Wheel alignment

Monday, 20 December 2021

Thinking back to an early post....

Nearly 11 years ago back in 2011, I wrote a blog post HERE which attracted comment from well known US motorcycle author David Hough which lead to further posts and even a chapter in one of his motorcycle books.  The topic?  The impact of increasing age on motorcycling.  We discussed things we could do to safely extend one's riding career and whether we could recognise that it was perhaps time to do something else.  There are links to the wider discussion in that 2011 post.

Just before the time of the original post, I was 63 and not really planning to do anything massively different, just to keep riding pretty much the way I'd always done and keep fingers crossed.  The only nod towards getting older was to sell my heavy Honda Blackbird and buy a Street Triple.  However, the conversations with David prompted me to join the NZ branch of the UK Institute of Advanced Motorists to learn Police Roadcraft. That lead to what was genuinely the most enjoyable 10 years of a 58 year riding career, passing the Advanced Roadcraft Test, Observer (mentor) Test and ultimately becoming an Examiner.  It was a genuine shock to discover how little I knew about safe riding whilst making good progress before joining IAM.  Made lots of lifelong friends too.

IAM Observer duties on the Street Triple, circa 2014

The other thing which David Hough and I discussed was the need for a fallback interest for when we actually stop riding. That need applies to anything which has been a lifelong passion and even to retirement with little idea of how to spend your free time.  Making properly considered decisions about that can have a massive impact on one's mental and physical health.  I'm pleased to say that talking with family, close friends and even strangers plus lots of reading has given Jennie and I solid fallback interests in terms of voluntary work, travel, sea fishing and more recently, the purchase of a classic car.  With Covid limiting international travel in any meaningful sense for an extended period, the classic car was a locally-based fallback.  For the time being at least, I think we've got that side of the ageing equation reasonably well covered and David Hough deserves enormous credit for provoking some serious thought.  David and I still correspond and recently, he's also followed the same process by building a beautiful wooden rowing boat (a traditional wherry).

The KTM in 2021 - me at 74 and loving it!

So that's the medium term future reasonably well mapped with a few contingencies but what about now?  This month, I retire from IAM.  A combination of age and the relatively remote area where we live means that I don't want to spend 500km days in all weathers putting advanced riders through formal testing.  Totally comfortable with that.  Having been honoured with life membership of IAM means that I can ride with the membership on social occasions and also with other treasured friends which will help to keep standards up.  Although there are no immediate plans to stop riding, going through the future planning process has made me comfortable about making that decision with no regrets.  Another year will probably do it. No single fallback will replace riding but a combination of things should do the trick.  Ceasing the blog sort of falls into the same category.  Great fun but it's just about served its purpose.

After 6 weeks or so of owning the MGB GT, Jennie and I have been having a lot of fun exploring the Coromandel Peninsula backroads on short(ish) runs.  At present, I've been spending a fair bit of time underneath the thing greasing a myriad of grease nipples, lubricating the steering rack and having smelly old diff oil run down my arm to set up a proper maintenance schedule for the future.  The previous owner did a wonderful job of restoring the MG but he mainly used a local garage to do routine maintenance.  I use both words advisedly as to be honest, it looks like a lot of things were overlooked;  hence the preventive work being done at present.  To give another more succinct viewpoint, Jennie calls my diligence "pissing about in the garage".

Waitete Bay, Coromandel Peninsula.  Miles of nothing but sand and water

To end on an irreverent note, yesterday saw us make a 320km round trip to join fellow MG owners for the regional MG Owners Club Christmas lunch.  We're not big on large gatherings of people but being new to the club, it would be great to meet fellow members.  Crikey, except for another couple of people, we were the youngest there by some margin!  It was a weird feeling as among my motorcycling mates, I'm totally used to being the Old Fart.  A motorcycling friend (and ex-MG Roadster owner) remarked that it was lucky we were in the open air for much of the time as the smell of cabbage water and pee may have been overpowering indoors.  Irreverent indeed!  Mind you, the local organiser drily commented that he had to organise club events with pee stops for both sexes in mind.  I think we'll pass on taking part in those for a few more years! 

Alongside a 1952 MG TD and a late 50's MG Magnette

All that remains is to wish everyone all that you would wish for yourselves over the festive season and may 2022 be better for all of us than the last couple of years!


Monday, 29 November 2021

A busy time now that summer is almost here

Daytime temperatures of the mid-20's C and minimal rain makes time to enjoy outdoor activities.  Sadly, motorcycling isn't one of them at present as my tyres are down to the wear bars and need replacing.  I could probably order them online and fit them myself but that involves a hassle and there's plenty of work on the task list already.  With lockdown restrictions shortly being lifted where my favourite dealer is located, that problem can be sorted fairly quickly provided that there aren't any supply chain problems for my favourite tyres, the Michelin Road 5's.  The KTM also needs a service. Since writing up the end of life review HERE , I've been for a couple more rides and Road 5 effective life is better than 11,000 km.  That will do just fine, considering that they haven't had an easy time.

Road 5 front hoop - in dire need of replacement

Owning the MG is still providing a steep learning path. Even with eyes wide open before purchase, routine maintenance is substantially greater than with modern cars; particularly lubrication of engine and drivetrain plus suspension and steering.  I'm finding that many automotive workshops excepting specialists aren't keen to work on classic vehicles.  There aren't any specialists within a 2.5 hour drive so the routine stuff is down to me.  A fair bit of the lubrication schedule involves access to the underside of the car and I haven't got a pit or proper hoist.  Fortunately, the car doesn't need lifting very high and jacking it onto axle stands is fine for routine work.  Hoisting it with a scissor jack is tedious and time-consuming so a trolley jack was an obvious solution.  

