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

- George Washington

Wednesday 30 January 2013

LED there be Light

One of the additions I was going to make to the little GS was a pair of auxiliary riding lights.  I'd seen a lot of the big Beemers with the Touratech aux lighting, and they certainly look the business.  But then I clocked the price of them, and thought that a luxury weekend for two in a health spa would be cheaper.  But then a quick trawl round eBay (on a quiet night shift) brought up a cheap alternative.  Three Cree LEDs in each, low current draw of 15W, waterproof and, if not Touratech cool, at least not horrendously ugly.  Thirty-three of your British pounds brought them to my door, I put them in the garage, and that was that.

The fact I didn't fit them on the first available day tells you something.  I was already doubting whether I would keep the GS, and it seemed a waste of time and money to spend half a day putting them on there only to take them off again.  Happy to buy them, unwilling to fit them, work that one out.  So on a shelf they stayed.

Today was the first dry, sunny day for weeks, so I put some warm clothes on and spent the afternoon fitting them to the XTR.  I needed to take the tank shrouds and tank off to do the wiring, and what a pleasure it is to have a bike where this is a two-minute task rather than a lengthy chore.  On the XTR, the sidelights and indicators share a separate fused circuit, so I tapped into this for the power source.  The lights between them should only draw 2.5A, and the XTR's generator puts out a maximum of 20A, so there shouldn't be a problem with having them on full-time.

Not matt-black and adventure-touring cool, but not two hundred quid either.

When I got them wired up and going, I was surprised how bright they were.  From the front of the bike, they are brighter than the dipped beam.

The pattern is a focused spot beam rather then a foglight-style flood, so they won't make much of a difference to the light from the rider's point of view.  The Yamaha's headlight is pretty good anyway.  But they do make a very distinctive triangle of lights, which should aid my conspicuity.  I'm not a big fan of hi-viz, always-on lights or the crazier gadgets like headlight modulators, but if others see me and identify me as a bike rather than an odd point of light somewhere in their field of vision I will be happy.  At this time of year, my evening and morning commutes are in darkness, and the majority of my journey is on fast and unlit roads.  If people see an unusual triangle of lights approaching them, assume it is an alien craft full of little green men come to kidnap them, and don't pull out in front of me because of it, that is a win as far as I am concerned.

It's dark now, and I have had a bit of a play trying to get them angled so that they are visible to the front without dazzling oncoming traffic.  Already I can feel that the right-hand one is starting to get loose on its bracket, so tomorrow I may need to take them off again and do some beefing-up of the fittings.  Thirty quid only gets you so much.

More on this at the weekend, when I have had a chance to use them in anger, as it were.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

The Dashcam Cometh

Ordered on Friday, arrived today (Tuesday).  That's pretty good, considering it was the weekend.  As I said before, there are many of these cameras on eBay, most being sold from Hong Kong or China, but I chose to buy from a seller near Cardiff.  It's still a Chinese product (I am sure of this from the garbled instruction 'manual'), but at least it got here quickly and it's giving someone relatively local a bit of business.  The seller was South_Park_Shop_2013, and I have no complaints about the transaction.

First impression, it works (phew).  Second impression is that it's a damn sight better quality than it has any right to be, considering the price (£22.95 with free P&P).  The slip of paper that contains the instructions needs a bit of interpretation, but it was enough to guide me through the setup and basic operation.  First job was to mount it on the screen, and I've got it to sit just below the rear view mirror so that it doesn't get in the way too much.

It comes with a car charger, and the lead is both heavy-duty and about a mile long, and visually that is the only negative: there's a lot of it dangling about and it seems to coil round the gear lever like a drunken snake. However, that is something that can be addressed in due course.  The view from the driver's seat is not too badly obtruded:

The little 2.5" screen is very useful for getting the aim right, and it will fold away if I feel I no longer need it.  It's taken me a while to get a really firm mounting from all the swivels and joints, and I probably don't need the screen any more, but it's still a novelty, so it's staying for now. The image is small but clear:

