Sunday, 23 November 2014

Book Report: A Ride In The Sun or Gasoline Gypsy by Peggy Iris Thomas

Though not a prolific book reader, I own lots of books in the 'Adventure Motorcycling' category. I've even finished one or two of them. Actually it's exactly two of them and no, neither was Jupiter's Travels (though I did start that one). One was The Road To Gobblers Knob by Geoff Hill (Geoff's sense of humour made that one for me but ruined it for others). The second I finished yesterday having read it at my daughter's swimming lessons for pretty much the last 6 months.

The author, an English woman with an adventurous spirit, goes on an 18 month ride around North America (with a wee dip into Mexico) in the 50s. She makes the journey on a BSA Bantam which chewed through wheel bearings and inner  tubes. This was at least in part, due to it's huge load which included a sizable dog. Actually the dog was the only part off the outfit the author felt a strong connection with. He provided security way beyond that which modern bike alarms can.

At first it all seems something of a stretch. RiDE magazine UK, who drew my attention to this book, got it just right. I can't quote word for word but they said something along the lines of the only person who didn't think it all seemed a bit implausible was Peggy Iris Thomas.

As such, the person I most want to recommend this book to its my daughter. In fact Tom could do with reading it too. Unfortunately it would be rather lost on a six year old. A four year old who is just about able to recognise his own name certainly won't get it. Also, you need a rudimentary grasp on what was expected of young ladies in the early fifties. Having met a Bantam would also help.

So who would enjoy this book? Pretty much anyone with a sense of adventure. In fact if anyone wants a well thumbed and slightly waterlogged copy, message me and be willing to send a stamped envelope. You won't regret adding it to your reading list.

Have you read it? What did you think? Any suggestions on the next book I should leave in the swimming bag?

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Moto Guzzi Psychoanalysis

I woke up this morning, earlier than I would have liked, just as I was about to sign a deal on a very tatty looking Moto Guzzi Stelvio. Ever since I rode a Breva 750 around the car park the other day I've been utterly unable to stop thinking about that engine! It felt more alive than anything I've ever sat on even though it was less powerful than anything over a 250 that I've ever ridden. Suddenly, I can't help thinking how much I want that engine with a little more protection for those long winner rides and more upright ergonomics. Thus the Stelvio.

And why not? Well actually that's a question most easily answered with bullet points. Unfortunately that's not an option in Blogger for Android. Here goes anyway.
* Cost. They're not cheep.
* Pillion comfort isn't great apparently
* 29mpg according to MCN
* I hear lead time on parts can be up to two weeks.
* The parts department closes for August!
* It's a little more engine than I want to own.

It's probably not a good replacement for my Suzuki yet in my dream I happily threw caution to the wind, part exchanged my (fairly) trusty VStrom and signed a big credit agreement for the rest.

Thinking with my brain, there's enough there to stop me doing something silly. If Moto Guzzi took the engine out of a V7 and shoved it in an adventure styled bike I'm not sure I'd be able to help myself.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

I Need Help Naming a Blog

It's getting a little wintry here in Yorkshire but as usual, I'm not storing my bike. Like a few of us, I'm washing it more regularly, applying thick coats of chain lube pretty much daily and a good all over spray with corrosion inhibitor weekly (and after wet rides). Other than that, it's pretty much business as usual for me and the Wee. Not so for our little YBR125.

If all goes well, the YBR's time is coming to an end. Most recently, Ang has been riding it off to the training ground and swopping it for a Hornet (which she hates) and learning the finer points of passing the unrestricted motorcycle test here in the UK. She has suddenly grabbed the motorcycling ball and is making a solid run for the line. As such, she wants to start a new joint Moto Blog and I'd be really glad to be part of that. In fact, I'd even pretty much shut this down.

The only reason I haven't set it up yet is simple. WHAT SHALL WE CALL IT? Ang suggested 'Two Up' but as that's what she's working to leave behind, it seemed the wrong name. So I'm after suggestions for a name for a moto blog which is about:
a husband and wife:

  • He's a teacher who loves riding alone or with anyone and commutes all year.
  • She's a Nurse who rides a 125 all year and is trying to get a full licence.
  • Who have two young children, a mortgage and stuff.

