Wheel alignment

Friday 25 February 2011

Oh for a Lotto win!

The first part of this post is particularly for fellow moto-blogger Anthony from Australia who has the knack of finding some magnificent custom bikes which make me drool.  Well, I hope the ones I've found make a lot of people drool too.

I blundered across the Falcon Motorcycles website a few days ago.  Some of you might know all about this bike manufacturer.  I didn't, and as the page opened, all I could do was say:


It's rare for me to be smitten at first glance but this was one of those occasions.  I'm sure others will think that they're butt ugly and that's fine - vive la difference!!

Totally impractical other than riding to town and being admired (or gracing the lounge, but that's never going to be allowed to happen, is it???)

These bikes are a combination of pure art form meeting Mad Max and I don't know what else!  They actually manage to look slightly futuristic at the same time.  Based on an old rigid Triumph chassis with a heavily reworked pre-unit construction Triumph 650, the standard of detail is exquisite.

The people who design and build them are artists in all definitions of the word with every component of the bike complementing the part next to it.  The sum of the parts exceeds the whole by a wide margin.  Nothing left to say but I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I did!  Click to enlarge.

On a completely different tack, does anyone enjoy motorcycle racing games?  I found the free Superbike Nation on the internet and it's huge fun for filling in a few minutes when your mind goes blank in front of the keyboard!  Choose your bike and configuration and have a go at circuits round the world.  Get race points, upgrade your bike components and slowly become more competitive.   Be warned, it's ego-damaging for the first few  correction...lots of times but a lot of fun!  Just ignore the adverts for other games as it loads and wait for the configuration screen to appear.  Warning - when you've won the initial championship, the next level up is a  magnitude of difficulty greater.  Oh, and leaning over in your computer chair with your knee out is perfectly acceptable as long as your better half doesn't see you doing it ;-).

This is the last post for a while as Jennie and I are taking a break for much of March, travelling through Kuala Lumpur, Vietnam from north to south and home via Singapore.  Or, as one of my younger (and still working) riding partners put it, begrudging our retired status, "Taking a break from what, exactly?".  Not heading off just yet, but have a few other things to take care of.

Safe riding and we'll catch you later all being well!

Monday 21 February 2011

Street Triple paddock stand and wheel alignment

Spent a few useful hours adapting "stuff" to suit the Street Triple last weekend.  Up until now, I've thought that paddock stands in NZ have been overpriced, so have washed the rims and lubricated the chain by wheeling the bike along a bit at a time because there's no centrestand on the Triple.

A recent chance remark by a friend about custom bike parts revealed a local company that makes aftermarket components for a range of bikes, including paddock stands.  A perusal of their website House of Custom revealed paddock stands which were about half the price of others I'd seen, meaning I could slip a purchase through without an inquisition; or being made to stand in the naughty corner by the Chief Financial Officer *snigger*. They didn't make a stand specifically for the Triple, but it looked as if the Ducati/Aprilia one might do the trick.  It was duly ordered and arrived 3 days later.  Beautifully-made with cadmium-plated brightwork and rubber bump stops on the underside to stop trapped fingers or paint scuffing.  Given the price and quality of these, others on the market are a plain rip-off.

The only thing I had to do was get a couple of 6mm metric H.T bolts and cut up some thick wall stainless tube I had laying about to make a pair of bobbins to screw into the swing arm for the paddock stand to hook onto.  Result - beautifully stable and ready for business.

Beautifully-made stand at a sharp price

End view

With the absence of a centre stand or a paddock stand, it's also quite difficult  to check the wheel alignment.  This has been niggling me because I have yet to find a tyre fitting outlet that consistently gets it right and I'm now on the second set of tyres from new. I religiously checked alignment on the Blackbird whilst tensioning the chain or after a tyre change as misalignment can adversely affect handling and tyre wear. This post from March 2010: Wheel Alignment details the simple laser alignment rig I built for the Blackbird.  Unfortunately, the new paddock stand height meant that the old rig wasn't suitable.  A quick hunt through the shed revealed some materials which would do the job and the key bits of the old one were transferred.  (And our better halves have the cheek to complain about guys hoarding stuff, sigh.... we're only trying to save money!)