Perusing ones for sale at NZ's major automotive parts outlets didn't fill me with confidence.  By and large, they looked cheap and nasty.  On-line reviews weren't confidence-inspiring either with a surprising number of purchasers mentioning hydraulic failures and other breakages in an unacceptably short time.  Purely by chance when looking at a classic car parts website, I found one which was made from substantial steel plate that was CE/ANSI/ASME certified.  With a 3 tonne capacity which I didn't really need, it wasn't vastly more expensive than the crappy ones at the main automotive outlets.  The only downside was that it weighed 35kg and was too heavy for NZ Post, so had to be couriered to us from Auckland. Service from Hawkswood Classic Car Parts was outstanding with it arriving the day after purchase.  As an amusing aside, it was delivered by large truck and the driver wasn't keen to tackle our steep drive.  Instead, he left it in a safe place near the bottom.  Just about had a hernia loading it into our 4x4 for the trip up the drive as it was in a slippery box with an absence of handholds!  In summary, it's an absolute cracker - a quality build.  Makes life so much easier and can lift to 495mm.  Great to deal with Hawkswood too, exceptional hassle-free service.

A seriously good trolley jack

In a previous post, I mentioned the need fit a USB plug for smartphone charging.  The first attempt failed as I'd incorrectly identified an earth return wire.  This was easily fixed by earthing it to the body behind the instrument cluster .  The blue LED inside the inside the USB plug looks quite pleasing too!

Awww...... pretty!

AliExpress have been good at supplying various peripherals I need at very sharp prices and considering the current world-wide supply chain problems, delivery is consistently good too.  One of my most useful purchases has been an extremely bright rechargable inspection lamp.  Equipped with a swivelling base, clamp and additional magnets, it can be positioned virtually anywhere.  Delivered price to NZ?  Around NZ$20 which is great value for money.

LED inspection lamp using a magnet to affix to the bonnet

Currently awaiting a timing gun as I gave mine away at least 2 decades ago, a 500 ml syringe for doing an oil change on the diff and an LED replacement for the standard internal car lightbulb which at 5W, is nigh on useless for seeing anything. All the extras when owning an old vehicle sure do add up.  Still, as getting one was Jennie's idea, she can hardly complain!

We've covered around 800km so far and fuel consumption has been about 11.5 lt/100 km or 25 imperial miles to the gallon.  This is in line with expectations at moderate speeds and should give a range over 500 km which is quite reasonable. Adding the anti-valve recession additive at the same time as refilling the tank is no big deal.

Pohutukawa tree coming into flower near our house

We also managed to get out fishing in the boat for the first time in months and for once, I caught more than Jennie. It's not so much being able to catch your own dinner as fishing in spectacular surroundings - good for the soul.

Jennie waiting for the first strike

With the summer weather upon us,  gardening is the other activity which soaks up time.  Most of our property is in trees, shrubs and other plants which require minimal maintenance as we love gardens but not gardening if that makes sense. Here are a few of the items in the garden at present.

Pink Bottlebrush - quite hard to find compared with the red ones

Bougainvillea Scarlett O'Hara - training it up a pergola

Subtropical Bromeliad

Bird of Paradise

One thing is for sure, at 74; finding stuff to keep active isn't a problem!

Thursday, 11 November 2021

After 2 weeks of ownership....

 Well, after 2 weeks of ownership, I must say that I'm loving ownership of the MGB GT and thought I'd document some of my thoughts and experiences so far.  Equally, Jennie loves it too which is important for the joint ownership.  She finds it more comfortable than her last MX5 too although in no hurry to actually drive it because of the heavy steering at low speeds and the brakes requiring a bit of effort compared with modern vehicles.

Photo op on the Thames-Coromandel coast road

Although the 49 year old car has been restored to close to "as new" condition, ownership of a classic car does require quite a degree of commitment to maintain it in top condition.  A lot of my time so far has been spent building up a knowledge base through reading the service/repair manual, watching YouTube videos and joining the MG Experience website and NZ MG Owners Club.  There's a massive amount of experience to draw on.  Here's a good example.....

For the life of me, I can't remember what the oil pressure was when we first looked at the car but on the delivery run home, it showed 35 psi.  This wasn't disastrously low but a good engine should show 50 psi or more at open highway speeds.  As it still showed 35 psi at tickover, I suspected that the gauge might be faulty.  Closer inspection showed that a small piece of translucent plastic (an illumination diffuser) had partially dislodged and was stopping the needle from going full range.  I had visions of removing the entire dash to dismantle the gauge but posting a query on the MG Experience website revealed a fix which only took a couple of hours to do - outstanding!  The gauge then showed 55 psi.

