november202820mcn20main20cropHello People,

I’m going to stop posting on this blog because I’ve started working at Motorcycle News. I’ll leave the blog up as it’s still attracting a load of people who want to read about the F 800 GS off-road and how to clean a helmet but I won’t be posting again.

If you want your fix of the latest news related to motorised things with two wheels, head over to the MCN website.

Cheers for all your support,

Sam

Sorry for the lack of posting. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement while working at Motorcycle News and part of that document said I wouldn’t work on any competing websites while I was there. I’m sure they didn’t mean ‘no posting on a silly blog about bikes’ but I thought it would be best to leave off posting for a bit just to be safe.

In any event not much has been happening on the motorbike front. On Christmas Eve an old chum of my dad turned up to say hello and show my brother and I a catalogue and metal plate thing from some motorcycle event that had been held in California. Once you see the photo you will understand why.

Look it's dad!
Look it’s dad!

I wonder if I can make it to the next one, I’ll have a dig around.

I’ve not messed around with the project motorcycles for a while now, mostly because I’ve been so busy writing and travelling. That’s a lie, the main reason why I’ve not been working on the motorbikes is that it is bloody freezing in the workshop. It’s too cold to be able to grip a spanner and so it’s not that much fun taking things to pieces to see how they work.
 
I need to get some sort of heater rigged up if I’m going to be in there during the winter months. I’ve heard of a ‘fair weather biker’ but is their such a thing as a ‘fair weather mechanic’? Although I don’t think I can call myself a mechanic of any sort really, I can just about take things to pieces, and put them back together again but actually fixing them, well it’s more down to luck than anything else.
 
All this means I’ve not been in the workshop very much over the past few weeks, I’ve been up in London a lot for work or if I have been here I’ve been chained to my computer writing. Which means the big, empty workshop has been left alone for a while and leaving any sort of cleared inside area on this farm is dangerous because the moment you make a big space in a shed it gets filled with a bit of farm machinery.
The motorbikes all squashed up, but why?

The motorbikes all squashed up, but why?

I had started to organise all the tools in the workshop so I could find things faster and then I went away for a few days to test the 800 GS and suddenly something huge and mechanical had appeared in the workshop.

I didn't even know we had one of these on the farm.

I didn't even know we had one of these on the farm.

This is what happens when you clean indoor spaces on the farm, they get filled. It’s like fighting against the tide, one made out of scrap metal. Thinking about it I should have cleaned out the workshop last, so that all these metal things that needed a home were already tucked away before space was made near the tools.

In more upbeat news Hugo at Classic Bike has said he would like a piece on the motorbike my Dad built so I’m writing that now and trying to arrange some photographs. Hugo and my Dad spoke  on the phone about doing a feature on the bike before my Dad passed away so I know my he would be very pleased that this feature is going to happen. 

Even more excitingly as a side effect of this blog I’m off to work at Motorcycle News for a bit. Yes, this is an example of blogging getting people work. I won’t go into the exact details of what happened but I’m really excited about working there.

I start tomorrow and I can’t wait.

med_motorcycle_skisPeople don’t often ask the question are motorbikes dangerous. Or if they do ask the question they just talk about motorcycles and don’t talk about other forms of transport or activities. The reason I mention this is because I often get ‘The Lecture’ and I’m a bit tired of it.

The one thing I don’t like about motorcycles (apart from the cold in winter and riding pillion) is The Lecture. The Lecture happens when someone you know finds out you ride bikes and decides to spend at least the next thirty minutes talking at you (it’s not a conversation) about how dangerous bikes are.

It’s not as if they are going to change your mind, and they don’t even pause to ask anything about your riding style, what you ride or even if you’ve had any additional training to do with riding. They just talk about injuries or people their neighbour once met on a train. I’ve not worked out how you reply to this conversation. Although a few days ago I had a bit of an epiphany, yes while being lectured. The next time someone starts up on this conversation bring up Skiing.

