Post-partum Referendum blues

It’s been a momentous time for Scotland. We all knew that in this referendum there must be winners and losers, but whatever the result was we would all be in it together since we all live in Bonny Scotland. So it’s with great sadness that I’ve witnessed so much vile, abusive and hate filled language spew forth on a variety of social media, plus the vandalism of ‘No’ signs branding them ‘traitors’. It’s time to put that behind us now, for the sake of all our futures. If we can’t now rise above this and look to working together as a nation for our future then I fear the future will be bleak.

Bitterness has no place in society, and certainly not in Democracy. What if the haters who are now spewing forth their disgusting diatribes had been on the ‘winning’ side of the Referendum, how would they view the ‘losers’ using such foul language to describe them I wonder? In truth there are no winners or losers in this whole issue – we all still live in Scotland, and our future still lies in Scotland.

One of the many strengths of Scotland has always been our caring nature – we might talk a hard game sometimes, but we look after our own – and this is shown in our charitable giving – we are a generous nation and on average give far more than other parts of the UK. It would be a terrible tragedy if that caring side of Scotland was irrevocably damaged as a direct result of this referendum.

Ultimately we should be eternally grateful that we live in a Democracy where we can run such an emotive and important referendum and not expect anything other than a fair vote – many other countries have no such freedom – and having expressed its democratic will it’s now time for the Scotland people to move on.

What will follow now? I hope in the short term the foul and offensive language of the few will fall silent, and the world of social media can return to what it was – a place to keep in touch with friends, and even family, without having to fight over politics. I wonder if the politicians will manage to move away from the politics of fear and start to look at how to build a better union for everyone concerned, not just Scotland. Maybe if they stop all the nonsense and actually listen to the problems people face daily they might win the respect of people, rather than just trying to scare them all the time?

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.

All hail the Road Racers

I love motorbike road racing. Not doing it – watching it. I can’t even begin to understand what it must be like to travel at the speeds these guys (and girls) do on roads – to blast past ‘road furniture’ at full throttle on a race tuned bike takes a special sort of person.

Besides the absolutely amazing speeds, and the astonishing skill it must take to handle a bike at such speeds, there’s the human cost that sits behind it. I don’t honestly know why that speaks to me so much, but it does. I can’t watch the Closer to the Edge film without at times being moved to tears – when they discuss Joey Dunlop’s death, the Robert Dunlop being killed at the Northwest 200, and 2 days later his son, Michael Dunlop raced and won, and brought almost everyone to tears – astonishing.

Closer to the Edge trailer

Then, also on that same film, we hear Paul Dobbs talking, see him leave the start line at the TT, and then he clipped a wall hurtling past at race speed, and was killed instantly. His widow talks so movingly of understanding the racers, the excitement of it all, and how “you can’t love the death, but you can’t have the excitement and adrenalin without knowing that those risks exist”.

I can watch the most heartbreaking hollywood film, and I’ll never shed a tear – that’s make believe – but this is REAL – the sport is incredibly dangerous and people die. Fact. It’d bring tears to a glass eye to hear it from the mouths of those that live with it day in, day out.

And when you start to see what they do, it’s just amazing, to me, a motorcyclist who covers 12,000 + miles a year on public roads I watch these guys with total awe – I would never, NEVER, take a corner that fast, or leave braking that late!

Of course, the TT on the Isle of Man occupies most people’s thoughts when you talk about motorcycle road racing, but last year I had the pleasure of going to watch the Tandagree 100 road races in Northern Ireland. Amazing to see, hear, feel the bikes blasting past – and the roads seem so unsuited to racing, yet the racers give it everything on every lap, pushing the limit of man and machine all the time.

Listen to Michael Dunlop thrashing a 600cc race bike around Tandagree back in 2009 (he’s even FASTER now!!)

Michael Dunlop – Tandagree 100 in 2009

The circuit racers are fast, and they probably take the bikes even closer to the edge – but it’s tame compared to the raw danger of the road races! I watched Shaky Burn drop his bike in a race at 170 mph braking for a fast corner – bang, down he went – yet up he got, and in the 2nd race of the day, he wasn’t just competing, he won it! The difference for the road racer is if they lose the front at 170mph coming into a corner they are probably going to be seriously injured at BEST! And possibly far, far worse. Yet to watch them they don’t appear to be taking all that much extra care! Watch Guy Martin and Michael Dunlop battle it out at the Ulster GP in 2012 for an idea of how hard fought the races are!

Guy Martin and Michael Dunlop, Ulster GP 2012

So why do I say “All hail the Road Racers”? – because these are ordinary guys, doing extraordinary things, and they are doing it at races that you and I can go and watch and get so, SO, close to the action. And that makes it so much more accessible, and real.

