Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird – the perfect highway blaster & tourer? A tale of 4 Birds…

Words & pictures copyright of Steve ‘Toast’ Solomons

I came late to the Blackbird club; I love all different kinds of bikes, and other than Ducati, I’ve owned just about everything from British Classics like Sunbeams, Royal Enfields, Ariels through to the more mainstream Japs as well as some other foreigners like Guzzis, Harleys, but the best build quality of all these bikes is… Honda. I don’t know why, but they just stand the test of time and mileage better than anything else; two of the very best of these are the VFR series and, of course, the Mighty, Super Blackbird.

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Greybird – the bike that started an infatuation; WHY did I sell it? Idiot!!!!

Having just sold my mightily uncomfortable plank-seated Yamaha FZ1, I was in the market for another tour monster bike, but I have a busted coccyx which always plagues me with the more sit-up-and-beg tourers; I like to lean a little forward. The answer came in a bolt-of-lightening moment – Blackbird! They’ve been around since 1996, originally with a bank of four carbs, later changed to PGM-F1 injection (like the VFR) in 1999. There’s a whole fight about which is best, and I’ll generally leave that fight to the brilliant and informative SuperBlackbird Forum

So in basic terms, what is a Blackbird? In a nutshell,  a fast, competent, missile of a motorcycle for CHEAP SPEED & touring! A massively powerful water-cooled four-cylinder engine producing 164 BHP wrapped in a low chassis, giving you a low seat height of around 810mm (31.9 inches) which means Mr. Shortie here (5’6″) can get both feet flat on the floor; even my 5’3″ wife rides it. The whole thing is wrapped in a wind-cheating fairing to give you a top speed of around 175 MPH but also all–day cruising comfort as well. The handling is great too, extremely stable at high speeds and cornering a joy with very much a ‘as if on rails’ feel to it; just lean to the side a bit, push the bar for which way you want to go and it complies with nary a twitch; and when its time to haul up, the linked braking system is more than up to the job. What that means, in simple terms, if you apply the front brakes you get a bit of back too, and vice versa. I’ve always been a ‘both-brakes’ man, brought up on old Brit bikes where neither brake was good enough so you tend to get used to using both in order to avoid using the car in front for additional retardation purposes. The gearbox is sublime, smooth and sure through all the gears; neutral a doddle to find, and the hydraulic clutch is smooth on the take-up; Honda build quality.

So, having read everything I could about the breed, I made the decision to buy one – the grey one above – a carb model, obviously, as they are the best, (cue ranting from lowly, slower ‘injection’ model owners) and fell in love. Well, first tour around Wales for a long weekend proved the bike to be everything, and more, and even fully laden with three fully loaded Givi boxes the handling around Wales’s twisty roads was absolutely amazing. Tracking perfectly on the Bridgestone tyres, using the abundant power coming out of the bends was great fun; The only fear was the picture inside my brain of my license sprouting wings and flying away when the Heddlu (welsh Police) spot me enjoying myself perhaps just a little too much.

My wife also rides, so isn’t a regular pillion for me, but when she does she loves the back seat, claiming it to be one of the best ever (along side the CB1300) she’s used. About this time my son was taking up riding, and he hopped on the back for a ride to Hunstanton. and it was on a ,er, somewhat spirited ride back with my wife & friends that a little worm entered my brain and for some reason (read license paranoia) I sold the Greybird and bought something else. A Suzuki V-Strom! YUK! What an awful motorcycle!!! God’s Teeth – what a turd of a bike!

BIG mistake; two weeks after selling the Blackbird,  I was banging my head against the garage wall in anger at my stupidity; I really missed the bike’s power, glory and comfort; something had to be done. My wife spotted one for sale, ex-accident (dropped in the garage) with no fairings at all – on an ebay auction- an hour to go – for 420 quid; We were just about to enter the cinema so put a max bid of £500 (all I had in the bank) and after the film, I’d bought it for £461. So we set off to collect it from the Essex scrap dealer, who was clearly NOT happy at the price, left us to push it out the gravel yard with 2 flat tyres. It hadn’t run for 4 years, apparently the owner had dropped it and removed the fairings then parked it at the back of his workshop for 4 years. Once home, a spare battery was attached, the carbs and tank drained, fresh fuel, turn key, pull choke lever, press button and PURR! A runner.

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I like them naked, too – but, then, I’m weird like that…

With well-under 30k miles on the clock, it was a bargain. I slapped a pair of headlights I had hanging around on it, upside-down Diversion screen and a pair of Venom Exhausts purchased of the BIRD forum and took it for MOT. Passed. No advisories. What a cheap bike! I also fitted a pair of Renthal bars to it by bolting two clamp to the top yoke. Re-jigged the wiring & pipework to reach the new position, it made little difference to the handling but did change the comfort somewhat. Took it on tour and loved it; But needed some ready cash so once more made the wrong decision and flogged it for 950 quid. The new owner loved it, sending me mesages after the purchase extolling its virtues.

Well, you can imagine my surprise earlier this year when the wife (serial facebook & ebay bike sale watcher) saw another one for sale for £400. This one had been in a front-end accident, and was a runner but no screen, front fairings, headlights or mudguard. I went and bought it, half in a mind to break it (NOTE of CAUTION – ALL ally framed bikes – like the Bird – do not take kindly to front-end impacts; the lower head-race bearing will elongate the recess it sits in forever causing a clonk with every bump you ride over and it shifts backwards & forwards inside this recess – usually means a write-off insurance-wise & a potential MOT failure too) but when I got it home, the rest of the bike (and that engine purring!!!) persuaded me other wise; so with the help of the SuperBlackbird forum members I secured the missing bits, sprayed them and the rebuild was done in a few weeks.

So, from this £400 mess …

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“ooh dear, didn’t see that van in front of me” said the previous owner…

To this, £450 quid later, and a few weeks…

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Loving New Owner Does A Good Job

The inevitable full 3-box Givi rack soon followed, and after a few months of riding it around England & Wales, I took it to Europe (see another story on here) and did 2400 happy miles around the Alps and Italy. Faultless performance throughout.

So what have we learned? You can buy one cheaply if you hunt about, it will transport you and everything you want around at incredible velocities with great comfort, it will guzzle fuel if you attempt to thrash it (you can’t thrash it, it’s too powerful, you can only ride it fast) but it will return well over 40 MPG around Europe thanks to their very low (and heavily-enforced) speed limits; I was getting over 180 miles to the tank, not even on the reserve light (that’s about 30 more than hooning around England chasing the wife on her bike).

What should you look out for when buying? Wheels can get dings in them if the rider has not slowed for road humps; radiators can corrode horribly hidden inside the fairings, as can Oil Cooler Pipes and Exhaust Downpipes, & Collector Boxes are quick-rot too – all fixable, at a cost; There are various upgrades for things like the loom on the Injection, (see the forum for all things like upgrades) Manual Cam Chain Tensioners for when the spring in yours gets week (though I’ve just bought a new standard one from Jaws for mine – the choice is yours); The Afore-mentioned head-stock bearing clonk if it’s been crashed; Forks get rust spots hidden away under the fairing; make sure the brakes don’t drag (sticky, dirty calipers) as the discs will over-heat and warp. All the fairings line up properly with all the correct fittings? So apart form all the usual suspension checks, wiring checks for nasty bits of tape here & there, cosmetic checks & so-forth, if it runs and rides perfectly, there’s a good chance it’s OK. TOP TIP – when putting on the Main Stand, watch out for the side fairing!! Lots get cracked where owners pull up against them (using the main-stand lift-assist bar inside) – I use the rear foot-peg hanger instead to save the fairing.

BUY A STOCK ONE if you can or with the upgrades you might want – (Full Luggage, Double Bubble Screen, Heated Grips etc) – and it should come with the handbook, service book (HOPEFULLY stamped up fully – Birds USUALLY attract more mature, sensible owners) and a WODGE of old MOT’s & receipts plus spare key (H.I.S.S on later ones, Honda Igntion Security System- if you have to buy a spare key, consider the cost implications PLUS reliability – then go buy a carb version LMAO) MILEAGE – not too important, these things are unburstable (Like The VFR800’s) and 150,000+ is not unkown – my 65k bike purrs like my new kitten. Just as long as the peripherals are ok, then no problems…

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Yeah, I purr, and love Birds! Yum!

