Wheel alignment

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Let there be light - lots of it, and there was!

When I wrote the original Street Triple review, the only disappointment was the lights - having a couple of candles flickering away inside those twin chrome bowls would only have been marginally worse.  To make matters worse, the units pointed at the ground too steeply, giving you a tantalising view of a hole in the tar seal a nanosecond before your front wheel dropped into it.  I suppose that the lights might just have been ok for poseurs who like riding their bikes in a fully-lit city at night, but woefully inadequate for anyone who wants ride their bike in an unlit, twisty bit of countryside.

In fairness to Triumph, a lot of other makes fall short in the headlight stakes and I'm at a loss to know why, particularly as a lot of the world has animals that come out at night and lurk on the nice warm roads.  Cattle, sheep, kangaroos and the like are pretty immovable objects if you run into one and there are things in the Americas and elsewhere that would happily eat your face if you annoyed one by running into it.  Ok, by putting crap bulbs into the average bike, the makers might save a buck or two over fitting something better, but they don't win any brownie points from the owners and it's a genuine safety consideration.  Even for riders who predominantly ride in daylight, there are obvious advantages to being as conspicuous as possible.

There are all manner of remedies (at the owner's expense) such as HID but these have a few drawbacks too, cost not being the least of them.  On my Blackbird, I switched from 65W halogen bulbs to 100W high quality Xenon bulbs.  (More on the quality aspect later).  Night vision was much improved and people certainly noticed me in daylight earlier than previously with that intense blue-white light.  I could get away with a higher wattage because the volume of the headlight was quite large, allowing decent heat dissipation.  Not so lucky with the Triple because of the small headlight volumes and the risk of cooking wiring or other fittings.

Apart from raising the angle of the factory-set headlights a touch, the stock bulbs were replaced with ones of the same wattage, but high quality Xenon bulb, the Osram Nightbreaker +90.  The difference was immediately noticeable, even in daylight as per the photo below.

 Standard bulb left, Nightbreaker right

As mentioned in a previous post, these bulbs were good enough to see me through the annual 1000 miles in 24 hours endurance ride on twisty, unlit backroads.  They weren't outstanding, but they were good. In daylight, traffic definitely sees the bike earlier, particularly when I'm approaching from behind.  They definitely don't like those lights in their mirrors for long!

One of my bulbs failed a couple of weeks ago after 2 years of service.  I would have been happy with a straight replacement but had a look about to see if there was anything else worth checking out.  Autobulbs Direct in the UK whom I've dealt with for quite a few years were advertising the Ring Xenon Ultima +120 bulbs at 27 pounds a pair.  Not cheap, but they were duly ordered and arrived today.

Ultima +120 left, Nightbreaker +90 right on dipped beam

Contrast the two photos......  the Nightbreaker in the top picture is significantly brighter than the OEM bulb and in the lower photo, the Ultima is brighter than the Nightbreaker so it looks like we've got a winner again, although they need a proper test.  Looking at the manufacturer's specifications, both bulbs are rated at 400-500 hours of life. My lights are permanently on and over 2 years, this claim represents an average of 5 hours riding a week.  My riding is is well in excess of this rate over a year so the manufacturer's claim, at least for the Nightbreaker, is quite conservative.

Ring +120 packaging

Ring +120 bulb through blister pack

As mentioned earlier, having bright lights is equally important for both daytime and night-time riding, reducing the risk of SMIDSY (Sorry Mate, I Didn't See You) from knuckle-dragging cage drivers.

It might be time to mention the word "quality" in conjunction with replacement bulbs.  Both Osram and Ring Automotive are major manufacturers with a good history of continuous improvement.  A friend who used to ride a Hayabusa bought some supposedly high output Xenon bulbs off Trade Me, the NZ equivalent of eBay.  When they arrived, they were coated dark blue all over and made in China.  OK for pimped cars that never leave town, but utter crap for the serious motorist or rider.  Their output was FAR worse than the standard bulb so it pays to do your homework and stick to the major brands!

