Motorcycles are wonderful things. In a network of roads clogged up with cars, (largely SUV’s carrying one person), riding a motorcycle in the tens is a similar experience that car drivers enjoyed back in the 1960s. The freedom to travel wherever we want, in a timeframe which is virtually guaranteed to within 10 minutes’ accuracy. Alas it is not so with car drivers.Read More
What do you get if you bolt a high voltage cell from the BMW i3 into an S1000RR chassis? err………no really, it’s called the BMW eRR…..Read More
If you approach anyone who has ever ridden a litre sportsbike, and garner their opinions, they will normally tell you that they are too fast for public roads, a ‘handful’, and will make short work of your driving licence.
Switch off the tape recorder however, and they will tell you (probably in a whisper) that they are the most incredible machines, and that they make you feel like a riding god.Read More
I was disappointed when I discovered back in 2013 that the BBC had lost rights to show the MotoGP. I enjoyed the programming of the shows, I enjoyed the punchy coverage (just right) and I enjoyed uncle Stavros and uncle Charlie’s irreverent natter over the race.
The BBC picture is available in HD, perfect for high action bright punchy slow-motion footage. BT had aspirations to become a sports broadcaster and bought the rights to pretty much everything. Very bold, I thought, but will this work? Will it be good for racing?
I moved home in 2014 and picked up BT sport for ‘free’ as part of a BT TV box deal. “Great”, I thought to myself. “Now I can watch the races, and even if I can’t, the BT box will record them so I can watch them later.”
That was the plan. But has it actually transpired that way? Have I actually taken the time out of my life to watch people going round and round a racetrack? Not really. Why? I find the BT sport footage and the process of watching it, too long winded, too clunky, and pitched at the wrong level (for me at least).
What I love about BBC Sport, got bless it, is the lack of advertising. There’s no ‘fluffer’ material, just designed to give the audience something, anything, to keep them on the boil between two lengthy advert breaks. I love the racing, and I think it’s important to see some behind-the-scenes footage, but what I want to see are well produced VT’s of rider profiles, or season summaries, or rivalries. Watching Craig Doyle or Neil Hodgson in the pits is well, the pits. Give me too much of this and I switch off.
BT has also given its viewers with a BT box ’free’ access to BT sport for 12 months. Except it wasn’t free for 12 months, it was free for about 10 months, because in August they changed the rules and downgraded the ’free’ element available to their free subscribers (I’m sure, all within the law) to just BT sport 1.
Big companies can do that I guess. We consumers just have to suck it up, but I can’t help feeling put upon, like someone changed the rules of the game because they felt like it. It makes BT look unprincipled. I will not deal with who I perceive to be the Ryanairs of this world. They don’t deserve my money or my time.
The process I have had to go through to cancel my free (now £5) BT Sport, shows me what BT is all about. They have a beautiful glossy website which is designed to give you the option to add as many new ‘orders’ as you want to your account. But just try cancelling anything, and you will be going round and round from one glossy magazine page to the next, and each offer to ‘manage your account’ takes you precisely nowhere. Annoying aggressive sales loses you customers. Is getting a few cheeky £5 subscription payments because people can’t get through on the phone to cancel their ‘orders’, building the kind of loyal customer base that makes for sustainable business? Methinks not.
Eventually, after a good half an hour sifting through glossy material on their website, you do find a telephone number to call. At least this call centre is in the UK, and I’m lucky in getting through, and speak with a man with a Scottish accent. True to BT’s ethos, he is in maximum sales mode; whilst on the phone, as he was processing my ‘order’ for a free BT sport lite package (I suspect it is a contractual order because they will want to start charging me for that in the future, too) I was offered a mobile phone contract, and he also checked to see whether BT infinity is available where I live. It isn’t.
I don’t have a problem with companies making money, but I don’t like the ethos of the BT website, of their marketing to pull in the punters for ‘free’ and then change the rules. I especially don’t like their long winded MotoGP footage, and the SD picture quality. You can of course upgrade to a HD picture for a little more. Meh.
But then I remember, they are taking on the giant behemoth Sky. If you’re playing with the big boys, you can’t play nice. It’s off with the gloves and time for a bloody nose.