Laser alignment rig in situ

VoilĂ ! A few hours work in the shed and the result was lots of convenience and time saved for maintaining the bike in the future.  Oh... and yes, the wheel alignment WAS out by a fair bit.  Not only can tyre fitters be a bit slack, but there's sufficient play in most chain adjusters to mean that without a proper means of checking; you could have a problem and not be aware of it.

One final thing....  the Blackbird had a Scottoiler chain oiler which worked superbly although there was a bit of lubricant fling which made the rear end of the bike just a little messy in places. For various reasons, I haven't bothered with one on the Striple and so far; have tried Spectro chain wax and Motul spray-on lubricant.  Both "seemed" ok although the Motul product is tacky and attracts a bit of dirt.  I'd been reading glowing reports of the DuPont Multi-Use dry wax lubricant with Teflon and molybdenum on several bike websites so have picked up some to try.  Apparently, the chain stays completely clean and there's no fling from the clear film.  I'll be keeping an eye on how it performs in the coming months.

Addendum:  The DuPont lubricant is brilliant stuff.  Haven't needed to adjust the chain between tyre changes, the chain stays clean and it doesn't fling.  Normally apply it when the chain is warm, every 400-500 km or thereabouts.  I think it would last longer than this interval with no problem.

Du Pont Multi-Use lubricant

Thursday 17 February 2011

Putting the money where my mouth is

Exercising caution in "Deliverance" country!

In the recent blog posts on ageing motorcyclists and prolonging your riding career in general, one of the key factors was attending formal training on a periodic basis to consolidate and attain additional skills, as well as it being a useful indicator to see whether you can still ride competently. 

Well.......  it would be double standards not to practice what you preach and I'd fully intended to do a coached track day this year to supplement the roadcraft courses attended over the years.  However, a friend recently reckoned that I should look at becoming an instructor and that got me thinking.  Instructing is light years away from previously attending an advanced course as a trainee but thinking about it, it would be a means of putting something back into the local community as to the best of my knowledge; there isn't anything remotely like it in our locality. 

I hadn't considered making any of this public on the blog as the outcome is far from certain - all sorts of potential humiliations await!!  However, I'd incautiously mentioned it in passing to fellow bike blogger Julian Pearce of Tarsnakes fame.  Probably wanting to see a bit of public embarrasment (just joking Jules!), he suggested that there might be some interest from fellow bloggers by documenting the process as I go forward.  So here we are, warts 'n all.  If it all turns to custard, he'll be on the "Most Wanted" list pronto :-).

In reality, it's more a case of win-win.  The rigours of training alone will be great on a personal improvement basis and should have on-going benefits as I age.  At the end of it, if I'm good enough to qualify as an instructor which is by no means certain; it will be great to put something back into the motorcycling community.  I should point out that commercial aspects of instruction don't enter into the equation, being retired and debt-free.  However, I'm a strong supporter of voluntary work and if there's any way to assist other riders to stay safe; that's a perfect outcome.

So taking a deep breath, here's where we stand at the start of the journey, which is information-collecting and deciding on a course of action...

A riding partner and close personal friend is senior mechanical engineer at the NZ Transport Agency, a government department concerned with many aspects of road transport including licensing, training and all matters in between.  An email to him provided me with the formal framework for being endorsed as an instructor: Instructor Endorsement .  The  study standards on the webpage set by the NZ Qualifications Authority cover the many aspects of instruction in more detail .  I need to read it all fully to work out whether this route will give what I'm looking for.

Also, the UK Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has a branch in NZ.  Membership starts with with a 90-odd minute PRACTICAL TEST by an IAM-qualified rider (called an Observer) under a whole range of road conditions.  Their tests and courses aren't the dumbed-down examinations which seem to have crept into most fields of endeavour these days and are notoriously challenging (and so they should be).  An email has been duly despatched along with some significant trepidations to follow up on this particular avenue of self-improvement.

