Sunday, 5 May 2013

Motorcycle Adventure Media - Part 1 - Dirt Track Productions

My two weeks are nearly up. That’s to say, a while ago I made a personal commitment to post at least every two weeks. Two weeks have now passed without a post. I’m not going to claim a lack of time. It was inspiration that was lacking. All I’ve been up to is riding to and from work, sometimes on the Wee, sometimes on the YBR125. Once I got to work to early so I wandered up to the Cow and Calf Rocks and took a picture or two. That’s it though. My life has been more about skipping festivals and choir competitions that bike based adventure so I’ve gone elsewhere as usual. That’s today’s inspiration. I’m going to write briefly (in three or four parts) about where I get my fix.

First up are two films by the one man film unit, Gaurav Jani of Dirt Track Productions. If first discovered Riding Solo to the Top Of The World when browsing the Rufforth Autojumble. I must have been feeling rich because I paid £20 for a DVD, not something I do often. I’m glad I did. It’s fantastic. His trip to to one of the remotest places in the world, the Changthang Plateau in Ladakh, aboard an Enfield Bullet is so atmospheric that I find myself watching it over and over again, dipping in and out as I get on with work. Sometimes I wonder if I should separate the sound track with the steady thudding of the archaic bikes engine so I can listen to it when I’m struggling for sleep as it seems to chill me right out.

His films aren’t just about riding. They are also about the people and communities he encounters. Riding Solo is so good, I actually use it in geography lessons when we study contrasting localities. The children are always fascinated until they are shown how the Chang pas make their butter. At that point they are suitably ‘grossed out’. You’ll have to watch it to find out why. However, when offered the chance to watch the rest during wet play times, they usually sit quietly mesmerized. Here's the trailer.
In his second film, One Crazy Ride, Gaurav Jani travels with friends from his club searching for a route they are told no longer exists, still riding Enfield bullets. It’s very different because it’s about a group of people all of whom are riding bikes though challenging and beautiful landscapes on frankly unsuitable bikes. The Bullets are forever breaking down, seemingly more due to their archaic design than the awful or non existent roads. Though there is a bit about the communities they travel through, it’s much more about the ride.Here's the trailer.

If I absolutely had to choose which one to take with me to a desert island, it would be tough. I think I’d end up going for Riding Solo. In truth though, I’m ready for more, so ready I even paid another twenty quid towards the making of the next film, described as a sort of Part 2 to Riding Solo. Motorcycle Chang pa is in post production now but the forecast release date seems to keep slipping back. Hopefully it will be ready in 2013 some time. I can’t wait for the next one which says all that really needs to be said about the films of Gaurave Jani and Dirt Track Productions. I'd recommend these to anyone, motorcyclist or not, just as long as they are remotely interested in travel or the rest of the world. Here's the teaser for the much anticipated Motorcycle Chang pa.

And with that I’ve written enough. In part 2 I get my fix from another Blog. Maybe a couple of blogs.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Joys Of Spring

Doubtless if there is a definitive set of rules setting out what should and should not be blogged about,‭ ‬moaning about weather would be there under the heading,‭ '‬Not unless you want to bore your readers to death.‭' ‬Well,‭ ‬I guess dear reader,‭ ‬it's time to get your affairs in order.‭ ‬Sorry.

My wife.
Most weather biker.
All weather knitter.
To be fair though,‭ ‬as motorcyclists (‬I'm making an assumption there but it's pretty well founded so forgive me if you aren't‭) ‬weather has more impact on us than it does on those prone to many other pursuits.‭ ‬I'm pretty sure high winds, snow, torrential rain and freezing fog have never prevented my wife sewing up a sock monkey (‬google it if you must‭) or knitting a scarf for one of our children’s many stuffed dogs‬.‭ ‬Saying that,‭ ‬she doesn't blog so I guess there's no issue there.

However,‭ ‬those of us in the upper bits of the northern hemisphere,‭ ‬particularly in the UK,‭ are a little less weather aware now because at long last, this is ‬Spring.‭ ‬Oh happy day(s‭)! ‬Motorcycles are coming out of hibernation,‭ ‬their riders a little rusty,‭ ‬their batteries a little dead.‭ ‬My mate is one of them.‭ ‬We rode together for the first time a few days back.‭ ‬It was an impromptu Friday afternoon ride,‭ ‬ organised (‬I use the term loosly‭) ‬at the last moment.‭ ‬We pretty much just went to Squires to play look at bikes and the people that ride them.‭ ‬We certainly didn't go for the tea which is believed to be the worst in this world and probably those we have yet to explore.‭

Not this ride out but one years ago when I still had my CG125.
Kev still has that CBR but more a few more scratches these days.
But here's the cool part.‭ ‬Here's the part where all that cold,‭ ‬unsettled winter riding comes good.‭ ‬Sure,‭ ‬I looked into my mirrors to see Kev wasn't keeping up in the twisty bits.‭ ‬I wasn't pushing myself or the bike,‭ ‬just riding to the available grip with consideration for the vanishing point,‭ ‬as you do.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬it wasn't like Kev to not stay with me where the road gets curvy.‭ ‬He's rusty.‭ ‬I get it.‭ ‬Soon he'll be back to scraping the pegs and howling off into the distance on his‭ ‬11‭ ‬year old CBR600F.‭ ‬Then,‭ ‬I looked down.‭

It turns out that a winter of searching for every last gram of grip leaves you more than ready for the day when the tarmac warms up and the rain that washed the gravel from the perfect line has nicely dried up.‭ ‬When that day comes,‭ ‬you look down and that tarmac is a whole lot closer than you've seen it for a while.‭ ‬Normally you only see it this close when you fall of in the snow.‭ ‬In that moment,‭ ‬all is well in your world.‭ ‬That long,‭ ‬long winter somehow pays off.‭ ‬All the washing,‭ ‬stripping,‭ ‬ greasing,‭ ‬paying,‭ ‬praying,‭ ‬twitching,‭ ‬freezing,‭ ‬doubting.‭ ‬All of it suddenly becomes worth it.‭