The footage off the racing takes into account the previous two classes, Moto 1 and Moto 2 before the big MotoGP race at the back. This is broadcast as one big lump, so if you record this for later viewing, you have to fast-forward though 3 hours of footage until you get to your race. Can I be bothered? Any time pressed individual (and who isn’t time pressed nowadays) wants to see the race, not someone in the pits speculating about something or other.
I’m not suggesting that BT sport is wrong in their footage, but it’s clearly pitched at fanatical teenagers, not grown men with jobs and families and lawns to mow. I am saying that it could be punchier, more BBC-like. BT’s problem is they have 24 hours in a day, and so their footage has turned into the Moto GP equivalent of News 24, where the poor producer has hours and hours of scheduling to fill and is forced to hire chatter boxes to fill in the airtime with drivel.
There’s only so much you can wring from a motorcycle race, and if you watch the BBC MotoGP shows, and you will see what that is. ‘Always leave them wanting more’ is the way to do it, don’t bore them to tears. People are busy, and have better things to be doing than sifting through hours of broadcasting to find the nuggets. Remember, this is just a load of men and boys riding round in circles.
So no, I’ve not watched the last few races on BT sport, and I’ve downgraded by my free BT sport package (over the phone) which was costing me £5 a month, to BT sport lite. This means no more MotoGP. Frankly, I couldn’t care less. A well written article will be a better use of my time than watching racing on BT sport. Or perhaps I could get off my bum and go and ride a real motorcycle. After all, there is one in the garage. BT sport can continue to cater to the teenagers who don’t yet have the real thing.
If you want to do something good, you need to focus. When you focus, others will get the benefit of your focus. You can tell me what’s on your mind in a quick and engaging 5 minutes, or you could drone on and on about it for 3 hours until I want to push you into a lake. It’s up to you how you deliver your message, but don’t be surprised if I ignore you in the future.
For the love of racing, bring back the MotoGP on the BBC.
It was inevitable. After the release and warm reception of the not quite M car M135i, and the introduction of the 1 series coupe, the 2 series and its equivalent M235i, it was only a matter of time before we saw a BMW M2 come along. Well it’s been worth the wait. But it does seem to me somewhat that BMW has shot itself in the foot. With beautiful lithe proportions and the same performance available, why would anyone buy an M4 over the cheaper, more agile M2?
- 3 litre twin scroll turbo’d straight six producing 370bhp and 343lb/ft
- CO2 emissions 199g/km
- 0–100kph in 4.5 s (4.3 with 7 speed DCT)
- 19” forged alloys
- Manual gearbox receives auto blipping on downshifts
- engine can produce as much as 369lb/ft (500NM) of torque on overboost.
The beating heart of every M car is its engine, and this one is bristling full of technology. It has the usual BMW engineering; double-VANOS variable camshaft timing, and Valvetronic variable valve control, a twin scroll turbocharger which is integrated into the exhaust manifold. Despite being turbocharged it revs to 7000rpm, and (most important for a turbo’d motor) all of that 343lb/ft of torque is available from 1400rpm to 5500rpm, a truly flat torque curve. That’s a flexible motor, one which won’t be out-dragged by a turbo diesel rep-mobile. The turbo has an electronically operated boost pressure control valve, and despite the prodigious power available, BMW’s engineers say that the car can return 35mpg on the combined cycle. We’ll see about that, but I’d expect mid to high 20s achievable in normal brisk driving. The M2 borrows from its bigger siblings the M3 and M4; employing its pistons, cast iron liners, and crankshaft main bearing shells. As you might expect, the BMW M2 engine also comes specified with high temperature spark plugs. The sump has an additional oil scavenger pump to maintain engine oil lubrication under extreme lateral loading e.g track days, and an additional oil cooler (for DCT equipped cars) and an additional water cooler for the engine. The sound from the quad tailpipes can be tweaked using the Driving Experience Control switch, although whether this is a real sound affected by the baffles on the exhausts, or something more synthetic, we will have to wait and see.
