Wheel alignment

Friday 16 December 2016

Stopping to smell the roses....

Tired, a bit jaded and certainly not helped by a summer cough and cold which is proving difficult to shake off......

A total of 17,000 km covered this year alone on mentoring Institute of Advanced Motoring members to pass their police roadcraft advanced test and for some, continue on to Observer (instructor) training and passing yet more exams.  It's massively satisfying and a real privilege to see riders raise their personal standards which has got to be good in terms of helping improve NZ accident statistics, not to mention enjoying riding far more.

However, I suppose it's a natural human condition to focus so hard on the tasks ahead that we all run a risk of not getting enough balance in our lives and I'll admit to falling into that trap. All work and no play etc....

There has been virtually no social riding this year where one could ride just for the fun of it with friends, simply enjoy their company and engage in the normal riding banter.  I was therefore delighted to get an email from Lee, an IAM friend from the Auckland region saying that he was bringing his relatively newly-purchased Moto-Guzzi 1200 Sport to the small town of Morrinsville in our region for its first major service and would I like to meet up for a weekday social ride after the service? WOULD I EVER!!!!  It so happened that my Trainee Observer and good friend Rob, who is currently waiting to take his full Observer test was also available so we arranged to meet up and then ride the 130-odd km south to have lunch with Lee and then all ride back north together.  I hatched a cunning plan to lead the north-bound leg of the journey through all the twisty back roads of the north Waikato region where there is minimal traffic and a corresponding absence of the Highway Patrol!

A nice 300+km round trip

Meeting with Rob at the southern end of the Coromandel Peninsula, we headed for Morrinsville to meet up with Lee at the Moto Guzzi, Aprilia and Husqvana dealer.  We arrived a few minutes after the service had been completed so it was time to drool over the Guzzi.  The standard of finish and attention to detail was excellent with enough "quirkiness" in the design to make it stand out from other bikes.

Introducing Rob (L) and Lee (R)

Lee is a naval officer and over lunch, it transpired that the Guzzi had become cargo in the hold on a recent visit to Australia so that a bit of exploring of Oz could be done whilst the vessel was in port - very enterprising!

By way of explaining the photo below, Morrinsville is a small town in dairy farming country and the main street has numerous plastic cows with all sorts of colourful designs painted on them.  There was one right outside the cafe we were eating at - perfect for a photo op.

Milking a pun for all it's worth

It was soon time to get going and with me leading, it was time to switch the GPS on as it would be soooo embarrassing to get lost on the tricky back roads in my own territory.  Heading north, it became apparent pretty quickly that the Moto Guzzi is actually a potent weapon on twisty and sometimes bumpy roads, despite it "only" producing a little over 100 bhp.  The almost flat torque curve coupled with rock-steady handling makes it an extremely quick bike in those conditions.  Coupled with a tank range of well over 300 km and great ergonomics, it's a bike that can cover a lot of ground without fatigue.

All three of us had linked SENA comms which is an excellent way to stay in touch on a brisk ride without the need to stop and discuss things.  It's also good for being laughed at for overshooting turn-offs!  Also good for hearing Rob's Hayabusa being wound up in the lower gears - sounded great. About half way through the ride, we encountered patches of light rain and damp roads but a combination of wet weather traction control and good sport-touring tyres meant that a brisk pace could be safely maintained.  Soon, it was time for a quick photo op under heavy skies at a lookout by Lake Waikare, some 34 sq km in area.

Lee and his 8 valve Guzzi Sport 1200

Rob and his hi-viz Hayabusa missile

Yours truly and the stealth GSX-S1000

Continuing the 90-odd km section of twisty roads, we must have encountered just 3 or 4 other vehicles - what a treat it is to still be able to ride on largely deserted roads.  That's what motorcycling is all about!  Approaching a main highway where I was to leave Lee and Rob whilst they headed back to Auckland, we saw a Highway Patrol car sitting just off the road, no doubt watching for speedsters. We pulled in right behind him  on the basis of making a nice photo but no sooner had we got off the bikes than he departed.  Nothing to do with 3 scary bikers turning up, I'm sure!

