7:30 on a Sunday? Sorry, does not compute. But my phone is binging cheerfully at me, the little sod, a cat is asleep on my head, beloved is a whiffling heap under the duvet and I’m struggling with the concept of needing to be vaguely functional in the next twenty minutes and on the bike in a hour. The intervening time is spent knocking up bacon butties and coffee for self and Fiona, the proprietor of the famed Green Welly Stop, as she drops in en route to Tulliallan for today’s Scottish IAM Motorcycle Forum meeting. I’m worried though: TGW does totally excellent coffee and I need to ensure I’m on decent form to repay the hospitality.
In my unending quest to bring enlightenment and knowledge to the world of the Ducatisti, I have taken one more tiny step towards Zen mastery (which must now put me on about the level of the average grasshopper) – this time to answer the speculation on various online fora about the potential cost of an off-road drop of the Multistrada 1200. Here’s the answer: zip. nada. nowt. bugger all. OK, that’s on a sample size of one: your mileage may vary. Turning around on a local forest track, I ran out of steering lock and decided to hop off to back ‘er up, only to discover that the ground was further away than I thought. A lot further away – I’m 6’, with 34″ inside leg, but it still went past its balance point, at which point, whether or not it’s 20kg lighter than a GS became entirely moot – it’s a big, tall bike, and it was gone. Having convinced a couple of passing deer that very bad-tempered bears had been reintroduced to the Highlands, I hauled it back upright. Not a single, solitary scratch, scrape or ding. Relieved, impressed and relieved, in that order. Now off to put an ice pack on my knee…
I’ve mentioned before that I live next to one of THE great biking roads, the A84 from Callander to Killin. That’s all of 20 miles of fast, wide sweeping bends that every so often turn into narrow, bumpy, twisty complexes that test machine set-up and rider anticipation, skill and basic sense. And far too bloody many people are failing that test: we’ve just had what (I think) is the third biking fatality of the year — and all of these on the mere eight miles between Callander and Strathyre, particularly through the twisties of the Falls of Leny, just North of Kilmahog and at the notorious “Doctor’s Bend” a couple of miles further North.
The consequences of this aren’t just limited to the motorcyclist and his or her (almost always ‘his’) family and friends but affect the local community: firstly, this is the only road South from here (without a 50-mile detour), so when it’s closed for most of a day it has a real local impact. Secondly, and mostly importantly, people here are genuinely upset about the sheer bloody waste of life that’s going — I haven’t spoken to a single person who’s anti-motorcycling in any way, but to many who are affected by the knowledge that another life has been needlessly lost on our doorstep and who genuinely feel the sense of lost humanity. While writing this blog entry, I’ve been approached by several friends and neighbours, each asking me if there’s anything at all I can do to raise awareness of the specific risks of this road. So here it is.
Today I should most definitely have been working — too much to do, too little time, yada yada… But by 11 o’clock the temperature was about 23° and not a cloud in the sky. I also tripped over my Arai on the way to make a coffee, which was an omen not to be ignored, so the concept of ‘early lunch break’ had its definition rather stretched. Besides, I wanted to test out a new toy — a little Sony GPS that records everywhere you’ve been — the downloaded results then being used to tag the photos you’ve taken along the way, before mapping them in Google Maps or Google Earth. And where should I go to test this but a second (and third) pass at a road I discovered last weekend — the A821 from Kilmahog (I kid you not) to Aberfoyle, via the Duke’s pass. That’s the Duke of Montrose, not the Duke of Bologna, which would have been so much more appropriate. This road is something else — it starts with a couple of fast sweepers that throw in a decreasing radius 120° corner at the last moment, then into a switchback straight which has self and machine airborne at anything over about 70mph, even with the new suspension. A large number of sump gouges and suspicious stains along this stretch tell their own tale. The road is a mixture of old and broken surface (with the occasional pothole and patch of loose gravel) and brand new shiny tarmac — overall, not too bad by Belgian standards, and less than brilliant by anyone else’s.
…Then Get Some More On The A84
Been a bit quiet of late, haven’t I? There’s a reason for that and, I hope, a good one: self, partner, our businesses and the cats have all been busily uprooting ourselves from our past lives — in my case, twenty years in the hinterlands of Surrey and replanting ourselves in our new demesne, the Highlands of Scotland. We’ve been here for two weeks today, and I’m typing this whilst looking out over the local Loch as the low Winter sun glows off the hills opposite. Which isn’t a bad way to start the day, and a distinct improvement on the absolutely solid rainfall of the last fortnight. And, if the viciously incompetent British Telecom ever starts keeping its broken promises to provide us with our landlines, things will be just perfect. The lack of photographs in current posting (since updated) are just a reflection of the very limited bandwidth I have here via my mobile.