Plastic diffuser on periphery of gauge before fixing

I also wanted to do an oil change as the previous owner flagged that it was getting close to time.  More reading and watching YouTube!  Who'd have thought that changing the oil would have presented any issues?  In this case, the oil filter points vertically upwards at the side of the engine.  The worrying thing was that the moment I started to unscrew it - where was the filter oil going to go?  Trouble is, there was conflicting info about what sort of filter should be used.  Some had non-return valves to stop engines being restarted with an empty filter and other sources said it didn't matter as long as you turned the engine over a few times without starting it after the oil change to refill the filter.  I chose to buy one with a non-return valve (a Ryco Z38) and fill it before fitting.  Unfortunately, the old filter appeared not to have a non-return valve by the amount of black engine oil dumped on the concrete, sigh.....  Message to self:  make sure that the drain pan is directly under the filter next time!  Half an hour spent cleaning up the mess.  The rest of the oil change went smoothly and access to the underside of the car was easy with a scissor jack and proper stands.

New (white) filter in place

An interesting observation for the nerdy amongst us!  The previous owner used Castrol GTX 20/50 which is an approved oil for the MGB.  I decided to go for the Penrite 20/60 Classic Light which has a high zinc content, suitable for older vehicles. On startup, the pressure gauge now reads a little over 60 psi, around 7 psi more than with the old Castrol GTX.  It may be that the viscosity of the old oil declined over time, the new oil has a wider viscosity range or some other reason but the anal engineer in me will watch and theorise over time!

I also installed a USB port for phone charging and that's been my only failure to date as the phone doesn't charge. I managed to find a switched power source behind the dashboard but not sure about a reliable earth so a bit more investigation is required when I have time.

Flicking through the maintenance manual, there are a zillion greasing points to be periodically attended to, most of which involve squeezing into difficult places underneath the car.  There are also many more maintenance items yet to be discovered which reinforces that with a classic vehicle, you don't just jump in and forget about maintenance apart from an annual service.  Then there's adding a lead substitute to the fuel tank every time you fill up although admittedly, this isn't a big hassle.  It's mainly supposed to prevent valve seat recession, so well worth it as it's easy to do and inexpensive.  The manual says to use 100 octane gas (at the time it was freely available) but 95 octane + additive is ok as long as you don't give it too much throttle in a high gear or load.  It will pink if you do that - just a case of getting used to driving a little differently.  

Driving the car with no power steering and indifferent brakes requires a different approach but it's surprising how quickly I've dialled into driving it.  In many respects, it's like riding a motorcycle as it requires a more dedicated approach with a fair bit of concentration which is no bad thing.  In February, we're off to the 3 day British car festival "Brits at he the Beach".  This should be a lot of fun judging by the variety of cars at previous events: HERE .  (You can avoid 2 minutes of Morris dancing at the start!).

One final thing to add.  The previous blog post detailed a 3 month scrap with officialdom before we could take physical possession of the MG.  When the new ownership documentation arrived a week ago, the car was described as a Roadster (the convertible version of the MGB), not the GT version.  Words fail me!  Currently waiting for the NZ Transport Authority to correct the error although addressing it in a timely manner is not expected!

 
The Firth of Thames - uncharacteristically like a mill pond

Despite spending a bit of time coming to grips with a new toy, motorcycling hasn't been abandoned.  With lockdown still in force in much of the Waikato province and also Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula is a joy to ride.  Last Sunday, a bunch of us did both the northern and southern parts of the loop in very light traffic and warm, sunny conditions.  Great company, no dickheads to spoil the ride and minimal traffic - what's not to like? 

Some of the thirstier bikes filling up at Hikuai - especially a certain Yamaha MT-10 SP!

Arriving at Kuaotunu for lunch

Bruce, Tony and Steve at Luke's Kitchen

Happy days!

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Halleluja!

Jennie and I collecting the car, with owner/restorer Brian in the background

Back in July, I made a post HERE about the trials and tribulations of finding a classic car for my wife and I to enjoy fun outings together.  Finding something which we both liked was bad enough but that was nothing compared with the problems we were to face in sealing the deal on the 1972 MGB GT which we fell in love with.  Here we are, over 3 months from the handshake with the vendor and have only just taken ownership.  The appalling performance by a government department and its agencies which caused the delay defies belief and I'm not going to go into the detail but here's a short summary based on what documentation I've seen and feedback from Brian, the vendor.

When the used MG was first imported into NZ in the 80's from the UK, officials recorded the car i/d numbers and issued new registration plates.  The vendor fully restored the car to its current beautiful condition in the intervening period and all was well.  That is, until he took it for its mandatory fitness warrant before the sale to us.  An eagle-eyed inspector spotted that the paperwork and the actual alpha numeric i/d on the car didn't match.  The assumption by all parties was that the official who completed the original documentation decades ago had accidentally transposed two digits.  In NZ, annual (originally 6 monthly) fitness checks are required by law and the error had never been previously picked up by the official inspectors. This meant that the sale couldn't proceed without completing some official documentation to address the error.

Brian, the vendor; duly did this and sent it away for processing.  Complete silence for over a month - no acknowledgement at all. This was contrary to their stated processing time. Then there was email contact of the barest kind, then another email a few weeks later asking him to send the documentation again. The original was lost.  Then another email was received deregistering the MG until it went through a new certification process.  No personal call to soften the blow or explain it, just an impersonal email.  The system seemed designed to prevent actual verbal discussions between the parties to seek clarity which caused further delays until Brian was actually able to talk to a human being and start to make progress.  I'm leaving out details of even more delays which severely tested Brian's sanity and patience.  Brian and I put in a joint formal complaint about the delays and process and after yet another delay, we received a written apology although it was hardly fulsome.  The whole business was concluded shortly afterwards.