Some initial observations about it in  use:
  • It's of fairly flimsy construction (obviously) and there's a persistent rattle from the audio playback which sounds like a dog chewing lego.  There's nothing in the car to make that rattle, so it must come from the casing itself.  Not a big deal, considering the price.
  • Colour rendition is fair only.  There's little saturation and everything looks greyish, and also bright light sources burn it out easily: green traffic lights look like oncoming headlights.  But it's certainly good enough for the purpose, which is to provide a record of what goes on around the Nowheremobile.
  • The wide angle of the lens (120 deg) captures a lot of action, but it has the side-effect of making the drive seem faster than it really is.  In the sample below, parts of it look like a stage of the World Rally Championships, but in reality it was a very calm and legal drive.
  • You can choose how big the recording segments are - 2, 5 or 15 minutes.  I have selected 5 to start with and this seems to work OK.  When the card is full (it takes a standard SD card, with a maximum of 32GB), it starts to overwrite the oldest file.  For the purpose, this seems a very practical arrangement.  In the case of an accident, you would only be interested in the final 30 seconds or so of the most recent segment.  However, there is a delay of about 3 seconds between the recording of the segments, during which nothing is recorded, so it makes sense to keep the segments as long as practical.
I am using a 1GB card at the moment, and this is probably plenty.  Using the VGA setting (lowest quality), a 15-minute drive used half the card's capacity, suggesting a ratio of 30 minutes per GB.  For the purpose of recording a scenic journey, it would make sense to have a much larger card and record in 15-minute chunks, but for simple traffic monitoring the 1GB card will do.  (However, I notice that Currys are doing a two-pack of Sandisk 16GB cards for twenty quid at the moment, so I am going to get one of those for the dashcam and use the other for my still camera.)

Here's a sample, recorded today in the pouring rain while coming back from getting some bits and bobs in Halfords.  It's not intended to be interesting or sexy, so don't get the beers in and make a night of it, but it shows a fair example of what it will do.  (There's a nice watersplash at 4.00.)  I recorded this on the WXGA setting (1280 X 960) but the actual output isn't significantly better than the VGA (640 x 480) I tried at first, and the higher pixel count seems to make the motion a bit jerky, so I think I will revert to VGA for the time being.

There seems no reason why I can't mount it on the bike, although I think it will take a bit of ingenuity.  But there's no way it will be weather-proof, and taking it out today would have drowned it.  But come the summer ... It could be a cheap way of getting some on-bike footage, as a way of deciding whether it is worthwhile splashing the cash for a GoPro or something equally decent.

And another thing: it has IR illumination for night-time and a motion detection setting.  I've been thinking about getting a wildlife camera to put in the garden at night, so tonight I think I am going to point it gardenwards with the IR on and see who visits.

Good so far.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Testimony of the Tree

Not many people know this, but several years ago I trained as a cabinetmaker.  I went self-employed as a furniture maker and restorer for a year or two, but there was no money in it, and I returned to gainful employment elsewhere.  Anyway, I was giving a colleague some advice on a DIY solution for cleaning old furniture (the exact composition of which escapes me for the time being - a lot of use I was there) and I was reminded of a quotation that my tutor printed out and displayed in the workshop.  He reckoned it was essential reading for anyone involved in working with wood.  Sure enough, Google came to the rescue and I found the full version.  I could only remember the last two lines.

Anyway, I thought it was worth sharing.
The Testimony of the Tree

For a hundred years I breathe and live, the flower of beauty and the bread of kindness.

I am your friendly shade in the noonday heat of summer, and I stand pencilled against the winter twilight, a silhouette for dreams. At dawning in the spring I am filled with song, the host to a thousand birds, and I decorate the autumn with pageantry and colour.

Then comes the woodsman with his axe.

And still I serve.

I am the timber that builds your boat; the rafters of your cathedrals; the choirstalls of your church enriched by the magic of the carver's fingers. I am the beam that holds your house; the door of your homestead, and the lintel too. I am the handle of your hoe; the wood of your cradle; the bed on which you lie; the board of your table and the board for your bread.

When I am living, harm me not.

When I am dead, respect me and use me kindly.


Friday 25 January 2013

Dashcams Pt 2

OK, it's a slow night at work and I have been on eBay.  I've had a good think about this camera business (see previous post), and I have decided that expecting something to live in the car and be available for day-to-day recording, and at the same time be a good video camera for bike rides is unreasonable.  So I have decided to buy the cheapest thing I can find which fits the minimum requirements, and save the bike cam purchase for another day.