So what did I do when I got home?‭ ‬I put my mid winter gloves back in the draw of death for another two seasons.‭ ‬Threw in a couple of mid layers and dug out the Summer gloves while I was there.‭ ‬Then I lowered the screen on Wee Hamish and gave serious consideration to removing the PinLock insert from my visor.‭ ‬That's pretty much it,‭ ‬I was back at work the next day and the mornings aren't all that warm.‭

Of course being England,‭ ‬the forecast is for rain the next two day followed by the temperature dropping well into single digits.‭ ‬I'm guessing it'll just be me again for a few days then.‭ ‬Mustn't moan.‭

Monday, 15 April 2013

DIY Motorcycle Maintenance and Repairs

Our workshop in Bosnia.
I'm not the worlds worst amateur mechanic.‭ ‬Fact.‭ ‬You see,‭ ‬I have a certificate that says I am a qualified mechanic therefore technically I'm just a really terrible mechanic.‭ ‬I may be overstating the case but it's not by much.‭

Lifting a pack with a 434's crane. Got quite attached to that hulk.
It seems a long time ago now that I was an Army mechanic specialising in light armour.‭ ‬I've been up to my ears in oil and mud many times but I wouldn't claim to have been good at it.‭ ‬I was good at fault diagnosis but terrible at fixing things.‭ ‬Bolts would sheer off as soon as look at me while my tool box had an incredible ability to loose tools. Engineering hygine wasn’t my forte either.‭ ‬Fortunately,‭ ‬I got out of that line of work and into teaching which I'm better at though by how much is a matter for others to decide.‭

Now that I'm not employed as a VMii‭ (‬Vehicle Mechanic Class‭ ‬2‭) ‬I usually feel I should be doing more to keep up and refine the skills which I keep forgetting I never really had.‭ ‬Why‭? ‬The reasons are two fold really.

Firstly,‭ ‬pride.‭ ‬Put simply,‭ ‬when faced with a job that probably doesn't require specialised tools or an engineering degree,‭ ‬I can't help thinking I should be doing this for myself.‭ ‬Plenty of other people with no formal training seem able to look after their bike's every need.‭ ‬Should I not also be able to do so?‭ ‬It's a well known fact after all that people who don't change their own oil,‭ ‬overhaul their own suspension or fit new chains themselves aren't really real men.‭

At the dock yard on our way to Kosovo.
Secondly,‭ ‬as much as I love having a mechanic I know I can trust to look after my bike properly and not charge over the odds,‭ ‬fixing stuff yourself has its benefits.‭ ‬Firstly,‭ ‬you have more money left at the end of the day.‭ ‬Secondly,‭ ‬you don't have to drop it off or pick it up or wait for him to be available to work on it.‭ ‬Do your own brake job and you'll have those seals out,‭ ‬callipers nearly clean,‭ ‬resealed and refitted,‭ ‬breaks not quite bled properly and a few washers unexpectedly left over by four in the morning no problems.‭ ‬It's a no-brainer really.

At the end of the day,‭ ‬if you can do it and don't have money to burn,‭ ‬maintaining your own bike makes a lot of sense.‭

As I alluded to earlier though,‭ ‬I did a brake job on my bike.‭ ‬It badly needed doing because all three callipers were seized or seizing.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬the parts alone cost over‭ ‬£110.‭ ‬Despite having never had the pleasure of overhauling break callipers,‭ ‬I decided to go it alone.‭

What a mess.
Things went OK.‭ ‬It took probably ‬6‭ ‬hours of work to complete the overhaul (that doesn't include making brews, scratching heads, crawling all over looking for lost bits etc) and I learned a lot from doing it.‭ ‬I also made an unholy mess of my garage and got brake oil everywhere.‭ ‬The back brake was perfect when completed but the fronts wouldn't bleed.‭ ‬Following advice from a forum I eventually cable-tied the brake lever to the handlebars overnight holding the brakes on with what pressure there was.‭ ‬This as it turned out,‭ ‬ruins the brake lines.‭ ‬Even once Alan had bled them,‭ ‬they were still spongy.‭ ‬So a job almost well done,‭ ‬on an absolutely critical system.‭ ‬Ah heck,‭ ‬I wanted steel hoses anyway.‭ ‬The point is,‭ ten‬ hours of my life and it still had to go to Alan to finish the job.‭

In the past I've made a mess of all sorts of things,‭ ‬mainly because I didn't quite understand them.‭ ‬The YBR250‭ ‬killed its wheel bearings because I wasn't getting the chain adjustment quite right.‭ ‬I killed the chain on the GT250‭ ‬about the same way.‭ ‬How can a motorcyclist not be good at adjusting the chain‭? ‬Actually,‭ ‬looking at a lot of peoples bikes,‭ ‬they mostly just don't adjust or lube them.‭ ‬But for me,‭ ‬surely that's just unacceptable.‭
My bike getting the attention it deserves. Alan's.

There are other examples of my incompetence but I won't go into any more.‭ ‬The case for the prosecution is clearly made.‭ ‬I've been tried and found wanting.‭ ‬As I said in my last post,‭ ‬if I was rich,‭ ‬I would be paying Alan to come to ours weekly to maintain the fleet of motorbikes I would own.‭ ‬In order to satisfy my manly need to break things with tools,‭ ‬I would keep a simple old banger.‭
Unfortunately,‭ ‬this is not an option.‭ ‬Now I have a worrying situation with the Wee.‭ ‬It's Secondary Throttle Valve,‭ ‬or possibly the linkage,‭ ‬is seizing up.‭ ‬Alan got it going again with some duck oil last time he worked on it but they're sticking again now.‭ ‬Really,‭ ‬it needs removing,‭ ‬stripping and lubing properly.‭ ‬For Alan that would be a good two hours,‭ ‬maybe three.‭ ‬It needs a new air filter as well so while the box is out,‭ ‬it would be daft not to change that.‭ ‬The air filter I would do in a heartbeat.‭ ‬But me take my own throttle bodies off‭? ‬I think we both know that's not the best idea in the world.‭ ‬On the other hand,‭ ‬we've somehow ended up with two holidays to save for.‭ Oh, and the clutch is dragging a bit. ‬Now,‭ ‬where's the‭ ‬12mm spanner got to‭?

