Wheel alignment

Sunday 27 November 2011

A bit of this, a bit of that

Several things connected with motorcycling have reared their heads this week.

As TV the world over is 95% crap, I read a fair bit in the evenings.  Our public library is superb, particularly for a village of 1500 and I'm always finding absolute gems.  One of the librarians knows I ride and thrust the book below into my hands.  Not to be confused with the Terry Pratchett Discworld novel of the same name, this one is very much grounded on Earth and real!

The front cover, funnily enough!

Nathan Millward is a 20-something English guy who has been working in Australia.  Unfortunately, he's overlooked that his visa is expiring in 20 days!  He can either fly home or, in a sudden flash of genius; ride Dorothy,  his well-used Honda CT110 Postie bike .  The CT110 is an institution in Australia and NZ.  Used by  Posties to deliver urban mail, it's also used by the public at large to undertake any insane feat imaginable because of its robust nature.  Including a 30,000 km overland trip half way round the world!

The Ubiquitous Honda CT110 (file photo)

As you might expect, 20 days doesn't leave much time for planning so Nathan takes off with little or no safety clothing, minimal tools, minimal maps and other severe deficiencies which would make the average motorcyclist shudder!  I'm not going to spoil things, but it's the most wonderful example of an unquenchable desire to succeed,  not to mention astounding naivety overcoming some pretty severe challenges.  His honesty in assessing his own feelings is completely disarming.  Very early on in his ride, he's thinking of pulling out and ponders whether pulling out or continuing with the journey will take the greatest courage.  For some reason, this struck a real chord.

His journey takes in such places as Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal and Kazakhstan along the way.  He experiences humanity at its very worst and when all seems lost, he discovers people with virtually nothing save the shirts on their backs who go out of their way to help him.  I couldn't help wondering what I'd do in some of the circumstances he found himself in.

I loved this inspiring book, particularly the clear message that if you want something badly enough, there's normally a way to make it happen.

ABC Books Australia, ISBN 978-0-7333-2806-0.  Available through the Internet and as a Kindle download through Amazon.

The second motorcycling-related item this week was on Thursday afternoon  when I was catching up on some emails and heard a motorcycle chugging up our steep drive.  It was clearly a single cylinder and offhand, I couldn't think of anyone who owned one, save for a friend that I knew was travelling in the south island.  When it hove into view, I immediately recognised Paul and Julie, friends of ours in Coromandel.  They'd just bought themselves a restored 1951 Norton ES2 500 and boy, what a beauty!  See what you think....

An adjustable spanner, pliers and a screwdriver is all you need!

Paul and Julie are real Norton enthusiasts.  Paul still has a Fastback Commando which he bought new when he was 19 or 20 and it's in flawless condition.  He also has an 850cc very special racing Commando for classic racing events.  Some of the parts are eye-wateringly expensive and he clearly has a wife in a million (or hides purchases in the "household miscellaneous" part of their budget)!

Pauls's racing Commando on the starter rollers

Today is the last Sunday of the month when upper north island IAM members get together for a ride in the Auckland area.  Up at 0530 for the trip to Auckland and joined by my mates Roger and Andy at the meeting venue, we weren't sure what the day would hold.

 Th' Dudes - Roger and Andy.  Matt on right

 A number of other riders turned up including Matt who was due for his first assessment ride - exactly where I started 8 months ago (feels like 5 minutes)!  Matt rides a Yamaha MT-01, a real torque monster and the first I've seen in the flesh.  1670cc with 150 Nm of torque at 3700 revs - it'd plough a field!  It's one of those larger than life brutal bikes where you can't but help stare. The detail on it is first class.

Philip, IAM Chief Examiner checking the huge Yamaha

Philip allocates most of the group to another Observer for a semi-social ride and asks me to join him and Matt for the first part of my Observer training.  Initially, Matt goes out front with Philip behind him and me at the rear, checking Matt's riding against the police rider's checklist which is used by IAM.  It's a curious feeling observing someone else. Matt does well with just refinements required rather than serious errors and he's well pleased.