Saying goodbye to Lee and Rob - yours truly now in hi-viz as the rain had set in

So there we are, 300 km of fun riding with mates you trust completely and what a tonic to fix a bit of fatigue which had quietly crept in.  Now fully rejuvenated and ready to tackle a full IAM calendar through January and February.  Taking time to stop and smell the roses definitely works!

With the festive season now upon us, wishing all my fellow moto-bloggers from around the world everything which you'd wish for yourselves.  Have a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic 2017.  We end with a photo I took a couple of hours ago looking towards the hill we live on with the NZ Christmas Trees, the Pohutukawa, coming into flower. There are literally hundreds of thousands of them on the Coromandel Peninsula which make for a breathtaking sight for the next few weeks.

Pohutukawa trees starting to flower

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Game of Fours Challenge, Kiwi Style

Fellow Kiwi moto blogger Andrew tagged me in a Game of 4's Challenge in which 4 questions are provded, each to have 4 answers.  I won't tag other bloggers because I'm pretty much at the end of the line!

The questions are:
1.  What is your favourite food?
2.  What are your favourite drinks?
3.  Places you've been?
4.  Names that you're known by?

Favourite food
By region, it has to be Asian.  Tremendous variety of flavours, quick to prepare and healthy with loads of fresh vegetables.  These are among my favourite foods, not in any particular order.

1.Vietnamese chicken and prawn salad.  Chicken, prawns, cashews,lots of fresh salad vegetables and vermicelli, drizzled with a dressing of fish sauce, white vinegar, chilli and garlic.  Yumm!

2. Tom Kha Gai.  Hot and spicy Thai/Malaysian soup with a coconut milk base.  Normally with chicken but vegetarian with mushrooms instead of chicken is divine.

3.  Beercan Chicken.  Our summer BBQ staple meat dish.  Half a can of beer stuck up the chook's fundamental orifice to keep it moist with herbs and spices of your choice inside and on the skin. We prefer middle eastern spices.  Best done on a BBQ with a lid.

4.  Fresh Snapper.  Great fishing grounds only a few hundred metres from our house.  Normally filleted, dusted in flour and pan-fried.  Raw sashimi-style marinated in coconut milk, lemon juice, diced red peppers, chilli and spring onions makes a great entree.

Jennie looking rather smug

Favourite drinks
1.  Good coffee - black.  NZ has a reputation for roasting and brewing great coffee, even in out of the way places as opposed to trendy city coffee shops.  As a result, Starbucks hasn't gained much of a foothold!

2.  Craft beers.  Just love the proliferation of small breweries using natural ingredients to get fantastic flavours.  Life's too short to be drinking mass-produced crap!

3.  Wine.  Sitting on the deck before dinner sipping a glass of something is one of life's real pleasures.  Ditto for a single malt at the end of dinner with friends!

4.  Water.  We're not on town supply with all its added chemicals.  Filtered rainwater is just delicious.

Places we've been
Travelled round the globe a fair bit with hopefully a lot more to see and do yet.  Some random photos from our travels below.

1.  Tracy Arm, Alaska

About 1 km from the glacier face

2.  Vietnam

Street vendors, Hanoi

3.  Western Australia

Karijini National Park

4.  Thailand

A bit precarious

Names that you've been known by
1.  At school, Jesse - after the outlaw Jesse James.  Cowboys and Indians were big at the movies and on TV at that time.

2.  BAMBI.  Pre-retirement, a woman I used to work with christened me with this.  Born Again Middle-aged Biker.  I can't ever remember her calling me by my real christian name after that.

3.  Geoffrey.  This is my real name but  used by my wife when I've blotted my copybook in some way.  If I hear it being called out in her best school ma'am tone, I know I'm in for a bollocking so make myself scarce.  If she uses Geoff, it's green lights all the way!

Good fun!