A friend in the UK who is an IAM Observer has also sent an email with comprehensive details about how the whole process works there for which I'm very grateful.  I'm picking that the process will be identical or pretty similar in NZ.  If I decide to go down this route, then I'll lay out the details in subsequent posts.  The high standards required are quite overwhelming but like any endeavour worth pursuing, that's the only way to get any sense of achievement.  At this early stage, gut instinct tells me that this may be the way to go due to the voluntary support process for riders wishing to raise their competence.

I still have some reservations about making my intentions and the journey itself public as there will be a good few ego-challenging occasions along the road to hopeful improvement.  I think I'll still be able to laugh at myself through thick and thin though and it might provide more than a few insights of various kinds to anyone else who cares deeply about their riding.  Wish me luck.  No, don't do that as luck doesn't come into it.  Tell me to get stuck in and not to be a wuss!

More on all this as things develop.......

Decking everything on my Blackbird in an "approved" and carefully-considered manner :-)

Here's your one question quiz .... why am I out wide on this corner?  No spectacular prizes will be awarded - sorry!

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Like father, like son!

Just had to share this gem.

Valentine's Day has recently passed and this morning on Facebook, our daughter-in-law posted a photo of her present from our younger son.  He's a food scientist with a wicked sense of humour and they've been married for 11 months.  It's a good job that Becky has an equally robust sense of humour or he'd never walk upright again.

What's the phrase?  "Say it with flowers, flours"?

  Saying it with flours

With that sense of humour, the marriage will last forever!

Sunday 13 February 2011

A salute to older motorcyclists everywhere!

Baron  posted a great joke on his excellent blog about ageing bikers.  In a salute to mature bikers everywhere, here's another great piece sent by a riding partner of mine.

In 1923, Who Was:

1. President of the largest steel company?
2. President of the largest gas company?
3. President of the New York stock Exchange?
4. Greatest wheat speculator?
5. President of the Bank of International Settlement?
6. Great Bear of Wall Street?

These men were considered some of the worlds most successful of their days.  Now, 88 years later, the history book asks us, if we know what ultimately became of them..

The Answers:

1. The president of the largest steel company. Charles Schwab,
died a pauper.

2. The president of the largest gas company, Edward Hopson,
went insane.

3. The president of the NYSE, Richard Whitney,
was released from prison to die at home.

4. The greatest wheat speculator, Arthur Cooger,
died abroad, penniless.

5. The president of the Bank of International Settlement,
shot himself.

6. The Great Bear of Wall Street, Cosabee Livermore,
also committed suicide.

However, In that same year, 1923,  the winner of the world's most important road race, the Isle of Man T.T, was Stanley Woods.

What became of him?

Stanley Woods at the TT

He won 10 T.T. races between 1923 and 1939, he lived on the Isle of Man and rode motorcycles all his life. He lapped the island circuit at 82 mph in 1957 (The Golden Jubilee) aged 54
He was a wealthy man when he died aged 90.

The Moral:

F*** work.
Ride motorbikes.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Ageing motorcyclists - a follow-up

Just thought I'd add a wash-up to the recent post What's age got to do with it?.  As well as having some fantastic direct feedback on the blog itself, there was a similar response from a number of bike forums I put the link on to help David Hough get as much info as possible.

David has found the replies to be a really valuable insight to how a wide spectrum of “mature” riders think about riding as they age so thanks so much for the comments, it really is appreciated. Whilst there’s some common themes, there are also significant differences. I guess this comes from particular traits of each national motorcycling scene - the level of training, type of roads, types of bikes, age of riders and so on.

Whilst “Acts of God” can’t be planned for, the common insights to keep riding into old age are: ride regularly, keep your skills up through formal training, keep healthy/reasonably fit and if you need to get a lighter or smaller bike at some stage, just go and do it and forget about “Little Dick” Syndrome! And the other important thing is that when the time finally comes to give up bikes, have a fall-back to put your passions and energies into if you haven’t already got one. Having plenty of interests is one contributor to a rich and hopefully long life.