Oh, and nothing to do with bikes but  whilst Jennie is away on her European trip, I took her trick MX5 to Auckland and put on a set of sticky tyres to replace the current ones which were well past their best.  A friend who successfully races cars recommended the Bridgestone RE 002.  Not cheap, won't last as long as "normal" road tyres but man, do those things grip.  A blast down the practically deserted twisty Kaiaua coast road was impressive (err... an understatement).  So there we are, additional safety for my soulmate and additional fun for me when I'm allowed to take it out on my own, **grin**.  Quite a good week so far!

Bridgestone RE002

Monday 28 May 2012

A nice, mixed weekend

Jennie was due to fly out for a Mediterranean 3 week "girlie cruise" on Sunday, so Saturday was earmarked for some "together" stuff.  As it happened, the weather and tides were perfect so we took the boat out fishing in the morning.  Right on the edge of winter and a balmy 18 degrees C with no wind - absolutely perfect.

We anchored up in 25 metres of water among the commercial mussel beds and basically, as soon as the first bait hit bottom, it was all on!  We were only out there for just over 2 hours and got our daily combined maximum limit of 18 Snapper - one of the best days ever.

The big chilly bin starting to fill up!

Under the boat, there were 3 Kingfish about 1 metre long lurking to see what we were hauling up.  "Kingies" are rocket-propelled predators and their speed has to be seen to be believed.  They can also weigh more than 50kg!  They're smart fish too - they'll take bait dropped in the water but they're very wary about anything with a line attached - live baiting is the normal method of catching them.  Great eating but they're so powerful that normal gear gets smashed up or at very least, a snapped line.  During a moments' inattention last year, one hauled my rod and reel out of the boat - bye bye $$$$$$!

The photo below shows the metre-long kingies coming up to investigate some bait I dropped on the surface.

Great eating but hard to land!

Towards the end of the trip, Jennie landed an undersized Trevally, dropped it back in and that's when we got a heck of a fright and exhilaration all rolled into one.  As soon as it hit the surface, there was a colossal explosion of water right next to the boat as the biggest two kingfish we've ever seen came after it from the depths.  We were just frozen at the power and speed of these monsters and didn't have time to take a photo but this file photo has one of comparable size.  What a privilege to see something like these in their element!

 The mighty adult Kingfish !
(source: Oceanbluefishing.com)

Sunday saw me departing before dawn for another round of assessing IAM Associates against the advanced riding criteria in Auckland.  There's some strong current interest from female riders which is great.  Wonder if the average male rider thinks he's got nothing to learn?  I'm inclined to think that testosterone plays a bigger obstruction to learning than we might imagine!

 Some of the bikes assembling pre-ride (including a rare VFR 1200)

More bikes of all shapes and sizes

Anyway, I got to assess a rider who's skills had plateaued for a while and was pretty sympathetic as we all go through that process.  However, he'd put in a whole lot more practice with an IAM mentor and his overall skill level had measurably increased over all aspects which delighted us all - the system works!!!  I also had an extremely accomplished Observer assessing me and after the ride was finished, he took me and another trainee Observer for a short training ride to demonstrate some advanced observing skills and how to plan and control the ride.  The learning in that half hour was immense and served to reinforce that whilst I might be riding at an advanced level, I have a heck of a way to go to become an accomplished Observer!!  That's the great thing about continuous learning compared with a one-off course - you become painfully aware of how much there is to learn.  Teaches humility when you see just how good some of these guys are!!!

