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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.

Sorry for the lack of posting over the last few days. I’ve been off working on some other things and so haven’t really been messing around with motorcycles as much as I should have. Still I have to pay for the motorbike habit somehow. 

In the meantime here are some more photos of the Bonnie I had for a few days. I took it up to a local Iron Age fort to photograph in slightly more interesting surroundings. Fallen leaves are jolly pretty but extremely hairy to ride on so I think I’ll be avoiding Iron Age forts in the future, especially leafy ones in the Autumn.

Classic British Iron, at an Iron Age fort

Classic British Iron, at an Iron Age fort

The engine is rather lovely too, and I was impressed by how many times the word Triumph appears on the T100.

How many Triumph logos can you spot?

How many Triumph logos can you spot?

 

I’ve been loaned a Triumph Bonneville T100 for a few days so I could write about it for a feature. Since I had the motorcycle I thought I would post a review of it online as well where I can make it a bit longer with out having to worry about word count.

As is traditional for first getting on a bike with a dealer or instructor watching you my ride away was a bit more wobbly than I would have liked. Which isn’t to say that the T100 is a hard motorcycle to ride, it was just different, if anything it’s a bit disarmingly easy to control but more on that later.

With the initial wobbles out of the way, and out of sight of everyone else I started to learn what the Bonnie was all about. It’s a retro bike designed to evoke simpler times when nylon was futuristic and computers filled rooms. What this means is it’s a motorcycle that looks like a proper motorcycle, but made as easy as a modern bike to ride and look after. This means people who don’t ride bikes think it is cool, even my little brother thought it was excellent and his favourite bike is a Ninja so I was surprised that he took to it so much.

Even cats think it's cool

Even cats think it's cool

On the motorway the bike is fine, it’s stable and will quickly get up to 70mph with out any bother. There is more power there if you want to throw away your license but it does tend to get a bit windy due to the lack of protection. I found this rather charming as it actually felt like you were going fast and it means you are more likely to stay with in the speed limits.

For the next part of the test I took the Bonnie on some wiggly back roads. A few of which were a bit more run-down than I remembered them, including one or two that had grass in the middle but that just added to the fun. The bike seemed happy with all of this and didn’t mind just ambling along and people that I passed smiled and waved. I think they were slightly surprised to see a bike. To give you an idea of how remote these roads are, I rode for thirty minutes without seeing another vehicle.

After this I headed out onto some wider roads, with lovely sweeping corners and up some hills. This was when the Bonnie really started to come together, it was excellent fun riding it around these flowing roads and at around 60mph it really made sense. I was overtaking lorries and tractors and enjoying the beautiful countryside as I sped on by. This was what the bike was for, or at least I thought so until I took it into some towns to see what it was like.

The simple, clear dials showing you everything you need to know.

The simple, clear dials showing you everything you need to know.

It was in a city that the Bonnie really blew my socks off. The smooth engine and light clutch were perfect in traffic and the bike was surprisingly nimble. Even more brilliantly the bike will happlysit at 30mph and stay there so you can just set it at that speed and concentrate on other things like people pulling out when they shouldn’t. This doesn’t happen very often as it’s a nice big bike with road presence so people see you and notice you and this is why I think the Bonnie would make such a great first big bike for any urban rider.

It feels like a big bike, and acts like one but it’s tame and well behaved so after only a few minutes on it you are a far more confident rider. If I was going to be commuting in and out of London, and it wouldn’t involve motorways this would be my bike of choice by a long way. I’ve been on scooters that were harder to manage than this motorcycle, the Bonnie doesn’t have any weird strange habits or anything like that it just gets on with things leaving you to enjoy riding around.

In short if I wasn’t already obsessed with another bike in the Triumph range I’d be seriously considering getting a Bonnie of my own, and I’ve already been recommending them to friends who are thinking of getting into biking. I’m going to stop writing now because, well I want to take the bike out for another spin before I have to hand it back.

I was getting slightly concerned by the lack of knowledge I had about the motorcycles I’ve got now. There aren’t any manuals available for them, and apart from the basics I don’t really know enough about how motorbikes work. I needed some knowledge, I couldn’t keep phoning up people to ask for help every time the motorbike did something I didn’t expect or there was a lever that did something I didn’t understand.

Luckily while sorting through the boxes that came with the bikes I found all my dad’s old motorbike books. It’s an absolute wealth of knowledge, some modern some from the time when motorcycle was two separate words. Imagine that Motor Cycle, there was even a magazine called The Motor Cyclist. The mind boggles.