Parts – the best place is the Blackbird specialist Jaws Motorcycles – very helpful –  plus there’s the bird forum above for help, advice, bikes & bits  (as well as leg-pulling and grumpy old know-it-alls you get on every forum) and a plethora of Facebook Blackbird pages too. Oh, Dave Silver Motorcycle Spares is another valuable resource – for all old jap bikes. Very helpful too,

So, why the CARB version over the Injection? Well, I’m old-fashioned, and I like my simplicity too, so when it comes to bikes, the less new-fangled crap, the better; Ok, it has electronic ignition, they all do these days, but they’re pretty darn reliable; BUT the injection, with all its extra engine sensors, air temp sensors, injectors, fuel pump, well, there’s a lot to go wrong (not to mention the ever-annoying F1 warning light that seems to illuminate with annoying regularity according to some people) so, no, thanks, I’ll just stick to me simple (and more powerful, more reliable – apparently) carburettor version Bird and you can keep all the extra-fancy doowicky stuff on your Injection ones. Carbs, I can fix; Injectors and pumps and sensors, too complex. Unnecessary tomfoolery, I tell you!!

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Yes, I’m in lovely, minty condition, loved by my former keepers. Thanks, all of you.

Well, I’m so impressed with my current bike (now sporting over 65-odd thousand miles and running like a dream) I decided to treat myself to a lower-mileage one in better, more original condition; here it is, still on the trailer. Took some searching (and a lot of wasted journeys to visit DREAMERS and their old dogs-on-wheels) but I’ve just bagged this new long-term-keeper with 20K miles, original except for the nasty chromed screen, almost mint bodywork, CARB of course, needs oil cooler pipes and a good check-over, £1600. Welcome to your new home, Red, I will swap my luggage and screen onto you from my out-going Repsol bike and never let you go. Get one of these, they’re fast, handle, don’t mind trickling along in traffic, a joy to ride, and, CHEAP! Don’t spend more than 2K TOPS!!! I’ve seen the dreamers and the shops listing low-mileage bikes at 4 to 5 THOUSAND Pounds. Long may they keep them! Good Hunting!!

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So You Want To Tour Europe? A Euro Tour Story

All words & images are Copyright of Steve Toast Solomons

We’ve toured on our bikes; extensively; MASSIVELY; but only on the British Mainland, we’re out every weekend year-long for all-day rides to places like North or South Wales for lunch, over the last ten years we’ve been together. Nobody knows North Wales or the West Country like we do. But it was time to stretch our horizons and our bikes. Previously, I’d ridden in the South of France in a group when helping out with some friends who run a bike hire company down there, but Sue hadn’t.

I’d always been reticent to take a bike over to the continent; I don’t ‘speaka da lingo’ for one, was worried about breakdowns, finding places to stay, taking my bike on the ferry or tunnel train; it’s not that I’m not an experienced rider; 20 years a despatch rider, 5 years teaching other to ride, over 44 years in the saddle, and Sue rides her Fazer better than most blokes I know, our annual mileage these days is easily 15K+, each of us, I’m a skilled & accomplished home mechanic. So, what was stopping me? The decision was taken; we read everything we could about riding over there, plus RIDE magazine write-ups, checked out their downloadable routes for clues. We looked up riding rules and requirements and the plan slowly came together. Most of all, we wanted to tackle the infamous Stelvio Pass from Davos in Switzerland to Bormio in Italy.

I serviced both the bikes, my 1996, 63k mile-old Honda Blackbird which cost me £850, and Sue’s Fazer 1000 of 2001 vintage; quickly, we found out you cannot get European breakdown cover for bikes over 16 years old. Well, the planned route was only two & a half thousand miles, and in the last ten years, we’ve never had a breakdown, so… why worry? Couple of punctures, which we’d sorted with TYRE WELD and carried on, so why worry? My only concession to my paranoia was a throttle pull cable for both bikes stashed under the seats, as you can’t really check them without stripping the carbs off. Sue’s clutch cable was fine, mine’s hydraulic, nothing to worry about then.

Sue & I planned the route we wanted to take, booked the tunnel crossings, loaded the daily destinations into the Garmin sat navs (I have an old Zumo 550, about 14 years old, Sue has a new LM395 on her bike) and downloaded the Ride Magazine Davos – Bormio route as well. Sue booked hotels along the way, which we didn’t really need to do in September as it’s slightly-post-season but we wanted to have nice places to stay along the route. In season, it’s a must. Or you might find yourself either riding on & on to find a night somewhere. We also have intercoms too, and we chatter nearly all the time when on the bikes.

I took some oil for her bike as it likes a drink here and there; didn’t need it; the speed limits over there meant the riding was very relaxed which didn’t stress her bike like it does over here when she’s out hooning; we cruised at the speed limits, got the best fuel consumption figures we’ve ever had – just as well, it’s a bit pricey over there – especially in Switzerland and on motorways / peage (Toll) routes. Speeding is NOT an option – the fines are massive, and we’ve heard that in Switzerland 2,500 Euros is common and required in cash or your bike goes. Our bank and credit card companies assured us our cards would work everywhere, we used my Barclaycard everywhere with no issues.  I also packed some tools, tape, obligatory bulb kits etc under the seats; never even touched them. And a can of TYRE WELD; don’t leave home without it.

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Train Travel – This is a doddle!

So, finally, the day comes; Bikes all packed the night before, and we set off for the tunnel at 4am. Arrived early (didn’t cough up for the flexi ticket – another £44 each bike!) but the lady at the booth offered us an earlier train (this was because they were quiet and had room – don’t always expect it) so we grabbed it and headed off; Tank Bag was brill – easy & quick access to docs, phone, wallet, passports etc (and fags & lighter essentially!!!) without having to undo jackets. Park bike with front wheel to kerb in train; 35 minutes later – in France. ULP!! Suppose we’d better get on with it!

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Bloody Hell! We’re in France! Better get on with it LOL

 

So destination 1 into sat-nav and off we go; Ride On The Right – we’d decided to use non-motorway route (big mistake) and after a couple of hours hadn’t travelled very far; switch over to motorway (not Peage) and cut the journey time down considerably. First hotel was a dive, Sunday so no food available (!!) so hit up a shop to get whatever we could. Google translate app to the rescue as local shop-keep didn’t speak English. Oh, most hotels over there DO NOT have tea & coffee stuff in the room! OUTRAGOUS! I don’t move until I have had at least 2 cups of strong coffee in the morning! Day 2 took us to Weil Am Rhine and a nice hotel just over the border in Germany. Full English spoken here. Amazing breakfast! Bought our 2 Vignette (two bikes) for Swiss toll motorways (definitely worth it as fines are HUGE). Nearly every bike we see – and there are hundreds even this late in the Alpine season – are BMW GS’s; they must have made billions of Euros out of them…

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French Alps – the fun begins!

(In hindsight, we will jump straight onto the Peage next time and wham into the Alps without messing about in Northern France; It’s not attractive and not worth spending 2 days looking at flat farmland and villages). Day three – things really start to look good – we’re heading to Davos in Switzerland and we’re using Alpine roads and the conversations on the intercoms are full of ‘ooh’s’ and ‘aahhhhs’ as the scenery is spectacular. Like North Wales, Snowdonia, but ramped up minimum 500%. Sue is loving the roads, the tight hairpins, the long sweeping curves. We arrive at the Kessler Kulm hotel on the outskirts of Davos, mega friendly staff, (nothing like being a second or third-class citizen like in England), park bikes in garage, get some excellent coffees from the first-class waitress (thank you, Maria) who served to us on the restaurant balcony, sipping and enjoying the breath-taking views. We did pop into Davos for a quick look around.

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Outside Davos!

 

We find out that the Stelvio Pass is closed (landslide & snow– damn & blast it) as are many other passes (unseasonably early snow – damn global warming) so Sue works out an alternative route to Bormio using another pass and the Livigno Tunnel. So the next day sees us head off into the tighter mountain passes; We reach the tunnel, border guards wave us though, despite the STOP line at the booth; When it’s our turn (one way at a time) we head in – it’s long, cold, damp, very long, then a bit longer, up a bit, down a bit, then eventually – you’re out and back into the sunshine, sharp right turn, pay the toll booth, ride past the Italian border hut, then you ride along a mountain-top  lake for about 6-7 miles through an open-sided tunnel into Livigno. Wow!!!! WOW!!! Are we elated or what! And that wasn’t just the massively-excessive breakfast Cappuccino consumption talking!
We’d ridden our bikes through amazing scenery and fantastic twisty roads and arrived in Northern Italy. Duty free here, so stock up on fags! 2 packets of Marlboro for a 12 euros. Should have bought a box of 200!

