Top 10 Motoring Apps

Alex Cars 1 Comment

Innovations such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay have brought major improvements to in car tech connectivity. Unfortunately, if your car is over a couple of years old, you won’t be able to take advantage of most of these info-tainment advancements. There is another option for those of us who don’t have access to integrated car technology — motoring mobile applications. Although motoring apps are not as integrated as systems like CarPlay, they are often better designed, and just as useful in practice! In this article, we will be discussing the best motoring apps that can make driving easier and a lot more fun.

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The Only Motorcycle Gloves You’ll Ever Need

andrew Gear Review Leave a Comment

*unless you ride in winter

When taking to the roads in the UK, with an abundance of lush green vegetation on display and frequent downpours to keep things looking that way, the sensible choice is a pair of waterproof gloves. But when the sun gets up, the temperature can rise significantly, leaving hands sweaty and uncomfortable. When things warm up, we want the closest touch to the controls, not diminished feel through thick waterproof gloves.Read More

Chris Evans and the New Top Gear Team are Finding their Feet

andrew Comment Leave a Comment

I’ve just finished watching episode 3 of Top Gear, and I’m pleased to report that the new top gear team are pulling it together. I found the show really fun. It seems to me that the comments and criticism aimed at Chris Evans and the crew seem quite harsh.

Sure the new team are not as up to speed as the old one, but being asked to seamlessly take over a format hand crafted by Jeremy Clarkson over a decade was never going to be a seamless transition. It’s a bit like asking someone new to a business role to be as good as the outgoing person. Its going to take at least six months to come up to speed. But give them time and they will make the roles their own, tailoring them to their own strengths and individual personalities.

Chris Evans is not only a really good presenter, but he has more experience of chat show hosting than all of the previous lot put together. Let’s not forget he practically invented the fun, informal chat show format in TFI Friday, and so is right at home presenting the ‘couch segment’, easily the most natural and fun part of show number 3, plus the star in the rallycross car (which is a fun addition to the format).

As for the rest of the team, Sabine is an amazing driver but she’s no presenter, being German doesn’t help in this regard. I’ve not yet seen Eddie Jordan in action but I expect he’ll come across well on camera, being used to TV appearances in F1.

Matt Leblanc is great on his VT edits, but still a bit wooden in front of a live audience setting, and struggles to find words above the few offered to him by the autocue. But do you know what, he is funny, and his presenting skills will improve, so I’m not concerned about Matt’s future on the show. After all, everybody loves Joey Tribiani.

Chris Evans does come across a bit like he’s doing a Jeremy Clarkson impression, but then again he is doing a Jeremy Clarkson impression, so that’s hardly surprising.

The scripts, the VT’s that are put together by the Top Gear production team, the audience setting, are all identical. Evans is required to deliver these same elements as the lead presenter. Once he finds his way in it all, he’ll be just fine and will sound more like Chris Evans and less like a poor rendition of Jeremy Clarkson.

If you thought you were critical of Chris Evans’ performance on Top Gear, I would imagine you’re not as harsh a critic as he himself will be. I’m sure he’ll make the show his own, with his own new ideas, changing things around gradually to the way He wants them to be, really make the show his own. It’s also worth saying that Matt Leblanc cannot carry TG on his own, he needs a steady pair of hands in Chris Evans to carry the show.

As for the others, I’m delighted that Chris Harris has finally found recognition. I’ve been a big flag waver of Chris since I discovered his YouTube videos, and I knew it was just a matter of time before someone picked him up and gave him the audience numbers his talent deserves.

The modern media has moved away from writing words into presenting videos, a move that Harris embraced fully and in which he has excelled. He is a rare individual; eloquent, gifted at pitching his delivery, with the right balance of geekery and normalcy, and at the same time he is an accomplished racing driver. He’s not just a rich guy with lots of cars, like most of those yanks on drive, he actually knows what he’s talking about.

Arguably Clarkson is less qualified than Harris is when it comes to the ‘car stuff’. Having woken up to the requirement for video output, established auto journalists are spending more time making videos of their own car tests. It’s pretty dull viewing though, watching two cars racing round a closed track. Also, while most car hacks are good drivers, they come across on video with all the charisma of a Ukrainian Cosmonaut

Chris was always going to get his big break, it was just a matter of time. In terms of his live presentation in the studio, there are clearly nerves there, you can hear it in his voice, but let’s not forget this is Top Gear were talking about, the biggest show on the BBC, it’s a big deal so it’s hardly surprising if the new crew have butterflies. Clarkson is a tough act to follow.