It's only my interpretation but the documented process isn't user-friendly for the average member of the public (a massive understatement).  Compounding this are the roadblocks to direct communications with knowledgable people to achieve clarity about what is required.  First point of contact is with clerical-level staff who have little technical knowledge and the outcome is predictable!  It was only when Brian was able to talk to someone with technical automotive experience that real progress was made.  

W Edwards Deming was a US citizen who was widely recognised as the catalyst for getting Japanese industry on its feet after WW2 and becoming manufacturing world leaders.  He coined the saying "If you have great people and poor systems, the poor systems will win every time".  Ain't that the truth?  Having been involved with productivity improvement for virtually my entire working life, it's particularly galling.  Not unexpected though when you have an organisation which now has lawyers at the top of the tree.  Shakespeare had probably got it right with his line from Henry VI: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers".  No doubt I'll now be subject to vexatious legal procedings!   In fairness, contrast this episode with the wonderful collabaration I had with the same organisation when working on a road safety initiative for motorcyclists (HERE).  I presume that the key difference was due to working with a regional, technically competent and highly motivated team; not head office beauracracy and they were most definitely focussed on effective outcomes for all parties.

Anyway, on to happier times.....

The 50 km journey home up the twisty coast road was quite a short, sharp learning curve.  A 4 speed manual gearbox with 2 speed overdrive took a bit of getting used to, especially rapid changes when I messed up the late selection for a corner and found myself desperately stirring the box to find a gear - ANY gear would do.... please!  Fortunately, the long stroke engine delivers much more torque than expected so poor gear selection wasn't as critical as with lower torque, higher revving engines.  The other surprise was the extra steering effort required required in tight bends with no power steering.  Seeing old footage from the 50's where drivers of single seat race cars wrestled manfully with the steering wheel, you'd be forgiven for thinking that I was chanelling them on the homeward trip!  The Spax adjustable rear shocks noticeably help cornering though.  It was a warm trip home and I found a design error when I went to open the quarterlights for a bit of air circulation. They only open about 3cm before contacting the properly adjusted mirrors!  Never mind, there are a few other options to get fresh air.

What with coming to grips with the controls of a new vehicle and its general "feel", there wasn't a lot of spare brain capacity for mental math to convert the MPH speedo to NZ's raft of metric speed limits.  No sooner than I'd done the mental math for one limit, another one loomed into view and I wasn't sure that I'd correctly remembered the previous ones!  Very conscious of the long arm of the law as far as speed limits go.  I think what I'll do for the time being to ease mental workload until they're properly embedded in muscle memory is to stick thin slivers of red adhesive tape on the chrome outer ring of the speedo at the appropriate points as a simple visual aid.

Safely parked up at home after the delivery trip

Reversed out of the garage with care!

It's so much fun to drive, very much like a motorcycle in that it rewards precise driver input and fully involves you, unlike most modern cars which are much easier to drive and not so involving.  There's only one thing I'm unimpressed with and that's the brakes.  No servo assist on the front disc/rear drum setup and it certainly doesn't have the stopping ability of even the most basic modern car.  It's tolerable if you really stand on the pedal but it might benefit from better pads.  I changed all the OEM pads on my last 4 motorcycles to EBC HH and I understand that something similar is available for the MG.

The standard of finish is flawless and is a tribute to Brian's restoration skills.  The use of twin pack paint has really paid off.

On Coromandel Town wharf

Taken on our street

The interior is similarly immaculate.  There's nothing to be done other than fitting a USB charging port into one of the blanked-off apertures.  I won't be fitting a proper music player and will play music on the phone through a portable bluetooth speaker I have kicking about.

Very tidy interior

Brian is a man after my own heart when it comes to being fussy (Jennie would say anal) and the finish in the engine bay matches the exterior.  I'll try and keep it that way.  I need to get hold of some original decals that go on the heater box assembly but I won't tell Jennie or there'll be much eye-rolling and sighing!  The original points have been replaced by Brian with electronic ignition for the sake of reliability but I want to keep the car as close to original as possible. 

Made a dick of myself the morning after the delivery trip.  Went to reverse it out of the garage and couldn't turn the key in the ignition barrel.  Panic rising, a quick squirt with CRC and no difference.  A call to Brian but he didn't answer his phone so sent a text and then back into the car to see if the CRC had worked its magic.  No go, but sudden realisation that among the plethora of keys Brian had given me, I'd picked up the wrong one, duhhhh.  Much merriment from Brian a few minutes later.

The engine needs a bit of choke starting from cold until it warms up.  Unfortunately, the choke lever won't lock in the outward position so I'll have to investigate that.  In the meantime, I've slotted a short piece of rubber tube which fits over the choke cable when pulled out and raises the tickover without me holding it out by hand.  That will do for the time being.

An extremely clean engine bay

Buying a 49 year old car and celebrating our 49th wedding anniversary was a serendipitous occurence.  Jennie and I decided to have a bit of fun and merge a couple of photos in black and white.  The one below on the left was taken 3 days before our wedding in 1972, with Jennie sitting on the wing of our Morris 1100.  The one on the right is current, sitting on the wing of a 49 year old MGB!

1972 and 2021!

Motorcycling hasn't been forgotten though and I was out recently coaching a farmer and his wife from near Rotorua who are keen to learn Advanced Police Roadcraft skills.  However, retirement from mentoring and examining with the Institute of Advanced Motorists at year end will give more time for outings with Jennie in the MG.  Fun times ahead!