Mid-ride debrief for Matt

After the debrief, Philip asks me to take the lead to demonstrate  to Matt extreme lane positioning for cornering.  Taken completely by surprise but get through it with no stuff-ups!  I then follow Matt and he picks it up without much difficulty.  The trick is to practice until he gets it right 100% of the time.  Lunch at Kumeu, a full debrief for Matt with a task list of a few things to work on before the first check ride with an assigned Observer to mentor him.  He's got off to a great start and is really enthusiastic to commit to the hard work over the coming months - well done Matt and we'll catch you after Xmas.  Really looking forward to watching someone new taking the IAM training path. 

An excellent trip home in light Sunday traffic and sunny skies, arriving at 1500 having covered 460 km.  It doesn't get much better than that!

Sunday 20 November 2011

Raising my riding skills - some reflections

 A study in contemplation!

 When I started out on the journey to raising my riding skills in April 2011, little did I know where it was going to lead and how I’d feel at different stages along the way.  I’ve made periodic posts since April about the on-going IAM training but thought it might be useful to condense the experiences and thoughts into a single post in case it’s of use to others who are thinking of re-skilling or upskilling, but have yet to do anything about it! 

It’s naturally a personal view, but I’ve tried to quantify the reasoning for choosing the particular path that I did.  I hope it all makes sense.

I’d written a couple of posts about motorcycle accidents and how both regulatory authorities and many motorcyclists too, seemed to avoid the root causes and propose solutions which would have limited impact on reducing accidents.  I was 63 at that time and the idea of upskilling seemed a good one but also like many riders, hadn’t actually done anything about it because I thought that I was an “ok” sort of rider after 40+ years in the saddle.  Trouble is, "OK" is normally "Not OK" to an impartial observer.  The majority of motorcycle riders might justifiably complain about the standard of the average car driver, but often do little to help themselves.  Fair comment?

Eminent American motorcycle safety author David Hough had seen one of my rants on motorcycle safety and in typically forthright fashion, sent an email asking what my plans were to ensure that I continued to ride safely as I aged.  This was his opening salvo – the first of some wonderfully direct and productive correspondence:

Some of your words lead me to believe you've also been thinking about how age is affecting your riding, and how it is likely to affect your motorcycling in the future. So, I'd welcome your observations, both in terms of how the aging of the body and mind affect someone like you or I who have been riding for many years, and also for the "return" riders who have gotten back into motorcycling after years of raising the kids, building the house, etc.

David is an exceptionally astute guy and reading between the lines, he almost certainly thought that I was saying the right things but may have been procrastinating about actually doing anything - and he was right!  Over a number of weeks, refreshing or raising skills was only one of many topics we discussed with respect to ageing riders but he’d prodded my conscience – time to put my money where my mouth was!  Looking back, if it wasn’t for David, I almost certainly wouldn’t have taken the route I did.  Simply put, I owe him an awful lot .

As well discussions with David, I’d been having some correspondence around the same time with fellow Kiwi rider and blogger, Roger Fleming and Dylan Rogers; an advanced instructor living in the UK.  Chewing the fat with these guys was incredibly valuable as it helped to crystallise the direction which seemed appropriate for me. Also, it introduced me to people who started as strangers and are now cherished friends as is the way with motorcycling!

Any form of training has to be followed up with practice for it to be effective.  Not only do the skills have to be practised, they require periodically refreshing to stop the inevitable slide back into bad habits mainly because we lack discipline (errr… a polite way of saying we get lazy)!  The only true way of stopping this slide from happening is to be periodically evaluated by an independent, qualified 3rd party.  Potentially tough on the ego but great in terms of acquiring good skills.