Monday, 8 April 2013

My Garage Wish List

The Kia Carens we are soon to live
without pictured behind the bike
we get to keep. 
Today we did something that seems pretty crazy. It would have seemed unthinkable not all that long ago. We signed an agreement to trade our Kia Carens 2.0CRDi for a slightly younger Fiat Panda 1.1 eco somthingorother. Why? Because when it comes down to it, I couldn’t care less about cars. Unlike riding, driving’s fine, but not a pleasure. Taking my children on holiday is a pleasure. Driving is just necessary and expensive. However, the Panda will be a grand a year less than the Carens yet will do 95% of the work just as well. I know my friends will laugh. They already have. But honestly, I just don’t care about cars.

The thing is, if tomorrow we won say £10 million, on the lottery, there would be a considerable time before I went car shopping. I do have a list of motorbikes I would be hunting down though and this blog is that list. It comes under three headings;
  • Nostalgia
  • Just Want One
  • Bikes to Use Regularly.

Here goes (I apologise for repeating some things I mentioned in a previous post).

The Nostalga List

The Honda CB100n. My first bike. Bought for a song, simple and characterful. It had things like contact breakers and tappets that needed adjusting with a spanner. I’d use it as well. Actually I’d probably buy two or three of them and a Haynes manual as it would be the only bike I would work on if I had plenty of money. Other than that I’d be paying Alan to come to my garage every week to adjust chains, pull in for servicing and so on. The CB100N would be for me to satisfy my urge to get tool out and mess things up.

The Kawasaki GT550 was my first big bike and I loved it. That would need to be the later model and in red. I imagine I’d want to ride that as well. Being a shaft drive, Alan probably wouldn’t need to do much with it between services though as it would only go out on clean dry roads.

The BMW K75RT. In memory of the URide trip, this would need to be 1992 with a missing side panel and non functioning speedometer. Actually, I’d probably just ask Dan if I could buy his, get in covered in dust from the West Virginia dirt roads (assuming he has now washed it) then have it sealed in box and shipped over. Warts and all that one. Ride it? Probably. Alan would be splitting it ever few thousand miles to check the clutch splines though.

Just Want One

I’ve always wanted a Classic British bike and as a fan of little bikes it would have to be a BSA Bantam. Mine would be one of the 175cc bikes and the older the better really. Sure I’d ride it but it would probably do more miles on a trailer. It would spend most of it’s life in the living room next to the other bike under this heading, looking beautiful. Outings would be to steam rallies alongside the CB100N.

Only one manufacturer makes an engine which is a thing of beauty. I would have to have a naked Ducati of some sort. It wouldn’t be for riding. In fact, I may even leave one side pristine and then cut up the other side to expose some of it’s inner beauty. Exactly which one I’m open to suggestions on.

Bike To Use Regularly

First up, Mine. I’m not going to get rid of my Wee! It would just get all those suspension upgrades I’m always wishing I could afford. I might put a full luggage system on as well. This would be the most used bike right through all four seasons. I’d put pure road touring tyres on it as well (in fact, that’s probably gonna happen anyway).

I’d like a CRF250. The rooftop chase in Skyfall was amazing and I really would like to have a go at off-roading one day. I’ve also spent a lot of my riding life on 250s so it would be wrong not to have one. This would probably get used just as a local run about as well as for light green-laning. Not so much with the roof to chases though. 

I would like a big tourer. I loved Dan’s RT but I like the idea of a modern boxer. We would want something super comfortable for good long trips two up. The R1200RT would make plenty of sense. I would probably use it two or three times a year. However, all my mates who ride would know it was available to them for when they want to go two up touring.

If we won today, Ang would probably want to keep her YBR125. Just maybe she would consider swapping it for a CBR125. Either way, we wouldn’t be without a bike suited to a pair of L plates. When Ang does get her full licence, she fancies a Triumph Street Triple. Actually, we can’t get rid of the YBR. We’ve already promised Mummy's red bike to Beth.

The final bike is a request from Beth. She wants a side car outfit so she can go with me on rideouts. Having followed redlegsrides as he explores snowy mountain roads aboard his Ural Patrol rig, I’m slightly taken with the idea. If it means I could share the pleasures of riding with my children while they are still young, I’d have one in a heart beat. While the Ural rigs are kin of cool, thanks to Wallace and Gromit, ours would probably be an Enfield Bullet with Watsonian Squire side car.

Of course, there would be a few other little bikes for the kids. A reasonable selection of electric bikes, crossers and mini-motos would be available for fun and frolics with friends.

With a garage like this, heated, clean, brightly lit with a good size screen playing all my favourite videos on a loop, hot tea and comfy seats, it would be a great place to just sit and be. When friends come round, they could choose one of mine or ride their own. It’s good to share. With ten of the above bikes available for road use, there'd be plenty to choose from. I’m not sure Kev would be tempted off his trusty CBR600F with a CB100N or even a shiny new CRF250 but you never know. The choice would be there. And, if it’s too wet get them to ride, we could just chill amongst the bikes, drink brews, natter and be.

So now I’ve got my wish list sorted out, I just need to wait for my numbers to come up, preferably after a few weeks of roll-over. Don’t worry though. I’m not holding my breath. Besides, I’m already a lucky man. Two of those bikes are in my garage and right now they are both running beautifully. Another is in my brother’s on the other side of the Atlantic, available if we want it.