Monday, 13 September 2021

Michelin Road 5 end of life review



Front Michelin Road 5 @ 10,400 km

Rear Michelin Road 5 @ 10,400 km

Tyre choice can be a contentious issue as it's so dependent on intended end use and personal preference in terms of "feel".  Add in the other relevant factors such as tyre pressures, weather conditions, ambient temperatures, road surface, bike suspension and geometry, all up weight etc and decision-making can become overwhelming.  

Since retirement in 2008, we've lived on NZ's Coromandel Peninsula which is a road rider's paradise with highly technical twisty roads (look up the Coromandel Loop on YouTube!) with a road surface mainly composed of a coarse chip surface on the western side and smoother seal on the eastern side.  During that time, I've owned a Honda Blackbird, Triumph Street Triple, Suzuki GSX-S1000 and a KTM 790 Duke.  For the last 10 years, I've also been heavily involved with NZ branch of the UK Institute of Advanced Motorists.  Being fully retired also means that commuting has been taken out of the equation as riding has just been for fun and advanced rider mentoring with IAM.  What I'm getting at is that for a good many years, I've ridden a number of bikes under pretty much identical conditions with different brands and types of tyre which is useful for comparative purposes.

There are numerous tyre reviews in this blog but summarising, my preference has been for sport touring tyres as I ride in all weather conditions and cover up to 20,000 km a year.  The Suzuki and KTM came equipped with Dunlop and Maxxis pure sport tyres respectively and they were awful things for my intended use.  Firstly, in colder or wet conditions, it was nigh on impossible to generate sufficient heat for decent grip.  I had some butt-clenching slides when riding appropriately to the conditions and both bikes were also equipped with traction control.  One was when the front end let go and that was seriously scary.  The second factor is the life of a pure sport tyre.  For the environment I ride in, both brands of tyre were stuffed by 3500 km!  A good way of going bankrupt over my annual distance.  As long as a tyre delivers around 10,000 km, I'm a happy camper.  Actual tyre price is irrelevant as  performance (longevity and grip) is the only consideration.

In more recent years and in terms of sport touring tyres, I've used the Metzler Roadtec 01, the Bridgestone T31 and the Michelin Road 5.  All of these tyres gave the grip I was looking for over a wide range of weather conditions but it's worth mentioning where there were notable differences. 

The Roadtec 01 was a good tyre and the full review is HERE .  Two sets fitted to the Suzuki with the same result. Excellent grip in all conditions and a good life.  The rear hoop retained its profile well but the front noticeably started to lose its shape from about 7000-8000 km onward, developing flats on the outer part of the tyre. (A triangular or wedge profile).  Undoubtedly, countersteering and the type of roads I ride on contributed to this but the bike also had good aftermarket suspension set up by renowned guru Dave Moss so the front end wear characteristic was a little disappointing.  I should have replaced the front earlier than my normal habit of replacing both at the same time.

I also had Road 5's on the Suzuki.  In terms of performance, they delivered everything I wanted, including a faster turn-in than the 01's due to a sharper profile.  Unfortunately, I had a series of punctures including a destroyed rear hoop at 2000 km. I'm fairly certain that it was sheer bad luck as opposed to a tyre shortcoming but as I sold the bike not long afterwards, a longer term evaluation wasn't possible. However, I have occasionally seen comments from other owners around the world about "above average frequency" punctures.  Just something to file in the back of the mind.

After buying the KTM 790 and the poor experience with the OEM Maxxis pure sport tyres, I tried a pair of the Bridgestone T31 sport touring tyres as they had good reviews. Hmmm..... do motorcycle magazine reviews truly reflect everyday road performance over a representative period of time?  I suspect not.  Again, grip was satisfactory in all conditions but the front tyre developed a pronounced triangular/wedge profile from about 6000 km onwards.   At 8500 km, the profile was so bad that handling was adversely affected and both tyres were changed for a set of Road 5's.

The T31 front tyre at 8500 km

The Road 5's on the KTM have just clocked up 10,400 km and although it would be possible to legally squeeze more out of them before reaching the wear bar indicators, I'll get them replaced as soon as the 320 km round trip to my dealer can be made.  In a nutshell, they've been absolutely superb.  Outstanding grip in all conditions and equally importantly, they have pretty much retained their profile throughout with no noticeable loss in handling.

Front profile @ 10,400 km

In the following photo, the roughened part of the tyre is the outer soft compound and the wear bar indicator is about 0.5mm below the tyre surface.  The tread block with the sharp entry just to the right of the indicator is lifting slightly due to tearing.  This is occurring round the full circumference of the tyre but is so minor that it doesn't affect the handling.

Front tyre wear at the junction between the softer edge compound and harder centre

The rear tyre shown below has retained an excellent profile throughout the 10,000km+ life. If more time had been spent on straighter roads, the expectation would presumably be for a less-rounded profile.

Excellent profile at 10,400 km

In the photo below, a small amount of raised "feathering" can be seen in the soft compound at the rear of the large rain groove.  It doesn't affect the handling at all and has only become noticeable in the last 1000-2000km.  The most likely cause is less than optimal rebound damping as the OEM White Power shock on the KTM doesn't have the adjustability features of a high end one such as Ohlins, Penske, Nitron etc.  Nonetheless, the bike handles superbly and as the feathering is minor, no action is required at present.  For normal road riding, front tyre pressure is around 34 psi and the rear is 37-38 psi.

