Friday, 29 November 2013

Thoughts on my next bike

I think my departure with my Sv650s may be coming soon.

I've owned this bike for 18 months - the longest that I've owned a bike. After a lot of Sunday scratching, trips to Wales and a journey to south France, I have loved and bonded with the Sv a lot but I have come to realise a crucial flaw...

It is not good for road trips.

I've had several 200 mile days and one 700 mile day and it's very fair to say that it is not comfy at all. The pegs are too high, the bars are too low and the clutch is quite heavy in traffic. This results in calf pain, lower back ache and a lot of pressure on your wrists. Call me a wimp if you will but It's really putting me off doing trips on it. I've looked into bar raisers and they cost close to £300 to raise them an inch which I can't really justify in case they make no difference.

Economically, it isn't bad but it isn't great either. Lately I have been getting between 40-50mpg and when I'm pricing up trips this is bumping the price up quite a bit - especially when I'm on a budget. The tank range is around 125 miles before the fuel light flashes which really is annoying when you're trying to make up a lot of miles and requires many fuel stops.

And finally, the luggage capabilities drive me insane. I have carried my camping gear on the Sv for three road trips. I use soft, oxford throw-over panniers and a Hein Gericke roll bag to carry my sleeping bag, cameras and tent. They're okay to use if you're going somewhere for a week and won't be changing campsite but if you will be packing and unpacking every day on a tour, you will consider just booking into a B&B. It's such a pain in the arse to strap and unstrap all of this gear day in, day out.

Don't get me wrong, the Sv650s is a fantastic bike and I have no regrets in buying it. However, as road trips have became more important to me than a quick blast on a Sunday, I feel that's it's time to ditch the sportsbike and get something better for trips.

It's time for the Sv650s to go... but what next?
My next bike must have reasonable comfort, hard luggage and good fuel economy. Off road ability would be pretty good too as a little mud track in the middle of a road trip to Scotland could be conquered, adding another dimension of riding to the trip, but this isn't totally necessary.

I know this specification sounds typically dull. Call me an old man if you want, but I'm putting my road trips above racing around.

So one of my options is to make a comfortable change to Sports tourers such as a 2003 Honda Vfr800 V-tec or a 2006 Triumph Sprint St. This would be the power option. With both bikes producing over 100bhp, I certainly will be able to cruise nicely on motorways and still have fun on the twisties. However, fuel consumption is not as good compared to little 650 singles and twins and comfort will still be quite compromised.

My other option is to get a slower, frugal, single cylinder bike such as a BMW G650Gs or a Yamaha Xt 660 R/X. A G650gs will tick all of the boxes in my specification and can return 65-70mpg, as well as being reasonably priced but will 47bhp be too slow?

Finally, my favourite idea is to stick with similar power to my Sv650 but in a more comfortable form. Such as the 2011-13 new Suzuki Dl650 Vstrom, this bike obviously uses the same engine as the Sv650/Gladius but has been made more economical and comes in a much more comfortable, touring-based package without sacrificing much power. Other bikes that fall into this category for me is the Kawasaki Versys, Honda Cb500x or a Yamaha Tdm 900.

Suzuki Dl650 V-strom... Courtesy of
If you've owned or ridden any of these bikes and you could give me any advice on what you think about my change, I would be very grateful. I'm quite torn and I really want a bike that will last me a good, few years and be up for a few, big trips.

Friday, 22 November 2013

What's the big deal with getting your knee down?

I've done it a few times. Perhaps not spectacularly, but my knee has touched the ground on several occasions. I used to be obsessed with it, although not quite sure why. Perhaps it's because whenever you see motorbikes on telly, they're racing around dragging their knees off bends and it looks cool. Well that's the reason why really isn't it? It's cool. I have to admit, it does look pretty impressive when you see some local nutter mashing their sliders up.

Our S.L.A.P nutter, Donnell on his old Rs125

Call me old and boring if you will but I seemed to have outgrown that phase and have begun to question what's the real point in it. I mean, is being a crazy, reckless rider the only way to gain any street cred from other bikers?

Don't get me wrong, I do ride fast and I love to crank my bike around quiet, twisty roads but I don't think an adrenaline fuelled ride should have to involve trying to get your knee to hit the tarmac, riding out of your comfort zone. I have plenty of fun riding at my own pace, in my own way. But maybe that's just me.

I feel that there's a sort of pressure to ride this way. What happened to relaxing, taking in the scenery and actually enjoying the fact that you're riding a bike? Not just so fuelled up on whether you're going to make it round the next corner or not. I'm not saying that we should all trundle around at 40mph but we shouldn't be receiving this pressure to drive like a maniac.

Riding within your limits makes your ride comfortable and fun. Riding out of your limits makes your ride scary and dangerous.