The manual ‘box is a dry sump affair, and comes with an auto blipping function to match the engine revs for smoother downshifts, in case your heel and toe technique is not quite up to scratch. The DCT is the latest generation seven speed gearbox with the usual Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ settings. These can be selected using the Driving Experience Control switch
In today’s modern cars with all their clever safety systems, its often hard to have some good old fashioned fun. Never fear, the M2 come with the ‘Smokey Burnout’ (a la Smokey and the Bandit) function. As BMW puts it: “the Smokey Burnout function invites the driver to indulge in a degree of rear wheel spin while the car is moving at low speeds”. Nice. Seems they thought of everything.
Wheels, Tyres and Brakes
The M2 comes as standard on Michelin Pilot Super Sport Tyres; 245/35 ZR19 at the front and 265/35/ZR19 at the back. Front brakes are four piston fixed calipers, rears two piston fixed. Wheels are 19” as standard forged aluminium. The M-Differential is electronically locking, and cleverly deploys between 0 and 100 percent locking depending on the driving conditions, and the DSC. On track, deploying M Dynamic Mode allows a greater level of wheelspin before reining it all in. Looks wise, I think M division have done a cracking job. Where the M235i was a practice piece of styling, we can now see in the M2, the finished article. It has the protruding front and rear bumpers of the M4, the swelled arches over the wider tracked wheels, and scalloped sides. If you’ll allow me the expression, it looks fat with a ph. The car’s stying mimics the bigger M4, but somehow looks better in a smaller more dynamic frame. Let’s hope it looks as good in real life as it does in the photos
I love photography and taking pictures. There’s a saying in the photography world that goes something like “The best camera is the one you have with you”. This saying is partly advocating the use of equipment that you actually want to use, and therefore carry around with you, because you’re more likely to get the shot if you have your iPhone in your pocket than if you have to lug around a 5×4 field camera and tripod.
But it also speaks to the notion of gear envy, upgrade-itis, that dis-ease experienced by people who live in a perpetual state of AGNI (All the Gear, No Idea). These people see their route to success as one that can be purchased (often quite appropriately with borrowed money. They are quite literally living beyond their means).
“Surely if I pay enough money, then I’ll be able to produce some good work?”
The modern world is responsible for selling us this particular red herring; that greatness will come to me when I: (own this car, house, husband or wife of certain attributes, professional grade at work, business, gadget). Delete as appropriate.
Alas, achieving greatness takes time, dedication, and hours put in.
Beware those who come bearing gifts, who want to sell you the secret formula for weight loss, perfect abs, or how to make millions from your blog. These individuals are almost certainly selling you what you think you want, but unfortunately most of them don’t have it to give you in the first place.
Ask someone who has it all, and they will tell you that they still have the same problems as they had before they acquired everything they thought they wanted. We don’t find joy in getting stuff, we find joy in the process of going towards it.
Your Life’s Work
The process of learning to ride, of becoming a better rider is a life’s work. It can begin when you’re 16 or when your 60. Ask Valentino Rossi if he’s a better rider today than he was 10 or even 20 years ago, and he’ll tell you, Yes. He has to be, to keep up with those young whippersnappers. Most older riders lose their bottle, they don’t lose their skill. Crashing hurts, and eventually you have more important things to do like bringing up a family.
If you’ve just got into the sport of motorcycles, don’t make the mistake of trying to run before you can walk. Enjoy the process, and have fun along the way.
I currently ride a pretty old bike. It cost me £1500, and it’s been in a fair few battles. It is however in pretty good fettle, and the engine is as strong as ever, with 55k and counting on the clock. I bought it so I could use it without worrying about it getting stolen, scratched, used properly.
Every day it carries me to work, blasting down the M5, never missing a beat and still returning 50mpg. The bike existed before I got my licence. It’s old, but it is immensely fun. Would I enjoy having something a bit sportier? As the GOAT would say “For Sure”.
I won’t lie, I miss the delightful tactility of my GSX-R 1000, but the VFR is up for some fun, and when we hack it about as we do on a daily basis, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
When I started out riding, I remember reading about how you want the bike to be the weak link, and not the rider. I wondered how this might be a good thing, but as I’ve owned lots of different bikes over the years, I’ve come to a much better understanding of what they were on about.
