Wheel alignment

Monday 15 October 2018

In Praise of Dog Turds!

I've had a few punctures during my motorcycling career but in all that time, most of them have been slow(ish) leaks where I've been able ride to a safe point to properly address the problem.  Just 4 months ago I made a post about a puncture I got less than an hour from home.  Even though the leak was quite serious, carrying an electric pump got me home with multiple stops.  I've never actually had to use any of the repair kits I've carried over the years........ UNTIL NOW!

On Sunday, I was out on an IAM coaching ride with my colleague Drew in the central north island, some 170 km from home.  He was riding a Honda ST1300 and I wanted to see how he handled tight, narrow country roads with lots of elevation changes and blind bends.  East of the town of Cambridge and a long way from anywhere is a really challenging bit of road called French Pass.  We were both making good progress but when I followed him round one bend, the handling felt slightly spongy.  Wondered if it was my imagination but the next corner was worse, so called over the comms for Drew to pull over in a safe spot whilst I checked what was happening.  He stopped in a farm gateway and almost as soon as we stopped, the owner of the property came out to see if he could help.  As well as the farm, Chris ran a local mechanical maintenance business and offered his workshop so that we could do a proper inspection.

Sure enough, something long and sharp had entered the tyre but there was no sign of it.  My screw-in and snap-off Gryyp plugs weren't going to be big enough so it was time to try the euphemistically-called dog turds.  I can see where the name comes from, even though they are Chihuahua - sized!  For the uninitiated, this is the dog turd kit:

Chiuhuahua-sized dog turds!

The turds are comprised of a fibre rope impregnated with a sticky substance.  The rope gets doubled over and pushed through the puncture with an awl and the sticking out ends trimmed off.  My kit didn't have adhesive with it, just relying on stickiness and friction.

Using Chris's industrial compressor rather than my portable one, the tyre was inflated and after thanking Chris and his wife profusely, we set off again - RESULT!  Unfortunately, my optimism was short-lived as half an hour later, coming into the small town where we were due to finish the training ride, down went the tyre again!  The looped plug had clearly come out.  The turds were at least 10 years old and I suspect the principal reason was that they had lost a fair bit of stickiness.  Fortunately for a Sunday, a local auto accessories place was open and Drew rode round and got me some new super-sticky ones.

You can just see the two ends sticking out of the tyre

Chopping off the ends, a bit of spit was applied to see if there was any leak from the puncture - there wasn't!

Spit and not-polish

Soon after, Drew went on his way home to the Bay of Plenty and I headed north towards home in Coromandel.  Unfortunately, about 20 km up the road, the same thing happened again.  A closer inspection indicated that one dog turd probably wasn't adequate so I rammed 2 in and added one of the Gryyp plastic snap-off screws to lock everything in place.  I was lucky to inflate it to the proper pressure as my ancient inflator failed just as I reached the right pressure.  I did have a short bicycle pump in the bag but using it would have been moving into heart attack territory.  Given my previous lack of repair success and the fact that it was getting late in the afternoon, I didn't want to be stranded miles from anywhere on the Coromandel Peninsula (aka Deliverance/banjo country).  A couple of quick phone calls and I arranged to leave the bike at an IAM friend's place just short of the Peninsula and Jennie would pick me up from there.  As it happened, this repair worked perfectly and I arrived at my mate's place with no loss of pressure.  Still wouldn't have risked it to get me all the way home though.

Quickly pulled the rear wheel to take it somewhere where it could either be repaired or replaced.  Hell, it's only 4000 km old and the one before that was only 2000 km old.  At this rate, I'll never be able to do an end-of-life evaluation of the Michelin Road 5!  I'd prefer to think it was sheer bad luck on my part than a design weakness in the tyre.  A parting shot by my mate Tony before I headed home with Jennie was him threatening to sell the bike on the NZ equivalent of eBay before I got back!  

Tony, with his best "Have I got a deal for you" salesman's look!