We ride down to Bormio past yet more beautiful roads and eventually arrive in the town; we’re staying at the Miramonti Park Hotel; under-ground garage (5 Euros each naturally, even though we’re using half a car space) spa, pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, great staff but lousy restaurant – set menu, didn’t open until 7:30pm, no good for my Sue’s Gluten-free, Dairy-free diet. To be fair, the same in a lot of places, but some were more helpful than others; So we parked our bikes in the garage, fully locked up, every bit of luggage removed; A German GS riding mob hauled up, slung their bikes in, left helmets on mirrors, tank-bags on bikes, jackets on bikes, no locks – and looked at us & our extensive disc locks & rope locks like we were nutty British eccentrics with a bad case of post-war Pre-Brexit paranoia. But, generally, friendly, all of them. A nice dip in the pool was very welcome after four days of riding.

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Crossing Lake Garda; A surprise by the sat nav.

Next day we’re off to Lake Garda, two nights in Castalletto – the Garmin plays a joke on us and takes to the west coast half way up the lake then tells us to take the ferry across; we pay the fee and jump on board with a bunch of really friendly (very tall) German guys on their way back from Scotland to Austria before heading home! Serious stuff! I begin to feel somewhat insignificant in the face of their size and riding prowess! We arrive at the hotel, underground garage, can’t help ourselves and just put disc locks on. Creatures of habit. We use the pool and go out for a meal. Find a cheap local restaurant who is very helpful, fab meal for half the price of the hotel. Next day is a day off, we’re actually bored LOL so ride down to the southern end of the lake, have a coffee, hire a speedboat (60 Euros /hour) then head back to the hotel. Swim in the lake then pop out for dinner.

We’re supposed to be heading for Southern France next via the northern Italian coastline but hear the Stelvio might be re-opened. Sue eagerly suggests going back to the Alps – thank goodness Sue used her booking.com app for all the hotels – so she cancels our remaining itinerary (got stung for one hotel) and head back to the Miramonti in Bormio; we’re actually happy to be back on the bikes after a day off (well almost a day lol) and we hit Bormio, book in, have a swim and head to Oliver’s -the American-themed Burger restaurant for some, well, more normal grub; there’s one thing on the menu Sue can eat (HOORAY!) so we’re in luck. A local tour guide who has a page on facebook – search Swiss Motorbike Tours – has kept us updated with the passes and it turns out Stelvio is partially open. We can get through the south end for 2 hours in the morning and the evening. So, the plan is up at 5am, no brekkie, and we’re off in the darkness to the start of the pass; it’s just breaking dawn as we start the accent, 48 hairpins to the top (I think it’s 18 kilometres but don’t shoot me) and it’s fully light but still cold at the top; We’re elated, we’ve seen so many videos of it, and we nearly missed it but lady luck shone through and we’ve done it. Add our sticker to the board at the top, and then head back down the other side, do another pass and end up back at Livigno tunnel and through to Bormio. A full days’ riding, we’re knackered but delighted.

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Livigno – gateway to Italy; On top of the world, literally.

The bikes have been bloody brilliant. Mine’s not missed a beat, it’s a Honda Blackbird so I haven’t even checked the oil. No need; it never uses any. I’ve not even checked the tyres. I did put a drop of oil in Sues after the first 4 days but it was more paranoia the necessity. Sue’s Fazer wasn’t too keen at low revs ay 2,700 metres above sea level, the Bird had a slightly lumpy tickover but nothing else. The Bird’s carried the lion’s share of the luggage to make things easier for Sue, but next July, she gets panniers too! And I won’t be bothering with all the oils, tools etc next time!

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Stelvio – It’s Done!
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Yes, that’s snow, not sugar frosting.

We’ve got about 1000 miles ahead of us to get home. We’ve planned 3 stops – at the first one, we have a smoked salmon & prawn salad starter, (a full meal in itself) then order what we are sure is beef on a skewer – but then 2 roasted Camembert with ham & chips roll up; we also order 2 x San Pellegrino’s – in England – tin of fruity fizzy drink like Tango but nicer – BUT out she comes with 2 x litre bottles of fizzy water (labelled S’ Pellegrino); In deference to the non-English-speaking hostess and the fact we’re knackered, in a MASSIVE EFFORT I eat BOTH Camembert and give Sue my ham in exchange; I drink the entire Litre bottle of fizzy water (Sue fails to finish her last glass much to our amusement) and I have to forgo the pudding stage as my stomach is at maximum pressure and about to blow…
It had us in gales of laughter, surely not appreciated by the other diners; the joy of Alfresco Dining in rural France was having a fag at the table after dinner; In Switzerland it’s banned and not even popular outside, in Italy you get the impression it’s almost compulsory, ashtrays everywhere!
It was a little windy in the bedroom that night, even with the windows closed!

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The decent from Stelvio

At the second hotel we find we’re next door to a F1 hotel, a very, shall we say, inexpensive chain, which the French Government are using to house the Calais-evicted migrants in; They’re hanging around outside, leering at the bikes, drinking bottles of cheap wine and we’re are genuinely worried the bikes won’t be there in the morning. Sue won’t go out on her own. Our hotel has no garage, no secure parking, we can’t see the bikes so with all the locks on and everything we can removed from them, we head, somewhat nervously, to bed, late. We are supposed to have a last night at a hotel in Calais but decide to scrub that, and Sue gets online and re-books our tunnel train for the next day around lunchtime; we’re up early in the morning, straight onto the Peage and at the posted speed limit crack out the 360-odd kilometres to the train.

The French peage is simple: rock up to the barrier: press the English button (Union Jack Symbol) – take a ticket, cram it into your tank bag (without folding preferably) and off you go; DON’T put it in your phone-case it it’ll wipe the magnetic strip and you get charged the FULL fee from the start of the motorway. When you get to your exit, select English, insert ticket, insert your payment card, take card back and off you go.

We arrive at the euro tunnel and get offered an earlier train again – in our carriage there’s only our bikes and an English fellow on… a GS, of course! He complains bitterly about the seat on his 17 Thousand Pound bike – I tell him – no such problem with my £850 Blackbird. He is genuinely stunned at the value of the bike…

Off the train and back to – Bloody English Motorways – 50mph Average Speed Cameras. Holy hell, we’re a useless country when it comes to building and maintaining something as simple as roads; The Swiss roads – even the mountain roads where they spends months with snow on them are immaculate.

What did we think of the Infamous Stelvio? Well, it was a bucket list, we were lucky it was EMPTY because “in season” it is apparently RAMMED and you’re forever stopping and waiting for cars, lorries and busses to wind around the corner which will suck the fun right out of it; we passed one car (an Italian Ford Focus)  and that was IT! Saw half a dozen going the other way. We’re hopefully taking three other family riders with us next time, so may have to do it again, but, it’s not the greatest but – I’m delighted we have done it, expunged ALL of Sue’s fears about mountain riding (fear of heights) and she’s now added Inter-Continental Tourer to her list of accomplishments; She did very nearly all the routing, map reading, ALL the bookings and re-bookings, and rode a storm on her Fazer for hours on end, on technical mountain roads and for hours & hours on Motorways (something we never to at home – we avoid them like the plague). I just mainly followed her directions, and drank way too much Cappuccino for a someone with a serious heart condition

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I could do this all day, every day. Stunning!

 

What will do differently next time? Dump the tool kits and bottles of lube etc;
Not bother stopping in France – just peage-it to the Alps;
Head from France, Switzerland and Austria all in the Alps;
Use Google to check surroundings of hotels (one was on a retail park)
Things you do need – Good sat nav (for ease, you can map read it, but why bother? – We did take a Phillips Euro Map Book as a back-up.), roaming phone, reliable bike BUT it doesn’t need to be a £17K GS, you’re just as well off on any comfy bike – comfort is key (LOL so probably NOT a £17K GS LMAO) if you’re on a bike all day.
Understand what all roads signs mean over there. In every country.
Wear a high-viz.
I had front & rear cameras which loop record.

If you want to out and ride your bike fast, get a trackday instead; get caught over there and it can be horribly expensive and yes, camera fines will follow you home.

