail, points of interest and so on. Easily a match for the best commercial software in terms of accuracy and being current. They use Garmin MapSource as the base.

And on to the latest GPS, the Garmin Nuvi 3760........

We wanted it for the family cars, not the bike.  The only 2 criteria we had was voice directions for city driving and a reasonable size screen.  To be honest, there wasn't a lot of difference between Garmin, TomTom and Navman brands in terms of  features. Sure, the Garmin looked cool at less than 9mm thick in machined black aluminium but that didn't count for a whole lot. The deciding factor was a limited time offer for lifetime updates of map software for both NZ and Australia. The 3760 "T" version has the additional feature of voice-activated destination commands but we didn't go for this option as the extra cost wasn't considered value for money.  Besides, I'd feel like a Captain James T Kirk wannabe...."Computer, plot a course to Auckland - warp factor 10".  Err... and the withering scorn from the Executive Officer in the Starship co-pilot seat would be hard to take too.

Garmin Nuvi 3760 (bike icon chosen!)

The large hi-res screen at about 4.3 x 2.5 inches is nice, as is the capacitance-activated screen (as opposed to pressure).  The Aussie/Kiwi female voice is pleasant even if Maori name pronunciations are a bit mangled, but had one been available; I'd have willingly parted with extra dough to take orders from the English actress Joanna Lumley, who has the sexiest voice on the planet.  Unfortunately, there would have been a fight with my Chief Financial Officer, who would have issued a counter-demand for Sean Connery.

The 3D graphics are stunning, if not strictly necessary.  A lot of the other features, including pop-up drivers-view photos of key motorway exits etc fall in the "nice to have, but not essential" area too. Especially given that motorways in NZ are nearly as rare as rocking horse poo.  These extra features are quite good in the car  to tinker with and help relieve boredom, although largely unnecessary in a bike.  Haven't tried the bluetooth option. Oh, and the 3760 isn't waterproof so it's not the best option for a bike without a plastic bag or similar waterproofing aid.

Garmin claim a 4 hour battery life but so far, practical experience in this neck of the woods shows that it's less than that.  Given that recharging is via a mini-USB port, its use is essentially limited to where continuous power is available.

The one feature I really like is that the screen refresh rate is a lot faster than the 76Cx.  This is a real bonus where there are a series of turns to be made in rapid sequence. In fact, the refresh rate is almost continuous it's that good.

There's an on-line review of the 3760, including a video HERE.

Given the earlier statements about preferences for keeping a bike pretty pure and simple, the 76Cx still meets my "fitness for purpose" criteria, despite having now used most of the bells and whistles of the 3760 in the car. That's not to say that they wouldn't be nice to have with a top of the line bike GPS, it's just that right now;  I'd sooner spend my money on other things (a new pair of boots in the coming months being one of them)! Oh, and one other thing......  when you are set to buy a GPS, think about the cost of updating maps.  I've already mentioned the NZ Open Source maps for Garmin which are free via the internet.  I don't know whether a similar arrangement exists for other brands of GPS in other countries but the cost of commercial updates can add up.  Keep your eyes peeled for special deals.  When we bought our 3760, there was a deal to get lifetime updates for about NZ$100 above the price of a bare GPS.  This has represented good value as updates seem to come on average at a quarterly frequency.  We simply plug the GPS into a PC, log onto the Garmin website and away it goes.  The package is for both NZ and Australian maps so they update at the same time.

And now for something different...
Finally, a couple of photos.  A few of my fellow bike bloggers enjoy posting photos of beautiful food encountered on their travels. Here's one of food straight from our garden!  I've been doing long overdue work in the garden for a few days until the roads empty of summer holidaymakers from the big cities, along with their crazy driving habits. Two winters ago, we had all our fruit trees heavily pruned by professionals and boy, has it paid off!  Several hundred peaches on one tree with the first picking due in the next few days.  Several other variety peach trees  plus apples will ripen over the next few weeks and we'll be giving bucket-loads away as usual.   Native parrots that live in the local bush fly in and help themselves to the upper layer but that's fair payment for watching them perform.  Also got lemons, limes, blueberries and mandarins in the garden. So there ya go Bob and Co - food doesn't get much fresher than this!

Over-run by healthy food! 