The point is, there's no car in my dream garage. There would be some car. Probably a small some car for getting about and a bigger some car for getting more/bigger things about. The bigger some car would be for towing bikes mainly. They can live on the drive or stuck out on the road for all I care. Car just move stuff and people. Bikes move me. Bring on the Panda.
Not this one exactly but it looks a lot like it. Just some car to do the job. 

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Riding My Motorcycle in the Snow Part 3

In which I make it home, repair and reflect.

At the end of part two I had just been picked up. I missed an important bit out though. After I was dropped in Otley by a passing farmer and his wife, before I had breakfast, I had the presence of mind to call work and let them know I’d not be joining them that day. Then, I settled down to breakfast. Dunnie’s give you a lot of breakfast for just £2 or £3 but what you get is pretty dire. You get what you pay for and I couldn’t pay for breakfast in the kind of cafe that can brag about the butchers they use. For less than £3, you don’t feel sure what’s in the sausage never mind which high class family butcher it came from. For the first time in a very long time I found myself staring at bacon, sausage and egg unable to bring myself to eat it. Just for once, Dr Buckley would have approved of a lifestyle choice. And it was at just about that time that an email arrived making everything just a little less worthwhile.

Safely home and seemingly intact.
The email was to break a 25 year tradition. Our previous head, who had lead the school for a quarter of a century, didn’t drive. She never closed for snow and expected staff to get in if they could. Until then I had never failed either. Our new head, who I think comes under category c/d without the tyres (see this post), has a different mind. As the snow continued to fall, she closed the school, by email. My journey was now not only a failure but also unnecessary.

Spot the difference.
Good news soon followed. A man, tasked by the AA, called to let me know he was heading my way. I offered to get him a cup of tea if he picked me up on his way past and that was enough to get him to flout company policy. Another forty minutes and I was on my way back to the bike with a nice chap who had spent his morning jump starting cars or pulling them off drive ways. Mine was the first brake down as such. As usual, he was quick to tell me that he knew little or nothing about bikes. His car got down the hill to the bike with no problems even though the road was even worst now than it had been when I first came a cropper.

Within a minute of arriving at my stricken motorcycle I spotted the problem. I could have beaten myself senseless for not looking for it earlier. Back then I didn’t spot it because it was too dark. If I had looked for it though, I would have found it for sure. You see, I mentioned in my last post that the bike wouldn’t crank at all, just as though I had forgotten to pull the clutch in (required on a DL650). I didn’t mention that the bike fell on it’s left side. Nor had I mentioned that it was the clutch side of the handlebars I had to use to lift it. The problem was so obvious, I reckon many or most will now have guessed it. In broad daylight, the clutch interlock cable hanging below the clutch lever was plain to see. With it back in place, the bike started and ran instantly. The only remaining problem was the road, now totally impassable to anything without four wheel drive.

Alan's simple repair to the gear lever works great.
I’ve no idea how many of you will have ever been towed on a bike. It’s nothing like being towed in a car. Though perfectly possible, it's best done right, by two people who know what they are doing. Even then, it’s terrifying. The very nice man who came out to help me had never towed a bike and I had only ever done the towing. For both of us this was going to be a learning experience and neither of us would have chosen for that lesson to take place on snow.

We had to look the rope around the forks and back to the hitch leaving a little too short for comfort. As the rope took the strain and as my bike began to carry me but someone else in control, I’d never felt so uncomfortable. In seconds I was screaming, “Slow it down, I’m gonna have to paddle this thing.” The front wheel was dancing from side to side so I needed time to correct each shift. The driver obliged and we crawled to the top of the hill, my heart trying to beat its way though my sore rib cage, probably in a bid to find a more sensible owner. Several times I was sure I was going down. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
Alan's new pinion bolt
cover looks like
Suzuki put it there.

The main road, when we reached it, was far better. We could say our fair-wells and sign paperwork. Finally, about seven hours after I left, I was in a position to make my way home. He could get back to dragging people off their drives and I could start a very slow ride home, not the way I came though. The longer way. The one with fewer steep bits and more traffic. The way I should have come in the first place. My destination, G. W. Johnson’s Motorcycles in Harrogate, home of Alan Johnson.

Alan wasn’t busy. My snow caked Vstrom, it’s indicators hanging off, handlebar ends at a jaunty angle and gear change leaver partially absent went straight in. He went to work immediate, rummaging though a box of assorted indicators for bikes long since scrapped for one he could bodge on. The lighting repaired, he went to work drilling a hole through the remains of the gear change pedal, sticking a bolt through and covering it with the rubber part of a kick starter. The resulting repair so good I’ve forgotten it’s there. The bar end bolt was straightened and a new cover for the Swingarm Pinion was fashioned for a box of old rubber bits. Within the space of an hour, my bike was fully roadworthy again and I had been charged for half an hour’s labour if that.

That’s the thing about Alan. He puts things right and knows his customers. He knows my bike works for a living and that I couldn’t give two hoots what it looks like. For me he keeps it working. For other, he keeps them working and beautiful. My good friend Kev always says, “I take my bike to Alan because when I get it back, I know it’s right. Simple!” And he’s right.

I wonder what kind of bike
this item started its life on.
In the mean time Sandra is upstairs booking them in, finding parts for anything and everything and every so often, if you look like you’re in no rush to
be somewhere else, making a cup of tea, good and strong with a splash of milk. Just like Alan, she knows her clients, mostly by name. For goodness sakes, she knows my children by name and doesn’t seem to mind too much when they rearrange her displays for her. I’ve counted on them for the last 13 year and I hope they will still be there for me to count on for many more to come.

So, what did I learn from the whole experience? Darn it. I did say I would write this section and I kinda wish I hadn’t. Please don’t read anything I write as being a ‘Learned Opinion.’

Thanks to these, the bodywork survived
our little adventure and all they asked in
return was a lick of paint.
Ok, first up, the decision to ride is about more than just whether or not it is possible to make progress on a bike. What happens when conditions change? What happens if you brake down? Can you mitigate these concerns with a different route choice? I would have been fine if I had taken a different route.

