Wheel alignment

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Rain, gales, sun, stress and fun

Last week, Philip McDaid, Chief Examiner for IAM emailed me to organise another check ride and we settled on yesterday (Monday).  As an aside, he mentioned that a member from Christchurch in the south island who had come north to pick up a new bike would be with us and we arranged to meet in the village of Clevedon, just to the south east of Auckland

A nice 370 km round trip from Coromandel

On Sunday, the weather in our area was appalling with torrential rain and gales.  The forecast for Monday was for the high winds to remain but the rain should ease back to heavy showers.  Heck, not the sort of conditions to be examined for precision riding but no point in trying to back out because riding well in adverse conditions is part of the whole point of raising your skills!

Wake up early and check the weather - everywhere is wet and it's heavily overcast but not raining at present.  Have breakfast, wheel the bike out of the shed and bugger.....down comes the rain in buckets.  Can hardly see the mountain range across the harbour from our house.  Oh well, it will be a good test of my new Michelin Pilot Road 3 tyres.

Raindrops keep falling on my head, la la.....

On with full wet weather gear and set off down the coast road.  A lot of vigilance is needed as all the rain from Sunday has washed a smear of clay off the cliffs onto the road in places.  I can also see the rainbow colours of spilled diesel on some of the hills - probably an over-filled truck tank, but no dramas. It's a different story crossing the Kopu bridge just south of Thames.  The ancient long bridge is a narrow single lane, uneven surface and currently wet with a strong, gusty crosswind.  It's a bit hairy on 2 wheels and a relief to cross it without major incident and roll on the opening of the new bridge next year!  Nerves are increasing with the prospect of a check ride in wet, slippery conditions.

The rain sets in with a vengeance but it's the crosswind which requires the most concentration.  At least the visibility through the visor is good having applied a coating of Rain-X before setting out and it's really doing the business in dispersing the droplets.  Up the western side of the Firth of Thames, the wind is more on the nose which is a relief and half way up at Kaiaua, the rain stops and a bit of blue sky appears - yayyy! No more rain for the day.

Bye bye, leaden sky - blue starting to appear

The remainder of the ride up to the Clevedon meeting point is on wet, twisty roads but mainly sunny skies which is heartening apart from a small rear end slide on one corner - no obvious cause but not particularly alarming either. Meeting with Philip in Clevedon, he introduces fellow IAM member Duncan Seed who is the proud owner of a new Buell XB12 Ulysses. This is the first one I've seen and it's a really attractive bike.

Philip then springs his surprise - Duncan is a qualified advanced  instructor on cars and trucks and is also an IAM Observer on bikes.  Furthermore, he'll be taking my check ride today and Philip will be observing us both.  Actually, Philip did ask whether it was ok, but knowing what a great bunch of guys the Observers are and the fact that they donate their time for free, why would you say no?

After some refreshment, Philip equips both of us with radios.  Reception is a bit patchy so he gives me general directions for the ride and as a fall-back, to watch for his indicators in my mirrors coming up to intersections if I don't hear the radio instructions. Oh no, I'll have enough on my plate without looking for Philip two bikes back, but he assures me that if I take a wrong turn, it's no big deal.

Philip and Duncan sorting out radio comms

I'm sure my keys are here somewhere......

The first leg from Clevedon through Maraetai is down narrow, winding country lanes not unlike the area in which I live.  No nerves from being observed and feel pretty comfortable that I've done a decent job.  As we approach the built-up suburbs near Howick with multiple roundabouts, I realise that the radio instructions are becoming very difficult to hear.  The outcome is a bit of sensory overload, looking where to go next, managing the heavier traffic and I mis-indicate a couple of times which is embarrassing.  Shortly afterwards, we pull in for the first debrief.  Absolutely over the moon to hear that my rural riding was spot-on in all respects.  The only comment was that in the built-up area with lots of parked cars on the roadside, I should move even further towards the road centreline to minimise risk from doors opening, cars suddenly pulling out etc.  Absolutely fair comment.

