Wheel alignment

Saturday 24 December 2011

Your pet hates about car drivers?

Enough said

Just before Xmas, a British motorcycle website ran a survey to determine what were the pet hates among its readers with respect to car drivers and their annoying and dangerous habits, plus being on the roads in general. Some of the habits listed and their ranking surprised me a bit and I got to thinking that maybe, there are bad traits which vary according to where you are in the world and even regional differences within a given country.

I'm curious with respect to what other people think - if you're a blogger, would you like to list your 5 least-liked specific traits in descending order of importance with an explanation and put a link to your post in your Comment?

Here are mine.

1.  Corner-cutting on narrow, twisty roads.
I live in a region of NZ which is a biker's paradise - hardly a straight bit of road anywhere.  On just about every ride I do in the area, there's at least one dozy knuckle-dragger on a blind or obscured bend partially on my side of the road coming towards me.  By the look of surprise on their faces, it's as if something coming the other way is the last thing they're expecting and I have no right to be there.  If there's time, I point them back to their side with an explicit gesture to demonstrate disapproval.  Laziness on their part? Failure to comprehend the potential consequences?  Generally public antipathy towards setting good standards?  Dunno, but it really makes my blood boil.  It's not just oncoming traffic either - if you're setting up for an overtake, traffic in front of you will often drift over the centreline on a shallow bend or even on a straight.  It's particularly noticeable at weekends and with the Coromandel Peninsula being a tourist area, I suspect that there's an element of people from other regions simply not knowing how to drive well on twisty roads.  Morons!

Something else I've noticed round this way which is both amusing and tragic at the same time.  Some of the worst corner-cutters are 4x4 drivers towing boats.  But wait - there's more!!!  If the driver is a solidly-built gentleman (oh all right, a fat bastard) wearing a baseball cap, a moustache and just a singlet or cutoff T shirt, you can bet your last cent he's going to be one of the worst offenders.  N.Z riders - just keep your eyes peeled and see if I'm right!!!   

To me, corner-cutting is the No 1 pet hate by an awfully large margin.

2.  Poor situational awareness. (Graphic: Using Data.wordpress.com)
Ok, whilst this is a perfectly true annoyance, it's not a single specific fault so I'll plump for failure to observe the rear.  By the number of dumb things people do when I'm closing on them from the rear, it's clear that on many occasions, they have no idea I'm there.  I suppose that mirrors are for checking out how they look wearing the latest Oakleys rather than the intended purpose.  However, with judicious positioning and having upgraded my headlight bulbs, I must admit that they see me a little earlier than they used to.  Probably don't like the dazzle in their mirrors, even in daytime.  Car drivers doing shoulder checks/lifesavers?  Don't make me laugh, the incidence of drivers actually swivelling their heads to take a good look is as rare as rocking horse poo!

Truck drivers as a group are excluded.  The ones round our way are extremely courteous and professional.

The other thing I've noticed is that I'm definitely spotted earlier when wearing a hi-viz jacket.  I've got a theory that there's a moment's uncertainty by a driver as to whether I'm a motorcycle cop so they go into best behaviour mode for a nanosecond.  Whatever the reason, I'm downright grateful!  At present, the biggest percentage of riders don't wear hi-viz and I worry that if it's mandated at any stage whether other road users will become blind to them through over-use.

3.  Failure to indicate intentions.
This might be more prevalent in the country areas than in major towns and cities where there would be utter carnage if people didn't stick to the rules most of the time.  However, out in the country, the locals seem to regard the use of indicators as a waste of energy and cut across your bows or turn off in front of you without warning.  The "relaxed" driving style is borne out by the number of country types who drive one-handed with the spare hand dangling out of the window or gripping the roof gutter. It's a fair bet that their thoughts aren't on driving well, more like looking forward to their next puff of weed or a cold beer at the pub.  Most of these idiots fall into the "slow driver" category but it's reassuring to read that the police are giving slow, discourteous drivers special attention too.

4. People who pull out of side turnings in front of you.
I'm hyper-aware of the risk to bikers by this kind of retard and am usually ready for them.  However, have you noticed that people who pull out normally proceed to dawdle along? Why is that??  Jennie also has a theory that people who pull out on you normally turn off soon afterwards and I'm beginning to think she's right now that she mentions it!

