Wheel alignment

Sunday 30 September 2012

A run in the sun (at last)

Today was the monthly IAM training run in Auckland which necessitates getting up at 0530 to ride the 180-odd km to get there.  If that wasn't bad enough, the clocks went forward to NZ Daylight Saving time last night so it was pitch black for the first part of the ride!  However, the forecast was for warm and sunny conditions which was a change from our woeful recent weather.

We knew it would be a good turnout with 4 potential new members (2 women, 2 guys) turning up too but as it happened, several Observers were unable to make it at the last minute.  A couple attended fellow moto-blogger and IAM member Roger's birthday celebration the previous evening so there might be a reason for their no-show.  The words "ill" or "looking after the kids" might be cover for another root cause :-).  Good on ya Rog, your hospitality knows no bounds!

The shortage of Observers to assess the advanced trainees meant a hurried reshuffle and Rog and I found ourselves with 2 trainees each to assess and coach.  I had Alan, a BMW adventure bike rider who is very skilled and will be sitting his full membership test before long.  I also had Charlotte, a sound engineer from a major TV network who had come along for the first time on her lovely black Bonneville.

Great turn-out.  Charlotte and Alan's bikes in the foreground

Introducing Charlotte and her Bonnie

After explaining the rules for the ride and assessment process to Charlotte, hopefully setting her at her ease and setting up bike-to-bike comms, we all discussed the route which was a technical mix of urban work, open country sweepers and tight, narrow back roads  with regular changes in posted speed limits.  Delighted to say that Charlotte had an absolutely fantastic attitude and soaked up the comments and suggestions which will move her from an already competent rider to a truly advanced one.  She wants to come back and learn more so I can't have been that much of a bastard!!  Alan had an exemplary ride, confirming that a check ride prior to sitting his full test is imminent.  Well done both of you!

Socialising after the ride

With all the written assessments out of the way and everyone relaxing, Philip, our Chief Examiner, gave a demo for those who hadn't previously seen one of the correct method to pick up a bike by walking it up backwards.  Philip is slightly built but made it look easy and his Honda ST1300 must be one of the heavier bikes around, with a high centre of gravity.  The highlight for me was Roger having a go, mainly in anticipation of him stuffing up (that's what friends are for after all).  Kudos to Roger though and here's the evidence:

Taking the strain.......

....and up she comes!

Any riding day is a great day, but the great weather and excellent company made it 420 km of sheer pleasure!

Thursday 27 September 2012

Only a wee bit about bikes....

We moto-bloggers tend to post about riding safety a fair bit and quite rightly so but I forgot a cardinal rule around the home late yesterday. Consequently I'm paying for it right now and having a quiet day of not doing very much at all.

A small area in our garden is paved with treated wooden blocks which have a coefficient of friction when wet that any budding perpetual motion inventor would lust after - even small animals and insects steer well clear of it. (you can see what's coming, can't you?).

In a hurry to finish a couple of chores before heading off for our weekly evening pub quiz competition, crossing those darned blocks is not exactly the best time to be distracted.  We'd just had a light shower of rain and........

This is going to hurt.......
(courtesy Poolcenter.com)

Gravity, even from a short way off the ground ensures a rough landing and there I lay in light drizzle hurting and wondering what the hell happened.  Jennie was indoors and oblivious to all this as I made tentative movements to see if there were any unusual grating sensations and wishing Mummy was there to make it all better.  Mercifully, there were no breaks although my shoulder aches and it hurts when I cough - just strained chest muscles I hope.  Didn't try to play the sympathy card as I've planned to do something about those darned blocks all winter so the response would have been predictable.  (This has been the ultimate prompt to do something sooner rather than later).  No doubt there will be some interesting colours coming out on the body over the next day or two but don't feel too bad right now having swallowed some anti-inflammatories and rubbed in Voltaren Emugel.  Just hope I'm not too stiff to take part in the IAM ride on Sunday or I'll never hear the end of it from a certain other Kiwi blogger who will see it as his mission in life to tell the other riders!!