A small degree of feathering on the rear of the large rain groove

In summary, the Michelin Road 5 delivers everything required for the type of riding I currently do and the next set will be a straight replacement.  There are relatively few poor tyres on the market unless we buy some virtually unknown dodgy brand in pursuit of false economy.  I'd go further and say that most of us (and most certainly me) will run out of talent long before shortcomings in any of the major brands become apparent.  The real trick is to figure out what type (not brand) of tyre you need in the first place.  However, as I hope this blog post shows, there can be considerable differences in how long tyres of the same general type (e.g sport touring) lasts overall and how well they retain their profile.  I'm just glad that the Road 5 is a perfect fit for the KTM and the type of riding I do.

Oh and by the way, good suspension will really extend your tyre life.  I fitted a top of the line Penske on my Blackbird plus upgraded fork internals.  Gained nearly 2000 km from a set of tyres.

Monday, 26 July 2021

A breakthrough - at last!

In my April post HERE ,  I shared some thoughts about keeping mentally and physically active as we age.  My particular priority was in having sufficient back-up interests as my motorcycling decreases.  I'll be retiring from my official role as an Institute of Advanced Motorists Examiner at the end of the year and it will only be social riding with IAM after that.  A few months ago, Jennie suggested that we think about getting a classic car to have some fun outings together.  She complains that I see far more interesting parts of the country when I'm out on the bike than when we're doing routine journeys in our everyday vehicles.  Fair point and with the extra time becoming available and the prospect of limited international travel for quite a while, it sounded like an excellent suggestion.  

I quietly started looking at "classic" vehicles that might interest both of us and not break the bank, not require mega-hours of restoration or be a nightmare to keep running.  As with the bikes I've owned, emotional appeal was incredibly important.  Regular readers will remember my almost impulsive purchase of a Suzuki GSX-S 1000.  Outstanding performance and totally fit for purpose but it had no emotional appeal. Contrast that with my current KTM Duke 790 which makes me laugh every time I throw a leg over it.

Initially, there was a massive amount of reading to be done, not wanting to be sucked in by a car's looks, only to find that keeping certain models on the road is a nightmare in terms of reliability, rusting or a host of other things.  At least with not using salt on the roads in NZ, corrosion from that source wasn't going to be an issue.

Bloody hell!  Who would have thought it would be so hard to spend money?  I showed Jennie the Reliant Scimitar GTE.  She thought that it was as ugly as sin which was really disappointing as I've always loved it.  Well, that went well as an opening gambit, didn't it?

Scimitar GTE - ain't going to happen! (file photo)

Perusing other classic vehicles for sale in NZ, I came across an early restored Mini Cooper in British Racing Green with a white roof.  We owned a Mini back in the 70's and did my own maintenance (including a complete chassis swap) so I thought this might appeal but the paint job was dismissed as boring, sigh....    She loved this one though:

1990's Mini Cooper (Trademe)

My turn to not be thrilled.  Red cars don't do much for me unless it's a Ferrari but the real killer was a Union Jack sprayed in metallic paint on the roof.  Very professionally done I'll admit but having the prospect of mates and strangers alike making Austin Powers jokes at my expense was not something I looked forward to so that was a non-starter too on my part.  

We also had several other non-starters for various reasons, including GT 40 and Cobra replicas.  The final one, which also disappointed me most was a completely restored NZ-made Lotus 7 clone.  Here it is:

Dixon Saracen - drool, dribble..... (Trademe)

In this instance, Jennie loved it too and with what I took to be a wistful smile, added that in her teens, her first "proper" boyfriend had a genuine Lotus 7.  I was careful not to ask for further details but thought that we were onto a winner, whatever nostalgia the car conjured up.  That is, until she had second thoughts about now being in her 70's and her potential inability to enter and exit it with a semblance of dignity whilst onlookers were present.  After the crushing disappointment and a droopy bottom lip on my part for a day or two, I conceded that she had a valid point.  I probably wouldn't be immune from that either.  Bugger.....

It was beginning to look like the quest for a classic car which we both liked was doomed and then karma stepped in.  We recently completed some theory training for new IAM Observers (mentors) and followed it up with their first practical assessment.  It was a fantastic day out, starting in dry, overcast conditions and ending with heavy rain and slippery roads.  A great challenge which everyone got through very well indeed.

Getting ready for the training ride - Rob, Bruce and Trevor

Some more bikes and Scott

A mid-point debrief with Tony and Andy - rain setting in

Scott, Bruce and Rob starting their mid-point debrief in the rain

Now it so happened that two of the Trainee Observers were serving police officers and one of them had been allocated to me for the day.  Over lunch, we were chatting socially and Trevor happened to mention that he owned several bikes and classic cars.  One of his cars was an MGB and he suggested that this might be a consideration.  My close friend Rick in the UK had also recently mentioned an MGB so when I got home, the For Sale pages of various NZ websites were perused.  First up was a beautiful MGB RV8 roadster, an exceedingly rare beast with a 3.9 litre Rover V8 powerplant.  Sadly, a phone call revealed that it had been sold - more disappointment and more scanning - this was getting rather dispiriting.  Ditto with other adverts where reading between the lines implied, "Expensive bit of crap - needs massive amounts of cash and time".  A few days later, another internet scan revealed an MGB GT for sale and what's more, it was only an hours' drive away!  Jennie also liked the idea of an MGB GT - yayyy!

