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

- George Washington

Friday 31 August 2012

... and Another Door Opens

In my last post, I talked about the reasons that made me decide to sell the Sprint and get something 'less'.  Some of you were kind enough to comment positively on my reasoning.  Well, thank you for that, but I am not sure you are right.  For all the justification, it was more of a gut feeling than anything else.  The bike was fast, far faster than I needed - where can you realistically use 155 mph on modern roads? - and far faster than was good for my licence and long-term health prospects.  It was heavy, top-heavy, and it had a poor steering lock.  The riding position was supremely comfortable, but the semi-crouch focused the mind on the tarmac rather then the journey.  In short, I always felt that the bike was dictating the terms, and it ought to be the other way round.

My local bike dealer had just gone into administration, so the avenue of a part-exchange against something different was not available any more.  So I put the bike on eBay.  I set a reserve of £2250 to insure against giving the thing away in a slow market, and settled down to watch the auction.  It made the princely sum of £1500 by the end, so no sale.  I put it on again with a buy-it-now price of £2450 and the 'make me an offer' option.  It ended a week later with no sale and no offers.  Not even silly ones.  I put it on for auction again and even removed the reserve price, but ... I get ahead of myself.

During this time I had been scanning the web for likely replacements and had called a number of traders.  None would offer more than £1200 for the bike - and that's in part-exchange against a more expensive bike, not the buy-in price.  The general message was that sports bikes, and sports-tourers like the Sprint, couldn't be given away.  No-one wanted them, and everyone wanted the kind of bike I was looking for.  Enough dealers said this to me that I think there must have been a grain of truth in it.  I was getting a bit disheartened.

In the listing, I stated that I was interested in a smaller, more versatile bike, and wondered if anyone had one they wished to sell to me, "all within eBay's rules, of course".  I was hoping someone would contact me and offer a trade.  On the very last day of the listing, about 9 hours before the auction closed (with over 100 watchers, and bids to £900 or so) I got a message from someone wanting to do a straight swap for his BMW F650GS.  That was a bike I had not considered.  I'm not a fan of the beaky, chunky big Beemers (to me they look all wrong), and I had transferred this attitude to any modern BMW.  But I asked him to send me a photo (we were on email, not eBay messages, by this time) and it looked good.

I spent the next hour frantically Googling anything I could find about the little GS.  Everything I read sounded positive, and when I got the details of the package from the other chap (basically, full BMW service history and a full set of BMW luggage) I decided to go for it.  We agreed he would Paypal me £50 as surety, I would pull the bike from the auction, and I would return him his £50 in cash when we exchanged.

The following Friday he rode it down from Shrewsbury in the lashing rain.  I liked it straight away, he loved the Sprint, and the deal was done.  Either he didn't know the value of what he had, or he was an extremely generous person, but the deal was very favourable to me.  The Sprint's market value was, by all accounts, around £1200.  I reckon the BMW is worth twice that, if not more.  Condition isn't perfect, but it's pretty good.  It has a full set of services stamped by a BMW main dealer, BMW panniers (including liners) and topcase, engine bars, hand guards, heated grips, tank bag, and a huge lever-arch folder full of receipts, old MoTs, the original owner's servicing and inspection records, and an official BMW compact disc with all the servicing schedules and procedures.  Oh, and a Haynes manual.  As this little lot was going to be my discretionary spending for the next year-and-a-half, I count myself very lucky to have landed this bike*.

I gave him the Sprint with a full tank of fuel to get him home, and he absolutely refused to take the £50 we had agreed.

I'm still pinching myself.

* The bike also came with an immobiliser fitted, of which more in another post.  Grrr.

Thursday 30 August 2012

One door closes ...

So, after an excellent trip 2-up through France and Germany, why did the Sprint have to go?  I suspect the reason is as much psychological as technical.  I've always been a bit of a grasshopper, jumping from one idea to another without much logic or planning.  Sometimes, a bike just stops being 'the greatest' and becomes merely a roadblock on the way to the next thing.  I think the Sprint was a victim of that thinking.  Perhaps if I could change my car for something completely different at a cost of a few hundred pounds, I would change that more often, but that's not really possible, and nor is it in any way interesting.