Having owned, and ridden bikes which were far more capable than I (basically any modern super sport bike, but especially 750cc and up), I also appreciate riding bikes which are less capable than a full out supersport missile. Why? Because you can get somewhere near the performance limits. I’m not saying that my current bike can’t do more in more capable, more brave hands. It surely can. But right now, I can ride that thing much closer to its limits on the road than my last bike, and I have a blast doing so.
Is Your Bike Taking You for a Ride?
The thing is, you don’t ride any litre sportsbike hard on the road. You just can’t. Those litre bikes are too powerful, too capable, and the other road users too pedestrian for you to get anywhere near the bike’s operating envelope and stay looking even slightly sensible. I suppose this is a large part of their appeal. Having owned one, I agree, they are awesome.
They are effortless to ride, you only need a couple of whiffs of throttle to thrust you forward like you’ve been fired out of a canon. If you do start to stretch a litrebike’s legs on the road, you will undoubtedly feel a bit naughty, like you’ve misbehaved in church and are about to get a spanking. Old habits die hard.
But a sports tourer, or a 600cc bike? Well, you’ve got to work a bit harder for your kicks on those. There’s not the same effortless wave of torque and power in any gear, you have to rev them. You can rev them to the redline. On a thousand, hitting the redline in first gear will have you heading rapidly into triple figures, but on a smaller capacity bike, you can explore more of the bike’s performance on the road. With smaller machine, you feel like you are riding the wheels off your bike rather than being taken for a ride on a fire breathing monster like a 1000cc Superbike.
The same applies to suspension. All those exotic sports bikes may have trick suspension, but if they are set up for racing, and have rock hard suspension suitable for the heavy acceleration, braking and cornering normally expected on the track, they aren’t going to work so well at lower speeds, and lower loadings. When you are on the road, at those lower road speeds, comfort and compliance is preferable to outright control. You can feel the wheels moving around beneath, the tyres squirming, you have the natural compliance in the suspension to soak up the lumps and bumps of UK road conditions without throwing you off course, and your wrists and arms won’t suffer in the process.
So what? Your think your current bike is a bit soft? It moves around a bit and doesn t quite give you the level of attack you’re looking for? Rather than looking at your machine as some kind of hindrance, try to work with what you’ve got. Every ride is a learning process, and if your bike is easy to ride, and ride hard then you’re learning much more than someone who is frightened of his machine.
Some of the most fun rides can come on the least inspiring machinery. I have had some epic rides on bikes which weren’t anywhere near the top of the tree. HONDA CBR600F with road tyres in Wales, Suzuki SV650S with BT010 on Brands Hatch Indy, KTM 950 Supermoto (anywhere you ride it), Honda VFR800 are all great road oriented bikes. They are a bit heavier, a bit less exciting and less racy than top level race bikes (KTM 950SM aside), but when you wind the throttle to the stop, they will all put a grin on your face.
What’s more, you can ride these kind of bikes daily, and ride them hard, even in through the winter. You will find yourself on full throttle more of the time, riding them with more confidence in the rain, and fitting a pair of tyres which allows you to test the limits of traction in a more realistic setting. They don’t have feel-robbing steering dampers so the steering is light and communicative, if a little twitchy at elevated speeds, but this is all part of your biking experience.
There’s also something to be said for not being on the latest-greatest machinery. I remember doing a track day on my SV, overtaking all manner of sportsbikes, Fireblades, GSX-R, Ducatis, and knowing that I was the difference, and not the bike. A ex-GP rider on a 125cc will beat a novice on a Superbike.
Fancy a Chinese?
SO what is the best motorbike? The one you’re riding. There is one exception to the rule, in my world at least. I took my KTM990SM for a service at Bracken on the Old Kent Road (now sadly gone out of business). I was given a courtesy bike in the shape of a Superbyke (sic) RMR125. This is a Chinese motorcycle exuding all the quality and heritage of the Chinese motorcycle industry.
While undoubtedly cheap, this thing was just about acceptable to get from a to b, and only very slightly preferable to walking. I think I could have made a better go of producing a motorcycle than the brave folks at Superbyke.
Its engine was gutless, changing gear was a bit like kicking a toolbox and hoping something would happen, and the throttle and brakes were made of wood. Even though it was only 125cc, it wasn’t exactly light, it wasn’t good looking either and had the most ridiculous name. Worst of all, I felt like a prick riding it. Fortunately things have come a long way in the 125cc camp. When confronted with my first extortionate first service bill for £350, I couldn’t wait to pay it and get back in my own bike.