Chris’s VT segments are as good as ever, smooth and effortless. It’s odd, but in ep03 he came across as the most accomplished presenter of the lot, despite being a relative unknown to most, because he’s so practiced at what he’s doing. I wonder if Neil Carey came along as part of the deal? I’d be surprised if Chris left him behind.

Rory Reid is a fun guy. I’ve not come across him before, I think he’s been on Sky, but he’s a good anchor too, having a good deal of natural swagger, and he has a fun, friendly, cheeky character. I suspect he and Chris will offset each other well.

The bulk of the show, the video segments, are as polished and fun as they ever were, and this is what makes great viewing; quality output. Not just three middle aged twerps pretending to be stupider than they really are.

Clarkson, Hammond and May (CH&M sounds like a consulting firm), even before they played ‘follow the leader’, behaved in cringe-worthy ways on a weekly basis, we just got used to their errant buffoonery. “Oh, it’s those wallies on Top Gear, they’re so silly!”. We don’t cut Evans that much slack because we’re not used to it. Hopefully it will stay that way.

And those awkward conversations following a video transmission where two hosts discuss what they like about a particular car when standing next to them, are as dull and forced as ever, and even CH&M struggled to make those look effortless. ‘So you like the Focus RS then?’ “Yeah, I really like it”. Yawn!

So, on the balance I give the new TG team full marks for effort. TG is a cracking format, and it is bigger than Clarkson, Hammond and May. Once they find their way, Evans and the team will really shine, they just need about six months.

Disappointing motorbike? Start Riding it Properly

andrew Motorcycles Leave a Comment

Things come into being by means of ideas and concepts. Few thoughts or ideas are completely brand new. Motorcycles, like music, clothes, buildings, even iPhones, are created on the basis of what went before. Standing on the shoulders of giants, designers create new concoctions and life evolves. The importance of the intentionality that springs into a specific new creation should not be overlooked.

In the world of motorcycles, such intentionality is evident in motorcycle design – steering rake and trail, wheelbase, engine power output, weight, the state of wind protection, seating arrangements and control point positions – each is tailored to achieve a certain final result. If you find yourself frustrated at the controls of your bike, before you find any deficiency in the tool between your legs, ask yourself if you’re using it as it was designed.

Clearly jumping on a Goldwing or Victory and attempting to hustle it down a B road at extreme lean angles might not be quite what the designers had in mind, and so your willing ride might struggle to comply with your request. Large touring bikes are all about relaxed, effortless cruising, not racing around at maximum lean angles. They are about a soft, somewhat distanced relationship with the road. Comfort takes priority over weight saving. The stereo takes precedent over reducing weight and a comfortable foot peg position takes precedent over maximum clearance for lean angles when cornering. Expecting a Goldwing to perform well on a track day will only bring disappointment. It might be a laugh, but it’s not going to be that satisfying. That was obvious, and if you’re a sportsbike nut, you’ll know what I mean. But there are other ways of looking at this ’mismatch’ situation which grate just as easily, but not for the reasons you might think.


Let’s take the polar opposite of the Goldwing, something like a RSV4 or Yamaha R1; bikes which are designed to go as fast as possible on Tarmac. Bikes which are hard, uncompromising and illicitly quick. These bikes give you the rider the maximum feel so you know what is going on beneath the front and rear tyres. Control points are communicative, the seat thin, the riding position is extreme pushing weight over the front wheel, and throttle, brakes and steering are as sharp as a tack. These bikes were designed for the racetrack, and work best at the high levels of commitment, focus and commitment expected there. But take a track biased bike and put it on the public road, for a long period of time and you may find yourself feeling equally frustrated, not being able to ride the bike the way it wants to be ridden. You may also find the shouty feedback a bit overwhelming after a few hours, like being surrounded by s load of screaming kids when you want to lie back and chill out. Perhaps this is why extreme machines fall out of favour as people age….

Anyway, if a bike is designed for 200mph top speeds, the chances are it won’t feel that involving when pushing the national speed limit. Your choices then for riding satisfaction are threefold;

  1. You can ride the bike at the speeds it was designed for on the road,
  2. You can ride the bike predominantly on track, or
  3. You can ride around obeying the law and feeling frustrated.

So if you find yourself trying to turn your sports tourer into a track weapon and feel disappointed that it won’t perform, ratchet your aspirations back a couple of clicks and you’ll find your ride much more enjoyable. Equally, if you feel frustration riding your 200bhp monster on the public roads; if you feel like you’re riding a caged tiger, book yourself on a track day and let your hair down properly.