Whilst taking a series of one-off commercial advanced riding courses over time was a viable option for me, the approach advocated by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) seemed to be the most appropriate one – genuine advanced training. This is a summary of the IAM approach.
  •  There are formal, measurable, standards based on UK training of police motorcyclists.  Arguably one of the highest levels of riding skill available in terms of roadcraft, as opposed to track skills which are rather different compared with advanced roadcraft.  The training “bibles” used are available at a very modest cost to any member of the motorcycling community who wishes to buy them.  These are the ones:

  • The level of instruction, mentoring and testing is delivered by people who consistently meet these standards and are trained to evaluate others.  The instructors donate their time on an entirely voluntary basis.
  • It’s a progressive path, not a one-off so there is little chance of letting the skills slip.   It starts with a no-cost, no obligation assessment ride where current skills (or lack of ‘em in my case) are assessed against the aforementioned criteria.  A formal report is given to the trainee.  The trainee practices to address any improvement areas, followed by a series of further observed rides and evaluation reports until the standards are consistently achieved, not just sometimes!  That process can typically take up to two years depending upon commitment.  The trainee then takes the demanding full membership test and if successful, becomes an IAM full member.  It’s worth mentioning at this stage that the evaluation rides take two hours or so per occasion in heavy city traffic, on motorways and narrow, twisty rural roads.  There’s no place to hide with something that comprehensive and like any worthwhile endeavour, it’s darned hard work.
  •  A full member may then elect to remain a full member and attend monthly IAM rides or similar events to maintain skills.  In many cases however, full members continue their training to become Observers (instructor/examiners) and voluntarily donate their time to raise the skills of others.
 The on-going nature of the training was particularly appealing, as was the challenge of trying to consistently ride to measurably high level standards.  Also, being retired, I had the time to put something back into motorcycling provided that I was good enough to go all the way. 

IAM was the training path I finally chose.
As mentioned earlier, the individual rides and tests have already been detailed in previous posts but there’s much, much more than that going on in the background and it’s worth summarising some of those things.
  •  Actually committing yourself to start training is the hardest thing.  Far easier to simply procrastinate and stay in your comfort zone.  Unfortunately, that does nothing to reduce the risk of coming to serious harm so just bite the bullet and get started!
  • Any worthwhile training is going to stretch the trainee and probably cause initial ego damage – it did to me!  You soon shake that mindset off and regard any riding errors as an opportunity for improvement.  I think that testosterone is a real inhibitor in admitting that your skills need some work and that women are likely to be far more honest in this respect!
  • You do need a bit of experience to get the best out of an advanced course.  Some of the techniques aren’t intuitive unless you can apply some judgement.  Good commercial training is often a useful adjunct to IAM work.
  •  Riding to a system and constantly revising your riding plan caters for ever-changing road and traffic conditions.  The process becomes completely automatic with practice.
  • In the early stages, my situational awareness (observational skills and consequential planning and execution of appropriate responses) was lacking and it was oh so easy to be overwhelmed by all the inputs from external sources.  Further on in the training, you become aware of just how much more information you are processing to make the correct judgement calls.  Riding in challenging conditions becomes easier and more pleasurable.
  • The improvement process isn’t linear.  There are times, particularly in the earlier stages when I struggled to implement the skills and apply them on a consistent basis which was a bit depressing.  This was normally as a result of trying to apply too many new concepts at the same time and going into overload.  The enjoyment of riding suffered at these times and a bit of self-doubt crept in.  It was solved by taking smaller bites at the cherry.  Getting things right and locking them in place was a huge boost to confidence and even small gains opened the possibility of going all the way.  In the early days of training, it was fear of failure which drove me on.  Somewhere along the way, the motivator switched to wanting to execute a near-perfect ride.  That difference might not look particularly important in print, but the mental switch is a HUGE one.
  • Meeting other people doing the same training at end of month rides makes you realise that you’re not alone in your doubts and fears and there’s a huge amount of mutual support.  The Observers and Examiners have all gone through the same or similar processes.  They’re there as volunteers so they’re committed to great outcomes on your behalf.
  • Being followed by an IAM Observer/Examiner becomes progressively less intimidating – they’re there because of your commitment to improve.  However, there’s absolutely no compromise in the standard they set and like anything worthwhile, who would have it any other way?  Life for most of us is generally comfortable and a true challenge is a great way to remind us that we’re alive.
  • Passing through the various stages of IAM training is a source of quiet pride and a certain amount of relief rather than loud celebration.  People who simply want to wave a certificate about probably won’t have the mindset to complete the incredibly demanding course.
  • I don’t ride anywhere nearly as fast as pre-IAM days.  The biggest thrill comes from riding well, not breaking speed limits by a large margin.  On the few occasions nowadays when riding fast for a bit of fun, the IAM skills are always there to make good judgement calls about how fast and where you do it.
  • The training makes you aware of the generally poor skills of the average road user.  A bit scary in one respect but at least it allows you to identify and address potentially hazardous situations in a timely manner.
  • IAM training is available in very few countries.  However, the general principles apply to all good motorcycle training, commercial or otherwise.  The trick is to carefully research what is available in some detail, what suits your circumstances and only then, commit to training.
  • Whether you're a fast rider or slow rider, riding on the open road or in town,  good training still applies.  As a motorcyclist, you're vulnerable and greater awareness of your surroundings and the ability to identify and mitigate hazards are are critical for us all to survive.
 As this is, and will continue to be a highly personal journey after quite a bit of research and thought, I wouldn’t presume to advise anyone else to follow suit.  What I will say however, is that if you’ve been considering raising your skills, don’t look for reasons to put it off – please, please find something that suits and get stuck in!