5. Angry drivers.
Actually, I'm thinking about one particular circumstance and I lied, it's a love, not a pet hate but it does involve angry drivers!  We all know that bikes are great at filtering past queues of traffic.  It seems that more drivers are objecting to bikes coming past when they're stuck in traffic jams, even though the practice is perfectly legal with certain parameters.  Several times in the last year, I've been gently filtering past a queue of stationary vehicles and some clown in a car has displayed colourful mastery of the English language by yelling out "Wait your f*****g turn" or a variation thereof.   Ignoring the abuse probably upsets them more than acknowledging it!

Don't let it influence your personal views, but here are the top 5 from Visordown, the British website:

  1. Motorists not using their indicators correctly (53%)
  2. Drivers flicking cigarette butts out of their window (21%)
  3. Potholes or uneven road surfaces (11%)
  4. Drivers overtaking unnecessarily in unsafe weather conditions (9%)
  5. Ineffective use of mirrors, poor observations and general awareness by others on the road (6%)

Let's hear what gets up your nose!!

Wednesday 21 December 2011

'twas the week before Christmas......

Well, the best Christmas present came just under a week ago when our youngest son and daughter-in-law presented us with a baby granddaughter by the name of Georgia.  Her parents are the most laid-back couple imaginable and I'm sure that their temperament has transferred to Georgia - she's such a good baby and they will be fabulous parents.  I guess we'll be travelling to and from Auckland a lot during the hols!

Proud Dad and Georgia in the birthing suite

Grandma - who's the scary old guy taking photos of me?

The real world is soooo tiring!

Not many days left until Christmas and a pile of things to do before the family descends on us.  However, Jennie and I decided to bunk off and go fishing this afternoon as the weather is so good.  The fishing gods smiled on us with 8 big snapper in under 2 hours and a couple of broken lines, probably from big stingrays. Note to those who previously took the mickey out of my red shorts.  The ones below are new and are henceforth known as my Lucky Russet Shorts.  Yeah, I know they're red to a guy, but Jennie bought them and she assures me that the colour is Russet.  Don't say you haven't been told!  Back to Xmas preparations tomorrow though and probably won't be back on 2 wheels for a couple of weeks.

All that remains is to wish riders all round the world safe riding, Merry Christmas and a truly wonderful 2012.  See you in a few weeks and take care out there!

Jennie usually out-fishes me but it was a tie today!

This snapper has every reason to look annoyed!

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Nils and Marc's Excellent Adventure

There's something very special about the motorcycling fraternity right round the globe. That special thing is that there's a better than 99% chance that you'll meet as comparative strangers and part as confirmed friends.  And so it was for the last few days.  Nils Poulsen is a bike enthusiast from NZ's capital, Wellington.  Nils and I had never met but we'd been corresponding on all matter of things for some months and when he started talking about planning a road trip with his mate Dr Marc Lubbers; Jennie and I invited them to stop off  for a day or two in Coromandel and explore if they fancied a trip north.

It didn't take long to nail down a date and on Sunday, I rode down to the southern end of the Coromandel Peninsula to meet them at the gold-mining town of Waihi.

 Introducing Marc with his Ducati ST4 and Nils with his Honda VFR 800

After some relaxed banter over coffee, we rode a few hundred metres to have a look at the 500 ft deep gold mining operation.  Not often that you find a working gold mine so close to the main street of town!

Waihi gold ore extraction pit - impressive up close

Everyone was getting a bit peckish so it was time to ride north to the small town of Tairua for lunch.  Being the local yokel/tourist guide, I took the lead.  There are always some trepidations about riding with strangers but it only took a few minutes to learn that these guys knew their business and we all fitted together perfectly,  proceeding to carve up the almost continuous twisties to Tairua and it was great fun riding in their company.  Nils' VFR 800 was whisper-quiet and in typical Ducati contrary fashion, I could hear Marc's bike booming away behind me on the over-run - nothing quite like that sound.  Both great machines.

Parked up for a late lunch

After lunch, I went into tour guide mode as the guys wanted to specifically see the Hahei Cathedral Cove area and Hot Water Beach. It was fairly cloudy when the photo below was taken but on a clear day, the sea is a bright turquoise due to the white sand on the seabed - simply gorgeous.

Hahei Beach from the lookout

Hot Water Beach is just 5 km from Hahei.  So-called because at low tide, you can dig a hole in the sand and geothermally-heated hot water comes bubbling up and fills the hole.  Pretty decadent laying on the beach in your own private bath!