Look at all those lovely books.

Look at all those lovely books.

The terminology from the books is excellent. You don’t tune-up a motorbike for more power. You ‘cut it’ to get more ‘steam’. I’m going to start using that. You know, it’s probably enough to start a library, or at least a shelf. Perhaps if I cleaned out a different shed I could use it to store all the motorbikes, motorbike gear and motorbike books. Sort of like a private motorbike museum. Now that is an idea.

In other news I’m going to be road testing a Triumph Bonneville T100 for a couple of days so expect a review of that to pop-up soon. I can’t wait.

I was thinking about the new Daytona today, it’s going to be launched at the NEC motorbike and scooter show at the end of November and so no one is allowed to ride it until then. A few photos have come out and revealed that it’s not going to be an exactly radical change to the motorcycle just a few tweaks.

On the practical side of things the bike is going to lose a bit of weight and gain a bit of power but that’s about it really, apart from a few minor cosmetic changes. Weirdly no one seems to have thought of putting photos of the two models next to each other so we can compare them directly so I’m going to just that. I’ve even managed to get photos of the two bikes in the same colour to make it just that little bit easier.

You’ll notice that the lights are different on the ’09 Daytona, but also the brakes have been updated and the wing mirrors are a slightly different shape. The engine on both models is painted black for a bit more rust protection, but early Daytona’s didn’t have that.

The 08, old shape Daytona

The 08, old shape Daytona

The 09 Daytona

The 09 Daytona

We could even play spot the difference, so can anyone else see any other changes to the bike?

I’m sure we have all heard the urban myth about the squaddies wearing night vision goggles while driving a sports car with the lights off to avoid detection. The story goes that a lone policeman is watching the road with a radar gun and the gun goes off and reads some silly speed but the policeman can’t see a car. It happens a few times until they finally catch the person and find out that they are using night vision equipment (if you still aren’t sure what I’m rambling on about read this).

Well I’ve been thinking about this myth a bit and I think it might be possible to do on a motorbike, so in the name of science and quality investigative journalism I’m going to give it a go. Of course I’m not going to ride about on public roads with the lights out. That would be illegal and wrong but luckily I’m on a farm which means I’ve got a bit of land to scream around on where I won’t endanger members of the public.

The next problem would be getting hold of some night vision goggles to wear. Not so, I picked some up on Ebay a couple of years ago for more than I care to mention (lets just say that the Daytona fund would be looking a bit more healthy if I hadn’t) and so I have some military-grade night vision goggles.

The Night vision goggles and a cup of tea, what could possibly go wrong?

The Night vision goggles and a cup of tea, what could possibly go wrong?

I’ll need to wear a helmet when riding the bike and I’ve got an old one knocking about that was my dad’s and has seen better days. It will provide the mounting for the goggles, or at least will be modified a bit so the goggles fit properly.

A slightly knackered old helmet

A slightly knackered old helmet

So there you have it, everything is in place for some real scientific testing.

The goggles give you slight tunnel vision so I think that is something to overcome, but I don’t think it will be too hard once I have them focused. I should point out that I will be practicing first on a bicycle before I go anywhere near a motorbike and even then it will be low speeds only

Oh and don’t try this at home.

Today I emailed an editor to organise meeting up for lunch in London, fairly standard stuff really. I just happened to mention that Charley Boorman was doing something with the BMW off-road course in Wales. It was only an aside and not really a pitch. However it caught her attention and a few phone calls later and I’m going along as well to write about it. So no trip to London for me, I’m off to Wales instead
Most of the time journalism is hard graft, constantly chasing down stories, pitching them to editors, last-minute rewrites, cancellations and things but sometimes it’s absolutely brilliant and today has been one of those days.
Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor

Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor

Like most people I’ve been hooked on Charley (and Ewan’s) adventures since they started riding around the world. I admired how their shows introduced new people to riding, and gave bikes a public image that wasn’t biker gangs or racing. Plus they are properly obsessed with bikes in a slightly schoolboy way, which is how you should be.

Anyway I can’t wait to get on the bikes and to start sliding down hills and falling off logs. It was a bit of a trial to get on the course, all the journalist places had gone, long, long ago and then there was a very tense half an hour when the editor checked in with her boss to see if I could go  but I got the thumbs up and now it’s all sorted.