At 64 years of age, I passed my IAM full membership riding test last Friday. Eight months after starting the journey, the first stage has been completed.  To put something back into motorcycling and to prevent a slide in skills, the next stage is to qualify as an Observer (Instructor/Examiner).  Not a bad outcome arising from a chance email sent by David Hough eh?

One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn't do.
Henry Ford

Addendum:  After intensive training and much blood, sweat and tears on my part (and undoubtedly teeth-gnashing by the Examiners), I passed my theory and practical examinations and became an Observer in January 2013.  The post on that momentous day is HERE

Saturday 19 November 2011

Pain and extreme pride

I sent an email last evening to my friend in the UK, Dylan Rogers; who is an Institute of Advanced Motorists Observer (Instructor/Examiner).  Dylan has offered much encouragement and advice, for which I'm eternally grateful.  The first sentence contained an uncharacteristic profanity which was really an emotional outpouring of how I felt at that very moment.  It said, "F**k me, I am sooo tired....."!

Earlier this week, the date for my IAM Full Membership advanced riding test was confirmed - the final step after 8 months of one of the most demanding things I've ever undertaken.  The IAM Chief Examiner told me that my Examiner would be Simon, a serving motorcycle officer who qualified on both bikes and cars with the police in the UK.  The UK police riding standards are used as the basis for IAM training so it's unquestionably tough with no concessions if you're just a little off your game.  Anyone can have a bad day but having completed the Bay and Banjos Tour last weekend with my mates, I felt reasonably sharp, but not by any means over-confident.  The arrangement was to meet Simon in central Auckland at Deus Ex Machina, the extraordinary motorcycle cafe which I've previously mentioned (more on Deus shortly). 

We live in a reasonably remote part of NZ and it's 180 km from central Auckland before I even start the test.  A real full-on day even before returning home!  Leaving home just before 0700 gave me time to ride to Auckland, have breakfast at Deus and a relaxing quick look at some of their new bikes before Simon arrived.  Over a coffee, Simon explained that we'd be doing dense traffic city work first, followed by urban work in the outer city, followed by both narrow, twisty back roads riding and open sweeping country roads where a whole range of different techniques are used.  If that wasn't enough, we would then finish off with a spell of motorway riding - Auckland motorways on a Friday afternoon...... shudder!  I'd not previously travelled on much of the planned route so that was a cause for additional stress.  I just had to put all my faith in the IAM techniques and a good riding plan to see me through.

As our village has a population of 1500 on a good day, I'm not that used to riding in the centre of a city populated by close to a million lunatics and it didn't start well.  The comms system which Simon kitted me out with was playing up and I was slowly becoming more paranoid in case I hadn't heard his directions properly.  We had to stop twice to fiddle with it before the problem was solved - very unsettling!!!  Oh yeah, then one side of my visor popped out of it's pivot - not a good sign! It only takes some minor incidents like this in a pressure situation to really stuff up your concentration!  The 1.5  hours of town and urban work felt fairly comfortable and my past training enabled the processing of more information than I'd previously thought possible.

