Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Why choose a Hayabusa?

This is one of those questions that typically comes from those who've never ridden one. Or worse, from a non-rider.

Well for me, after starting on a typical learner bike, the trusty GN250 back in 1984, there have been quite a few bikes. Now I've ridden (or test ridden) a number of different styles over the years, never been a true fan of cruisers whether they're from Japan or the USA. Without listing them all, it's been a fairly stable trend of starting off with the GN250, then venturing up and down the ranks (cc wise) as and when the situation suited it. One of the bikes that spring to mind was an unfaired CBX550, maybe it sticks in my mind for the many clicks I covered on it, or for the spectacular fashion with which it poked a rod out of the block at speed in an attempt at bike plus rider self destruction.

Nothing to prove - it's one of those things I quietly say to myself when confronted with a situation which could easily go pear shaped if the next choice I make is the wrong one. Some of this might be down to my profession requiring a degree of risk aversion, but also the benefit of experience providing a calming experience in the face of a challenge to have a go by another road user. One of the definite downsides of owning/riding a Busa is that there seem to be plenty of boy racers/riders who see the bike itself as an invitation to a race. Damn Youtube videos... Not unique to the Busa of course, but this aspect in itself is mildly annoying at times.

The selection process that led me to my current bike was slightly odd. I'd been on my previous bike (GSX750F) longer than usual (average being maybe 3 years) and the what's next thought had been floating around. With thoughts back to an XJ900 that I'd had briefly some years back, I sketched a list which read ST1300, FJR and Concours. The first two seemed a little outdated and the Concours I just couldn't get happy on, afterwards I realised some of the behaviour I was unhappy with was just down to the 190/50 rear tyre making the bike reluctant to crank into a corner...but anyway. Looked a little closer at the ZX14 and the Hayabusa. Both bikes could be accused of being ego boosters, and more than a little insane in the wrong hands. What both had in spades was easily useable power/torque and thus the ability to cover distance, at pace and in relative comfort.

I ended up picking the 2013 Busa when the update was announced. Ok, Brembo brakes and ABS hardly make this an up to date bike when compared to the current litre bikes, but it suited my way of riding. Two and a bit years later and I'm not at all unhappy with the choice. The only irony in now owning a sweet bike, is the circumstances have yet again changed and I'm riding less than ever before. Maybe 10,000 clicks per year. Who knows what the new year will bring though.

Very few actually. No changes to engine/exhaust, well there's almost 200 hp so that'll have to do huh? Hate loud pipes anyway. Scottoiler to look after chain and sprockets. Double bubble screen by Godiva, ok strictly speaking not a double bubble but a touring screen. GPS speedo. GPS locater, which helps keep the wife informed of my whereabouts should the unthinkable happen. I ride a lot on my own, so this is a practical addition, albeit somewhat macabre in intent. Wired for radar detector, almost a must have for a career driver. Hot grips obviously. Ventura pack setup which seems quite practical. Synthetic engine oil seems a no brainer, keeping the change intervals the same.
Tyres is where I've deviated from standard. The stock 190/50 rear makes the bike feel a bit odd when cranking into a corner, so going to a 190/55 has made it more agile in that regard. The reluctant tip in is now mostly gone and the handling feels more neutral or natural, whilst still keeping in mind it's a hefty bike to start with. Was initially thinking of modifying the seat, but a couple of C1KC rides later I've shelved that desire.

Any thoughts of what bike next? Well yeah, the new FJR1300 looks like a useful update and it offers features that appeal. But for now, the bike I think of as my mistress is doing just fine thanks.

Funny how quickly an air filter gets grubby. No surprise that the bike feels a little more lively after receiving a nice clean filter...

Random ramblings from the practice front...

Well not random perse, but many weird and wonderful thoughts come to the fore when I go out to apply a bit of finesse to the aspects of my riding that are on my to-do-list.

So in the past couple of weeks I've been venturing out on short trips, as and when time permits, not to mention when the weather has been somewhat co-operative. The joys of shift work means that sometimes I trundle out early on a Tuesday morning, have the back roads more or less to myself, get home around midday, then snooze for an hour or three before going on the first night shift.

Anyway, positioning. What's come to mind is how my "comfort zone" seemed to get bigger when positioning takes on an intuitive nature. Not that I'm necessarily riding any faster than before, but the sense of being in control seems improved, if that makes sense. English is my second language, so at times my expressions may seem odd...