Next up, the old scout motto, be prepared. A head torch (flashlight) would have prevented any need for recovery. Well, a head torch and a folding shovel. The first now lives under the seat. I’m waiting to find the perfect shovel.

Finally, reading this month’s Ride and recent editions of MCN, it seems my belief that the engine braking on the VStrom is good in the snow, isn’t. I thought it was giving me more control on descents but all others writing about the topic want less torque and no engine braking. Having not tried it, I don’t know. So what have I learned? I’ve learned that a little experience, like a little knowledge, is a dangerous thing.

Lessons learned. This time I turned around.
In future I’ll probably not ride into untreated snow again. Since I started this writing project I’ve had plenty of chances for a repeat and taken the car most times. With parent’s evening, an Easter production and diocesan inspection, I couldn’t risk down time so I usually drove. Then, on my way to work, up the same road that got me last time, I came upon snow and ice. I panicked a little, let the bike roll to a halt, got off and considered my options. That time I took the picture, walked the bike back to the black and found another way. It’s not the coming off I wanted to avoid. It was the cost of fixing and the embarrassment of putting others out. It’s not that I won’t ride if it’s snowing. I can't afford to drive nor can I stand not riding. I will probably head out in snow. I'll just be a bit less adventurous. No, that not fair. I’ll be a little more cautious.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Getting to the Right Bike - A History and Outlook

I have lots of work to do. Really! As well as parent's evening and all the extra work that comes with one of them, we've got inspectors in next week. There are displays, marking planning and a whole plethora of other jobs that need doing way more than this post which is why, not only am I doing it, but I'm plagiarizing from my own work. 

You see, in an attempt to avoid working on things that need to be down, I thought I'd quickly check up on some other blogs I follow. Texas Rambler was at the top of the list with What Do You Ride? Well, with a title like that, I had no chance of getting any work don for quite some time. You really should read it and while you're there, track back through some of his older stuff to. It's all good. This particular one was brief thoughts on what makes the right bike for an individual. He points out  people often go though three bikes before they find the one that's right for them. The comments so far agreed and detailed the bikes that led them to their most recent. Naturally, I had to leave a comment and much of the following is that comment re-posted. For all I know that may be a flagrant infringement of blog etiquette but as I haven't Googled it just yet, I'm claimed the defense of ignorance. Here goes.

I didn't start out on bikes from and early age as many did. Other than my brother on the other side of the Atlantic, non of my family were into bikes. Until my mate Andy let me have a 'Quick bezz about' on his little CB125Dream, I'd never even considered it. That 'bezz' went further than Andy planned though. I absolutely loved it and from that moment on, I was hooked. Soon after, I went to Kosovo, came back with money and got my licence. My first bike was a CB100n which I wish I'd kept for nostalgic reasons. I used that to ride the 35 miles from barracks to my girl friend's place three or four days a week. The 35 miles back, in the dark with 6v head lights was good fun.

Then I went up to a Kawasaki GT550 shaft drive naked bike. Again, a fantastic bike that took me all over Germany. My girlfriend and I took it around the UK camping. Without protection, I do remember it being a cold place to be and something about my luck meant it was always raining in Northern Europe when I was in a rush to get back to camp. Still, I'd have that back for nostalgic reasons (and for the shaft drive). I only sold it because when I left the Army, I assumed I wouldn't be able to afford it. On that point, I was sadly wrong though not by much.

Following that there was a CG125 (my girl friend's really but I rode it more), 
an ER5,
a Hyosung GT250
and a YBR250. All soulless machines which wouldn't be required in richer times for nostalgic reasons. Well, maybe the CG. I do seem to have a soft spot for super reliable, woefully under powered bikes that cost almost nothing to run.

Now the same girlfriend who had me traipsing across Yorkshire is my wife. She has a YBR125 which I ride more than she does. I've got a DL650 VStrom which is the best bike I've ever owned (except the chain drive). I love it so much, I ride the 125 instead most days. Don't ask me to explain, just know that our roads are awful and the YBR125 gets >100mpgUK. My wife loves riding pillion on the Wee as well. That's been on two small tours already. I might even splash out on some hard luggage so we can sell the children and go on a longer tour eventually. It's stable, tall but not crazy tall, comfortable, cheep enough to run, well protected and the engine is a peach. Just now, the Wee is the perfect bike for Ang & I as well as a lovely treat for the commute now and then.

Like Texas Rambler, I occasionally get folk asking me about what bike they should get for their first. My answer is always pretty simple. 'I don't know and neither do you. The only thing I am pretty sure about is that you won't have it for long so don't spend too much money on it.' Any bike in a pinch is better than no bike after all. I've fond memories trips I've made on each and every bike I've owned, soulless or otherwise. However, the one machine I got really good value for money from was that little CB100n.‭ ‬I paid‭ ‬£50‭ ‬for it and can't remember buying anything but new oil every‭ ‬1000‭ ‬miles or so for two years.‭ ‬

Every time I've splashed out on something with warranty remaining,‭ ‬I've gotten rid of it within‭ ‬18‭ ‬months or so and been hit hard by depreciation.‭ ‬I bought Wee four years old with‭ ‬13k on the clock so hopefully I've found the right balance.‭ ‬Mind you,‭ ‬a year on,‭ ‬it is still my favourite bike ever and I can't see me getting rid of that until it's time to retire and buy an RT.

In conclusion,‭ ‬I don't imagine there is ever a perfect bike for any one person.‭ ‬It will doubtless depend on‭;

  • Means‭ (‬for me,‭ ‬not great but not terrible‭)
  • Build‭ (‬for me,‭ ‬average with a bit of extra gut‭)
  • Purpose‭ (‬for me,‭ ‬rural commuting,‭ ‬two up or solo rideouts and short tours.‭)
  • Aspirations‭ (‬for me,‭ ‬get out and ride to and through places,‭ ‬speed not an issue‭)
  • Other stuff.‭ (‬for me,‭ ‬two cylinders in a V do something special to a bike‭)
Those factors will change with time.‭ ‬And the best bike I've ever owned,‭ ‬God willing,‭ ‬won't be one day.‭

Friday, 15 March 2013

Riding My Motorbike in the Snow Part 2

In which it goes more wrong. 

