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

- George Washington

Friday 30 September 2011

Truly Dreadful

Thanks to Sue, I endured this abomination from the end of the Labour Party Conference.

(Sue's post title was far funnier than mine, but a little cruel, so I won't say that she headed her post "It's Over When The Fat Lady Sings". Hur hur.)

Now get this: I love music, and I would never make fun of someone who was a little bit off-key or lacking in polish, if they were making the effort and having a bit of fun. But this is a showpiece conference in front of the world's media, for a party which has a lot of repair work to do on its image if it ever wants to be considered for government again. And what do we get? Something that you would applaud indulgently at a primary school end-of-term concert, while thanking the good Lord that your child had chosen to play online poker rather than the recorder.

What were they thinking of?

There was a bit of expectation-management going on from the Chair beforehand. We were told that they were 'Labour Party members' and 'from Manchester', presumably code for "don't laugh, it may harm their self-esteem".

I leave you to watch it, or not. But don't blame me if your teeth fall out.

And do they really believe the words of The Red Flag any more?

Thursday 29 September 2011

Joke in Questionable Taste

George is a widower and has decided he doesn't like living alone, so he finally moves into an old people's home. After a few days, he meets Alice, a lady of a similar age to himself, and they seem to get along well. On sunny days, they go into the secluded garden of the home and sit together, reminiscing about the good old days and talking about the grandchildren. This goes on for several weeks, and their relationship semed to be blossoming.

One day, George said to Alice, "I know this seems a funny thing to ask, but I have been missing my late wife's company terribly. I just miss the daily contact, and the hugs and cuddles more than anything. Could ask you a favour?"

"Go ahead and ask," she says. "We're good friends now. You can ask me anything."

"Well, would you mind putting your hand inside my trousers and just - er - holding it for a while?"

"Well, that's a bit of a strange request, but I have been married myself and I understand. If it would make you happy, George, of course I will."

So she discreetly unzips his trousers and slips her hand inside and holds his manhood. George smiles a blissful smile and closes his eyes. After a while, the sun goes in and they have to go back inside. A nurse approaches, she slips her hand out, and they return to the building and their separate rooms.

Alice really didn't mind doing this and, when George asked her the same request a few days later, she agreed readily. It seemed to give him so much pleasure, and she was glad she was able to bring some happiness to her new-found friend. Indeed, she was beginning to have some feelings for the old boy, and started to look forward to their meetings. As summer passed by, they were to be seen almost every day in the garden, their backs to the house, close together, just enjoying each other's company. What no-one else knew was that Alice's hand was inside George's underwear, gently holding his manhood. After a while, Alice even started to wonder if there was more to it than friendship, and that perhaps George might one day propose to her.

One day, she went out to their usual seat, but there was no sign of George. She sat on her own for a while, and then returned to her room, wondering what had happened to him. She didn't hear from him or see him for almost a week. Eventually, she decided to track him down and see what was going on. She checked his room, but he wasn't there. She went out into the garden, checked the usual seat, and then, puzzled, went off to explore the rest of the grounds.

A few minutes later, she turned a corner and saw George sitting on a seat in the remotest corner of the grounds. Next to him was another woman, slightly younger then Alice, sitting very close to George - suspiciously close, in Alice's eyes. She decided not to confront them, but went back to her room and sat for a long time in the gathering gloom, wondering what had gone wrong, or whether she had perhaps misunderstood George's intentions and the nature of their relationship. To be honest, she also felt a bit of good old-fashioned jealousy, an emotion she had not felt for many years.

After a few days of emotional turmoil, she decided to find George and have it out with him. She went to his room at a time she knew he would be there, knocked and entered. He was sitting by the window, reading the newspaper.

"George, I have to ask you - are you seeing someone else? Do you have feelings for that woman you have been sitting with?"

"Well, yes," said George, "Gladys and I are becoming very good friends."

"Does she do that thing for you that I do?"

"Yes, she does, and I have to say she does it very well," said George.

"George, I have to tell you that I am bitterly disappointed in you. I thought we had feelings for each other. I thought I could make you happy. What has she got that I haven't?"


Evil Tory Petrolheads Willing to Sacrifice Tiny Children Shock

At long last, there appears to be some serious debate about raising the archaic 70 mph speed limit on motorways, and a proposal to raise it to 80 mph. From the BBC website:
The Department of Transport is to launch a consultation on increasing the speed limit on England and Wales' motorways from 70mph to 80mph.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the current limit, introduced in 1965, was out of date due to "huge advances in safety and motoring technology".
About time, too. Apparently, the DoT thinks that 49% of drivers flout the current limit. Apparently, the DoT needs to get out more and put some miles in. When I drive or ride on the motorway, the default speed for the majority of cars and bikes is 80 mph. Some go slower, some go faster, but 80 is where you are in the flow of the traffic. So a change to the law would only be legitimising something that happens already, and which the police appear to be happy with.

But that isn't a good argument for raising the limit. Philip Hammond was interviewed on BBC News Channel this evening, and Matthew Amroliwala challenged him, saying that just because people break the law does not mean the law should be changed. After all, people burgle houses, but we don't say "well, people are doing it anyway, so we might as well legalise it". Hammond swerved that one, and started talking about improved technology, whereas he should have been firm that this was not the reason for the proposals.

Where Hammond was on surer ground was when he said the law was 'discredited'. He's right: very few people act as if they believe that they are only safe at 69 mph and likely to die a horrible death if they stray up to 71. People know that the limit was introduced by Tom Fraser (in response to a number of serious accidents in fog, work that one out) and made permanent by Barbara Castle, the non-driving 'motorists' friend', at a time when most cars were pretty much flat out at 70 and ABS was still a rare option on high-end motors. In a modern car (or on a modern bike), 70 is pretty much a mid-point in the vehicle's capabilities. My car cruises at 70 with around 2000 rpm on the clock - less than halfway to the redline - and if I am going for it, the Sprint is just into second gear at this speed. Add in the inherent reliability and stability of modern vehicles (think Ford Focus compared to Ford Zephyr), pre-tensioning seat belts, radial tyres, airbags, crumple zones, passenger safety cells, brake assist, stability control, traction control and the universal fitting of ABS to cars, and it becomes obvious that the limit set in 1965 is way, way out of date. Everyone knows this, and most people treat the 70 limit more as something to keep the speed cameras happy than anything to do with safety.

Matthew Amroliwala tried to argue that, just because a law was discredited, it does not mean that it should be repealed. But that's exactly what should happen. Human laws are not handed down on tablets of stone from a deity who must be obeyed; they are the expressions of someone's will. In a democracy, one might hope that they would be expressions of the popular will, but perhaps that is too much to ask. Nevertheless, man made the law, and if man thinks it is no longer appropriate, man should change it. Unless you are arguing that the 70 limit was the hidden item 11 on the tablets Moses received, then any law is up for debate. That is right and proper.

There are two substantive objections that will plague the debate from start to finish. One is the likelihood of slightly increased casualties. Bluntly, raising the limit is unlikely to cause any more accidents, but those that do occur are likely to be slightly more severe. Yes, a few extra people will die. Hammond's response was the argument from utility: the small number of extra casualties will be more than outweighed by the benefits to the economy and people's personal lives through the reduction in journey times. Amroliwala spluttered at this, and you could almost hear the "if it saves one life ..." mantra waiting to be uttered. But Hammond stood his ground and said that if no-one went out of the house, then we could have no accidents at all, but that this was really not a sustainable state of affairs. Good for him.

The second is the environmental argument - increased vehicle speed will mean increased emissions. I don't think you can deny that, although I would argue the point from pollution/fumes/smog (which I detest) rather than CO2 and Global Warming Climate Change Disruption (which I don't believe in), but the argument from utility is relevant here too. There may well be a small increase in vehicle emissions, but this may be counterbalanced by greater ecomonic benefits elsewhere. This is surely what the consultation is set up to debate and discover.

But rest assured that there will be a lively debate, with loud and heart-rending interjections by the mental environists and the cotton-wool safety ninnies.