Gears and revs are another, albeit obvious, aspect that has changed. I've mentioned previously how my riding, especially now being back on a big bike again, had gotten rather lazy. Surfing on that wave of torque, then dabbing the brakes to set the corner speed and just wafting on using very small throttle openings. So combining positioning with correct use of gears has brought a slightly perverse sense of enjoyment back to riding. Now I haven't done anything with the exhausts on my Busa, and that might be just as well, for the way I find myself using lower gears to achieve engine braking on the approach to bends/corners, would possibly make it sound as though I'm qualifying for a street race. In simple terms, I find I'm down at least one gear compared to before. Now in all fairness, most litre bikes will have similar gearing to my Busa, so that's not a unique aspect. Bear in mind that third gear will top out north of 200 clicks, and the bike feels rather lively when running along in the middle of the rev range exiting a corner...

The commentary of hazards etc is kinda funny though, not that I'm adding anything to my riding here as such, for I also find myself commenting quite a bit on the actions (or inactions) of other motorists as part of this. If I hadn't already driven and ridden a few million clicks, this might be where I'd get rather miffed at seeing the "opportunities to improve" in other road users. But hey, my focus is for me to become the best rider I can be, so let's start with myself.

Overtaking was not a big deal to me, as I'd already worked out by means of self assessment, that just using the power of the bike would see me doing higher speeds than strictly necessary. So adopting the correct technique keeps speed differentials sensible, and yet I can still duck past slower vehicles with ease. Referring to sitting behind someone who's doing 75, with me in third, brings to the fore the old joke of remember to pull out before opening the taps...lest one becomes a bumper sticker.

In the run into the summer months, taking into account that I ride year round, it's very obvious when one encounters a part time or returning rider on the road. That tentative approach to corners, the tailgating of cars before overtaking, and any number of indicators of a poor technique. Makes me wonder how we can encourage this type of rider to seek further instruction/coaching. Also made me cringe when some years back, I mentioned to one of my colleagues who also had a bike, that I was lined up to go thru a set of courses with Prorider. The sheer derision I copped for doing some courses, when by his thinking I'd been riding for ages already, so couldn't learn anything anymore...wow! And all this on top of him sneering at me when I suggested politely he could do with some finessing of his skills, after all 2 spills in one year would suggest an opportunity to improve??

Oh well, the festive season will get into full swing in the next day or so, back to this topic in the new year.
Was cruising along Tourist Rd around the back of Clevedon and this vista captured my imagination. How long before we'll be riding electric bikes?

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Practising as per action plan - 14.12.15

So it's been almost 3 weeks now since my first proper assessment ride with Geoff James.

The action plan for me at the completion of this ride was:

1. Build the "P" in IPSGA into my riding routine.
2. Read up on JK's blog on positioning to assist with the above.
3. Read up & watch youtube videos on providing commentary as I ride.

So kicking off with putting the "P" into the correct context. One comment made was to stay in the extreme position longer, in order to maximise the view thru the corner, especially in right hand corners. Yep, in all fairness I'll quite happily admit to finding myself being a bit casual in that regard. One could proffer the excuse that it's to stay away from the extreme left hand edge of the seal to stay out of the stuff that usually accumulates there...but an excuse it would still be, for keen information gathering thru observing the road surface ahead would soon pick up a need to move over a little. Hopefully next assessment will tick this off as an improvement made.

Reading JK's blog, without going into detail, was quite a revelation for he holds nothing back. It reads like you're having a conversation with him, all the good and bad is just there. Can thoroughly recommend it from a learning point of view.

Providing a running commentary on what I'm observing is funny at first, but it soon distils down to essentials. Have done some of this at work when we kicked off the Smiths' system, and in essence I view it as being the same, now instead of 32 wheels there's just 2 though. I spent several days verbally expressing my thoughts and the actions resulting from observations. It's sometimes as simple as; bus joining motorway, increasing the gap to accommodate. Other times it might be; tractor oncoming, reducing speed. On the odd occasion it could be; car pulled over by HP up ahead, serves him right for being a plonker earlier, give short honk on horn. Invariably followed by a sly grin or wave by the officer. You've no doubt read the Road Code, well there's also a Code of the Road. I'm not intimidated by having to provide a commentary as I ride, but practising verbalising what I'm seeing and doing makes it more second nature, so at a guess will take less effort from here on in.

