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

- George Washington

Wednesday 19 September 2012

F650GS - first impressions

I've had the mini-GS almost a month now, so perhaps it is time for a brief review.

First of all, I am happy with it.  The Yamaha was getting to the point where money needed spending on it (tyres knackered if not illegal, chain ditto) so the GS has taken over commuting duties.  It is living exactly where it is in this photo, uncovered, while the Yam has a waterproof overcoat and is quietly relaxing about six feet behind it. (Yesterday we had a brief sunny spell in the afternoon, so I whipped off the cover and took it for a short but athletic blast round the lanes.  It started first press of the button and ran well, so no sulks for being ignored.)

Compared to the Sprint, the GS is ... well, totally different, and no comparison could be very meaningful.  It is the comparison with the XT that I am most interested in.  What I wanted was a kind of super-XT, one that retained the virtues and character of the Yam while addressing some of its shortcomings.  In that, I think it is a success.

It is faster, by a small but useful amount.  Where the XT is happy at 60, strained at 70 and struggling madly at 75, the GS will pull along at 80 quite happily.  I've seen 90 on the clock sitting bolt upright (remember, I have only commuted on it so far) and there was more to come.  Where there is a big difference is in the low-down torque.  The best way to make the Yam go is to launch it fast and short-shift until you are at a cruise.  Big revs get you nowhere - wide throttle openings are the key to rapid progress.  With the GS it is the reverse: let the revs build quickly, keep it over 4,000 rpm, and it lifts its skirts and motors along very nicely.  To be honest, I prefer the instant shove and huge engine braking of the XT, but the GS is so much more civilised that perhaps the trade-off is worth it - certainly for a longer journey.

Comfort, now I have the taller seat, is good, and it's really quite a pleasant ride.  It's quiet, a little inoffensive, and just gets on with the job.  Handling is rather strange compared to the XT, but the built-in luggage is a blessing.

There's more to say here, but I am at work and things are starting to happen around me.  The day team will be here in a minute and I mustn't be found bloggerating.

More in duke horse.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Another day, another IAM poll ...

This one's on parking (specifically parking on private land, and the legalities thereof) and forthcoming changes to legislation pertaining to it.

More a check on who's up to speed with the proposed changes, rather than a survey of opinion, but you're welcome to have a go anyway.  No need to be a member, ect ect.

Poll is here.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Backup strategy

Request for help from the Geek community.

Last year, I lost about 6 months' worth of photos and other stuff when the hard drive of my little Acer netbook died on me.  I had a lot of help and offers of assistance from readers here, and I thank you for that (you know who you are).  However, when I weighed up the material lost (none of it world-shatteringly important) and the hassle and expense of retrieving it (proportionately large), I decided to go with the flow, accept my fate, give in to karma, and forget about the damn thing.

I started using the old Medion (Lidl special) laptop that I had retired when I got the netbook, and that served for a while, but then that one started getting a bit flaky, so I decided to push the boat out and get a new one. Hey presto, one Toshiba laptop from the bargain basement at Curry's*.  It's, er, OK.

I had managed to back everything from the Medion onto a 640GB external drive which was, even without the missing six months, quite a bit of stuff.  And after a lot of messing about (Windows Backup doesn't like you changing computers, apparently, and treated me as an impostor), I backed all that up onto the new Tosh.  Then, as if by magic, the external drive started clicking and whirring, and the next day it was unreadable.  But I have all the files, thank your deity of choice.

So I now have a working lapdog, and I have just bought a Western Digital 2TB external drive.  Everything from the Tosh is safely backed up onto that using the Win7 inbuilt backup software, and I can relax - for the moment.  But now I am thinking - what if the WD drive gives it all up?  I'm wondering if I might get another WD drive and alternate backups, so that at least one is always almost-current.  Or keep backing up to WD1 (as it were) and have a routine of copying everything from WD1 to WD2, say weekly?

Then it occurred to me that someone who reads this blog - either of you would do - would surely have a better idea.  Better backup software (although the built-in Windows program is very easy to use, a key thing for me), and perhaps a better system of using two external drives?

How do you do it, O men and women of the interwebs?

* Actually Currys, but I couldn't bear to write that.  Hang on, I just did.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Vanity Plates

Personalised numbers, cherished registrations, call them what you will.  Vanity plates is what they are.  The impulse to have your name or initials (or, even worse, something 'funny') in your car number plate is surely born out of a desire to show off slightly, to mark yourself out as 'special'.  Back in the days before they were available for sale, there was something slightly awesome about a person who had tracked down a vehicle (probably and old banger), bought it, and then transferred the number to his or her own car - often a Jag, for some reason.  Jimmy Tarbuck's COM1C on his Rolls was the most famous example.  But now, anyone with more money than sense can have virtually anything they want on their vehicle, and the rarity value has gone.  It is now merely chavvy.