Back to the subject of bikes, I had an experience on the Auckland motorway a few days ago which was a timely reminder that even with a high standard of riding, motorcyclists are still at risk.  I was in a line of traffic in the outside lane, moving marginally faster than the next lane in.  Leaving a decent gap to the vehicle in front, I was slowly going past a 4x4 in the next lane.  I was just past the driver's seating position when I sensed as much as actually seeing that his front wing was swinging across to the space I currently occupied!  Delighted to say that's where the IAM training kicked in with muscle memory instantly triggering an avoidance manoeuvre.  No fright, no nothing other than an instantaneous control response - pretty darned pleased with the level of internal discipline.  Reflecting on that incident, a couple of things come to mind.  In the last post reviewing David Hough's new motorcycle book, he talks about prominent vehicles capturing another driver's attention to the extent of ignoring smaller objects (like me!).  This near miss could very well have been an example of this phenomenon.  The driver may well have been fixated on the vehicle in front of me and combined with the decent space I'd left, simply assumed it was ok for him to change lanes.  Guess he'd never heard of doing a lifesaver or shoulder check.  Just take care out there everyone!

Finally, a friend has just introduced me to a supremely talented young Australian musician with a wicked sense of humour.  I can't remember when I've laughed so hard, which hurt rather a lot, given the current state of my ribs.  The satirical song Tim Minchin sings about young children is music to the ears of grandparents in particular, but also parents after they've regained their sense of humour.  I particularly dedicate this YouTube video to our fellow blogger and recent father again Chillertek !!  Incidentally, Tim Minchin has many more hilarious YouTube videos which can't fail to brighten your day.......

Sunday 23 September 2012

Mastering the Ride, 2nd Edition. David L Hough

 David Hough's eagerly-awaited new book
ISBN 978-193548486-B
 (All photos reproduced from the book)

It's always a great occasion when David L Hough puts out a new book, even more so when the great man sends you an autographed copy, but more on that later!

We all know that there are large numbers of motorcycling "improve your skills" books on the market and without spending a fortune, choosing what to read becomes a formidable task.  I have mixed views about the title of the book.  The first "Mastering the Ride" was released nearly 10 years ago.  I wonder whether some potential readers who are familiar with David's earlier books might hesitate to buy it, thinking that it may simply be a cosmetic rehash of earlier work.  At least I'm able to publicly state here that that anyone thinking that would be making a seriously BIG mistake!  How do I know?  Well, when David was putting the material together, I was genuinely privileged to be shown some draft material and asked for some feedback.  Over a period of a couple of months, there were quite a few emails flying back and forth asking for clarification of particular aspects, sharing experiences or arguing the toss!

Some otherwise good skills books can nonetheless be quite hard going.  They can being overly prescriptive without the benefit of clearly explaining why you should follow a particular course of action.  We each respond to learning in slightly different ways but from a personal viewpoint, having some background as to why a particular course of action is being recommended really helps me to engage with what is being presented and retain that information.  It's this aspect which helps David to stand tall among his peers. In other words, he treats his readers as adults, giving sufficient background in terms of photos and clear text to get his point across with a complete absence of self-promotion.  Here is an example:

Just how much did that car driver about to cut across your lane really see?

In the chapter about conspicuity, David discusses visual priorities.  A big, intimidating vehicle may draw the eye in terms visual priority and a motorcycle being in front of it might not even register in the brain with potentially dangerous consequences.  This then leads to what motorcyclists can do for themselves  in terms of conspicuity tactics. A fascinating and insightful chapter - I learned a lot about this subject.

In a discussion on rider training, a graph of the USA motorcycle fatality rate is presented, showing an upward-trending increase.  An argument is presented that in the US, the motorcycle industry quite properly promotes getting as many people as possible to share our passion BUT that the industry's training developers created a very simple "learn to ride" course and a commensurately easy skills test.   Many new riders may feel that having been "anointed" once, this adequately equips them for the rest of their riding  career.  David then discusses independent training courses for renewing/enhancing your skills and where training can be tailored to specific needs of students at any level of their experience.   This is music to my ears having been exposed for the last 18 months or so to the "continuous improvement" environment of IAM advanced roadcraft.  You never stop learning and the moment when you think that there's nothing else to learn is when you put yourself at extreme risk.

