Tuesday, 24 May 2016

St. Albans Club Ride Out: We Like Market Harborough....

Sunday, 8th May 2016

Distance: 250 miles approximately
Riding Time: 6 hours 52 minutes
Best Roads: B664 - Uppingham - Market Harborough, B6047 - Market Harborough - Melton Mowbray

Hi all! Wow its been a long time since I have been on a proper good ride out. Had a great bunch of guys to ride with today complimented by hot and dry weather.

So, first dilemma - what to wear? Full leathers or leathers and jeans? The original plan was to ride from Uppingham to Market Harborough and then whip westbound across the country to Tewksbury near Cheltenham for a proper Sunday roast, so it was going to be a full day of riding. Due to the expected temperatures and the length of riding, I opted for my Sartso Killer bike jeans and leather jacket. I also brought my HJC helmet with drop down sun visor -  it was going to be bright.

I turned up at The Chequers in Redbourn at 7.30am to meet everyone....half an hour earlier than the arranged time (couldn't sleep the night before....). We left the Chequers just after 8am and headed towards our first stop - Uppingham. We flew up the M1, coming off at Junction 15, which is the A45 eastbound at Northampton. I think Carl got confused at one point as he almost came off too early but came back onto the A45 which we followed as far as the big roundabout. We went past a police van on top of the bridge but hopefully it wasn't facing behind us! 

Next Carl decided to play roundabouts as he got a bit confused where the A45 meets the A509. We took the minor turning into a residential area, turned around and came back on ourselves to take the correct turning onto the A509. I knew the "Prez" wasn't always fantastic with directions, but today he was using a sat nav... not sure if that helped much! I can't say too much though as when we went eastbound onto the A14 the guys came off one of the slip roads and I was too far over to follow them so had to continue onto the A14. I did find it a bit odd as I thought they had come off a junction too early. They rejoined me on the A14 and we came off at the next slip road, which also happened to be the A6003 - the road I assumed Carl was actually looking for! After a bit of discussing (and general confusion) we carried on the A6003 to Uppingham. The A6003 is a nice open road with easy bends. However, it is a busy road and we were stuck behind a BP tanker all the way into Uppingham. We arrived at the Harley Davidson garage at around 9.30am, had a break, wiped our visors and used the facilities. We discussed our next move - ride the B664 to Market Harborough and stop at Sainsbury's for petrol.

The B664 is a fantastic road. There are many tight bends, including a few 90 degree ones, varying sweeping gradients and small villages. Just as we were enjoying the road however we were presented by a road closed sign. The diversion signs were telling us to head back, but there was a small lane to the left just before the sign.

I said to Carl maybe we could pull over on that road and take a look at the map and see if we can find an alternative way round. Instead of pulling over, Carl just kept going! So we all followed and luckily it took us back onto the B664 further ahead, past the closed off section. There was a small bridge at some point around here, to which I might have taken a little quickly and gone a little airborne (to which I may have sweared a little in surprise...). We carried on, heading into Market Harborough for petrol and then took the A4304 to find the A5199 heading back down to Northampton. I was leading along the A4304 at this point and as I was over taking several cars I head this zzzoooooooooommm noise flying right past me. I am assuming Carl wanted to see what his new GSXR was capable of!

The A5199 is also a great road, more open with sweeping bends open straights. We got into Northampton and stopped at the ice cream place at the end of the A5199 in Kingsthorpe. It was a pretty hot day, so figured it was a great way to cool down. It was around midday at this point and our original destination was a pub in Tewksbury for Sunday roast. However, we figured it would be a bit too far and we could potentially miss lunch anyway and so I suggested the B6047 towards Melton Mowbray and then we could head back through Northampton and make some suggestions afterwards. So we headed back up the A5199 to the A4304 (much to the request of Carl and co.) and back to Market Harborough, this time taking the one way system round to the left and onto the B6047.

The B6047 is a great road and many parts of it state 50 mph limits for a reason. I had however forgotten about the almost vertical drop where the g-force pushes you into the tank as you come back up (this really only happens northbound and is almost non-existent in the other direction). It has a little bit of everything this road, and you need to be on alert the whole time you are riding it. We crossed the A47, continuing on the B664 to Great Dalby where we stopped for our Sunday lunch. It was a deserved break from some challenging roads, which is not to say it wasn't great fun also.

Our route back was back down the B6047 to Market Harborough (a place we might as well call our second home at this point...) and the A508 to Northampton. The A508 is pretty good for a larger A road, but a lot more straight than the A5199. We refuelled in Kingsthorpe and split at the M1 where Tom and Carl headed home and I headed over to Winslow with Andy, via the A422 and A413.

GPX, KML and KMZ files for Satellite Navigation systems of our ride can be uploaded/sent on request. Any comments, questions or suggestions on other great roads we may have missed please leave in the comments below!