On the 180 km trip home, I called in to refuel about 60 km short of home.  On re-starting the bike, there was a yellow warning light on the dashboard which wouldn't go out - momentary panic about getting stranded as the Coromandel coast road is a lonely place on a late Sunday afternoon on the edge of winter!  It wasn't oil or temperature but the engine management system and I fretted that it might be electrics.  However, we made it home with no problems and a lot of relief.  Straight onto the internet, praying that I wasn't going to have to fork out BIG $$$ for repairs!  From what I've been able to deduce, some Triumphs are sensitive to over-filling the fuel tank which I know happened because I wasn't paying attention and splashed it everywhere!  Apparently, over-filling can trigger a sensor alarm in the engine management system which ALLEGEDLY disappears after 3 cold starts and warming the engine to normal operating temperatures.  Because the bike has to start from stone cold, I've only managed one today, with 2 more scheduled for tomorrow.  Fingers crossed that's all it is.  The internet is a truly wondrous place - how ever would we have coped with problems like this a few years ago?

So now I have 3 weeks on my own to do stuff and eat stuff that I wouldn't normally get permission for.  Small chance, Jennie will have spies everywhere :-).

Yayyy!!!  The "fix" for the engine management light actually worked, despite slight skepticism on my part.  Amazing!

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Moto-blogging piracy

 Source:  MS Office clip art!!!

Moto-bloggers are a great bunch and it's almost like family, either sharing thoughts and banter on line or meeting up in person.  In the two-odd years that I've been blogging, I've met some truly wonderful people as a result and have a long list of people I'd still love to meet!  There are some fantastic blogs out there, inspirational and enriching in terms of both technical enlightenment and human values.  Wouldn't have missed any of it for the world with the friendship, support and encouragement which everyone freely gives.

However, I've just come across the first ever moto-blogger who doesn't display the values that the rest of us cherish.  My great mate Roger happened to spot my recent post on motorcycle communications equipment on another blog site.  There was no acknowledgement of source, it had simply been lifted in its entirety.  Like most bloggers, I don't have the slightest problem with people using original material, photos etc if they think it will add anything to people's knowledge or enjoyment. When it's happened in the past; there has always been attribution of source and in some instances, I've been contacted beforehand.  Just the normal courtesies we all observe.

The offending website belongs to a chap called Sajjad who incidentally subscribed to my blog in recent times. This is his blog: My Way to Ride .

A note was sent to Sajjad mentioning the lack of courtesy and no response was received.  I wrote again now asking that the post be removed. Exactly the same result.  I then had a very quick look at a few more of his posts at random and it would appear that he writes no material of his own, lifting both other blogger's material and that of commercial sites.  In addition to my own site, the quick look revealed that he'd also taken an article from fellow Kiwi Bandit Rider and one of the recent female rider profiles from the Helmet or Heels blog, to name but two.

Sajjad clearly doesn't have a lot between his ears as it's really easy to find the original sources.  Just to test the waters to see if I was being overly sensitive, I contacted the owner of one of the commercial sites which had been plundered, Mike le Pard at Total Motorcycle.  Mike thanked me for pointing it out and said that Google were extremely vigilant about breaches of this sort, and gave me this LINK

The link  covers the reporting of  abuse of all kinds and is easy to use.  After following the instructions, an automated acknowledgement came back with the warning that it may take some time to investigate.  Heck, a few hours afterwards, I received an email saying that it had been dealt with and my content removed.  How's that for service, even if it may often take a bit longer!!!  I'd imagine that if there are more complaints, Google may close the site down, especially as it seems to be entirely comprised of other people's material and has no original value of its own.

So there we are.... many thanks for Roger's eagle eye, Mike's advice and swift action by Google.  We now know that if there's someone out there plagiarising or abusing others, there's something we can do about it!

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Tankslappers, top boxes and the trembles

Excuse the alliteration in the title but it pretty much sums up an exchange of emails this week with my riding mates Dr Andy West and fellow Kiwi blogger extraordinaire Roger Fleming

Now please bear with me as it's a bit of a detective story!

It started with an email from Andy who in addition to his wicked Triumph Daytona 675, bought a BMW800 GS in more recent times. No embarrassment to Andy intended (he's an extremely accomplished rider by the way) and the full details won't be publicly disclosed but he dropped his Beemer following a massive tankslapper at open highway speeds on a public sealed road.  Fortunately, the outcome could have been a lot worse than it was, although I'm sure that he didn't see it that way at the time.

