I’m a qualified Microlight Pilot!

Where did the time go?? Last blog I wrote was about training for this, and that feels like an age ago, although granted, December IS a while ago! What followed then was of course a 3 month lock down that meant no flying.

Once the restrictions were lifted enough for flying to start again in April my instructor’s diary was pretty empty as the restrictions still in place meant most of his students couldn’t come to the airfield due to the remaining travel restrictions, but as I live locally, that suited me fine and I booked as many lessons as I dared to (financially!) while also booking more than I could afford in the fairly certain knowledge as many as half of them would be cancelled due to weather.

So with the lessons happening fairly frequently thanks to a decent run of good weather, I very quickly found myself ready – in my instructor’s eyes – for my first solo flight! That’s a huge milestone and one that I was delighted to have reached.

Those first solo’s are flown as circuits. Take off, fly the circuit, approach, land. All done in just under 3 minutes. I did 3 circuits and that was enough as I’d already had a lesson immediately before this.

The next few lessons consisted mainly of solo flights in the circuit, and finally one where all I did was take off, climb to 1,500ft above the airfield, then off the throttle so the engine is just idling and not creating any thrust at all, and glide down to land. the ‘overhead engine failure’ lesson. Of course if I messed up, I could just boot the throttle, and do a go-around, which gives you a certain amount of confidence, and I flew 4 of them, and landed every one of them.

With that done I was free to leave the circuit and fly around the local area – solo. I still had all the navigation exercises, both dual and solo to do. It took another two months to get them all done, but eventually they were ticked off, the necessary hours all logged, and it came to the practice GST – I really enjoyed that, and my instructor declared me ready for the actual GST.

The day of the GST dawned, and amazingly I actually slept pretty well the night before. I called the examiner, agreed the weather wasn’t looking good for the appointed time, but that it was likely to improve a couple of hours later – which it did – and the test went ahead.

The actual test itself was really good fun – as I’ve been keeping very ‘current’ – i.e. flying a lot and emptying my bank account – all the manoeuvres I had to demonstrate were fresh in my head, and even ones I’d neglected to practice were absolutely fine.

And that was it! I passed!

There then ensued the hours of paperwork, all handled by Jill at the club, and the licence application was ready. I sent it on the Tuesday, and had the licence issued and delivered to me by the Saturday – impressive service from the BMAA.

And that’s me – a qualified NPPL(M) pilot – and entitled to take a passenger too!

Still working towards my NPPL(M)

After a 3 week break from flying thanks to poor weather I finally got back up at the weekend, twice in fact.

Saturday the weather was glorious – as the pic above shows. Sunday was murky and cloudy and we were restricted to 500ft max to keep below the cloud base – sometimes just 400ft. Not a great day for flying, but ok for circuits and we did plenty.

The circuit is a pretty intense workout mentally – we have a pretty short circuit, so it all happens very fast from take off, climb, all the checks, radio calls, approach and landing, all in about 2 minutes!

On the plus side, my circuit work is spot on.

On the down side, my landings are at best inconsistent, and at worst I’m just not clicking yet with the timing of the roundout and hold off. It’s got to be 2nd nature – it happens very, very fast – and I’m sure as my skill level improves, it won’t seem to happen as fast – so it’s just a case of keeping at it until it clicks!

Aviation – weather forecasting..

While writing my thoughts on Learning to Fly, it did occur to me that this is more of a new world than I’d ever really anticipated, possibly naively.

Anyway, that’s not a moan, just an observation – but there are some things that persist in that world despite the world moving on.

Take the world of weather forecasting for example. Here we encounter TAF’s and METAR’s – basically a string of numbers and acronyms to give a pretty accurate local forecast. Now I believe the reason for all the codes used was that it allows a lot of information to be passed in a short time.

METAR – current local observation

TAF – 24 hour local forecast

But in the world of t’internet, smart phones, tablets etc, that need for brevity seems somewhat less compelling, at least from my armchair..

TAF 190457Z 1906/2006 30009KT CAVOK BECMG 1921/1924 24010KT BECMG 2000/2003 BKN040 PROB30 TEMPO 2002/2006 7000 -RA

This one was issued on 19th Nov at 04:57 GMT – it actually doesn’t say the month – they’re updated at least twice a day, so no need. It was for Edinburgh Airport, if that matters..

