What lies beneath?

Have you ever looked around at the people at your work and wondered what hidden interests and talents lie beneath the work façade?

I was in a meeting at work recently when the boss happened to spot the ‘Flight 666’ logo on my security pass lanyard – if you don’t know what Flight 666 is, look

Anyway, the big boss then proceeded to quietly show me all the Iron Maiden tracks on his IPhone – so what? Well, this is a grey haired suited guy, pretty straight laced, and it’s the only peek I’ve ever had into ‘what lies beneath’. Not that being older and grey haired is a bar to being a Maiden fan – we’re all getting older, and I’m no exception!

That got me thinking – looking around the office, how many people are aware I’m starting my training with the IAM to hopefully become an Observer – someone who acts as a mentor to motorcycle ‘associates’ to prepare them for their Advanced Motorcycle test with an IAM examiner – or that I’m a British Sub Aqua Club Advanced Diver and Club Instructor, and a Scottish Sub Aqua Club 2nd Class Diver and Branch Instructor – and why should they know? It’s not like any of that is relevant to my job (an analyst/programmer), or my activities at work as an Employee Representative.

So next time you have time, find out what people have achieved outside of work – it may surprise you!

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.

IAM Skills Evening at Knockhill

I went to the IAM Skills Evening at Knockhill last night – NOT a track day, but a chance to practise cornering technique using the track as a closed, one way road, with no hazards (other than yourself!)

troops gathering

The troops gather

I begged off work early, fuelled the bike and got to the circuit around 3:30. There were already 20 or so bikes there, and there were plenty more still to come. After saying hello to a few familiar faces it was time to get my driving licence checked over, and hand in the signed forms that declare you are well aware you may be about to die horribly, and absolve everyone but yourself of any blame. And then the true horror – my group was down to be wearing orange bibs, but they didn’t have any, so we got PINK ones instead – VERY pink bibs!! Oh, the shame!

We were also asked by the Knockhill staff to let them check our licence, and issued with a green wrist band to indicate that check had been done – quite how necessary that was I have no idea as no-one ever checked whether you had your green band on or not….

After a bit more general hanging about, just after 5pm was the briefing. The rules were simple really, stay in your group, behave, ride within your limits, no overtaking unless sanctioned by your instructor, and a brief coverage of the course rules about flags, and some common sense advice on what to do in the event of a mechanical failure.

We were split into groups of 4, each group with an instructor, 10 groups in total. 5 groups would be out on the track at any one time, and there was a strict no overtaking rule, to makes sure the groups stayed together.

After the briefing we rode our bikes down to the pit lane and the garages there, and removed all luggage etc. Since we were the IAM, and riding in structured groups, with instructors at all times, some of the normal track rules were relaxed – for example, road riding gear, goretex kit etc, was fine, as was having video cameras mounted on bikes and helmets – a practice I understand is often discouraged or even forbidden on track days. However, as the chief marshal had pointed out, he would be EXTREMELY disappointed to have to speak to anyone in our group after the briefing – clearly best behaviour was expected.

The pink team

The pink team

We got 4 track sessions, each one consisting of at least 10 laps. Every 2 laps the leader of the group would change, so every rider would get at least 2 laps per session leading and setting the pace.

Heading out onto the track for the first time was, to put it mildly, terrifying. Suddenly you’re on a race track, with no speed limits, and you become immediately aware there is huge scope here for making some big mistakes…. at least that was what was running through my mind as we followed our instructor for the first two sighting laps. Then it was time to change the lead, and the rider first behind the instructor moved to the front, with the instructor behind them. Two laps later that lead rider would move to the side, the rider behind the instructor would move to the front, and the chap who had been in the lead would rejoin at the tail end of the group. That all happened very quickly.

on the track

Following my instructor, Martin

That first session was very interesting – I struggled through the twistier bits – I just didn’t have the bottle to push the bike any harder. As the laps went in I started to find the right lines more often, and (sometimes) get the braking right.

There is the old combination of confidence and competence. The bike and tyres are for more competent than I am. Fact. What I had to do, was ensure my confidence never exceeded my competence.

I never went above 3rd gear, even on the straights, often hitting over 100mph on the back straight. I probably did marginally better through the twisties on some laps leaving the bike in 2nd for the majority of the time – certainly the engine braking was sufficient for some of the downhill entries to bends, although the hairpin before the start/finish straight was always going to be 2nd gear (I bet the racers take it in 1st!!!) . Trying a few laps in 3rd, it was fine for most of the bends, but didn’t provide enough engine braking for others, leaving me late on the brakes to compensate – NOT the smooth progression we were looking for….

There was the odd holdup as faster groups caught up with slower groups, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought it might be – trick was to back off on the straights to create a bit of space ahead of you, then hit the corners as fast as you dare J

I’ve uploaded a vid of the last two laps – probably the cleanest of the laps – only because I was following the instructor the entire time!!