What's a tankslapper?
At this stage, a few riders might be unsure with respect to what a tankslapper actually is so I'll elaborate.

One definition (source: Triumph Rat Forum - Tbirdnz)
The “tankslapper” is a very frightening experience. Usually occurring when accelerating hard over bumpy pavement, a tankslapper ensues when the front tyre becomes airborne, then regains traction outside the rear tyre’s alignment. The resulting deflection bounces the tyre off to one side, followed by another bounce in the opposite direction as it contacts the pavement again. Unless the bike’s steering geometry is able to damp out the deflections quickly, the resulting oscillations from the front tyre as it bounces back and forth will swiftly gain in strength, causing the bars to swap from side to side with increasing ferocity. The oscillations can be violent enough to rip the bars out of your hands, and fling your feet off the pegs. You can guess what happens next.

Here's a video of a tankslapping nightmare, source You Tube:

Tankslappers/headshakes are at the extreme end of a set of conditions which upset the stability of a bike.  They can be felt as a gentle weave at the other end of the scale and more often than not, there's little or no warning.

From personal experience, I don't think that the definition above quite covers the whole set of circumstances as it can occur under under deceleration too but it's pretty comprehensive - especially in terms of the first sentence and the last but one!

My first major tankslapper was on the Honda Blackbird, accelerating hard past a car towing a boat and trailer. During the passing manoeuvre, I hit a patch of bare tar, the rear tyre broke traction and next second, a tankslapper had started.  I had both time and presence of mind to open the throttle right up and it straightened up.  It rattled me but was over so quickly that there was no soiled underwear!

The second one was far worse and at much lower speed.  Again on the Blackbird, I'd accelerated away from a crossroads, not particularly hard and was still in a low gear when the tankslapper occurred.  This time it was so violent that all I could do was hang on loosely and not try and fight it, which might well have saved me.  When it had finished its shakes, I pulled over and got a dose of the shakes myself!  It was a really close call and I had a huge welt on one leg from a foot coming off the peg and the inside of my leg smacking the frame. 

I never want a repeat of those experiences.  There is something which goes a long way to alleviating the problem and that's fitting a steering damper but let's do a bit more digging.....

Some further thoughts
Andy West's email has prompted a bit more musing.  Both incidents of mine occurred after I'd raised the rear ride height of the 'bird to quicken the steering.  It's pretty certain that a steeper or more sporting geometry raises the risk and is one significant reason why drag bikes have heavily raked steering.  The sharpened steering on the Blackbird may well have been one contributing factor and the fact that it's a heavy mother is another.  Once that mass starts swinging, it's like an oversized pendulum which is hard to stop.  As Andy's 800 GS has relatively conservative steering however, there might be other considerations too which predispose a bike to tankslappers or weaving at certain speeds and conditions.

It was another comment from Andy which caught my eye - he mentioned in passing that he had a top box fitted and he was riding solo.  Whilst I didn't have a top box hanging off the rear of the bike, I did have a high-mounted pack on both occasions - see picture below.

Blackbird with double pack

Whilst the Ventura zip-together pack shown above raises the centre of gravity and therefore lessens stability, it's saving grace is that it's reasonably aerodynamic and sits well forward.  Contrast this with the BMW below where the top box is both high and aft of the rear axle

Top box a long way aft

You don't need to be a physicist to appreciate that a load high up and well to the rear of the bike will shift the centre of effort aft (and upwards).  Now add the effect of wind pressure at speed on the top box and the dynamic centre of effort will move even further aft potentially causing stability problems.  Of course, the severity will heavily depend upon the type of bike you ride - suspension travel, level of wind deflection, weight distribution and so on plus the speed you're travelling at and maybe even wind direction.  Bikes ridden two-up appear to be less affected, probably due in part to mass centralisation and also shielding the top box from an unstable slipstream.