When I get on a bike I put on a helmet that has to conform to an exacting standard – if not a range of standards – and if it gets hit even once I have to throw it away and get a new one. The clothes I wear are armoured, again to a high government-set standard and my gloves and boots are re-enforced as well as armoured.

Before I even get on a bike I have to pass three tests, which are currently some of the most demanding in the world. These test require me to be able to perform a range of maneuvers including an emergency stop and also cover what happens in an accident and even some rudimentary first aid. And finally if I want to ride a motorcycle on the road I am legally required to have insurance.

Let’s look at skiing. There isn’t a test before you get on the slope, so if you wanted to you could just turn up and go down a black run. Most people’s idea of safety gear starts and ends with goggles to stop snow blindness and even though thousands of people injure themselves skiing all the time there is no requirement to have additional insurance. In fact most travel insurance companies won’t cover you if you are skiing.

So the next time the Lecture starts up mention skiing. Of course this only works if the person you are talking to goes skiing or knows people who do, but it’s a start.

Oh and ski cycling looks excellent, I’d love a crack at that although I think I’d rather wear a helmet than a leather cap.

Now before we get started on the important business of reviewing the motorcycle I should say I’m a little bit biased towards the F800GS. I rode one while at Simon Pavey’s off-road training school and that was one of the best weekends I’ve ever had, not just of riding bikes, but ever.

I’m not sure if this makes me terribly sad or just a little bit too into motorbikes but I think you should be aware that just looking at the bike, especially covered in mud, reminds me of good times. And yes, I’ve just realised that sounds a bit sleazy. At the off-road school I got to experience what the F800GS is like in the mud with proper knobbly tires on it, and I’ll put a link to that at the bottom of the page. This is a review of what the bike is like on the roads.

The bike, with a little bit of mud on it.

The F 800 GS, with a little bit of mud on it.

I tried to think of somewhere completely unlike rural Wales to take the bike. Something far away from the rolling hills and muddy tracks I’d been on before so I took the motorbike to London. In the rush hour. In the rain.

Since I first encountered the F800GS when it was parked up next to a load of 1200 GS motorbikes I always think of it as rather small, well perhaps not small but not huge. However when you put it next to most other bikes it’s size is fairly noticeable. It’s a bit of a giant, but in a good way. The only time that this became an issue was when I was trying to park the bike, although too be fair the panniers were causing most of the troubles.

The bike had the BMW panniers attached to it and they are big, heavy and waterproof. They are wider than the handle bars and after about ten minutes of riding around London I realised why you never see couriers with panniers, they only ever have top boxes. They also make it fairly difficult to park the bike snugly in the motorcycle bays dotted around London. On the plus side the can be removed in a few seconds with a satisfying clunk so once you’ve found a space you just pop them off and put the bike in.

The bike lurking in London.

The F800GS lurking in London.

The rest of the ride around London was fairly uneventful. The F800GS has lots of pleasant torque at low revs which means if you need to blip ahead of someone when the traffic lights go green you will. While it can be a little bit snatchy at low speeds once you allow for that with a bit of clutch work it’s great fun. It’s roll-on acceleration is really impressive so if you have to go from 30mph to 60mph it will get you there before almost anyone else.

The height is also an advantage, while sat in the seat you will see over the top of most cars and if you stand up on the pegs you’ll be able to see over the roofs of black cabs which is very, very useful. So useful in fact that they should include that in the sales pitch when selling the bike in London.

The next big test of the bike was some motorway riding. I had to go up to Silverstone for a work thing and then down to Devon. The weather report was awful with rain, vicious crosswinds and even a hint of snow. This would be a proper long distance test of the bike. I zipped up everything I could on my Tuareg suit (a link to the review is at the bottom of the page) and set off.

At 70mph the bike cruises happly, and strangely doesn’t seem to actually use any petrol. It has a specially programmed engine which tries to use as little fuel as possible and it really works. it’s amazing how far you can go between filling up.

