Wheel alignment

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 Intstitute 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 1995 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.





Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Doing a bit more future-proofing

It was 10 years ago to the month when I joined the Institute of Advanced Motorists as a means of upskilling and prolonging my riding career in a safe and fulfilling manner.  The blog has documented the road to being coached in Police Roadcraft, passing the IAM Advanced Test, then further training and tests to become an Observer (mentor) and an Examiner 4 years ago.  All that was due to well-known US motorcycle safety author David Hough emailing me in 2010 having seen an article I wrote and pricking my conscience.  Certainly a fantastic outcome and I've tried to pay it forward as thanks to all those people who put their time into making me a better rider.  A real win-win if ever there was one.  Made some wonderful lifelong friends too.  One of them and fellow IAM member, Tony, turned 57 a week ago and we celebrated his birthday with a 200 km brisk scamper round a biker nirvana on our doorstep; the northern Coromandel Loop.  Being a Monday with all the visitors having gone home, we virtually had the road to ourselves in warm, sunny conditions.  Absolute heaven!

Tony on his Yamaha MT10 SP and yours truly at Whitianga harbour

However, I'm 74 later this year and still love riding.  Whilst there are no concrete plans to stop, I'm becoming more comfortable with the idea of not riding as I've had such a great length of time on 2 wheels.  I'll be retiring as an active IAM member at year end, but will still ride socially, at least for a while. Whenever the time comes to stop doing something that has consumed a large part of our lives, I reckon it's really important to have a fall-back interest to keep us mentally and physically active. I have a reasonable range of other interests.  None of them would replace motorcycling on their own but the mix would probably be an acceptable substitute.  Annual international travel was also regular until early 2020  (Wuhan in July 2019!) but that's come to a grinding stop.

Competitive sailing was once a big thing in my life but that requires a high degree of physical fitness.  Not interested in just cruising. We have a runabout for sea fishing as it's something which Jennie and I can do together.  Unfortunately, it hasn't been in the water since last November due to weather, tides, other commitments and so on.  Note to ourselves - just make time and stop procrastinating!

Jennie and grandkids with the Stabicraft 1410 So-fish-ticated
 
Four-wheeled vehicles have always occupied a distant second place to bikes when it comes to fun but I've had the odd thought about a Lotus 7 replica as a motorcycle replacement.  However, whilst it's a nice thought, it probably wouldn't get used a whole lot and could be a pain to get in and out of  as we age more.  Probably not going to happen.  We have a 2005 RAV4 which we use for launching the boat and general towing duties or travelling on dirt roads around the peninsula.  It's bullet proof, owes us nothing and should serve its purpose for a few more years yet, albeit something that's not exciting, merely utilitarian.  Jennie has a 5 year old Honda Jazz RS which has only covered 30,000 km and is perfect for longer hauls in comfort, not to mention surprisingly good performance and handling.  Little point in replacing that either.

Pocket rocket - the Jazz RS

Real first world problem isn't it, so hardly a big deal in the scheme of things but nonetheless, having another fall-back interest is still an important issue to keep mind and body functional.  I can actually see an e-bike in my future. There are lots of hills in our vicinity and an e-bike would overcome the shortcomings of my 30 year old mountain bike and ageing body.  Also, Jennie has hinted at something that we could enjoy together and isn't so weather dependent (or on age, come to that!).  Our near-neighbours of a similar vintage have a 1950's MG TF classic car which they head off in regularly for an adventure somewhere.  The hint was that we might look at buying a classic car of some sort.  

Since that throwaway comment, I've quietly looked at what's available in NZ and have found very little with that emotional appeal which has been an important factor in buying my bikes.  Well, to qualify that statement; nothing much below where we would need to spend quite a bit of money to buy cars such as a good 60's Mustang or a more modern Cobra replica.  Not a show-stopper but probably unlikely in terms of guilt through spending part of the kid's inheritance!  However, there is one British car from the 60's that I've always liked which isn't ridiculously expensive and wouldn't mean massive amounts of time spent keeping it on the road.  

Followers of the UK TV comedies Mr Bean or Only Fools and Horses will remember the ghastly 3-wheel Reliant Robin vehicles which featured prominently in those programmes.  Mention the name Reliant and that's what will always spring to mind for most people.  However, they uncharacteristically produced a vehicle with exceptional performance for the time.  That car is the Reliant Scimitar GTE (or even the coupe version).  This is it.....


The Reliant Scimitar GTE (file photos)

1967 Scimitar Coupe (file photo)

With a fibreglass body and a number of UK Ford engine options including a 3 litre V6, it should be relatively reliable and easy to maintain.  The looks appeal to me but that's getting well ahead of things.  I now need to think a bit more seriously about whether a classic car is going to be of sufficient attraction to help keep mind and body active in the coming years.

I hope that this post hasn't been too boring.  The main purpose has been to articulate the thought processes of  "a person of a certain age" to stay mentally and physically stimulated in the future by having fall-back interests to replace the main passion of riding motorcycles for approaching 60 years.  Something that most of us will need to consider at some stage in life, even if motorcycling hasn't been the main passion.