Two things sealed the Sprint's fate, and again they have nothing to do with logic.  One was the minor tumble I had on it a few months ago.  This made it very clear that the Sprint was a pretty heavy old lump, and having to ask for help in lifting it back on its wheels made me feel that perhaps it was just too big and heavy for me.  And, illogical though it is, once something like this has happened it dents the confidence just a little.  The bike is never quite the same again.  The second was the bike's oil consumption on the Europe exploit.  More on this when I get to posting the rest of the holiday snaps, but one litre of precious fully-synthetic per 1000 miles travelled is not acceptable in my book.  To be fair, this mileage included some high-speed autobahn motoring, 2-up with luggage, at speeds of between 90 and 120 mph; and oil consumption during normal use was negligible.  But it raised doubts in my mind, probably groundless, about the long-term durability of the bike.

I was already considering moving it on, and the lightbulb moment came when I took a trip up to North Wales for the day to meet up with Nikos.  Riding up in the rain, I realised that I hadn't considered taking the fast, comfortable Sprint for a moment: I just assumed that, for a fun ride, the XT was the obvious choice.  Like the massively-capable (and just plain massive) Pan European before it, the Sprint was in danger of becoming a driveway ornament.

I started to draw up a kind of mental checklist, trying to focus in on the kind of riding I do, and the kind I want to do more of.  The wish-list that I came up with looked like this:
  • Ability to cruise at ~70 mph
  • All-day comfortable
  • Able to take a light pillion along with full luggage
  • Upright riding position and easy frame geometry
  • Able to tackle light off-road riding
  • Robust and able to take a few knocks
  • Mechanically/electrically simple and owner-repairable
  • Reasonably light (max about 200 kg dry)
  • Fast enough to be fun.
The XT is in the right ballpark with a lot of these requirements, but is a bit lacking in some areas.  I realised that what I was looking for was a kind of super-XT - similar in concept, but just a bit bigger, faster, more comfortable.  I started to draw up a shortlist.  The ones that made it through to the final audition were:
  • Yamaha XT660R or XT660Z Ténéré
  • Kawasaki Versys 650
  • Suzuki V-Strom 650
  • Honda Transalp
  • Honda Africa Twin (the classic choice - probably too old to be practical, but I love 'em)
Ones that almost made it were older airhead GS BMWs (heavy and long in the tooth at the price I could afford), Triumph Tiger (on closer inspection, a Sprint with wide bars and tall suspension), and Yamaha's TDM850 and 900 (logical but didn't spark any lust in my heart, and therefore likely to be back on the market within the month).  The Sprint was (despite it's clumsiness-induced attack of acne on the right-hand side) still a good-looking bike and in full working order, and I hoped it would raise about £2300.  I could probably add up to £1000 on top of that for the right bike, so I was looking at bikes in the £3000-3500 area.  Parker's price guide for bike no longer exists, so the asking price was a bit of a shot in the dark, but I based my estimate on what I had paid for it a year before, and took off a bit of depreciation and a bit more for the gravel rash.  I had made a few improvements and put new tyres on before the Europe trip, and I thought that price was a fair one.

It might have been, but the market didn't agree with me.  More on that in the next post.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

New Arrival

Became resident at Nowhere Towers last Friday.

BMW F650GS, 2004

A spanking good deal, which I will relate in a later post.  There's been a lot of bike-thinkery going on round here in the last few weeks, and this is the result.  I am very pleased with it.  More anon.

Sunday 19 August 2012

What would you have done?

Long-time blog commenter Zaphod sent me a mail describing a dilemma he faced recently.  He was asking (rhetorically) what he should have done.  It reminded me of a couple of situations I have been in (one almost identical, last year), and I thought I would post it to see what others thought.

Here's what he sent ...

I was driving home very late at night, on a country road. I'd passed cats in the road, a few rabbits of course, a deer, and even a fox. What's next? Just round a tight blind bend, I found two cows broadside on!

It took a fraction of a second to dismiss the tired-driving-hallucination hypothesis, but I did stop in time. (I wasn't that tired, but I've known it to happen.)

Now what? Is this a 999 situation? I don't know the number of local Plod. And cows are a serious hazard, they've got less road sense than rabbits and they mass a lot more.

I did the 999.

Rough location, (road between X and Y). No, I don't know the name of the road, but there's only one road between X and Y. No, I don't know whose cows they are. My name, address, DOB, (?)