1906/2006 30009KT CAVOK : valid between 06:00 on 19th and 06:00 on 20th, wind 9 knots from 300o , visibility unlimited (10 Km or more), no significant weather or cloud

BECMG 1921/1924 24010KT : Becoming, between 21:00 and midnight on 19th, wind 10 knots from 240o

BECMG 2000/2003 BKN040 : Becoming, between 00:00 hrs and 03:00 on 20th, no change in wind, broken clouds at 4,000 ft

PROB30 TEMPO 2002/2006 7000 -RA : 30% probability, that temporarily between 02:00 and 06:00 on 20th, visibility 7000 metres, light rain

So to read a TAF it helps to first download the codex for it – aka. “Get Met”


Having got that, the met office offers yet another explanation of the arcane art of decoding a TAF https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/binaries/content/assets/metofficegovuk/pdf/services/transport/aviation/ga/what-taf-values-really-mean.pdf

Fun, eh?

A year, and 17,500 miles

Have you ever sat back to reflect where you were just a year ago, and how much has changed in that year? When I look ahead I often find that I make a general assumption that most things won’t change – how often have you heard the expression “all things being equal”? The caveat that acknowledges that we expect that things won’t change, but acknowledge that there’s a chance that they will…

Yet if we ever take time to really sit down and think how much has happened in the last 12 months, it is amazing how much your life can change in that fairly short space of time.

A year ago I had a ZZR1100, I was married, with three children, very little time to myself, and to be honest I wasn’t at all happy in the marriage, and love affair with the ZZR was coming to an end.

It was time to change the ZZR for something a bit more upright as commuting on it wasn’t really suiting me. I needed to know the trade-in value, so I took it down to Pheonix Honda in Grangemouth and rather foolishly accepted a test ride on a Varadero XL1000V. Was it fate? I fell utterly in love with the Varadero, and a few days later had agreed a trade in on the ZZR. Oops!

When I picked up the Varadero I set about sorting it out to my satisfaction, giving it an e-Scotoiler, a centre stand, a screen lift that holds the screen proud of the fairing, reducing the buffeting massively, the Riderscan that I had liberated from the ZZR, and a set of pannier racks for my Givi panniers.

In about a month’s time things would come to a head with my marriage and we would agree to separate, but at this point in time I still didn’t think / couldn’t accept that this could/would happen. It did.

Well, life can throw these things at you. My favourite motto, if there is such a thing, is that “Life is an adventure”, so the only thing to do is get on with it and make the most of it.

By the end of December I had bought a house and in the middle of February I moved out of the family home and into my own house. I then set about redecorating it from top to bottom as it was a repossession and had suffered a fair amount of neglect and sloppy diy from the previous owners.

In March, through a biker dating/social forum, I met Sharon. Things went slowly at first, and then started to pick up speed. By mid April we were officially dating, and Sharon bravely came along with me to the Aberfoyle IAM weekend.

The last 6 months have flown by in a blur. I did the John O Groats to Mull of Galloway charity ride with the IAM, I did the IAM skills day at Knockhill, Sharon and I went off on the bike for wee trips all over the place, we did a 6 day tour around the north of Scotland together, I did the Slo Mo day at East Fortune, I stopped doing DIY at my house and started doing DIY at Sharon’s instead – such is the nature of love!

As the first anniversary of buying the Varadero approached I needed to handle such minor things as road tax, MOT and a much needed service. I realised that I’ve covered just over 17,500 miles in those 12 months, and during those 17,500 miles I’ve left my marriage, moved out into my own house, met and fallen in love with a wonderful lady (I DO mean Sharon, not the Varadero, although I confess to being very fond of that too), and managed to stay safe despite all the miles covered on our often busy roads.