A call was made and yes indeed, it had only just been advertised and would we like to have a look at it that afternoon?  A quick trip down the coast and to say that we were impressed would be a gross understatement.  The long-term owner had put his soul into the restoration a few years back, never takes it out in the rain and it was close to flawless.  The engine bay was so clean that you could have conducted major surgery in it!  It was imported from the UK in the 1980's and subsequently underwent a full restoration with a bit of modernisation such as electronic ignition and Spax adjustable rear shocks. Expensive durable K2 twin pack paint as well, matched to the original factory Blaze Orange colour - as good as it gets!

The engine bay - clean, or what???

The rest of the car was similarly immaculate and the time spent restoring and maintaining it must have been a genuine labour of love.  Brian, the vendor, is older than me and was looking to downsize his property and belongings but it must be painful to let such a beautiful car go, even if it does only get used on infrequent occasions.

1972 MGB GT 

Rostyle wheels - a "must-have" in the 70's

Clean, original interior, stainless kick plates

Jennie would have preferred another colour option than Blaze Orange. She calls it Karitane Yellow (a Kiwi euphemism for baby poo)  but that wasn't going to stand in the way of our ownership.  I love it as it's so 70's and you certainly wouldn't lose it in a busy car park!  To cut a slightly longer story short, the deal was done on a handshake and we will shortly take posession of a beautiful classic car.

In an interesting coincidence, our 49th wedding anniversary is this week and the MG was made 49 years ago in 1972.  In another weird coincidence, Jennie and I take part in a fortnightly "pub quiz", teamed up with our neighbours.  They couldn't make it the evening after we sealed the deal on the car so we teamed up with another couple who have a holiday home near us.  Turns out that the husband is the Treasurer of the MG Owner's club in NZ - that's karma for you!

Going back to the original intent of having another fall-back interest when I finally stop motorcycling, plus adding to the things that Jennie and I can do together right now; it looks like we might have nailed it.  Owning a classic car does require a certain level of commitment which should keep me busy although I hope that most of the time is spent driving it, not working on it!  However, all sorts of incidentals which go with classic British car ownership are now starting to crop up.  Imperial spanners and sockets for starters as most of mine are metric.  The Garage Elves seem to have spirited away my decades-old timing gun and I gave the axle stands away decades ago  Then there's lubricants suitable for older vehicles, yada, yada, yada ....  Hopefully, exciting times and adventures ahead!

To finish on a lighter note,  I’ve owned a pair of Gerbing electrically heated gloves for 4 or 5 years now and they’re far superior to heated grips for winter riding. Unfortunately, some forgetfulness on my part saw me subsequently buying another pair from Revzilla whilst trying to fly under my Chief Financial Officer’s radar.

I’d applied some leather conditioner to them and as it was a cold, miserable day, I put them in a slightly warmed (but turned off) oven to assist with the absorption.  I then wandered off to do other stuff and they were rediscovered by Jennie well after she’d switched on the oven to prepare dinner.  I thought that her comments directed at me were remarkably restrained given the amount of smoke that emanated from the oven.  A novel twist to the term "heated gloves".  The pork cutlets still tasted ok though……

Charred Gloves, anyone?


Thursday, 13 May 2021

A trip down Memory Lane

We left the UK for a life in New Zealand in 1975.  Leaving one's family and cherished friends wasn't something to be undertaken lightly, especially in those days which were well before emails, Skype, Zoom etc.  Nonetheless we managed to stay in touch and the occasional trip back to the UK also kept friendships alive.  Having said that, I guess that true friendships withstand the test of time irrespective of how often we see each other.  How often do we remark that it's like we've never been apart when we meet or speak to close friends we haven't seen for a long time?

One such close friend is UK-based Rick.  We grew up through our teen years together from a shared love of flying model aircraft.  Here's a photo of Rick and I with our free flight gliders in the 1960's.  By all means have a laugh at my woolly hat!

Yours truly and Rick, circa 1966

From our mid-teens, we also shared a love of motorcycles, avidly reading about them before actually getting our first bikes.  In Rick's case, it was a 200cc Triumph Tiger Cub and in mine, a 50cc Suzuki. We read the monthly Mototorcycle Mechanics magazine and others from cover to cover.  For topping the national exams at my school in English and Physics, my chosen book prize was "The Rolls Royce of Motorcycles"; about the Brough Superior.  At the same age as me, Rick still rides a Honda Fireblade and owns a number of classic vehicles so we've both maintained the passion about things automotive for at least 57 years.

We stay in regular touch and recent correspondence contains some lively reminiscences about our youth and whether time has corrupted some of our memories.  Then this week, a package arrived from Rick containing a copy of Motorcycle Mechanics from May 1964!  What a thrill it was to receive it because if there was a seminal moment in our youth, it was reading this particular issue way back in time. From memory, this issue was only a handful of months before getting our first motorcycles and reading about the superbike of that era, the mighty Triumph Bonneville; really got our hormones sloshing about.  Here's the cover.....