Take a minimum of stuff; do you really need that???  We rode out in Cordura (2 showers in France was all the rain we has) but took Kevlar Jeans (thank goodness – 30+ degrees in Italy!!) but in July, we will take summer air-flow jackets and waterproof over-jackets too. We’ll study the weather forecasts and unless it’s going to hammer down, will probably leave the Cordura at home.
Remember – book a reliable cat sitter. Ride on the right. Simples. Enjoy.

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You don’t need to spend thousands of pounds to tour – £850 and it did the job. Magnificently!.

All words & images are Copyright of Steve Toast Solomons . Use by request only.

Motorcycle Insurance – Pitfalls & Tricks

Things have changed a lot over the last 20 years with insurance companies – they’ve changed their rules and the way things work, and have definitely gone out of their way NOT to issue a simple, bullet-point update annually telling you how they’ve updated their rules and meanings – instead, they’ve left it up to you to read through the endless mind-numbing small-print gobbledygook where even there, they’ve managed to squirrel things you actually want to know, well out of site.
Allow me to elucidate a little… Insurance Companies? Think Mr Burns from Matt Groening’s ‘The Simpsons’, rubbing his hands together as you hand over your cash. “Excellent”. He’s totally nailed it, has Mr G…

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©Matt Groening

We’ll get to their tricks a bit later, lets start with you, your policy, and what you’ve said to get it:

Filling in the quotation forms on line.
Don’t say you have a garage if you don’t – if it gets nicked from outside your house parked in the road they’ll bounce the claim. It will only cost a few quid more so pay the bloody extra and be covered.
Alarms will reduce your policy <slightly> but they’re £350 – £450 for REAL ones (not rubbish ones for £50 off eBay that aren’t Thatcham / Sold Secure-Approved) and they only get you up to around £40 max discount on the policy anyway; a Tracker (like Biketrac, Scorpionauto etc) that has 24/7/365 cover and a dedicated control-room to contact will also get you a discount and you’ve actually got a better chance of seeing your bike again.

Not declared an accident? Even abroad? Something left over on your license? Asked for Domestic & Pleasure only when you intend to drive to work (even once!) or delivering Pizza to help a mate out? Using it to attend a training course for work? All these things void your policy.

DON’T TELL LIES – It’s simply NOT worth paying for insurance that isn’t going to cover you if & when some uninsured person in an unregistered car pulls out in front of you and writes your bike off and breaks all your bones keeping you off work for several months. If you’ve lied on your Insurance Quotation forms they will find out and suddenly your fully-comp policy is toilet paper.

Any changes to the motor vehicle? They mean just about anything from a nut and bolt upwards not supplied by the manufacturer… If you enhance your vehicle – by, say, upgrading the paintwork, changing the wheels, posh seat, bigger screen, different handlebars, lights, trim, all these things have a bearing; they make the vehicle more attractive to thieves therefore would incur a higher premium because of the extra risk. Didn’t declare them? Your policy can be voided!

Upgraded your exhaust? Whether a slip-on end can or a full system, high-flow air filter, any tuning work all go towards making your vehicle faster therefore more dangerous therefore would incur a higher premium because of the extra risk. Changed your calipers for a different make? Changed the lights, fitted a chopper frame? Didn’t declare them? Your policy can be voided!

A2 License but no 47KW Power restrictor kit fitted and documentation to prove (Stamped by fitting workshop) ? Void, mate…

Who is insured to ride? If you only put you on the policy, only you can ride; Someone else who has their own insurance that covers them to “drive a motor vehicle (of a similar type – car for car, bike for bike) not belonging to them or hired to them under a higher-purchase agreement” can ride your  bike (with your permission) but whatever you believe – they will only be covered for 3rd party risks – not damage to your bike and not theft of the vehicle. And you can only drive ‘the vehicle you’ve insured’ unless you have the “drive other peoples vehicles” attachment to your own policy. Clear & simple. Not all policies offer this simple service, so you need to check.

Now, when your documents arrive, read it thoroughly! I personally have had insurance brokers play the naughty game where they change details you give them (in my case my leaving off my heart problems) in order to get you a better quote and win your business. Really! I’ve also heard of leaving off endorsements too – this is why you need to check the documents thoroughly!
But when claim time comes, and they go through everything in order to find a way not to pay out on your claim, this rears it’s ugly head and BINGO your policy is Voided and you’re suddenly liable for everything.

Like when you have an accident and the insurance assessor comes out to visit your bike, and Oh, Look! Non-standard exhaust, non-standard tyres (from the manufacturer’s recommendation specification) fairings removed and street-fightered,  (etc etc) none of which was declared by you to the insurance company after you did it so your policy for your ‘standard bike’ is now Void! They won’t pay out.

REMEMBER THIS – if you’re intending to ride another bike on your “ride other bikes” section of the policy then THAT BIKE MUST BE INSURED “IN ITS OWN RIGHT” or your policy IS NOT VALID – that’s the way it works – so if your mates R1 want’s taking to the MOT shop you CAN’T use your policy’s “ride other bikes not belonging to you” if your mate has no policy in force on his bike. Pure and simple. Or I’d have one bike and my wife would have ten others and my insurance bill would drop considerably.

Things to know (1) if you haven’t got pillion insurance NOBODY can pillion – even if they have their own bike policy, entitling them to ride your bike and they HAVE their own pillion insurance – It’s NOT VALID on your bike because Your Bike doesn’t have pillion insurance itself. Crazy, but TRUE. If a mate with “ride other bikes” cover is riding your bike he cannot take a pillion if YOU don’t have pillion insurance on your policy – it’s something to do with ‘third party’ cover rules.

Things to know (2) if you’ve got a load of accessories on it (three-box luggage, sat nav, Phone is a holder etc) you’ll most likely find NONE of this is covered UNLESS you Specifically took insurance out to cover it and even then they may not pay out for new if yours was ten years old. And you’ll need receipts. You need to get all the ‘removable accessories’ covered – probably separately – and check the small print about what’s really covered and how much for.

Things to know (3) – your bike must have a current MOT for your insurance to be valid in cases where it is on the road; If it’s sorned-off-road and gets nicked from behind your house, that’s different, but if it is being ridden on the road make sure your docs including your MOT and driving license (they only last 10 years) are all valid and the bike is up to spec – or you’ll risk invalidating your policy.

What Can I Do To get The Best Payout? This can really make a difference if you have a prang; for instance, if you’re riding at dusk on a black bike with black clothing, trainers  jeans & a denim jacket, and a black visor with no lights on, you’ve gone out of your way to make yourself as invisible as possible and not taken every precaution against injury with P.P.E. (personal protection equipment) so – believe it or not – the insurers will reduce your payout as you haven’t done everything you can to make yourself stand out and dress as safely as possible. So, Armoured clothing, MOTORCYCLE Boots, (not the new fashionable ankle boots that don’t protect your ankles!) Hi-Viz jacket or jacket with built in reflectors, perhaps a Sam Browne reflective shoulder belt, Dipped Head Lights on, white or yellow helmet, Day-running lights and a camera and you’ve done your best to make Blind Betty see you thereby reducing the possibility of them docking you for being invisible.

Had An Accident? Get a Professional, Bike-experienced solicitor On The Case asap before info / anything else gets lost; this can make a huge difference and cuts through a lot of bullshit;  Document and diarise everything so you have records of everything – never give away the Original Recording of the accident unless it’s demanded by the cops but be bloody sure to copy it first! Keep all receipts.
You don’t have to accept the Insurance Companies ‘claim handler’ to fight your case for you and you should know that Most of them have no legal qualifications and only if your lucky will it be passed under the nose of a real solicitor for him to sniff it over for any liability to themselves… We use White Dalton because they are all bike riders, they always take calls and get the other side by the heels and hang them out to dry.

Speaking of colliding with the Great Unwashed in their Uninsured Unregistered cars… Have you heard of the Motor Insurance Bureau? This is fed by payments from insurance companies to assist people who have been hit by third-parties who don’t have insurance  / did a hit and run /  whose policy has been voided for telling fibs / have returned to their own planets and can’t be found – so you can contact the M.I.B. and see if you have cause for a claim for which you can get some financial redress from them.

