Wheel alignment

Wednesday 23 February 2022

A new chapter beckons

It's been as near as dammit to 58 years since I got my first motorcycle.  I clearly remember cycling as a UK schoolboy to the nearby coffee bar to watch riders on their British twins sticking a record on the jukebox and trying to complete a lap of the town centre before the record finished!  The freedom to do exciting stuff and explore new horizons had a massive impact on a hormonal teen.  It wasn't just me who was smitten long term with bikes.  My close friend Rick whom I grew up with is still riding at the same age (74) and was also a classic car owner long before me.

Regular readers of the blog will know that back in 2011 aged 63, I joined IAM RoadSmart NZ to learn Police Roadcraft advanced riding techniques.  This was principally to safely extend my riding as I aged, following some lively correspondence with US motorcycle safety guru David Hough.  In simple terms, he challenged me to actually do something formal to lift my game rather than just talk about it.  The 11 years that followed were the most rewarding of my riding career.  For the first time, I had tools to measure my own skills (or lack of) and once formal qualifications had been acquired, was able to pay it forward by helping other riders to upskill.  I've made some wonderful friends as a result and so many people to thank for helping me along the way that it's not possible to name everyone.  However, one person who I can never thank enough is Philip McDaid.  At that time, Philip was IAM Chief Motorcycle Examiner and also my principal mentor.  It goes without saying that Philip's riding skills are sublime but his teaching ability and complete lack of ego makes him very special indeed.  That humility and a passion for excellence is something which every IAM mentor in our region has personally adopted and built into the culture of the organisation.


Mentor, rider extraordinaire and friend, Philip McDaid

The on-going correspondence with David Hough before joining IAM morphed into discussions about "the ageing motorcyclist" and when it's time to stop riding.  Those discussions are HERE and HERE .  We also strongly agreed that when someone has had a lifelong passion which is coming to a close, motorcycling or otherwise; a fallback interest is necessary to stay mentally and physically healthy.  So to cut to the chase, that time has now arrived.

It would be very easy and enjoyable to continue to ride and the decision to stop is always going to be a personal one in terms of reasons.  I think that it would be good for me to document those reasons and perhaps it might trigger some thinking among "other riders of a certain age".

My riding career has been lengthy, varied and massively enjoyable.  To be forced to give it up at some indeterminate time because of future health issues or a decline in the standards which I set for myself would seem to be a completely inappropriate and sad way of ending a lifelong passion.  Surely it would be better to celebrate on my own terms with no regrets whilst still somewhere near the top of my game?  Having fallback interests to keep mentally and physically exercised was also a big contributor in the decision-making, otherwise it would have been far more difficult.  Come to think of it, I pretty much used the same approach when stopping competitive sailing in the 80's!

Interestingly, I hadn't been out on the KTM since mid-December due to competing priorities but had an early morning ride the other day in perfect conditions.  It took a few km to dial in but the grin factor was still there throughout the ride. However, despite the huge enjoyment; there was no second-guessing as to whether the decision to stop riding was the correct one.  That sort of sealed it.

Early morning ride on the Coromandel Peninsula

So what now?  Well, the bike is shortly coming up for its first fitness warrant after 3 years from new.  We'll get that out of the way and then put it up for sale.  Whether it sells quickly or takes a while doesn't really matter as there is no immediate urgency.  Those discussions with David Hough back in 2011 have enabled a pretty seamless transition away from motorcycling with no regrets and a lot of fond memories.  Here's to you David and enjoy your retirement from motorcycling too!

It's probably a sensible time to stop the blog too with classic cars, sea fishing and hopefully travel appearing on the horizon again but you never know. A decent e-bike is also on the shortlist as there's very little flat land where we live! The one thing I'll cherish is the interaction with other bloggers and people who left comments and actually meeting several of them in person.  It's been a wonderful window into other's lives from around the world.

Just to finish off,  I've had a sort through all my motorcycling photos and have selected a few of them to represent some of the milestones in a long motorcycling career.

This photo is me on the right aged 5 or 6, wearing Dad's helmet and goggles.  Clearly influenced at an early age.

Motorcyclist in training, circa 1952/53

Taken at the Isle of Man TT in 1969.  Just dressed in my "civvies" for cruising about in the town of Douglas on a non-race day.  I was riding my Tiger 100 and the Trophy belongs to my great mate Rick.  The young lady was on holiday from Scotland!