Warning: Gratuitous and rambling nostalgia ahead: In 1981 I was living and working in Warwick, in my first ‘proper’ job after graduating — my prior history as a ski bum didn’t really count. Now Warwick is a very beautiful olde towne in the English Midlands, but it is some 330 miles from my semi-ancestral home of Edinburgh, which is where I was intending to be for Christmas. Now I could have done the sensible thing and taken the train from Birmingham, sitting (or at least standing) in a semi-comfortable fug of other people’s colds, second-hand cigarette smoke and generalised flatulence. But somehow that didn’t sufficiently appeal to the masochist in me. My newly acquired pride and joy at this time was my Honda 400/4 — a finely crafted jewel of a motorcycle and an utter paragon of reliability after my upbringing on (and off) old British iron. I guess there was a mindset here that said, “I’m on a wonderful piece of to-the-minute japanese engineering. I am therefore invulnerable to the vicissitudes of the world”. Which in turn led me to think, “So I’ll just leap onto my machine and ride to Edinburgh for Christmas”.
The UK’s Bike magazine recently asked for contributions to a story about the why, the how and the myth of “Sports Touring”. Which prompted me to put together a few random thoughts, and here they be:
There’s something very basic here: you don’t need some full-blown mile-muncher to tour on: what has been done on a Gold Wing will, I guarantee you, also have been accomplished by some nutter or other on a Honda 90, probably whilst wearing wellies. They may have been a bit slower, carried fewer changes of clothing and been rather more numb of the fundament at journey’s end, but they’ll have gotten there. The fact that the current round-the-world record holder, Nick Sanders, did it on a Yamaha R1 is indicative both that you can tour on anything and that he really is quite mad. Mind you, if he’d done it on a BMW 1150GS, as per Kevin & Julia Sanders, the previous holders, he probably wouldn’t look quite as shagged out as he does in every picture I’ve seen of him. But he did it. And there’s nothing quite like barreling across Europe on a sporting motorcycle, accepting the slight-to-monstrous trade-off in comfort for for the sheer joy to be had from being able to make full and focussed use of the really fun bits: the hairpins of the Alps, the fast sweepers of the Eiffel Mountains or the cliff-hugging nadgery of the Amalfi coast. That’s what it’s all about.
Now for a little of the how and what…
Here’s another example of good intentions gone wrong through ill-considered design and lousy implementation — the traffic calming in the Surrey village of Dockenfield. It’s a pleasant place, but the one road through the village had, until recently, a national (60mph) speed limit. It’s also a straight road, so it’s been crying out for both a speed limit and some form of traffic restriction. And a couple of years ago, it got first one, and then the other. I’ve no problem with that — they’re long overdue — but unfortunately, the speed calming measures that have been adopted are blatantly bloody dangerous for anyone on two wheels. Look at the picture — they’ve put into place an angled restriction, and then made it look even narrower by extending smooth raised kerbs further into the road. Now the idea of ‘perceptual restriction’ is fine and dandy, but here they’ve managed to create an arrangement that’s going to be completely lethal to the first motorcyclist or cyclist who hits one of those kerbs in the wet at night. Not to mentioned the large metal manhole cover that covers the approach. Not only that, but the quality of the work is so poor that the surface is breaking up and the kerbs themselves have moved out of alignment. So let’s add this one to the ever-lengthening list of Surrey’s Bad Ideas Poorly Done.
(A Pillion’s View … of the 2005 WVAM France Trip and beyond)
“Pillion? That’s just sitting on the back and taking it easy, no?”
One of the first pieces of advice I was ever given about how to be a good pillion was ‘pretend you’re a sack of potatoes’. Well you can call me Maris Piper, because I’ve just completed a 1300 mile trip across five countries (and one duchy) – behind someone who, had I been less than chipper, would have been the first to give me a good roasting.
Having heard great things about the annual WVAM trip to France I had a feeling it would be a lot of fun, and it was! Not only did I have the chance to witness some really first rate riding skills and learn a lot about bikes, but I made a personal voyage of discovery (a cliché I know, but it’s actually true!) … and met a lot of new friends, too.
Bear with me, will you? I’ve been running this blog and site since late 1998 and have finally gotten around to migrating it all into my Two Worlds vServer engine, a set-up based on Movable Type content management system plus lots of other bits and pieces, held together with various hackettes (sorry, “ubiquity integration modules) in perl and php. Anyway, most of the raw content is across, but I’m still writing a few scripts to handle images and attachments, hence the sudden lack of photos, incriminating or otherwise. This will be completed very soon, at which point whatever passes for normal service will be resumed.