Hire Bikes – not the great giveaway they’re painted to out to be: When you’ve been wiped out by Johnny Cager and Liability is not an issue, some companies will offer you a hire bike – telling you that the third party will cover it, you don’t need to worry, DON’T take it – you’ll need to prove that you HAD to have it to get to work and if it’s a longer than reasonable time you have it because the claim takes MONTHS to get sorted out, that several-hundred quid a week will build up and the third party’s insurers will fight it and you may end up giving up YOUR injury and YOUR bike payments to cover it.

Talking of Liability: – you’ve had an accident and the perpetrator is apologising telling you they’re sorry and they’ll be no problem with insurance paying for everything STOP!!! That story will change as soon as you’re out of sight and his insurance company will have witnesses that say you were doing a 90MPH wheelie backwards, naked, 3-up, sucking on a crack cocaine pipe leaving the perp no chance of avoiding you. So get witness’s names, house number & postcode,  & phone numbers, check what they saw too. Remember to get your phone out and photograph EVERYTHING and do a slow motion video of the scene, the driver, passengers, the damage to the 3rd party vehicle etc. Or ask the ambulance driver to do it if you’re not able to move,.

My son had an accident – entirely his own fault – and owned up – no point arguing, it was an obvious mistake. His insurance company’s person “who is dealing with your claim” was never available, never called back, never answered emails and generally just avoided him like the plague with every lie possible; Eventually the other (3rd) party issued my son with court proceedings for the damages to his car and only when threatened with legal action did my son’s insurance company FINALLY pop their little heads up and say, “ooh, sorry, this should never have happened, oversight, mis-communication, lost emails” blah blah and then paid the damages.
THEN came the Personal Injury claims from the third party (pumped up to get more cash – but can you do?) and again Court Proceedings Issued against my son and, ooh, surprise, No Contact from my son’s insurance company – so we had to appoint White Dalton Solicitors , Bikers themselves and bike law experts, who told us this was common practice for most insurers and especially MCE, one of many insurers they have taken to task MANY TIMES for this sort of claim evasion, to get MCE to settle the claim. To this day we don’t know what they settled for…

What’s the most important thing to the Insurance Company? Their Shareholders annual dividend! But… But… But… what about you? No, mate, you’re just a money tree to them. They only want your dosh and then as little to do with you as possible until next year’s premium is due.

And Speaking Of Next Year’s Renewal: Don’t accept the quote they give you without checking with Compare the furry animal, Direct Line, Money Supermarket, Mustard etc and ALSO the company you WERE insured with – and – unsurprisingly – their ONLINE QUOTATION will be lower than the renewal as well!

Selling your bike? You need to Inform The Insurer The Moment It’s Sold – even before Little Johnny leaves the drive because if you don’t, and he hasn’t got insurance,  takes it up the road and T-Bones a 40- Grand Mercedes, you’re insurance company IS LIABLE which means they will have to pay out – and then they’ll SUE YOU for the £40K which means goodbye house, possible bankruptcy and god -knows what else. It’s happened – there are now many documented cases of this happening so Cancel The Bloody Insurance. I never allow test rides any more, too dangerous even with the cash in my hand – matey boy hits a car, or worse runs over a kid, you’re insurance is liable and they’ll chase you for the money
“Oh, I got my own insurance, pal, here’s a copy of my policy – see? ride other peoples bikes” – except it’s an old print out and he’s photo-shopped the date or his name and now you’ve lost your house; Or you’re holding a fistful of fake bank notes ‘as security’ and he’s gone over the horizon on your £14K Pride & Joy…
He wants to try your bike out to see if he likes it? No chance. Go ask a shop.

I once sold my bike in a coffee-shop car-park (I’d met the guy half way having carefully validated him); after the buyer made payment by bank transfer – and it showed up on my banking app two minutes later, I asked him if he had insurance to ride it home as I was cancelling mine and he said his other bike policy covered it as long as my policy was still valid. No, mate. Coz it’s your bike now and you’re not riding on my policy’s third party cover – which isn’t valid anyway as you’re now the owner – (I’d had my wife on the phone to the insurance company cancelling the policy as he was transferring the cash). Not a chance I’m going to be liable for your stupidity, mistakes or misfortune.

Changing your bike? Selling it? making any other changes like adding a second bike? Expect any changes to cost you at least the Admin Fee (ranging from £30 to £70!!!)  and then if making a change more money for increased premium; Adding a second bike? “Oh, No, your current underwriter won’t do that but we can cancel this policy and sell you a new one starting now” (so no extra no-claims bonus for part year)  and you’ll get get bugger-all back for the part-year unused; If you’re just cancelling your policy coz you sold you’re bike expect to be robbed-blind when they hand you the bill… Bennett’s seem particularly good at this, if you read the angry customer sites about their cancellation policy. You naively think that if you’ve only used 6 months of the policy you’ll get half back? No. In fact you’ll be charged EXTRA for cancelling it + admin fee – didn’t you read ALL their terms & conditions small print? More here:

Angry Bennetts Customers

Got a complaint about an insurance company?
Think you are not being treated fairly? 
Get in touch with the Financial Ombudsman Services – they are there to sort out unreasonable behaviour from insurance and financial institutions who try and bully the little guy (that’s us, by the way) – so give them a call first thing. 0800 023 4567 – and be nice, be calm, they are going to try and help you.

Financial Ombudsman

So, there it is. You need to be 100% truthful, your bike needs to be what you say it is, you should wear decent clobber from lid down to boots, and a camera will help in the event of an accident. If you make any changes, remember to tell them! Oh, and if wearing a camera, be a good biker and stick to the flipping limits – or you’ll be gathering evidence for Uncle Bill and his son Bobby and they’ll use it in court to show how evil you are. And don’t think keeping your speedo out the shot will make any difference – they can work out what speed you were doing these days. And be careful what you post online too!

Be careful out there, please. It’s a dirty, dangerous game, insurance is..
As Yoda would say, “greedy, they are, tricky, they can be – be mindful of what you tell them”
Disclamier:
I’m not a qualified insurance agent; I’m not a solicitor; I’m first & foremost a life-time biker, ex-bike courier, ex- motorcycle trainer, retired driving examiner, who, over the last 40-odd years, has become totally disillusioned and disgusted with the way Insurance Company’s flagrantly and greedily rip-off of their customers and their terrible and ever-worsening customer service; The amount of money they charge for cancelling policies, and admin fees every time you call them up is outrageous; It’s about time somebody gave them a good swift kick up the backside; they’ve got it all their own way now and if you let any i go un-dotted or fail to cross any t they are 100% merciless is their approach; but you try and get a claim sorted out and suddenly they are harder to contact than you uncle who won the lottery.  I think we are due a bit of parity in the customer service stakes. I advise you to record all your conversations. You never know when you might need it! eidence. TTFN…

The Great UJM Hunt – Universal Japanese Motorcycle

Long and torrid has the debate been about the UJM; I don’t know who coined the phrase, but it’s been in use for as long as I can remember; though old age & infirmity lay me waste, happily the mind is relatively sharp. Sorry, what was I talking about?

Ah, yes, indeed – the perfect all-rounder Japanese motorcycle. In 40-odd years of riding, I’ve come to understand one thing – you can do virtually most things on any motorcycle; some things, more successfully on some bikes than others. People tour the world on things like Honda C50 or C90 step-thru’s – it has been done – others have toured Africa 2-up on a CG125. Toured the world on a an R1 sports bike.  Some spend a fortune on HUGE GERMAN BEASTS and only as off-road as far as Tesco’s car park. The UJM is a bike that can fulfil most criteria to a reasonable degree – this could be commuting, weekend scratching around the country lanes with your mates, track-days, green-lane riding, shopping, touring, or even earning a living as a dispatch rider or riding instructor, for instance.

There is obviously no size limit other than what you want / can afford to run. I prefer one-litre-size bikes as they tend to take long journeys in their stride, carry two-up with luggage easily and generally live longer too. Yes, there are exceptions, and yes, different configurations, singles, twins, triples, fours etc, and over the years I’ve sampled a good many. So, what are the main attributes of the perfect UJM?

Cheap purchase price, a bountiful supply of second-hand spares (which means pick a popular model so there’s lots about in breakers, crashed / bashed / trashed etc for you to pick through) reasonable running costs (so no models with pricey spares) decent comfort and luggage capacity. I’ve gone through many periods of my life not owning a car, so the bike did everything – carried Xmas trees, lawn mowers, even an arc-welder once. I usually try and buy one with a decent hard luggage system fitted, like Givi, which gives me a decent platform for most things and the weekly shop – Supermarkets only recently started delivering the mammoth weekly shop so my panniers & top box carried the bacon home.