Me, I'm not sure it will make much difference. I'll take myself as an example, and assume that at least some people will think like me. Sometimes, I burble along at 60, enjoying the economy and a slower pace. The 70 limit is irrelevant then. Sometimes I like to blast along (conditions permitting) and have been known to travel long distances at three-figure speeds (on private land, of course). When I am doing this, whether the limit is 70 or 80 doesn't matter a hoot. I'm looking at a ban whatever, if I am caught. But my normal speed, in moderate traffic, is between 70 and about 85 mph. That's the speed that gets me where I am going in a reasonable time, without causing undue stress to my brain, or putting me in undue danger from other road users. If the limit is raised to 80, will I rack it up and start riding at between 80 and 95? I don't think so. In fact, the opposite effect may happen: if the new limit is 80, I may well decide that I am happy with that, avoid the stress of watching my mirrors, and stay legal. Paradoxically, raising the limit may actually reduce average speeds.

Think of it from the police's point of view: currently, most drivers/riders on the motorway are over the limit. What do they do? They can't catch and prosecute them all, so they fall back on formulas such as the limit + 10% + 2 that ACPO own up to, and it all gets complicated. If the limit were raised and most people were actually obeying the law, the police are then free to go after the real dangers, the nutters who think 120 on a crowded motorway is a good idea, or who change lanes without looking or signalling.

Two years ago, I posted how drivers on the unrestricted sections of autobahn in Germany were extremely good at sticking to speed limits when they were posted, such as around road works. My theory was (and is) that where people can see that speed limits are imposed where necessary, and for a good reason, they will obey them. The same logic may apply to the raising of the 70 limit to 80: if people recognise that it is a reasonable compromise, maybe they will be happier to stick to it.

I'm delighted that the issue is being debated at all. In the current safety-obsessed culture, I thought that a mature discussion of speed limits would never arise, unless it was to ratchet them down further. So at least two cheers for Philip Hammond and the Tories for daring to raise the subject. Apart from the aforementioned Greens and Ninnies, it would be immensely popular.

And the coalition need some good news right now.

UPDATE: Wolfers is less impressed.

Ride To Work Day 2012

Put it in your diary.

Ride To Work Day 2012 is on Monday 18 June.

Spread the word.

Facebook event page.

The Greek Problem

I am grateful to Alice Cook and her blog UK Bubble, UK Economy for this post, which is the clearest and most succinct summary so far, of why the Euro is in such a mess.
Greece is only days away from national humiliation. The Greek government will admit what we all already know-that it can no longer service its debt. It will ask its creditors to restructure and write down government liabilities to more manageable levels.

Understandably, the Greek people have become deeply pessimistic about the future. This is reflected in the latest consumer sentiment surveys. Sentiment has fallen off a cliff, and Greeks are on the edge of a collective nervous breakdown.

Nevertheless, it is wrong to think that Greece is an outlier. It is not a special case. It is not unique. The Greek government made the same mistakes that other European countries made.
Read on ...


Click for ... ahem ... embiggening.

Wednesday 28 September 2011


Thanks to BonnieBlack on the TriumphRat website:

EU bike proposals - e-petition

Marta Andeasen, MEP for South-East England, has started an e-petition calling for the scrapping of the EU anti-biker proposals. I would urge everyone to consider getting over there and signing it. Here's the link:


here's the text:
The EU is proposing the Regulation on approval and market surveillance of two- or three-wheel vehicles and quadricycles : COM(2010)0542 We call on the Government at European Council, Ministerial, at Commons and at Lord's level, as well as British MEPs and MPs to oppose, in the strongest terms, this proposed legislation.
and here's the rationale from her website:
Brussels 25 March 2011. Motorcyclists across Britain are facing misery after the European Commission published plans to regulate 2, 3 and 4 wheel quad bikes. UKIP MEP Marta Andreasen is working closely with Motorcycle groups and wants to see the regulation shelved.

The plans, which will go to the Internal Market Committee of the European Parliament in late May, include:

1. Compulsory Advanced Braking Systems (ABS). ABS does not work well on loose surfaces. The costs of fitting, maintenance and repair have not been properly assessed. The Commission’s internal Impact Assessment admits that the data on the effectiveness and costs of compulsory ABS is weak. Where riders choose bikes with ABS the rider must be able to turn the system off when riding on loose surfaces such as gravel.

2. ‘Anti-Tampering’ measures (this restricts riders’ choice of air filters, engine management systems, internal parts, exhausts,
sprockets, tyres, etc.). The riders’ ability to make modifications to suit their own situation should not be regulated. The ability of qualified riders to de-restrict or otherwise tune their vehicle should not be removed.

3. Road-side Spot-checks targeting riders. Riders are to be detained for random checks of emissions and modifications. It is unacceptable to deny freedom of movement in this way. If this was applied to cars and other forms of road transport, there would be uproar.

In a statement from Brussels Mrs Andreasen said,

“Yet again we are forced to witness the EU sticking its nose in where it is not needed. What is worse is that the proposals show a distinct lack of understanding of how motorbikes work and, if implemented, could ironically make bikes less safe. Typically the European Commission has decided to blunder in and create a problem where none exists.

“I am starting a campaign with bikers across the UK to lobby their local MEP and ensure that this needless legislation is thrown on the scrap heap. Forcing expensive braking systems that don’t work well on motorcycles, preventing bikers choice on what tyres or exhausts they want on their bikes and randomly stop-checking them goes far beyond nanny-stateism at its worst. It is actually a form of victimisation.”
Looks like UKIP is the only one on the side of bikers at the moment.

Motorcycle Parking

The regular commenter that I am calling Mr X has sent me another newspaper scan. This one concerns motorcycle parking. Read it and see what you think. (Click for enmassivisation.)

I'd like to see a proper reference to that bit of EU legislation, as I had not heard of it before. If anyone knows and can supply a link I would be grateful.

If it's true, then it is scandalous that local authorities are charging bikes for parking and not letting on that what they are doing is actually illegal. What was all that fuss in Westminster about then?

I am going to contact David to find out more. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

UPDATE: I have heard back from David Russell. He is seeking clarification from his MEP and North Norfolk District Council and will get back to me.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Norwich Evening News gets it

Over these anti-EU protests (sorry, I'll be back to normal stuff soon), I said that there wasn't much media interest. Seems I was wrong. One regular reader (you know who you are) took the trouble to scan and post some stuff from his local evening paper. Seems like fair reporting to me. Thank you, Mr X. Click for bigness.

Some biker thoughts ...

From the facebook page of the local bad-ass biker/charity fund-raising group, a post by a chap called Nigel Brace. He's encouraging people to put it in their Facebook statuses, so I'm sure he won't mind my pinching it for here. Read it in the context of Sunday's rider protests, as posted here over the last few days.
To all the irate car drivers abusing bikers nationwide today, may I paint you a picture? Imagine being told that you had to use OE [original equipment, i.e. made and supplied by the manufacturer - GFGN] parts every time your car needed attention. Bye bye Halfords, Kwik Fit, etc. Imagine being regularly stopped by the police when you were out driving perfectly legally, for them to check you hadn't tampered with your vehicle or fitted any non-standard parts. Imagine being told that you were forbidden to drive unless you were wearing a certain colour clothing. ... Imagine having the control of your vehicle taken out of your hands and trusted to a computer. Imagine being told that your 7 year old car, your pride and joy, was now forbidden from entering towns and cities. This is the reason you were held you up for 20 minutes yesterday throughout the country. Be under no misunderstanding, the bikers are the first in line for draconian EU interference. If we fall, it will be a domino effect. Support us now, Bikers are fighting so that you wont have to.
Convinced yet?

Monday 26 September 2011

Nigella - definitely NSFW

This is just the best video mash-up I have seen this year. I am not a fan of cookery programmes, but if they were like this I could be persuaded.

IAM and ABS 3

I have been having some correspondence with a gentleman called Vince Yearley of the IAM over their support for EU proposals for mandatory ABS on new bikes. Previous posts here and here.