And so we come to the importance of what is termed a ‘flexible’ bike. Most of us want to ride our bikes on the road at least some of the time. That means restraint, or it means a bike which allows us to ride mostly within the law and still feel a sense of satisfaction. It feels nice to push the envelope, but when the envelope only starts getting pushed at 140mph, perhaps it’s time to get something which starts falling apart at slightly lower speeds?

In the car world, such a sentiment has been imbued into the Subaru BRZ / Toyota GT86. Rather than seeking to increase power & grip the car was designed around finding limits of traction, or pushing envelopes at completely road legal speeds. The car was deliberately fitted with low grip tyres for this purpose. It’s clever when you think about it. We get our kicks at speeds which mean the police don’t get theirs.


So what is the magic formula for ‘engagement’ on the road? Well, I still think a sportsbike is hard to beat. The communication, the willingness, the precision, the engines. What we do want to see are traits which make the bike fun, manageable at ‘normal’ speeds i.e. torque at low revs (flexible engine), comfortable ergonomics, comfy seat, everyday usability, adaptive suspension for comfortable pottering. It’s not hard to see why the BMW S1000RR sport is selling so well.

VFR800 Regulator Rectifier Fail

andrew Maintenance, VFR Leave a Comment

I’ve read about it, I’ve seen it many times on numerous internet forums, but I never thought it would happen to me. When I bought my bike, I checked to see whether the original had been replaced, and saw the words Tourmax on the top of the unit, and assumed this was an aftermarket replacement. All good. Then I started to notice the battery going flat.

Initially I assumed his was down to the cold weather, and the fact that I was using my heated gear, which draws from the battery. So I stopped using the heated gear, the battery still would up flat. One time leaving work I had to bump start the bike, and othe other time leaving Gloucester Services after stopping for some emergency Mont d’Or (they do have some rather excellent cheeses in Gloucester services).

Out came the Haynes Manual, electrics section, charging, and a level 1 diagnostic was run. It goes a little like this, check the battery is charging properly which means over 14v at 5000rpm. Mine was reading 13.6V. If not over 14v then check the wiring to the R/R.

Next, the alternator feed was checked for resistance: 0.6 Ohms between each of the three coils, and no continuity to earth, that’s fine. Next the other connector is checked (on the loom side not the R/R), all good there. The book says check the R/R by swapping it out. Great.

£101 later and David Silver spares ship out an OEM unit which I’m installing tonight. It looks remarkably similar to the outgoing one, albeit with an aluminium plate to which it is mounted, presumably as some kind of heat sink. I’ll let you know how it goes. When I plug the old connectors back in, I’ll be dosing them in ACF-50 just for good measure and to keep those connectors from seizing up in the future. This is one thing I don’t want to be replacing. Bummer.

Just swapped out the R/R, checked the battery, it’s reading 14.4v, so it was the regulator / rectifier. We’re back in business. How does it feel? Like my bike has had a heart transplant. The bike fires up immediately whereas before it would turn over and over before finally firing into life. It feels more sprightly too. I obviously hadn’t noticed the gradual demise of the charging system, and just thought the bike had a worn alternator, it turns out it was the regulator. Who knew? Most VFR owners, it seems.

HOW2: VFR800 Valve Clearance Check

andrew Maintenance, Tutorials, VFR 1 Comment


Ok, I admit, it’s been a while. It’s now August 2017, the VFR is showing 74k on the clock, and I finally found the time to get round to checking the valves. I wasn’t overly concerned to be checking 32k after the last. As I have said before, if your engine still pulls like a train, chances are you don’t need to check the valves. But in the interest of good motorcycle husbandry, and being comfortable thrashing the hell out of the VFR’s sonorous V4, and lets be honest, bouncing off the limiter is where every good V4 engine should be, it’s worth checking the valves. If you follow the instructions below, within a full morning, 5 hours or so you should have the job done. You can spend the afternoon balancing the starter valves and lubricating the throttle cables.

