I’m still alive

In spite of everything, I’m still here and not dead yet. I meant to do and say so many things to nobody in particular. Facing the #deletefacebook movement I thought I’d poke this. A presence somewhere is important. Telling the world I’m still here, still waving a middle finger at my health and surviving the first sunny spring Sunday when so many didn’t. Saw the aftermath of a likely fatal bike crash and a very messy car crash. Thought I was first on scene to a badly wrecked car on it’s roof on monday night only to find a 6 inch stripe of police tape. Was not the first to make that mistake and apparently a panda car was on it’s way to make vehicle more obvious. Upset me some though.

There is nothing like being on a bike to remind me I don’t want do die on a very primal level. I almost didn’t make it through the winter. I could be cynical and blame it on focusing all my energies on having a car. The truth of the matter is more complicated and with the state of the weather i would have been more housebound than usual if I only had the bike.

I felt quite rusty going for a long ride on sunday. And weekend warriors blasting past on sportsbikes, only to wobble through corners all crossed up didn’t make me feel much better. I nearly came a cropper once or twice going for an overtake when the twat behind me must have seen my head move to check mirror and blindspot before commencing overtake, yet was alongside and dangerously close by the time I was committed to the manoeuvre, having made no such checks himself or bothered to indicate. And that’s not poor obs on my part, I checked my cameras after. I spent most of my homewards leg trying to stay off the main biker routes as I wanted to stay out of the stupidity.


The failure of the XV535

The venerable twin was doing well. I had been racking up the miles having moved out of the city into a small town in the sticks. I’d been changing the oil every 2000 miles. Fresh filter every time. No surprises in there. Using Motul 5000 or 5100 as it is a reasonably good quality semi-synthetic at a price i didn’t mind paying for frequent oil changes. I think i’d changed the oil about 1000 miles previously.

I was on my way back from the dentist, which is in a village on the other side of the city. There is a dual carriageway that is mostly traffic lights. I accelerate away from the lights, into second, accelerate up to 40 (that being the speed limit) change up into 3rd and then there’s a loud clonk and and the back and starts to snake like i jumped on the back brake. I pull clutch in and the bike stops snaking. It’s also not running. I thumb the starter. Clonk! Not good. I throw a left indicator on and let the bike coast.

There are railings along both sides of the road so i can’t pull up safely. I toe the gear lever around until i have neutral. The bike comes to a halt just before a big roundabout that i dont like. I hop off and push the bike off the left exit. More railings each side, single carriageway and now an imparient bus behind me. I finally take refuge in the corner of a bus stop.

I call my local bike shop. They advise me that it’s at least a dropped valve if not a completely lunched engine, but bring it in and they will have a look. I call the RAC, describe problem. They have a patrol out quickly. Apparently their phone monkey understood the symptoms to be a flat battery. Facepalm. Patrolman summons a recovery truck for me. I have much fun with optional RAC survey asking patrolman to check the oil on my bike. He can’t find the dipstick. There isn’t one. I explain the procedure.

There’s a little window there, hold bike upright and look at the oil level. As the bike has been stopped for a while it should be dark which means it’s safe to start the bike. Do so and bring the engine up to temperature, turn off bike and leave for 3 minutes, then check level is between the upper and lower marks next to the window.

He tries to hold bike upright and look in the window which is just in front of the left footpeg. He can’t do both so I hold the bike. He gets a flashlight out and declares the window dark, and the whole procedure insane. He asks me how i manage. I tell him i have a mirror on a stick with a light on it, and that if the window is dark there’s enough oil so long as i haven’t just done an oil filter change, which requires the second check.

The RAC man departs and the recovery contractor arrives, we drop the bike at the shop and he gives me a ride home. I get a phone call the next day. Engine is full of metal fragments as the big end bearing has failed and at the very least it’s new pistons, com rods and cranshaft as it’s a proper mess. Beyond economical repair.