Moving out onto the narrow, twisty back roads of Scenic Drive to the north west of Auckland was hard work.  Totally lined by trees and dense bush, most of the corners were blind and varied between 15 km/hr hairpins to 70 km/hr sweepers. To avoid the unnecessary use of brakes, good positioning, the right gear and reading the vanishing point was essential to avoid some real stuff-ups.   Adding to the pressure were variations in the posted speed limit all the way along the Drive.

Simon's civilian V-Strom 1000 and my Street Triple

Over a quick lunch snack near the town of Kumeu, Simon said I'd done well and that the only things he'd noticed was that I could have set up position for 2 right hand corners a little earlier, but that they were still fine and that I could have made a little more progress at one stage (a euphemism for stepping the pace up, haha)!  With no black marks, it was hugely encouraging to relax and have fun on the afternoon session.

We continued north on SH16 which is largely continuous open sweepers with some blind crests.  Pretty much like last weekend's ride with the lads so that was fine and I felt perfectly at home, despite a very strong side-wind which was kicking the bike around.  There were a couple of poor overtaking manoeuvres by a motorcycle and a 4x4 on the outskirts of a village on this route which must have made Simon wish that he was on official duty! 

The trip east to the town of Warkworth  was a mixture of tight bends, sweepers and a long stretch of fresh gravel which caused some consternation.  It wasn't the gravel itself, but the posted 30 km/hr speed limit.  There didn't appear to be a speed limit cancellation at the far end of the works and I was paranoid that I'd sped up whilst still in the restricted zone.  However, Simon was pretty certain that there wasn't a sign either - what a relief!  Only one other minor panic on this stretch - there was a one way bridge on a tight corner.  My approach was a little too fast (my arse was certainly twitching a bit!) so rather than hitting the brakes and demonstrating an error of judgement, I block-changed down 2 gears to get increased engine braking and got away with it - phew!  Shortly afterwards, Simon came on the radio and was complimentary about how I'd ridden that section which was wonderful to hear.

From Warkworth, it was back south down SH1 via Orewa and the Northern Motorway and demonstrating safe overtaking at speed in dense traffic - no worries at all and about 10 minutes riding time short of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, Simon called it quits and pulled me over.  I'd passed first time with a pretty much clean sheet which was way, way beyond my wildest dreams and tangled my words of thanks, I was so overcome!  The test lasted for a little over 4 hours and we covered close to 220 km which was a whole lot more than expected.  I'd been away from home for 11.5 hours and covered just under 600 km - no wonder I was stressed, hurting and dog tired!

Simon and his victim

Earlier in this post, I said that this was the end of 8 months of hard work.  Except it isn't of course.  Those fantastically skilled  IAM Observer/Examiners like Simon, Wayne, Duncan and Philip who volunteer their time at no cost for something which they're passionate about and deliver real results in terms of riding safely deserve every accolade known.  The ideal means I can see of repaying them is to help as best I can, so my Observer training will start as soon as they're ready for me.  Can't feel any elation at present as it's been such a hard road - just feel relief and more than a little quiet pride.

I'd also like to sincerely thank fellow blogger Raftnn (Roger) and my mate Andy who are following the same IAM path.  Their unconditional support and leg-pulling has made the whole process so much more enjoyable for all of us through being able to share our experiences.  Although I've never met him, thanks also to Nigel Bowers who's Advanced Biker videos on YouTube have been so good in reinforcing my training on wet days and dark nights!

In the next day or two, I'll be posting a few reflections on the whole concept of advanced motorcycle training as there have been some benefits which aren't immediately obvious and if it encourages anyone else to have a go, that would be simply wonderful.

As a light finale to the post, I thought I'd share photos of some of the bikes which took my fancy at Deus Ex Machina this time round.

The first was an old-school Triumph drag bike - a wonderful sight for this ex-drag racer.  No supercharger though - note the big bottle of Nitrous Oxide on the side of the bike!