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Michelin PR 4 tyre review for anoraks

Perhaps I should explain the title of this post for readers who are unfamiliar with the item of clothing in the title line when it is used in a mildly derogatory way by those with British connections!  To call someone an anorak is to describe a person with a nerdy obsession.  It probably stems from from the days of UK steam trains when legions of train-spotters would collect train numbers as they passed, often wearing anoraks to protect them from the crappy British weather.  Let me say right now, dear reader, that I don't currently possess an anorak although I did have one in my teens.  It doesn't stop my darling wife Jennie calling me one though if I talk about motorcycles too much but that's ok as I've been called far worse on numerous occasions.

Getting back on topic...... every so often, fellow moto-blogger Julian Pearce and I will swap our experiences with oils, chain lube, tyres and pretty much anything else we have a common interest in.  This time it's tyres, especially as Jules and I have both been using Michelin PR4's on our road bikes.

Going back a bit, I used Michelin PR3's then PR4's on my Street Triple and found them nigh on perfect for the type of riding I do.  Phenomenal grip in the wet and not too shabby when pressing on in the dry either.  The only slight disappointment was that Michelin's claim of a 20% increase in tyre life compared with the PR3 did not materialise in practice - they were virtually identical for a higher price.  On the other hand as I mentioned in another blog post, the PR4 front tyre felt slightly more planted than the PR3; perhaps due to the bigger spacing between sipes.  All things considered, the price difference between the 3 and 4 didn't really bother me.

When I bought the Suzuki GSX-S 1000 just over a year ago, it came fitted with Dunlop D214's.  For my particular requirements, they were horrible things.  Being a pure sport tyre, it takes a bit of heat to make them grip.  The often damp, cooler conditions of an NZ winter didn't give the level of grip which inspired confidence and there was no way I was going to rely on the Suzuki traction control to stop me skating along on my arse.  Also, the flatter 50 profile of the tyres slowed turn-in and it was easy to run off the edge of the tyre at decent angles of lean.  The final turn-off was tyre life.  I'd destroyed the rear D214 in a mere 3700 km from new and to replace them at that frequency would bankrupt me!  A good example of "fitness for purpose".

Rear D214 at 3700 km from new - not much tread pattern to start with but rather less now!

It was a no-brainer to replace them with PR4 sport-touring tyres, but go for the 55 profile rather than 50 as the sharper profile would assist with a more rapid turn-in.  Some photos of the pristine PR3's and 4's and a review of the PR3 can be found HERE .  

Well, it's now approximately 12,500 km later and they've just been replaced.  They've done one track day and most of the remaining k's have been generally spirited riding with the Institute of Advanced Motorists and minimal commuting.  The centre of the rear tyre was down to the legal minimum tread depth of 1.5 mm and the front hoop was a shade above 2 mm at the same position.  Pointless to extract every last km from them when they are such an integral part of staying upright.

So how did they go? Well, I'm pretty pleased with the distance they lasted, considering what they've had to put up with.  Going to a 55 profile was also a good move as turn-in was noticeably quicker.  Can't take the credit for this as one of my IAM friends, Rob Van Proemeren, had previously done the same to his Hayabusa and was delighted with the improvement in handling.

Equally importantly, front and rear PR4's retained a good profile for most of their life. It was only in the last 1000 km or so that the rear showed obvious signs of flattening in the centre and the front showed flattening towards the edge.  Here are some photos taken at ~12,500 km from new.

Rear PR4

With the rear, it can be seen that the centre part of the tyre is starting to flatten as you might expect, but not excessively so.  This would be principally due to the dual compound construction, aided and abetted by never having a pillion passenger and a relatively light bike.  It can also be seen in the right hand photo that despite some enthusiastic riding including a track day, the wear marks don't quite extend to the edge of the tyre. Compared with running off the edge of the D214, this is is almost entirely due to the higher crown of the 55 profile.  I guess it also gives a larger contact patch when leaned over.

Front PR4

The front tyre is also in pretty good shape but is starting to get flats on the outer edge of the tyre.  The  probable cause is that the bike spends a fair amount of time in the twisties where countersteering is a "must" to make progress!

So in summary, how have the PR4's gone on the Suzuki?  The answer is that they've delivered everything I'm likely to want from a tyre for the type of riding I do.  Phenomenal wet weather grip, good in dry conditions and even handled a track day ok.  Would I replace them with another set?  Certainly would, BUT.......