When I had my two incidents, I searched the international Blackbird internet forums and found quite a few cases of everything from an alarming weave through to a full tankslapper, almost always with top boxes being used.  Mentioning this to Roger yesterday, he was pretty certain that he'd seen similar reports for other bikes.  I've just jumped on the 'net to check for myself and yep, there are plenty of cases there for all manner of bikes!

So there you are.... if you didn't know about the potential for weaving or tankslappers before, particularly with top boxes; you do now and that's half the battle.  You also know that a steering damper will help enormously, at least in mitigating the more violent effects.  Let's hope you never have one as it's a truly terrifying and dangerous experience!!!

Regular readers will remember that it was an email from eminent motorcycle journalist David Hough that set me on the path to raise my riding skills with IAM and we've stayed in touch.  David's knowledge of motorcycling in general and safe riding in particular is legendary.  I floated the subject of tankslappers past him and as always, got a comprehensive and enlightening response.  Here's what David had to say:

Tankslappers are a reality. Dynamically speaking, the front end wants to balance itself (drag on the tire off-center steers the front wheel to the side--which countersteers itself back the other way, restoring balance) but outside forces can interfere. For example, if the tire loses traction momentarily and then regains traction, and the wheel isn't pointed exactly in the direction of the bike, tire traction attempts to steer back into a (more or less) straight line. But there's a risk the tire gains traction so quickly it over-centers, then reacts by steering back the other way, etc. etc. In time it should self correct, but a rider tends to panic and attempt to force the bars to settle down. Problem: the front end left-right frequency is typically faster than a human can respond to, and the rider imparts steering pressure in the wrong direction.
Momentary loss of traction (or reduction in traction) can also occur when the front suspension can't react quickly enough for a dip, bump, or groove. A painted line can be slippery in the rain. A dip can hold grease. A groove can momentarily steer the tire. Loose wheel bearings or swing arm bearings can encourage oscillation. The rider imparts a sudden steering input (say when recovering from a lane change) Wind drag on luggage or fairing can cause instability as turbulence pushes side-to-side. It's worth noting that the California Highway Patrol required special radio box mounts on their former Kawasaki bikes. The radio box (on the back of the machine) had sliders to allow it to move around laterally without imparting undesirable forces to the back of the bike. 
In the scenario of a rider passing another vehicle on wet pavement at speed, I'm not amazed a tank slapper occurred.
Attempts to hold the bars steady rarely do anything other than to accentuate the wobble. Changing speed can change the bike's reaction. For example, applying the rear brake, or rolling on the throttle can help. But the speed change needs to be quick, before the bars are oscillating at a frequency that makes it difficult to hold on.

Saturday 12 May 2012

Bike communications? Horses for courses!

A week or two back, fellow Kiwi blogger Roger mentioned that he'd bought a Sena SMH10 digital motorcycle communications system like mine and he hoped that I'd post a technical review based on my experience of the same unit.  This isn't a review of the Sena as such, more of a review of the thought processes to sort out what features you need for your particular type of use.  From research carried out before the purchase, it was clear that there are some great models on the market as well as some real clunkers.

As with most things, the decision on what to purchase very much depends on price and what you want to use it for. Consequently, there's no such thing as one best unit.  What I'll do is summarise my decision-making process and hope that if others are in the market for a comms set, it helps in deciding what's best for their particular needs.

Sena SMH 10 basic functionality

What might come as a surprise is that I personally don't like bike comms!  When Jennie used to be a regular passenger on my Beemer and Blackbird, some hints were dropped that it would be nice if we were able to chat en route.  These hints fell on stony ground as riding a bike is my "quiet time" - time to think about riding well, taking in the sights and smells and so on.  I don't want interruptions, particularly at critical moments.  I don't ride with an MP3 player, even though music is almost always on in the 4x4; if not Jennie's convertible.  There always seems to be enough going on to fill the senses on a ride without other distractions.  That's a purely personal decision and it's certainly not being critical of anyone who enjoys music on the move.  The same principle generally applies to phone calls - that's what voice mail is for so I'm not a slave to the bloody thing!!!  Different kettle of fish if you're expecting a vital business or personal call though.