I received a second reply from Vince today. Here is what he said:
Dear Richard

Your points about compulsion, not choice, are well made. As I understand it, you have no problem with ABS on bikes if it is an option.

I am reluctant to talk about instances of compulsion, such as seat belt laws or mandatory wearing of crash helmets for motorcyclists where there has been a road safety benefit. It is the compulsory fitting of ABS to new bikes we are addressing.

And I don’t believe we have taken a formal position on the other European moves you cite (compulsory high viz clothing and anti tampering measures).

“Increasing skills” and raising driver and rider standards are what you have signed up for over the last 19 years (apols for earlier error). Those principles are just as important whether or not your bike in future comes with ABS fitted as standard as I believe it is still possible to make riding errors even on bikes with the best spec. I really hope that our one news release declaring support of ABS on motorcycles won’t cause you to consider leaving the IAM.



And my reply to him this evening:

Hi Vince

I really do appreciate your taking the time to make a substantive reply to my comments. You are correct in your first paragraph. I have no objection the ABS on bikes per se. I have had it on two bikes in the past and never once caused it to activate, apart from in informal testing. Neither of my current bikes has it, and I don't miss it. I pride myself on my forward planning and riding skills and hope that they keep me out of trouble. If I am wrong in that, then that is my concern and no-one else's. I would be pleased if ABS were an option on any bike where there was a demand for it. Freedom of choice applies to those who want ABS too. As long as it is an option, and not mandatory.

I cannot deny that there has been a road safety benefit in the laws on seat belts and crash helmets, although it is not as clear-cut as many would like to think. The reduction in KSI numbers for car occupants after the seat-belt law, for example, was accompanied by an increase in injuries and deaths for cyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable road users. I am sure you are familiar with the concept of risk homeostasis or risk compensation. Seat belt laws, in effect, made life safer for car occupants and more dangerous for everyone else. On the other matter, I believe that anyone who doesn't wear a crash helmet is an utter fool - but I don't support compulsion there either. Your life; your choices.

I am pleased that the IAM has not yet taken a formal position on the other topics under discussion, such as compulsory hi-viz and anti-tampering, and I hope that perhaps the organisation will take a more anti-authoritarian view if these subjects are debated in your policy discussions. Governments will always interfere, firstly because they think they know better than everyone else how people should live their lives, and secondly because they can. This does not mean that private organisations such as the IAM should support them in that.

I doubt that we will agree on this matter, but I am grateful that you have given my remarks your attention and I hope that, if you have any input into the direction of IAM policy in the future, you will remember this exchange and realise that not all of your members are happy with the IAM's embracing of mandatory measures 'for our own good'. My membership is due for renewal next month and I shall probably let it continue, because I do support all the work the IAM does in promoting skills and high standards. But I am still unhappy that my fees and the fact of my membership are being used to support something which, philospohically and politically, I am dead against.

Thank you again, and apologies for the inordinate length of this reply.

As it is a safety organisation, I can see why the IAM supports everything from seat belts to ABS. What I can't get over is their support for the EU mandating this for everyone regardless of their wishes or needs. I don't want to be accused of tinfoil-hattery, but I can seriously see a situation developing where the EU (or any government) will say:

Well, we made them have ABS and we made them wear high-visibility clothing. They took that OK. They took on board the message that motorcycling was inherently dangerous, and that technology and conspicuity (mitigating the consequences) rather than skill and intelligence (preventing dangerous situations developing in the first place) were the way to make it safer. They believed that we were 'experts' and knew best what is good for them. The next step is to convince them that no sensible person needs more than 80 bhp. And then 60. and then 40. And then we can help them achieve these greater safety benefits with remote throttle control to help them keep to speed limits (I am not making that bit up). When they are all doing 30 mph and slower than almost anything else on the road, but still getting wet and cold, they will start to give up this dangerous pastime altogether. After that, banning 'dangerous' motorcycles will be easy.

The 'salami-slice' method. It worked with smokers. I am not happy that the IAM is collaborating with it.

Mathematical Joke

There are 10 kinds of people in the world:

Those who understand binary, and those who don't.

Sunday 25 September 2011

EU Biking Protest

I had to miss today's MAG protest against the latest EU proposals because I had to be at work. I was there in spirit.

In terms of the mainstream media, it seems to have been noticed, even if not reported on in any depth.

BBC Wales
BBC England
BBC Wiltshire
BBC Humberside
Nothing in the dailies that I can see on a quick search.

About 1,500 motorcyclists have staged go-slow protests on the M4 in south Wales and the A55 in north Wales against proposed EU laws on bikers.

The Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) claims that they would be more heavily regulated than other road users.

South Wales Police said about 1,000 bikers drove along the M4 westbound from junction 32 (Coryton) to junction 35 (Pencoed) with little disruption.

Organisers of the A55 protest say 500 bikers joined a go-slow from Abergele.

The rides were among 70 protests organised by MAG across the UK at 13:00 BST on Sunday to protest at a range of EU proposals on motorcycling.
Oh well, better than nothing.

Friday 23 September 2011

EU Hands Off Biking

MAG (Motorcycle Action Group) are holding a nationwide day of protest on Sunday 25 September. The reason is a mass of EU proposals that are due to be debated soon in Brussels, some of which would alter the nature of motorcycling permanently, and not for the better. I'll leave MAG themselves to explain:
A raft of issues emanating from Europe will have a profound effect on riders and the motorcycle industry generally. We must stand up and be heard. Some of these are driven by the EU Commission, like the new Type Approval and Market Surveillance Regulation that will see the introduction of compulsory ABS, the sealing of powertrains from the airbox, through the engine to the final drive (including the diameter and aspect ratio of the rear tyre), restrictions on the aftermarket industry, possible roadside checks by police or other government agencies to inspect emissions, detect owner 'tuning' and more.

There's EU-funded development of electronics to control and govern speeds through warning systems or, ultimately, actual throttle control.

Ireland plans compulsory, full sleeve day-glo jackets for riders and pillions, France is debating compulsory reflective/day-glo clothing. Will UK insurance companies start saying that because we weren't dressed in day-glo it's our own fault that an inattentive driver drove into us? MAG says the onus should not be on the victim.

France also wants to ban bikes over 7 years old from urban areas for environmental reasons! Their congestion is already terrible and putting more riders into cars that pollute terribly when they are stationary, is bonkers.

Bikes are part of the urban transport solution, not problem.

Enough! There will be a vote by the MEP committee discussing the above Regulation on Oct 17th. We need them to listen. They're meant to represent us. MAG and many others in the motorcycle community are negotiating hard with our own Government and our European representatives, but in the meantime;

Join us to keep EU Hands Off Biking, it's time for Action now!
The idea is to start from a service area at 1 pm, ride at 45 mph for 20 minutes, and then disperse. It seems a good idea - fast enough not to hold people up, short enough not to be a nuisance (the last thing we need is to piss off the people who might support us), and yet seen by many people on the motorway network. Away from the motorways, people are meeting at cafés and car parks and going on an equivalent local route. The nearest to me starts at the Little Chef at St Clears on the A40. A full list of the meeting points (still being updated) is here.

I am working all day on the 25th, so I will not be able to join in, but I will be there in spirit. I know a lot of local bikers will be there. If you can spare half an hour and support the campaign, urge you to get to one of these meets and show your support.

I've been dithering about joining MAG for a long time, so now my penance for non-attendance will be to join up, pay my dues, and get involved. It will be the next thing I do, after I press 'Publish' on this post.

UPDATE: a letter from Peter Skinner MEP, posted on the MAG Facebook page:
I want to take this opportunity to wish you the best of luck for Sunday’s ‘day of action’ across the South East and the UK. Biking has a rich history in the South East and we’re all familiar with the sight of columns of motorcycles making their way to the coast on bank holiday weekends. I know that for many of you biking is a passion and one of the greatattractions is the freedom and individuality it offers. We need to becareful not to overregulate and I will be working with MAG in the South East and in the European Parliament to make sure your voices are heard. Some of the proposals being floated at the moment are clearly over the top and would be unfair and unrealistic. We need a common sense approach here and that’s what I’ll be telling Brussels over the coming weeks. I’m told MAG are organising a lobby of the European Parliament in October so hopefully I’ll have a chance to meet with some of you then if not before.