I begin bike hunting. I sold the remains through a web forum. I got more than salvage value, but little more than the new exhaust i’d fitted 12 months previously had cost me. I could have made a little more parting it out on ebay, but my housing contract forbids me from keeping motorcycles indoors and i had nowhere to work outdoors.



Crash Testing

So I posted extensively on armour and luggage, and went on a nice little tour. I did touristy things like eat ice cream and take photos in scenic places. Then on my way home, some careless individual decided to drive into the back of my bike as I was stopping for a roundabout.

Damage to the bike was cosmetic, but everywhere, everything shiny on the right hand side scraped, and the rear fender, tail light and number plate took most of the impact. It later turned into a write off, an argument over the value and my keeping the bike as salvage and putting it back on the road after some very careful checks and much replacement of broken bits at my local garage.

Damage to me? Well I killed my leather trousers and the waterproof trousers over the top of them as they received a cut from I think the edge of a jubilee clip on a fuel line. I had a matching bruise. I killed a glove on the shellgrip, but that hand was fine. Damaged the spare visor I had around my waist. Minor soft tissue damage to my back. And I sprained my left thumb. Still in physiotherapy for that, and it’s a lot better, but for such a small injury it was a major inconvenience.

My kit did its job though. If anything on my right side other than my glove hit the road I didn’t notice. The bruise on my left leg is in the gap between the top of my boot and my knee armour. Typical. But the leather that was cut didn’t go through. The damaged seam on my glove didn’t rupture. All is good and both rider and bike are riding again.

Countersteering, tailgating and roadrage.

Been riding a lot in the evening rush hour lately. I hate it. For a start it’s more of a mad 240 minute scramble. But when there are things to be done things get done. I’ve noticed a pattern of behaviour I don’t like . It starts with someone following too close. It’s always a Ford Focus, driven very aggressively and following very closely, particularly through sections where the traffic ahead of me is behaving unpredictably and eroding my braking distance. At some point I will need to turn off and will check behind me (as if i can see anything beyond ), indicate, change my position in the road, flash my brake light, then break and change gear ready to make the turn, perhaps being ready to stop or indeed stopping if it’s a right turn across oncoming traffic. Shoulder check in the direction of turn, and start turning, a nice tight precise turn to put me in the command position in the road I’m turning into, without cutting into lanes I shouldn’t be in. Then the tailgater passes me beating up their horn. I had assumed this was mere rage at being slowed down. Then I saw this:

Yes it’s yet more of a bike riding towards the camera along a white line. What I hadn’t noticed is how far the bike moves away from the direction of turn as countersteering takes place. And so I have a new theory: Expert tailgater has forced car into a space with no clearance and is then spooked as the bike appears to move back into the space that was vacated. I’m not sure whether to someone who doesn’t get bikes the act of turning looks like a rider might be changing their mind at the last minute, or whether there was a serious collision risk. So how to minimise the latter? I guess i could refuse to give up command of the road, that is staying in or near the centre of my lane, until I am committed to turn so that the tailgater cannot squeeze into a space that is too small. Or I push right into the gutter or onto the centre-line of the road and slow down more to allow more room. It’s not an issue that’s in any of my books. I’m for the former, choosing not to allow following vehicles past.


It seems inevitable that the competent and honest overlords governing this metropolis would carefully plan their road upgrades. That our metropolitan borough lacks a city is the least of these flawed assumptions. The final stages of improvements on things that might happen if one described a roundabout to a child that had never seen a car are ongoing and as a result there are a combination of road closures, lane closures and traffic queues. Travel the short way between my three favourite locations wasn’t going to happen.

It did not help that I was getting over some kind of cold. The kind of evil man-flu that leaves the healthiest of our species immobilised for days on television and hobby leave. I did as little as possible for about 4 days and tried to avoid day/night nurse. I felt ok when I finally emerged mid afternoon on Tuesday, probably didn’t need the day nurse which gave me some extra bounce and took away the sneezing-in-helmet paranoia.