I am getting one of these:

which comes from eBay and costs the princely sum of £22.95 with free postage. It's got some good features, too:
  • runs off a battery and a 12v charger
  • records in chunks, choice of 2, 5 or 15 minutes
  • automatically over-writes the oldest file when the SC card is full
  • powers on with the car ignition
  • IR illumination for night recording
  • time and date stamp on recordings
  • motion detection, which might be interesting filming the wildlife that visits the garden overnight
  • will support an SD card up to 32GB.
The only downside I can see is that it's got a wide angle lens but the image may not fit a computer screen very well.  The videograbs I have seen have a weird compressed perspective, although this may be a function of the small, square screen and a wide-angle image.  We shall see.  For under 25 beer tokens, if it works as described for a year I shall be happy.

And it is shipped from Pontypridd by a UK seller, not shipped from a warehouse in an industrial estate off the M25 by a seller in China.  Pontypridd is almost local.

It should arrive in a few days.  I will let you know how I get on.

Thursday 24 January 2013


Yesterday, I was on a short errand (in the car, as I had a load to carry) and had to pass the local college.  There is a roundabout with traffic lights to control entry, and pedestrian crossings by the lights.  As I approached the lights at green, I saw a young lad of about 16 waiting to cross the road.  I wasn't going to stop for him, as the traffic lights were green, which meant that his pedestrian light was red, and I was in a queue of traffic.  He looked me right in the eye as I approached.  There was no way he hadn't seen me.  And then, when I was about 10 metres away from him, he stepped out into the road in front of me.  I had already covered the brake in anticipation, so my emergency stop was a good one, ABS and all, being on a damp and greasy road surface.  He walked casually across in front of me and pulled a face at me.  I'm sorry to say I reacted by giving him a good old V-sign, and drove off.

It occurred to me later that, had I hit him and caused him injury (which was entirely possible in the circumstances, as I only pulled up about 2-3 metres away from him), I would have had a hell of a job convincing people (the police and the courts, mainly) that I was not driving carelessly or improperly.  Could I prove I was well within the speed limit and driving at a speed appropriate to the conditions?  Could I prove the lights were in my favour and that his weren't?  Sadly, my assumption is that I would be automatically held to blame as the motorist in the absence of evidence otherwise, and it would be up to me to prove my innocence rather then the other way round.  An experience of the courts a few years ago with a speeding case has left me with no faith whatsoever in the reasonableness or impartiality of the justice system.

So I am thinking about getting a dash cam.  One of those devices that fasten to the inside of the windscreen and record basically what the driver sees.  I understand that some of them have a 'looping' feature, where the cam records for 10-20 minutes or so and then starts recording over the stored footage.  That would be ideal for this situation, as it is usually only the last 30 seconds or so that would be relevant in the case of an accident.  Of course, a facility for continuous recording would be good too, of reasonable quality for putting on the Web.  And if it could be waterproof and motorcycle-mountable, well ...

But I get ahead of myself.  I have checked out what's available online, and it seems you could spend anything from about £40 to over £200 on one of these devices, and the cheap ones seem to have a lot of the required features.  I know some of you will have one of these, or something similar and relevant.  Any advice for someone who wants good functionality without spending a fortune?  Requirements would be:

  • Reasonable colour image quality and frame rate
  • SD card or similar storage for easy transfer to PC
  • Format compatible with other devices, i.e. mpeg, mov, avi etc.
  • Looping facility
Nice to have:
  • Still or time-lapse facility
  • Inbuilt screen to frame the correct view when setting up
  • Weather resistance
  • Compatible with large storage cards for extended use
  • 12v and battery operation
  • Flexibility in mounting (i.e. helmet or motorcycle).

As an aside, if you haven't already done so, go to YouTube and search for 'Russian dashcams' if you want a real fright.  Apparently so many Russian drivers are uninsured that a lot of people (especially commercial drivers like truckers) have a dashcam running routinely to provide evidence for when the inevitable happens. Some of the footage is merely funny, but some will scare the pants off you.  I'm convinced many Russian drivers either have a death wish, or are blind drunk, or both.

Anyway, over to you ...

Father and Son

Or should that be mother and daughter?  Or big sis and little sis?  Old dog and puppy?  I don't know - I don't do anthropomorphism very well (neither bike has a name, and probably never will).  But they are related, that's for sure.  DNA, and all that.

Anyways, the old XT (green one) has not moved from under its tarpaulin for about three months.  The BMW was perfectly OK for day-to-day use and didn't let me down (I kept the XT in a state of permanent readiness, just in case) and now the XTR has become the gentleman's conveyance du choix and an inspection of its general condition leads me to think that it is pretty much unmolested, and therefore likely to be dependable.  So I took the tax disc off the XT in order to send it off for a refund, and while it was standing there uncovered, I thought I might start it up, just to see ...