Friday, 1 April 2016

Small Ride to Dennington, Suffolk

Good Friday, 25th March 2016
Luton - Dennington - 125 miles approx. 3 hours.
Heading to my friend Sam's for the day I faced the decision of how to get there - car, bus, train, aeroplane, hovercraft, jet pack or motorcycle. It was a lovely sunny day (unlike the rest of the week), albeit a little cold so of course motorcycle was chosen.

Next - which motorcycle. Well, Emma's SV650 is in the garage and my SV650 has been written off.... better take the 954 Fireblade then. So the day before I got myself sorted -  cleaned the bike, checked the brakes, oil, lights, tyre pressures, chain oil and fuel. Tyres were a little low as well as the scottoiler so sorted that out and then all set.

Next - which route to take. I had already decided that the best option was to take the (relatively) fast route to Braintree in Essex and then make up a fun route from there. This also allowed for a quick toilet break at the rest stop near Great Dunmow on the A120 should I need it (I did....). From Braintree I took the knowing A131 to Sudbury and entered unfamiliar territory from there, taking the A1071 into Ipswich. Quite a nice bendy road, however a bit rubbish with 4-wheeled vehicles in front as they tend to go a little bit slow, so if you do go that way make sure it is nice and early. You could also take the route that goes via Finchingfield and the famous bike meets that happen there, but I've done that route a few times so decided to try something new.

I topped up my fuel levels at the Tesco services off the A12 near the A14. From there I took the quick way east on the A14, over the Orwell Bridge (such a good view of the east coast around there) to continue up the A12. Having gone round several roundabouts and filtering past many caravans (I guess they were headed to Great Yarmouth or wherever for their Easter break) I took the exit to the B116 to Framlingham and Dennington,

This was all OK, however next time I think a different route between Braintree and Dennington would be better to add more variety. If anyone has any suggestions please do say so in the comments below. Coming back I used the A1120 as suggested by Sam which takes me back to the A14 without going down to Ipswich and back up again. This was a good road, full of bends and small villages. However, it was pretty dark by then and so I couldn't really enjoy it as much as I perhaps could have in the day time. Would be good to try that route out again mixed in with some other smaller A and B roads.

It took me about 3 hours to get to Dennington from my home in Luton, including a rather slow petrol stop. Coming back mainly along the A14. A11 and A505 took just under 2 hours. There are plenty of decent roads around that way so make your own up and check out other suggestions on the bestbikingroads.com website. Below is an overview map of the route I took to Dennington.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Goodbye SV - You Served Me Well

On the 14th January 2016 I was involved in a minor accident on the M1. Riding in the outside lane, in peak time traffic at a speed of around 40mph my surroundings were pretty congested. As you can imagine, there is a vehicle close in front and a vehicle close behind. A car from the lane left of me decided it would be a great idea to signal and move into my lane, which of course there was no room for him to do so as I was there. I tried to move my bike out the way, steering to my right, however I had nowhere to go and the bike went over on the right-hand side.

A few car drivers stopped to help me as the driver continued to drive away. A van driver blocked his path so that he could not escape the scene. The driver denied any wrong doing and the highway agency swapped insurance details between the parties whilst I was given details of three witnesses. I rode home, thinking the bike was OK (it wasn't... I realised after I headed off that I had no rear brake pedal but hey minor problem...) and took pictures of the damage.

4th Dimension dealt with my case as my insurance cover was only TPF&T. They were really good actually. They came and collected the bike and took it to their workshop in Egham and on the same day I got a phone call asking what I wanted to do about the bike. The lower fairing panels were no longer available and if I wanted to the bike repaired I would have to do a compromise repair (due to the cosmetic damage mainly). I have had the bike for almost 5 years and put somewhere around 50,000 miles on it and so decided it would be better to have it written off.

Fortunately for me, the other side finally admitted liability (probably due to the amount of witnesses at the scene) and my bike now belongs to 4th Dimension. I actually got a decent value for my bike so I am pretty chuffed in that regard - but quite upset to part with it as it is the longest I have ever had a bike. It's been to Europe several times, with different people and been a rock solid commuter for almost 5 years. It is also the bike that was the catalyst for meeting my girlfriend (she is also an SV owner) and we've had a solid 4 year relationship.

So, farewell SV. I won't forget the memories that have been created because of you and will hang a (well cleaned) second number plate in my house in your honour. I hope that you are rebuilt and somebody else can you enjoy you like I have.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Product Review: Oxford Rain Seal Over Boots

I own a pair of very worn out TCX goretex boots, which although have served me well for about 5 years, are no longer waterproof. Rather than getting rid of them I decided to try out Oxford's rain seal over boots for £19.99 to continue using my TCX boots at work - nobody wants to spend £200 on a new pair of boots only to get worn out running around training motorcycle students.