Determined to ride, I set off eastbound, found the location of my monday appointment, and turned north across the flat marshland, hoping to extract some fun out of the back roads. I found that many sections of these had been drowned in gravel as an attempt at surface dressing. Inevitably the first bit of good road I find myself stuck behind a volvo driver that does not want to be overtaken. Approaching the next village NSL becomes 40 and I stick to it, the inevitable Golf GTi owner is suddenly filling my mirrors before attempting an overtake into a blind bend forcing me to break, and the pass on the volvo in front looked like vehicular russian roulette. I push past the volvo at the level crossing, wait forever for a train to pass, and it is not seen again.

Late August early September dressings are best avoided if possible. – Invaluable advice on surface dressing

Coffee at the bike shop and buy some more long socks, decent long socks are great, baggy ones suck. Run some errands and hit Morrissons for petrol and shopping.  I take a different route back, this time waiting for 6 trains at a level crossing. Front of queue is L-Plate city, so I wait my turn, engine off side-stand down, for what seems like forever. I wonder how much it costs to sit in a driving instructors car for that long at a level crossing? I stretched my legs and made the odd mock dance move to the insanely loud music coming from a few cars in front. Barriers finally up and learners dispersing I anticipate a quick blast to my next destination. More of the dreaded road surface dressing. Fresh. It’s not to bad but I can’t help but think of the state of the north road, dressed a year ago and already a mess in the braking zones before speed cameras. Bumpy and treacherous. I arrive at my next destination and stop for a rest.

By the time I leave it is dark, I try a route across town avoiding the known roadworks and the fun to the north. Take a wrong turning at a roundabout and have the next few minutes of find a suitable stopping/thinking/u-turn spot being tailgated by a transit van far to close for comfort and filling my mirrors with badly adjusted lights. Apparently the driver was just desperate to get to McDonalds as opposed to following my random sequence of turns that got me eventually back on the right track. I chose to ride round the lake as it has streetlighting and I wouldn’t be caught out by unknown surface dressing on the south side of town. A valid plan, but one made of many roundabouts, and spoiled by more of the damned surface dressing, this time forming furrows along the roads like a ploughed field. The 535 copes well and is immensely stable. The lack of road markings, missing signs and roundabouts that have have crazy filter lanes and are designed to be approached in whatever lane the highway code suggests is a bad idea causes a few more wrong turns and the occasional multiple orbit of the roundabout. I had a Focus following me closely at one point. Only worked out it was a police car when I shook it off doing a multiple orbit of a roundabout. I think they worked out I was lost and not enjoying the gravel sea. The new road between Morissons and Tesco offers brief respite, despite the speed humps it is black and grippy. The other side of it is a mess though, the roundabout looks like someone threw cat-litter all over it, and the dual carriageway has yet more fresh surface dressing, massivley thick forming mounds and speed-humplike ridges, I try to keep my speed down approaching the last roundabout, I need to turn right, cars seem to have other ideas. Oh look, there’s even bigger piles of gravel in the braking area and thrown onto the roundabout and the numbskull shoppers go skidding about all over the place. One of them is getting out of his car to survey the damage, I give him a sarcastic wave as I leave the roundabout. More joy on the last few roads home as I realise the drains have been blocked up so more gravel can go down tomorrow.

It rains. I hear this is bad for fresh surface dressing. I have to cross town and manage to pick a roadwork-free route. It’s very wet, some of the roads are one big puddle, I’d hate to thing what the newly dressed ones look like. My fender extention keeps my coils dry, but my trousers seem to have not keps me quite so dry.

Aren’t you hot in all that…

Why yes, yes I am, thanks for asking. And it’s mostly nylon over waterproof membrane stuff and high-tech armour over the bony bits.

It’s been hot this week. 30C. Took hot. Extra fatigue and almost no energy. Activity levels minimal. A great time to have someone else work on the bike.