Best of luck Peter Skinner MEP
Not all bastards, then.

Black Dog?

I post on a number of motorcycle forums as Black Dog. The genesis of this name was many years ago, when I was asked to provide a nickname for a website and my black Labrador was the first thing that came to mind. I was mildly amused by the notion of his being my alter ego all over the interwebs. Or my being his, I'm not sure. Cultural references to the Led Zeppelin song, the Daily Telegraph column and Churchill's famous episodes of depression are tangential, but acknowledged.

He has always been over-excitable, headstrong and self-centred, but he has also been extremely friendly and sociable. When he was younger, he was massively strong and a bit of a handful, but now he is old he is more docile. His eyes are getting cataracts, he seems to be going deaf (genuine deafness, not Labrador Selective Deafness), and he is becoming lame with arthritis. But he still loves people.

We are in the middle of having a new kitchen fitted. Today, a young Romanian lad has been doing some preliminary painting before the chippies come. He carefully painted the kitchen door frame, after we removed the child's stairgate that has always allowed us to keep the dog either in, or out of, the kitchen. So, without the stairgate, we barricaded the door opening with two heavy chairs to prevent the ingress of Labrador into the newly-painted area.

Late in the afternoon, with the paint fresh and wet, the electrician and the plumber arrived to plan the next stage of the installation. And they were talking in the kitchen. The Black Dog decided that these good people had not yet been greeted properly, so he barged his way through the chairs, scraping his side on the door frame on his way through.

Oh dear.

Anybody want to buy a dog? One careful owner?

IAM and ABS 2

In my previous post, I mentioned that I had written to the IAM over their stance of support for the European Parliament proposals for compulsory ABS on bikes over 125cc. I reproduce their reply to my first message, and the content of my reply to that.
Dear Mr Nowhere

Thank you for your email of 22 September.

It is true that we have publicly supported this measure on road safety grounds, but it would be a shame if this single story were to bring your nine years’ support of the IAM to an end.

This European move is in any event unlikely to mean a retro-fitting of ABS to existing bikes.

Anything that makes motorcyclists safer in education terms we would support, and so by extension, if engineering can help reduce motorcycle casualties, we support that too.

Vince Yearley
My response:
Hi Vince

Thank you for your prompt reply. Just on a point of detail, I joined the IAM in 1992, so I make that 19 years of membership.

I think you may have missed the main issue that I have with the IAM's position. It is not the benefits of ABS that I was questioning, but the forcing of manufacturers to fit it to all new bikes. There is a big difference between advice, guidance and education on one hand, and compulsion on the other. I would support the first, but feel uncomfortable with the second.

Whether ABS will be mandated to be retro-fitted or not is irrelevant. It is the compulsory fitting to any bike, and the IAM support of it, that I object to. I suppose I could just keep riding older and older bikes if I chose to. That's a kind of freedom, isn't it?

I cannot accept the logical leap in your final sentence, from supporting education in motorcycle safety to supporting mandatory engineering solutions. Education enables people to make informed choices, whereas compulsion removes choice altogether. One does not naturally flow from the other.

Do I take it that the IAM will be supporting all the other proposals currently under discussion in the European Parliament, such as compulsory high-visibility clothing and anti-tampering measures?

The header line to your website speaks of "increasing skills" and "raising driving and riding standards". I cannot see how you get from that position to one where you are supporting the removal of people's freedom to choose. As you can see, this is a philosophical concern, not a technical one. But if the IAM is going to come down on the side of Big Brother, then I fear we may have to part company.

Best wishes

I know I have a lot of non-biking readers of this blog (and you are all very welcome, be assured of that), who might be asking: What is he on about? If it makes his hobby safer, what's the problem? Surely no-one in his right mind could object to the imposition of rules and regulations designed to save lives?

Well, yes I could. The state in general has no right to force people to do things for their own good. The EU in particular has no mandate to pass any laws or regulations governing British people, because their consent to such rule has never been sought. People with no experience of motorcycling have no right to tell motorcyclists what is or is not good for them. And, of course, there is the 'slippery slope' argument. It's ABS on bikes today. What tomorrow?
  • All people walking in remote areas must take a satellite phone (for their own safety)
  • All people wishing to take a boat from off its moorings must be aged 18 or over and have passed a rigorous test of competence (for their own safety)
  • Anyone proposing to commit an 'act of a horticultural nature' must have a medical certificate to prove they have had a tetanus jab and be wearing the appropriate protective clothing (for their own safety).
All perfectly reasonable regulations if you believe that the state has a duty to stop people harming themselves. But where does it stop?

And let me dispose of the 'if it saves just one life' argument. If every biker in Europe was forced to wear fluoro yellow suits, have ABS, kept their bikes totally unmodified, and rode everywhere at 45 mph, and it saved one life, would it be worth it?

My answer is no, it wouldn't.


I read a story in Visordown that the IAM, of which I am a member for both car and motorcycle, is supporting calls to make anti-lock brakes compulsory on all large motorcycles from 2015. Apparently, the European Parliament is shortly to be discussing proposals to force manufacturers to fit ABS to all bikes over 125cc by 2017, and the IAM has lined itself up with these proposals, and in fact is lobbying to have them brought in two years early.

This post is not about ABS. I have ABS on my car, and I love it, although I would appreciate an 'off' switch, because there are a limited number of circumstances where it makes things far worse - ice, for one. I have had bikes with ABS and bikes without, and I haven't ever had to brake hard enough in an emergency for it to kick in. I am much less convinced of the benefits of ABS on a bike because hard braking on a bike calls for much greater care and skill than in a car, and keeping the wheels turning is only part of the equation. ABS adds weight, expense and complexity to a machine where lightness and simplicity are virtues. I'd prefer a bike without it, although it wouldn't be a deal-breaker if the machine I wanted was so equipped. But I would like the choice. The European Parliament would appear to think that I should be denied that choice. And the IAM appear to be supporting them.

This post is about compulsion, not technology. One of my favourite quotations of all time, and one I try to live by, is currently heading the blog:
There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.
- P. J. O'Rourke
We do not have the right to tell others how to live their lives. We have the right to insist they do not harm us; but we do not have the right to insist they do not harm themselves. That is why, although I always wear a helmet and safety gear while riding and a seat belt while driving, I do not support laws making these things mandatory. The same goes for ABS.

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who wish to see the world made a better place, usually in accordance with their own prejudices, and by force if necessary, and those who just wish to live their lives according to their own consciences, without interference. I am firmly in the latter camp, while governments of both left and right are in the former. By supporting the calls for mandatory ABS, the IAM is aligning itself with those who wish to interfere, to nanny, to scold, and to control. The IAM has done, and continues to do, a great job in educating, training, assessing and advising. But when it crosses the line into supporting compulsion, it ceases to be an organisation I want to be part of. Yesterday, I wrote the following to IAM Motoring Policy and Research:
I have read on a motorcycling website that the IAM is publicly supporting compulsory ABS for new motorcycles. Please could you confirm if this is true or not? If true, this could be a resigning issue for me. If the IAM sees itself as assisting government in applying yet more rules and regulations to our already overburdened lives, then I would not want to be part of it. The IAM would no longer speak for me.
Advise members by all means, advise government by all means, but when you cross the line into advocacy of compulsion that will affect your members you have gone too far.

Today, I received the following reply:
Dear Mr Nowhere

Thank you for your email of 22 September.

It is true that we have publicly supported this measure on road safety grounds, but it would be a shame if this single story were to bring your nine years’ support of the IAM to an end.

This European move is in any event unlikely to mean a retro-fitting of ABS to existing bikes.

Anything that makes motorcyclists safer in education terms we would support, and so by extension, if engineering can help reduce motorcycle casualties, we support that too.


Vince Yearley
This reads like a whole degree course in missing the point, and I will be replying in due course. And it's 19 years, not nine, by the way.