Brute horsepower - wonderful!

Legendary Honda CBX 6
They sound better with 6 pipes!

1920's Triumph - what a cool sidecar!

Gorgeous Indian

1938 Velocette MAC

Suzuki 500 2 stroke GP racebike

The paintwork on this scooter looks like a hologram in real life - unbelievably detailed paintwork

And I'm saving my personal favourite for last!  It's an early Innocenti (Lambretta) scooter which I initially thought was due to be restored.  However, looking at the string work on the carrier and the tyres which are in excellent condition, I'm more inclined to think that the important bits are in perfect working order and the bodywork etc has deliberately been left unrestored to create a sort of Mad Max or Steam Punk image.  If this is the intent, it's brilliant and I'd love to shake the owner's hand!  Hope that you like it too.

This is just so cool!

Deliberately unrestored?  You figure!

Wednesday 16 November 2011

The Bay and Banjos Tour, day 3

Approximately 470 km 

After a pretty good nights' sleep, it's up fairly early to hose off all the mud accumulated from the dirt road section of the Forgotten World Highway.  There must be at least a kilo of the stuff in the radiator alone and removing that is a priority.  Before breakfast, time for a few photos of Whangamomona.  Most of it shut down years ago but many of the buildings have been either well-maintained or restored.

Real wild west stuff!

Character buildings

Traffic congestion, Whangamomona style

Now before we get underway on the western half of the Forgotten World Highway, I'll come back to my earlier comment about a warning sign I'd seen at the eastern end of the highway when I passed through by car last year, but seems to have been removed in the intervening period.  That sign said "Public Road - this is not a Race Track".  Now, a sign like that must be like a red rag to a bull for certain sections of the community and there's a photo in the hotel bar which I've copied below.  Some wag has sprayed over a few crucial words as you can see, with a Holden Monaro, Skyline GTR or similar going past at warp speed - absolutely priceless!  I'd imagine that defacing the sign was a regular occurrence so it got removed by the authorities on a permanent basis.  At least we now have a record of it!

Sheer hooligan genius!

After a light breakfast, I lead off heading for the western end of the Forgotten World Highway near Stratford.  The road is as twisty and up and down as ever, but is in much better condition and mostly runs through farm country.  It's a good job we're riding defensively as two cows are grazing contentedly on the edge of a road round a blind bend.  That sort of hazard is pretty regular in rural NZ.  We climb up over two saddles which are mini versions of those European pass roads which are constantly doubling back on themselves.  This is where the light weight, high footpegs and big torque spread on the Street Triple really gives an advantage and the extra capacity of the following bikes offers no advantage at all - what an awesome run!

Strathmore Saddle with the Mt Taranaki volcano in the background

View from the Strathmore Saddle in the other direction
- lonely country

A quick refuel at Stratford, over the twisty and technical Mt Messenger section of road and then it's a quick trip up the coast to the village of Mokau for brunch.  No photos of  Mt Messenger or the stunningly beautiful coast as we are on a mission!  It's whitebait season in NZ and everyone bar John is hanging out for this delicacy.  The NZ whitebait is the juvenile form of a NZ native fish, just a few centimetres long and translucent.  They're caught in things that look like big butterfly nets at river mouths.  The traditional way of eating them is to mix them with a little beaten egg, pan fry them as an omelette and serve them with bread and butter and a lemon wedge.  Absolutely divine.  My wife can't stand them though - she thinks all those eyes staring up reproachfully at her is gross!

NZ delicacy - the whitebait fritter

John, Andy and Dave enjoying brunch

Andy notices a sign in the village butcher's shop that says fresh whitebait are for sale so pops over to buy some to take home.  Its delicacy value is reflected in the $140/kg price - eek!  Mind you, the 400g which Andy bought will make a good few fritters.