A little side question is whether I should move us over to wordpress or stay on blogger?

All thoughts hugely appreciated. Please tweet or comment. PLEASE!

PS I don't like the name of this blog. It says nothing about it and probably puts some people off. I was in a difficult place when I started it and did't think it through. I'd like to not make that mistake again.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A Beautiful Day for an Autumn Ride

Finally! I went out for a ride today. I didn't do anything new or noteworthy but it felt like such a treat, which it was.

It's been a long time since I've ridden for sheer pleasure. It was mid August in fact. Since then I've been to work then come home. Once or twice I've gone a different way home but nothing substantial. Despite having been in almost daily use, my bike had been decidedly underused.

This morning, I made my way up the A59 as I do most Sundays but for once I missed my turning, quite on purpose, and carried on up Cote de Blubberhouses (formerly Blubberhouse pass). I'm pretty sure I had to stop my bike turning all by its self. We were free for the day and heading for the hills, all thanks to my parents doing my parenting for me. Thanks mum! Thanks dad!

Actually, the first 40 miles were foggy and hard work but after meeting my buddy Kev for breakfast in Settle we headed off on the well trodden 'Hawes loop.' Thankfully, as we climbed to higher ground we left the fog, leaf mulch and Sunday drivers behind. From there on the day just got better, a real treat in October.

Kev, a self confessed fair weather sports bike rider, doesn't usually ride outside the summer months and likes his tarmac wide, smooth and fast. Today however, he was on the look out for places to take his newest toy, some sort of fancy digital SLR camera. That meant he was willing to let me lead him up a few of the narrower roads he wouldn't usually thank me for. There was a lot of stopping but I didn't mind. It was a beautiful day to be up in the hills.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

I've Started a Bucket List

Wonder Blessed are the Curious
for they Shall Have Adventure
Today I created a bucket list (here) for the first time ever. Actually, what I did today was write it down. It’s always existed. I’ve always wanted to experience more of the world in more ways.

Like most todo lists, I expect to add to it more often than I check things off but that’s the human condition. I also need to accept that much of it, quite possibly the majority of it, won’t ever happen. That’s fine. It can’t hurt to make a list. Perhaps I could make it a challenge to do one item a year. I could make one of them the thing I do to mark the next big birthday (40 I believe). Whatever. If nothing else, it’s actually a good a pencil portrait of myself as you could possibly hope for. A lot can be inferred from a bucket list I recon

This bucket list is a little restricted for two reasons. Firstly, it’s limited to Motorcycle related ambitions and secondly, it starts today. If I started adding all the things I’ve done that I wanted to do, that would make for far too long a list. Besides, while there were things I knew I wanted, like getting my licence, there were things I would never have thought to put on a list that happened anyway. No, this is simpler. 

Anyway, many thanks to Fuzzy for inspiring me write up my bucket list. Now, I’d better get on with my ‘Oh Dear, The New School Year is About to Start and That ToDo List is Only Getting Longer’ list. 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Ride Report - Forest of Bowland North Of Newton in Bowland

Because of the summer break and a recent foreign holiday, my bike had remained idle for much longer that I really like. Yesterday however, I received a last minute and much needed leave pass thanks to my mum taking the kids and Ang snoozing after a night shift. I had nothing planned but some of the best rides start that way. Chucking my map and tea making kit into the box, I headed off to @BeanandBud to look things over and enjoy one of their fine flat whites.

I was looking to explore somewhere new and there isn’t much I haven’t seen round here so I had to look further afield and accept there would be some unavoidable A road (highway) riding. Before my coffee was out I’d settled on an area called the Forest of Bowland, just across the border in Lancashire (spits on floor). I drained the dregs and hit the road.

I wasn’t disappointed. I suffered the A59 all the way to Clitheroe (actually not that bad) then I followed the B6478 to Newton-in-Bowland where I planned to head north towards a marked viewpoint. I was totally blown away by that stunning views on the section of road over Waddington Moor. In fact I was thinking it would be nice to ride it back again and get some pics. Time however was not on my side. Apparently, luck wasn’t on my side either as my route was soon blocked by bridge works. forcing me to retrace my steps. Still, I got those pictures.