There's a specific chapter on improving situational awareness although this topic manifiests itself time and time again in other parts of the book  when dealing with particular road and traffic conditions.

Spot the errors!

The photo above reminded me of  a ride home on my bike from Auckland a week ago.  On the Southern Motorway in reasonably dense traffic, I was followed by another rider who positioned himself too closely, and in my blind spot.  He would also occasionally switch to another lane which occasionally moved faster than the one we were in to try and make progress.  It was clear that he wasn't scanning ahead for a sufficient distance because he got baulked several times as the traffic in that lane slowed.  He would not only lose his place behind me, but to the following vehicles in my lane too.  Had he looked well down the motorway, it would have been clear what was happening.  This is what David refers to as developing "expert eyeballs".

There are many more chapters in this book dealing with other aspects of motorcycling which are treated in the same depth and background analysis than the ones I've briefly described.  However, I'd like to conclude this review by mentioning the section covering the Ageing Rider.  This is is of profound importance as coping strategies are rarely discussed in the public arena..  Consider the following table:

Quite a change in the demographics

The average age of riders continues to increase for all sorts of reasons.  Probably one of the biggest ones is the switch from a cheap form of transport from a younger person to a lifestyle choice for an older one.  This presents all kinds of potential difficulties in terms health, skill, motorcycle choice and so on and if you get that combination wrong, it could mean a world of pain at a time when you're supposed to be enjoying life.

Resulting from an earlier blog article I'd written, David wrote to me and asked when I was going to get off my arse and do something about upskilling (my words, not his but the meaning was abundantly clear!).  It was our subsequent correspondence which lead to a whole load of data collection through various international motorcycle websites about attitudes and intent.  This chapter summarises some of that material and I'm hopeful that David will write a stand-alone publication on the topic as there's a substantial need.  Really proud to have played a small part in this chapter.  Regular readers of this blog will also remember that it was the exchange of emails with David which "got me off my arse" and train with the IAM, arguably one of the world's best advanced roadcraft training courses and for that, I owe him big time.

David's pals Andy Goldfine (l) and Fred Rau (r)

In summary, no book can replace high quality ongoing roadcraft training but this one is an absolutely outstanding adjunct.  It will help prepare riders to lift their skills by better understanding the background to many issues.  It is also invaluable to an experienced or advanced rider as a refresher to help arrest that imperceptible slide in skills which happens to us all if we don't frequently work on our riding skills.

Simply put, this is a wonderful book and you won't regret buying it!

Sunday 16 September 2012

Bikers in Blue charity run

Blue September is the Prostate Cancer Foundation fund-raising month in NZ.  There are all sorts of events to raise money for this worthy cause and the Fat Bikers Motorcycle Club organised charity rides in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.  IAM members were asked to go along and show the flag and it didn't take much prompting!

Unfortunately, the weather didn't co-operate in the early morning with torrential rain (it's been a very wet winter in the north island of NZ) and the 2 1/2 hour ride from Coromandel to Auckland to get to the start of the ride was awful, with a lot of standing water about.  To make matters worse, the zip zipper-up thingy on my overjacket exploded en route without me being aware until a rivulet of icy water ran down my chest.  Never mind, good excuse to visit an accessory shop in the next few days!

The Triple all decked out in blue tinsel

Fortunately, the rain stopped shortly after arriving and the roads dried out pretty quickly for the run itself which was great.

All manner of sports bikes and cruisers came along and the next photo of a Suzuki Gladius with a life-sized dummy on the back is especially for Brandy.  It might give her ideas for punishing Brad if he's blotted his copybook ;-).

A seating position to make your eyes water!

There were some nicely finished bikes there and the Suzuki M109 clearly had a lot of money spent on it.

Beautiful M109 with blue helmet hair!

Didja notice the nitrous bottle in the previous photo?

Another M109 from the front!

An awful lot of Can-Ams

Mark (Fat Max) Hill, the FBMC front man; gave a hilarious ride briefing where he had everyone in stitches.  At the end of the ride, there were heaps of donated raffle prizes with Mark again as the MC.  We all know that events like this take a huge amount of organising but Mark and his team made it all look easy.  The hallmark of very slick work.  A big well done guys! 