More anon.

A Lesson for 'Science'?

A Large Hadron collider, yesterday.

I was fascinated by this article over at the BBC website. It seems that experiments at CERN have found that particles in one of their experiments may have exceeded the speed of light.
Puzzling results from Cern, home of the Large Hadron Collider, have confounded physicists because subatomic particles seem to have beaten the speed of light.

Neutrinos sent through the ground from Cern toward the Gran Sasso laboratory 732km away in Italy seemed to show up a tiny fraction of a second early.
Now, I am no expert. In fact, I failed Physics O-level, so I am not qualified to comment on the science, other than to say 'Wow' a bit and wonder if the whole concept of a universal speed limit was a bit too deterministic of Einstein. No, what this post is about is the scientists' reaction to this (if true) paradigm-shifting discovery. They're doing it all wrong.
The result - which threatens to upend a century of physics - were put online for scrutiny by other scientists.
First mistake. What if someone looked at the data and found an error? The scientists would look foolish and wrong, and would have to go back to the beginning and start again.
In the meantime, the group says it is being very cautious about its claims.
Second mistake. If you think you have results which will change the way we look at the world, you need to be bold and positive, not cautious. Otherwise people will think you are uncertain, and they will stop your funding.
They will be discussing the result in detail in a conference at Cern on Friday afternoon, which can be viewed online.
Jesus, these guys. A conference? Online? That means almost anybody could turn up and attack your theories. Even members of the public. Even scientists who aren't in your specialism, and what do they know?
"We tried to find all possible explanations for this," said report author Antonio Ereditato of the Opera collaboration.

"We wanted to find a mistake - trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects - and we didn't," he told BBC News.
Rank bloody amateurs. You've found an explanation you're happy with, yes? It's pretty earth-shattering and goes against not only conventional wisdom but common sense, but that's all the more reason to stick to your guns. All this lily-livered looking for alternatives and searching for errors; it's all a waste of time.
"When you don't find anything, then you say 'Well, now I'm forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinise this.'"
No you don't. You keep it to yourselves, discredit anyone who disagrees, bluster and bully, and claim 'the science is settled'.

But then, you're not proper scientists, are you?

Thursday 22 September 2011

Just call me Mr Upholstery

Actually, don't. It just sounded like a good title for a post.

The new seat cover is on the XT (previous post), and the seat is back on the bike. The bike hasn't been started for about six weeks (New Bike Honeymoon) and was a little slow to turn over, but was soon chugging away like a champ. Chain oiler filled, and a little turn round the garden just to remind it of what it is supposed to do. It's a fantastically relaxed and roomy riding position compared to the Sprint, or even the Bonnie.

The upholstery thang started with my third visit to Homebase to get a working staple gun. The garage pixies have hidden my 'proper' gun, so I went looking for a cheap substitute to get this job done. The Homebase 'Value' model at six quid was such good value that it didn't work. Not at all. So I took it back and got a much posher 'light duty' model, still trusting the Homebase brand. This turned out not to work either. Three clicks would bring three absences of staples at the business end, and then the fourth click would produce all four staples, or sometimes more, mashed together in a nickel-plated pretzel. So I took this one back too. I had unfortunately lost the receipt, so I had to accept a replacement rather than a refund, and I went a little further up the Homebase range and got the 'heavy duty' model. There were other staple guns there, but they were expensive and wouldn't handle the small staples I needed to use. This one worked, after a fashion. Staples actually come out of the end and stick into whatever you were resting on, which is good. However, even at its most powerful setting it wouldn't bang the staple into the seat plastic hard enough to lie flat. But needs must, and I had a job to do.

The back part of the seat is a nice square shape, and the cover went onto this no problem.

I got perhaps two-thirds of the way to the front, stretching as I went, and it was looking great. The front part of the seat, however, is a bugger of a shape, as it turns through nearly 90° and climbs up the back of the fuel tank. Great for when you want to move forward and boss the front end about, but not so good when you want to cover it with a non-stretchy material.

Eventually, with a lot of swearing and an old hair-dryer, I got it all in place and reasonably flat. I then went round the whole thing with an extra row of staples. Since none of them were lying flat, they can't be gripping the material very well, and I figured that an extra row of insurance would be a good idea.

Well, it doesn't look too bad. The back half is great, and I'm happy with it. The front part is a bit baggy and has a few wrinkles, but which of us could not say that these days? The hair-dryer didn't help to smooth it out (I was hoping for a heat-shrink effect) but perhaps a few miles being pressed into shape by my elegant form might do it. Anyway, here's the final result:

And here's a close-up of my wrinkly bits (parental guidance advised):

Even as amateurish as it is, it smartens the bike up a heck of a lot, and has turned it from a complete shed to a partial shed.

Winter? Bring it on.

The XT seat saga continues

I posted last December about how the XT seat had split and the foam had absorbed a lot of water: sufficient to freeze solid and provide a very unpleasant experience for the buttocks and gentleman's bits when ridden into town.

Having sold a couple of things on eBay, I decided to go for it and get a new seat cover. Winter is on its way, and soon the Sprint will be more of a liability than a pleasure. The XT will soon be called back into daily service. Ebay seller Custardgrub came up with the goods for a few shillings (679 of them, to be exact) and it has been sitting in my garage for the last week or two while I get on with more urgent matters. So far, I have only taken off the old seat cover, which was more than embarrassingly tatty; it was a disgrace. I always value function over appearance, but even I was getting ashamed to be seen on it. As you can see from this pic, the gaffer tape had grown since last winter (compared to the neat couple of strips in the original repair), and hadn't lasted well.

So I set to with an old screwdriver and removed the original seat cover. This took about ten minutes, and was far easier than it should have been. The staples holding it on were rusty and most snapped as I prised them out.

So I was left with a plastic base - in remarkably good nick - and a piece of shaped foam. I was lucky, in that the foam was undamaged and still in its original shape; I can't imagine how much a new bit of foam would be. The foam, as expected, was completely sodden. I squeezed a few cupfuls of water out and left it in the sun for two days to dry out. It has been in the garage for two weeks since then, and finally appears to be dry. I suppose I could put the new cover on even if it was damp, but that would seem to miss the point.

I have gone for a pale grey for the new cover, as the original lilac colour was not available. I reckoned that black would shout 'replacement' too loudly, and whatever colour scheme I choose when I get round to restoring the bike, grey will fit in unobtrusively. I'm going to start the upholstery work this afternoon, and will post the results (unless they are embarrassing) in due course.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Some eBay successes

Fleabay. What used to be a community of buyers and sellers, where remarkable bargains were to be had and unlikely things to be sold, is now a virtual car boot sale, full of dodgy traders, bulk resellers and scam merchants, where bargains are few and far between and the chances of the unwary being ripped off are high.

At least, that's what the general mood is now. But I keep going back. The thing is so damn' useful. If you live in an urban area, with a large population within easy reach, then perhaps the utility of eBay is not so great. But living out in the sticks as I do, it's massively useful. I can reach an audience of millions with a single listing, and all I have to worry about is getting the item to the winning bidder. The cost to advertise is minimal, and a successful sale attracts a fee which obviously varies with the final price, but it compares well with an advert in the local paper, which can reach only a few thousand. Frankly, I wouldn't consider a local advert these days. And where would I be without Custardgrub (David Lambert)? He holds spares for all the old Yamaha XT models at reasonable prices, and offers expert advice too.

I'm in the middle of a big de-cluttering operation at the moment. A lot of stuff I have had hanging around has got to go, and eBay is the place it's going. Before eBay, I would have had to risk £15-£20 on a local paper advert, and no guarantee that anyone reading it was interested. Now, I can bung a listing on there for a few pence and if eBay takes 10% or so for the pleasure, well, that's better than not selling at all. Frankly, a lot of the stuff I am getting rid of would have been taken to the tip or given away, so even a few quid is better than that, and I have done a lot better in some cases. Here's a few recent punts:

Flip-front helmet from Lidl

I bought this a year or so ago, mainly to see if I got on with the concept of a lid that I could wear while talking to people. The low, low price (I think it was a shade over £30) tempted me to get something that was slightly too small, and it was unwearable. I think I rode in it twice, and had a splitting headache both times. Perfect condition, but no-one I know wants one and it was far too good to throw away. That went for a fiver - which is a fiver more than the council tip would have given me.