Having set the background, we'll now get down to why I bought a comms system.  When I was an IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) Associate in training, two of the Examiners used identical old-fashioned comms systems to give me instructions, particularly what directions to take.  The business end of the system consisted of a coiled thin audio tube which carried the conversation directly to the ear via an MP3-type ear bud.  They were horrible things - the voice commands were indistinct to say the least and the tube, despite being looped over the top of my ear; gradually worked its way out of the ear canal.  Not good for stress levels when you're being tested!!! Now that the boot is on the other foot with me observing Associates, I wanted something which delivered high quality 2-way sound between 2 riders and equally importantly; it had to be simple to use whilst on the move.

Another IAM member has a Scala G4 set, which impressed the heck out of me in terms of clarity, features and being compact.  A comparison between the two was then undertaken, drawing up a matrix of the different features for comparative purposes.  Each of them have slightly different features but either would meet my "fitness for purpose" requirements admirably.  I'm not going into detailed comparisons here as anyone can easily do the same through the excellent You Tube comparisons and other internet sources.  However, the main personal selling point was the large "jog" dial shown in the photo below.

Single dial operation

The dial controls volume by turning or switching between different riders and/or mode by tapping it.  The size and simplicity makes it so easy to use, even with winter gloves.  Although the unit looks large in the photo above, it's extremely compact as shown in the photo below and there's no additional wind noise or turbulence with it fitted.

Sena SMH 10 on my Shoei helmet

The speakers have a backing which attach to the helmet lining material or if the ear space is unlined, a small strip of self-adhesive Velcro.

Speakers in ear space

The microphone is on a flexible stalk which can be bent to any position.  I have it slightly to the left of my mouth as shown in the photo below and it works perfectly.

Microphone position left of centre

There are several modes of operation but the one I prefer when interacting with a trainee is voice-activated (VOX).  Not having to remember to press a button is far less stressful for both parties!  An IAM check ride generally lasts for 2-3 hours which is way inside the claimed 10+ hours of operation on a fully charged unit in this mode.  I have no reason to disbelieve the claim.  Clarity of communication is simply amazing.  Sena claim that communication up to 1000 metres of separation is unaffected.  I haven't tested the ultimate range as I've completely lost the plot if the rider I'm assessing has got that far away from me!!  I have, however, noticed that communications degrades if the bikes are separated by a bend with a sheer cliff or other major obstruction.  This hasn't been a real issue to date as it normally only lasts for a few seconds.

The other feature I like is that it can be installed on a helmet and be ready for use in under 5 minutes - important if you're on the road and switching between students.

As stated earlier, there are lots of comms sets on the market, some good, some decidedly dodgy.  There's an equally wide range of prices too.  Units like the Sena, Scala and Baehr are without doubt at the top end.  Also as mentioned, each make has different features which fit different "fitness for purpose" requirements.  If you're in the market for a comms unit, I'd recommend that you carefully think about what features are likely to be important for your particular set of needs and then draw up a matrix where you can compare what the various brands offer.

I hope that this has been of interest....

Monday 7 May 2012

For my moto-blogging friends!

This (very) short post is an unashamed tease.  I'm sure more will be revealed elsewhere in a day or two.

All I'm going to say is is that the lead bike in the photo  is a Triumph Sprint ST and the following bike isn't!  The photo was taken on Saturday and you can look at the surrounding foliage and make a call where it was taken and who the riders might be.  I'll neither confirm nor deny anything, haha.  It's a rear shot to protect the participants :-).

Spot the mystery riders!

Oh all right, just one more photo!

Head nicely turned, out fairly wide to maximise visibility - pretty professional, wouldn't you say???