Looking ahead, my diary is already filling up with more and more IAM events, and Sharon and I are planning more trips on the bike – and guess what? We are making that same old assumption – that things will be as they are now…. I hope to hell they will be, although I’m pretty sure they can’t all be, but if the last 12 months has taught me anything, it’s that you simply never know what life will throw at you….. That sounds like I expect doom and gloom – but I don’t – I’m happier now than I’ve been for a long time, so I fully intend to continue to enjoy the adventures that life offers, and I hope I’ll make the most of them.

A week away with the kids

Well, only one week off, but feels like a lot more – win!

I finished work a bit early on the Friday to go to the dentist to get my temporary filling removed and replaced. That went smoothly, although I did then have to greet my sister in law, Ali, newly arrived from the states, with a numb mouth..

Friday evening we all went down to my inlaws and gave my father in law a nice surprise as he had no idea Ali and her kids were coming over for his 70th birthday party.

Saturday was the party, and in the morning while we waited for the party to start I spent some time playing with their lovely black lab, a beautifully docile and loving dog, so I love the photo below, taken as she was leaping to catch a ball :


Party time arrived and the two kegs of beer I’d brewed and brought along went down well, the weather was lovely, and it was great to see all the family there and catch up with folk.

Sunday we helped tidy the place up, and in the evening we headed home.

Monday morning was a bit hectic – the Mrs was away to work and I was left to pack for me and the 3 kids for a weeklong trip up to Aberdeen, including camping and snorkelling gear. We drove up to Aberdeen that afternoon.

We had a lazy day with our friends on the Tuesday, set up a big bonfire in one of their fields to burn off loads of garden rubbish and paperwork. It was rather hotter than I’d have liked for a bonfire, still, the kids love a good fire!


The kids did some horseriding, and Rory fell off, uninjured though.


Wednesday we packed all the camping gear into the cars and headed up north to the Moray coast. We went to explore a beach near Cullen, and explored Findlater castle – a long derelict castle, abandoned in the 1800’s, and now in a rather unstable condition, perched on the edge of sea cliffs… perfect to let 5 kids explore!!




After we hauled them back out of there they all agreed the beach was too busy, and had a terrible lack of firewood, so we walked back to the cars and headed off to a beach near New Aberdour that we camped on last year.

We humped all the kit into the beach and then emptied the rucksacks and headed off to collect firewood – it’s a bit of a walk, but with 6 big backpacks between us, we brought back loads of bone dry driftwood and soon had a big fire going.

We spent 3 days/2 nights there – swimming, snorkelling, exploring rock pools and generally enjoying the beach. And it was hot. Damned hot! Suddenly swimming in the north sea became very appealing!





We came back to Aberdeen on the Friday evening, and Saturday while the kids were saddling up horses I got to fix and then play with a big petrol driven strimmer – I’m quite sure the novelty would wear off soon, but the devastation this thing swept before it was awesome compared to weedy little electric strimmers. Then the kids got out for some more riding, this time it was one of our friend’s kids who came off – her horse got a bit too excited after some galloping and bucked her off – seems she’s rather used to this!!


After that it was an afternoon of geocaching in the woods and hills near them – I’m always amazed at the energy kids have – while we trudged up the hills in the heat, they were belting around playing games and generally having a ball.



That obviously didn’t tire the kids out – while I was indoors busy packing up all the gear for the return home I was called outside to witness some barrel rolling antics!



We came home the next day.

As usual, the main test of the week’s success is whether the kids want to come home – especially as Mum had been at home all week – even Rory, age 6, didn’t want to go home at all, in fact they were all in a rather sullen mood when we did get home, and instead of being pleased to see Mum, their faces were all tripping them! I call that a success 🙂

A frustrating week.

Now, I absolutely KNOW that there will be tens of thousands of people out there who’ve had a far worse week than me. The family and friends of the soldier murdered in London for a start! However, in my own little world of biking it’s been a pretty bad week…

Allow me to indulge!

Sunday, I was washing the bike when I noticed a slight leak in the rear tyre. Closer inspection revealed a nail embedded in the tyre. Not the end of the world, since it was repairable, and just as well too as that tyre is only a few months old and has lots of life left in it! So, knowing that needed done, but assuming I couldn’t do anything about it there and then, I moved onto the rear brake. I knew the pads were getting low, so it was high time they were changed.