The next leg homewards is through the Awakino Gorge and on to our next fuel stop at the village of Piopio.  The Awakino Gorge is another bike road made in heaven with fast sweepers, tight bends and a smooth, grippy surface.  Dave volunteers to lead on his Blackbird, saying "I'm not going to lead as fast as you guys, I'm out of practice".  Fine with us as the leader always sets the pace but as it happens, Dave just gets in the groove and provides us with a memorable tow which is incredibly smooth - everyone was fizzing at the next stop!

John takes over for the run up to the small town of Otorohanga where the Auckland contingent will take to the back roads north to get home and I'll cut across country to Coromandel.  Exiting Te Kuiti, another bike joins onto the back of us and we all stare in our mirrors, trying to figure out what it is.  As we park up in Otorohanga to say our goodbyes, the other bike parks up with us and WOW!!!!  The owner, another nice guy who lives in New Plymouth back down the coast tells us that he's recently taken delivery of the first Aprilia Tuono V4 in NZ and he's on the way to Auckland for the first service. The powerplant originates from the Aprilia Superbike and is an absolutely wicked beast, with a lot of extras on it.  Sounds amazing too with its little stubby exhaust can.  Guess that if you can afford a bike like that, you can also afford the insurance and operating costs! 

The wicked Aprilia Tuono V4

Cockpit view of the Aprilia V4

I bid a heartfelt goodbye to Andy, John and Dave.  It's always hard to split from such good friends - you just want to keep riding forever as it's been such a wonderful 3 days...  great company, great food, great riding with a permanent smile on the face.  The lads head for Auckland with the Aprilia tagging along and I cut across country for the remaining 220 km home to Coromandel.

As well as reflecting on the last 3 days which has been such a great adventure,  I'm also conscious that all the riding over challenging roads for that length of time has moved my skills up a notch.  All the normal riding functions are being taken care of at a virtually subconscious level, leaving what seems to be heaps of real time dedicated to situational awareness and riding plans.  I'm beginning to understand more of the book I reviewed in THIS recent post - must re-read it!

Thanks guys for a spectacular 3 days away - simply can't wait for the next one!!

Tuesday 15 November 2011

The Bay and Banjos Tour, day 2

Approximately 400km

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear.  I have that delicious stomach-churning anticipation of a day of fast riding in sparsely populated and largely wild territory.  A couple of the lads have stomach-churning due to overdoing it the previous evening and are looking forward to a big fried breakfast to settle things down (ewwww...).

Andy, praying for a hangover cure

Big John - makes the VStrom 1000 look like a toy!

We head off to the suburb of Taradale for gas and a pavement breakfast at a cafe.  Eggs Benedict for me and plenty of water as the weather is scorching hot.  Easy to get dehydrated on a long, hard ride in these conditions.  

 A lazy Sunday breakfast in the sun

 The next part of the route is deceptively called Gentle Annie.  The reason for its name isn't known to me, but it was probably named by an early settler with a perverse sense of humour!  Gentle it is not.  Approximately 150km of continuous bends through a bit of farmland but a fair percentage of it is through forests and native bush in really hilly country.  The road itself was only completely tar sealed earlier this year and there are big altitude changes as it dives down to valley floors and then over ridges in the Kaweka Mountain range. 

John leads off and sets a great pace as we climb away from the coast.  The road consists of continuous sweepers with a smooth, coarse chip surface, perfect for taking any chicken strips off a rear tyre - this is motorcycling Paradise!  Further up into the hills, the road surface is generally good but to maintain a decent pace in safety, good forward observation is critical to spot scatterings of gravel on the riding line and frost heaves in the high country.  It's hard to think that on such a beautiful day, this road is regularly closed because of snow in the colder weather but even now,  the temperature drop is quite pronounced at altitude.

Nearly 150 km of continuous twisties

 Kaweka Range high country - lonely out here

 We stop at a mountain river bridge to take some photos as the broom is in full flower and looks absolutely stunning.  There are big trout down below in the crystal clear waters.  After nearly an hour of riding, we've only seen a couple of vehicles and riding solo on this road with only patchy mobile phone coverage at best, having an accident or a breakdown becomes a serious matter; especially in marginal weather.

John, encouraging Andy to dive off the bridge and catch a trout!