So here are the steps (with photos) to checking your valve clearances. Before starting make sure you have the following to hand:

  • At least a day of uninterrupted time, ideally a weekend to allow for cock ups, lack of the right tools etc
  • A dry space to work
  • nitrile rubber gloves – I like the purple ones 😉



you’ll need some of these to check your clearances covering 0.1 -0.4mm in 0.02mm increments usually: 0.13, 0.15, 0.18, 0.2, 0.23, 0.25, 0.28, 0.3, 0.33, 0.35, 0.38, 0.4

Making sure engine is cold overnight before starting, take of both side fairings:

valve clearance

Remove seat, then remove the seat, raise and prop the fuel tank

valve clearance

Remove screws and remove airbox cover and air filter

valve clearance

valve clearance

Unscrew inlet nozzles for throttle butterflies holding down airbox base. Remove airbox base noting where all connectors and hoses connect: There are two PAIR hoses, one at the front and one at the back (see above). The rear cylinder HT coil leads (see above), the grey connector and vacuum hose on the rear right (MAP sensor) one hose for each starter valve (labelled 1,2,3,4 – two on each side of the airbox) Lift the base slightly and disconnect a white connector (intake air temperature sensor) and two hoses underneath the airbox. Disconnect the connector on the front right of the airbox, this is the variable intake solenoid valve. Disconnect the vacuum hose #12 linking the solenoid to the one way valve, and the hose #10 from the vacuum reservoir mounted on the front of the airbox. Finally remove the pair hose from the front of the airbox. That should be the lot. Remember to plug them all back in when you reinstall. Heres the exploded view form the Honda Service Guide.


Remove bolts from oil cooler and drop it forward. Behind you can see the pair valve and hose which attaches to the airbox and HT leads for each cylinder.

valve clearance

Loosen bottom support brackets and side mounting bolts holding side mounted radiators and drop them down to gain better access to the front cylinder head

valve clearance

valve clearanceRemove pair hose and HT leads. Loosen four boltsholding down cylinder heads and remove

.valve clearance

valve clearance

Remove crankshaft inspection cover plate

valve clearance

valve clearance

Using a 17mm socket, rotate the crankshaft clockwise until marks line up as show above for cylinder 1 (rear left hand side when facing forwards). You will feel the compression of the cylinders as you rotate. You want to get each cylinder at Top Dead Centre – you can tell if you have achieved this by looking at the gear driven cams to see where the lines inscribed into them are located. See image below.   If the lines are not as shown, rotate the crank another 360 degrees and check again. Measure both inlet and exhaust valves using your feeler gauges. Mark on the sheet. Continue with cylinder 3, then 2 then 4 as detailed below.

  • Inlet clearance 0.16mm (+/- 0.03mm) : between 0.13mm and 0.19mm is fine
  • Exhaust clearance 0.3 (+/- 0.03mm): between 0.27mm and 0.33mm inclusive is in spec

valve clearance

valve clearance

Gear driven cams aligned for cylinder 1 check


You should be aiming for a firm sliding fit. Some resistance to the gauge but still sliding freely.

If all valves are within spec, you can reassemble, if not you need to take the cams out and measure shims and swap them out for different sized ones. This is a more involved process, but not impossible.

If you have never checked your clearances, I recommend you check them at least once. Allow a week off the road and a weekend plus evenings to do the job. If you need shims speak with your local Honda dealer or get David Silver Spares (UK) or David Silver in the US  to sort you out. You could also buy a hot-shims kit from the US via eBay as I did, and never have to worry about getting shims in the future. The VFR uses 7.48mm shims, like the majority of Jap sportsbikes.

When reassembling, make sure all gaskets are in place and correctly seated including those in the cylinder heads. There is an edge rubber gasket and a gasket for each spark plug (diamond shaped). There are two locating dowels with a rubber o-ring (visible in the photos above) and each of the four cover holding down bolts has a gasket too.


When reassembling it is also worth lubricating the throttle cables, adjusting the idle speed and balancing the starter valves. I will explain how to do this in due course.

If you want a copy of the VFR service manual, drop me a line.

Original Post

So the VFR’s clock has just ticked over 58k, and the last clearance check was at 42k, that makes 16k miles in my book, so time for anther clearance check on the old V-Four.

I’ll get around to the task soon enough, and when I do, I’ll show you how to check (and adjust if necessary) your valves. VFR is a great bike, but people can be put off by things like valve clearance adjustments. They’re not that hard to do, and with the right tools, a dry space and a bit of patience, you can do it yourself with ease.

First, I want to share with you the excel spreadsheet I developed to perform my valve clearance checks, this makes it easier than doing the calcs by hand, although I would recommend you check and double check the calculations, and don’t rely on the spreadsheet completely. Click on the link below.

Enter your clearances in the boxes, if they are out of spec you will need to take out the cam shafts and measure the shims and type that in the shin box. The spreadsheet will do the maths for you. Essentially if your clearances are too tight you need a smaller shim. If your clearances are too big, you need a bigger shim.

I’ll go into more detail as we go along, but for now, here’s the spreadsheet.

VFR Valve Clearance Check Calculator

VFR800 Valve Clearance Check