If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Bike Post of the Week

When I started writing this blog two years ago, one of the things I wanted to do was to say something about why I love motorcycles, and why the experience of riding them is so utterly different from the experience of driving a car. I said most of what I wanted to say, albeit not very satisfactorily, and the topics moved on.

Today, I want to direct you to an excellent post by OscarIndia, here. In it, he says in a couple of paragraphs what I didn't quite get round to saying in ten or twelve posts. If you don't ride a bike, then read it and understand why the rest of us are so obsessed by two-wheeled machines. If you do ride, then read it and smile, knowing that someone, somewhere knows exactly what you are thinking.

And if that one whetted your appetite, go back a bit to his post on Why Bikes Rock for a demonstration of the practicalities.

Tuesday 26 July 2011


From the expression of sincere and heartfelt thanks to soldiers who gave their lives for the freedom of others*:

... to the expression of sincere and heartfelt self-centredness 67 years later:


Saturday 23 July 2011

Word Cloud

I am now happily ensconced in my house-sit in Normandy, with Anna and teenage grand-daughter. The house is the usual French combination of anarchic plumbing and electricity, and questionable taste (raffia ceilings?), but is comfortable and about 20 minutes' brisk walk from la boulangerie across some lovely open fields. Le wee-fee is available in about half the house, after a long struggle with passwords, network keys and locked bedrooms, so I have been able to boot up the old lapdog on occasions, but familial responsibilities and general courtesy mean it has been a few odd minutes here and there. More later in the week, I expect, when the grand-daughter has been kidnapped by her parents and Anna and I can settle back into something approaching normality.

A good friend sent me this today. I have seen word clouds on other blogs, but they always seemed too resource-hungry when I looked into it, so I never put one on here. This, however, is a one-off, and I think it encapsulates things quite well. Click for bigger.

Thanks to G for the file.

Monday 18 July 2011


Coming soon on this blog:

I've been sent a promotional CD for review, by an American band called the Mean Street Riders - all bikers and good musicians too - and I will post something about this in the near future. I like it, and I hope you will too.

Regular commenter endemoniada_88 went on a ride to the shops recently, going via some races in Italy and then back the pretty way, through Spain. As you do. He's written a trip report which I will be publishing here as soon as I can get the tuits. It's a great read, and with some good photos, and I'm sure you will enjoy it as much as I have. Plenty of thrills and some (minor) spills. It's given me an itchy throttle hand, that's for sure.

As I said recently, access to bloggery activity for the next couple of weeks is an unknown unknown, so when these wonders will surface into the light of day is anyone's guess.

Keep checking back ...

Blogging may be light, or maybe not

I am going away for a few days tomorrow, so blogging may be lighter than usual, or if the weather is crap, heavier. Who knows?

Work and various things have been keeping me busy recently, hence the lack of posts over the last couple of weeks. Do I apologise for that? Nah. 'S'life, innit.

I will be in D-Day country for the next week or so: sadly without the bike, but happily with some great people. We are house-sitting for a friend-of-a-friend. The house is alleged to have 'le wee-fee', but I don't know if there is a password, or if everything will default to Google.fr like it did last time, so it may be a bit random.

Play nicely.

The Importance of Punctuation

I received a friend request on Facebook from a young lady I work with, and who has a rather nutty sense of humour. So, being a genial chap and not wanting to disappoint, I clicked 'confirm'. I appended a message, saying "Hello, new friend". So far, so commonplace.

A few hours later, I get a reply: OMG how the hell are you my friend?

I think she must have sent the friend request while drunk and was now regretting her rash decision, so I replied: Well, you asked.

She replied: I did.

And then I realised the missing comma; and the difference between

How the hell are you my friend?


How the hell are you, my friend?

If I were still an English teacher, I would be using that today as a real-life example of why punctuation actually matters.

Oh no I wouldn't - I'd be in the middle of a six-week holiday. Ah well.

Men say women are filthy pigs.

Monday 11 July 2011

New Arrival

Today, at 12:00 mid-day, gender uncertain, a bouncing baby bike, 207 kg, mother and baby doing fine, father ecstatic.

I had a short but useless test ride last week (heavy traffic, narrow roads, more supermoto territory), so today I got the chance to confirm that I had made the right choice - or not. When I picked it up, it was sunny and warm, and I had a long afternoon ride planned, but within ten minutes I started getting rain spots on my visor, so I headed for home and got it under cover. This wan't a bad idea, as it let me check out various things that had been nagging at me (where the bike fits in the timeline of engine improvements, what had been modified and how, oil and water level checks, and so on). And then, miraculously, the clouds cleared and the sun came out. So off I went - a circular route I often use when I need a ride but have no reason to do so, about 50 miles round the coast and back down a main road with a nice mix of twisty and gun-barrel straight.