Aside from the surprising fuel economy there isn’t really much else to report about the bike on long distance slogs and I mean that as a good thing. I travelled through horrible cross winds, had to deal with rush hour on a motorway in the snow and even a couple of slightly hairy moments when a hire van decided to change lanes without indicating or checking it’s mirrors the bike just dealt with it.

This glows orange at night which looks excellent.

The display glows orange at night which looks excellent.

That’s the overriding impression the bike gives, it deals with things confidently. Put the panniers on and you can cover vast distances with all the gear you will need without it getting wet and take them off and you’ve got a surprisingly slim bike that can slip through tiny gaps in traffic.

Even without the impressive fuel economy this would be a bike to consider but once you factor that in it’s something you really should take for a test ride. BMW really are ahead of the pack on this, I talked to a load of other motoring journalists about reviewing bikes and they said the top question they get asked about bikes these days is fuel economy.

So it’s stylish, comfortable, fast, adaptable and even suitable for when the fuel runs out and we live in a Mad Max style society fighting over petrol. in short it gets a big thumbs up from me.

Links mentioned
A review of Simon Pavey’s off-road school

An off road review of the F 800 GS

Review of Hein Gericke Tuareg gear

BMW F 800 GS

“Riding motorcycles only really becomes dangerous when you ride beyond your ability.” My riding instructor used to say “Well that and when some berk doesn’t see you, but you can’t do much about that.”

Since this was drilled into me and because I’ve got at least a vague sense of self-preservation (on motorbikes, anything else is fair game) I don’t tend to get talked into doing something I’m not comfortable with, well mostly. As part of Honda’s organised event at Silverstone there was the chance to do some laps on the bikes. The selection of bikes was, well it was a selection of different coloured Fireblades.

A Fireblade, in silver

A Fireblade, in silver

Now the Fireblade has a bit of a reputation, it’s almost given as the definition of a bike you shouldn’t get until you’ve got a few miles under your belt. So as I threw my leg over it I said a little prayer to Thor and Ogri and set off.

At first it wasn’t so bad, it had be beautiful purr of an engine that isn’t even trying and yet you are already going stupidly fast and like the CBR 600 RR it felt nimble and light the moment it started moving. The first corner wasn’t too bad either, we weren’t going that fast and while it was a bit cold it wasn’t awful. With the first few corners out of the way and a lovely straight ahead I thought I’d give the bike a bit of a twist to see what it could do.

My throat hurt, this motorcycle accelerated so fast that it made my throat hurt. It didn’t just feel like it was about to take off, or that I could barely hold on it was something else. It was brilliant, and way beyond what I could handle and then it started snowing.

Yes snow, I’d been around Donington in the rain and so Silverstone had to go one better and snow. I dread to think what Brands hatch will do.

The rest of the track session was spent in well, blind terror. Not because the Fireblade is so unmanageable, it’s not, for something so powerful it’s very well behaved. It’s just that not only was the track cold, now the weather had decided to combined a gusty crosswind with some light snow and a bit of rain. I would have made a mess in my trousers if I hadn’t been worried that it would have affected the delicate balance of the bike and thrown me off.

A few, not exactly brisk laps (but still rather faster than I would have liked) later I got off the bike and felt simultaneously more and less of a man. I’d had the absolutely limits of my riding tested and I’d spent a lot of the time rediscovering god – it’s hard to be an atheist when the rear-wheel is hopping around as you approach a corner a little bit too fast. At least I wasn’t dead, and more importantly I hadn’t dropped the beautiful motorcycle.

I’m not sure I’d want a Fireblade, or at least, perhaps not as a winter ride but perhaps now I’ve had a snow-bound track day on one everything else will seem rather sedate and sensible. They do look rather good in red.