Brilliant event, without the madness of a track day type event. No incidents, no accidents, all terribly well behaved, but even so, I’ve got no chicken strips left on the right of the tyres (there’s only one left hand bend!) and I have never taken corners quite as fast as that before!

Reviewing the footage, my wife declared that it ‘looked slow’ – just proves that we’re so used to seeing mental on board footage from the world’s top riders, and us mere mortals will never be anywhere close to them! It was quite fast enough for my comfort, thank you very much!

Risk Appetite vs Risk Perception

A wee incident on the ride into work this morning got me thinking. Has my IAM training altered my risk appetite or my perception of risk?

The incident itself was nothing too dramatic – I was filtering through traffic in Edinburgh, coming in on the A90 Hillhouse Road between the two lanes of traffic, and for about a mile there had been a blue and white sports bike behind me. As I approached a car in lane one I could see a bicycle ahead of the car. Anticipating that the car may move out to get around the bicycle, I had space in lane two, and could give the car a wide berth before it reached the cyclist. Just after I got past the car and the bicycle the bike behind me came up my inside at full belt – to acheive that he must had passed the car as it was passing the cyclist. Lucky for him, the car didn’t suddenly swerve around the bicycle, or the bike would have had nowhere to go.

That got me thinking – yes, I have fun on the bike, yes, I like to filter and make progress, but I also TRY to minimise the risk by assessing what’s up ahead and anticipating problems – did this rider have no idea the bicycle was ahead of the car he was overtaking?? OR – Is it simply that I don’t like taking risks and he does? Maybe the rider saw the bicycle and decided in that instant to risk the overtake, and sod the consequences…??

I bet if you could ask him now he’d say he’d done nothing wrong….?

I was talking to a guy from Edinburgh a few months back – he was (still is?) doing his IAM training – he started it after he overtook a line of cars, at full belt, and one of the cars in the line pulled out to overtake the vehicles ahead – straight into the path of the bike – wham! He admits, at the time he saw nothing wrong with the manoeuvre – didn’t perceive it as a risk – so now doing his IAM his ‘risk appetite’ hasn’t altered, but his appraisal of situations has, and he now recognises potential risks where he never saw them before.

I like a little danger.. I just prefer it to not involve the random actions of other drivers… I’d rather challenge myself in the twisties…. At least then I’ll only come to grief if I’m the one making the mistake.

A year of motorcycling

One year ago today I bought my ZZR1100, and it’s been a packed and busy year.

I’ve put just over 11,900 miles on it, and that’s inevitably brought a certain amount of cost in wear and tear…

Actually, quite a lot! But maybe some more on that later – if I can face it (sometimes it’s best not to dwell on the true financial implications of motorcycling!!)

Although I passed my bike test almost 20 years ago, I’d not had a bike for over a decade, so I grabbed the chance to do a BikeSafe course. That was fabulous – it’s such a shame that the amalgamation of the Scottish police forces this year has meant no BikeSafe events are being done here this year – although hopefully that’s only temporary (and the IAM are offering a free ride check this year in response to the lack of BikeSafe).

After attending the initial BikeSafe talk I also signed up for the IAM motorbike course courtesy of a birthday present from my dear Mum, and I had the first ride out with my IAM observer just before I got my BikeSafe ride out with a uniformed motorcycle copper.

I thoroughly enjoyed my rides out with my IAM observer, Lindsay Phyall, and I also had a great day on an ‘associate check ride’ with the regional observer, Rory Colville. There was a bit of a low when I didn’t pass my IAM test at the first attempt, on a rather dull and boring route, while I had a cold, but I had another go a month later, with a different examiner, done in and around Stirling, on a proper mix of town, motorway and country roads, and I was delighted to pass that (much harder!) test.

Meanwhile I enjoyed some great biking trips. The first was up to Tayvallich and was a great trip, with lots of challenges along the way – endless miles of loose gravel roads, and then rain and strong winds!!

Later on there was the trip to Lochinver, which may possibly have some of the best biking roads in the UK (made more interesting by yet more high winds and all sorts of debris on the road!).

I also had the pleasure of a few long weekend ride outs with mates, and I even managed to have some fun on my commuting rides!

Now, despite the bike looking absolutely mint when I bought it, there were a few niggles that became apparent fairly soon. The first was the awful rubber – cheap tyres on a bike bike is just BAD! Then there was the weepy fork oil seal. With Bridgestone rubber on, and the fork oil seals replaced, handling was much better, but there was niggling issue with the bike cutting out when it came off the throttle while still warming up.

We replaced the spark plugs, and replaced the Kawasaki coils with individual ‘stick coils’ from a Honda CBR, which seemed to help a little bit, but it didn’t cure the problem. What did solve it was getting the valve clearances checked – turned out that the exhaust valves were all rather tight indeed. With the valve clearances done, and the carbs balanced, the bike was behaving a whole lot better – and power was definitely up – result!!