 Love the tee shirt Mark!

To end on an appropriate note, Mark talked for a bit about prostate cancer and what I didn't realise is that 1 in 10 men will suffer from it at some time in their life.  That's a pretty high percentage and I'll be ringing the doc to get a test in the next few days.  Thanks Mark, you're a gem - I'll even buy you a pie from the Coromandel Pie Company if you get up this way!

Thursday 13 September 2012

Introducing Ken, IAM Vespa Scooterista!

Crikey, this retirement business takes some organising!  Between doing voluntary work helping local senior citizens to use computers, acting as an unpaid carpenter for our offspring and IAM motorcycling involvement, there aren't many spare hours left in the day.  Still, at least we get to choose what we want to do and when to do it for much of the time!

Yesterday was no different as I'd promised to take out an IAM Associate, Ken, from Auckland to brush up on his open road skills.  There had been a snow dump in the central north island high country the previous day and although it was sunny, the strong southerly made it as cold as charity.  Wasn't looking forward to the early morning 2 hour run up to Auckland in those conditions so it was a case of piling on plenty of layers of Icebreaker merino clothing under the padded Gore-Tex riding gear and even slipping Rain-Off mitts over my winter gloves as a further insulation which paid off in spades. The trip was really enjoyable, simply by staying warm and by the time I reached Auckland, temperatures had lifted (just) into double digits C; although wind chill was quite noticeable.

Ken and I arrived within minutes of each other at a service complex just off the Southern Motorway - let me introduce Ken:

Time for a warming coffee and cake before the ride!

A lot of people think that  advanced roadcraft training with IAM is the exclusive province of big, fast roadbikes and whilst a lot of members do own big bikes, it's certainly not their exclusive domain.  Ken is a scooter enthusiast from way back, owning a 200cc Vespa.  He shares the common desire of other IAM members to ride safely to one of the highest roadcraft standards anywhere.  In an urban environment, small capacity scooters compete on an equal footing with any other bike but out of town, a high level of ride planning and situational awareness is required to meet the IAM requirement of "making progress".  Consequently, the decision was taken to plot a route which Ken wasn't terribly familiar with on 2 wheels just south of Auckland.  It incorporated a small amount of motorway (freeway) work, but mainly covered country roads of varying width, sweepers, blind bends and altitude changes.  A great challenge for Ken in terms of positioning and gear selection to make consistently good progress in unfamiliar territory!

Getting ready for the "off" - really nice Teknic jacket Ken!

The ride was deliberately set up to be "informal" so there was no documented marking, enabling Ken to concentrate on one aspect of the roadcraft requirement without the stress of an "official" observation. After a short briefing and connecting his excellent Scala comms set to my helmet, we set off.   The benefit of concentrating on one single aspect of roadcraft in this instance became immediately apparent with Ken attacking the conditions with enthusiasm.  The bike to bike comms was a huge bonus, allowing both of us to offer up relevant information at exactly the right time for maximum impact. Without going into the minutiae of the ride, Ken acquitted himself really well and the scooter also coped pretty well in the strong winds which prevailed on some of the ridge tops. Equally importantly, it was fun for both of us!  After one or two more mentoring rides of this nature plus some solo practice, there's little doubt that the official IAM observed rides will show a significant jump in open road confidence and performance. (A more succinct phrase would be ride it like you stole it Ken!)

Yours truly, looking like Michelin Man but warm as toast!

I guess that the main point of this post is that no matter what you ride, there is no good reason not to aspire to riding to the very highest standards.  The other relevant thing is a comment by both motorcyling guru David Hough and Oregon-based instructor Dan Bateman that the instructor/mentor gets as much, if not more out of training sessions as the trainee.  On top of those benefits, the fact that the IAM operates on a completely voluntary basis, there's no downside whatsoever.  Thanks for a great morning Ken!

To finish on an entirely different note, here's a job advertisement from an NZ south island newspaper for someone to work on weed control on Department of Conservation land.  Isn't it wonderful to see a bit of plain talking in today's politically-correct environment?  Well done that company!!!