So I’ve got two glorious days of riding BMWs in Wales to look forward to, the only marginal down side is that it will cost slightly more than I could reasonably put on expenses so I’ll have to absorb some of that but I think it will be more than worth it. I’m treating it as a sort of working holiday, this won’t be an assignment that helps the Daytona fund.

BMW F800 GS

BMW F800 GS

This is going to be my bike for the weekend, the sparklingly fresh F800 GS. BMW want me to ride it because it’s new and so they want it to appear in the newspaper. I’d imagine that after I’ve spent two days riding it up and down the Welsh countryside I’ll be able to provide a pretty reasonable assessment of it’s off-road ability so expect a review to pop up a few days after I return from the course.

Riding bikes in Wales has an extra significance for me as my dad lived in Wales and one of the last weekends we ever spent together – our best weekend together really – was spent riding motorbikes around in the rain on the hills in Wales.

He died a year ago of cancer, and I’ll be spending the anniversary of his death on a motorbike in Wales. I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute.

EDIT – I’ve noticed a lot of people are finding this page while searching for the course, so here it is.

http://www.worldofbmw.com/content/offRoadSkills.asp?article=251

You can read my review of my time on the course here

The 185 got some much needed love yesterday. We gave it a good clean so we could have a look at it all and see what needed work and what didn’t. My little brother helped out with the job of washing of years of grime and dust.

However this clean didn’t go exactly to plan, as during the cleaning process a nut on the oil tank was knocked slightly loose. This wasn’t noticed at the time but the next day the bike had made a big oily mess all over the floor like a naughty puppy. Well not exactly like a naughty puppy as puppies don’t wee oil, but you know what I mean.

The weekend paper's sports section saves the day!

The weekend papers' sports section saves the day!

It’s not all bad as the oil probably needed changing anyway, and it’s not a proper workshop unless it is smells of oil.

The source of the mess

The source of the mess

Sadly the project bikes are going to have to be on hold for a bit as I’m going to be going up to London for some work things (stand-up and writing), but hopefully this trip will fund more of the Daytona so that is definitely a good thing. I had a friend suggest I make one of those thermometer things showing how much has been raised so far, so I’ll make that in a minute.

what I've found so far

What I have found so far

Why keep old batteries or things that don’t work? What could you use them for? Perhaps it’s part of a biking mindset I just don’t understand yet, although I must admit I have a few old computer components knocking around that I very much doubt will ever be used again. I’m not sure why I store them. Perhaps because at one point I spent a lot of money on them and so it seems a bit wrong to just throw them away as rubbish.

That’s one of the worst things about modern computers, almost by the time you’ve opened the box they have decreased in value and within two years they are practically museum pieces that are unable to run the latest software. Compared to that even the most modern, cutting-edge sports bikes seem like an excellent investment. It’s extremely unlikely that in a couple of years a new system of roads will be developed that your old bike won’t be able to go on, or if it will it will only go extremely slowly and be unable to do the best bits.

The workshop is nearly sorted out now, the shelves and things are going to need a bit more work but with a couple more days of cleaning the floor will be completely clear of old scrap and rubbish and it will be possible to start working on bikes. I will need to get a few supplies in before I start, having an old jar of swarfega about is very important and I think I’ll invest in a boilersuit. My dad always used to wear one and so being in a slightly grubby boiler suit seems like an essential part of messing around with motorcycles.

I’ve pitched out some more work too, so hopefully the Daytona fund will get a fresh injection of funds, some of which may or may not be spent on boilersuits.

I had a dig around in another of the sheds to see if I could find anything else. I can remember this shed being full to bursting with classic bikes at one point many years ago.

It was wall to wall Triumphs, BSAs and even the odd Norton Commando. The reason why the farm was stuffed with classic bikes is that my dad and his best friend (who owned a modern motorcycle dealership) had brought out the stock of a bike shop that had gone bust and so the bikes were stored here until somewhere more suitable could be found for them or they were sold.

Sadly the shed doesn’t contain motorcycles anymore, it doesn’t contain much of anything really. I had a hunt around to see if I could find a little hint of the glorious bounty that was once contained inside but apart from an old tire, which looked suspiciously modern I didn’t have much luck.

Note the lack of classic bikes

Note the lack of classic bikes

I suppose it was a bit too much to hope for really, to find an overlooked Bantam or perhaps an aged Guzzi tucked away in a corner,  but a chap can dream can’t he?

An old tire

An old tire

In other news the internet connection has been restored.

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