First thing to note is that my TCX boots are EUR size 44, so I ordered Oxford size L - which are good for sizes 44 - 47. The size that turned up was XL but according to the over boots are for sizes 44 - 47 - a false item description somewhere. However, they do fit, with a fair bit of wiggle room. You just pop your boot in, put it on, do your boot up and then zip the over boot up too. There's a clip at the top for a closed fit and a strap that goes across the front of the over boot to tighten it in place. One of the drawbacks to this strap is that it tends to unclip easily when riding, which loosens the grip on the boot.

So what about there main job - to be waterproof? I haven't been out in a torrential downpour yet, but they've not leaked at all in any wet weather I've found myself in. The main issue I had with my TCX boots is that they leak through the sole, but these over boots seem to have solved the problem.

One thing I did notice is that changing gears or using the rear brake became a little more cumbersome. Due to the extra height, you need to remember to lift your foot higher than usual or it tends to get caught. Due to my boots being on the smaller side of the 44 - 47 fitting, the over boots do have a little bit of excess that can also get in the way. A snugger fit may have avoided that problem.

All in all they do what they are meant to - will post back after more testing weather conditions. They do have a couple of niggles and foot controls are a little awkward but for just shy of £20 it means I can continue using my old boots for that little bit longer.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Third Time Lucky? Maybe Not.

I have only been a motorcycle CBT instructor for a short time but I can tell you why I became one. It was to pass on my skills and experiences to wannabe bikers for the safety of them and other road users. As I say to my students during Element A of the course - that CBT certificate does not supersede yours or anybody else’s safety. However, for a lot of them that piece of paper seems to have more value to them than their lives.

We get a large variety of characters who come to do their CBT with us, particularly when based on the outskirts of London. Some of these plead with us to issue them a certificate, or to give them a chance on the road despite our legal and H&S obligations when we know they are not ready and need more training. I mean, how long would you want to be riding your bike for? If you are not safe on the road, you are not going to be riding it for long. Most students understand and know it themselves when they need a bit more training. Others can be aggressive or pull the sympathy card, but most understand when they finally get their CBT why we make the decisions we do.

A couple of months ago in October 2015 I had a student for her CBT. There was a minor language barrier, but she knew enough English to communicate. Her husband was with us for the duration of her off-road practical bike training and was translating when needed. At the end of this part of the training I felt she was just about ready for the next two parts of her CBT - the classroom session and practical on-road ride. On the road ride she seemed uncomfortable and despite my best efforts to fix the flaws she eventually rode up the kerb and so I ended her training and brought her back to the school. I explained to the two of them that she needed to come back to spend more time with the bike here at the school which they were absolutely fine with.

They did come back to try again. However, she struggled more so with the off-road training despite my best efforts, than previously. I told them that unfortunately she wasn’t ready yet for the road ride, especially considering the result of her last time out on the road. They pleaded with me to take a chance and take her on the road but I told them I was not comfortable doing that as we hadn’t made any progress from her first CBT. They were naturally disappointed but understood.

So lets fast forward to today - the 5th December 2015. I took my two students for the last hour of their practical on-road ride. As we rode away from Hounslow town centre we witnessed an unfortunate incident where a learner rider attempted to undertake a stationary vehicle onto the cycle lane. As they did so they caught the backside of the car and came off the bike, scratching the car and smashing the rear lights. As we were following them as this happened I pulled my students over to the side and parked up. I asked my leading student if they saw what happened and they had so he provided details to both parties. During this time, the learner rider was crouching down by their bike on the phone. I recognised the student but couldn’t tell who it was and so I asked to see their license (which of course they didn’t have to provide to me but they did). Sure enough it was the student who I had back in October - that did not get through the course. I asked to see proof of their CBT certificate and they showed me a copy on their phone - issued the beginning of October by a motorcycle training company based in Winchmore Hill called Fast Trak. So a couple of things may have happened after they left us for the second time. They may have been unhappy with our training and so tried somewhere else. Or, they may have been more concerned about getting that bit of paper and so opted for somewhere offering guaranteed CBT certificates (illegal yes, but not unheard of). Now, I do not know the nature of how Fast Trak conduct their CBT training, but in either case it is clear that this student was not ready to begin their learning on the road unsupervised.

So what is the point of mentioning all of this? Well, for starters, if this incident happened at a quicker pace, or even worse, if the car was moving, then the accident could have been far more severe than it was - the possibility was there. With this in mind, those who undergo CBT training need to value their lives and others far more than that piece of paper - we are training you to be safe on the road - that CBT certificate should be seen more as a byproduct of the training. Thirdly - when selecting a training centre choose them for the right reasons - that they provide excellent training to ensure you are safe when learning on the road by yourselves. 