What have I owned? So, so many bikes… My search began back in the ‘wild days of yore’ when two-stroked ruled the highways. 250cc Yamaha’s and Suzuki’s smoked my way around most of England as a young dispatch rider. I then worked my way through a plethora of CX500 / 650’s, Honda revere 650 V twin (competent but BORING in the extreme) and onto Jap fours which the younger readers will not know the models.  Then graceful BMW K75, (hardy slug) a handful of older Guzzi V-twins came (and occasionally actually went somewhere – frequent owner input required!) 4x Harley Davidson’s (pleasure bikes only – too expensive to destroy on the daily grind through the winter).

My personal top four UJMs?? In reverse order…

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Bandits; There are SO MANY bandits around! 600’s and 1200’s, but although I’ve had a couple of 12’s, the 6 is the better bike; nearly as fast as its bigger brother, handles better, as is the fuel economy and general running costs; the only benefit of the bigger brother is more relaxed cruising and “Oh, I’ve got a 1200” syndrome. The 600 is a real scratcher, hence having its own race series (Formula Prostocks Racing Club featuring the Black Widow (exhausts) Challenge) and I’ve personally left a fair amount of foot-peg metal around the roundabouts of Milton Keynes. These can be a real find but some people want silly money for a 20-year-old bike; Front removable frame member can rot through dropping engine out… Great engine – if it sounds good it probably is; wiring looms tend to rot, but these are ‘parts-bin-specials’ and mostly over 20-odd years old so have had plenty of weather on them to ruin the looms with corrosion.

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Honda CBR600’s – again, plenty about. and that motor is unburstable! From early ‘Jelly Moulds’ to the last of the carb ‘Superlights’ (the last of the carburettor models) with the aluminium frames, these really are a bike for all seasons. They do have the odd weakness, namely the downpipes rusting hidden away behind the fairing where they are forgotten about and left to rot; Regulator / rectifier can fry – often because of rusty connection. But despite that one thing to look out for, an FX or FY Superlight is a motorcycle that will do anything and I’ve had two of them – and no amount of exuberant riding would upset them. Tons around, especially the older steel-framed models from about £800 in good condition, FX/FY from around 1400 in good nick. Perfect commuter / track day / holiday bike – even two-up. Buy a stock-as-possible one so it’s not been messed about with. Did a track day at Silverstone and it really put on a good show being thrashed all day then ridden home as normal after. With very bobberly tyres…

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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XJ900S Diversion. Strong as a tractor, built like the Forth Road Bridge, engine would last to 200,000 miles… At one time I had around 4 in the garage all with the same number plate and used whichever one was running as my dispatch bike… These haven’t been made in years, still, they have a kinda ‘cult following’ and really good ones can be had for around a grand; real dogs start at £200 and there’s usually bugger-all usable parts left on them; calipers are rotted to death, frames about to collapse at the top shock mount, which you can’t see until you’ve stripped half the bike down! Oil cooler pipes, forks, swinging-arm bearings.. So buy a good one! I’ve not track-day’d one but did take one to Santa Pod raceway for my slowest ever run up the strip.

The Ultimate UJM is the Fazer 1000. 2000-2005 FZS1000 Fazer.West Country Tour (4)

For those of you not in ‘the know’, the original, or ‘Gen 1’ as its known, Fazer was derived from the R1; They took the engine, re-tuned it for less top-end and more mid-range; the upshot of this is a bike that will upset R1 owners off the line as the better mid-range helps you get going. Sure, when you get going in second gear, expect the little screamers to be drawing along-side; from then on they’re pretty matched to 110-odd. The Fazer tops out about 165. So, it’s fulfilled the road racer role and I know several people from the Fazer OC who regularly do track days on them and these handle fabulously. Add on the full Givi luggage kit and you’ve got a grand tourer which will munch autobahns and is very comfortable all day long. Put my money where my mouth is? I’ve owned four and my wife is currently on her third, a MINT 11K miles model she picked up for a measly 1700 quid two weeks ago. Who says there aren’t any bargains out there?

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So does it fulfil all the other UJM requirements? I’ve taught people to ride (using one as my instructor bike – so comfy all day) for a couple of the 5 years I taught, dispatched on one, rode to work at a factory in the snow all through the winter (when my boss couldn’t get in to work in his BMW), did my shopping and just about everything else on it.

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WHY are they not as popular as bandits? It’s all in the name – if you literally swapped the names around, this one would have been the better seller. It’s lighter, faster, more powerful, handles way better and uses less petrol. The same as the FZS600 Fazer and the 600 Bandit – the Fazer will absolutely nail the bandit every time. The 600 Fazer is one of the most underrated motorcycles ever. It’s all in the name; in much the same way that some people HAVE to have a 1000 as the stigma of having a smaller-engined bike makes them feel inferior. Ridiculous. Are they tough? Well, the silver one hit 97K miles before the gearbox locked up, but I have to admit it lived a ‘very harsh lifestyle’ as you can clearly see. I took my wife’s new one out today to get new tyres fitted ready for our holiday; such a thrill to ride! It’s a sit-up sports bike, willing you to twist the throttle and push it hard into bends. How could I say no?

There are a lot of people who will have a different opinion of what bikes they’d pick, and a lot of them may well be valid; especially some of the 600cc range; Fazer 600’s (a worthy mention too) ER6’s, SV’s, CB600f’s, the list could be endless, but these are mine. And the Ultimate UJM is the Fazer. You can read more about the Fazer in my blog dedicated to it. Ride safe.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Smart Motorways?

Been on the motorway recently? It’s always been scary, and now, thanks to the massive investment of your hard-earned (but, it seems, easily squandered) tax money, it’s now even more scary because they’ve effectively made it far more dangerous. How did they spend the money and manage to get it so wrong? Makes you wonder if the people deciding on these new ideas even drive a car…

In an effort to control the flow of traffic at busy times, they decided it would be a great idea to slow all the traffic on the motorway down during peak times, but did nothing to reduce the amount of traffic joining; this led to the obvious situation that the traffic that was already on the motorway took longer to clear leading to a build up of traffic. Really? They really didn’t work out that if they made the existing traffic take longer to clear by slowing it down that it would mean more residual traffic would be around as peak traffic joined in?

The other consequence of reducing the speed limit and then putting cameras every few hundred yards means everybody spend most of their time watching their speedometers to avoid speed infringement and the inevitable fine, so spending less time on watching the traffic; ever driven through the 50 MPH road works? Three lanes all travelling at the same speed, roughly a car length apart, truck by your door, it’s not fun at all. And you can’t move on away from them because you’re all restricted to the same speed.

In an effort to add another lane cheaply the wonderful people at the Department of Transport thought it would be a great idea to use the hard shoulder as an extra lane – mainly in peak time but also in times of heavy congestion – which on some motorways is most of the day – so when there is a break-down there is no place to pull up without the inevitable risk of someone ploughing into your car – which has been happening all too often.

This hard shoulder usage has led people to be confused about when they should or shouldn’t be using the ‘hard shoulder’ for general driving – plus the signs telling you whether or not to use it are only in English – and with the huge numbers of foreign drivers in car & trucks using our road system this leaves a lot of people who have no idea whether or not they are supposed to be using it or not.

Finally, add in the new speed cameras – on the side of the gantries as opposed to above each lane – which are supposed to be super-accurate – and will be on 24/7 to catch anybody daring to trip over the posted speed limit, so even more drivers will have to keep more than one eye on the speedo, so less on the road ahead.

If they really wanted to make a difference the best thing they could have done was to employ LOTS more traffic cops to keep an eye on the traffic, pull people up for tailgating, giving out educational tickets for that and other minor offences, and the presence of the patrol cars always has people driving slower and well-spaced. Don’t believe me? See for yourself – if you can find a cruising police officer to watch, because with the cut backs to the police forces there are fewer and fewer. Cameras don’t stop all the poor driving and minor offences, that a cruising copper does. All they do is make people speedo-watch and cause accidents. Which government ministers had shares or directorships in the companies that supplied and installed all that smart-motorway big-brother junk? Quite a few, I bet.