For me riding is not done for the purposes of commuting, well not anymore anyway. Since moving back to Auckland a year or so ago, now live so close to work that it would take longer to get in and out of my riding gear than the trip itself. Being a shift worker helps in this regard, so my little run about car now does the commuting chore. Seems an odd change, riding now taking on more a leisure activity, ok there will be times when I need to go somewhere and I'll take the bike when the car would have done. Those will be the days when I venture to see my folks who live in Waihi, and do so by first detouring via some back roads and then taking the long way home again, of course!

There is something about "getting out for a ride" that only another rider will understand.

But I'll keep practising so I can update my diary with more positive notes in weeks to come.


Thursday, 3 December 2015

The first "proper" observed ride 24.11.15

Met up with Geoff again at the same locale, BP on Bombay, and he walked me thru the theory on todays' focus. Positioning, using the SSV acronym, and some rough drawings on the art of cornering. Stringing corners together rather than treating a series of bends as individual corners, quite an art I'd say. Referred me to JKs blog and homework he did on cornering. Quite an intriguing read. But try it for yourself: https://nztwisties.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/the-missing-link/

So was any of this new to me? Strictly speaking no, but the difference is in the proper execution of theoretical knowledge.

Geoff also asked me to sum up the aim of IAM in one sentence. Mmmm, couldn't really do it. He summed it up as giving a rider more time to react. It says so quite eloquently on page xxi of the Motorcycle Roadcraft handbook. This phrase is now highlighted in my copy.

Strict adherence to speeds was one of my goals, along with actually using the gears properly to get away from nana braking. Yeah ok, not a real term, but I'd been using that phrase to motivate myself to stop the comfort braking and utilise engine braking by tapping up and down thru the gears a little more. I quickly found I was running around a gear lower than normal, just to avoid calling myself a nana. In reality I'd just gone back to riding the bike properly.

So speeds weren't an issue this time around, but I was still pulling up behind vehicles at junctions in a less than ideal spot. Again, I knew I was doing it, just not until I'd done it. The multi tasking aspect of trying to do several things well was showing up. So guess what's on my own list of things to sort before next observed ride?

The IPSGA acronym wasn't new to me either, but I obviously wasn't putting the whole thing into practice. Insert facepalm emoji here I guess...

The P in positioning is on the list to work on, Geoff observed me as turning in too early from a left hand extreme position when entering right hand turns. We discussed this, or rather I came up with what most likely sounded like excuses for not doing so. Something to work on.

Heading for Geoffs' suggested winding road section we encountered slow traffic, the perfect opportunity for another overtake today! Well, not really, for the tractor we came up on was looking like turning off. The ute behind the tractor had first dibs on overtaking, and here I am being torn between scooting past and showing the correct amount of restraint. Well I just held back. If Geoff was annoyed by me not using the near 200 hp of my bike to "make progress" he certainly didn't show it. A brief stop achieved a clear road and Geoff demonstrated clearly what's meant by extreme positioning.

Our debrief took place in the sun, and by the time we went our separate ways I'm sure our sweat was collecting in our boots. Kinda funny how the humidity had risen in advance of a tropical storm, which true to weather forecasters' form, was trying to make up its mind when to arrive.

The last bit I was tasked to work on was commentating, basically just verbalising my IPSGA is how I see this. Similar in a sense to the Smiths' approach to safe trucking.

So how does this IAM experience to date compare with expectations? Well, kinda hard to sum up without using my hands to talk... Fair is one word. Think of it as NOT taking the drill sergeant approach to pointing out my failings, rather coaching how not to repeat the same error. The importance of bite size learning, rather than cramming the whole book into my head in one sitting, was also pointed out in a positive manner. So yes I'm pleased I didn't sit back and allow "other life and work stuff" to take precedence. No shortage of enthusiasm coming from Geoff, and it's easy to see the value of practical learning/reinforcement/coaching of theoretical knowledge.

Now looking forward to meeting more IAM members in weeks/months to come. Being a shift worker makes this more of a challenge...

Assessment Day 17.11.15

Let's keep things light hearted but honest! So was I nervous? Not really, but I was keen to do well. Having conversed with Geoff James via email and on kiwibiker website, I guessed him to be easy to get along with. I was right.

Won't bore you with all the details of our route, but suffice to say it covered all bases. So what did I not do so well on? Ok, my head checks (or lifesavers depending on your country of origin) had become a little sloppy. Ditto for observing speeds at road works, no defence on my part to suggest the works were short yet the 30 km/h signs went on for what seemed an eternity. As a career driver there's no excuse. It also showed how casual or relaxed my riding had become over time.