....... the Metzler Roadtec 01's have been getting great reviews since their release earlier this year and I'm not so one-eyed as not being open to doing a comparison this time around. Price is comparable with the PR4 so why not give them a go to test longevity and performance?  Today's activity involved a 320 km round trip to my favourite dealer to have them fitted and here they are:

The new Metzler Roadtec 01's

Coming away from the dealer, the bike felt like it wanted flop over, such was its sensitivity and I was ultra-cautious about slow speed tight turns until I got used to the rapid turn-in compared with the PR4. The most likely reason is because of the imperceptible flattening off of the PR4 which is impossible to pick up on a daily basis and we don't notice that the rate of turn-in is affected.

Addendum:  The full end of life review of the Roadtec 01 can be found HERE:

As a parting remark on wheels and transmissions, particularly for us chain-driven luddites, I've periodically commented on my near-fruitless quest to find a decent replacement for the wonderful DuPont teflon product which was discontinued without notice in 2012.  One of the chain lubes I've tried since then (a Castrol product) was truly hideous, flinging itself over everything despite marketing claims to the contrary.  Others were a dirt magnet but Maxima Chain Wax was pretty darned good.  Unfortunately, my dealer had run out when I needed some 6 months about ago so reluctantly accepted some Tirox synthetic chain wax on their recommendation.  So glad I did!  Like the DuPont product, it has a Teflon base and and dries to a non-tacky finish and no fling!  The chain stays totally clean and I haven't had to adjust the tension during the time it's been used, so it looks like we're onto a winner.  The only negative is that it doesn't seem to come with a fine application pipe.  No big deal as I had one laying around.  This is the product:
Tirox chain wax - does the business!

New tyres, warm, sunny weather and mutton dressed as lamb

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Pushing my buttons

Most riders who have a well-honed sense of self-preservation are situationally aware, whether it be road conditions which present potential risk or the actions of other road users.   Something as simple as noticing whether a car driver fails to hold a safe line on a twisty road with poor sight lines, or is fiddling about with something inside the car are all subtle hints to stay well clear.  Unfortunately, we all know that there are plenty of both motorcycle riders and car drivers with poor standards which put other road users at risk.

Being trained in Police Motorcycle Roadcraft has unquestionably raised the standard of situational awareness and consequential actions to mitigate risk from my past mediocre levels but it can be a double-edged sword too!  The training, particularly as an IAM Observer (instructor) means that I never switch off as it's so ingrained.  No apologies for that as it's what keeps us safe.  However, at a personal level, there can be a potential downside.  On social rides, I've had competent non-IAM riders say they prefer me to be up front because they think I'll be formally judging them if I'm down the back.  That's not actually true but it's perceptions that count which is why you don't find IAM members advertising the fact in social settings unless it comes up directly.

Moving on to the main point of this post, it's rather a rhetorical question but at what stage do you take action of some form when you see poor driving which may endanger others?  Where's the line between just shaking your head when you see some dumb driving or riding and doing something about it?  It's something I struggle with, partially because of the ego-free mantra of IAM NZ membership and the connotations of not wanting to be seen as self-righteous.  A couple of years ago, we followed a tourist camper van that was periodically weaving all over the road.  As cops in our area are thin on the ground, we rang the van hire company.  It turned out that the occupants had arrived from the UK just a few hours previously and were clearly jet-lagged.  Fortunately, the hire company had a mobile phone contact for them and got in touch pretty much straight away to sort it out.

Something like the scenario above doesn't take much thinking about but fellow blogger Bandit Rider (Andrew) has just mentioned an encounter with an aggressive SUV driver on a recent ride HERE .  That happened to me two weeks ago so thought I'd share it.

I was driving the car up our twisty coast road and caught up with an Audi 4x4 that was waiting to pass another vehicle.  It was clear that the driver was impatient as it was tailgating the vehicle in front.  The other vehicle pulled over soon after and I followed the Audi which proceeded to cut every corner, including ones which were blind.  I was upset as much as annoyed because he appeared to have his family with him.  Friday afternoon and had probably knocked off work early and was in a hurry, heading for one of many holiday homes on our peninsula.