If you haven't seen all of the comments below the previous blog post about ageing motorcyclists, fellow blogger Julian Pearce of Tarsnakes  fame gave some valuable insights on a holistic approach to the whole business of riding safely.  I recently had an email from him and in it, he also gave a couple of really interesting, indeed valuable links to radio transcripts about the ageing process.  In them, there's reference to the concept of "successful/exceptional" ageing which has close parallels with  a lot of the items raised in the discussion on how to continue riding as we age.  If anyone is interested, here are the links:  Linda Fried 1  and Linda Fried 2.  It seems to me that the more we read on successful strategies and internalise them, the more prepared we are for a long future on 2 wheels!

I previously mentioned David’s huge riding pedigree so his thoughts are well worth chewing over. I have his permission to publish his comments to me when we were shooting the breeze on this topic. I haven’t edited them at all and it’s both valuable and interesting to see David’s take on the subject. Hope it stirs what grey matter we have remaining and lets us ride longer in safety!  From a personal viewpoint, I'm extremely grateful to him for the opportunity to think more deeply about the topic than I might otherwise have done.

Where to from here?  Well, we're still chewing the fat and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that David will produce either articles or a publication which may be of benefit to "mature" riders everywhere.  I certainly hope that this is the outcome. I'm also in the process of seeing whether I can persuade one of our national bike mags to run a piece on the topic.

Y'know, just thinking on the fly from David's chance contact and how it's evolved, including great feedback from a small selection of bike forums; this approach with some sort of central clearing house for universal motorcycling issues could be a real winner!

David L Hough

I had a chance to review the various sites you listed. You can quote, reference, or post anything I've sent to you. Your stirring the pot is producing some valuable feedback.

One important bit of feedback is riders recognizing the important concept that there is no "light switch" moment when that guy in the mirror is suddenly too old to ride anymore. Younger riders seem to depend more on testosterone, and some "western movie" fantasy that they can slap leather now without looking back, and then somewhere way down the road (and too far to think about) get shot out of the saddle at the old age of 65 or 70.

My experience has been that the body ages much like an old bike, a part rusting here, a bearing seizing there. There is no point in parking it--or your body--just because of some partial failure. You get your knee meniscus pruned, your hip replaced, prescription eye glasses, etc. Yes, it's possible for some of us to continue riding aggressively beyond age 70 or 75 or 80. But we can't ignore the continuing degradation of our physical and mental skills. Why do so many posts refer to a lighter, lower bike? Because it's typical for leg strength, mobility, and nerve feedback to degrade, reducing the ability to hold the bike up.

What few seem to have commented upon is that attitude typically changes, as well as physical ability. Where at age 35 or 40 it seemed very important to ride swiftly, I've discovered at "over 70" that riding swiftly doesn't seem as important anymore. Speed is relegated to just one factor in the experience of riding. I can putt along at the speed limit, or even slower on a vacant road, listening to the birds, gawking at the farm animals, or just enjoying the smell of a freshly mown field. I realize that younger, less patient riders might think this is a cop out; that I'm trying to come up with justification for being a wuss. No, it's actually a change in my mindset. So, I'd ask the question: are you prepared for your attitude about motorcycling to change? Do you think you'll get to a point--10 or 15 years down the road--where you'll get just as much joy out of sitting in your garage running your eyes over your machine, or your fleet, without having to start an engine? Would it be fun to trailer a vintage bike to a rally and just ride it around the grounds? Or, do you think you'll always have that need to get on the bike and go somewhere, perhaps even at aggressive speeds?

Friends in Woking, England had moved up to a BMW KLT a few years ago. At about age 75, he bought a Suzuki Bergman scooter, and for a few years they continued to tour Europe on the scooter, doing whatever they would have been doing on the LT but with much less effort and expense. I've lost contact with them. I believe the wife's health was failing, and it just wasn't acceptable for the husband to go riding without her. I suspect if they still own the Bergman, but it only gets ridden into town.

Another friend in the UK rode for years, and at about age 70 dropped his Triumph on some slick paving. He sold the bike, and purchased a sports car. The condition of road surfaces in the UK were too much of a crap shoot to risk on a bike anymore.