Fuel on, choke on, press of the button, and then blap blap blap and it settled to a steady idle.  That's after three months without being touched, with a five-year-old battery.  The benefits of not having things like alarms and immobilisers.  (It also shows that the compression, ignition and carbs are in sound order, which means any refurbishment of the bike will most likely not include an engine rebuild.

Anyhow, she is now SORN, untaxed and uninsured, so next step is to conduct a full assessment of condition, followed by dismantling and dry storage.  If I can find anywhere to put it.

Anna will have some ideas about that, not all of them helpful.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Kevin Ash

It is with great sadness that I read that Kevin Ash, motorcycling journalist and bike correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, has been killed.  The Telegraph has some brief details here.

It seems Kevin was part of the UK press contingent at the launch of a new BMW bike in South Africa.  The accident happened around 250 km East of Cape Town.  Details of the incident are being withheld for the time being out of respect for his family.

I have had Kevin's website Ash On Bikes bookmarked for a long time now.  He was one of the few bike journalists that was free of any macho posturing or wannabe racer pretensions.  He wrote well, and he wrote for people like me, who love motorcycles without necessarily needing the latest fashion in exhausts or the highest top speed or the fastest lap time.  He tested everything from scooters to superbikes, and wrote honestly and engagingly about them all.

He leaves a wife and three daughters.

He will be greatly missed.

H/t to Highwaylass.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

50-odd (or 'fifty odd') things to do before you die

I see this one has been doing the rounds, so I thought I would have a go and let you all know my innermost ambitions and life goals.  The Daily Mail has an article listing the 50 things that 'people'want to do before they die.  The list is crap, frankly.  There are some duplicated items, some of the things cannot physically be done, and some are so banal as to be hardly worth mentioning.  But here's the list, and here are my reactions:

1. Become a millionaire
Would definitely like to do this, although a million isn't what it used to be these days, really, is it?

2. Travel the world
Definitely.  And no prizes for guessing how I would travel.

3. See the Northern Lights
Another definite yes.  Which would mean travelling as far North as possible.  Which means ... another bike trip.

4. Trek the Great Wall of China
See it, yes.  Take photos, yes.  Trek all five-and-a-bit thousand miles of it?  No thanks.

5. Be mortgage free
I'm very lucky to be able to say I have done this one.

6. Go to the Inca Trail
More attractive than the China thing, but reaction similar.

7. See all seven wonders of the world
Can't be done.  According to Wikipedia, only one (The Great Pyramid) still exists.  The rest have been destroyed by earthquakes and fire.  But I'd like to see the Pyramids.

8. Visit the Egyptian Pyramids
See above.

9. Invent something that changes lives
Er, no.  Unless it was a magic bubble that protected normal people from state interference, theft and bullying.  I would be proud to invent that.

10. Visit Antarctica
Er, no.  Well, possibly.  But not if it was cold or dangerous.

11. Go on the Orient Express
Might be nice, but not a priority.

12. Go on an African Safari
Go to Africa, travel in the bush, see wildlife, yes.  Join a 'safari' with a bunch of accountants and dentists from Pinner, no thanks.

13. See the Taj Mahal
If I were passing, I would stop and look.  Not otherwise.

14. Learn to play the piano / guitar / drums
Can already do the first two, and can pass for semi-competent at the third.  But very rusty at all of them.  Taking up the guitar again is a serious ambition, the subject of New Year Resolutions for at least a decade.

15. Stay a night at the world’s best hotel
I'd rather camp.  Oh, all right then, just once for a laugh.

16. Build your own house
Design it, yes; build it, no.  God gave us brickies for a reason, you know.

17. Drive Route 66 in the US
I would definitely do this.  I might even be tempted onto a Harley for the duration.

18. Go to Lapland
Another definite yes.  I'm told my family came to England from somewhere in Scandinavia in the C18, and I do feel a draw towards the Frozen North.  Plus they drink a lot.

19. Swim with dolphins / sharks
a) Meh, and b) why?

20. Emigrate
Have seriously considered this, and would, under the right circumstances.

21. Learn to speak another language
OK with French, a little Italian and German (enough that I won't starve, freeze or die of dehydration), so I think I can tick this one.