Hot Water Beach.  Hot water bubbling up where the people are congregating

The other thing about the Coromandel Peninsula around Christmas time is that literally tens of thousands of Pohutukawa trees come into bloom all round the coast.  Also commonly known as the NZ Christmas Tree, they provide a breathtaking backdrop to summer.  Although pretty enough in its own right, the photo below doesn't do justice to just how bright the flowers are, partially because of the dull skies and my camera at a distance.

A fairly young Pohutukawa, Hot Water Beach

However, the close-up below shows the flowers in true colour so you'll get an inkling of just how spectacular the coastal regions are for a few weeks, especially as the older trees are massive!

Simply stunning!

Leaving the beach, we headed north and made a quick stop at the Coroglen pub for a photo shoot.  The Coroglen pub is an icon for bikers on the Coromandel Loop road and serves up such delicacies as fresh scallop burgers - yumm!!  During the summer, they also attract great international music bands who play in a natural amphitheatre behind the pub.

Nils and Marc at Coroglen

From Coroglen, it was a brisk ride up to Whitianga, where Nils and Marc had booked accommodation for the night and I departed for home ready to meet up with them again the next day.  They duly arrived at our place next morning and checked in but unfortunately, the forecast wasn't promising so we elected to take the 4x4 out and do some touring about.  First stop was to the tiny settlement of Colville north of Coromandel, where the sealed road ends.  It's an area full of alternative lifestylers and communes set up in the early hippy days - I really like it up that way.  The Colville store stocks an amazing range of stuff, including gas mantles, big tubs of every bean and grain known to mankind for vegetarian and macrobiotic diets -  a seriously cool place!

Not really "banjo" territory but getting that way!

The utterly quaint and tiny Colville post office

Just down the road from Colville is Branch Creek Furniture which you access up a narrow track.  The owner, Greg Taylor, is an old school craftsman who used to be a logger.  He makes really solid, interesting-shaped furniture from indigenous and introduced timbers and we have several of his pieces.

Cool chair (and outstandingly comfortable)

Table and bench seat

We noticed Nils casting covetous looks at a gorgeous swamp kauri coffee table and in the end, he couldn't leave without buying it.  There was a bit of spirited banter about what his wife would say but we're pretty sure that the " 'tis better to ask for forgiveness than permission" rule applied in this case!  It's currently being couriered to his home in Wellington so we'll know soon enough!!!

On the way back home, we stopped off to see my mate Paul who's recent purchase of a classic 1951 Norton ES2 featured in a recent post.  Paul is a complete Norton enthusiast and in addition to the ES2, has a racing 850cc Commando and a 750cc Commando road bike.  Paul's now in his mid-50's and bought the 750 brand new when he was 17 - it's still in absolutely showroom condition!!

Paul's man-cave

The stunning 750 Commando

In the early evening, we all went along to a working gold stamper in Coromandel which dated back to the 1800's where gold-bearing rock is still crushed, treated and bullion (a gold/silver amalgam) extracted.  It was a fascinating demonstration and really enjoyable.

The incredibly noisy stamper battery

1800's OSH-approved belts and open gears!

The retorting process for extracting precious metals

A bullion ingot worth US$3000!

After a pretty full-on day, it was back home for a BBQ, a few wines and some well-earned sleep.  The following day, Nils and Marc took themselves into Coromandel village to do some shopping, presumably as quid pro quo for being allowed out on a boy's bike trip **sly grin**.  In the afternoon, they went on the famous Driving Creek pottery railway, followed by yet more refreshment and locally-caught seafood.

Driving Creek pottery railway - the vision of a local potter

The weather forecast for the following few days was fairly dire so Nils and Marc decided to shorten the trip and head the 650-odd km directly home the following morning.  We enjoyed their company immensely and new long-term friendships have been established through the love of motorcycles - now that's got to be good, hasn't it?

Hope you've enjoyed the trip round the Coromandel Peninsula and meeting fellow enthusiasts Nils, Marc and Paul.  All that remains is to wish everyone a wonderful Xmas and a safe and prosperous 2012!

Saturday 10 December 2011

My Favourite Five

Following my great mate Roger Fleming's  challenge to post the 5 favourite photos of 2011 which I took, here they are; not in any particular order of importance:

As many regular visitors to this blog will remember, we spent 3 weeks in Vietnam earlier this year.  All countries are special but for us, we left a bit of our hearts in this country.  Wonderful, friendly and open people, fabulous food and stunning scenery.  I love the picture below because it shows the sheer enterprise and energy of the Vietnamese.  A pavement maintenance operation for servicing bicycles and motorbikes while you wait.  They appeared to be extremely thorough - oil change and cable lube as part of this job and they even had a plastic chair for the customer.  Innovation and capitalism in a (mildly) socialist country - right in the centre of Saigon!