The caliper came off no problem, but the pad retaining pins just would NOT budge. Well and truly corroded in place. Bum. So, only way I could see to get at them was to remove the caliper completely, split it, and get much better access to the pins that way. So, with the caliper off and the two bolts holding it together came out easy enough, but what’s this? The pins are stuck so tight the caliper still won’t split!

It was time to come inside and sort dinner, so while that was cooking I texted a bike mechanic local(ish) to me about the puncture. Not a problem says he, bring the wheel round tonight, and I’ll have it back to you Monday night. Result!

So, after feeding the family it was time to whip the rear wheel off and take it out to him. While I was there I asked for advice on getting the caliper split – only took him 2 minutes! Have to say, the bench vice he’s using is a damn sight better than the ancient thing gracing my garage. So, with the tyre away for repair, and the caliper now split I could start cleaning up the various bits of it.

The retaining pins were covered in a fair old amount of corrosion. I ended up putting them in the electric drill to spin them while I gently held fine emery paper against them. That worked. I had a new set of seals, bleed screws and covers to fit to the caliper, so they went in and I rebuilt the caliper, all bright and shiny, and made sure the retaining pins had plenty of grease where they went into the caliper!

Back to work Monday, by train, not bike. Boo Hiss. Best blasted biking weather for about 8 months and I’m stuck on a train!!! Grrrrr. On the way home I got a very apologetic text – tyre repair had to wait until Tuesday – workshop simply too busy. Oh well. Another day on the train and another exorbitant train fair.

Tuesday the news was better – the tyre was dropped off to me while I had my youngest down at swim club. A tenner for a professional puncture repair- can’t fault that!

So Tuesday evening saw me back at the bike. Wheel on, chain tension sorted. Time to put the brake caliper back on. That went smoothly, until while I was bleeding the caliper, the front bleed screw was still weeping fluid when it was closed.. hmm, tighten a wee bit.. still weeping…. tighten a bit more…. still weeping. Odd. Still, doesn’t feel too tight, maybe I’m being too cautious with it.. tighten a bit more.. BANG! What was that??? Have I broken the new bleed screw? Is part of it stuck in there? Hmm. Undid and removed the screw – looked fine – hard to see what’s going on with the caliper for all the glistening brake fluid now flowing freely out of it…

Closer inspection revealed a massive crack around the pillar that houses the bleed screw. Balls. That’s the caliper knackered.

At this point I felt like screaming. Instead I packed it all up and put the bike and all the tools away in the garage and went inside to pour a stiff drink and start searching for a replacement caliper.. None on ebay. None! Not quite what I was expecting. Did find an online retailer that could supply a new one – but at a stupid price – £365!!!! I emailed some local bike breakers, and some not so local…. I also texted the mechanic that had done my tyre repair. Nip over tomorrow he said – he just might have a spare one that’d fit… intriguing…

Wednesday dawned sunny and hot (by Scottish standards anyway) and once again it was the train for me. Through the day I gradually got the email queries responded to – short answer, no, no-one had a caliper from a similar bike. So it was either going to be a brand new and ridiculously expensive one, or one from a different bike, with a few adaptations needed. Seems that the rear caliper from a GSXR 600 SRAM K1 to K3 model will fit, although the torque arm connection needs a bit of thought.

Wednesday evening I took my knackered caliper back off the bike and took it over to the mechanic chap – lo and behold, the caliper he had was an almost perfect match! The only issue was the state of it – the bolts clamping the two halves together were rounded off and wouldn’t budge. I left it with him to get the old bolts out, and give the caliper a cleanup. I took my knackered caliper home and stripped out the new seals.

Thursday evening the replacement caliper was dropped off to me – a mere £25 for the caliper and his time to clean it up – bargain! Especially considering what a lovely job he did of cleaning it up!

I built up the new caliper, with seals from the old caliper, and one original bleed screw, and one new one (not the one I’d dumped). There was a slight delay while I found something to pack the torque arm bolt with – it was a bit loose in the caliper fitting – a piece of beer gas line went in as a temporary fix until I find a better solution.