22. Own an island
Never in  a million years.  Headaches would exceed pleasures by a factor of 10.  Also, see reply to 41.

23. Dine at a Michelin star restaurant
Maybe, just for the 'dining experience'.  But I would probably stop for chips on the way home.

24. Write a novel
I'd love to do this.  The only things holding me back are a lack of any ideas for a plot or characters.  Apart from that, I am good to go.

25. See Gorillas in the wild
No.  I avoid them when I visit a zoo.  They remind me of the bits of Leeds I used to avoid when I was younger.

26. Live and work abroad
See 20.  Another duplicate.

27. Hot air balloon ride
Might be nice.  Not a burning ambition.  But I feel more positive to this than I do to skydiving or bungee-jumping, which I would not do for No. 1 above.

28. Fly a plane
Bad with heights.  Scared of flying to the point of loss of bowel control and screaming dementia.  That's a no.

29. Travel New Zealand in a Winnebago
Winnebagos are for people in polyester leisure suits.  But the concept is a good one.  I really fancy visiting NZ one day, and this sounds as good a way as any.

30. Start and run your dream business
Work.  Stress.  No.

31. Ride a Segway
Ever since I saw an entire busload of Japanese tourists scooting round the Piazza del Campo in Siena on these I have been fascinated by them.  It was a silent and very bizarre experience.  Yes, I must do this one day.

32. Go to Disneyworld
I would rather stick rusty needles in my eyeballs, while bouncing up and down naked on a buttplug covered in Domestos.

33. Gamble in Las Vegas
I refer my honourable friend to the answer I gave to number 32 on this list.

34. Act as an extra in a Hollywood film
Why would anyone want to do that?

35. Dedicate time to volunteering
Already done that.

36. Try out an F1 car
No interest in F1 as such, but as a person who digs machinery of all sorts, especially stuff that gets you somewhere you aren't, it would be great fun.

37. Learn to fly a plane or helicopter
This is the same as 28, isn't it?  And the same answer.

38. Have a family
Two wives (an ex, and the lady who I refer to as 'the current Mrs Nowhere' if I want to wind her up), and two lovely, talented daughters who make me prouder than I have any right to be, so I will call this one achieved.

39. Be an extra in a movie
Why the fuckety-fuck would anyone want to do that?

40. Climb a mountain like Everest
Could see me doing something like that on a bike trip.  But on foot - phew, no thanks.  It's steep, you know.

41. Buy a yacht
I've had several boats (all small ones) and they add up to heartbreak, even the nice ones.  I wouldn't have a yacht as a gift, unless I was permitted to sell it on immediately and pocket the cash.  A guy I used to know in my boating days (a genuine millionaire, and a sound and decent man) gave me the wisest advice: "If it floats, flies or fucks, you're better off renting".

42. Meet your idol / favourite celebrity
I don't have idols (well, not since I was about 12), and I despise the cult of celebrity, so you would find me running as fast as I could in the opposite direction.

43. Run a marathon
You are joking, right?

44. Watch a World Cup final
You are joking, right?

45. Meet the Queen
*Thinks long and hard.*  Nope.

46. Learn to surf
Might be nice.  Not going to quit my job and emigrate over it.

47. Go to Harry Potter World in Florida
I refer my honourable friend to the answer I gave to number 32 on this list.

48. Abseil down a mountain
I've roped up and down a mountain, and I have abseiled in many caves, so I claim an indirect hit on this one. Despite my lack of head for heights, I would do this without question.

49. Do an army assault course
Don't be silly.

50. Deep sea dive
Does snorkelling count?  The serious type, with the proper kit and the training?  If so, I'm claiming this one.  And one day I will tell you about the time I met an octopus ...

The Mail reckons that the average person only gets to achieve five of these ambitions.  I make my own count 8/50, and 8/~22 if you discount the ones I don't want to do anyway.  There's plenty of time for the rest.

If I hurry.

Your thoughts?

Monday 21 January 2013

Dreaming of Jupiter

The bike is a BMW, black and orange* in appearance almost exactly like the little GS I have just sold, but looking down I see it is an airhead twin. Anna is on the back, we have a mass of luggage, and we are touring somewhere quite exotic - somewhere in Eastern Europe, perhaps. The landscapes and townscapes are bare and empty, and the shadows are deep and the lines sharp, like a de Chirico painting.