The enterprise of  glorious Vietnam!

This photo was taken at sunset close to our house, looking over the Firth of Thames.  Not only does it reflect the sense of peace and tranquillity we get from living in Coromandel, it's also where Jennie and I spend time together fishing from our boat.  The little dots in the water  are commercial mussel farms and we moor the boat to them.  The fishing here is fantastic (10 snapper and 1 trevally between us in a 2 hour spell last Thursday!) but even if we didn't catch anything, floating in those surroundings is medicine for the soul.

Coromandel sunset in winter

This is our granddaughter Molly at her christening last weekend.  We were waiting for the ceremony to begin and I happened to notice that she was resting her head on the cathedral pew with a faraway look.  And it makes me misty-eyed....

 Our gorgeous granddaughter Molly

This is Annie.  We found her in our garden as a tiny kitten which was very, very hungry, and very friendly.  Despite our best efforts, we couldn't find her owners so we let her adopt us, despite already having 2 cats!  As it happened, my older cat developed an infection which he didn't recover from only 2 weeks after Annie showed up. Annie immediately made it her business to take away as much of the hurt as she could.  A special bond, with maybe a dash of Karma thrown in for good measure!

Little Orphan Annie

And last but far from least is the photo below.  It's Philip McDaid, Chief Examiner of the NZ branch of the Institute of Advanced Motorists.  He was just completing the report form on my first assessment ride back in April.  His expression made me want a pee on the spot but it was more a case of  "safe enough, but needs a hell of a lot of work".  Being damned by faint praise was just the spur that was needed and I honestly can't remember when I'd worked so hard at anything.  Eight months later, a test pass as a full member of IAM and now training to be an Observer.  Oh yeah, this photo is special all right!!!

Eight months of reading, thinking and dreaming about that bloody test!

Monday 5 December 2011

A motorcycle-free weekend!

It was Jennie's birthday last Friday and our kids, bless 'em, wanted to share in it so we were away for a couple of nights enjoying their company.  We're truly blessed in that not only do we have a fantastic relationship with our kids, their partners are wonderful people and great mates too.

Friday saw Jennie and I drive to Auckland via the scenic route, stopping for a lazy lunch in a little village and then exploring the waterfront east of Auckland city.  Not only does the city itself have a beautiful, big harbour but you can get to some lightly populated beaches within a 40 minute or so drive.

 Maraetai Beach, near Auckland
hardly a soul about!

Waiheke Island car ferry from Bucklands Beach Peninsula

We stayed with our younger son and daughter-in-law and on Saturday, Jennie took off for a marathon shopping session with our Auckland-based daughter (6 hours - a guy would be demented within the first 30 minutes, haha), whilst I headed into the city with our son and D-I-L to look at car baby seats for their imminent arrival.  Enough of this domestic stuff, other than to say that crikey, there are some real high tech devices available in the baby market these days.  Recaro, long-time manufacturers of internationally-renowned sports car and rally seats have tapped into the child restraint market.  By the prices they charge, I'd imagine that the child market is their biggest profit centre!!!

The title of the post isn't 100% accurate as I needed to visit Auckland's premier motorcycle accessories store to pick up a new Pinlock anti-fog visor insert for my helmet.  The old one had lasted for the best part of 4 years but was getting slightly scratched which caused a bit of starring at night.  This was my first visit to the current location and I was impressed with their service and range of products.  A bike on a display stand caught my eye - this is it:

The McIntosh Suzuki

Anyone around the world who has a strong interest in classic motorcycle racing will know the name of Kiwi engineer Ken McIntosh who is one of the world's top restorers of Manx Nortons.  However, his talents were, and still are much broader than that.  In the early 1980's he collaborated on a project with an extraordinary rider, Dr Rodger Freeth.  Rodger Freeth was a senior lecturer in Astrophysics at university in Auckland who brought the rigours of science to the art of motorcycle riding and racing.  The McIntosh Suzuki F1 superbike was the result of this collaboration and it's fair to say that it pretty much won every race it took part in for a few years.  Its speed was devastating and in 1983 at Bathurst in Australia, it was clocked within a fraction of 300 km/hr!  What a privilege to see it again after all this time.