GenMar handlebar risers

These came with the Sprint, and I realised quickly that I didn't want them on the bike. They were stretching the throttle and clutch cables, and the bars were hitting the fairing on full lock. Once I had ridden the bike for a week I realised that I didn't need the extra height, so they went on eBay. They made £75, which isn't bad for an item that can be bought new for £90.

Motorcycling rucksack

Another Lidl purchase. When they have their bike-specific days, I always get there and I usually buy something. Their inner gloves have been fantastic, and I bought a waterproof oversuit there that performs brilliantly, even if it looks fairly naff. I bought a motorcyclist's rucksack there for the daily commute, which has loads of straps and pockets, plus a hard shell so that it keeps an aerodynamic shape. For some reason, it was never 'right' - the closures were fiddly and the shape was somehow wrong (if you have ever put your underpants on back-to-front you will know what I mean). I think I paid £15 for it. It went on eBay for £31.

Campervan rooflight

Back in 2006 I bought a home-converted Ford Transit campervan (on eBay, naturally). There was no roof ventilation, so I bought a rooflight to fit to it. These are the hinged canopies that stay down for travelling, but fold open like a vertical window to let in the fresh air when you are stopped. I have one (a full-sized one) in the caravan and it is a superb bit of technology, and one of the few bits of caravanning kit that I actually admire: well-designed, well-made and works brilliantly. This was a mini-size one, suitable for a campervan. The campervan had its troubles, mainly a clutch that didn't, and I spent a few weekends getting it to work properly and fettling a few minor issues. We spent one night away in it, and it was such a hassle to make the bed up out of a 3D jigsaw of about 20 ply panels and supports that we never tried it again. That was sold for what I paid for it (plus a bit; I think I covered my costs on the clutch parts), curiously through an advert in the local paper. The rooflight, unopened, went into the garage. I had a vague thought to fit it to the caravan, but Anna decided that she was happy with the existing arrangements, so that went on eBay too. It has just sold tonight, for 5p more than I paid for it.

I've only had one bad experience. I was selling a Nikon 35mm camera in the period just before they became obsolete curiosities. I had specified the postage cost, and at the end of the listing I said, in large letters, 'overseas bidders please ask for shipping cost before bidding'. It reached a reasonable price, I had checked out all the bidders, and then in the last seconds it was won by a snipe bidder from California. He emailed asking for the cost of shipping, I did the research and told him - I think it was over $50, as it included a case and accessories and was quite heavy - and that was the last I heard from him. I emailed him several times, then filed a NPB report and after two weeks left him a negative feedback comment. I can't remember what it said, but it included the word 'avoid'. He left me a negative comment in reply ("wants $50 shipping for one camera, bad seller" - that's word for word, though I am not bitter), which stayed on my feedback record and broke my 100% rating for a long time. I asked eBay to remove it, but they wouldn't without his agreement, and although I tried to contact him he wouldn't respond. It had a happy ending, though. I sold the camera to the second-highest bidder, who was in the area a week later and picked it up in person. He was a Major in the Army and was a really nice guy with a charming (and extremely glamorous) wife, and I counted that as a bit of good karma to wipe out the bad.

So you could say I was a fan of Fleabay. And, to be honest, I enjoy the whole process - writing the listing and taking the photos, then watching as first the watchers and then the bids come in, and finally the vinegar strokes of the last few minutes as the snipers get to work and try to outbid the regular guys in the last seconds.

Now, I have the rest of the garage to clear out, and then I am starting on the study. I can see a lot more going out there before too long. It's all going in the 'bike luggage' fund, for when I finally decide what to do for carrying capacity with the Sprint. There are a lot of options that need thinking about, and having a ready-made Paypal balance to pay for them will be very pleasant.

Going to A&E in the wrong clothes

I was reminded by an article by Pat Nurse of an incident from my own experience in the mid-80s which shook me at the time but which, in retrospect, could have been far worse had it happened recently.

Pat's daughter took her own daughter to A&E at Lincoln County Hospital after a fall on to a hard surface.
It swelled up immediately and my daughter and her partner of seven years were distraught and besides themselves at what had happened. They already felt responsible enough. Within 15 minutes he was at hospital and that is where the real nightmare began.

The doctors and nurses at LCH were more concerned that she was a child abuser who had battered her baby than they were about his health. She was traumatised because of his injury and wracked with fear that this powerful organisation, grilling both parents and trying to confuse them about what happened, would take her children from her as they inferred this was a case for Social Services to investigate.
When my own eldest daughter was about two years old, I had a similar, though far less traumatic, experience. It was a Saturday, and we had been fooling about in the house. The game was for D1 to climb up 3 or 4 stairs, then I would sit on the bottom step and she would climb on my back. I would grip her arms, stand up, and give her a piggy-back round the house, to the tune of much mirth and merriment. The usual dismount method was for me to return and sit on the bottom step, when she would climb off me. On one occasion, however, she asked to be let down in the kitchen. I bent forward and rolled her off my back, while holding her wrists. When her feet touched the ground she started to cry, and I realised that I had twisted her arm in the dismount. Usual offers of a kiss better and a biscuit, but when she was still distressed after 10 minutes I realised that it needed medical attention. I jumped in the car with her and took her to the nearest A&E Department, which was at Scunthorpe Hospital, about 20 miles away.

I was in weekend garb of scruffy jeans and trainers, and before I left the house I flung on an old leather jacket. When we reached the hospital, we were placed in a waiting room, with D1 still screaming the place down. A nurse and doctor approached and, in full view and hearing of the other patients, stared to quiz me about how it happened. I gave the story, and they were clearly not satisfied, and asked me what had really happened, over and over again. I had never experienced anything like it before. I was 32 years old, middle-class and professional (I was a middle-management schoolteacher at the time), and I was not used to having my word questioned, or my accounts of events disbelieved. I was irritated, and mainly concerned to have D1 looked at without unnecessary delay. It was only when I looked at myself and saw what they saw - a big, bearded bloke dressed scruffily, with a skinny, blonde girl-child in tow - and realised what was happening: they thought I had beaten her up. In response, I changed the register of my voice towards RP and cranked up the difficulty rating of my vocabulary. Not quite "do you know who I am?", but at the very least "I am not the scruffy, child-battering oik that I might
appear at first sight".

Eventually, they seemed satisfied, and we were shown in to see the doctor. He was an elderly Indian man of great gentleness and calm, who diagnosed a slightly dislocated elbow and twisted it back in a second. I am not ashamed to say that I wept tears of gratitude and relief as I thanked him. It was a grim and quite sobering experience. When I spoke of it afterwards, I was careful to say that I understood that they have to be careful, and that I didn't resent being mistaken for a child abuser, far from it, oh no, they have to do their jobs, and so on. And I still think that is true.

But I think back to what might have happened if things had turned out differently: if I hadn't been able to persuade them I was a good Dad who just happened to look a bit of a no-good hard case. Or if I had really been a bit of a no-good hard case who just happened to want the best for his daughter. Social services involved, children taken away for interview and examination, decisions made behind closed doors, decisions that you aren't allowed to question, or even know about. There's a nightmare there, and it's only one unlucky step away.

Good luck to Pat's daughter. I wish her well.

Monday 19 September 2011


If there is one phrase which unites motorcyclists all over the world in a mood of weary resignation, it is this one: Sorry, mate, I didn't see you. SMIDSY, always in the aftermath of a collision or a near-miss, said by the hapless driver of a car, van, motorhome, lorry or tractor, to a bemused and probably angry motorcyclist lying on the floor amid the wreckage of his or her pride and joy. Injuries are probably minor: after all, if they were serious the motorist would probably be talking to the Police; but the curious thing is how this is what drivers always say, and always in this form of words. Friendly, but self-exculpatory: I didn't see you, therefore it wasn't my fault. It was just one of those things.