The diversion (pretty obvious on the map) wasn’t anything worth writing about so I didn’t take my time. Once I was on the northbound road from Slaidburn, I was once again being blown away by the scenery. The heather was in bloom and being so close to the clouds gave the impression I was on top of the world. It made me think of a recent post on the FUZZYGALORE.COM blog, reflecting on the difficulties/impossibilities of sharing what you see from the saddle with others. So true but I still stopped every few meters to take yet another pic.

However, if you can, you really should go out and ride this. Maybe not if you’re only interested in knee down antics. In fact if I was going to do this again, I’d probably use the YBR125 and make a whole day of it. This is one to savour.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Filming Ride To Work Day - What I've Learned

A couple of weeks back we had Ride To Work here in the UK. In fact, this year, they made it a week. I decided to film my ride to work using a different mount each day. I wanted to take the 27 minutes and mix together the best 3. After three years of experimenting with my GoPro Hero2, I'm pretty happy with this finished product. 

However, as I write this, my film has had plenty of time and only seen 18 view. I bet youtube is full of that sort of thing. Some of it was posted by me on my Youtube channel and some just watched by me. The only ones I really like are short, multi perspective and carefully produced. The rest, I don't watch. Here's a list of the things I've learned (read: opinions I've developed):

1) Helmet cam is fine for collecting evidence but the film makes the viewer sick if the rider is any good at observations. When in doubt, hard mount.

2) Using a range of perspectives isn't good, it's vital. Even watching Ribble Head to Hawes in a single perspective would bore me to death. Easier if you own multiple cameras. I don't so...

3) Converting your GoPro to RAM mounts is super secure and versatile but the down side is RAM mounts they vibrate A LOT more.

4) The closer the camera is to the ground the better. Makes it faster. More exciting.

5) Try to get a bit of bike in there. I love frame mount perspectives that capture the movement of the suspension.

6) The best place to record sound is closer to the airbox, not the exhaust.

7) Bad aim makes the film unusable. Generally horizon should be 1/3 from the bottom. Strangely, left/right is less important.

8) Editing isn't optional. No matter how long you rode, good films last 3-4 minutes or if you have no usable sound, one good song. I find you spend roughly half an hour to an hour editing 1 minute of footage.

Like I say, these are my opinions. To be honest, I hadn't realized I had so many of them. The only other opinion I have is that I'm not very good at any of this, proven by the fact that that was probably my best effort to date. Here's what production looked like.

I used (mostly) the best mounts I have/know:
Day 1 - Mounted to the handlebars using ram mounts. It's a little shaky but this gave the best sound. 

Day 2 - Ram mounts on the grab rail rear facing. Pretty cool perspective and OK sound.

Day 3 - Helmet mount. This is an easy option but it makes you sick watching it and the sound is atrocious. Still, had to be done.

Day 4 - GoPro's own tube mount onto my crash bars. The sound is very mechanical but the perspective is thrilling.

Editing took forever and isn't even close to fluid but I did my best with the time I had during the week. I find the GoPro editing software buggy to the point of unusable so I did it all on an iPad 2 with iMovie. I've also used Windows Live Moviemaker fairly successfully. However, for reasons I really can't explain, I prefer using the I pad. Bahhhh!

I've no real wish to try any other editing software but I'm all up for finding new mounts. One day I'd like to try a chest harness as it looks to have a good view and less shaky but without the bobbing about a helmet mount does (if your making propper observations). Then again, what I'd really like is to mount my camera on someone else's bike, preferably someone who can keep up without getting dangerous. Currently, I don't know that person. I wonder if he/she is any good at editing?

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Razor MX350 First Ride

Once again, it seems to have been ages since I last did any blogging. There’s not been much to blog about up until now. It was way back in February when I was last compelled to write on my blog. I’d watched ‘Why We Ride’ for the first time and felt all warm, fuzzy and inspired. It’s probably worth a read if you haven’t as this post follows it (click here if you’d like to take a look). In summary, I wanted to let motorcycles take their fair share of my life by sharing them with my family.