After the shopping, it was time to drive to the Auckland waterfront for lunch.  Driving through the suburb of Ponsonby, this old building took my eye.  It looks like the odd wedge shape design was to deliberately fit into the tight intersection between two roads!

Lovely old building

Auckland City centre from Mission Bay

A long lunch at the waterfront suburb of St Heliers followed.  Great service, great food and a favourite pastime of people-watching!  The "hill" in the background of the photo below is Rangitoto, an extinct (we hope)  island volcano in the outer harbour which was formed some 600 years ago.  A bit recent for my liking!

Our younger son and daughter in law waiting for lunch

Jennie's Xmas "shop 'till you drop" trip was a spectacular success from her viewpoint  inasmuch that the spoils wouldn't fit in her sports car for the trip home so it's a good job we'll be back in Auckland next weekend for another function with the 4x4!  That evening, we all went out for a Chinese banquet in the suburb of Kingsland.  A very ordinary, even slightly down at heel frontage with plain d├ęcor inside.  However, the clue to the wonderful reputation of this place for authentic cooking was that most of the patronage was Chinese.  Suffice to say that it was reasonably-priced, exquisite tasting and in quantities which defeated us. Special honours go to the Salt and Pepper Squid dish for anyone who is motivated to visit the Canton Cafe!

Sunday brought yet another special family occasion with a drive to the city of Hamilton to attend the baptism of our gorgeous grandchildren from our eldest son and partner .  Four other families were taking part  in the ceremony and it was an absolutely delightful occasion with all the children behaving impeccably!

All in all, a wonderful weekend and one largely without bikes too!  As a fabulous postscript, our daughter sat her final examination this morning (oral in front of a high-powered panel) for professional registration as a clinical psychologist.  She rang a short time ago and from her comments, it sounds like she aced it.  Unbelievably proud parents!

Thursday 1 December 2011

How it all started

In response to Gary's Flies In Your teeth post, I guess that my story is typical of many riders.  Also like several other bloggers, my early posts are a chronicle of the early days but as many people won't have gone back to the late 2009 posts, I'll summarise the earliest here.

Here's a photo of the earliest remembered association with bikes when I was aged 5 or thereabouts.  I hope that you appreciate the courage it took to post this!

Oh my God!!! Me on the right

In my early life, Dad spent a lot of time working overseas and kept a 2 stroke James (Appropriate given my surname!) in the shed for running around our Northamptonshire village on when he got home.  If I was lucky, I'd be given short rides and I suppose I was hooked from then on.  Mum was dead against them though as Dad had a serious accident, breaking his jaw.

My conscious memories of bikes surfaced again when I was about 15.  At that time, the UK was heavily influenced by the American "biker rebel" culture and near where we lived was a cafe where the local bikers hung out on their Triumphs, Nortons and BSA's.  As wannabe bikers, we used to go down on our bicycles, complete with ape-hangers and tassels hanging out the end of the bars (more groans of embarrassment!).  The bikers used to put a 45 on the juke box and the challenge was to ride from the cafe, round the town centre and back again before the record finished.  Never mind about antisocial and dangerous behaviour, we  wanted to be just like them!

My first bike came a couple of years later as a reward from my grandparents for passing all my national school exams - couldn't believe my luck!  The fact that it was a Suzuki 50 with about 5 bhp and had the aerodynamics of a house thanks to the massive aftermarket windscreen they bought mattered not one jot - I was independently mobile!  That little Suzuki carried me over several counties in company with close friends on a Lambretta scooter, a Triumph Tiger Cub and an Ariel Arrow.  I'm pleased to say that I still stay in touch with most of those friends and one of them is still riding bikes.

The rest of my early biking history is in those early posts, but just thought I'd repost a photo of me and my Tiger 100 taken at the 1969 Isle of Man TT.  The young lady is Anne McGregor from Glasgow, who was holidaying in the IOM at the time with a friend.  Lovely girl and I hope she's had a wonderful life. (If any reader from Scotland thinks that they know her, her friend was called Rosemary Gilseanan).  It was a source of amazement that she even bothered with me given that my dress in the photo was a green cardigan with a bright orange T shirt, brown cord jeans and suede ankle boots.  I suppose I was the only person in the Isle of Man that thought I looked cool - aaarrgh!

Well at least Anne and the Tiger 100 looked good......