The tipping point for me came after he exited an obscured corner still partially on the wrong side of the road with something coming the other way.  It wasn't a particularly close shave as the other vehicle had time to brake and move closer to the edge of the road but that was sheer good fortune.  However, what got up my nose was that the Audi driver clearly learned nothing from the event and continued to drive in the same manner.  That was when my conscience kicked in and I took a few of photos of his driving.  One of them is shown below.  For info, we drive on the left in NZ!

Accident waiting to happen

The corner is a tight, heavily-obscured left-hander.  The driver moves to the right hand lane to "straighten out" the corner and note that his brake lights are on.  He repeated this on every LH corner and cut across the centre line on right-handers.  What if a bike or car that was travelling at a reasonable pace was coming in the opposite direction at just the wrong time?

Although there is a *555 phone number to report bad driving, I chose to send the details directly to a senior highway patrol officer I knew professionally for comment.  To cut a long story short, he contacted the driver and had what might be described as a constructive but robust discussion, followed up with a warning letter and a copy of the photo above.  In this instance, I'd like to think that a constructive approach where the driver feels perhaps less resentful than when simply receiving a fine and demerit points may have been quite effective but we can never be certain.

This brings us back to the start point......  how do we decide whether actually do something ourselves about a situation we witness or do we just remark on it and do nothing?  I haven't got an easy answer for that and would love to hear from other people who have wrestled with similar situations.

Sunday 7 August 2016

Were those the days???

Currently, there's a thread running on a Kiwi motorcycle forum asking members what their favourite motorcycling era was and why.  As you might expect, the answers have been heavily influenced by each contributor's age but many of the replies have been both entertaining and thought-provoking.  Consequently, I thought that I'd have a little ramble down memory lane myself and see where it goes.

There's a bit of my motorcycling history in some of the early blog posts but in a nutshell, it started in 1964 when I passed all my national school exams.  My incredulous grandparents bought me a Suzuki 50 as a well-done present.  They had correctly tagged me as not being particularly motivated at that stage and it was a surprise to both them and me that I did ok.  The Suzuki had a horsepower rating in single figures, a massive windscreen and the aerodynamics of an aircraft hangar but despite its feeble performance, it represented freedom to roam wherever I liked.  This was subsequently replaced by a 350cc Triumph Twin which leaked oil everywhere, then a 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 which was my sole transport in all weathers.  It had its fair share of reliability issues but on the positive side, it taught me a lot about practical maintenance, especially when stranded on the roadside with the awful Lucas electrical system.  They didn't call Lucas the Prince of Darkness for no good reason!

At my age, I'm way past embarrassment so the photo below is of me in 1967 (I think), complete with obligatory biker hairstyle of that era.  Marlon Brando and the Wild One movie had a lot to answer for.

A complete poser with a nice Tiger 100

Subsequent engineering studies motivated me to build a drag bike principally as an engineering exercise. Performance parts weren't so readily available over the counter as they are now and I'd like to think that people had to be a lot more innovative to get a competitive edge.  Earlier blog posts describe the work done on Icarus to make it nationally competitive but if it wasn't for the engineering lab facilities and support from the tutors, it wouldn't have happened.  There are plenty of photos of the final version of Icarus in the earlier posts, but the one below is of its first ever outing with its largely standard but supercharged Triumph engine; before the short stroke conversion, nitro and sticky slick.

More balls than I have now!

Developing a career, getting married, emigrating to NZ and raising a family pushed bikes onto the back burner for a while but they were never forgotten.  By the time I returned to them in 1987, Japanese bikes had largely cornered the big bike market, they were supremely reliable, didn't leak oil all over the place and had more performance than most of us could ever use.

My old Blackbird - still outrageous performance nearly 20 years after first hitting the market

Maybe it's partially because of my age but emphasis has definitely shifted from tinkering with bikes to simply getting out and enjoying riding them and trying to ride as well as I can - a big shift.  I dunno whether it's just me but modern bikes in general seem a bit bland, perhaps because they do everything so well.  You really have to look around for a bike which has "character", whatever that word really means.