I once participated in a trail for a ‘new style’ motorcycle test, and the Transport Research Laboratory sent a girl up to monitor and report on the trials – she told me she didn’t ride a motorbike, hadn’t had a driving licence very long and this was the longest journey she had ever done (her home in Oxford to the Driving Standards Agency (as was) head office at at Cardington, Bedford) and then spent most of her time chatting with her boyfriend who had come with her her and looking at facebook on her phone.

Makes you wonder if the people deciding on these new ideas even drive a car…

Motorcycle Security – How To Keep You Bike

Motorcycle Security – it’s a huge subject, and a huge problem. And, potentially, answerable. There are generally two basic kinds of thieves, and there measures you can take to oppose both kinds, and hopefully, out-fox them.

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The first kind are the local yobbos, local scum who just want to steal your pride & joy so they can either go off-roading, baiting the local police (who, here in Buckinghamshire, are not allowed to pursue them in case the poor little mites fall off and get hurt) or want bits off them; these are low-level criminals and go equipped to steal, but aren’t impossible to beat. They go equipped to steal with bolt-cutters, battery-operated grinders, club hammers, 5’ scaffold tubes (for busting steering locks) and wire cutter for alarms.

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Then there’s the steal-to order crowd, who do their homework, target your bikes by internet bike searches (and gleaning where you live from your adverts & pictures – especially when you have your other bikes in the background- DUH!) and some of these get their info from unscrupulous people with access to records in dealerships who supply them with owners info; they are sophisticated, know what they’re up against and are as quiet as mice. They carry all the above equipment plus house-breaking to get keys and alarm fobs. They have nondescript vans with false. Cloned number-plates for loading your bike into. And some are as bold as brass, pulling up next to bike parks and just lifting your bike straight in.

Let your motto be this:

“I’ve made it too much like hard work, there’s an easier one somewhere else”


Garages / Sheds:

Let us tackle your bike parked at home first. If you have a garage or shed, it may supply a nice warm environment to keep your P&J in but unless you’ve made it bullet-proof, all you’ve done is give the criminals a nice, quiet, not-over-looked place to work on your bike and whatever locks you’ve fitted. Add to that any tools in there that might aid them, you’re practically giving it away. Standard up & over door? I can open it silently in 10 seconds. Wooden double doors with Yale lock or one hasp & staple with big padlock? 20 seconds. Plain wooden side door or, even worse, windows? Too easy. No matter how many locks on the bike inside, once in the thief can work in private and remove them. Same goes for round the back of the house, too. Non-overlooked parking is a thief’s dream. Buildings have to be impenetrable or they are a liability. Plastic roof? Cut a big hole silently with a gas-powered soldering iron in three minutes. Wooden lean-too conservatory at the back of the house? Bad news for you. Polycarbonate or acetate windows? Might was well leave the door open.

So you’ve spent £10K on a bike, spend some proper money on making the hinges and locks secure on the doors; fit extra locks and extra metal to bolster wooden doors, and stiffen metal doors. Make access to the garage by only one door and then the other door can be made impenetrable from the outside with drop-in bars top, middle & bottom locked into place with big padlocks. Alarm both doors with a hidden, key-operated switch on the outside well away from the door. Battery operated (bike batteries hooked onto an Optimate are brilliant for this) hooked up to half-a-dozen old car horns placed by the doors. Posh movement sensor alarms as a back-up. Make sure they can’t get in the roof, either. Razor wire strung across the beams if it’s at all vulnerable, wired together as a net. Rods welded across windows onto a metal frame bolted to the wall. Always weld nuts onto bolts so they can’t be undone. Local metal workers will make these for very little money.

Outside your house:

Need to park it outside? I always park wherever it is easily overlooked by neighbours, pedestrians and the general public; they may not get involved, but even the hardest crim is worried about someone dialling 999 while they’re beavering away at your locks & chains. My bikes are parked on my short driveway, overlooked by my security cameras and attached to ground anchors. They have disc locks, padlocks and chains between bikes so they’re chained together too; I use several different styles of chain, thick wire loops and different padlock styles. And right under my nosy neighbour’s windows. I have warning signs so they know the minute they’re in the streets they are on CCTV. Don’t ‘park it round back so none can see it’ coz the scum know it’s there and you’ve given them a nice quiet place to work on it. Bike covers (especially locked on with wire loops etc) add another layer of pain-in-the-arse for the thief too.

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind Is Total Rubbish.

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(Image courtesy of mammoth locks)

At work, or at the shops:

From petrol station forecourts or anywhere, like popping into a kiosk to grab a drink, I never leave my bike without the steering lock on – minimum. If I’m getting off the bike, the steering lock goes on straight away. I also have a hidden cut-out switch for the ignition so it won’t start even if they screw-driver the ignition lock and snap the steering lock. If I’m going to be out of sight for more than a minute, I use the biggest Oxford Boss disc-lock alarm and also lock it to a big bit of street furniture like streetlamp, barrier or similar. And, always in the public view, never around the back of the shops, and I try and spot CCTV cameras and park in plain sight of it. At work, I don’t care what the boss says, I’m not parking it out of sight where criminals can play with it as much as they like unmolested. I’m fussy, I’ll always spend an extra few minutes locking it, so I know it’ll be there when I come back. Don’t give me excuses like ‘oh, there’s nowhere to carry a lock’ – get a tank bag, backpack, leave one at work, under the seat. Don’t leave things like sat-nav mounts etc on the bike. Top-boxes can be opened in seconds with the gas-soldering iron (Givi, kappa etc) and metal one just as easily with cutters. Don’t leave stuff in them! Don’t let people see you leave stuff in them!

Bike Alarms & Trackers:

Yes, they can be a deterrent, but, surprisingly, insurance companies don’t give a huge discount for have the latest whatever alarm fitted to your bike; It would have saved £25 on my policy, and would have cost a whopping £300 to have the latest kit professionally fitted by their alarm guy. And, when the alarm on my wife’s Fazer 1000 dumped me at work, wouldn’t disarm and kept screaming blue murder, my friendly, neighbourhood mechanic told me to look on youtube and see how to hotwire the alarm which took five minutes and required a ‘star’ driver (Halfords, under a tenner for a kit) and cut & twist two wires inside together to totally release the bike. Joke. And, nobody asked me what I was doing whilst the alarm screamed as I disconnected it. Superb waste of money, you’ll agree.

However -The best alarms will add time to the criminal’s job and can be very handy for short stays like at the shops where they can’t exactly start taking the bike apart in public to get to the control box; there are also trackers, for which you pay a subscription, and these are the business; I know a guy who had his Kawasaki sports bike stolen; it was lifted from his garage, with two disc locks and a ground anchor. The police tracked it to a lorry heading for the ports and when they stopped the lorry, found a container rammed with bikes heading overseas. His Tracking Device saved all those bikes; these are silent to the thief, so they don’t go looking for it and rip it out of the bike when they lift it. Sweet. Worth every penny.

Do’s & Don’ts:

Keys. Hide them! Don’t leave bike keys, spare keys, alarm fobs, garage keys, patio door, back door on ANY KEYS where they can be easily found; these days, with increased vehicle security which means without the transponder keys or alarm fobs, the vehicle won’t start, house breaking has become common-place and is the easiest way to access your P&J and simply unlock it, and ride / wheel it into the van.

Modern houses, with plastic door & window frames, patio door locks, are so easy to break into a child can (and often does) break in. and if you’re the sought who leaves a window in the toilet ajar, you might was well leave the front door open. The naughty ones will boost a small child in who will go and open the door for his mates. And if you leave keys in the door inside, that too is a great folly. House alarms & bike alarms that go off during the day and nobody does anything about are wasted money; if it doesn’t send a message to your mobile, don’t buy it. If you’ve got nosy neighbours like mine, give them your mobile number and tell them to call you if it goes off. You can get house alarms linked to CCTV that send images (probably of the cat climbing the drapes) and that style is a worthwhile investment. Hook that into the garage as well as outside the house for an extra level of security

(Images courtesy of ALMAX Security and Oxford Products)

Steering Locks, Chains, Wire Ropes & Padlocks

Most normal chains can be eventually be cut though – 36” bolt croppers will chomp through most chains, padlock staples included; battery angle grinders will kill everything. Some decent padlocks (and by decent, I meant £80+) can be a harder job, allied to hardened chains (like the ALMAX) which come with the Sold Secure & Thatchem ratings will withstand attack for quite a lot longer. Again, not impenetrable, and freezing some case-hardened chains & locks with freezing spray and whacking the hell out of it with a big club hammer will see it shatter. I’ve seen it done. Noisy, but in a nice garage, who is going to know? Wire ropes come in many sizes; these can be cut through too, but thick ones can take some munching through. Steering locks can be snapped by kicking the end of the handle bar, or sliding a putlog over the end of the bar for leverage. Key barrels can be pulled easily with a slide hammer, then you simply use a screwdriver to switch it on. If it’s got something like Honda’s H.I.S.S. immobiliser system, it still won’t start, so expect it to be torched like they did to my colleague’s bike.