I could probably have found a repair place a bit closer to where I live but this morning, headed on a 280 km round trip to south Auckland to one of my favourite tyre dealers as I knew that they had a new Road 5 tyre in stock if the belting was badly damaged.  Fortunately, I only needed a mushroom plug, not a new tyre which was a bright spot of good news with all the time-wasting.  Also took the opportunity to have a right-angled valve fitted to make life easier and bought some more Muc-Off bike cleaner (brilliant stuff), some Motul oil and a new filter so it turned out not to be a bad day.

Nice right-angled alloy valve stem

Tomorrow will see me returning to Tony's to re-fit the wheel and bring the bike home.  Oh, and a nice lunch on the way home as thanks to the long-suffering Jennie for ferrying me about!

There is an upside to this story though.  Getting practical experience of using dog turds was invaluable in case I ever need to use them in the future when help isn't readily at hand.  So many riders don't carry repair kits and it can be a bit more than inconvenient in some circumstances, especially a long way from anywhere with no cell coverage and no-one about.

Monday 8 October 2018

In search of more traction

In March, I made a post about attending a suspension clinic by internationally-renowned guru Dave Moss.  It involved riding about 150 km and tweaking the suspension every time we stopped.  The improvement was a significant step change but Dave remarked at the time that there's only so much you can do with a Suzuki OEM rear shock.  Having fitted high end units to my previous two bikes, I was aware that despite the improvement, there was more to come.

The Suzuki has now covered getting on for 45,000 km and the decline in compression and rebound damping was becoming noticeable, even to this old codger.  Keeping contact with the road in even moderately adverse conditions is a safety issue as well as a performance one.  Time to look at a replacement, especially with a 71st birthday coming up in mid October.  That's Jennie's present to me solved, haha!

On the Blackbird, I fitted a US-made Penske shock and new fork internals.  On the Street Triple, it  was a UK-made Nitron shock.  The NZ supplier was KSS in New Plymouth who have a second to none reputation for service so it was a no-brainer to go back to them.  A couple of emails back and forth to establish my type of riding, loaded bike weight and so on and an order was placed for another Nitron, custom made to my requirements.  I didn't need to go for a separate remote as my riding loads and conditions don't vary by much.

This beauty turned up a few days ago:

Yumm.... bike porn

I have an ABBA stand (link HERE ) which makes working on the bike a piece of cake.  A fellow IAM member and GSX-S owner (thanks Blair!) gave me some time-saving tips and the old shock was removed, the new one bolted in and sag measurements taken in under 2 hours.  The only minor annoyance was having a retaining shim drop out of the rear brake caliper during disassembly and not seeing where it came from!  However, it became obvious during reassembly so not too much damage to the ego.

Goes nicely with the matte grey of the bike

Seriously nice engineering

Static and loaded sag came nicely within tolerance so no preload adjustment required.  Next step was to check compression and rebound on the road.  A quick trip over the Coromandel Range was just the job as I know every hollow, bump and truck ripple on that road. 

Western side of the Coromandel Range- riding heaven!

Even though I was expecting a better performance from the new shock compared with the OEM one, it still came as a surprise as to just how good it was.  The degeneration of old suspension and tyres come to that is imperceptible so that just adds to the surprise.  Leaned over whilst riding over truck ripples on corners was almost like they weren't there.  In adverse conditions such as wet roads, that's got to be a major safety improvement by maintaining good road contact.  In addition to better handling, an increase in tyre life can be expected based on past experience.  Less fatigue on a long haul too.

If there is any downside, it's drawn my attention to the front forks.  The standard forks aren't too bad, especially after Dave Moss set them up.  However, some RaceTech internals would be a further nice improvement if I decide to keep the bike long term.  Just coming up for 3 years of ownership.  The low throttle fuelling was so bad from new that it nearly got sold in the first 3 months of ownership.  However, Suzuki NZ came to the party by fitting a different ECM at their cost and that solved the problem.  Since then, I've grown to really like the bike, but still don't have the emotional attachment that I had with the Street Triple.