I need to get to the British Embassy to sort a problem out. They invite me to ride up the steps into the building for security, and I park the bike on a vast marble floor.  We wait in a huge room full of strangers. Anna is talking to someone and I see my sister-in-law across the room. She asks me what we are doing here, and I jokingly shout that Anna has been arrested. Anna storms off in a huff, and thereby misses the cup of hot cocoa (served in a pot with a sealed lid, like Petits Filous). After the issue has been sorted, I am shown out of another exit. We're on the first floor and there is a massive drop in front of me, but to the left I see I can ride along the top of a wall to get back round to the front of the building. I'm no good with heights, but I manage it OK until I get to a right-angled turn, which I know the bike cannot negotiate. I lean it against a nearby railing and climb to the end of the wall and start looking for assistance, maybe a man with a winch or block and tackle.

Meanwhile, we continue the journey with Anna driving. I hear the different exhaust note and see that we are on an old Triumph twin, painted in that mid-green colour that was so popular in the 60s. She rides well and corners hard, and I begin to enjoy the journey.  We end up at the house of the friends we had planned to meet, but find they now live in a commune and have become very hippified. I am told the bike has been recovered, and I go to see it. It is parked at ground level, thank heavens, but it has fallen on its side. However, there is no damage and I ride it back to the commune.


I finished work yesterday morning at 7 am and had about three hours' sleep and then got up. By 10 pm last night I was extremely tired and went to bed. I read a few pages of Ted Simon's Dreaming of Jupiter before I went to sleep. The chapter involved endless meetings in the Sudanese embassy in Egypt while trying to get a visa to enter Sudan. The night before, he had been invited to ride his bike up the hotel steps for security reasons. I just find it highly comical that my dream could be such a literal mashup of what I had been reading and some recent bike-related events in my life. (I even had a minor walking-speed tipover on the new XTR as I was riding in through the front gate while bringing it home. No damage.)

Dreaming of Jupiter, literally.

* I seem to remember reading that there is some debate over whether we dream in colour.  This one was definitely in colour, and nice bright colours too.

Note:  Ted Simon's original work Jupiter's Travels is a brilliant and ground-breaking book, and is probably ultimately responsible for the current fashion for adventure touring and round-the-world (RTW) trips.  It is a great read, and if you haven't read it yet, you should.  Yes, even you non-motorcycling readers.  It's intelligent, interesting and profound, and it isn't even much about bikes.  In fact, Simon couldn't even ride when he decided to set off, and is quite explicit in his view that it was the bike that facilitated the journey, rather than the journey bthat justified the ride.  However, fascinating though it is, it is rather melancholy and troubling in parts,and it's certainly not a feel-good tale.  Dreaming of Jupiter, which was very kindly bought for me as a Christmas present, was written when he decided, at the age of 70 or so, to travel the route again and see what had changed.  I'm not even quarter of the way through, and I am hooked.  Both books highly recommended.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Continuous Insurance Enforcement

This is a plea for information or advice, or probably confirmation.

I sold the GS last week and picked up the XTR on Saturday.  This was quite good timing, as the previous insurance policy ran out on the Sunday.  I did a bit of research, found the cheapest quote (Devitt, as it happens) and insured the XTR from Saturday on a new policy.  I have been planning to take the XT off the road and give it some serious attention for quite a while now, and this seemed a good time to do so.  Therefore, the new policy is for the XTR only, and the policy that covered the XT has now lapsed.

I won't be riding the XT on the road until I get it restored, and when the tax runs out I had planned to SORN it, as I have no intention of running foul of the rules.  However, it is now uninsured.  I seem to recall reading recently about proposals to oblige owners to maintain a vehicle's insurance even if it is off the road, in the same way that you must now SORN a vehicle if it is not taxed.

There's nothing on the main Gov.uk site in either the vehicle tax or insurance sections, just:
You have to have motor insurance before you can drive on public roads.
But visiting the Motor Insurers' Bureau website I find this:
As part of Continuous Insurance Enforcement (CIE), it is now a legal requirement for registered vehicle keepers to insure their vehicle(s) at all times
It continues:
You don’t have to be driving to be caught. It is an offence to keep a vehicle without insurance unless you have notified DVLA that your vehicle is being kept off the road by means of a Statutory off Road Notice (SORN).
I guess I had better SORN the poor old XT without delay.  Unless anyone knows differently?