Soooo..... having had bikes spanning a period of 50 + years, what's my favourite era?  Well, it has to be the late 60's because it had such a seminal influence on me - personal freedom to travel, intertwined with my education and subsequent career as a professional engineer.  Would I go back to bikes of that era?  Not on your nelly, unless it was for just pottering about on locally.  Modern bikes are superior in almost every way, unless you like a bit of tinkering that is!

That last sentence neatly leads me to introduce one of my closest friends, Rick.  We grew up in the UK together and both got into bikes at the same time. Rick has a love of classic vehicles.  Whilst he might strongly disagree with my definition, I use the word "classic" euphemistically, really meaning old crates which need so much maintenance that they are rarely on the road.  He has a Jensen CV8 car and a very early Morgan V8, both of which are a significant drain on his wallet and occasionally, a test of  his sanity.    He used to own a Mk 2 Triumph Trident which was so unreliable that he was on first name terms with the Automobile Association recovery teams in several counties.  Even Rick's legendary fortitude was sorely tested and he ended up selling it after a decade or two of ownership.  Among other bikes, he bought a new Honda Fireblade which curiously, has only done a minimal mileage since its purchase in 1999. Perhaps it was because he actually had to ride the thing rather than constantly tinker with it in his shed.

Despite being fully aware of the reliability issues of Italian vehicles, both two-wheeled and four, he has always hankered after a Moto Guzzi 1100 Sport.   Last year or thereabouts, he bought a late model (the last year it was made was in 2000). It was immaculate and had very low mileage.  I have to admit that it is a lovely-looking bike and the design is anything but bland. 
Rick and his gorgeous Moto Guzzi 1100 Sport

Being cynical and given their reputation,  I would have wondered why it was in such good condition with such low miles since new.  I would have concluded that the then owner had so many problems that it was simply parked under a dust sheet and forgotten about.  Rick was clearly ruled by his heart and bought it.  Predictably, a number of other problems surfaced which were all apparently well-known to owners.  Some of them took quite a bit of engineering to fix, others a lot of thought and patience.  With it being summer in the northern hemisphere, I'm looking forward to tales of great rides but hope that he has retained his AA membership!  Given that Rick is the same age as me (68) and the Guzzi has low bars and high footpegs, I suspect that there will also be tales of Ibuprofen being required on anything other than shortish trips!

So there we are... despite a slightly tongue-in-cheek comparison between bikes of yesteryear and today, and a gentle poke at the difference between owners who like tinkering and those who just like riding; it's been an interesting exercise to consider which era has had the greatest influence.  However, the most important thing is that we all love bikes for whatever reason!

Wednesday 27 July 2016

Going Full Circle

Voluntary community work seems to be particularly strong in NZ, almost to the point where it's part of the national psyche and long may it continue! Jennie helps at the local historic gold mining museum and as regular readers know, I volunteer with the Institute of Advanced Motorists.  IAM started in the UK and is based on the UK Police Roadcraft training system which is taught for both bikes and cars in several countries.  Passing the Advanced Roadcraft Test is arguably the highest civilian riding/driving qualification in the countries where it is taught.

The Police Roadcraft "bible"

The journey to raise my mediocre riding standard by joining IAM has been documented earlier in the blog.  Firstly by passing the Advanced Test after 8 months of blood, sweat and tears, then going on to train as an Observer (Instructor) which took a further year and enables me to "pay it forward" by helping others.  I'm currently Senior Observer for my region of NZ and spent last weekend in Auckland helping to start a number of riders who have passed their Advanced Test on their journey to becoming Observers themselves.  Hence the reference in the post title as going full circle!

It really is one of those rare occasions in life where there is no downside whatsoever.  I get to ride my bike in the company of people who care about their riding and want to continually upskill.  It also forces me to maintain my personal standards as I get retested every two years!  When I first became an Observer, it was Dan Bateman from Team Oregon rider training in the US who said to me, "Remember that you will forever be known differently now. It is a tremendous responsibility to always reflect the proper ideals” .  He was absolutely on the money, but the benefits have been enormous, not the least being my own enjoyment of riding having increased immeasurably.