Philip swaps batteries on the radio and suddenly, we have great reception!  The next part of the journey towards the suburbs of Ellerslie and Penrose involves riding down a road with two, and sometimes three lanes in each direction.  This is where my relative lack of experience of riding in big city traffic in unfamiliar territory shows up.  I know that the 3rd lane in some places leads off to other suburbs and we need to go straight on.  To make life a bit easier for myself, I stay in the outer "through" lane in some places where I should really be staying left as far as possible, but most of my focus is on not getting lost!  I feel a real surge of pride when Philip comes on the radio to compliment me on a slow speed approach to stationary traffic at traffic signals which allows me to continue riding rather than come to a halt.  Feedback like that is great because it cements the technique in place.

From Penrose, we head to McDonalds in the suburb of Greenlane for a coffee and the full debrief of the ride.  Duncan reminds me of the near-centreline positioning in town traffic but says that my positioning after he'd mentioned it last time has been fine since then.  The other thing I need to watch is the 2 second following distance rule. Although my positioning in city traffic relative to the vehicle in front was apparently good, I tended to close the gap a little on some occasions.   Duncan also raises the need to use the left hand lane on dual carriageways more when appropriate - all excellent advice.

Both Philip and Duncan are really pleased with my riding and say that the items raised fall into the "nit-picking" category (their words, not mine!) but riding at a high level all the time is the expectation when you reach this standard. Philip then goes on to say that I'm pretty much ready for a cross-check by another observer prior to sitting my full membership test.  In the meantime, I should take the opportunity to work on the items raised on rides with my mates Roger, Bob and Andy who are also undertaking advanced training.

Two hours to ride to Auckland, two hours being observed and two hours home - another magnificent and totally fulfilling day; if not just a touch mentally exhausting! 

Just reflecting..... getting to full member status of the IAM, let alone reaching Observer is an incredibly demanding process where the bar is set very high and there are no short-cuts or concessions.  In today's world with a preoccupation tending towards instant gratification and not particularly demanding standards, it's a real privilege to have found something which both stretches you and gives such huge benefits all at the same time.  I might also add that it also makes the generally low driving (and riding) standards in this country rather more apparent.  Even worse, it also highlights the low expectations of the authorities in terms of appallingly low requirements to get a licence.  Maybe it's the same for much of the world but I'll reserve a decent rant on the topic for another time!

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Alvin Toffler

Something is in need of a couple of hours TLC after yesterday!


  1. Your bike looks like it is being used. Isn't that TLC enough?

    Thanks, Geoff for making the effort and write down your experience. I have already leaned through this to reposition myself in different traffic situations, to stay away from parked cars (opening doors... not funny), and to keep your distance. Very valuable.

  2. Awesome post Geoff, you sum up things so much better than I can, yet you catch your thoughts and feelings so well, almost as if they were mine to be in fact. Your last paragraph sums up a lot of how I think. A LOT!.

    We seem to be working on the same things, and are at least on the same page. Did you enjoy the little jaunt from Clevdon to Maratai? It is a neat scenic road. A small detour down to Pine harbpur MArina is well worth it also next time you can.

  3. Hi Sonja!
    you know what Triumph owners are like - all glitz and no substance :-). Seriously though, the only downside to naked bikes is the huge number of cavities for dirt to build up in, only surpassed by the number of sharp things to rip your fingers open on!

    Thanks for the nice words, I wondered whether I'd gone OTT with the detail but it's a good aid for me to work on my shortcomings if I stick in everything I can remember.

    Thanks mate, that's very kind of you. I'm wondering whether to expand on that last para, maybe even talk to the editor of Kiwi Rider to stir up a bit of controversy.

    Yeah, it was a great run and really smart of you to pick the likely route. Thanks for the tip about Pine Harbour - I'm thinking of taking Jennie up in her sports car to enjoy that area as this was my first time and she hasn't been there yet.