First impressions are very good. There's as much power as I am ever likely to need, and it seems to cruise in the 70-90 area effortlessly, which is roughly my benchmark. No idea about top speed yet, but the rate at which it reached the ton and was still pulling urgently suggests it won't be anything I will use very often. Handling was very secure. Even only 100 yards after leaving the dealership, I was trickling it in traffic feet-up at less than walking pace, and at higher speeds it just seemed to go where I pointed it. I didn't see much mileage in exploring the limits of the tyres on a first outing, but I had no problems in laying it over for tight corners, and it was rock steady.

The sound-track is a curious one. Going through the rev range, there is the addictive howl that other owners have mentioned, but there is a bit too much wind noise to hear it well. The bike has a Triumph-branded 'not for road use' carbon-fibre can, and it seems fairly subdued (I had TORs on the Bonnie, and they were noticeably louder than standard). At idle, there is a lovely burble from the back end, while the sound coming from under the tank reminds me of a washing-machine full of ball-bearings. I believe this is normal: at least I hope it is.

It's got a flip-up aftermarket screen, which I am in two minds about. For wind protection it seems excellent, with no buffeting at any speed up to 90+, but curiously there is a lot of wind noise at the same time. The dealer says he has a standard screen coming in, so maybe I will try that to see if it is any quieter. I can't say I like the look of the present screen very much (too upright and scooterish), but it seems to work very well.

Both headlights come on for both main and dipped beam, so I believe it has had the usual modification made. (The standard lighting is notoriously crap. Twin headlights, one for main and one for dip, durr, and it's only a matter of adding two relays to existing connections to make both lights work in both modes. Why they left the factory like this, I have no idea.) It would have been No. 1 job to sort this out if it hadn't, as I ride at night frequently. It still has its original tool-kit, and the contents are shiny and untouched. For a 9-year-old bike, this is amazing.

The only issue so far is the riding position. The last few bikes (Bonneville, Honda ST1300, GT1000, Bandit and the daily driver Yamaha) have been fairly upright, and the leaning-forward riding position will take some getting used to. My wrists were getting a bit sore and my hands tingly after an hour in the saddle. But I am sure that is just a matter of practice and adaptation.

When I picked it up from the dealer and rode away, I was all tippy-toes and nervous. It's always the same with a new (to you) bike - different weight and balance, different power characteristics, different clutch, brake and throttle sensitivity - and it usually takes me a few miles to feel I am in control of the bike rather than the other way round. Today's ride was therefore fairly conservative; everything done gently and overtaking only on the obvious opportunities. Nevertheless, we covered some ground at speeds that were not too shabby, and after 50 miles and an hour in the captain's chair, I feel I could ride it anywhere.

And that engine - all the magazines say it's a peach, and they are right.

More tedious hagiography later, no doubt, and a comparison with the Bonnie, which already feels like history. You could say I was pleased.

Sunday 10 July 2011


Pretty sure I heard a nightingale singing in the woods behind the house just now. It sang for about five minutes and has now stopped. It was singing long enough for me to find a recording on Youtube, and also an audio file on the RSPB website, and I was able to listen to the recordings through the headphones while I could still hear the bird outside through the open window.

According to the distribution map on the RSPB site, they are not generally found in Wales, but this has been a warm summer and perhaps they have made it a bit further North and West than is usual. Also, the RSPB says they sing until early June and leave in July. So I could be imagining all this. But it's a very distinctive song, and it sounded like nothing else we have round here.

I have only heard one once before, in the South of France on a summer's evening. It's magical.

Motorcycle Ergonomics

Or 'cycle ergos' as our American chums like to say.

Here's an interesting site. You put in the bike you are interested in and a few details about your size, and it tells you what your forward lean angle will be, and the angle of your knee, which are the two measurements crucial to comfort. You can put in two (or even more) bikes and compare them in a nifty graphic that fades between one and the other by rolling the mouse wheel. It's very clever.

I'm not too sure about how accurate it can be, based on so few parameters (height and inside leg), but it's certainly interesting. It tells me that, by moving from the Bonnie to the Sprint, I will be moving from upright (0°) to a 25° forward lean, and my knees will be bent at 81° rather than 82° - a slightly more acute angle. (That's not what it felt like while actually riding the bike, but we shall see.)