Anyway, back to the weekend.....

Chief Examiner Philip opening proceedings

The two days consisted of presentations by experienced Observers on the technicalities of how to observe both good riding and improvement opportunities in a rider's skill set and how to succinctly incorporate them into debriefing the rider and giving them a  detailed written report focussing on both the things they do well and improvement areas to practice.

Some of the attentive participants, sweating on what was to come!

Interpersonal skills are also an essential element of being a good Observer in order to positively engage with the people they are mentoring - humility, patience, being constructive and so forth.  Absolutely no place for egos in IAM NZ and that quality is reinforced and treasured by everyone.

Observer Richard covering some of the interpersonal skills

Theory is interspersed with practice rides, where Observers become the "new" riders being assessed and build in subtle errors into their riding.  The Trainee Observers practice observing what riders do well and areas for improvement whilst giving directions over comms.  Having to remember key items in the ride to discuss later whilst maintaining their own standards is far from easy!

Nervous grin from Trainee Observer Hayden as he prepares to observe my riding!

This is my favourite part of the course where Trainee Observers are filled with panic, trying to remember all the positives and improvement areas ready to complete a coherent report on return. Every one of them makes the same comment - so much information to process in addition to maintaining their own riding.   Most of the immediate feedback at ride end is actually rather colourful and involves words that won't bear repeating on these pages. Being called a complete bastard was one of the milder things I've been labelled on previous courses - all in fun of course.  Takes me back to when I was in the same position and what I thought of my mentor!

Trainee Observer Tessa debriefing Steve

At the end of the 2 day course, each Trainee is allocated a permanent Observer mentor who is responsible for coaching the T/O through a series of training modules in real life training situations. The modules are only signed off when the T/O demonstrates repeated mastery of that particular module.  In practical terms, it takes up to a year before reaching the standard required to sit the full Observer Test.  The Test itself  takes the best part of the day.  A written test to check knowledge of the NZ road rules and the Police Roadcraft system - 80% in both sections required to pass.  Next is a one hour assessed ride in motorway, city and country environments to ensure that the Trainee Observer has maintained his or her personal skills.  They are required to give a commentary of their situational awareness and how that is impacting on their riding.  Finally, they are observed conducting an assessment on another rider for around 1 1/2 hours in a range of environments, demonstrating advanced techniques to the trainee if required then conducting a debrief and writing the formal report.

Riders from Auckland and Wellington in deep discussion

If it was easy, it wouldn't have the reputation that it does and riders wouldn't have the level of quiet pride that they do in both achieving a huge personal milestone and having a real impact on road safety.  It also has a spin-off into life away from motorcycling in terms of personal conduct and interaction with other people.  As mentioned earlier, there has been no downside whatsoever to becoming a member of IAM and hopefully, will allow me to enjoy motorcycling well into my 70's.  Not too bad for someone who could be described as a bit of a hooligan until a few years ago!

Finally, one of the riders who joined IAM a year ago has written a blog about his experiences, warts 'n all.  Rob rides a Suzuki Hayabusa and was already what might be described as an experienced rider. Very well written with refreshing honesty and a lot of humour. The first blog post is HERE .  Newer posts can be accessed by clicking on Newer Posts at the bottom of each page or through the archive.  Rob passed his Advanced Test at the start of this month and has now started on the road to becoming an Observer.  Another turn of the wheel!

Thursday 14 July 2016

Bula, bula from Fiji

Bula is Fijian for Hello/Greetings and it gets said about 500 times a day when you're there!

Our 44th wedding anniversary rolls around at the end of the month and although we've visited a good number of the Pacific Islands, Fiji hasn't been one of them.  A good time to rectify that!  We told our adult kids that we were taking a break and received the predictable sarcastic response, "A break from what, exactly?"  We'd booked in at a small resort mainly staffed by residents of a local village on the south-west corner of the main island.  With flying time only 3 hours from Auckland, plus a 45 minute drive to the resort, we could hit the ground running, so to speak.