Having ridden in NZ, including the Coromandel Peninsula, I'm aware of the great twisty nature of the roads. If I were riding NZ, I'd probably not be on a rigid three-wheeler, because it just takes too much energy to stuff a rigid trike or rig through tight turns all day--even with power steering. A Piaggio MP3 might be a good alternative for those wishing for better stability. Yep, a Miata will take corners as well as a Spyder. But the Spyder is (just about everywhere) a motorcycle, if it's motorcycling that floats your boat rather than just taking corners fast.

My point of raising the issue of aging is that there typically isn't a sudden point where you realize and accept that your current style of riding is over. We like to talk about those aging parents and grandparents who are a danger on the road, and should wake up and turn in their keys. We don’t like to think about being the aging parent or grandparent who needs to give up the keys. I think it would be helpful to come up with some guidelines to assist aging riders to judge their fitness for duty. If you have a nasty crash at age 68, is that a good indicator you are necking in on your riding career? Or will it take two crashes, or three crashes before you get the message that it's time to hang up your leathers? It's not just the pain and recuperation I'm thinking about, but the expense and bother to your family. Here in the USA, I'm covered by Medicare, but there are deductibles. A decent crash might cost me $8,000. When I had to be evacuated by air from my crash in the California desert, the original bill was $38,000, just for the 40 minute helicopter ride. Fortunately, Medicare whacked that in half, and paid 80%. But running up big medical bills is definitely a bigger concern when I hop on a motorcycle than when I'm hopping in the truck.

Into that discussion, we need to remember the role of prescription medications. Prior to my most recent crash, I had been on pain killers for a painful sciatic nerve, in addition to my usual diabetic meds. I have to believe that the optical illusions I was experiencing as the crash happened were a result of the medications. Perhaps I had to learn the hard way, but I'm now aware of the importance of really evaluating yourself prior to a ride. Maybe the ride should be scrubbed, or at least shortened. Definitely I should not have ridden with others who would set a more aggressive pace than I would have ridden on my own under the circumstances.

We might also wonder about the relationship between motorcycling and mental health. Brain researchers are beginning to understand that the aging brain doesn't just lose capacity, although it typically loses processing speed. What's most important is that not being mentally challenged by problems allows the brain to lose thinking capacity. And motorcycling is definitely an activity that requires lots of thinking--both conscious and subconscious. Maybe that old saying is right, after all: "You don't give up motorcycling because you grow old, you grow old when you give up motorcycling."

Speaking for myself, carrying on dialogue such as this helps me keep my brain working.

One of the responses to your aging blog referred to "crossing the bridge when I come to it." That assumes that the aging process is like a road, and the bridge is a decision point, although a bridge is really just a means to zip on across a chasm with impunity. I think it's a natural reaction of younger people to be fearful of addressing the future, not only because it's uncomfortable, but because it’s such an unknown.

I think that attitude is a parallel to motorcycling, where in our youth we tend to throw caution to the wind, and as we grow older we can't avoid remembering all the pitfalls we've seen along the way. The young rider doesn't want to think about the risks. I suspect the issue of aging is like any other--we tend to go into denial when it gets uncomfortable. Let's see, what are the steps of denial? It won't happen to me. If it does happen to me it won't be as bad as they say...etc.

Please do keep up the pressure on this issue. I think we can glean some great ideas from the dialogue. The naysayers are just as important as those who nod sagely.

Several years ago a friend and I were strolling around the grounds of the BMWMOA International rally, pondering what might happen in our motorcycling futures. I asked if there was anything "wrong" with transporting a smaller or older machine to the rally, to provide an opportunity to rub elbows with fellow owners. IOW, would the experience of sharing the passion be just as much fun as actually riding a bike cross country?