Some areas of our garden are heavily shaded by tree ferns and it's been difficult to find stuff which will grow under them.  We recently discovered that Bromeliads love the conditions in our area so splashed out on some tiny ones by mail order and planted them in late winter. They're growing ever larger, are developing spectacular colours and will soon start flowering and multiplying.  A small selection below, although we have dozens dotted about.  I'm all for attractive low maintenance gardens!

Bromeliads - spectacular lovers of shade

Saturday 1 January 2011

Discovering slow riding

Salutations from the first country to reach 2011!  Time travel at its best.

I've always liked to "press on a bit" and it was getting to the stage with the Blackbird where true involvement was at speeds which sooner or later were going to cost serious money if I got caught, not to mention the inevitable Disturbance in the Force at home which would follow - I know which would be worse!  I'm going to kick off this post by mentioning  a ride some 18 months ago which will hopefully provide a bit of background to the main point.  Ummm... if there really is a point, that is; other than wanting to scratch a mental itch which has been present for a while!

Going back in time, my attention was caught by a thread on an NZ motorcycle forum by a couple of young Kiwis.  Their plan was to undertake an epic ride, flying to the south island, laying their hands on a couple of small, old 2 strokes and riding them about 2200 km home to Auckland in the north island via a circuitous route, scrounging accommodation along the way.  Who said young people today lack a sense of adventure?  Errr...  I probably did - on numerous occasions!

Anyway, their ride should merit a story here in its own right, with the Suzuki A80 expiring before leaving the south island and the two strapping lads completing the rest of the journey 2-up on an 80's Honda H100S 100cc 2 stroke, complete with a lightly-silenced expansion chamber!  That story can wait though.  When they got near to the Coromandel Peninsula, I met them and rode "shotgun", escorting them home, putting them up overnight; then seeing them safely off the peninsula the next day en route to their Auckland homes.  The following 2 photos show the lads and their wonderful Honda which survived such a prolonged caning whilst grossly overloaded.  Whilst following, the frame flex was so obvious that you could see the wheels moving in and out of alignment!

Overloaded Honda H100 - being ridden with verve and imagination

The trusty 1980's Honda 100

Waiting patiently for the little Honda to climb a steep hill!

Moving ever closer towards the point of this post, whilst I was riding with these 2 lads; they rarely passed 90km/hr, even on a downhill grade with the wind behind them.  This speed was significantly less than my normal rate of open road passage and I was genuinely surprised how much more of the surrounding local countryside I took in and appreciated, as opposed to just the normal mandatory scanning for potential hazards and threats on any ride.

I penned a piece for an NZ bike magazine on "Why we ride" which received some good reviews, so reproduced it in the blog just over 12 months ago: Why do we ride motorcycles? .  Most of the reasons listed still seem perfectly valid but reckon I missed a few.  There probably isn't much argument that we're more aware of our surroundings on a bike than in a cage but does that relate more to risk assessment than simply appreciating our surroundings?  From a personal viewpoint whilst riding bigger capacity, faster sports-oriented bikes, riding challenging roads at pace with precision constituted most of the pleasure; enjoying the scenery was an altogether more rare experience.  Bikes like the Blackbird are capable of being ridden slowly but they can get uncomfortable quite quickly in this mode and to be perfectly frank, they're boring unless being operated in what might be termed their design performance envelope. (A technical euphemism for coming to the attention of the Highway Patrol in a big way).

Starship Blackbird, the Warp Speed Express

Whilst a good, fast fang is still excellent, especially with trusted friends; a naked bike such as the Street Triple with superb ergonomics has undoubtedly broadened my riding pleasures.  Being able to drift along at slower speeds sitting more or less vertically with minimal load on the wrists or neck has opened up a whole new dimension on the world.... and actually stopping for longer than rapid refuelling and a quick gas station pie is suddenly ok!!!!  Ok, so those of you who don't currently own sports-oriented bikes will quite rightly say, "Took your bloody time to figure that out, didn't you?"  Maybe it has nothing at all to do with age or maturity, and everything to do with the versatility of the Street Triple.  The point is though, there must be a whole world of riders like me who simply haven't really experienced how enjoyable riding at both ends of the performance spectrum is.

Having ridden for over 40 years and taken all this time to gradually cotton on to slow riding on isn't something I feel awkward about; it's actually rather exhilarating to realise that you never stop learning about new ways to enjoy your passion! (Like the previously reported riding of a scooter for the first time ever in 2009!)

  Stopping to contemplate and enjoy the scenery is ok!!!

Happy and safe riding in 2011 !