So, Chinese “motorcycles” aside, rung what ya brung. Get out there and ride, whatever it is you’ve got, and enjoy stretching you and your bike’s limits. As time passes you will certainly progress, and will buy yourself more powerful, sportier bikes along the way.
But when you get to where you thought you wanted to go, you may find yourself hankering after something less serious, something more fun, like you had in the early days of your biking career, when fun had a lower speed attached to it, and you didn’t mind chucking your bike about a bit or winding the throttle to the stop.
I bet you a 2004 R1 is still far better than you are, and with a decent set of new road tyres fitted would make an excellent year round ride for very little cash. That’s my plan anyway.
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This morning I went to the garage to get my bike out so I could ride to work. As I pushed it forward off the centre stand, it sat down squat as though the suspension had collapsed. Damn! Flat tyre.
I pushed the bike forward out into the light, popped it back on the centre stand and assessed the situation. Whilst annoying, I do appreciate it when punctures happen at home, they’re so much easier to fix than dealing with a flat on the road.
A screw had found its way into the rear (I’ve never had a puncture at the front, it’s always the rear tyre which gets it!)
I got under the seat and got out my Crafty Plugger kit. This consists of a giant threaded needle on a handle, and 20 sticky fibrous rubber bands and a Stanley knife blade for trimming.
Instructions are included. Here’s the steps of how to fix the puncture:
1. Remove offending Object from tyre using pliers from your bike’s toolkit
2. Using the crafty plugger tool, insert into the hole and push it in and out a few times to make the hole a little bit bigger, and to roughen up the edges of the hole. The tool looks like a giant darning needle with a screwdriver handle.
3. Thread the plug through the eye of the tool so there is equal material either side
4. Insert the tool into the hole, up to the handle
5. Twist the handle 1.5 turns.
6. Pull until the tip of the tool is just out
7. Cut the plug off flush with the surface. If your puncture is in the tread, cut as close as you can to the surface.
8. Pump up your tyre. If you are out and about in the field and you don’t have a pump handy, you can use a few mini compressed air bottles to get your tyre up to a pressure that will allow you to ride your bike to the nearest petrol station and get it inflated properly.
Buy your crafty plugger at Craftyplugger.com
Get yourself some mini gas bottles and an inflators tool. Here is a list favoured by cyclists.
There you have it. The crafty plugger. Essential under seat tool.
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Modern motorcycle design is experiencing an explosion in electronic rider aids. Are these adding to our experience of two wheels, or taking something away that will never be returned?
There’s something wonderfully gratifying about riding a full-fat, 1000cc sportsbike. Plenty of people will tell you that they are a handful, and too much really for the Queen’s highway, and they would be right. But the same can be said of any high performance car or bike. That doesn’t make them any less exhilarating to ride. If you like the feeling of power, and you have a few years’ riding experience under your belt, then a litre sports bike will thrill like no other. Responsive, with deliciously tactile controls, you can feel everything going on on the road beneath.
But modern superstock bikes like the R1, Panigale, ZX10r and S1000RR are pushing the amount of power and handling that it is possible to deploy in a road going motorcycle, and in pushing the envelope beyond the comfortable detente, they have adopted clever electronics to make these machines rideable by us mere mortals. But do the computers make them any better, or do these nanny electronics packages put something between the bike rider the way that modern Dual Clutch Gearboxes rob the driver the involvement of a good old fashioned manual gearbox?
The Beating Heart of the Beast
What makes litre bikes so enthralling is their engines. They are, even in 15 year old guise, astonishing powerplants. 1000cc engines which rev to 14,000 rpm, and produce around 150+bhp. They pull smoothly and strongly from low down, and when you get them spinning, you experience what I can only imagine it feels like to be launched off an aircraft carrier. Any faster and the bike would rotate over backwards. Manufacturers have adopted increasingly clever ways to extract more and more power from their motors’ cubic centimetres of swept volume; variable length inlets, dual fuel injectors, more aggressive cams, and more and more over square engine designs to raise the rev ceiling and generate more power. Meanwhile, the inside of the engines have gotten lighter, stronger and friction minimised as far as possible.