After a night of research, I decided to get my hands on a Razor MX350 Dirt Rocket. It’s a little pit bike powered by a 350watt motor hooked up to a pair of 12 volt batteries. As well as being inexpensive (they’re about £325 new) they’re quiet and clean. Unlike the toy store variety, it has real pneumatic tyres, front and rear suspension and brakes. Basically, it’s a proper, if low budget, pit bike. It’s also reasonably rare to see them second hand.

When a non-runner came up on ebay, I bid fairly high and got it for just £63. The seller was great and even brought it up north a piece so we didn’t have to drive 90 odd miles to pick it up. Beth came with me but that was all we had room for. The Fiat Panda we moved into last spring doesn’t really have the boot space for a bike of any size.

Of course, it was only the start. I pulled it apart that night. The forks are pretty much junk and to be fair, I couldn’t figure out how to completely disassemble them. They needed it as they were completely rusted. Wanting to do the job properly, I turned to the internet to find how you get the fork tubes out of the stanchions. That information was not available. However, I did learn that they pretty much don’t seem to work when they’re new anyway. I decided to clean up as much as I could and put them back on.

However the forks weren’t the real problem. The Razor MX350 has two 7ah 12volt sealed lead acid batteries and while great for high current, lead acid batteries are a weak point and were always likely to be the reason it didn’t work. I ordered a new pair from Ebay for something like £25 quid and got Kev to do the soldering. At first the new batteries didn’t work but after some fiddling with connections, the bike burst into life. Big smiles all round.

All that remained was to get the right riding gear. It’s really important to me that Beth knows knows the importance of proper riding gear. I made it very clear that when she rode, she was going to come off and it was probably going to hurt. It’s something we bikers all know and most of us have experienced. She wants to ride so she’s going to come off. I’d never stop her riding but I will exert my parental duty to ensure she’s well dressed. For now, that means a full road certified helmet that fits properly and the kind of padding used by skaters. Not perfect but better than nothing. I’ll keep looking for more purposeful armor.

Months had passed since I embarked on the project and now the bike was ready to ride. Beth was pestering me about it and the only thing that was stopping me was the size of our car. Actually, that’s probably not true. In truth, Beth’s never managed to ride a peddle bike without tears or stabilizers. It wouldn’t achieve anything if this were to graduate to a motorbike.

However, I had miss-judged her, something I’m not proud of. Kev provided logistical support, Tom supplied all the encouragement any sibling could hope for and I provided the bike. Her adventurous little spirit had her climb on (after the inevitable argument about how tight the chin strap needed to be) and, well, the rest is in the video.

Friday, 21 February 2014

My Response to Why We Ride

My little girl on my first bike after returning.
I’m very sporadic with my blogging. It’s a bit like riding for pleasure really. I don’t do enough of either. Work! That’s something I don’t do enough of. Spending time with my kids, yeah, that too if I’m honest. One way or another, someone will be able to read this blog and want to criticise me on one count if not many, of getting the balance utterly wrong. So as I type this, I’m still not sure I am brave enough to publish it. There you go. Into complete.

Last night I watched ‘Why We Ride (2013).’ I lack the vocabulary to say how good it was, how good it made me feel. It took me a while to work out why it made me feel good but I think I’m there now. I know I’m a motorcyclist, a biker. The film was all about us and what we are like. It was about our hopes and dreams, what makes us tick. Diversity is a key feature throughout: different bikes, different activities, different parts of the world and most importantly, different people. From children and young families to an 87 year old woman hoping she’ll still ride at 100, the film seemed to be about amazing people from all walks of life. And yet, for all the diversity there was a oneness. Motorcyclists in their many forms come together as one rich community. The film made me feel good because I’m part of that.

Recently, my friend Jim got his first bike. It happened that he bought it home just as my Half Term Break was starting so, obviously, we had to go out. Even Kev, who’s bike is usually in hibernation 9 months of the year, turned out. We pottered around local roads for the morning and stopped for tea before returning home in time for lunch and whatever else. It wasn't much and it wasn't long but it was great. I really enjoyed myself.