  4. Good reading Geoff and praise for excellent progress. Duncan would have been having his Observer two yearly reassessment by Phil part of the IAM training check up. The only consolation will be that Duncan behind you would have been just as nervous with Phil scoring both of you!
    I think what you need now is your test ASAP and for that I will not say good luck as the training has taken chance out of the equation.

  5. Thanks very much Dylan!

    I don't know much about Duncan other than he comes from East Lancs and has been in NZ for 5 or 6 years. Heck of a nice guy though and it was great riding with him.

    Thanks for the good wishes. I'll try and slot in a Hamilton city ride with my mentor next week to stay sharp and work on the improvement areas.

  6. But, but, what did ya think of the new rubber in the wet?

  7. Andrew:
    Only my first run in really wet conditions but apart from that minor slide they felt excellent. Mind you, so did my Avons and we'll have to wait a bit longer to get anything meaningful. So far, so good though!

  8. Good stuff Geoff, not sure when my bike will see the light of day again, flat out on my boat every day at the moment. at the marina in whitianga if you are about,call in for a check up on progress.

  9. Gidday Steve!

    So you've moved it to Whitianga - have you slipped it for some hull work? I'll certainly call in and shoot the breeze - maybe we could get out for an evening ride now the evenings are stretching out and before Whangapoua gets suicidally busy!

  10. Hi Geoff

    Looks like another great day , and soon a IAM badge on its way

    Ride fast , ride SAFE

    Andrew X11...Scotland

  11. What a great day. Started off rainy but rode into the sunshine and blue sky.

    I am glad it all went well and you are on your way to being an Observer. Good job Geoff.

  12. Hey Geoff,
    I'll be interested to hear more about the Michelin Pilot Road 3. I've only used the regular Pilot Roads on my Hornet and Chris switched from Power to Road on his Triple a while ago (by accident - literally - his rear tire popped and I had spare Roads lying around ... we put them on so we could get back on the road right away). Anyway, after a few hydroplaning incidents in Newfoundland this summer, we've been thinking about getting the Road 3. Chris only gets about 4-5000 miles (~8000km) out of his tires (no idea how he does it - I easily get double his miles out of the same tire) so the question is if it makes sense to invest more money into tires that need to be replaced twice a year anyway.
    Please keep us posted on wear and performance in wet conditions.

  13. Hi Trobairitz!
    Yep, the weather gods were on my side - fully expected a really trying day. Thank you very much for the comments! Y'know, not long after I started down this road, I really questioned whether it was for me as it seemed so darned hard and had taken some of the enjoyment from riding. Then I sort of got over the hump of learning and things started to gel. I can honestly say that I'm now enjoying riding more than I've ever done. Pays to tough it out sometimes!

  14. Hi Anna and thanks for dropping by!

    Sorry to say, I get similar mileages from previous tyres as Chris :-(. The PR3's are allegedly quite long-lasting from what I've gleaned from the few people who have worn out these relatively newly-released tyres.

    I'll certainly be doing a few updates on progress with them. I've done a few posts on tyres already as well as some detailed evaluations for a tyre supplier and will send you and Chris these for interest.

    Really enjoying your blog!

  15. Hi Andrew!

    Any day on 2 wheels is a great day, eh?

    Thank you - there's still a mountain of hard work ahead but at least I believe that I've got a chance of getting there now!

  16. Well ridden, well written, well done - as always.

  17. VStarLady:
    Sincere thanks for the nice comments. The real goal for me is to ride well ALL the time and not drift off, thinking about dinner, the family or whatever. I think we've all had those experiences where you arrive at a particular place and have no memory of passing through a previous place. We can only hope we haven't mown any pedestrians down in the process!!!

  18. You are well on your way to becoming a Jedi Knight. Well done.


  19. Yoda:
    Thank you Master. Fear is the path to the Dark Side - the fear is banished.


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