 Crystal clear mountain river

Richard takes over the lead for the second half of Gentle Annie and the countryside slowly turns into high country farms.  The road is as twisty as ever and gravel patches diminish but everyone is still keeping a wary eye open for them.  Reaching State Highway 1 and up to Waiouru for gas, everyone thinks it's one of the best biking roads in the north island, but requires huge concentration if it's going to be traversed at pace.

Tongariro National Park active volcanoes taken from Waiouru

It's quite cool here in the high country and we head north west towards Taumaranui with John picking up the lead.  Everyone is on full alert as the Highway Patrol are pretty keen in this area and sure enough, the radar detector goes off and there's a cop a long way up the road booking a car driver.  We stop shortly afterwards near National Park village for some photos of the volcanoes.  Cloud cover is fairly well down, but that makes for a moody atmosphere.

Arty-farty shot of the volcanoes with red tussock grass
and an old cart in the foreground

A 3 metre high Kiwi made from gnarled branches - terrific!

We all refuel at Taumaranui and stop for a bit of rehydration.  We say our goodbyes to Richard who has to return home for work tomorrow which is a real shame as he's great company and a darned good rider too.  The next leg of the journey down the Lost World Highway needs full tanks as no fuel is available for the best part of 150 km.  This stretch is rather different from Gentle Annie.  The same tight bends but the road surface is more uneven, the road itself is at the bottom of a gorge and pretty narrow after the first 10km or so.

I lead off and we're immediately reminded that it's a road to be respected by the sign below.  There used to be another sign saying "Public Road - This Is Not A Race Track"  but it seems to have disappeared - more on that later.

A sobering reminder to take care

About an hour away from our stop for the night, it gets gloomy and light rain starts to fall.  The gorge walls are clad in bush and tree ferns and it's eerily beautiful.

Andy singing in the rain

Remains of trees swept downstream during heavy rain
Rivers rise fast in hill country

Wild, steep country
We travel along in light rain which has turned the 10-odd km section of unsealed road into brown slush.  All but one of the bikes are on sport touring tyres but there are no anxious moments.  The bikes are totally covered in mud and look like they've had a day at the moto-X track!  We're soon back onto tar seal and a bit further on, we stop at the Moki Tunnel which was built in the 1930's.  An impressive bit of engineering.

The narrow Moki tunnel

At least you can see daylight!

A few minutes later, we're rolling into the tiny, isolated settlement of Whangamomona and our stop for the night at the iconic Whangamomona Hotel, having seen precisely 2 other vehicles down the whole length of the highway.  Not a place to run into trouble.  The Hotel is a mecca for bikers, car enthusiasts and intrepid travellers and maintains its old world charm.  The current owners, Penny and Geoff Taylor are bike enthusiasts and currently own a brand new Super Tenere.  Every year, they hold a number of special events including Republic Day with all sorts of events including elections.  From memory, the last elected President of the Republic was a goat - I love it!!!!

The iconic Whangamomona Hotel

After being welcomed and shown our rooms, we have a well-earned locally crafted beer or two.  Nearly 400 km of continuous twisties brings on a real thirst, not to mention being half-stuffed!  We chat with a colourful local who gives us some interesting history of the people in the area and we tactfully don't ask about banjo ownership.  The local has his well-used utility vehicle (called a ute in NZ and Australia) parked outside.  It's clearly done stirling service for a couple of decades or so and is a perfect photographic subject in the remote surroundings.

A true country vehicle

Another patron rocks up on a gorgeous KTM 690 motard.  I've never seen one up close before and the engineering is superb.  Must be the perfect bike for a blast on these twisty roads. The owner is a really nice guy and as we chat, it turns out that he's the cousin of an old workmate and also worked for my old boss in another life.  The thing about NZ and it's 4.5 million population is that virtually everyone knows someone in common!

Superb KTM 690

Arty-farty shot in KTM mirror

After another beer or two and a superb meal, the eyelids are beginning to droop and 4 keen bikers are tucked up and sound asleep by 10pm, dreaming of the next day!

Day 3 soon......