Then, this morning, I was coming to work. I treated myself to riding the VStrom and going a fairly roundabout way. How could I not after watching that film. Riding gives one time to think and before long I was thinking about family and friends. I've often wondered how long it will be before Beth can safely reach the pegs on the bike. Perhaps we should look into an electric bike for the kids to get started on. Sidecar outfits always cross my mind but they never stay long. I wondered that today. I try not to think it out loud in case mum can hear. As she reads this blog, I should probably wonder it no more.

Carrying pillion makes for time together. Separate bikes would also be good.
In the meantime though, what we could do for sure is plan a ride with friends where even if children can’t come, at least Ang could. After getting a suitable amount of work done, I decided to write out a sort of itinerary. It would be intended to encourage people (Jim, Kev, Angie and perhaps even a few pillions) to set a date for a day of being motorcycle enthusiasts together. The route it a triumph! Any other ‘me’ would agree for sure. It has great roads to push your bike on, remote roads to enjoy the beauty of creation and regular stops where you can natter and drink tea. It’s a perfect day, if you’re me and with someone willing to put yourself in my capable hands as guide. Unfortunately, if you’re just me then it’s all that but without being sure of a friendly face to natter with during stops.

And that’s kind of where we come back to the community. I’m not a lone wolf and most motorcyclist I know and respect aren't either. Their bikes aren't just toys, they’re a starting point for relationships with other like-minded human beings. That’s also sort of why I write in my blog, hoping that I might meet other like-minded folk and natter (in which the blog has been singularly unsuccessful for me). I don’t want to ride alone anywhere near as much as I would love to enjoy motorcycling with others. That could be friends; it could be family or just some other chap who also happened to be there. The friends and family option though, obviously that is the platinum standard. I never wanted motorcycles to take me away from the people and love and care about and the more I think about it, the more I think it shouldn't have to.

Six year into parenthood and there are promising signs.
Now, I have no choice but to look forward and figure out where I go from here. We had a ‘discussion’ about work life balance the other day but it was really about work/family life balance. I need to see more of my family and less of my desk. I’d be lying if I didn't say I want to spend more time with my friends as well. Watching Why We Ride left me thinking we can do that because it featured young families that were passionate about bikes. It wasn't just something that started at 17+ and had to be hidden from parents. So now I’m not wondering, I’m planning. 

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Never Missed a Beat

I recently claimed that Angie's YBR125 'never misses a beat.' Well guess what: spoiler alert!

It missed it's first beat on a soaking wet, icy cold Monday. I thought little of it. Nearing work after a clear run, I gently rolled over the bridge and disengaged the clutch as I came to a halt. The motor stopped! It started right up again so I assumed it was me being a bit useless. Saying that, it was idling a little low, perhaps 1200. That was it though, until the end of the week.

The week dragged on and when the final bell rang on Friday, it felt a few days overdue. The ringing was somewhat drowned out by rain drumming on the skylights. Fed up and tired, what I want wanted to do was get on my bike and ride. What I didn't want was to get soaked through only to arrive home at the moment storm clouds gave way to bright blue sky. Thus daylight gave way to indecision.

By the time I left, there was virtually no light and still plenty of rain. The YBR125's single 35w/35w lamp is already useless in the face of oncoming traffic. The heavy cloud annihilated what little twilight remained and I was fighting a loosing battle to clear my visor. In such situations you're pretty much riding on a wing and a prayer when anything but a YBR125 comes the other way.

Not five minutes in and already soaked, I met a particularly well lit car coming mid road. Obviously I slowed right down and aimed for the darkness left of the blinding headlights. That's when the engine stopped. Instinctively I thumbed the starter but this time it didn't start right back up. “Oh great!” (possibly words to that effect)

After I pushing to a nearby driveway, it started up again so I rode off but with confidence in the bike utterly lost. Anyone who's been there knows how it affects your riding. Loosing confidence in your bike on a dark, blustery and wet night isn't quite a nightmare but it's super stressful. I soon found that the engine would cut out at speeds over 50 if on full throttle.

Anyone who rides a YBR will know that any slope means full throttle at speeds of over 50. Anyone who rides a YBR around these parts will know that we don't really have roads that aren't sloped one way or t'other. Only your wrist notices them on a big bike. Generally, there's way more thinking involved in getting a learner bike from Harrogate to Ilkley. Each gear change is anticipated well in advance so, ideally, timed to perfection. When you roll on to full and find the motor cuts, blood pressure rises just as fast as the oil pressure drops.