There is a reason we do it properly. Ride safe, ride longer.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Notice: Motorcycle Video Logs Currently Unavailable

Hey Guys and Girls,

Have noticed that the Motorcycle VLogs gadget at the bottom of the blog has stopped working. I have removed this for now but hope to get it back up and running or replace it with something else. 

If you have any suggestions please let me know :)

All the best,

MC Blogger

Friday, 4 September 2015

What is the correct procedure for dealing with junctions on a motorcycle?

At the beginning of August 2015, as part of my training as a CBT instructor, I was running my own CBT for the day under the watchful eye of one of my bosses. I had three students at the end of Element C that were safe enough to take for the compulsory two hour road ride. As we returned from the first hour for the swap around my boss gave me my card and said I was free to take the last 2 hours by myself. So, from that day I have been officially working as a CBT instructor! However, there is more training to do as I need to get myself prepared for the two day test at Cardington with the DSA.

So back to what this topic is about - and the reason why I have decided to write this entry. There is a thread on TSR (The Student Room) where we discuss all things motorbikes. We quite often get peeps who are very new to riding or want to find out how to go about getting started. Recently I have been private messaged by a new motorcyclist who is slightly unclear on how to tackle junctions. In comes the O.S.M.P.S.L routine. For those who have been riding a while you may have forgotten what all that means - or you do it without thinking. For those new to biking or about to embark on your motorcycle journey or for those who just want to recap - lets chat about OSMPSL.

OSMPSL is a set of steps that you, as a motorcyclist (which includes those who ride mopeds), need to follow at every junction (including roundabouts) to keep yourselves safe. It is designed to reduce the risk of an accident occurring due to our natural vulnerability on a two-wheeled vehicle. For those who are car drivers - think of it as an expanded version of the M.S.M (mirror, signal, manoeuvre) routine. As motorcyclists we have a choice of positions that we can be in on the road - 1, 2 or 3.

Stripped down to its basic level, we stay in position 2 unless we need to change position. This makes us as big as a car – we don’t need to worry about cyclists, being too close to oncoming traffic or other vehicles that try to get on our inside or outside. It also means we have a choice of positions at junctions. For this blog post lets focus on minor to major junctions and major to minor ones.

Minor to Major
Lets start with positioning. If we are turning left we should get ourselves in position 1 at the end of the road. This closes the gap for cyclists, making it clear for you to turn left if safe. 

If going straight ahead – position 2. The cyclists can turn left and you hold a defensive position. 

When turning right get into position 3. This allows other vehicles to turn left or go straight ahead.

Turning Left
Straight Ahead
Turning Right

Before we get to the end we need to follow the OSMPSL routine. This means the following:

O – OBSERVATIONS. See what is happening in front of you and check your mirrors.

S – SIGNALS. Do this nice and early and when it is appropriate. If there is a road on your left before the junction and you want to signal left wait until after the road on the left before putting on your signal, otherwise you will give a false signal. Straight ahead does not require a signal.

M – MOVE into

P – POSITION. For left - position 1, for straight ahead - stay in position 2, for turning right - position 3. Before we change position we must do a shoulder check (left if moving into position 1, right if moving into position 3). No check is required for straight ahead as you aren’t changing position. You want to make sure nobody is trying to undertake/overtake you and that there are no cyclists to your left before you change position.

S – SLOW. Start slowing your speed down – Mopeds – roll off the throttle, apply some front brake and then some rear brake. Motorcycles – roll off the throttle, apply some front brake, apply some rear brake, clutch in, tap down the gears and stop in first gear.

L – LOOK – look nice and early if there is no danger, there is no stopping. If you can walk the bike out, you can ride it out. If you are unsure – stop and wait. If there is danger, stop and wait. Make sure it is safe before you pull away.

On your new road remember: get into position 2, check mirrors, cancel signal and get up to the appropriate speed.

Major to Minor
We use the same routine again, but our positioning is different as we are now on a road that has priority. If turning left you want to stay in position 2 to control your space. Before you turn, you need a shoulder check in case a vehicle is pulling out or a cyclist has caught up with you.

When turning right you need to get yourself into position 3 to allow the priority traffic to keep moving. Position yourself as shown to the right. Too early and the vehicle in the minor road will think you are letting him out. Too late and you won’t make the turn. Before you turn you must do a LIFESAVER – that final check before you commit. A car or motorcyclist may become impatient and attempt to overtake on your right. It is your last chance to check before you make the turn – this is why it is called a lifesaver.

This has been a short overview of how to approach minor to major and major to minor junctions. If you would like any advice on anything else please let me know. Also, if you think I have missed anything important please also let me know.