Thanks to a strange mixture of events that I don’t really understand I was invited to go to Silverstone by the lovely people at Honda. I think it’s because I wrote about going to the Ron Haslem racing school a few months ago and Honda saw it and approved but I’m not sure.
Either way, on a rather chilly Friday morning I rode up the motorway on the F 800 GS (there will be more on this later) towards Silverstone.  Honda had arranged a few days at the track so slightly over-excited journalists could turn up and try out, well almost everything Honda make. The entire product range was there, and I mean the entire range.
Everything was there to test.

Everything was there to test.

Sadly the sporty little number on the right wasn’t available to take out on the track but a selection of Honda’s cars were. Cars are okay, they have too many wheels if you ask me and so I consider them a bit dull but my first few laps in an S2000 soon showed me that cars can have their charms. It was a bit chilly so the track didn’t offer much in the way of grip and so having foor wheels planted on the ground was reassuring.

Once we’d had a few laps in the S2000 we took a Civic type-R out around Silverstone which was jolly entertaining (the cockpit is hillarious and like something out of Star Wars) and allowed me to learn the circuit a bit from the comfort of a chair before I took a bike around it. Honda had said that in the afternoon just before the day ended the circuit would be opened up to bikes, this was what pretty much everyone was looking forward too.  

 The honda range, of bikes

After the car stuff was out of the way I set about taking a few different bikes from the Honda range out for a ride. The first was their 125 which was being launched, it’s wasn’t the minature race-rep CBR 125 RR but the new CBF 125. A chap from the Telegraph had just brought it back and was singing it’s praises so I hopped on and took a slightly wobbly ride out of the gate and down some country roads.
 
CBF1 25 Review
 
It’s a great bike. It’s light, extremely nimble and while it’s not exactly got thumping amounts of power it’s more than happy to get up to 60mph and cruise around on country roads. If that isn’t enough to sell you on it feels like a proper big bike, but a very lightweight one. The fuel economy is mind-boggling – The chap from the Telegraph thinks it will do 100 miles per gallon plus perhaps a little more but he had to do a few more caculations – After 50 miles of riding the gauge had only gone down to the top of ‘full’ so it hadn’t drunk much.
 
It would be a great bike for beginners - I’m going to recommend it to my little brother. It would also be a great bike for anyone who isn’t too sure of themselves and wants something nimble to commute about in but doesn’t want a scooter. Everything is put together to Honda’s usual high standards and it is a real gem, the rest of the journalists who had taken it out agreed that Honda had got it right,  this was going to be a future classic and a first bike to a whole new generation of riders.
 
This is good but Honda’s range don’t always cause people to agree so much, like the DN 01.
 
DN01
 
One I’d taken the CBF 125 out I wanted to try something different something weird like the DN 01. If you’ve not seen it before he is a picture.
DN 01

DN 01

The DN is weird, I had been warned it was strange by well just about every bike magazine who had been pretty damning about it. Before I got on it the chap who had taken it out was going on about how pointless it was and how he hated it. It’s not gone down very well with the press to say the least.
 
It is a very different bike for a few reasons, it’s got a feet-forward riding style which was entirely alien to me, but would seem natural to anyone who has a Harley. It’s an automatic using a very clever fluid based gearbox so it’s a twist and go but it can pretend to have gears if you like that sort of thing. The tank is quite small, and it’s got almost no storage or anywhere to mount bags. The dashboard is set under a visor so if you are really tall and don’t adjust the seat you will struggle to see how fast you are going and it’s costs as much as a Fireblade.
 
So with the facts out of the way let’s talk about how the bike feels, it feels cool. Maybe it’s because I saw Akira when I was younger or because I’m from the computer games generation or perhaps because at that point I’d had rather too much coffee but I liked this bike, quite a lot.
 
Yes it’s futuristic and weird. Yes it’s not really a commuter bike, or a crusier, or a racer or well anything really but when did bikes become entirely about having a purpose in life? Most race-rep bikes will never get properly raced, how many 1200 GS will get taken around the world, or even off road? When was the last time you saw a KTM covered in mud? Actually that last one does happen fairly often but that’s not the point.
 