I'm not saying don't get your knee down, just don't die trying.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

How I almost quit motorcycling

February 2011. The lights turn red and I hit the brakes. Donnell pulls up next to me on his Motorhispania, revving the little yellow 50 like there's no tomorrow. A grin is hidden behind my black visor. I blip the throttle on my Hyosung Gv125 a few times, the four stroke V twin purrs beneath me. The exhaust of the Motorhispania next to me, crackles and pops, emitting a cloud of blue, 2 stroke haze. The lights turn green.

A regular day out on the bikes soon turned into a nightmare

The fading sun of a February evening lingers for one last glimpse, before eventually giving in to the inky black sky. I'm gliding through the lamp-lit streets. Donnell just in front of me, crouching over his bike, determined to lose me. Still smirking, I twist the throttle back again. I start to creep closer. Still accelerating, I look down at my speedo to see how fast I was going. I looked back up.

That's when it all changed.

My mischievous laughter turns into a yell of shock. Donnell's brake lights were on. He was slowing down, fast. With not a lot of stopping distance, I look to drive around him but I see an on coming bus. I have no choice but to slam on the brakes.  A blur of colour and light swirled around my eyes. I hit the floor hard and slid across the road, my head hitting the floor.

I was lay in the road for what seemed hours. Nothing was going through my head. I was just blank. I gingerly got to my feet and stared at my bike. Still, nothing was going through my head. I could see Donnell picking our bikes up. I rushed over to help but yet again, my mind was paralysed. I just stared. Donnell's faint voice began to grow louder and louder, shouting to flick my sidestand out.

Eventually, I processed what he was saying, putting my bike on it's stand. I sat on a nearby wall, shaking. Not quite sure what was going on, my mind was a total block. Donnell was still talking to me. I could hear him, but I couldn't take anything in. I simply stared at what was once, a great conditioned bike.

The next day I began to seriously consider giving up biking. I began to convince myself that they were dangerous. I tried to make myself think that they were a stupid, impractical idea. Despite the freedom and joy that motorcycles have given me over the past 14 months, I was forcing myself to get rid of my 125. I didn't ride my bike for a few weeks, it remained untouched in the garage. I had lost all motivation.

But then I began to think about Guy Martin, Connor Cummins, Ian Hutchinson... TT racers that had all crashed a few months ago. They're all now back on their bikes, racing again. I then turned my thoughts to my father, who had suffered a terrible motorcycle crash back when I was twelve. He too, was back on a bike as soon as he could and still rides today. Which made me think... What sort of big, girl's blouse am I?

Never give up on something you love

I felt ashamed of myself, and still do. I'd had a relatively minor slip, walking out unscathed and began to consider giving up. Why give up on something that has changed my life so much? Those weak excuses for not having a bike flew straight out of my mind and have not since returned to this day.

I jumped on my Hyosung and have never looked back since. And I know for sure, that I never will.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Why road trips are so important to me

The early morning fog lingers over empty roads, the resonating sound of birds chirping echoes through your ears and the icy, cold wind bites your cheeks. A mixture of wonder, fear and suspense fill your veins. You roll your heavily loaded bike out of the garage, checking your oil level, tyre pressures and chain tension. You start the bike.

You're ready.

A leg is swung over the bike, you hit first gear and you trundle off into the morning sun. Over the next few days you'll be visiting places you've never been before. You'll bond over a few beers at the end of a hard days riding. You'll have ups, downs and everything in the middle. But when you come out of it at the end; the ups will be cherished, the downs will be laughed at and everything in the middle will be remembered fondly.

That's a road trip.

One of our smaller road trips to Barmouth, but a magnificent journey never the less.

It's something I'd never even considered when I bought my 50cc. But as an anxious sixteen year old, I loaded up my little Derbi and as soon as the wheels rolled off my drive on that fateful day, I was converted.

A road trip by motorcycle is so much more involved than one by car. Motorcyclists are highly exposed to the elements. We get blown around by winds, soaked by rain and dried out by the sun, it's something that car drivers take for granted inside their little, heated box. However, I don't see this exposure as a curse. Surely, battling through the bitter weather and coming out of it in the end smiling would make you proud? To me, it's something you can fondly look back on in retrospect.

To all of those who haven't had the pleasure of embarking on a road trip, just jump on your bike and go. It doesn't matter how much you spend, how far you go or what bike you're on. Anything's possible.

Over three years ago, four sixteen year old lads with paper rounds scraped together £50 and took their little 50cc bikes to the Welsh coast. It's four days of my life that I will never forget. If we could do it, anyone can.

It wasn't a booze-up. It wasn't a holiday. It was a road trip.

Says it all