Attaching the brake line was easy enough, although persuading the connection to seal properly wasn’t so easy. Despite new copper washers on the banjo bolt it kept seeping fluid.. and of course I was scared to rump it up too tight! Eventually though it was sealed and the brake pedal felt nice and firm. I cleaned it all up, made sure the bleed screws were just tight enough and no more – and finally, my beloved ZZR was whole again!!

There. See, not really a BAD week, although all those train rides felt pretty bleak – why can’t people chew with their mouth CLOSED in a public place?? I really do NOT want to hear you masticating your pack of crisps!

New rear shock for my ZZR

Well, what a busy couple of days this has been.

Some time ago a group of us had a good old bash at adjusting the rear shock absorber on my ZZR1100, but the adjuster rings absolutely refused to budge no matter what we did, so eventually we had to give it up as a bad job.

Since then there has been a long road to reach the point where the shock could be replaced.

Firstly, what to replace it with? A genuine Kawasaki replacement shock, like for like, was stupidly expensive. An Ohlins replacement was still very, very pricy. I settled on replacing it with a ZZR1200 shock as they have the remote adjustment I wanted, and they can be bought brand new from the US.

As my wife was heading over that way to visit her sister I saw a chance to save on the international mailing costs and got her to bring it back with her – only that backfired – the shock was removed from her suitcase after it had been checked in – the shock was missing when she got home – many phonecalls later, no agency in the US would accept responsibility – the security agency said it was the airline decision, and the airline said it was the airport security. Eventually the international calls were going to cost me more than I’d paid for the shock!

I had to reconcile myself to the loss, and after a while I stumped up and bought another shock, from the same place, and paid for the international postage – it arrived safe and sound a week later, no doubt having been flown over on an aircraft just like the original would have…..

With the shock ready to go, there was the question of getting the suspension linkage machined down – the new shock is narrower where it connects to the suspension linkage. I got a spare linkage and took the shock and linkage along to Dunfermline Motorcycles where they machined the linkage down and replaced the roller bearings for me.

The last main piece of the puzzle was the suspension linkage arms – the dog bones – I needed shorter ones to compensate for the slightly shorter shock length. After a few emails to a German company, helped along by an online translator, I finally had the new dog bones, and all that remained was to screw up my courage and do the job…

A friend had already done this to his ZZR, and reckoned it’d take at least 2 days.

Easter weekend was nominated as it gave me two days to work on it, and 2 days spare in case it took even longer…

So, first job was to loosen the lower bolts securing the shock absorber, and then go about getting to the top bolt. That involved removing the seat, fuel tank, and then all the electric gubbins mounted beneath the seat, on the rear mudguard, and the the rear mudguard itself needs to be detached, to finally get access to the top bolt of the shock absorber.


Despite my fears, all the bolts undid without too many problems, but the very last one, securing the suspension linkage arm to the bike frame, could be withdrawn enough to release the linkage because the nice new stainless steel exhaust was blocking it.


At least the old shock was finally out!


The new suspension linkage was giving me problems – one of the sleeves was too tight to let the bolt pass through.. solution was to use the sleeve from the old linkage, but that meant the sleeve was too long. This meant cutting the excess off the sleeve with the angle grinder, and then very carefully filing it down, again with the angle grinder, until it was the correct length. That took an age to do – grind, stop, measure, grind, stop, measure, etc etc etc!

Once that was done I turned my attention back to the exhaust. With the silencers removed, the under engine mounting bolt removed, and all the nuts loosened off at the engine block end, there was a little bit more play in the exhaust, but it was stubbornly refusing to budge far enough..

The solution was a roof bar off an old roof rack, and a hydraulic car jack – give me a lever long enough and I can move mountains! With the new linkage finally in place there was a small issue getting the exhaust back in place – a bit of persuasion with a lump hammer and a foam mat to protect the exhaust, and it snapped back into place. Phew.

Then the next issue – the new dog bones were slightly too tight where a bolt had to pass through one end. The bolt was 12mm, and the hole was a tiny fraction under 12mm. Hmmm. I had metal drill bits up to 10mm, and the from 15mm up. Dammit. A quick trip into Gemini Tools in Falkirk secured a 12mm drill bit, and that opened the holes out enough to pass the bolt through without it being loose.