I can tip my bike into a corner and think hey, that was better, much faster – but I can be utterly confident that in race conditions these guys would have flown round that corner SO much faster than I could ever hope to get a bike around it (and live)! They are doing something that I can understand, and experience a tiny, tiny, little bit of – but I’m acutely aware that my riding a bike ‘fast’ on the road is so far removed from the realities of a motorbike road race it’s not really comparable in any way beyond the fact we’re both on bikes, and there the similarities end.

All hail the Road Racers!!

A week further on

A week on and I’m getting gradually more used to the Varadero.

The buffeting around my head at speed continued to be an issue. Last weekend I tried the screen at the lower setting, and that wasn’t any better than the high setting, and since that offered a bit more weather protection I put it back up.

I was searching the net for screen extenders, and read on a forum about a screen adjuster frame, I looked it up and ended up ordering one (from Palmer Products) as it worked out cheaper than buying a taller screen – and the forums tended to point to the low pressure area formed behind the screen as the main cause of the buffeting, so a taller screen wouldn’t necessarily fix the problem.

The adjuster arrived on Thursday, so I fitted it that evening. I set it to its highest point, which isn’t actually all that much higher than the original high position, and kept the screen angle the same as it was originally. Riding along the motorway this morning it’s made a huge difference – yes, there was wind, but not concentrated on my head, and none of the buffeting – result!!

Seems that the low pressure formed behind the screen at speed is the main source of the buffeting, and the adjuster holds the screen out just over an inch from the fairing, allowing air to come up under the screen, vastly reducing or even eliminating the low pressure area.

It remains to be seen how well the brackets cope long term – they look well built and I expect they’ll last a long time.

I’ve got the centre stand and an e-System scottoiler to fit over the weekend, and while I’m in there I’ll fit the charging lead for the new Optimate battery charger.

Oi! – you’re in MY space

What was it today? Was it a full moon last night?

Filtering by a line of traffic this morning the light up ahead changed, so I held back at the first gap to merge slowly in with the traffic. Lifesaver, yep, can see car behind me is quite close, so going steady – what do they do? Engine roaring, shove up the inside, hand on horn BAAAAAAAAAAAA. I guess they don’t like motorbikes! Oh well gave them a wave (apology/thanks for not actually knocking me off) and on I went.

A short time later, I carefully filtered to the front of queuing traffic at a junction. Cyclist already waiting, so give him plenty of space and pull up. While waiting for the lights to change another cyclist comes up behind me – “Oi mate – you’re not meant to be in here – how am I meant to get by the pinch point if you’re in the way”. I don’t think my response that “we’re all vulnerable road users” held much sway, but the lights changed and magically I was no longer in his way anyway – the Varadero is great at getting off the mark quickly.

I try to see every incident as a learning opportunity – the filtering and angry car driver is an interesting one – I’m not going to stop filtering because of one intolerant car driver, but should I take a more circumspect approach? Once you start filtering by a single traffic line you are rather committed to continue until you can find a gap to pull/merge into. Often a gap appears as the lights turn and the queue starts to move off at different speeds. This is fine if you are a good bit away from the junction / next traffic island etc and have time to allow a gap to develop and then make use of it, but if you are only a vehicle or two away from a tight spot then you have to come in a lot sooner.

Of course, there are various strategies, not least of all making an educated guess at how likely the lights are to change soon – if the traffic queue has been there a while, chances are the lights are going to change soon. Maybe best to avoid filtering in that circumstance, or if you’re already out there, look to merge in earlier? I’m going to ponder on this a while. I don’t make an automatic assumption that I can filter by any old queue of traffic.

I first making an assessment of the situation – and I try to take into account as much as I can – the space available, the length of the queue, the likelyhood of pedestrians cutting through the stationary cars, the position of junctions, the cause of the queue – is it likely to move soon, what’s the oncoming traffic like, where are my opt-out points, etc etc etc.

I don’t feel I did anything to warrant the angry hand-on-horn driver reaction other than I was beating a traffic queue they’ve probably sat in for a while. It’s not like I went whizzing by then slammed on the anchors and cut blindly in. I was going at a walking pace and tried to move very carefully back into the traffic flow as it began to move. I guess it’s inevitable that some people will be mean spirited enough to resent anyone they perceive as somehow encroaching on their space, or gaining some imagined advantage over them. That’s a shame.

Now, the cyclist. Well, I’ve had a good long think about this. I, and other commuting motorcyclists, regularly use the cycle boxes at junctions. I’ve never cut up or barged in on cyclists, I’ve always given them the maximum space I can. I have always recognised their extreme vulnerability in traffic and I make every effort to look out for them. I took the opportunity during my BikeSafe last year to quiz the motorcycle traffic cops about the use of bus lanes and cycle boxes, and they saw nothing wrong with making use of them – so long as it was being done safely and with care. I can’t help it if there are a few militant cyclists who don’t want to share their road space with motorbikes. Again, that’s probably inevitable, and it’s a shame.