I read a lot of motorcycle forums, and whenever this topic comes up there is usually a lot of anger, directed at car drivers who are variously careless, blind, senile, murderous or blessed with an IQ smaller than their shoe size. I'm not sure that anger is justified in every case, although it is in some: people who cause accidents when distracted by being on the phone or, worse, texting come to mind. But I want to be fair here. Many studies over many years have shown that when a car and a motorcycle have an accident, the blame lies with the car driver in most cases - two-thirds or three-quarters are the usual figures. That makes perfect sense to me. Having an accident on a bike hurts a lot, and it is in the interests of the rider to avoid such collisions at all costs, so it is not surprising that in most cases the fault was not the rider acting carelessly and hitting a car, it was the other way round.

I am prompted to write this because of an email sent to me by one of the blog's commenters, Zaphod. He writes this from the perspective of someone driving a van:
A variation on the SMIDSY hazard, which I haven’t previously encountered, nor anticipated.

No Bikers were physically harmed in this experiment.

A mini-roundabout in a built-up area. I slow as I approach. A car is followed by a big bike. Nothing else in view. I adjust my trajectory to slot in behind the bike.

I’m focused on the bike, now passing directly in front of me as I roll in. A quick glance left, to check that the car in front isn’t unexpectedly slowing, which would slow the bike. A quick glance right, behind the bike.

A little scooter has materialised! Right behind the bike, in the space I was about to enter!

I did look, so I didn’t hit him. (But he was clearly rather cross.) He was in the shadow of the bike when I first looked. He will have seen my van, but I didn’t see his scooter. I’d like to believe that he would have evaded my unprovoked attack.

I hope I’ve learned something new. Is there also a defensive lesson for Bikers here?

I’m not shifting blame, honest. But it being my fault would have been no consolation to him.

Be gentle with me, I confessed to you freely.


Now, Mr Beeblebrox did the right thing here: he glanced to the right before pulling out, saw the scooter, and avoided an accident. It seems to me that his concern is that he nearly didn't. And if he hadn't, he would have been the one standing over the scooter rider saying "Sorry, mate ..."

It has been established that a lot of car/bike accidents, maybe the majority, are caused by the driver of the car not seeing the rider. To be as fair as possible to car drivers, I think a lot of these come into the category of what the Police classify as 'looked but didn't see'. In other words, the driver does everything he is supposed to according to his driving lessons, but failed to spot the hazard. A failure of perception rather than method. He looked in the right direction, but 'saw' nothing. I'm no expert, still less a psychologist, but here are a couple of thoughts:

Safety car designs

Cars are now designed to be much safer for their occupants, and one of the features that I have noticed is that the A-pillar (the one between the windscreen and the door) is much heavier than it used to be. I assume this is to provide greater protection in a roll-over accident, but it has a devastating effect on the driver's ability to see other road users in that crucial sector that, on a boat, would be "off the starboard bow". When pulling out into a major road, or entering a roundabout, that pillar is exactly where you need to be looking out for other traffic. Bike magazine did some research into this a few years ago, in conjunction with (I think) the TRL, and they concluded that under certain circumstances a bike on a roundabout would be literally invisible to a car driver - the rider's position on the roundabout would be tracked exactly by the movement of the pillar as the car moved forward and leftward onto the roundabout. This would seem to be the circumstances of Zaphod's near-miss. The recommendation of the Bike article was that drivers should be trained to deliberately move their heads from side to side in these conditions, so as to see the view from both sides of the A-pillar. This is something which all car drivers could start to do from today, and which would doubtlessly save lives in the long term.

Atavistic Strategies

Given the general numptiness of the population, it always amazes me that a complex activity like driving a car in modern traffic can be carried out by almost any human being - by teenagers, housewives, pensioners, footballers, hairdressers, professors - with a very high dgree of competence. If you doubt that, think of how many thousands of millions of miles are driven in the UK each year, and reflect on how rare accidents really are. (In the UK, 5.7 people die in road accidents per one million vehicle-kilometers travelled. That means that for the average driver who covers 20,000 km per year, your chances of being killed on the road in any year are 1 in 8,750. Put another way, you could set 98 people driving an average mileage from today until the end of the 21st Century and statistically only one would die in a road accident. Compare that with the agriculture industry, which manages to kill 8 workers out of every 100,000 every year.)

How can motoring be so safe? My guess is that it uses skills which have been honed over millions of years of evolution - running, jumping, throwing, hunting, fleeing predators and so on - which are now hard-wired into the human brain. Moving rapidly through the landscape, estimating the speed and trajectory of other objects, strategies for reaching goals and avoiding dangers, going all-out and gently cruising; all of these are as natural to us as eating. We have pushed the envelope a little: our natural maximum speed is about 20 mph (Usain Bolt managed 100m in 9.58 sec, which equates to 23 mph), but we seem to be able to cope with speeds of around four times that before our limitations begin to show, and for such as racing drivers ten times that. The human brain is remarkably adaptable.

But the strength of those skills and abilities are their limitation, too. No-one has to learn that a car approaching at x mph will reach us in y seconds and will pass us within z feet of our right-hand side. Any child who learned to catch a ball at the age of 5 knows that. It's all processed in the unconscious part of the brain. But that is where threats are processed, too, and threats are analysed in a very selfish way: how will this thing affect me? Will it kill me, or can I ignore it?You are waiting to pull out of a side-road into a main road. You see something approaching from your right (remember this is a UK blog, US readers!). Your back brain has assessed the threat and decided on a course of action before the conscious mind has even seen it. A lorry or coach? Big, dangerous. Hold back. A car? Just like me, might or might not. A bike? Small, no threat at all. Off I go ...

Another SMIDSY.

That ought to be 'Sorry, mate, my unconscious mind didn't perceive you to be enough of a threat to stay out of your way'.

This is not carelessness, or wickedness, or even stupidity. It's human nature. I've driven coaches and minibuses, as well as cars and bikes, and I can tell you that this is true. In a 53-seater coach, no-one pulls out in front of you. On a motorbike, lots of people do. I was passing a petrol station on a bicycle once. A lady was waiting to pull out. She waited until I was less than 10 feet away before moving: she had her window open, and we were so close that the words we exchanged did not even require a raised voice. "What are you doing?" "Oh, sorry, I ..."

Looked, but didn't see. Or looked, saw, and reacted in a way that was about 10 million years out of date. I'm not sure I know the answer to this. Better driver training would surely help. Training that focused on the whys and wherefores, rather than on 'look right, look left, look right' (although that would be a start). But it does demonstrate the futility of all the conspicuity stuff - the high beams in the daytime, the high-viz clothing. If a driver doesn't see a 17-stone biker on a big red bike as a threat, then he won't see the same guy in a yellow vest as a threat either.

My answer to all of this, as a rider, is a common one amongst experienced bikers: ride as if you are invisible. Assume that car is going to pull out of that gateway, because he will. He hasn't seen you. Assume that car will change lanes and cut you off, because he will. He doesn't know you are there. Keep that bubble of safety between you and the other idiots. If they close in, back off and keep the bubble. Recognise that a wet surface, or a narrow road, shrink your bubble and slow down to expand it again. And be patient and forgiving with people who don't treat you with respect. They don't mean it (well, most of them don't). It's just their jungle brains.

I think that's possibly the answer to Zaphod's question: "Is there also a defensive lesson for Bikers here?" He's absolutely right on one thing: if there had been an accident, it may have been his fault, but that would have been no consolation to the scooter rider. When you ride a bike, you are responsible for your own safety. No-one else values your life and your good looks like you do. Be intelligent and prevent other people's accidents. It's a big ask, but it's your life at stake.

And props to the guy for writing what he did. Honesty and self-examination are rare qualities these days.

Sunday 18 September 2011


I see from the BBC website that:
Travellers at Dale Farm in Essex have vowed to resist eviction by locking themselves to property on the site.
Let me get this straight. These people are 'Travellers', and they are protesting about being made to move on because they want to stay in the same place where they have built a permanent, static community.