As motorcycle design has become more and more aggressive, and front steering head angles decreased for sharper handling, sportsbikes were fitted with steering dampers to prevent riders experiencing a ‘tankslapper’; the moment when the front bars shake violently from side to side, normally leading to loss of control of the bike. A tankslapper is symptomatic of aggressive steering head design, hard unyielding suspension and a bumpy road surface input to the front wheel. Many argue that if such bikes had been designed ‘properly’ in the first place, that no such damper would be required, and that it was being used to cover up an inherently unstable design. There was a growing sense that things had been pushed further than their natural equilibrium, and engineering (and electronics) is being used to cover up the cracks.
The Quest for more Power
In the world of production class motorcycle racing, power is king, especially at places like the Isle of Man. Manufacturers who fail to push on up get left behind, as Honda have experienced with their CBR1000RR Fireblade, the current model of which is essentially the same bike released in 2008 with a few minor changes and a new front end. It couldn’t keep up with the competition in superstock form at the Isle of Man. But good design shines through, and the Fireblade still managed to bring home the bacon, when the engine was given the World Superbike Tuning treatment, as John McGuinness demonstrated at this year’s Senior TT. Describing his venerable bike as an ‘old girl’, an old girl with which he is extremely comfortable, but an old girl that won a senior TT. No small feat.
So power has climbed, and electronic aids have been introduced to tame these bikes. I am certainly no Luddite, but I suspect that one day people will look to the last of the great “unsullied” bikes, the GSX-R1000, 2008 CBR1000RR (pre ABS), Yamaha R1 (pre 2012 traction control). Once safety systems get introduced, they do make the power more accessible, but we lose a little bit of something in the process. No more wheelies, no more stoppies and no more rolling burnouts, the Combined ABS will see to that! Whereas before you knew that when you twisted the throttle, you were the master of your own destiny, now there’s a computer to make sure you don’t fuck it up. It’s the nanny state manifest in motorcycle form, trying to save us from ourselves.
Since the introduction of ABS and airbags to cars, I’m sure the number of road deaths has reduced, but those same people have had to go and find other ways to exit this mortal coil. Dying is dying, whether you go straight on at a corner and exit through a hedge, choke on a large piece of superb fillet steak, whether you need to have tubes up your nose in hospital when cancer takes your vital organs, or just die in your sleep without any fuss.
“I felt like a boy who’d been given a gun”
I’ve always maintained that a large spike located in the middle of the steering wheel would be far more effective at improving driving standards than a soft cushioning airbag; this is the main reason there are relatively few motorcycle accidents given the relative risks involved. Self preservation is a powerful motivator. People are going to crash, but when they crash with safety systems onboard they have handed over power of control to the computers, and spurred on by a false sense of security, they are usually travelling at a faster speed when they do.
What are the Limits?
What I do think motorcycle training should involve is a means of assessing available grip, or allowing riders to experience the limits of grip without the expensive, painful effect of crashing. And in this regard, safety systems such as ABS, traction and slide control and the like can demonstrate quite how capable modern motorcycles and modern rubber are at propelling us bikers forward at a rate of knots.
I remember the first time I rode a 1000cc sportsbike. I hired a 2004 R1 and went to Wales for the weekend on my own to ride. I felt like a boy who’d been given a gun. Power was mine, and mine to use as I determined. Overtaking 10 cars in a flash felt naughty, I felt like I was operating in a different dimension, like a fly mocking the human’s attempt to swot it, I was gone before they even knew I was there. Leaning the bike over was another revelation. I’d heard individuals talk of knee-down on the road and wondered how on earth they could comfortably lean a motorcycle over that far. With the help of a standard R1 on BT014 tyres, I now understood.
Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner have spoken about how much of the fun of racing in MotoGP has been taken away by modern electronics; that they have levelled the playing field. As someone from the ‘old school’ of viscious two-stroke powerbands, where rider skill was everything, Rossi understands that you can’t fake pure talent, but you can learn to trust a bike, and ride around its electronics packages. But as we’ve seen from recent injuries, it doesn’t make crashing any less frequent, or the effects any less serious. If you push it, it’s gonna get you.