Thankfully I got it home. I've since washed it and can't find anything looking like the culprit. Stand back a bit while you're hosing it off and that bike looks fairly new. However, get in close with the sponge and a soapy paint brush, it starts looking long in the tooth for sure. The swinging arm and parts of the frame are rusting heavily along with the whole exhaust system. The whole rear end could do with pulling apart, stripping back to the bare metal and painting. I might do all that. I thought I might do that last summer. It really needs it now so I really might. Then again, I might not.

One thing's for sure, the bike I once trusted to the point of abuse can never again be described as having 'never missed a beat.' Now it needs some Alan time. He'll probably tell me off about one thing or another but I know we'll most likely get it back in a fit state to see the winter out. That way when spring starts getting serious I'll be able to ride it to work just like I could when I filmed this two years ago.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Hibernating Hamish

This is winter, often referred to as the off season by groups such as surfers, dinghy sailors and of course motorcyclists. While our dinghy is safely de-rigged and sitting on old tyres with it’s keel in the air, my bike doesn't get the same treatment, or at least it didn't used to. Unfortunately, Hamish the WeeStrom will have to go into partial hibernation.

Looking back through old blog posts, you can see Wee Hamish had a hard winter in 13/14. This time last year there were sticking brakes and (unrelated) sliding through the snow, shiny side down. This winter I wanted to ride through, enjoying the comfort and protection offered by the best bike I've ever owned while remaining willing to take the car if there was call for it. After all, now we have the Fiat Panda, driving to work isn't actually all that expensive. It’s just that it doesn't do anything for the soul.

It didn't come as any surprise when the brakes started binding again. For a start, I’m pretty sure I didn't do a great job overhauling them last year. The roads were also pretty heavily gritted, evidenced by the huge build up of crud on just about every part of the bike. I've been using the Scott Oiler stuff to try and protect the bike but there seems to be nothing you can do to protect the brake calipers. Apparently this is a well known problem with these calipers and Bandit and SV owners all suffer the same way.

Having learned my lesson, I decided to park the bike up and book it in with Alan. I've got to the point now where I understand that £60 of his time and lubricants is more valuable than a months worth of me making a mess of things. For £60 Alan was able to free off and tidy up the front calipers, make the stand spring back like they actually mean it, cleaned up the rear caliper, correctly adjust the chain, tyre pressures and the clutch. That’s probably five or six hours of me not quite doing the job right verses £60 and time to sit in a coffee shop reading Ride magazine before riding away on a bike that feel right and trustworthy.  Maybe I’m getting old. Possibly I’m not a real man anymore. Just maybe it’s a no-brainer.

Unfortunately it wasn't all good news. One piston on one caliper has pushed out a dust seal. It’s safe to ride and not the end of the world. Alan packed it with grease and tells me I’ll be fine for a few months. It’s not that I don’t trust him either. There’s just something about those front brakes that attracts crud and I don’t want to not have a working bike when Spring get here.

Thus, Wee Hamish goes onto light duties.My daily commute, once again, falls to Angie’s YBR125. I never saw myself as a man who had a winter hack. Fair play to it though, that YBR never skips a beat. Sure I've had to take bits off to add more grease because Lord knows, Yamaha don’t like getting those moving parts all greasy in the factory. I've also had to tighten just about every nut and bolt up at one point or another. Unlike my bike, which makes it pretty clear when I've done a bad job of something, the YBR is fairly immune to my attentions. With it only sniffing at petrol, there’s an extra few quid to spend on bits for Wee Hamish as well!

Thus I have an moral dilemma on my hands. I was abstaining from unnecessary use of petrol last year during Lent. It was an actual commitment that made a difference in many ways so naturally, I was going to do it again. The problem is, Easter’s unusually late this year. When Lent hits we’ll be looking at bringing Wee Hamish out to run rings around those fair weather bikers still getting their legs back after a winter of riding a sofa.

Can I bring Lent forward? If not, I would be riding the YBR all the way to late April. Tough call! I may need to give something else up for part of Lent.