Quarter Bridge, Isle of Man TT 1969

Drag racing my supercharged short stroke Triumph at Santa Pod Raceway, UK. Details are in an early blog post.  It was in the top 3 of its class nationally for the quarter mile and world standard over the only standing start mile that I took part in.

Icarus at Santa Pod Raceway, 1969 (courtesy: Pete Miller)

Getting married then moving to New Zealand in 1975, starting a family and taking up competitive sailing put a stop to riding for a while but I started again in 1987.  I was in Auckland to buy a new sail but also ended up putting a deposit on a new bike from the motorcycle shop next door to the sailmaker.  Jennie wasn't best pleased and bought a piano at twice the price of the bike!

The Honda GB 400TT

Although I'd already bought the GB400, I found that my UK bike licence had expired and had to sit the NZ test.  The only small capacity bike I could borrow was a step-through Yamaha 50 belonging to a mate's wife.  I'm sure that the tester smelt a rat with me turning up in full riding gear and a full face helmet but he didn't say anything!

Heading off for my test - oh the shame!!

In the 90's, our eldest son was keen to ride a bike, much to his mother's disapproval so we bought an old Yamaha TS100 trail bike to ride on the local forest roads and fire breaks.  Naturally, I had to get one too, a second hand Yamaha IT 175 Enduro.  It had an exceedingly narrow power band and used to regularly spit me off on slow, tricky stuff in the forest. I was regularly covered in bruises but it was good fun for a few years until our son went to university.

Off-roading fun in the 90's

1996 saw the start of taking part in the Grand Challenge 1000 miles (1600 km) in under 24 hours organised endurance rides by the Rusty Nuts motorcycle club.  The first of 5 was with a bunch of workmates in what turned out to be appalling weather.  We made it with nearly an hour to spare but were physically wrecked at the end of it!  The bikes I did the events on were a BMW K100RS, a Honda Blackbird and a Triumph Street Triple.  The Triple was the most comfortable of the lot when doing my last 1000 miler in 2010!

1996 - middle of the night and about 500 miles to the finish!

I owned the Blackbird for about 8 years.  Unbelievably fast and in 2005, I completed the Southern Cross round NZ endurance challenge on it, covering around 4000 km in 5 days.  In 2007, 4 of us on Blackbirds toured the south island and had a ball over all the mountain passes.  Jennie was also a regular pillion on the 'bird and we had some real fun trips on it.  However, I do remember a rather public dressing-down when out for a ride with some friends and their wives with respect to us going a little quicker than the pillions were happy with.  That invoked applause and cheers from the onlookers where we stopped for a drink.  It would have been fatal to smile so we just looked at our feet and shuffled about a bit. 

Blackbirds galore

Retirement aged 60 in 2008 and a move to the twisty roads of Coromandel saw a lighter bike purchased in 2009 - a 675 Triumph Street Triple.  It was huge fun and proof that you didn't need a large capacity bike to make good progress.   The Triple saw me through all my IAM training and the photo below represents one of my proudest motorcycling moments - passing my Observer (mentor) Test.  This was something that I thought was completely out of my reach when first joining IAM but 3 years later, I was appointed as an Examiner.  Shows what's possible with a bit of determination and a fantastic mentor.  I might add that the 2 1/2 hour each way trips to Auckland, plus the training itself was "character forming", especially in the winter!

Philip McDaid and yours truly at the conclusion of the Observer Test

After having owned the Street Triple for a few years,  I made an uncharacteristic impulse purchase of a Suzuki GSX-S 1000 in 2015.  Amazing performance but I never connected with it.  It just goes to show how important an emotional connection is when buying a bike, not just the specifications or looks.  Having said that, I really enjoyed trackdays on the Suzuki where it was in its element.

Hampton Downs international race track, 2016 (courtesy: Barry Holland)

2019 saw me looking for a replacement bike.  I thought that it would be the 765 Street Triple but a test ride on a demo KTM 790 saw me laughing out loud inside the helmet.  Emotional connection well and truly established!  Three years later and I still laugh every time I ride it,  It can be ridden sensibly but it's one of those bikes that wants to misbehave.  Barring the Suzuki which didn't do much for me (how do you call a bike like that bland?), all the bikes I've owned have been enjoyable but the KTM has been so much fun.  An excellent way to end up.

Bad girl Lola - the KTM 790

So there we are, decision made, 5+ decades of fun and a lot to be thankful for.  A new chapter opens with more sea fishing, a classic car, an e-bike before too long and hopefully a bit of travel thrown in too!

Ready for another fishing expedition

With the 1972 MGB GT out in banjo country