Lesson for me – be even more careful about filtering, and be even more vigilant for cyclists.

Varadero first impressions

OK, so I’ve done just over 170 miles on the Varadero so far.

I took it home from work on the back roads the day I bought it. What a joy! Seriously, for such a tall and heavy bike it’s a real joy to play in the twisties, and the suspension soaks up the bumps and holes so smoothly.

The V twin engine braking is strong – makes for easy speed control in the corners – I got more and more confident even in that one run, tipping it into corners that bit faster, and the bike just soaked it up and handled it all beautifully. Amazing what 11 years of suspension development does – compared to my 1997 ZZR this 2008 Varadero is a far nicer bike handling wise! The grunt of the V twin is apparent on the exits from the corners too – it propels you out of the corner really nicely.

Comfort wise – well, so long as I don’t slouch it’s superbly comfortable – I’m not used to the bolt upright riding position yet, and if I let myself slouch my lower back moans at me – sit up straight man! Other than that, the tall screen needs to be taller – quite a lot of buffeting at head height – although when it rained on the way home I didn’t have to wipe the visor once, with all that air blast coming over the screen nothing was staying on the visor!

The tall bike combined with the upright riding position and my height makes for amazing visibility – I can see that bit further and it really makes a difference to planning overtakes. The engine is 96 bhp compared with the 155 bhp of the ZZR (although I’m sure my 16 year old bike probably wasn’t putting out full power after all that time) – but that’s not holding the Varadero back – it’s still plenty swift – just not maniacally swift – but I don’t need that J

In town it’s very stable at low speeds, the extra visibility is a huge advantage in traffic, again allowing for much better planning, and speed adjustment is so easy. The bar and mirror height is well above car wing mirror height, so although I think the bike is marginally wider than the ZZR it’s still good for filtering – need to watch out for van and lorry wing mirrors though…

I noticed that when I stopped at traffic lights in Linlithgow where the road camber slopes down to the right slightly, and I had my right foot down – It would have been a struggle to put my foot down flat – these bikes are not for the vertically challenged!

So, a very well put together package – the suspension, frame and engine all complement each other, and I love the result. It’s not better than the ZZR – it’s totally different (admittedly, the suspension is better, and the riding position suits me better) – but for a bike to ride every day, on motorways, back roads and town, I love the Varadero.

Time will tell of course, but for now I’m smitten.

Well apart from one small niggle – no centre stand – come on Honda! I’ve already ordered an aftermarket one at a rather large cost, but a centre stand is needed for so many things, not least of all so I can put the bike in my already crowded garage and still get into the garage. Leaning over on the side stand it just takes up so much space, and how do you lube the chain properly if you can’t turn the back wheel? Shouldn’t the bike be level to check the oil level? And don’t say get a paddock stand – what if I need to do a roadside puncture repair ? Paddock stand is naff all use sat in my garage then. And then there’s the jobsworths at petrol stations who won’t let you fuel your bike while sitting on it – but on the side stand you can’t fill the tank full. Pain in the backside. In the real world a centre stand is just so dammed useful – come on Honda, get your act together!!

What bike to buy…….

After much soul searching I finally made up my mind – it was time to sell the ZZR and look for something a little different.

Why did I decide to sell the ZZR? – mainly because I realised how much effort and money it was taking to maintain it!

It went through it’s MOT absolutely fine, but the tyres were getting low and would need repaced soon, and the brakes were due a service, so there’s £300 odd straight away. When I tot up everything I’ve spent to keep that bike on the road and in good nick, it’s really, really scary!

With my ZZR advertised on autotrader and gumtree I started to look and found a nice Triumph Sprint ST 955i up for sale at a decent price.


Sprint 2

I went to view a Triumph Sprint ST955i on the Saturday – liked it, agreed a price, and gave the guy a £100 deposit.

Then on the Monday, when I had a day off work but the kids were at school and the Mrs was at work, I took the ZZR down to phoenix Honda in Grangemouth to get a trade in valuation. All I really wanted was to know the basic trade in value, so if someone came to see my ZZR and tried to haggle the price down too far I’d know when to say “don’t be daft, I can get that for a trade in”.

Of course I wanted to look like a genuine customer, so I had a good look through their bikes and got chatting to the sales chap. He then offered me a test ride on a Varadero they had there. Well, it’d be rude to turn down a generous offer like that, right? So off I went for the best part of an hour on a 2008 XL1000 Varadero.


Lovely bike, nice torquey twin motor, swift, although not a patch on the ZZR for acceleration, a real sit up riding position too.