She didn't seem very interested. I said, "Look, I'm gonna stay with them for a bit. I've got my lights and hazards on, they're wandering along the road. I'll stay til the cops show up, or if they go back in their field I can maybe close a gate?".

15 minutes later they wandered into a field, but it didn't have a gate. I rang again. "Update, they're in a field opposite a farm entrance with the name Z on the gatepost. But if I leave they'll come out again."

Another 15 minutes, I got bored and went home.

I don't know what a cop could have done, but they've got access to more resources than I have. I wasn't gonna knock on a farmhouse door at 3:30am, a hippie in a transit van. They probably weren't his cows anyway, and farmers are notoriously shy of visitors, (and have shotguns).

Should I have stayed? I'd still be there? The cops never got back to me. Maybe the city girl on the 999 phone thinks that cows are of a size to fit in a burger? And as fast as squirrels?


Well, what would you have done?

The world according to the Daily Mail

Courtesy of JuliaM, this brilliant bit of animation.  I will be singing this all day, I fear.

Saturday 18 August 2012

Another day, another IAM poll ...

It's green for a reason

This one's a doozy.  Eco driving - the questions are so full of assumptions that I didn't know how to answer most of them.  Road Tax (sorry, VED) - should it be lower, higher, or the same?  Is the Congestion Charge a good thing, or a very good thing?

And have you stopped beating your wife, Sir?

Have a go, anyway.  You don't need to be a member, etc., etc.

A Grand Day Out

A few months ago, I was in email conversation with Nikos, and it was decided that, as we were bloggers of a similar age and had a similar passion for two-wheeled things, we should meet forthwith in what is delightfully known as 'meatspace'.  Finally, today, we made it happen.  Meatspace being, for the occasion, the Little Chef in Dolgellau, which is approximately half-way between our two residences.

I set off bright and early, in the cold and foggy Pembrokeshire drizzle.  The XT was the weapon of choice today (more on that in another post) and I had a damp but pleasant ride up the coast and through the mountains to Dolgellau.  100 miles, give or take a few, which is a decent distance on a bike designed for tracks and trails. Nikos was already there (I had somehow missed his bike in the car park) and we discovered that we also shared a love of strong coffee and a loathing for the usual watery Little Chef offering.  Nikos bullied (nicely) the serving youth into bringing us Americanos "with a double shot".  I have no idea what that means, but it was the best cup of coffee I have ever had in a Little Chef.  Then we tackled a couple of mega-breakfasts.

Nikos and the Invisible Beemer
The conversation ran around bikes and potted life-histories, and the joys and pitfalls of running a blog.  It turned out that, despite coming from very different backgrounds (I am plain Yorkshire; Nikos is of much more exotic stock) we shared a number of life experiences.  Details are, of course, confidential, but there was a lot of nodding and 'yeah, me too'.  It's always reassuring to find one's experiences are shared by other, apparently sane, people.

We decided to take a run up to Bala and back over the mountains on a favourite road of mine.   My promise to Anna that I would be 'back by three-ish, maybe' was certain to be broken, but the day was improving and it would have been rude not to take full advantage of the sun and the drying roads.

Just follow me.  It'll be OK, honest ...

Little and Large

The spectacular Arans
I left Nikos heading East and tried to find a pretty way home.  I must have had a bad attack of men's I will not look at a map syndrome, because I ended up way past my turning (when I pulled off the road, it was in defeat, mate) and eventually went home by a very circuitous route.  However, by this time the sun was baking hot and I had to stop by a quiet roadside to strip off all the thermal linings and layers.  I rode home with jacket half-open and visor half-up, which is about right for mid-August but was still a surprise.

On the road between Newtown and Llandrindod Wells I came across this remnant of someone's ruined day:

Dead FireBlade - "Rider Failed to Negotiate Corner"

I hope the rider was OK.  The absence of a cheap bouquet sellotaped to the forks suggests that he survived it.  The scrapes on the road and the furrow ploughed into the grass verge tell what happened, although I am at a loss to explain how anyone could have lost the bike on a gentle corner.

Back home with a severe case of Trail Bike Bottom and John Wayne Syndrome.  280 miles covered, and the XT managed an average of 64 mpg, which I can't say I am displeased with.  Another blogger met and befriended; some fabulous scenery clocked, and a day out on the bike.  Nikos even generously paid for the breakfasts (thank you again, Nick).  Not bad, all in all.

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