Motorcycle Mechanics magazine, May 1964

There's a lot of detailed reading to be done over the coming weeks but as well as awakening old memories, it's interesting to compare all sorts of things between then and now. Flitting through the pages, most of the magazine staff wore a collar and tie - how terribly formal!  In articles on how to maintain a bike, there was an obligatory white coat in most instances!  The other noticeable thing was a relative lack of objective data in many road tests.  Note the 120mph claim on the cover for the Bonneville for example.  Yet we swallowed it, hook, line and sinker!  Even so, the wide range of articles covering maintenance, road tests, equipment reviews etc provided a great introduction to what was to become a lifetime passion and route to personal freedom.

An initial perusal of the magazine has brought forth a few delights to share.  The first was a reader's letter on a hints and tips page. From C Yeo of Warmley:

"To seal inner tubes against slow punctures, first remove the valve and pump in about 2 tablespoons of milk, then spin the wheel and pump up.  I have found this a most effective cure".

Hmmm..... if it were today, Mr Yeo may find himself in trouble with the world's more litigous countries. Personally, I think that his hint is a subtle way of removing certain gullible riders from the gene pool.  Practical Darwinism at work.

The early 60's was a time when motorcyclists were transitioning from the traditional "pudding basin" helmets to a loose copy of those worn by jet fighter pilots.  Interestingly, there was a British Standard for testing, even in those days.  It consisted of a 10lb (4.5kg) block being dropped onto a helmet from 8ft (2.4 m).  There was an penetration test using a steel spike too.  No assessment of frontal and side impacts as full-face helmets were a fair way off.  Prices varied enormously at the time.  A basic Slazenger helmet was a little over 2 pounds and a top of the line Everoak Racemaster jet helmet was a shade under 5 pounds.

Oh dear.....

Motorcycle clothing was ridiculously cheap by today's standards but as with all items, it probably isn't a country mile away from today's prices when taken as a percentage of nett income.  The accompanying photo is for the Belstaff Trialmaster suit.  I had one of these suits.  It was devoid of armour but having hit the deck on the odd occasion whilst wearing it, its toughness and abrasion resistance was pretty good.  The advert says "treated for rot, fungus and water" which was no exaggeration of its performance and longevity.  The waxed cotton construction was hard wearing over a good number of years and because of the wax coating, a secondary layer consisting of road grime and squashed insects built up over the official one.  This might have been unsanitary but resistance to chemical, biological and nuclear weaponry could probably have been added to the list of its capabilities.

I don't recall seeing any motorcylists wearing waxed cotton jackets in recent times but in the UK at least, Belstaff seems to have found a fashion niche among "gentlemen farmers" and folk who attend TV-worthy cross-country horse events.  Green gumboots also appear to be the footwear of choice, probably even in high temperatures with not a drop of rain on the horizon.  But I digress....

A couple of adverts for accessories also caught my eye.  Whilst the early Japanese motorcycles generally came with "all the fruit", British bikes didn't generally have indicators and 6 volt electrical systems posed problems too, not the least being unable to see where you were going in the dark.  However, it was possible to buy aftermarket indicators for the princely sum of 5 pounds 7 shillings and sixpence.  With unreliable Lucas "Prince of Darkness" electrics, this may have been a bridge too far for the limited electrical output.  However, Lucas did offer a 12 volt conversion for some British models for between 7 and 15 pounds.  Perhaps they'd belatedly seen the writing on the wall with their Japanese competitors who had been initially dismissed as not being a threat.

Moving on to the price of bikes themselves, the 650cc Triumph Bonneville was priced at 320 pounds.  Arguably, the pinnacle of modern bike development at that time. 

The 250cc Ariel Arrow Super Sport cost 196 pounds.  With a pressed steel monocoque frame, it's a pity that they weren't developed further.  A friend had one and the handling was impressive.

The surprisingly competent Ariel Arrow

The mid-size 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 was 286 pounds.  I owned an earlier version and apart from irritating minor oil leaks and 6 volt electrics, they were really reliable.  The important feature of most bikes of that era was that they were easily maintained by the average owner with only a small number of special tools required for when more extensive work was required.

Power in hand.... tongue in cheek more likely!

Japanese bikes were just starting to make serious inroads into the market and 250's such as the Honda CB72 Super Dream and the Yamaha YDS2 were more than a match for most British 500's.  With the Yamaha priced at 257 pounds, it was cheaper than the 500 Triumph above with far more features.

Yamaha YDS2 with flashing indicators as standard!

The Japanese made tuning kits for their bikes freely available at modest cost even by the standards of the day. The following photo for a 250 Honda shows a high performance camshaft, head gasket and valves for a total of 5 pounds. Amazing!

Extra performance at a modest price


The magazine covers not only motorcycles but 3-wheelers too.  In post-war UK and many other countries too, family finances didn't always stretch to owning cars.  Three-wheelers could be driven on a motorcycle licence and were comparatively common on the roads in the 50's and 60's.  Unfortunately, most of them were fitted with underpowered small capacity motorcycle engines and were normally found holding up a long line of traffic on the open road or having expired en route to somewhere.  Some of the tales involving 3-wheelers deserve an article in their own right!

Prices weren't hugely more than for a bike like the Bonneville and offered extra carrying capacity and protection, even if performance was appalling.  The Fiat 500 undoubtedly offered the best value for money although it required a car licence.  I guess  that these types of vehicle provided the divergence opportunity for those who rode motorcycles for fun and those who needed them primarily for transport at a modest price.

It's a real thrill to have received the magazine from Rick and I'm looking forward to a thorough in-depth read over the coming week or two.  It represents the start of my motorcycling passion and has unlocked a lot of memories at the same time.