In my last blog post I told of how I decided to make my way up a moor on an unploughed moor road. If you haven’t read it and intend to read this, you really ought to read that first so give me a click. If you are like minded, it may mitigate the lunacy of what I will cover below.

You see, one Monday morning, a little after 5am atop a moor, I arrived at my turning. Adrenaline was still pumping following the rubber-side-up moment I’d had a few hundred meters previously. The road descended gently and should have been less of a challenge than where I’d come from though the snow was all fresh, no tracks to follow. Thinking back, from where I was, it was probably the best available route to ride back down off the moor anyway. I’m pretty sure that’s not what my prehistoric brain was thinking though. That just wanted to fight through and finish the job.

Things started just fine. The V-twin motor on the Vstrom allows you to make a pretty slow descent just letting it tick over. The front wheel seemed to meet plenty of resistance with the snow as well and that helped me control speed. It helped that the road was straight.

Then I came to a dreaded snow drift and ground to a halt, stalling the bike. Somehow, I also managed to slip as I put my foot down. Once again, I found myself lying in the road feeling an utter twit. In a strange way, it mattered less that time though. I was beginning to accept that falling off was not going to do much more damage than we had already sustained, especially as they were both dead slow or stationary drops.

The problem was, having again heaved the stricken bike to its feet, this time, it didn’t start. Crumbs! (I actually said something else but, you know how it is.) In fact, it was behaving like a Suzuki VStrom or SV does if you don’t pull the clutch to start it. Quite possibly it’s a Suzuki thing. 

I was going nowhere without help and that’s what I pay the AA for. However, before I called them, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t missing something. My former life as a Armoured Vehicle Mechanic (not an especially good one) had taught me that too many break downs are driver error. One particularly memorable event saw me called out in the wee small hours, driving a rover blacked out through rough and muddy ground (wasn’t much cop with that either) to a non-starter. In that case it was a Challenger (i). Exhausted and cold, I climbed into the drivers compartment, removed his helmet from the gear selectors, placed it in neutral, pushed the started and woke up the neighbourhood.

When I climbed out of the compartment the driver asked, “What was wrong with it?” As I recall, I didn’t say anything. Just threw his helmet at him and drove off. He knew just as well as I do, Chally won’t start in gear. Then again, I’ve since learnt you make mistakes in the cold dark hours.

(Another similar event was a Chally with no drive. When you removed some or all of the gash that the driver was carefully storing under the handbrake leaver, it went surprisingly well.)

Not wanting to count myself amongst the cavalrymen I’d come to disrespect, I began to run though the checks. Am I pulling the clutch in? Yep. Check for neutral. Yep, that’s there.  Kill switch? That’s fine. What then? Seat off, I checked the various cables. In the cold light of dawn, I couldn’t see anything that should stop it cranking so I’d little choice but to call for recovery.

At that point I felt like a thoughtless moron. Thanks to my little adventure, some poor patrol driver was being dispatched up a moor in the snow, no doubt pulling him away from many other category B (see previous post) people who just need a quick tug off their drive and a boost. Poor chap was doubtless going to have a busy day as it was. There was however, nothing to be done but make the call and get the bike to somewhere a bit safer.

Did I mention there were two falls? This final one is a real doozy. You see, the Wee’s v-twin motor makes descents a doddle. It’s brakes, which are pretty much just brakes, they aren’t so easy in the snow. When I had the bright idea of sitting on the bike to coast it a bit further down the hill to a gate I didn’t consider that I hadn’t an engine to coast with. I’m pretty fortunate that that was the last misjudgement of the day.

I tried desperately to prevent the build-up of speed that had me travelling faster than I had for miles but it was no use. The gateway past and speed built up. I prayed that I could just keep it upright until the dip in the road, perhaps 200m ahead.

It didn’t happen though. A snow drift and incompetence saw me sliding beside the bike as I’ve done so many times before but usually with a cheep plastic sledge. I’d hit the ground hard this time. The grinding noises as the bike ploughed through soft, pristine snow to the significantly more abrasive black top, they hurt to. This was just getting silly. I lifted it back up one last time, carefully pushed it to the side of the road and removed my helmet, beaten by the snow. As I did so, for the first time since the the car in the ditch, I saw another vehicle. The Landrover cruised to a halt. “Are you waiting for the AA?” I explained that I was and the bike wouldn’t start. “Well, I’ve just seen him back in the village. He can’t get through, even with chains on.”

Well that was great and frankly, fair enough. Sure I’d got the bike there but a Transit was another thing all together. It didn’t make much difference anyway. Having ridden two particularly unreliable bike the last few years, I’ve learnt that all too often the first thing they say when they arrive is, “I don’t know anything about bikes. You’ll have to wait for a recovery truck.” One of them wasn’t likely to get up there for perhaps a day. My predicament was starting to look really quite bad. A phone call to the AA confirmed that they would be sending a local firm and their 4x4 vehicle me. No ETA.

There I was, stuck on a hill. Having food, coffee and excellent cloths for the conditions, I was safe at least. For about 45 minutes I kept myself busy check twitter, listening to and audio book and building a snow man. Eventually the AA rang me with an ETA a mere two and a half hours away. “You won’t mind if I hitch a ride to Otley then I guess.”
“Yes, the driver will call you when he’s ten minutes away,” came the obviously stock reply.
That wasn‘t going to work but I need a cooked breakfast and a cuppa. “It’s gonna take me longer than that to hitch a ride back again. Can’t you ask him to pick me up on his way through Otley?”
Another stock reply. “That would be against our policy but I will ask him to call you as soon as he is on his way.” I figured that would work.