Warning: motorcyclists, especially those who have a few bikes in their history, may waste hours of precious time on this site, and learn nothing they didn't already know. You have been warned.

Here's me on the Sprint:

and the Bonnie for comparison:

The positions in the two pictures look about right, from the 'feel' of the bikes. As I don't go around looking at myself in shop windows (I don't like to mock the afflicted), that's the best I can say. I do think the Bonnie rider needs a pipe, a cardigan and possibly a trilby, though.

Friday 8 July 2011

Comedy Gold

For those who like words, and the way words are put together, and the occasionally funny results of ineptitude in same, I strongly urge you to visit the blog of my friend Nikos, where he has an extract from the Greek media (sadly without attribution, so I can't guarantee it isn't the Nikosian humour at work) which had me in fits.

Barrel without Bottom.

Thursday 7 July 2011

My Ambition ...

... is to beat this guy.
Britain's oldest biker still going strong at 94: Reg Scott has ridden nearly 400,000 miles

Adrenaline junkie Reg Scott is still burning rubber as Britain's oldest motorcyclist - aged 94.

The great-granddad has covered a staggering 384,800 miles during his 74 years on the road, the equivalent of riding around the world more than 15 times.
At the age when most people are sitting in a comfy chair, dribbling, Reg looks to be remarkable fit, healthy and independent. Reg has ridden a motorbike for 74 years, and still rides most days. I wonder if the two are connected?
He bought his first bike - a Norton 16H 490cc - on hire purchase for 73 pounds in 1937 and has had seven more since. The most powerful was a BMW Boxer 1000cc.

Reg now rides a Honda 250cc around his home town of Ludham, Norfolk, at least four times a week, often taking it out to do his weekly grocery shop.

He admits he has had to slow down over the years but still manages to top an impressive 60 miles per hour when out on the road.

[He says] 'You are always in the open air and can feel the ground rushing past you. You just can't get that with a car.

'On a motorbike you always feel like you are speeding even at a slow pace like 50 miles per hour. It's a real adrenaline rush and I still get it.

'Age means nothing to me. I value the independence I have with a bike and plan to carry on until I can't do it anymore.
Me too, pal. I've only got 37 years to go and I will be passing you.

Thirty-seven years? That's almost as long as I have been riding! In Reg terms, I'm only just half-way.

It is often said that there are many old riders, and many bold riders, but there are very few old, bold riders. I'll settle for being an old one. If riding is so much fun, why wouldn't you want to carry on as long as possible?

This guy cheers me up.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Why Change (Part The First)?

I tend to have a fairly busy interior life. I spend a lot of time thinking about things, and assessing things, and calculating things, telling myself stories, and 'reading up', and having arguments with my internal voices, without ever telling anyone what I am doing. It's probably the result of being an only child. You get used to doing things for yourself, without constantly batting ideas about with siblings and being persuaded this way and that. You consider, you make up your mind, and you act. But those around you may be totally unaware that you are considering anything at all, so sometimes the decision seems to be out of the blue, even to those closest to you. It isn't, but it looks that way.

So it is with cars, and of course bikes. I don't think I have ever consciously planned the purchase of a vehicle by reading reports, making the rounds of dealerships, test riding/driving several options, and saving my pennies for something I might buy next year. I can't do that. What happens is that an idea pops (or is popped) into my head, right into the middle of an ongoing train of thought, and I go through a rapid sequence of mental calculations:
  • Does it excite/interest/intrigue me?
  • Will it do what I need it to do?
  • Have I got the resources to do it?
  • Do I really, really want it?
  • No? - forgotten about immediately.
  • Yes? - right, let's do it now.
Regular readers will remember (wake up at the back there) that I bought the Bonneville as a reaction to the Honda Pan European. The Honda was bought (with proceeds from the sale of a fabulous Ducati) because Anna had finally agreed to do some Continental touring with me. When it became clear that this was never going to happen for reasons of her health and fitness, the Honda became just too much bike to have sitting on the drive. The daily driver, the XT, hit so many buttons (fun, utility, cheapness, 'soft spot') that the Honda was hardly ever used. So one day, apparently out of the blue, I decided to sell it and get something smaller and nimbler. It wasn't out of the blue at all, of course. I had been thinking about it for months, and the feeling of 'it's got to go' had rumbled on for a long time. But when I finally came to a decision it was lightning-quick, even though it was a hard one to make, as what was being abandoned was not so much a motorbike as a plan and a dream for two people. Nevertheless, I was having my usual mooch around the local dealership and got talking to someone about the Triumph Bonnevilles they had in. One was available at around the magic figure that I thought the Honda would fetch, and the deal, in my head, was done. I had an eBay listing up and running that night, and in the seven days of the auction I sorted out a deal on the Bonnie. Ten days after flicking a mental switch, I was riding around on a different bike.