Thanks KSS for your great service and a product which really delivers.  You might see me for some new fork internals in due course!

Parked up at the Whangapoua Harbour boat ramp on the test ride

Finally, on a loosely connected note, the Michelin Road 5's are working out just fine in both dry and wet conditions.  In the photo below, the band of soft compound rubber out towards the edge of the tyre can be clearly seen,  Initially, the lack of tread towards the edge worried me with respect to how effective they would be when leaned over in wet conditions.  I needn't have worried!  A few weeks ago, I was examining an IAM Trainee Observer (instructor) for his full test in near-biblical rainfall.  He's a quick rider, racing and road riding in all conditions and I was concerned about how the Road 5's would fare in those conditions.  As it happened, they stuck like glue - not an anxious moment even when "making progress".  Totally sold on their overall performance and I'll do a full review in due course.

Soft compound band of outer tyre can be clearly seen

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Rewarding safe riding

The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) is a New Zealand Crown entity responsible for administering the country's universal no-fault accidental injury scheme.  Due to the scheme's no-fault basis, litigation is avoided apart from claims for exemplary damages.  ACC works with partners and communities on initiatives to prevent injuries.

As far as motorcycling goes because of the higher rate of serious harm and medical costs compared with cars etc, ACC introduced a training scheme called Ride Forever. (website HERE).  It covers written resources but the most visible initiative is a highly subsidised tiered on-road training programme which progressively increases rider skills in a structured manner.  Details can be found HERE .  Private contractors who have acknowledged high delivery skills are used to deliver the training and must meet auditable standards.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Silver and Gold levels are based on elements of the UK Police Roadcraft system which IAM uses as the basis of its advanced rider training.

A number of insurers give discounts in addition to no-claims bonuses for having attended these courses and statistics indicate that those who attend are currently 23% less likely to submit an injury claim.  Interestingly, upskilling or re-skilling for riders used to be viewed as "not macho" among a sizeable percentage of the NZ motorcycling population but judging from recent comments on bike forums and other media, this attitude seems to be softening which is great news.  Post-licence training is still regarded as uncool by a minority but that minority seems to be shrinking.

In addition to this proactive stance by ACC, they are in the process of introducing a pilot scheme whereby targeted riders will receive $100 off their annual bike registration fee for attending Ride Forever.  Early days but kudos to a government department that's attempting to address the root cause of accidents as opposed to the normal "ambulance at the bottom of the cliff" approach of punitive legislative measures.  This is the link to the proposals HERE .

One requirement of the pilot scheme is that the riders must have held a full license for at least 10 years.  This is quite deliberate as "mature" returning riders are over-represented in accident statistics.  Who knows, if it's a success, it may well spread.  Younger riders are safer than they used to be because in the last few years, getting a licence is far more stringent than previously.

Looking at the responses on the ACC website, there is an overwhelmingly positive response to the initiative.  I guess it's inevitable that there will be detractors for a whole load of reasons but the important point is that ACC are offering tangible rewards for completing one of their subsidised courses which has demonstrated its effectiveness.  If someone doesn't want to attend, it's their choice.  Wishing ACC every success for taking a proactive stance.

As a final comment, an increasing number of riders who have completed the Ride Forever programme clearly see the value of on-going training in improving their safety and enjoyment and are now choosing to join IAM to continue raising their skills.  That "learning for life" mindset shift has got to be good for everyone, hasn't it?  

The photo below was taken last week when one of the IAM Trainee Observers (mentors) had just passed his demanding full theory and practical tests to become a fully qualified Observer.  The chap on the left is Neil, who is an Examiner.  Chris, in the centre, is our newly-qualified Observer.  Pete, on the right, is the "newbie" who is in the process of joining IAM and whom Chris was assessing as part of his test.  The interesting thing is that Pete is the chief highway patrol cop for our province and a social rider.  If a highly trained cop believes there is value in on-going upskilling, that speaks volumes!

Neil, Chris and Pete - IAM Central North Island region