Category: Riding & Driving

It’s all very well enjoying the act of riding or driving, but doing so within the bounds of safety and consideration for other road users is paramount. And with power, comes responsibility: the more powerful the machine, the greater the challenge in consistently getting it right. This then is about the processes of riding and driving, from my perspective as an Observer (coach if you like) for the IAM and a holder of the RoSPA Gold riding qualification. Not to mention a few decades experience as an instructor.

A821 Dukes Pass

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.

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Pass Wide and Slow — Bikes and Horses

Here in the National Park, we’ve got pretty much every category of road user — bikes, bicycles, cars, walkers, horses and the occasional tap-dancing Pine Marten, all trying to do their own thing at their own speed, and often at the same time. While there’s a wider concern about how all of these can share the roads (in like peace, light and harmony, man…) the technique for passing large, hairy quadrupeds does seem to cause some stress amongst all parties. So here, reprinted with the author’s permission from our local community rag is a small plea on behalf of horsey folk everywhere:

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The Zen of Sports Touring

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:

The Why?

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…

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The Thinking of the Shrew

In his famous book, King Solomon’s Ring, the great naturalist Konrad Lorenz describes the time he spent observing the behaviour of a family of shrews. Like you do. He observed that the shrews always took the same path around their territory, and after the first few times of cautiously sniffing their way along, they’d follow the path at a flat run, looking neither to left nor to right. At which point he wondered what would happen if there was a sudden change in their environment. So he removed a rock that the shrews had been in the habit of leaping over on their route. And…

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The Wind in the Willows

This is about wind. A very particular type of wind — the cross-wind. Any other sort of wind is your problem, not mine, OK? Winter is coming, and I’ve heard and seen a lot of comment to the effect that riding in cross-winds worries people. Not unreasonably, as there’s little more unsettling than suddenly and unexpectedly being propelled sideways across a couple of lanes of highway. Or across one lane of highway and into a hedge. But there are things that can be done to make life that little bit easier and more predictable.

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Prisoner (of the White Lines on the Freeway)

Of all the vagaries of UK traffic law, the one I’ve heard most interpretations of has to be the “White Line” rule. That’s the one referring to white lines painted on the roads, just in case anyone’s getting ideas. Having read the Highway Cod very recently, I’d gotten it into my brain cell that you were allowed to pass agricultural vehicles at less than 20mph when there’s an “R” in the month, or something like that. I was tested and almost found wanting last week, when Captain Cardigan and I were hopping along a long queue of traffic that had built up behind a very slow-moving tractor/trailer. Normally, on my blithe ‘understanding’ of the Highway Code, I’d simply have popped past it without a second thought, if safe to do so, white lines or no. Our minds were however concentrated by the fact of the vehicle behind the tractor being a Police car. At which point, doubts they do surface. So we didn’t, and played good little bored road users until the road cleared.
When I got home, I did in fact get out my Highway Codes, all three of ’em, from 1987, 1993 and 1999. And yes, the wording has changed in the period. The trouble is, the wording I was remembering turned out to be entirely fictional. So I now stand sheepishly corrected. But at least not ticketed. So read the rest for the sordid details…

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State of the Art…

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.

Some Sort of Disclaimer…

One of the great shibboleths of advanced riding is that you should be, at all times, in control of your own destiny. In other words, you are riding for yourself, at a level with which you are comfortable, regardless of the behaviour or views of others. Remember that when you’re reading any of this — these are my own thoughts and opinions, so if you choose to incorporate anything herein as part of your own riding, then that’s entirely up to you, but please do so within the context of what is safe and comfortable for you.
Neither I nor any organisation to which I am affiliated can be held responsible for any outcome, whether it be god-like riding ability or close encounters with hedgerows. These are my own thoughts and opinions and not those of either my club or the IAM, with which they may however sporadically coincide.

Things that go Bang! in the Night

There’s almost always more than one reason for something. “Stay away from the river: you’ll get wet and catch your death of cold; you’ll drown; it’s full of hungry piranhas”. Any and all of those are possibilities. But at least there’s fun to be had in going there anyway. Then there are lorries: big things; slowish; difficult to see around; lots and lots of kinetic energy. No fun at all to be had in going there. But lots of reasons to avoid the things.
The most common training mantra regarding lorries (and other suchwhich) and the overtaking thereof, is to hang back, clear of the vehicle, until your exit beyond is clear: i.e. do not sit up the back of the slow car overtaking the slower lorry, but wait until it’s crawled past and (hopefully) pulled back left. Reasons are, I hope, bleedin’ obvious – Big vehicles have Big blind spots. And you’re on something very small and vulnerable, should the Big decide to go elsewhere than it’s current trajectory. So, keep clear until you can get past in one smooth, fast manoeuvre (both wheels on the ground, by preference).
Further to the above, if you’re on a single carriageway road, you’re minimising your exposure time to oncoming vehicles and, on any road, you are giving yourself the greatest number of degrees of freedom of movement, to go forward, backwards or sideways depending on need.

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Spring Upgrade

After a moderately soggy winter and some blusterily soggy early April days, today dawned bright, clear and without a cloud to sully the sky. With clients vaguely under control, I’d a couple of hours to bunk off and enjoy the arrival of Spring. So I did just that and trundled at a leisurely pace through Haslemere and thence onwards towards Chichester, picking up the pace on a nice selection of twisties.

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