It took a while to connect it all up – the swing arm needed jacked up to get everything in alignment, but eventually it was done and the new shock was finally in place, and all the bolts torqued up.


Then followed the long job of getting everything back in place – and that was indeed a long job! All the exhaust fittings to the engine had been undone, and fiddly is not the word!

I had been worried that with the electrics all disconnected, including the bike alarm, that on reconnecting it all there would be problems with the alarm, but I needn’t have worried, it all went back together with minimal problems.

There was a small amount of swearing when, having refitted the tail fairings, and the sports rack, I discovered I still had to fit the left side pillion footrest hanger, and that meant removing the sports rack and tail fairing again. Grrrrrrr.

Finally, it was all back together, and it fired up first time – lights all working, indicators working, heated grips working – looks like the bike is back in business!!

Now all I need is a chance to take it for a test run..

Still outstanding is a wee bracket to attach the shock’s remote adjuster too. I have a pattern made, now just need to get it made – hopefully a mate is going to be able to help me with this.. Meantime the remote is tie wrapped safely out of harms way.

Thread Lock

So, following on from my post about a brake caliper mounting bolt on my motorbike working loose and falling out, Nick (aka Muddydisco) suggested threadlock.

Now as it happens I recently got to know a nice chap Tom who is a professional motorbike mechanic, and he’d invited me over to his garage yesterday to see if he just happened to have a spare bolt that would fit to replace the missing one. Alas, no joy on the bolt, but it did give me opportunity to pick his brains about two things – threadlock and torque settings.

Firstly, threadlock – when a bike comes out fresh from the factory, most bolts are threadlocked (I imagine you’ve heard of this, but if not it’s a glue applied to the threads that sets hard once the bolt is in place), but from a motorbike mechanic’s point of view, if a bolt has to come out once, chances are it’ll probably have to come out again at some point in time. So he uses copper grease on the screw threads to ensure that the bolt won’t seize in place. Another issue that he has to consider is the bolt size – if it’s M12 or above with a prober hexagon head, chances are the force required to undo a threadlocked bolt won’t damage the head, but the caliper mounting bolts take a small (6 or 7 mm) allen key, so if too much force is used there’s a risk of rounding the head – not good!!

So the conclusion was to use copper grease, not threadlock, and be sure to tighten the bolt up correctly..

And that leads me onto the next topic – torque settings – you see although I have a Haynes manual for the bike, the brakes are non-standard – they are off a GSXR750, and they don’t use either the bolts from the GSXR750, or for the ZZR1100 – they are special shouldered bolts – so there is no specified torque setting that should be used…

So what to do – well as Tom pointed out, with life and use, bolts can stretch, and original torque settings cannot always be relied on. Instead, he relies on his experience to know by feel what the right pressure is. Now that may not be so helpful for the amateur mechanic, but it does make common sense – most guys who’ve done a bit of spannering pretty much know by feel how tight to go.

My thoughts therefore run along the lines of – copper grease, tighten up good and tight, but don’t overtighten, and last, but perhaps most important, come back after the first ride or two, and CHECK and RE-TIGHTEN if need be!!!

Should cyclists wear helmets?

I’m not judging – honestly – I am an ‘All of the gear, all of the time’ person, and so MY opinion is that cyclists SHOULD wear a helmet – I do on my mountain bike, and I won’t let the kids play on their bikes without a helmet – I’d say that if you’re gonna mix it up on busy rush hours roads in the city, you really should wear a helmet – although I do accept that everyone has the right to make that choice for themselves.

Just one reason to drive a bike and not a car


Heading east on the M9 this morning I was confronted with a huge long queue of traffic – it turned out it was caused by an accident in lane 2 (the outside lane to this not familiar with the Police lane numbering system) – and the queuing traffic stretched for miles and miles.

Filtering through this on my bike was a doddle – loads of space, nice wide road, and the traffic was largely completely stationary, making it about as safe as it’s ever going to be.

Having got home and reviewed the footage, it was clear that not only was there a LOT – well, it was a LONG queue – but that it’s also rather boring to watch, so I stuck on one of my favourite rock instrumental tracks.