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.


IXS Tromso Trousers

I bought a pair of these last October from my local J&S. It was the first major purchase I’d made from there, having started riding in hand-me-downs and some pricey Hein Gerike kit as money had become available, partly due to HG being the nearest store to me, and partly due to their reputation for decent kit. HG’s uk stores had gone bust over the summer.

My choice of waterproof trousers consisted of some beat up Bikers Gear trousers that had been thrown down the road and were up for replacement and some Frank Thomas hand me downs. I didn’t want another pair of Biker’s Gear trousers, they were cheap and did their job when I crashed, but the fit was poor, I slid around all over the seat in them, the waterproofing wasn’t perfect but good enough for a short trip, and I’d already sent one pair back as they fell apart in six weeks of riding. The Frank Thomas pair I have were probably top of their range when they were made, with waterproof zips and titanium knee armour (over the knee cap as extra abrasion resistance rather than any kind of knee-down type slider) and they were more than a bit big, they felt ok if I had a pair of jeans on underneath, but even with the thermal lining removed they were a winter only option. Again I slid about in the seat a lot in them, and all the extra padding and insulation meant I could not grip the bike with my knees well enough to feel confident in recreational riding. I think they might work better with a sportsbike where the shape of the tank helps to hold you in place, previous owner was an R6 rider, or on some kind of rolling sofa where staying in the seat isn’t an issue.

On a good day I’ll ride the wheels off my 535 so trousers that keep me in the seat are a bonus.

I still had my second GZ when I rolled into J&S looking for some new trousers, I think the rest of the kit I was wearing would have cost more than the bike was worth had i paid full price for it. Functional, safe mid-price kit. The sales assistant knew her stuff, she didn’t mess around showing me the budget stuff, sporty/adventure stuff, or eye-wateringly expensive but fantastic kit like Rukka‘s offerings. I tried a few different pairs on, and started asking about hip armour. I eventually chose the IXS Tromso trousers as the fit was really snug, there were internal pockets for hip armour, and the height of the knee armour could be adjusted. They look really plain, a few discreet logos, no random titainium bling or hints of power ranger, they’re just black trousers.

ixstromsoI bought the trousers and some forcefield hip armour, a few days later I rode out to Scunthorpe in the pouring rain. It’s a long ride on a 125. My feet were really cold and my fingers took some warming up when I got to my destination, but the rest of me was warm and dry. So that was the Mod 1 that I passed. I might tell that story another time.

Winter was coming in fast, I replaced the boots, serviced the bike, and enjoyed the fact that I was staying thereabouts warm enough. I note that the ankle-zip design of the lining made the trousers fiddly with high boots, and I had to be careful to avoid snagging the lining zip on the top of my very high boots. These definitely wouldn’t fit over tall adventure style boots, and are much better suited to wearing over conventional mid-height sports and touring boots.

I took a trip to York to find the DSA centre there. I don’t think my hands have ever been as cold as they were on the way back. The rest of me was fine, few days later my mod 2 is called off due to frozen roads, and I reschedule for the 19th of December. I’d put some ugly cheap hand guards on the GZ to keep the wind off my hands so I was ok cruising up and down the A19. Did my mod 2, no faults, think I was was warmer than the examiner, who seemed as impressed with how seriously I took my kit as he was my riding.

The next day I was to collect the 535, it rained like crazy. Here my kit came unstuck a little as I hit flood-water a little too fast on the 125, and some of the water splashed up and under my jacket and soaked into my trousers. More water drained down into my gloves. The lining did not hold onto the water, but my cotton underwear and t-shirt did, and my gloves were horrible. I put my t-shirt and undergloves in my backpack and insantly felt much dryer. Wet cotton is horrible. Riding the 535 on the way back was an experience and a half. The rain had slowed a bit but the roads were still soaked, loads of spray, my hands were very cold, and even restricted to 33 horses, the 535 required much more careful handling. It had better brakes, more engine braking, and bucket-loads more torque than the old 125, and being wrapped around the big air-cooled lump of an engine in the rain I felt toasty warm. Apart from my hands as there was not room to fit the hand guards on the narrow flat bars, this was quickly sorted with R&G heated grips.

Since getting the 535, the IXS Tromso trousers have been brilliantly warm with the linings in and the vents closed, to the point where I have not considered anything else.

The festive season saw more rain and I stayed dry when I rode. The image at the top of this blog shows the state of the roads when rode from my mother’s house to friends in leeds and arrived with a massive grin. A significant proportion of January was sabotaged by snowfall, and I didn’t ride on the snow covered roads. Then it thawed and I coaxed the 535 into life, pushed her up the slushy path to the road and set off to Leeds via Selby. It was an uneventful trip apart from trying to get the bike over an icy pavement into a partially cleared garden. By the time I was inside I was regretting the decision to wear army surplus thermal underwear as I was sweating. The next day I had an electrical fault and it was nearly dark by the time I set out home. It wasn’t frosting up or I wouldn’t have ridden, but the electrical fault meant the heated grips wouldn’t stay turned on, and my hands and upper body were beginning to get cold. Legs stayed toasty warm.

Roll on summer for comparison, and in reasonable weather I rode with the linings out, opening the vent zips when it was very hot, thinking they did nothing until evening came and suddenly there were cold patches. Still not the most comfortable thing to wear on a hot day, I’m considering my options for next summer.

I got to a week ago, not problems detected with the trousers, then I rode across town in very heavy rain, discovering a feeling like I had wet myself. It appears that the seam taping on the waterproof layer had failed at the crotch. I took them back to J&S on the Monday, and they were replaced under warranty by the Wednesday. I didn’t have to throw a strop, it was sorted effortlessly, so full marks for that J&S.

On the occasions I have ridden in the Frank Thomas trousers (when I’ve needed other trousers on underneath and during the warranty return period) it has become very apparent just how good the IXS trousers feel. They have a rubbery high-friction patch between me and the seat, and I feel very connected to the bike.

It’s a lot more tiring riding in other trousers, and anything that makes riding less tiring is an epic bonus.

When I wear out this pair, I will likely have another, they are better than anything else I have tried.

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.