This is a new definition of 'travelling' of which I was previously unaware.

Friday 16 September 2011

What about a Bin-By Date?

There's a whole lot of hoo-hah going on at the moment about the supposedly confusing sell-by, display-by, best before and use-by dates. Apparently, people don't understand them and they are going to be simplified. Yet another example of government interference producing a result which was never intended.

Longrider says all I would wish to say on the subject, but I would add just one thought:

Why is Man the only species on the planet that needs a use-by date on his food in order to know it is safe?

Friday Chuckle

Thursday 15 September 2011

Ethanol - evil stuff

One of the ways of making motor vehicles 'greener' is, apparently, to dilute the petrol they use with ethanol. Ethanol can be created from maize or sugar cane, and is supposedly carbon-neutral, so it doesn't contribute to that nasty Global Warming Climate Change Disruption we are seeing so much of these days. In the US, many petrol companies are selling E10 fuel (10% ethanol) and the UK is currently moving towards E5 (5%). The ultimate is said to be E85, where only 15% of the fuel you put in your tank is actually dino juice. And they are doing it by stealth. Ethanol content up to 10% does not have to be labelled as such in the UK, and in fact I get the feeiling that petrol companies are encouraged not to label it at all. Heaven forfend that we knew what we were buying and were able to make an informed choice! And how unlike the food labelling regulations, where the makers are forced to list every last ingredient for 'consumer education'.

The Government and the green lobby insist that ethanol in fuel is harmless, and that it causes no problems with modern vehicles. The evidence is that this is far from the truth. I have done quite a lot of reading around this recently, and there are a number of issues which come up time and time again:
  • Ethanol dissolves the resin binders in fibreglass over time. Motorcycles with fibreglass tanks start running badly and eventually stop. Quantities of sludge are found in the fuel system, which appears to be the inside of the petrol tank making a break for freedom.
  • Ethanol can distort plastic fuel tanks. There are a number of owners on the Triumph forum that I read who have taken off the fuel tank only to find that they cannot get it back on because it is longer than the fixings on the bike. Effectively, the ethanol has made the tank change shape. This is a worry to me, as my Sprint has a plastic tank, and I do all my own servicing, so taking the tank off will be a regular occurrence.
  • Ethanol absorbs water. If parts of the fuel system are steel, this can start to rust from the inside. In severe cases (say where a bike is left for several months with the same fuel in the tank), the ethanol absorbs enough water for phase separation to take place, and the bottom of the tank is pure water. The bike will not run on water.
And, of course, ethanol contains less energy than petrol, so your car or bike will not run as well, and will use more fuel in doing so ... hang on, that's not the idea, is it?

The situation in the US is more severe than in the UK, as the quantity of ethanol is greater in most fuel supplied. In fact, it has reached the stage of consumers taking out a class action suit, reported here.
The lawsuit claims the tank material is incompatible with the fuel and distorts over a period of time, usually several months, during which time the tank can come loose on its mountings, swell enough to interfere with the steering on full lock and leak through the fuel pump mounting.

The second and potentially far more damaging claim in the suit is that Ducati should reasonably have known about the problem but nevertheless continued to sell motorcycles with allegedly unsafe fuel tanks. It states that this amounts to unfair, unlawful and fraudulent business practice which has led to injury and financial loss.
Personally, I would rather avoid such problems by buying only fuel which is ethanol-free. This is possible in the States, thanks to websites such as pure-gas.org and buyrealgas.com which maintain databases of fuel stations that guarantee ethanol-free fuel. But over here there is no such organisation. We Brits will shrug and say "well, that's the way it is, innit?" and carry on as before. There is no anger - or even awareness of the problem. (In case you think it is just confined to bikes, there is also huge anxiety amongst owners of older cars, and also boats. If a distorted motorcycle tank is a problem, imagine how concerned you would be if the fuel tank of your boat was made of fibreglass - and was not a separate component but was moulded as part of the hull. How do you fix that?)

There are other, ethical, objections to ethanol. One study suggests that producing a gallon of ethanol takes six times the fossil energy contained in the final product. Another says that, using irrigated corn, it takes 1200 gallons of water to produce just one gallon of ethanol. Not surprisingly, the Greens are split over whether running vehicles on ethanol is even a good idea. And that's before you consider the ethics of using a food crop to produce fuel for vehicles when there are people dying of starvation elsewhere in the world, just so that SUV drivers can feel good about filling up when they drive the school run.

A trawl of the fuel companies' websites gives very little hard information. Most just say, if they mention ethanol at all, that they are complying with the Government's plan to move everyone to E5 or E10 by 2011 or 2012. But I heard a rumour that Murco were dragging their feet a little, and supplying ethanol-free petrol on most of their forecourts. So I wrote to them, and here is their reply:

I can confirm that Murco does not provide petrol which includes Ethanol at this moment in time, however you can expect the industry as a whole to be E5 (5% Ethanol) by 2013-2014 which the government has requested.

Any Murco garage in the south west / east of England and Wales will be Ethanol free but we do supply the majority of our garages in the Midlands and North West from a non-Murco terminals so I would expect these garages to have Ethanol in the petrol but please double check with the site before fuelling your car/motorcycle.

I hope this is of some help.


Chris Blake

Commercial Marketing Manager
Murco Petroleum Ltd.
Westerleigh Terminal, Oakley Green, Westerleigh, Bristol. BS37 8QE
Fortunately I have a Murco garage only a couple of miles away from me, and it will be little inconvenience to fill up there as opposed to my usual place.

I like ethanol, don't get me wrong, but only if it comes in a bottle with something like 'Balvenie' or 'Aberlour' on the label. For the bike, it's Murco wherever possible from now on.

And if you see the legend 'E5' or 'E10' on the pump when you go to fill up, Just Say No, kids. Not that you are likely to see such a notice. The Government have decreed that they don't have to tell you.


Not one of my maps.

I love books, but I LOVE maps. I think my favourite book in skool was the Philips World Atlas that we had to buy if we were going to do Geography. I used to pass whole lessons, while everyone else was memorising the populations of the mining towns of Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie, staring at the coastline of Northern Russia wondering how cold it would be, or the inlets of the St Lawrence Seaway, thinking about the passing ships and the noise. It gave me a burning urge to travel, which I still haven't satisfied.

In my last post, I said I had 'inherited' a lot of maps from my ex. In this post, I suppose I am asking for advice as to what to do with them. OK, what have we got?
  • Some of those lovely Bartholomew's half-inch maps which are so good for cycling - the reason I got them, but they all date from 1977-1985 or so,
  • Some older 2½" OS maps of the pretty bits of England such as the Lakes,
  • Lots of the very detailed Michelin maps of bits of France,
  • Touring maps of assorted European countries, mainly Italy and Austria.
Lots more, but those are the main categories. All in good nick. And there are also some curious 30s/40s/50s 'tourist guides' to popular areas of the UK. Here's my problem. I can't keep them, as I already have shelves groaning with OS maps of all the areas I have ever been in this country, and space has considerable rarity value in Nowhere Towers. I can''t put them in the bin, as that would be sacrilege. But I can't see myself ever using them. For one thing, they are all well out of date now, and yet not old enough to be of antiquarian interest, and I tend to update things like road atlases on a regular basis, just because I hate getting lost (and in an attempt to keep up with the French system of random rotation of road numbers). For another, I would only use them for general planning, as I use a satnav for actual riding/driving, at least for long journeys. And for planning I use Google Maps more often than anything else, as it is both convenient and bang up to date.

So what do I do, O most wise ones? Bin the outdated modern stuff and eBay the curiosities? Car boot the lot at 50p a pop? Succumb to cowardice and put them all in a box in the garage (so that I can throw them out with a clear conscience once they have deteriorated enough from the damp)? Have a bonfire and stop stressing about it? Leave them where they are and 'deal with them later', i.e. have the same problem in a year's time?

Any guidance gratefully received.
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