But, the more money you invest, the less likely they’ll

get away with your bike, and THAT is the target!

So, beef up your garage; beef up your bike security; and, MOST OF ALL, beef up your attitude. You can’t be with your bike all the time, so make it bloody impossible to steal. Remember the motto.                       Happy riding.

Advice given freely. Just ask.

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The Black Art Of Not Being In The Wrong Place

How many Youtube and TV crash show videos have you seen of drivers knocking off hapless bikers at junctions, changing lanes on dual carriageways and motorways, pulling out from parking spaces and so on? Hundreds? Thousands? Why is that, do you think? Wrong time of the month? Just unlucky?  The colour of their bike? Shouldn’t bother buying lottery tickets? No, seriously, its just two things – poor hazard perception skills and poor positioning. Not to mention car drivers are useless. All very funny until its you or a loved one or a mate flying through the air.

For motorcyclists, one of the aspects of hazard perception, (HP from here on) itself the art of seeing potential and developing hazards and taking appropriate action to avoid them, is positioning. Whether it is approaching side roads or junctions the place you are can define the outcome of every situation.

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Position, Position, Position.

The problem is that every situation is different and each one requires instant and on-going analysis and assessment, because there are so many variables; road surface, street furniture, vehicles approaching from behind and in front, from other roads, speed of everyone, pedestrians, animals, lighting, even the weather. Why? because if you forget even one of these factors, your evaluation can be off just enough to cause an accident.

Riding a motorcycle like a pro is easy; it requires 100% concentration 100% of the time. Most car drivers, for instance, when driving down the motorway (where they possibly drive the fastest of their lives) mainly concentrate on the car in front. Maybe two cars, if we’re lucky. Or, more likely, facebook or twitter. The pro driver is watching the traffic as far as they can see, in all lanes, by adjusting lane position and the gap between themselves and the vehicle in front of them; using  all  their  mirrors, they’re also aware of the traffic behind in case they has to slow down, watching for gaps ahead that can allow some idiot to change lane because they think it’ll gain them 10 foot, which will cause a ripple as everyone behind brakes. They’re not updating facebook, not videoing the traffic holding their mobile, not doing their make-up. Hopefully! They’re  using 100% of their skills resource to monitor everything and be aware of anything that might happen.

The pro biker is using all the same skills, but he has two big advantages; most bikes have a higher seating position than your average car driver, so his field of vision is much better; he can also move about within his lane, providing he takes all the necessary observations. This means that he’s also planning exit strategies if the traffic flow suddenly stops because some dufus gets it wrong; and with the huge number of major accidents that occur everyday on this country’s motorways, the odds are on that you’ll meet one someday.

So, how does positioning help you out there in the non-motorway world? Imagine you’re driving down a main road with roads joining from either side; there are trees, lamp posts, benches, flower-troughs, pedestrians, road-sign poles and shop signs on the pavement between you and the side road. This means any driver approaching your main road from the side will easily lose you behind one, or more of these view-blocking items. So, by moving your bike around so you can see the driver, you improve your chances or them seeing you. Of course, there are no guarantees that they will or even register you’re on the planet, so you’ll still use all the other precautions like slowing a little, covering the horn & brake levers, perhaps even dropping a gear for better engine braking and control, checking mirrors for other traffic that may reduce your avoidance options.

Roundabouts on dual carriageways are another major disaster area – we’ve all seen drivers in the left hand lane straight-lining the roundabout, not observing lane discipline and driving around the roundabout as they should. Infuriating, frustrating and potentially deadly; the answer is amazingly simple – KNOW that the driver is an idiot and DON’T be there when he does it; So, regulate your approach to either enter the roundabout after him or, preferably, before him and be gone when he gets there. There will be occasions when you’ll be stopped next to the car or van waiting to enter the roundabout, so get into his field of vision, make some noise, and if possible get going quicker than him so your’re a distant memory when he finally get going; the one place you DON’T want to be, when he straight-lines it is next to him.

Dual carriageways; reading the road ahead as you ride along, watch out for Mr or Mrs overtake sat there in the inside lane, gaining on the vehicle in front of them, they know they’re going to have to pull out to pass it at some point but do you think for an instant that they’ll be watching the traffic flow approaching from behind them looking for the gap in traffic to pull into to that will have the least impact on that flow? Like hell, they’ll wait until they’re up the tail-pipe of the vehicle in front then pull out in front of any old vehicle in the outside lane without looking or planning at all. So, what do you think your chances of not getting side swiped onto the central reservation are? Well, again, HP should have made you aware of the situation, so you’ll either have sped past long before the silly person registers their need to pull out in their one tiny brain cell or put yourself into the best position to avoid them altogether. Loud pipes save lives, so do lights on (including extra lights) and loud horns to make people aware you’re passing them can help too, providing they’re not listening the Ibiza Dance Anthems at 100 watts.

Traffic lights; with jumping red lights now a national pastime, I never move off from lights without checking for one of our local taxi or bus drivers trying to bend time. I’ve several videos of everything from these vehicles through to motor-homes and articulated trucks blatantly ploughing through red lights on my helmet cam. You really have to be on your toes around here; we don’t have many traffic lights in Milton Keynes but that doesn’t stop them being abused.

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Sunny Sunday in the Cotswolds

When the schools kick out you enter a whole new hell; from our local schools we get kids running (and sauntering!) across the dual carriageways, throwing their bags through traffic (and off over-passes) and I’ve had to swerve to avoid them on several occasions. Then there’s mum & dad, oblivious to oncoming traffic once their child is in the car and they pull out without looking. Why? lack of concentration. So, you need to be watching every car and deciding if they’re about to move off looking at the driver to see what they are doing, and perhaps adjusting your speed / road position to suit an exit strategy.

Road surfaces; or, lack of… Here in Milton Keynes we have some Monster pot holes, and areas of tarmac from dinner-plate to dining table were a whole layer of tarmac has gone leaving a coke-can depth of road missing. Stupidly placed manhole covers, too much white paint, and gravel around roundabouts and junctions that is never swept up as road sweepers are used less and less due to budgetary cuts to the highways fund. Add into the mix that Milton Keynes has the worst offenders in the UK for spilling diesel, dropping mud, sand & gravel from lorries, rubbish from skip lorries, (never travel too close to a skip lorry) and so on, you need to be aware of what you are asking from two small patches of rubber in contact with this rubbish. Factor in cold morning, icy roads, wet roads, therefore increased tyre warm-up times, cold brakes, your daily commute (which statistically is the most likely place to have an accident – within 3 miles of your house) needs full attention. Moving your bike about to benefit from the best bits of tarmac will decrease your chances of losing traction (or losing a wheel down a hole!)  but remember to check around that it is safe to change lines.

So, what I’m trying to impress upon you is this: the only person you can rely on to keep you safe is…. YOU. In every situation, whether it be from the above scenarios or something else, the exits from petrol stations, car parks, shopping centres, schools, colleges, pedestrian crossings, you need to be 100% on the ball continually analysing and updating, watching your mirrors and being aware of the road surface because only then will you have all the information you need to survive and you need to process that info constantly and position yourself for the possible outcomes you can imagine from any given situation. it’s all about HP, which is the art of staying safe. Please, do.

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See someone texting? Drinking coffee? Painting their nails? Do NOT get involved; they already know it’s illegal, they just do not care; Simple as that. If you start a row YOU are also at fault and I’ve seen (and almost been a victim of) violent car drivers who will try and knock you off. Don’t start rows, just get a bike camera and upload the images, Otherwise, YOU are liable to a road rage charge. Really. How would a conviction for that interfere with your life? So, leave them alone.

Motorcycling is brilliant fun, but like anything, needs to be done properly. Happy riding