Why the Bonneville, and not a similar and perhaps more capable middleweight like a Versys or a Hornet or a Diversion? I guess I liked the looks of the bike above all. I have no emotional attachment to Triumph or even to British bikes particularly, and for a long time I regarded the 'retro' twins as ersatz and rather naff. But I like naked bikes and have a bit of an aversion to body plastics (fragile, flimsy, expensive to replace and get in the way of simple maintenance), so the simple all-metal, what-you-see-is-what-you-get of the Bonnie was rather appealing. And the test ride was the deal-maker: glorious sound from the open pipes, comfy seat and perfect riding position (remember this was only a twenty-minute appraisal), and I was hooked. Or, if not hooked, convinced that the Bonnie was a worthy way to replace the gargantuan, phenomenally-capable but bland Honda. Half the cylinders, half the horsepower, half the speed, twice the fun, as I told myself.

Fifteen months and 6000 miles later, I have obviously got a much clearer view of the bike, and I have decided that it was not the keeper I had imagined it might be. Why this should be must wait until another post, as it's gone 9 pm and I have to up at quarter to sodding five tomorrow and I am sleepy.

More anon.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

"Black Dog"

That is all.

More to follow in due course.

Hmmmm ...

Not convinced by that weird upright screen, although it works well.

10k miles, which means it is shortly due for a big service bill.

Goes like stink, though. And it's very clean and tidy.

Still haven't mentioned this to Anna.

Perhaps tomorrow.

Monday 4 July 2011

Thinks ...

02 Triumph Sprint ST 955i, low miles, immaculate. Deep red, not the orangey tone of the photo.

Bonnie plus a few hundred beer tokens.

Whatcher think?

To my American Readers ...

... wishing you a very happy Fourth of July.

Saturday 2 July 2011

Thank you Brizzle

I mentioned that I had been up to the Big City (Brizzle in this case) to see daughter no. 2 recently. While I was there I got a parking ticket. The circumstances were a bit difficult: D2 was not well when I got there and I had to take her to the medical centre for an emergency appointment. The nearest parking space was on-street, about 200 yards away. The instructions on the ticket machine weren't clear, and mistakenly I got a 'free' 15-minute ticket, rather than the 2-hour one I thought I had purchased. All to do with the precise method of inputting one's car registration number into the machine, which is rather counter-intuitive. Of course, when I went back to the car and hour later there was a big yellow sticker on the windscreen - and, curiously, my two pound coins still in the machine's exit slot where I had overlooked them earlier.

I phoned the helpline (hah!) number on the machine and got instructions on how to use it correctly, and then I re-fed my £2 into it and got a proper ticket. On the advice of the admittedly helpful man on the phone line, I got a note from the surgery to confirm that I had been there for the relevant times. When I got home, I sent this off with the tickets and a polite letter explaining the circumstances, humbly requesting that the penalty be cancelled. Humble and polite, because I wanted a result, not to beat my chest over my individual rights as a free citizen. In the words of my late mother-in-law, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. However, in bash-the-middle-class Britain, I expected a brusque reply along the lines of "you've done the crime, now pay the fine". Zero tolerance of community crimes, punishment for daring to want to park a - yeugh - car in the middle of a city, shock horror, who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are-little-man, we-hold-all-the-cards stuff.

This morning I received a reply. In the light of the representations I made, and in full consideration of the circumstances of the case, my penalty has been cancelled. In a way, I am satisfied that this was the right outcome. It was a genuine mistake, it was rectified as soon as I was able to, Bristol City Council lost nothing (my total stay, even including the 'free' period, was less than the two hours I paid for), and the instructions on the machine were far from clear, especially to someone in a bit of a panic with poorly offspring to look after. In less totalitarian times, I would have expected a response that recognised a genuine mistake, and realised that I was hardly a major criminal to be pursued to the utmost length of the law.

What is slightly disturbing is that this is exactly what I got. My surprise at the outcome (pleasant though it is) is the thing that disturbs me. We've got so used to the strict-liability, zero-tolerance culture (applied only to the law-abiding, of course) that an outcome like this is a shock to the system.

And it shouldn't be.

Well done to the worthy burghers of Bristol City Council Parking Enforcement Team, anyway. Your humanity and compassion are not unappreciated.
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