It did to. Within minutes of the call I was sitting in the back of a farmers pick-up forcing the dog to share with his wife. They kindly dropped me off at Dunnies in Otley, home of 30p tea and breakfast for less than 3 quid. It wasn’t anything like two and a half hours before the local 4x4 recovery driver called. The bribe of a cup of tea was enough to get picked up from the cafe. Thus fed, watered and with adrenaline at an all time low, things were moving. Unsurprisingly, the guy didn’t, “know anything about bikes.” Turned out that wouldn’t matter. All we need was a rope and some daylight.

That’s enough story for one night though. It’s not the end of the story though. In part three I’ll get to the mechanical bits. I’ll get to;
  • The little, tiny, easily identified (in daylight) fault
  • Being towed
  • My awesome mechanic Alan at G.W. Johnson’s
  • What I should learn from it all.
  • Other stuff maybe.

Thanks for reading my post. Please leave a comment if you have time, just to let me know you were here and what you think, warts and all.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Riding My Motorbike in the Snow Part 1

Snow. It’s magical. Whereas the world usually changes imperceptibly slowly from season to season, snow takes the dreariest winter vista and transforms it within the space of a few hours, creating a winter wonderland (sorry, couldn’t quite come up with a more effective and less well travelled metaphor). When it falls, children abandon their electronic baby sitters to venture out, to  build and throw and slide. Snow men are born of imagination and never far away, children of all ages race down icy slopes with reckless abandon, mostly out of control. And why not?

I think, for a lot of people, the white stuff loses it’s magic quality as they get older. For those who need to get to work, finding your transport is snuggled beneath a thick white blanket of snow is not so magical. It’s more of a curse. They then fit broadly into a few categories:
A) Many rightly stay at home.
B) Others rightly should.
C) A few skilful drivers get stuck behind or struck by those in category B.
D) The final category includes all of the above but they benefit from extra driven wheels, fancy diffs and sometimes even clever electronics. Very occasionally, they even have the tyres for it.

Not me. I come under a different heading. You see, I still get excited when the white stuff begins to fall, more excited than my own children as it happens. I don’t know why I do. It makes no sense at all really, being a motorcyclist with a big hill between me and where I need to be. If you had to stick me in one of the above though, it would most certainly be B). My bike has the scars to prove it.

You see, I am obsessed with adventure one way or another. I also have a mortgage, children, a job, a wife and all the usual mundane commitments of being mid 30s and a teacher. For me, adventure is pretty hard to come by so when the snow fell a little bit, earlier in the year, I rode to work. The main road was cleared so why not. The moor road turned out to not be clear having perhaps 2cm of snow but I figured I may as well have a go. What’s the point of fitting the bike with dual sport tyres if you aren’t ever going to use them. That went well. As a matter of fact, it went without a hitch. Not so much as a slip or twitch of the rear. I was straight up the steep, snowy hill and back down the other side. Repeat a few more times. Arrive at work. Easy!

The next time, same thing but more snow and a bit of wind. I was off on an adventure, excited and intrepid. Before long I would be feeling like a right Charlie.

It was not yet 5am as I set off up the A59. Within the first mile, police were holding the road as a car was hauled out of the ditch by a recovery truck. I didn’t think better of it and motored on, carefully, slowly. The other option was after all, the far longer main road route. When I reached my turn off, steep at about 20% I was unsurprised to find it unploughed. A single set of car tracks told of a single other vehicle having braved the route since the snow fell that night. Again, I didn’t turn back. Riding in the car tracks, I made the ascent easily. The first steep descent, even with the tight bend right at the bottom, suggested I was going to be fine. All very affirming. Crack on.

It was beautiful too. Calm, with a silence that seemed able to penetrate the throb of the exhaust (that sentence describes it best but don’t ask me to explain it). There was even a wonderful few seconds when the owl I have seen dart across the road many times before chose to glide along beside me before pealing off between the trees that skirted the road. It seemed to me at the time that it did that because of the snow. Now I wonder if it was just the slow and quiet progress I was making, perhaps a little over a jogging pace. In that moment I had absolutely done the right thing. This was absolutely worth the risk of a low speed drop, the only type possible at the speeds I could reach.

Within minutes of sharing a few seconds with the owl, I was off the bike. It wasn’t down but we weren’t getting up that hill. Category C folk will have noted when I mentioned a bit of wind before. With wind comes snow drifts, especially on higher exposed ground. Manageable on the flat but trying to climb through one changes everything. The car tracks I was using were gone and the only option was to dissmount and kick a path through. Tough work when you’re wearing all your gear. I began to wonder if I had made a mistake. For some reason though, I literally ploughed on. By the top of my ride, I was already exhausted, physically and mentally. And all the while, I’d been riding on snow with grit underneath.

The first time I fell was just plain stupid. Embarrassingly dumb. I had this coffee in my box and was thinking, ‘I’m tired and should take a break.’ There’s this layby on the top road and I figured that would be the place to stop and drink the coffee. Being category B or there about though, I hadn’t figured that the world would look so different or the slight slopes on slight bends would be such a game changer. As I was passing the layby I wanted to be in, I noticed I was doing so. I didn’t notice the slight down hill slope and gentle left curve. The moment I shut the throttle down, things got real.

There I was, lying in the road. Looking back, I’m not sure what I was thinking though there would doubtless have been expletives. I do remember thinking I was in real peril as someone could come along at any moment and my bike in the road would cause an accident. Fortunately, there was sufficient adrenaline and grip for me to lift Hamish up. As it turned out though, no one else would pass along that road for nearly an hour and that was a gritter truck. Immediately, I could see the front left indicator was gone and the bar end weight was bent. With hindsight I can also see the RDR (rider) was also shot. In the pre dawn cold light of night, I didn’t spot that and couldn’t really do anything about it anyway.

The bike, having cut out exactly as it was designed to do, restarted. I should thank the previous owner who had fitted engine bars to it, preventing far worst. Satisfied the bike was still ridable, I mounted up, started up and attempted to motor on, the coffee long since forgotten about.