The XV535 is a classic air cooled V-twin design. Timeless and simple, there’s no fans, radiators or coolant levels to worry about. Air rushing past the finned cylinder heads provides adequate cooling in most conditions. Stopped at a level crossing in winter, gloved hands are warmed on the engine. Stopped for any length of time in summer and the most comfortable thing to do is turn the bike off and get off.

The kit works pretty much the same way, relying on high-speed airflow to cool me down. There’s vents at the thighs in my trousers, and at the wrists and armpits in my jacket. My helmet has an assortment of adjustable vents and the visor can be wedged open a little if the noise can be tolerated.

In weather like this, it’s bearable when the bike is moving fast, town and traffic are avoided if possible.

Today I had things to do. An appointment in a village the opposite side of town, and then dropping the bike off to have the brake caliper serviced and the (probably original) brake line upgraded to a braided steel Venhill part. I took the long way round to my appointment to avoid sitting in traffic, and the bike didn’t seem bothered about being ridden hard in heat. I manage to get stopped at every level crossing though.

On my way back into town the bike begins to splutter and lose power as if it were running out of fuel. Operating the reserve switch does not help. I stop briefly and the problem disappears. I push on and it happens again. The bike cuts out just as I pull off the road onto a farm track. I can hear the fuel pump chattering away. Not good.

I strip my helmet, gloves and jacket off, and realise I am soaked in sweat. The sun is ferocious and if I am stranded here it’s going to be unpleasant.

I pop the pillion seat off, out come the tools, and quickly the rider’s seat is off. I can see fuel in the filter and it looks free from sludge. Off comes the side panel. I unclamp the fuel pump and loosen the fuel pipe between the filter and the pump, petrol streams out so that’s not my problem. The hose clamp on the carb side of the fuel pump is a rusty mess and isn’t moving in a hurry. I refit the fuel pump.

I phone my friend that was going to pick me up from the garage and tell him the story, and then phone the garage. They are really busy and can’t collect the bike. They suggest the fuel pump might be dead, (it’s making noise so unlikely), reserve solenoid might have packed in (again, already stranded me, but I’m getting fuel to the pump) or a trapped fuel line. I contemplate an RAC experience. I’d rather not. I pull off the carb end of the fuel line between the pump and the carbs, empty. I turn the key, the fuel pump whirrs away and a pathetic dribble of fuel comes out of the pipe. Bike off, I curse as I suspect the pipe I am holding has a blockage and I can’t remove the other end easily. Then I realise the fuel pump sounds like it’s running dry. Then I see it.

The usually stiff and impossible to kink high-pressure fuel pipe I fitted between the filter and pump has softened in the heat and has a massive kink in it.

I replace the detached pipe and undo the pump, holding it so the inlet pipe is at a less extreme angle, and turn the key again, instantly the sound of the fuel pump changes to that of one full of fuel. I wrap the section of pipe that is kinking tightly with zip ties, and re-mount the fuel pump, the bike starts at a push of the button. I reassemble the bike and I am quickly at my friend’s. He follows me in a car to the garage.

Looks like it was too hot for the bike as well today, and the high pressure heavy duty fuel line was worse than an unreinforced low pressure motorcycle fuel hose. Nothing that can’t be swapped out once I get the bike back. Zip ties saved the day though.


Grand Tour

…in bite-size chunks

Where did Thursday go? That was the day of sleeping and otherwise not moving and general lack of function.

Rewind. It’s Saturday. Awake mid afternoon and the grand achievement of the day is fetching a pint of milk, some opportunistic bungees and selection of supermarket’s own brand meds and of course a toothbrush. Collapse on the sofa and watch last weeks’s Moto2.

Later that night I have more clothes than I need, blanket, shoes, tools and other key items arranged in carrier bags. My house-mate appears and wonders how I’m going to carry all that on the train. I stare at him until he works out that top-box and day-glo panniers are in fact motorcycle luggage. Creature comforts and all non bike stuff fits easily into the cavernous panniers, leaving the top box for tools, maps, thermal liners from my riding gear, bike cover, other ride related stuff, anything I forgot to put elsewhere, and a healthy dose of empty space. Housemate announces that he is Going To Bed, and I understand this to be a hint that I should cease noisy activities such as pacing up and down wondering what I have forgotten and more importantly what I can get away with not taking. I am shortly in bed.