Update: found it.
The rules for insuring vehicles are called ‘continuous insurance enforcement’. They mean that if you’re the registered keeper of a vehicle it must be insured or declared as off the road (SORN).
They are keeping this quiet, aren't they?  Or have I just not been paying attention?)

Zaphod's Day In Court

I was contacted by Zaphod, a sometime commenter here, regarding a post he had put up on his own blog forum, and I thought my readers would appreciate it.  (Zaphod is one of the authors of the Nothing2Declare blog, and a fine fellow he is too.)

And now for something completely different-
I was in court today, for speeding. Apparently, I drove past a speed trap van doing 35mph. Allegedly.
I had ignored the offer of a speed awareness ritual humiliation course. And the reminders. And the subsequent repeated offers to pay a fixed penalty. They couldn’t believe I would be so stupid as to contest it in court, when they had a signed confession that I was the driver. Or did they?
Read on here.  It's ideal heart-warming stuff for a cold January evening.

Monday 14 January 2013

Another day, another IAM poll

The latest IAM poll is about restrictions on young drivers.  The Association of British Insurers wants to see more restrictions in place - graduated licences, bans on night-time driving, number of passengers, and so on.

As motorcyclists, we have put up with graduated licences for many years now, and although as a liberty-minded chap I am never in favour of more state control of our lives, I would say that generally they have been a Good Thing.  The days when you could turn 17, buy a 100 mph 2-stroke road rocket the same day, pass a ludicrously easy test, and then without any instruction whatever jump onto a bike of any size and power are long gone, and perhaps rightly so.  These days, you have to start small and work your way up.  It's expensive, and there are a lot of very difficult hoops to jump through before you can throw away the L-plates and ride off into the sunset on your new hyperbike - hoops which may involve the selling and purchase of three or four bikes of increasing size and power before a full licence is granted.  If I am honest, today's new riders are far better trained than we oldies ever were, and probably better protected from their own foolishness.

For a youngster to get a car licence is much easier.  A theory test which can be learned parrot-fashion, a reasonable test of your basic abilities, and off you go.  One day, you have never driven without someone sensible sitting beside you, have never driven on a motorway, and have probably never driven after dark or in bad weather. The next, you can fill your car with six drunken mates and drive up the M6 to a rave, in a car which could legally be anything from a banger to a Bugatti Veyron.

Perhaps a more graduated approach to getting the freedom of the road would be a good thing.

Anyway, let them know what you think.  As always, the IAM want as much input as possible, so fill your boots.  You don't have to be a member, ect ect.

The poll is here.

Sunday 13 January 2013

Full Circle

I tried, I really tried.

I had the BMW for six months.  I wanted to like it.  It had everything going for it - a full set of luggage, an economical and reliable engine, lots of expensive accessories, and it looked pretty good too.  But last week I sold it.  And yesterday I rode home on a new bike - the rather pretty Yamaha pictured above.

What was wrong with the Beemer?  In a word, it was dull.  In another word, it was the wrong shape. And in a third word, it was built so far down to a price that it reached Australia.

Dull, first.  Whatever a bike does, whatever you use it for, however much it cost you, it must be fun.  It must light a fire somewhere in your soul.  If I want utility, I will use my car.  The engine was reasonably powerful (50 bhp) and yet managed to make that power in such a somnolent way that it seemed like half that.  The exhaust note was (and I mean this literally) less engaging than my lawnmower.  There was a mild duff-duff from the back end, and an annoying pockety-pock from the induction, and that was it.  It gave no sense of excitement whatsoever.  At least the mower sounds businesslike.  Yes, this could have been cured with an aftermarket system, but only at a cost of several hundred pounds - and I didn't love it enough to sink that kind of cash into it.

It was the wrong shape for me.  Even with a higher seat (at a cost of £160) it was too low.  I felt like I was riding a cruiser, all feet forward and arms in the air.  I exaggerate, but that's how it felt.  And it wobbled round slow corners.  Great for a shorty, but for this almost-six-footer (5' 11⅞" to be precise) it was like riding a roller-skate.