Having said that, I regard it as a bit of harmless fun.  One day a few years ago, when I was feeling flush, I bought a pair of plates for Anna and myself.  The same single letter and low single number, and then each of our initials.  They are not particularly flash, and I don't feel guilty about doing it, although I regret it now.  Not so much the mild 'look-at-me' thing, as the fact that they make buying and selling a car much more expensive and bureaucratic than it needs to be.  (And it makes stealth operations in a place like rural Pembrokeshire almost impossible.)  I have mine back on the market, but of course in a recession a personalised plate is probably the best example you could find of 'discretionary spending'.  No-one is buying.

Some can be very amusing.  The local bed shop with D1VAN on their delivery vehicle is one (already posted here).  Some are even impressive.  If I ever saw G1NNY or DAV1D or N1GEL I would be moved to smile and tip my hat - well played, Sir or Madam.  But then you get the numbers that are 'supposed' to look like letters.  The local Jaguar dealer had a demonstrator with the registration B16 CAT (and a carefully-placed yellow fixing screw to make the '6' most definitely a 'G'), which was OK, but then you get into things like K3LLY or S4LLY, and the whole thing is starting to move away from reality.

Then I saw this while cruising aimlessly around eBay.  I really don't get it.  At.  All.  Click to engorge.

A great plate for an alien from the planet Tharg called J9MXA.  For a human called Jemma, no.  Even using all the 'rules', it still only reads 'Jgmxa'.  Think he'll get £500 for it?  Unlikely.

Friday 7 September 2012

Gentlemen, be seated!

The GS comes as standard with a very low seat.  At 780 mm from the ground, it's positively subterranean.  Older readers may remember that one of the main reasons for selling the Bonneville was the seat height.  I could sit at traffic lights not only with both feet flat on the ground, but with my knees bent almost at right-angles too.  It felt like the time when I sneakily tried to ride one of the kids' tricycles (come on, we've all done it).  It felt like a toy.  The GS was the same.  And the seat on the GS was, in addition, profoundly uncomfortable, at least for the unique contours of my bot.  I managed a 50-mile ride on the second day I had it, but when I got home I had to unfold myself from the bike and couldn't walk straight for an hour.

See the shape of the scoop?  It looks very comfy, but in fact you are sitting on a slope, and you have the choice of either a) sitting back and feeling like you are constantly sliding down a hill on your bum, or b) sitting forward and getting a serving of crushed nuts on your 99.

Looks comfy.  Isn't.

Fortunately, there was also a more off-road oriented version of the GS called the Dakar - louder graphics, taller suspension, higher seat, not for midgets.  The seat on the Dakar promises an extra 40 mm of height, and the two are interchangeable.  So I went to the recommended source (Motorworks in Yorkshire) and bought a Dakar seat.  It arrived and was fitted yesterday, and it's much better.  There is a lot more foam padding, so comfier for the old derrière, and it is noticeably higher.  The knees are grateful, the hips don't complain quite as much, and you can see over cars better.  No long rides yet, but I can see this being good for 100+ miles at a time, which is really all I need.  By that distance, my brain is ready for a rest and a stroll in any case.

Here's the old one:

... and here's the new:

Mmmm.  Arse says 'thank you'
I've measured the new one against the old, and the distance from the footrest to the lowest part of the seat has gone from 500 mm to 540 mm - exactly as promised.  You probably lose some of that in the extra squish of the thicker foam, but the improvement in comfort and position is significant.

The old seat was a rather pleasant orangey-red, which I thought went well with the black bodywork, but the all-black appearance of the new seat is quite funky in a different way.

Now, whether to sell the old seat, or keep it 'just in case'?

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Richard's Five

Intrigued by a challenge from the biking blogger Fuzzygalore:

One of the biggest challenges for bloggers is how to highlight older content. Just by the nature of the basic blog format sometimes what we see as our own great posts don’t get enough action. How can we tell people that there is something pretty awesome they might’ve missed? Well, the best ways that I’ve found so far is… shamelessly pull stories out of the archive and link to them.
so I have decided to give it a go.  Here are five of my favourite posts.  Probably not the five best, or the most popular*, but five that meant something to me and that I was pleased with when I hit 'Publish'.

1. Camping Taxonomy
Probably the one I most enjoyed writing.  Based on many years of camping (and more lately caravanning), a summary of the people you are likely to meet, and who to avoid, and why.

2. My New Hero
A chance meeting and conversation with a remarkable man.  Sadly, no photos as I forgot the camera that day.

3. Jolie-Laide
Regular readers will know of my touching and probably ill-advised love for my scabby old Yamaha XT600E.  There are too many posts detailing its talents and shortcomings, but this one is perhaps typical.

4. And thinking ...
Two-and-a-half years ago I owned a Honda ST1300 Pan European.  It was too big, too heavy, 'too much bike', and it had to go.  To show that I never learn from my mistakes, there is an almost identical post much more recently where I describe my decision to sell the Sprint because ... well, 'too much bike'.  I'm hoping the XT's current partner (a BMW F650GS) is the Goldilocks bike - 'just right'.  (To explain the odd title of this post, the previous post was entitled 'Just thinking ...', and was a picture of a Harley Sportster.  Draw your own conclusions.  SonjaM will appreciate.)