A quick word count tells me this post is getting too long. The clock tells me it’s bed time. Common sense says this post may be better as a two parter so there I shall leave it. However, I must share this video I found on All I can say is, wow! I wish I had their tyres. 

If you can, please leave a comment to let me know you were here, where you're coming from and what you think. 



Coming up in the next post:

  • More being an idiot
  • Two more falls
  • Breaking down on a snowy hill
  • The kindness of strangers
  • Being towed
  • What made the whole thing even worst
  • Who made the bike right (though he deserves a post of his own)
  • What I should learn
  • Other stuff probably

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Motorcycle Abstinence and a Plea for Comments

(Preamble: I’m making an unashamed plea for comments here. I need your input on something so please read it to the end and comment if at all possible. It would also be awesome if you would let other potential readers know about it. THANKS, John)

I have made two conscious decisions in the past week or so. I may have mentioned one in my last blog post but I’m not sure. Like the overwhelming majority of the world, I haven’t read it. The first was to blog more, perhaps once a fortnight. The second I know I didn’t mention. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned anything to do with being Christian before so there’s no way I would have mentioned Lent and Abstinence. It will probably be a while before I mention it again as well.

Being Catholic and teaching in a Catholic school, you would think I’d be good at it. Most of the non-catholic staff at school assume I am to. Unfortunately it’s really not the case. I’m pretty sure I genuflect on the wrong knee when I remember to do it at all. I haven’t been to confession in, um... That right, I was a teenager and a priest tricked me into it when I had a heart to heart with him one day. I happily support state sponsored gay marriage as distinct from church sponsored. Frankly, it’s none of my business and I don’t remember Jesus saying anything about it anyway.

So, what does this have to do with motorcycles. That’s the Lent bit. I’m meant to give something up for Lent and give the difference to charity. For many that’s alcohol or chocolate. Not being a drinker, alcohol is a non starter. I also consume very little chocolate. Either of these options would mean two or three quid over the four weeks of Lent. Previously I’ve tried to give up coffee which would work well if I was a good and strong willed Catholic. This time I’m going to do something much more clever with serious financial benefits. I’m giving up wasting fuel.

The implications of this are abstinence that only a motorcyclist will understand.
  • Riding the YBR125 (110mpg UK) rather than the WeeStrom (60mpg) or the cage (40mpg)
  • Short shifting every time with any vehicle (how to make a slow car slower)
  • Walking if at all possible.
  • Putting a jumper on and making everyone else do the same.
  • Worst of all NO RIDEOUTS!
In effect, use the most fuel efficient vehicle I can for the journey and likewise the route and style of riding. Most of the time that means riding Angie’s YBR125 and not at full throttle. With the children it means going very easy on the car and on the very very odd occasion it means riding the WeeStrom while suppressing the irrepressible urge to let her rip past long lines of slow moving traffic.

The benefit, with a bit of ‘Reccy Mech Maths’ is around £10 a week for a charity. The environmental benefits I’m nowhere near qualified to calculate. I am left with one problem: where to put the money? Obviously there’s CAFOD. Obvious answer. Why not Yorkshire Air Ambulance though? In an attempt to get someone, just for once, to leave a comment on my blog, Your suggestions for where to put the money would be kindly received.
Meanwhile, I managed to benefit from a little loophole in my abstinence plan. You see, I’ve got to go to work. My route is probably one of the best commutes in Yorkshire. I’ve got to ride the VStrom. My wife has taken her YBR125 to work and the car is too thirsty. So though I now have to add to the long list of sins I’m saving up for my next confession by having a gentle bimble over the moor on the best bike I’ve ever owned. I just pray I don’t get stuck behind any Sunday Drivers on the way back.  

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Valentines Day Rideout Monday 18th Feb

Just a short post today. Saying that, I am hoping to post more often, perhaps once a fortnight or so. That could mean kit reviews. It could mean ride/route reports and it could mean poorly thought out commentary about all kinds of rubbish but with a motorcycle focus. Today's short post is based on the middle one. Ride/route reports.

The route in question was a Yorkshire Dales route I rode with Angie (my wife and preferred pillion). The idea was to have a lovely ride and then stay away overnight somewhere nice. It wasn't meant to be an exploration ride because I knew exactly what I wanted to do so we wouldn't be on the bike for longer than an hour at a time, it being the depth of winter and all. Fortunately, it didn't work out like that.

View Larger Map

The above map shows the route we took (you may need to zoom it in or out a bit to see the whole thing). Where we deviated from what we were meant to be doing was just after Grassington where I turned left early from the main road. It became clear that I'd gone wrong when I realized the river, which should have been on our right, was in fact on our left. With hind sight, it was in actually a different river but they shared many qualities so were hard to distinguish. Eventually I stopped in village called Arncliffe to look at the map and have a coffee from the flask. The map showed a road over the moor past Malham Tarn which would put us on another road we already know and love. With a few chevrons showing steep slopes and a tendency for the line to wiggle, it looked promising.

As it turned out, that high road was a real gem and I'll have to go back there again. I love those narrow, steep, winding and deserted roads with endless views over the dales. They are toe-numbingly cold in February and there were patches of ice to watch out for but the air was clear. Patches of snow on the ground made it all the moor beautiful. Thankfully, the helmet cam was running for most of it and when I got home I used the iPad to edit the footage for the first time. Here are the best seven minutes of the trip. 
There I should leave it. However, I really should point out that the BnB we stayed in in Leyburn was fantastic. It's just off the main square so we could just wander out for a pint or two, then to dinner and finally stumble back to bed. Clyde House is run by Heather and Sean who it would seem are used to welcoming motorcyclist. As to the acid test of any bed and breakfast establishment, breakfast was lovely. Best scrambled eggs I've had in ages. 

There I will leave it. As usual, it's nowhere near as short as it was supposed to be. Oh well.