6am rolls around before the lack of other people’s noise permits sleep, somehow my alarm is turned off rather than thrown at the wall and it’s nearly 11 before I am awake. Rapid shower, start grill, prod kettle, put thermal liners back into riding kit, pull trousers on, prod grill, pour coffee, check bike, strap luggage on. Cheeseburgers, breakfast of champions. Jacket, coffee, earplugs, helmet, gone.

The petrol station seems to have been the victim of people who cannot manage to wait for the flow of diesel to stop before returning the hose to the dispenser. I understand not squeezing the lever helps here.

An MCC has stopped for fuel here, they are not happy about the diesel thing but quite friendly. They appear to have several support vehicles loaded with kit, and have avoided loading bikes with anything other than the occasional pillion. All but one are gone by the time I start filling.

My last journeys towards York were to and from the riding test facility at Osbaldwick for my module 2 and the exploratory trip shortly before. Throttle wide open, hunched over the tank, going as fast as I dare in barely above freezing conditions, aboard a 125 that was allegedly capable of 65mph. As soon as I leave Doncaster the drizzle stops, the clouds disappear, and I find myself in overly warm kit, legs wrapped round a large source of noise and notably heat.

The A19 is a frustrating queue of cars too close to each other to make overtaking easy, held up by drivers cruising to the pub for breakfast, unaware of the fact the the 30 zone ended 5 minutes ago as they are still doing 40.

As the traffic breaks up I begin to make progress through it, I still have not got used to how quickly the 535 gets from 30 to 60 and thus past slow vehicles, and I know there’s more go at the twist of my wrist. Oncoming caravans all seem to have a power ranger astride a big sportsbike about to pop out from immediately behind them. It’s kind of tragic watching so much money being spent on bikes by riders intent on bending them.

The other side of Selby the traffic gets really busy, but most drivers seem happy to give an overtaking motorcyclist plenty of room, then I find myself behind a small police van. It is behaving oddly, like a friendly driver who doesn’t quite get bikes with a dose of pedanticity.  59mph and in control of the road where the good overtaking spots are and when oncomming traffic is favourable. 45mph and towards the gutter in the shit spots with hidden minor roads, or just as the upcoming curve or oncoming truck gets too close. I smell a trap and follow it as far as the A64.

The dual carriageway section is a high-speed traffic jam. I would rather not park that close, let alone ride head-down amongst a relentless flow of fully loaded and flat out Fiestas charging towards an afternoon excursion as if this were the last sunny afternoon ever.

A roundabout with traffic lights ends this madness. Only the approach to the roundabout is 4 lanes wide and every small car is in the wrong lane. Several bully their way past me on the roundabout. As a single carriageway the A64 is at least at upright speed, but nonetheless close, and the drivers of the small family cars that bullied their way past me aggressively block overtaking attempts. Evidently the dickishness of their driving is some kind of virility display, but ultimately futile. The sign for my destination appears, and appears to be a tight left into gravel strewn tarmac. Despite indicating early and flashing brakelights before slowing the bike down, my corsa-driving tailgater flies into a rage and beats up his horn button. I hate York.

claxIt is 15 minutes of wrestling for phone signal before I locate everyone else around the back of the site, I drag the luggage inside, and have just got the cover on the bike when the skies open with an almighty deluge. But I have coffee, and friends I have not seen in a very long time.

Tuesday. It is midday before I am functional, and I am grateful to be fed coffee and bacon butties. My clothes refuse to pack neatly, and the luggage is a wrestling match. I am grateful for the mini-compressor as the missing 0.5psi of air pressure is too much to bear. I take the liner from my jacket as the sun is ferocious. I finally leave at about 2pm, the A64 is much quieter.