Several years later, I found myself in distress just weeks before my scheduled departure for a rally in Wisconsin, give or take 2,500 miles away. My left ankle had gone south (plantar fasciitis or whatever). I could barely hobble around, let alone shift the transmission a few thousand times. Finally, I ended up loading the sidecar outfit on a trailer, and towing it behind the Toyota 4Runner (auto trans). During the several day journey I had lots of time to think about the situation. Basically, I decided that whether riding or driving, I was no longer up to the challenge of traveling thousands of miles to a rally. Too much money, too much time, too much fuel consumed, too much effort...The purpose of the rig was to allow me to travel long distances, so its services were no longer needed. I ended up donating the sidecar rig to the MOA Foundation, to raise money for safety projects, and towing the empty trailer home. I figured the K1/EZS outfit had been paid for by royalties from my book, so it was appropriate to give it back to the enthusiasts.

It used to be that I worried more about the machine failing than myself. Now I'm more concerned about myself than the machine. One of my reasons for getting the paddle-shift Spyder was to allow driving it even if my shifter ankle went out. There's a laugh in this. I haven't had any debilitating ankle problems since buying it. And I'm aware that my left thumb could stop working, or my back goes flooey, or whatever. Last summer (prior to my Triple R crash) I had agreed to attend a BMW rally in eastern Oregon. Then because of sciatica, I just couldn't travel at all. I reluctantly had to cancel my seminars. The decaying of my body is prompting me to not agree to be a guest speaker anywhere. I'm trying to resolve this, maybe by agreeing to appear, knowing I might have to cancel (as I did with the OR rally) I suppose as long as they want me to appear, I should continue to make plans, figuring out ways to politely cancel.

Maybe I should encourage the event to have a computer and Skype connection handy, as a fallback plan.

Racing Ducati Desmosedici RR rider in NZ - age is no barrier!

Monday 7 February 2011

Classic motorcycle race meeting, Auckland 2011

For a country with a 4 million population, NZ always seems to have a bigger percentage of "cool stuff" than it really ought, not that I'm complaining!  Old planes, rare cars, innovative boats and especially classic motorcycles.  Where the heck do they all come from?  Everyone's garden shed but mine it would seem!

A lot of the classic bikes turn up at the Pukekohe circuit in Auckland  for an annual 3-day meeting and I went up yesterday to watch.  I love it because you can wander anywhere and everywhere and the riders are incredibly friendly.  Also, there's no concession to the age of these bikes, they get seriously raced despite their age!

Yesterday was a particularly memorable day for me, for a whole range of disparate reasons.  I rode to the circuit with a local businessman who lives in the same road as me - didn't even know he rode bikes until late last year.  Bruce is a "mature" rider, albeit not quite as "mature" as me.  An ex-car racer with a long history of bikes too, his latest acquisition is a Hayabusa, so he's not mucking about!

Bruce gassing up before leaving Coromandel

We hadn't ridden together before so the first few km through the twisties were spent dialling in to each other (a much nicer way of saying sizing each other up, haha) and it soon became apparent that Bruce was seriously good with his roadcraft and teaming with someone you trust completely makes riding such a joy.  Both to and from the circuit, we didn't hang about but with the complete lack of stress, the whole ride was so wonderfully enjoyable.  That was the first memorable part of the day.

The second was arriving at the track and meeting fellow blogger Raftnn (Roger).  What an absolutely top guy he is and within seconds, we were chatting like we'd known each other for years; laughing away like a couple of schoolkids.  For the followers of Roger's blog, I'm delighted to say that he comes across as a nice guy in his blog but the real bloke is even nicer!  Sadly, we didn't have much time to spend shooting the breeze but we'll no doubt be getting together for a ride-out before too long.  Roger has a heap of great photos from yesterday on his blog, so I'll stick on some complementary ones and a link to Picasa web for the whole set.

Me and Roger enjoying the sun!

Another delight from the day was to see how many of the racers were seriously "mature" and I'm talking of well over 70.  Like the machines they rode, there was absolutely no concession to taking it easy and they're a fantastic advertisement to getting the most out of life.

Days where you ride bikes, talk bikes, eat and breathe bikes are truly days made in heaven.  This contented biker slept very well last night!

Here are a selection of photos: (click to enlarge)

My mate Paul from Coromandel with his trick 850cc Norton racer

BSA Gold Star with the motor hung from the frame

The most expensive bike at the meeting?  Brough Superior.  Rare as hen's teeth doesn't begin to describe it!