Positioning for cornering was reasonable, but pointed out for improvement. Not surprising to be honest, for this was another aspect I could already admit to being in need of improvement before I went out with Geoff.

The funniest comment he made was about my "comfort braking" or just checking my speed prior to a corner. I was aware I was doing it, just not to the extent he pointed out. Thinking back on this afterwards, in absence of regular coaching/training, it's supremely easy to see how I'd gotten so lazy.

The return to a big bike had made my riding lazy to the point I was just loafing along mostly using the torque wave for forward motion, and in the absence of sufficient revs and thus engine braking, just dab the brakes to set the right speed for the corner and then waft along. Nothing like being
reminded of something I should have sussed and sorted much earlier.

Another aspect I was reminded of was positioning behind stationary vehicles at junctions. Again, as a career driver this is basic stuff, and yet on the bike I wasn't doing what I do at work!! Must do better next time.

Overall I'd say this assessment was a fair report, with encouraging words given by Geoff on the positive aspects and pointing out the areas needing improvement for my first "proper" mentored ride.
Needless to say my free time before the first mentored ride was spent working to improve...

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

My background and why the IAM approach for me?

For me, as a rider since my early teens, the desire to become a better rider was largely driven by my work environment. Going from a truck driver doing all sorts of freight, to taking up hauling fuel, was quite a shift from a safety perspective.

All of a sudden it's like being sent back to school, learning how to drive a truck "properly and safely" instead of just getting from A to B. Over time this had me examine my behaviour behind the wheel of my car, this then lead to me doing some defensive and advanced driving courses with various providers, but it took me a bit longer to consider my riding skills. I mean c'mon, I'd been getting around on two wheels since, well, ages ago, and had never been in any serious accident.

So I must be a good rider huh? Well, not really as it turned out. You see I'd been away from riding for a brief spell, the usual scene when one gets married, buys a house, examines priorities and shelves the two wheeled addiction for a year or five. Anyway, once back on two wheels, now with a multitude of courses done for truck and car, the focus on improving my riding skills to a solid standard once again came to the fore. To a point I can admit that due to being involved in hauling fuel, my safety focus was high, and one can't help but become more risk averse in ones' private life when trained to perform a somewhat challenging task for a living.

So how does one go about improving ones' riding skills? I read books, watched videos, went on track based courses, but none of this felt like a complete solution for my road riding. Came across IAM thru a course done in Wellington, and swiftly got hold of the Motorcycle Roadcraft and the IAM How to be a better rider books. Reading these two publications quickly made me realise nothing else comes close to suiting a road rider. Some family situation then developed and we ended up relocating from Wellington back to Auckland, and the riding skills improvement project was momentarily shelved. Maybe about a year or so ago, got into some email to and fro with Geoff James (IAM co-ordinator) and he suggested I look into taking the IAM approach.

Some of our plans in Auckland took a while longer to sort than planned, and so it's taken until mid November 2015 to get my initial assessment done, ironically by Geoff James, who first suggested I look into this approach. Have also had my first run being coached/observed by Geoff, and thought I'd start taking some notes, if nothing else it may serve as inspiration for someone in a similar quandary as myself to take action on improving his/her own riding skills.

I should perhaps mention that one of the factors for me taking the IAM approach is simple, I enjoy coaching up and coming tanker drivers in my line of work. The perverse pleasure derived from building confidence in someone else by showing them in simple steps how to make improvements, well I like to think I'd one day be capable of doing that on two wheels as well. But, and it's a considered one, shouldn't I first be weighed and measured on my own two wheeled skills before making the step to coaching others? So I can't help but feel the IAM approach suits my way of thinking.

So how did my assessment go? Well, simply put, I survived. Got given a ride report at the end with 3 key points to work on prior to my next "proper" observed run. After the assessment, I went out and practiced to improve on my key points, with mixed success. After my 1st observed run, the same deal, 3 key points to work on. Maybe it's because I'm used to having my actions assessed at work at regular intervals, nah it's mostly just a genial coaching rather than drill sergeant style of observing/coaching that takes most of the anxiety away for a new IAM associate like myself.

One thing I will share right away, as a reminder of what NOT to do. As soon as I got the two books I mentioned earlier, I tried to polish my skills by trying to work on too many things at once. Don't is all I'll say, break it down into small chunks and don't proceed to the next lot until you've got the first lot down pat. Jeez, I'd been working like that when coaching new tanker yankers (small steps) and yet here I was making this basic mistake when working on improving my own skills.

I'll leave it at this for now, and will work on getting a bit more technical as my journey progresses.