Monday, 12 April 2021

The Occidental Tourist

Excuse the title which is a play on the award-winning book and subsequent movie "The Accidental Tourist".  The new title is perfect for my geographic origins and the fact that we've spent the last few days taking a break (a break from what, I hear you ask!) and  doing tourist stuff with friends from Wellington that we catch up with annually.  This year, it was in the Rotorua area.  We used to live not far from there many moons ago and had visited the various geothermal hotspots many times.  However, there were lots of fun things to do besides that, so no motorcycling adventures this time around and showcasing a bit of NZ instead.  Here are one or two of the multiple things we got up to.  Not a very PC thing to say, but nice to go sightseeing without being over-run by seething crowds!

Mamaku Railcruising
The rail line was closed to commercial traffic in 2001 and 10 years later, some entrepreneurs opened a 10 km stretch through native bush for a 90 minute return journey as a tourist enterprise.  Continuous improvement currently sees computer-controlled electric vehicles which trundle along at about 20 km/hr which is great for photo ops. It's not an all-action activity but allows people access to parts of the countryside which are not all that easy to reach.
Loading up

Ready for the off
 

Native forest - young Lancewood trees in the foreground

Lake Rotorua caldera - still geologically active

Not exactly a high speed thrill but great to see parts of the country that you wouldn't normally see.  The owners have plans to extend the line but I guess that will be down to the level of tourists over the next few years.

Redwoods eco tree walk
Part of the Whakarewarewa Forest includes a stand of Californian Redwoods covering some 6 Ha.  They're around 118 years old and up to 75 metres in height. Walkways are slung between the trees and can be traversed in both daylight and at night.  We did the night walk first and it really is a world class spectacle with all the superb lighting.  The photos really don't do it justice.

Access spiral

Suspended Walkway

Walkway at night

Another fantastic feature was clusters of suspended lights up to 2 metres tall, made by artist David Trubridge.  They looked sensational at night.

Light clusters at night

More light clusters

During daylight

More suspended walkway

It was great doing the tree walk in daylight but the night walk was truly breathtaking with ever-changing lights illuminating the trees and tree ferns below the canopy.  The best was saved for last with perhaps a couple of acres lit up by continuously moving points of light in green and red which smothered the ground, tree trunks and foliage.  It looked like luminous insects (or fairies if you prefer!) and we could have watched it for hours.  Nothing can replicate the real thing but at 7 mins 38 seconds on the following video, you can get a sense of it: 


Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre
Established at Rotorua in 2002, Wingspan is heavily involved in the conservation and research involving birds of prey; rehabilitating, breeding and returning them to the wild.  The principal activity is centred around the NZ forest falcon, or Karearea in Maori. The Australasian Harrier Hawk and the small native Ruru owl are also cared for, as is the Australian Barn Owl which has also become established in small pockets in NZ.

Jennie with a native forest falcon

Who are you looking at, human?

A tasty bit of fresh chicken

In addition to more traditional methods of training the birds to hunt, Wingspan also uses a bird-shaped drone for them to attack. Seeing a falcon smack into the drone at speed was an incredible sight.

Wingspan member Heidi launching the drone

Falcon closing in on the drone

Contact!

Heidi with an Australian Barn Owl
Landing craft lake tour
There are multiple lakes in the Rotorua area, mostly filling old volcanic vents - more dormant than extinct!  We thought it would be nice to enjoy them in a genuine WW2 landing craft which has been modified for tourism.

Ex-WW2 landing craft built in 1944

   
View of the controls

The first lake visited was Okareka, which has houses scattered round the foreshore.  Good trout fishing and the photo below is of a house with a private beach and various toys - nice!  We were told that the Thai royal family also has a lodge on the lake which I guess could also be a bolt hole with all the recent unrest.  However, paying guests are apparently charged NZ$6000 per night for the privilege of staying there.  I hope that includes meals and use of the exotic water-borne toys they allegedly have there!

Private house at Lake Okareka

We were also amazed to see an air boat being retrieved from the lake.  Didn't know that there were any in NZ!  It's used by a contractor to spray Diquat, an aquatic herbicide used to kill hornwort, a non-native invasive weed species.

Airboat driving onto the trailer

Being inspected for weed

Landing craft on Lake Tarawera (file photo courtesy of Duck Tours)

With no overseas tourists, it's nice to indulge in a bit of tourism in our own country and support local tourist operators.  Also great to catch up with our Wellington-based friends whom we first met some years ago on a holiday in Rarotonga.  Great weather throughout although the 200+ km drive home was in torrential rain and gale force winds.  Dinner that evening was a makeshift affair as a tree had fallen on power lines not far from where we live so the BBQ on our deck was pressed into service.  The storm was abating but it was still as windy as heck and right on sunset, everything was bathed in an eerie light.  Made for a good photo though whilst I was cooking!

Aftermath of the storm from our front deck