And the build quality was depressing.  Perhaps I had high expectations of a Bavarian product, but it was disappointingly poorly-made.  The fork lowers were starting to pit, the engine had lost most of its paint, and the quality of the fasteners holding it all together was dire.  Many chassis bolts were simply rusty (and looked awful), and several times I had to resort to cobalt-tipped drills and witchcraft to get seized bolts out.  Electrolytic corrosion between dissimilar metals and a complete lack of anti-seize compounds during manufacture made it a DIY nightmare.  It had a full BMW main dealer service history, and from the amount of paperwork that came with it the previous owners must have been anally retentive to the point of solidity, so I don't think any of it was owner neglect.  Nope, BMW build these as entry-level bikes to the BMW 'family', and my guess is they are not built to last more than a few years, just long enough for the first owner to trade up to a £12k monster.  I know I bang on ad nauseam about how good the XT600 is, but seriously - a 19-year-old Yamaha with eleventy-six owners, evidence of neglect and abuse throughout its life, and which lives out in all weathers and is rarely cleaned, has less rust and is easier to take apart than an 8-year-old 'premium product' from one of the world's most famous bike makers.

When I got back into riding in 2007 after a break of nearly ten years, I bought a Yamaha XT660R - partly because it was the right price, I liked the look of it, and I had owned two smaller XTs in a former life.  I sold it on after a year (for reasons which were entirely incorrect, I now learn) and subsequently had everything from 800 to 1300 cc, straight fours, parallel and V-twins, a V-four and even a triple.  But all that time, guess what?  My hyper-secure password that I use for all critical internet logins is a cleverly-scrambled mix of characters based on that Yamaha.  It was in 2007 and it is today.  And my desktop backgound?  Yes, that's right. Still.  It's a bit like that number that you never quite manage to delete from your phone, the photo you can't bear to throw away.

I rode it home from 'up the line' yesterday and had a total blast.  It's got 2 bhp less than  the GS, and with the lack of wind protection it's probably as comfy at 70 as the GS was at 80.  But it jumps off the line like a terrier, grunts and snarls on the throttle, and has a tall and commanding riding position that puts you where you want to be - in charge.  In other words, it's just like the older XT, but better.  And coming from me, that is high recommendation.

Needless to say, I am in lurve all over again.

Tuesday 8 January 2013


I read once, not sure how true it is, that the bicycle wheel is the strongest structure, weight for weight, in the world. I have ridden many bicycles over much rough terrain, I am far from being anorexic, and I have never buckled or even bent a wheel, so there must be some truth in this. And then I saw this picture on Facebook. Awesome, if genuine (and I wouldn't be surprised if it was).

Thursday 3 January 2013

Free Speech

Thanks to a link in Longrider's blog, I have come across the best defence and justification of the principle of Free Speech that I have ever read.  Here's a sample, but I urge you to go and read the lot.

Nowhere in Farago's pro-censorship argument does he address, or even fleetingly consider, the possibility that the ideas that the state will forcibly suppress will be ideas that he likes, rather than ideas that he dislikes. People who want the state to punish the expression of certain ideas are so convinced of their core goodness, the unchallengeable rightness of their views, that they cannot even conceive that the ideas they like will, at some point, end up on the Prohibited List.

That's what always astounds and bothers me most about censorship advocates: their unbelievable hubris. There are all sorts of views I hold that I am absolutely convinced I am right about, and even many that I believe cannot be reasonably challenged.

But there are no views that I hold which I think are so sacred, so objectively superior, that I would want the state to bar any challenge to them and put in prison those who express dissent. How do people get so convinced of their own infallibility that they want to arrogate to themselves the power not merely to decree which views are wrong, but to use the force of the state to suppress those views and punish people for expressing them?

Ultimately, the only way to determine what is and is not "hate speech" is majority belief - in other words, mob rule. Right now, minister Vallaud-Belkacem and Farago are happy to criminalize "hate speech" because majorities - at least European ones - happen to agree with their views on gay people and women's equality. But just a couple decades ago, majorities believed exactly the opposite: that it was "hateful" and destructive to say positive things about homosexuality or women's equality. And it's certainly possible that, tomorrow, majorities will again believe this, or believe something equally bad or worse.

In other words, it's very possible that at some point in the future, majorities will come to hate rather than like the personal beliefs of minister Vallaud-Belkacem and Farago. And when that happens, when those majorities go to criminalize the views which minister Vallaud-Belkacem and Farago hold rather than condemn, they'll have no basis whatsoever for objecting, other than to say: "oh no, it's only fair to criminalize the ideas I hate, not the ones I like."
Thank you, Guardian, for a very sound and well-argued article.  (That's a sentence you won't read often on this blog.)  The comments BTL are, as ever, both wildly entertaining and profoundly depressing in equal measure.

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