5. Motorbikes and Motorways
Musings on the suitability, or otherwise, of two-wheeled transport on the nation's main arteries.

H/t to SonjaM for the link to Fuzzygalore.  (I confess I hadn't read this blog before, but it's going in my reader from today.)

*My most popular post by a mile was this one, a brief comment on the 80th anniversary of the British Highway Code.  Over 10,000 page views for this one.  Duh.

Sunday 2 September 2012


Here's the culprit:

One motorcycle immobiliser, made by Meta Systems, model M53T, fitted to the mini-Beemer at three months old, in September 2004.

I don't like alarms and immobilisers for bikes.  Give me a big, tough chain and a disc lock any day.  Let's dismiss alarms first.  They don't work.  Any vehicle with an alarm sounding is merely an irritant for everyone in earshot.  No-one pays them the slightest attention any more.  They assume it's faulty, or the result of a gust of wind, and they walk on by.  Experiments have shown that it is possible for two men to physically lift a parked motorcycle into the back of a white van, on a crowded street, with the alarm shrieking away, and no-one will do anything at all about it.  Especially if the van has 'Mick's Motorcycle Repairs' Dulux-brushed on the side.  So there is  no point whatsoever in having an alarm on your bike, except perhaps if you have to park it on the street outside your house.  You will know the bike is being nicked, but you are then faced with the choice of staying indoors like a wimp, or going outside and getting killed.  I'd rather remain ignorant, thanks.

Immobilisers should be better, and insurers do like them. You stop the bike, take out the key, and walk away. 45 seconds later, the immobiliser self-arms, and no-one can start the bike.  Not ever.  These things are so fiendishly complicated that it takes a PhD in Applied Electronics to even touch the wires.  Er, no.  I have just removed the immobiliser from the GS.  It took me three hours, and most of that time was spent in taking off the bodywork and air filter housing to get at the wiring, something I had not done before, and which was accomplished with a Haynes manual in one hand and a can of Blackthorn in the other.  To someone who has done it before and is both familiar with the bike and quick with a soldering iron, and I would reckon 15 minutes, tops.

And they go wrong.  Oh yes they do.  Bike forums are filled with horror stories of bikes with a myriad of mysterious complaints (mainly, It Doesn't Go) which are cured by ripping the damned immobiliser out.  And what if the immobiliser goes faulty while you are riding?  This one cuts (or, rather, cut) the 12V supply to the fuel pump and coil.  Imagine being in the middle of a fast corner, on the edge of the tyres, and suddenly no power.  On any bike, you are in a heap of trouble.  On a big single, that's you upside-down in the hedge, that is.

But, worse than that, this one at least was a complete pain in the arse to use on a daily basis.  It came with a little fob which attached to the key ring, about the size of a USB thumb drive.  Here was the procedure if you wanted to actually go anywhere:

  1. Press the brake pedal.
  2. Wipe the fob across the bodywork over the hidden sensor.
  3. Put the key in.
  4. Start the bike.
Sounds not-too-bad, although I wonder who, in the concept meeting at Meta Systems, thought that putting the rider through that rigmarole every journey was a good idea.  In reality, it was more 'entertaining':
  1. Put key in ignition out of habit.
  2. Remember and remove key.
  3. Bike on side-stand, so ready to mount from the left.
  4. Remember the brake-pedal gimmick and go round to the other side.
  5. Press brake pedal.
  6. Ask self, was that hard enough?
  7. Press brake pedal again.
  8. Hold key-ring so that little fob thing is sticking out.
  9. Drop key-ring, take gloves off, retrieve, try again.
  10. Wipe fob against dash plastics.
  11. Wipe fob again much more widely and vigorously, as uncertain of exact location of sensor.
  12. Return to left side of bike, ready to get on.
  13. Put key in ignition and switch on.
  14. All dash lights come on.
  15. Press starter button.  Nothing.
  16. GOTO 4.
After three days of this, the death warrant for the immobiliser had been signed and passed to the Praetorian Guard. Today was my first free day in two weeks, and out it came.  Here's the corpse:

I'm not going to go into detail here about how I did it, for obvious reasons.  But let's just say that with some basic tools and a bit of common sense it was a pretty easy job.

I'll make an admission here (and see if anyone shouts "me too!").  I've been messing about with bikes and cars for over 40 years, and I'm reasonably confident that I know what I am doing and don't make major blunders.  But every time I do something that involves crippling the vehicle (by which I mean, if I get it wrong it won't go until I swallow my pride and take it to a proper bloke) I still have a moment of apprehension when everything is back together and I press the starter for the first time.

And when it does fire up, I'm back to being the 14-year-old who was given a Triumph Tina scooter (total wreck, no bodywork, hadn't run in living memory) and made it go.


Saturday 1 September 2012

Signs of the Times

Looks astonishingly bad value.  Who would go for this?  Only the very desperate.

At least they spelled 'Centre' right.

Then they ruin it with the ghastly word 'instore'.  Oh well.
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