Petrol station in York has been visited by the moron who should not be let near diesel pumps. A pair of riders on newish Fazer 8s are nearly taken out by tool driver, who carries on his phone conversation after he gets out and starts trying to fill his dirty white van. He is the kind of person that shouts down the phone. He does not work out why everyone in the petrol station is giving him some kind of stare.

The other side of York ring road is differently bad. A blonde in a Ford Galaxy with stuff dangling from the mirror and my car has eyes because I don’t use mine eyelashes is intent on driving 6-foot away from my rear wheel through roundabouts, not getting the hint of staying the hell away when I roll the throttle back on, and doing the same at traffic-speed once the lumbering idiotwagon has caught up. A dude in a Jaguar works out what is going on and moves enough for me to squeeze past, immediately taking control of the road again, much to the annoyance of the blonde psychopath, intent on following me through a bike-size gap.

The A59 is a scenic cruise and I resist the temptation to push beyond that, I take a wrong turn and end up in Ripley, only to discover the B6161 which is a well worth it, never completely straight mixing tight corners with long flowing sections and lots and lots of gradient. I spill out into Otley, beginning to ache and considering a comfort stop.  chevin

Up the Chevin we go, and I recognise what used to be a fantastic tea shop. The carpark is a dusty gravely mess and I am thankful for the easy handling of the 535. Of course the tea shop is now a restaurant and closed. I head on over the top of the Chevin find the pub at the top closed, and the road like a washboard. More so than I remember, perhaps I am just getting too achey. I get down the west side, and find an open pub, setting about a Pepsi with enthusiasm.

The last few miles of my journey take me through Menston and past where I took this site’s cover photo, it flies by, less daunting in the dry but bumpier than I remember and I am soon at my mother’s very stiff and quickly a heap in an armchair.

I am anxious to get home, so I leave the next day once my fiddling with my mother’s tech is done. In hindsight, twenty past five was not a good time to leave, the first ten miles are done in less than twenty minutes. The parts of the journey I have ridden before feel bumpier than I remember. I must be really achey. Then I hit Halifax, then Elland, then Huddersfield. there are some rapid blasts of dual carriageway between the traffic, and I can’t help thinking the road building has happened in the wrong place. I stop 80 minutes after I set off, having only completed 20 miles, at a Morrison’s of all places as it is the first place I see that has parking, coffee and a loo. The speed bumps feel especially evil. I wonder if I have a suspension problem with the bike, rather than just being achey. I kick a pannier getting off and notice how much it moves. I break out the emergency bungees and strap them down.

Comfort break complete, the traffic has dissipated a little, and seems heavier going the other way. The bike feels right now, and the roads smooth. Must have been the panniers. Probably yesterday over the Chevin too. There are lots of bikes in the oncoming traffic, which suggests I have chosen a decent road. Accordingly the A629 unfolds into a rapid flowing climb into the hills, punctuated by the occaisonal village. There is a smattering of slow-moving cars but the road is mostly wide with good opportunities to overtake, and I quickly find the roundabout near Penistone. I resist the temptation to turn right towards Woodhead Reservoir and turn left towards Barnsley. The A628 sweeps through a forest and the 40 boards are an unwelcome sight, but the corners are greasy and dark so this is understandable. Less than 40 minutes after I got moving again, I stop on the other side of Barnsley, another 20 miles covered, and change to my clear visor, and charge further down the A628. I meant to cut across from Goldthorpe to Conisbrough, towards my house, but there is a lack of signage. Rain hits just east of Goldthorpe, and I reclassify thoughts of cutting through Sprotbrough falls as some kind of recipe for dropping a fully laden bike. I am shortly at the house of the Henna-Haired Virago like some kind of homing missile. The bike is chained up and there is quickly rum. Actually going home can wait for another day.

I am considering the Woodhead Pass as a touristic diversion should I be feeling up to it next time I’m heading towards my mother’s.