Air NZ's splendid silver fern logo and tail koru

Land ho!  Arty first shot of Fiji

Upon arrival, the receptionist and Jennie were chatting away and Jennie mentioned that it was our 44th anniversary so on the spot, we were upgraded to a lagoon front property - nice score honey!!!  Huge apartment, massive bed you could have an orgy on (Jennie says, "in your dreams, boy") with a spa bath out on the deck.  Shell necklaces on the bed shaped to say "Bula" along with fresh hibiscus flowers - nice touch!

Step straight off the deck onto the lawn and this is what you see (and you could hear the clunk of my jaw hitting the deck).  The other person on this trip was far more refined than her less cultured husband and took it all in her stride.

I suppose it'll have to do......

The rest of the day was spent exploring all the facilities and planning adventures for the coming days. Oh, and quietly sipping the odd beer and cocktails!

Tough day at the office

Fijians, like most Pacific Islanders, are incredibly friendly and really go the extra mile to make sure that visitors to their shores enjoy the experience.  The service isn't the formal type that you would expect perhaps in Europe or Asia, it's low key and laid back but totally on the ball - love it!

Every evening, there was a local cultural performance of some kind and beautifully done, followed by dinner under the stars and a stroll back to our room...... magic.

Jennie seemed to be taking an exceptionally keen interest.....

Curved swimming pool lit from under water - spectacular

An encounter with a local villager at the lagoon ended with us being taken for a boat tour round a nearby island where they keep their goats and pigs, even dropping us off on a deserted beach to walk the length of it and picking us up at the other end.  Really doesn't get better than that.

Village boats at the lagoon entrance

Off we go......

One of the island deserted beaches - well, apart from.....

Never let it be said that that our holidays don't lack variety.  Just before we arrived, it was reported in the international press that a tourist had found a human body part on a beach not far from us.  The Fijian navy divers were brought in to search the reef  and we saw them heading out on several mornings.  Apparently, it involved a Russian couple who were living on the island so who knows what the investigation will reveal!

Back to more relaxing parts of the break, we love visiting produce markets to see what is grown and to chat with locals.  Fiji grows the usual range of gorgeous tropical fruits and the range of vegetables was pretty impressive.  We were particularly impressed with taro root chips seasoned with fiery local chilli powder - made quite a change from normal potato chips.  A little less keen to try fish that had been sitting in the sun for a couple of hours though.

Beautiful fresh produce at amazingly low prices by western standards

A trip to an eco reserve area to look at some local wildlife showed various bird species with the most amazing colours, as well as all sorts of reptiles.  Jennie didn't seem at all fazed handling a snake!  Here's an interesting factoid...... Fiji imported mongooses (mongeese?) to control snakes which live in their sugar cane plantations.  You see them trotting about all over the place.

Unbelievable colours

Snakes alive.......

Wild ginger

Bright colours weren't just restricted to land animals and plants, with the reef fish also having spectacular colours, as well as starfish the size of dinner plates having the most amazing electric blue colour.

Fiji must be called the land of sunsets as every night was stunning and quite different - here's a selection which were an utter privilege to see....

Locals in traditional grass skirts silhouetted at sunset

No self-respecting moto blog avoids food porn and on our last night, we had dinner at their award-winning top restaurant.  My word, the service and food quality were equal to the best food we've had anywhere.  Amuse-bouche to start, then wonderful palate-cleaners such as homemade mango sorbet between courses....... doing it in style!

Dinner under the stars

Exquisite presentation - sure beats the normal biker meat pie at a gas station!

At the end of the meal, the staff sprang a lovely surprise on us with an extra dessert of fresh mango cheesecake with coconut ice cream and anniversary greetings piped in dark chocolate.  The only downer was that Jennie wouldn't let me lick the chocolate off the plate, but there again, she's always had a sight more class than me.


In a recent post, Aussie moto-blogger Chillertek took the mickey by asking what sort of a busy social life was possible for a 68 year old (i.e. me) to have.  Well Steve, now you know - one with no debt and kids who have left home *grin* .

Wonder where the next adventure will take us?