I was rather bugged by the crappy headlamp on the bike – it provided so little illumination that at times it was positively dangerous. I stuck an HID lamp on my wish list, and my dear Mum bought me one – happy days! It proved a bit of a sod to fit, thanks to the vast fairings on the ZZR, access to the headlamp is poor at best, and space to manoeuvre the HID into place was tight, and then all the other gubbins that goes with it (relay, ballast etc) has to be tidied away somewhere. However the result was, and still is, brilliant! On dark winter mornings, and evenings, it has been fantastic to finally be able to see where I’m going!

I was also rather less than impressed with the instrument lighting – obviously irrelevant in daylight, and just about adequate in pitch black, it was useless everywhere in between (sorry officer, my instrument lights are so dim I couldn’t read my speedo…) so I pulled the instrument panel apart and fitted LED strips inside it.

Now despite replacing the fork oil seals at the summer, by mid autumn they were leaking again. I was not a happy chappy. At least this time round my mate Bruce had discovered that it was not in fact necessary to remove the entire fairing to remove the front forks, although I did have to whip the lower fairings off so I could jack the bike up… The leaky seals were due to dust and muck getting past the wiper seals, creating a kind of grinding paste that damaged the oil seals. So new oil seals, and new wiper seals – Paul at Dunfermline Motorcycles also did a little trick – turning the fork upper in the lathe, and using scotchbrite, he created incredibly fine lines that encourage the fork oil to better lubricate the oil seal as it moves up and down the fork leg – maybe this time the seals will last a whole lot longer!!

Since the front wheel was off, we changed the front wheel bearings as a while ago it had been noted by the tyre fitter that the wheel bearings were a little noisy… well, they were actually pretty well shot – in fact the real proof was that once the new bearings were fitted, a brake shudder – or more accurately a shudder that occurred under braking – disappeared completely. And here was me thinking maybe my brake discs were warping – wrong!

Not long after the New Year I noticed the chain was making a hell of a racket – it turned out to be rather badly worn sprockets – so one new chain and sprockets were fitted, and I rode home from Dunfermline Motorcycles with a lovely quiet chain – in the snow.

The real killer financially was in February – the exhaust started to blow, and the rot was spreading fast. I guess the exhaust was the original – the bike is a P reg, so to be fair, it had done incredibly well, but riding on salty roads, despite copious amounts of F365 (meant to neutralise the salt) had probably been the final straw. Now bike exhausts are crazy expensive, and it also turns out, rather awkward to get! After some calling around, Motad supplied the LAST one for the ZZR1100 from their factory – they claim they are not going to make them for that bike any more…. This one had better last then!!

The bike went back to Dunfermline Motorcycles again, and although the old exhaust came off without any great hassle, the radiator had to be moved out of the way to let the new exhaust fit on, and the bottom of the radiator was rotten and split. So one new radiator later, I faced the biggest automotive repair bill I’ve ever faced (last time I was faced with a potential cost like this for my old Hilux truck, I sold it rather than fix it!) – £802.80 – Owe! Owe! Owe!!

I have to mention my dear Mum here again – she sent me £400 to help with the cost – bless you!!!!

Not long after that, another issue – a puncture on the rear tyre. Dammit. One new tyre required. Still, the old one had managed around 7,000 miles, which isn’t entirely awful for good sticky rubber on a big fast bike..

What else? Oh, I serviced the front brakes – new seals, new pads, and then the heated grips packed in and needed replaced…

The very latest thing I’ve done, is replace the rear shock absorber – a job that had been waiting in the wings for many months, while I slowly gathered all the parts, and also slowly screwed up the courage to pull the bike apart to do the job…

So there we are, a year on, loads of miles done, contrary to popular expectation when I bought the bike a year ago, I’m still alive and not in a wheelchair 🙂

It’s been a blasted WET year, followed by a remarkably COLD ‘spring’ – but I’m still smiling and loving it – even the work on the bike, I have to confess, I love getting into it and getting my hands dirty.

I’ve had endless fun (?) with my scotoiler – weirdly, the old one on my last bike all those years ago was perfect – ran without a glitch – but this time around is a different blasted story… I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to do something with it. Still, if it ever does start performing reliably, I do still rate them highly – a well lubricated chain is a long lived chain, and the darned things are blasted expensive!

What’s in store for 2013?

Well, I still have some maintenance to get out of the way – strip and rebuild the rear brake, and get the steering head bearings replaced.

Rides wise, I have an IAM Observers social weekend later in April, a bike trip to Ireland early in May, an IAM skills day at Knockhill, another bike trip up to Lochinver in the summer, and a bike trip to the Kintyre peninsula in autumn. Hopefully there will be some lovely summer weekend rides in there too.. Can’t wait!