Nortons of all ages

Rare Benelli Sei 6 cyl 750 with 6 mufflers!

Close-up of flawless Henderson 4 cylinder

Nimbus 4 cylinder

A word or two about the next photo.  The Ducati Desmosedici RR shown below is to all intents and purposes a Moto GP/Superbike and costs over NZ$100000 if you can lay your hands on one. It took part in what might loosely be called a "demo" race although there wasn't much quarter given!  When it was being warmed up, it was akin to aural sex (not oral sex, for the grubby-minded)!  Now look at the age of the rider.  If you had seen the way he rocketed round the circuit, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was a current race star on board!

Old meets new - a fantastic pairing

Yet another youthful rider - forever young

Lunchtime entertainment - P40 and Spitfire

The unmistakable silhouette of the Spitfire

McIntosh-framed Jawa - looked like 2 Manx Nortons mated together

Munch Mammoth powered by 1200cc NSU car engine

4 cylinder Cleveland

The incomparable Britten - a work of genuine genius

BMW Rennsport racer

Flawless HRD  Vincent 1000

Trying to start the Harley flat-tracker on rollers called for serious downward pressure!

Interesting Moto-Guzzi racer

What a day!  Here's the link to the full photo set: Pukekohe 2011

Friday 4 February 2011

What's age got to do with it?

The title is just one word different from Tina Turner's classic song, but a whole world of meaning away!

A few days ago, I had an email from David L Hough in response to the recent Speed doesn't kill, stupidity kills post, plus other posts on motorcycle safety. If David's name doesn't immediately ring a bell, he's an eminent American author on motorcycle safety and skills (see Wikipedia entry) and I felt somewhat humbled and a bit over-awed that someone of his eminence had bothered to get in touch with an average Kiwi rider.  However, I felt a bit more comfortable when he said that on reading some of my blog posts, it was clear that I'd been thinking about my age relative to riding a motorcycle, which is perfectly correct.

 David L Hough

By way of background, he mentioned that was 73, had travelled over a million miles by bike - an incredible pedigree!  He went on to say that 3 years ago, he'd had an accident on a BMW 1150 GS in a remote desert area of California and as a result of that and presumably considering his own mortality;  now rides a Can-Am Spyder.  He went on to say that the mean age of motorcyclists in the USA is increasing, indeed accelerating.

David asked what, if any, thoughts I had with respect to increasing age and its impact on my riding.  Part of this enquiry was whether I had a plan for the next 5, 10, 15 or 20 years. I thought that the topic was both interesting and relevant, especially as motorcycles have progressively switched from cheap transport for impoverished young people to more of a lifestyle choice for riders of all ages.  In terms of ageing, I guess the term is pretty broad as we're all ageing as part of the natural process and I have no difficulty including returning riders after raising a young family or establishing a career etc.

I retired at 60 to enjoy life whilst my wife and I enjoyed good health.  Not long after retirement, I was undertaking a short-term consultancy job for my old company and I'd been to a conference on their behalf.  I used my Blackbird and on the way home, had a walking-speed accident when my foot slipped on gravel when turning round on a narrow road.  The fairing crash knob hit my leg and it suffered internal bleeding.  My fault entirely for failing to notice the gravel.  The 2 months away from riding and hobbling around gave me plenty of time to ponder the future.  I'm completely passionate about riding and must say that giving up never entered the equation but what to do?  The Honda CBR1100XX Blackbird I'd owned for 8 years was a little tall for me (I'm 5' 8"), especially with its raised ride height to improve handling.  The centre of gravity was also quite high.  This lead to some degree of instability when manoeuvring at low speed or parking.  As I aged and lost a bit of muscle tone, it became more noticeable.  It was also exacerbated by road cambers in the area where we now live and also the off-cambers around our house which is on the side of a hill. 