Most people ride bikes because they are fun, and the DN 01 is fun. in fact it’s really good fun. Not ‘oh my god I’m going so fast my head is about to fall off’ fun but a different sort of enjoyment that makes you chuckle into your helmet.
 
The twist and go gearbox is really impressive so if gears aren’t you thing that won’t hold you back and the sitting position requires a bit of mental adjustment, and trouser adjustment but after that it’s really entertaining. If I lived somewhere hot and I had a cool silver jacket with like lasers on it then I’d consider getting a DN 01, if you want a relaxed riding style and you don’t want a chopper or a bit of vintage iron then it’s something to think about.
 
I’ll write about what happened when I took a Fireblade around Silverstone next.

kanedas20bike

My Dad’s motorbike habit first started when he was at School. He even formed the Motorbike Club there, much to the disappointment of his teachers. Word spread about this club and one day a photographer turned up and took some photos of him jumping the motorcycle in his school uniform.

The pictures were published in a newspaper and Dad nearly got expelled for this. Eton wasn’t that forward thinking at the time and motorcycles were considered a menace, but he managed to talk his way out of the problem in the end.

Here is the offending picture, it’s slightly blurry but I think that is because it so old.

Note the formal motorcross jacket
Note the formal motorcross jacket

I definitely think the formal jacket with tails needs to make a return to biker fashion, Dinnerwear by Dianese anyone? Also Sidi should start making some armoured racing brogues.

Motorcycles aren’t always the most practical forms of transport. They are brilliant at some things like city commuting or any sort of road that is at least mildly wiggly but for some things that are a bit lame. Moving house for example. No matter how well your Honda Goldwing or Harley Davidson Streetglide handles the miles it’s carrying capacity is never going to match a van. Of course not being able to help people move house is sometimes an excellent idea.

Motorbikes aren’t always about practicality, sometimes they are just about fun. Which is why people occasionally choose to ride things that aren’t terribly sensible. Riding motorbikes is almost always enjoyable, but you can do things that make it even more fun like buying some Halcyon motorcycle goggles.

Check out these bad boys
Check out these bad boys

Just looking at the goggles makes me smile and it has the same effect on other people. I think it might be because you look faintly silly, or perhaps because it reminds people of the sort of goggles fighter pilots wore in World War 2. Either way the reaction while wearing them is positive, it’s the exact opposite of wearing a tinted visor.

They are fairly practical too, in a silly way. They keep the water out of your eyes and while they aren’t exactly idea for winter weather you forgive them that because they are so much fun. On a lovely warm day, when you aren’t in a hurry they are just perfect. 
The only drawback I can think of is that putting them on makes me want to attempt some sort of land speed record on a bike powered by steam, or rebuild Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang as a motorbike.
In short, these goggles are excellent and you should by a pair right now because it will make the world a better place. They come in a range of colours and you can even get tinted lenses if you want to look like some sort of evil time traveller.

I’m a subscriber to Bike Magazine, I’ve been for a while now. I was strangely methodical about trying out every motorcycle magazine I could to find one that had a tone that I got on with and Bike seemed about right - Not too speed obsessed but also still able to have fun. Also my dad used to get it and I can remember reading the Ogri strips while sat in  the cupboard under the stars.

Anyway, I’d like to write some stuff for Bike but I’m not sure what I could talk about with authority so I’ve not pitched anything yet. So I was slightly surprised to find myself quoted in this month’s issue. Sadly it’s in an advert, and technically it’s a misquote but it’s a start, no?

I’ve taken a photo of it so you can enjoy the cringe-worthy comment for yourself.

A god of biking eh?

The god of biking eh? I don't actually remember saying that.

It’s nice to be quoted on something, and Charley is a lovely chap but I’m still cringing all the same.

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