Back to the dealer, yes, I like the bike (a lot! shhhh!), what kind of deal can you do? Well, the Varadero is there for £4,995 (ouch!), book price for my ZZR is £1,200 – he offered me £1,700 on it if I was taking the Varadero. Hmmmm.

So, off I went home to decide what to do….. take one of the bikes – which one? Sprint or Varadero? – or take them both…. and if I take them both, how to finance that??? Hmmmmmmmmm

I then spoke to ‘Bank of Mum’ – and bless her, that came good – so I decided to take the Varadero – it simply fits my height so much better than the Sprint would have – plus it’s a lot newer, and lower miles.

Discussion with Mrs was still had to be finalised over whether I also take the Sprint, after all, I had given the guy £100 to secure it, and my Mrs isn’t one to let that go easily.

Having decided to take the Varadero I realised I hadn’t seen what the insurance would be…… that could be a bit of a shock……

Actually, it wasn’t too bad – an extra £28 plus an admin fee of £30 (really must move away from these brokers!) .

I then had a long chat (argument!) with the Mrs over space in the garage for the Sprint – she was adamant there was not space for a 2nd bike, and on balance I was happier not bothering with the Sprint, since it was just going to be hassle and a risk that I could end up losing money on it. I called the seller and explained to him. He was fine about it, and he had another buyer lined up, so I may even get my deposit back – maybe…

Then came the long wait…. I needed the promised money from Bank of Mum to appear in my account…. Having taken ages to finally reach the decision to change bikes, I was getting very impatient to get on and get it done! It’s funny, two weeks ago I really couldn’t imagine being willing to sell the ZZR – I’d just poured far too much time, effort and money into it – but then having actually made the decision, I then couldn’t wait to get that new machine!

The dealer got in touch during the day on Wednesday to say the Varadero was getting it’s MOT and would be taxed on Thursday morning, which was great, but still no word from my Mum on the actual transfer….

I also wanted to liberate a few things from the ZZR before I traded it in – but I wanted to keep that stuff on the bike until the last possible minute as I was still commuting on it, so when to do that?

Wednesday night I did an HPI check on the Varadero, and it came back with finance outstanding…. Dammit!
I called the dealership and someone from the car side did an HPI check there and said the finance was Honda Europe – seems that all the bikes they buy into the dealership are financed on this scheme, so any bike sitting in their showroom will show as having outstanding finance – what a daft system!

The money from Bank of Mum arrived later that evening, so I decided I’d try and do the deal the next day, Thursday, so I set about my ZZR – nicked the wife’s hairdryer to heat up the glue that held the RiderScan onto the screen so I could get it off without damaging anything – man, that was well stuck on! Came off and left no marks though – quality! I removed the top box rack, the scotoiler and its touring reserve.

Thursday dawned – felt a bit like Christmas morning! Very excited. Called the dealer and confirmed that the finance issue on the HPI check was because of the way Honda finance the vehicles they buy in. Decided that it was going to be too tight for time to go and do the deal on the way home and still fulfil my fatherly duties, so I decided to take a rather longer than usual lunch – plan being a quick scoot along the M9, do the deal, quick scoot back, job done

The quick scoot didn’t quite work getting out of Edinburgh – lots of congestion in the town, although much better further out. Gave the old ZZR a last good blast up the slip road to the motorway. Got to the dealers around 12:35, and although it was all straightforward, the salesman had put £1,500 down on the invoice as the trade in on my ZZR. Uh Uh. £1,700 please. No argument, but did mean waiting for the invoice to be redone. I called my insurance broker and paid to switch the insurance over to the new bike, and then hung around for what seemed like an eternity while they faffed with paperwork.

I even had time to take a last few photos of the ‘good old ZZR’ :

ZZR trade in

final mileage

Eventually I paid the balance – and then I waited yet again while the salesman went to find his fuel card, then followed him to the petrol station where he paid to fill the tank, and then it was finally time to head back to the office – got back at 2:20pm – not quite the plan I had in mind!

So, that first ride into Edinburgh on the Varadero – such a different riding position, amazingly little buffeting in what were quite strong winds, certainly not got the oomph higher up that the ZZR has, but cruised up the motorway extremely comfortably. In town it was ace – lovely twin sound and thump, excellent view over the traffic, lifesavers are a whole lot easier, and effective, with the more upright position – and the bike is nicely poised and very smooth power delivery.

The gear change can be a bit clunky, especially from 1 up to 2 when you’re pushing it, but above that and at more gentle acceleration the changes just snick into place silently.

The tall screen isn’t quite tall enough – will see if I can adjust it a bit higher, and failing that, a screen extender will be sought.

So that’s it. The ZZR is away, and I’m a little sad about that, but I have a cracking, and totally different, bike in its stead – win!