The answer was to get a lighter, lower sport-orientated bike with good ergonomics.  More difficult than you might think.  I still wanted handling and performance but the number of bikes with a seat height of around 800mm excepting cruisers are in the minority.  The other obstacle was to put it crudely, "little dick syndrome"!  I was used to riding the Blackbird hard and fast with my riding partners, most of whom are younger than me.  I honestly felt that getting a smaller bike would be akin to losing a bit of my manhood.  Ludicrous, but that's how I felt.  To cut a long story short, subsequent ownership of the Triumph Street Triple has been a joy on all counts and a smart move.  It's rejuvenated my motorcycling enjoyment.  Incidentally, you'll find more detail about all this in my blog posts from about 12 months or so ago, including a photo of a rainbow-coloured leg!

However, I thought I'd share other relevant bits of the discussion with David so far in case others have been thinking about the subject and might wish to articulate their thoughts.

Old dog, new tricks!  Yours truly (centre) with great mates, having successfully completed the Southern Cross round NZ in 5 days endurance ride in 2005

Chronological age is clearly going to have a bearing on fitness to ride in terms of physical condition, mental attitude, reaction time and so on.  However, such factors will have such a huge variation between individuals that age itself will have little relevance across the board.  Skill level certainly will have a major bearing. In the recent post on advanced situational awareness coaching, one forum respondent asked what was the point of him wasting time in undertaking any advanced training when all he wanted to do was cruise slowly on his bike and not bother anyone.  It sounds like he missed the point that good situational awareness is applicable at all speeds in terms of keeping you from harm.  Now coming directly to the point, any skill (or physical activity) if not regularly used diminishes, probably more rapidly as we age.  This is why I'm a strong advocate of refresher training, particularly as we get older - probably the most important consideration of all.  Not only is it beneficial for its basic purpose, but I suspect that it could also be a good personal "honesty" indicator with respect to whether you can cope any more.  Incidentally, I now try to cycle regularly too to keep up basic fitness levels!

I don't have a long-term plan other than to keep riding as long as possible.  This isn't just a blind faith option, simply a statement of intent as I love it so much.  Switching to a Street Triple with its lighter weight meets current requirements perfectly.  I'm not opposed to owning a cruiser with their low C of G and correspondingly low seat height - it would certainly entice Jennie back onto the pillion.  Maybe I ought to give one a try.   Maybe an English classic or the modern equivalent.  So in short, although I don't have a clear plan, there are some options when the next stage comes. Have done a fair bit of roadcraft training but have never done a coached track day yet so at 63 years of age, that could well be addressed this year!

Mental attitude, or call it a love of life if you like is probably as important as any of the other factors.  I've had a number of other strong interests at various stages of my life including sailing competitively at national championship level but motorcycling is the only interest that I've been enduringly passionate about.  It would certainly leave a big hole if I was to give it up BUT.....!!!!  To have no interests is to wither and die.  Living on the coast, we have a boat and go fishing regularly.  Jennie has a tweaked open-top sports car which is huge fun to drive and should I just be restricted to driving a car, something like a Lotus 7 replica might be sufficient to keep the juices flowing! We also enjoy travelling.  What I'm saying is that I do have some fall-backs for when the time comes to give up motorcycling.  Life is for living and I'm not the sort of person who could currently just sit around, waiting for God! 

Honda Blackbird-engined Lotus look-alike
The perfect weapon after bikes?

Sooooooo......  to finish off with some of David's questions, are we capable of making honest judgements about our fitness to ride? What are the measurements or tests to determine whether you are fit to ride? Is a crash an indication you aren't fit anymore, or just bad luck? Do you give up riding just because your knee, ankle, or back have chronic problems? Or do you stay off the machine when your body is complaining, and ride only when it allows you to? And, most importantly, if motorcycling has been your primary interest in life, how do you deal with your interests waning?  Food for thought for a fair percentage of riders perhaps.

Update:  http://geoffjames.blogspot.co.nz/2011/02/ageing-motorcyclists-follow-up.html

Also, I finally found a training programme with the Institute of Advanced Motorcyclists (IAM) that has raised my competence beyond what I thought possible - literally a life-saver.  To read a synopsis: