Friday, 27 June 2008

Some Things Stay The Same...

...And Some Things Do Not

The Countdown Has Begun

After which all shall be explained

Friday, 20 June 2008

Be Sharp & Live to Ride

It is well past that time of the year again, bikes have been rolled out of garages and uncovered at the backs of gardens after the long winter lay up. Now the average biker (40+ years of age, covers less the 5000 miles a year) can pull on his work wear, a helmet then jump on their bike and head off down the drive...sound familiar? I am talking about this after somebody on one of the forums I lurk in posted a link to a website that covers various motorcycling injuries. Now BE WARNED, these images are extremely graphic and will upset anyone who may not have seen serious/fatal accidents. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED: Live to Ride - Ride to Die

On a more positive note the UK government has just released a website with a star rating for all helmets available on the market. At the moment I believe there are 50+ but they intend to have the rest up over the coming months. There have been some controversy surrounding the results with £50 helmets out performing £500 helmets, thus there have been cries of improper testing procedures and so on. There are a vast array of styles available and like a large part of motorcycle ownership the heart has much to say in the decision process. Also there is some debate as to how motorcycle helmets should be made, in relation to stiffness and flexibility. Lets face it, by time most modern helmets would fail then your head has probably been detached from your body for some time.

Here are some of the links:
SHARP - New star rating system
MCN - Controversy regarding the SHARP results
Helmet Design - Debate how helmets are designed

I can only applaud when we see more and more bikes on the roads, while the summer season represents a period when the biker community certainly peaks. The flyers for various ride outs are in all the various bike shops. The MCI road racing gets into full swing and all my favourite twisty roads are filled with Sunday drivers! Now I am not a fast rider, nor do I do stunts...I am well pleased when I get out of a tight corner but I love going to the bike shows/races and see what miracles professional riders on 2 wheels can perform. On the way home from Kildare the other night with my partner we were surprised when a chap on a Yamaha R1 came past us on 1 wheel, on a busy dual carriage way with round-about just a 100m down the road.

I admit, I grinned...looked bloody great, jeans/helmet and disappearing down the road. Yet this was a busy road and got the attention of a security guard who then went to a phone. When I dropped my partner home all she said on the matter was, "it is people like that who give the rest of us a bad name...", and she is right, no denying it. The same way I shake my head when I see a guy on a pimped up BMW (worth €22K+) wearing his 'system 4' helmet and his 2 piece suit complete with tie! I understand why it is cool, even I have gone out in jeans and just a jacket/helmet but that was on a 125 and many years ago.

We look at many countries were helmets are not even a required, while no one wants to be walking around looking like Iron Man (mmm...then again) but I always ride in gear, the only items law here in Ireland are helmets, the rest is optional. I do not carry people on the back unless they have similar gear, I just do not want that on my conscience if anything goes wrong.

My reasoning is simple, I want to ride for as long as I can! If I go down the road I want to limit my injuries as much as possible so I get the best stuff I can afford and then ride my motorcycle within my abilities.

The gear makes more sense here too I presume, with the temperate climate. Lets face it, Ireland is so green because it gets LOTS of rain and not the warmest either. Good gear usually means that changing weather conditions do not affect you the rider or your concentration. You just focus on the road! I even wear ear plugs! I do not know how people drive cars with radios blurring, people talking, children screaming, dvd players, I gear up and ride and get a laugh dodging idiot drivers! I also commute everyday and usually spend the day in the stuff throughout lectures.

I agree 100% that having to wear gear should not be forced on people, never mind the rights issue, it would lead to the end of motorcycling. Gear would have to be approved, this gear would be very expensive and legislation would just make it more difficult to get a motorcycle licence. Though as an alternative I would like to see insurance companies offer discounts for riders wearing protective gear, like they do with training. Economics tend to be a major persuader for many.

As always, keep the rubber side down...

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

EU Standards for Crash Barriers

Just to add to my previous post some very positive news relating to motorcycle safety, new crash barrier standards are on the way from the EU!

For further reading please look here:
Bikes in the fast lane

This is very positive and certainly better then the Vision Zero idea of just banning motorcycle use all together. Training, education & better designed roads will benefit every road user. The only worry is the time it will take to bring these barriers in. UK ministers stated last year that they would only replace barriers when they needed replacing...after the crash has occurred! I will not hold my breath for common sense to dawn on the politicians.

Keep the rubber side down.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Motorcycles Sales & Beyond

Well to the bikers amongst you this will not be a huge surprise, but, motorcycle sales are up! Now sales have been rising generally year-on-year for most manufactures while the flood of cheap Chinese models have also helped. Yet this year will probably see an even greater boost thanks to the rising costs of fuel as when it comes to fuel efficient vehicles, motorcycles generally lead the way.

Here in Ireland this is best represented by looking at the official CSO figures for new vehicle licences (CLICK HERE), these figures do not even take into account second hand vehicle sales. In recent years we have even seen new insurance companies come into the market offering motorcycle insurance. Traditionally there were only 2 main players, one would insure first time riders at considerable expense while the other would insure you at a much cheaper rate, but only if you had at least 1 years experience. A cynic might say it was a nice little arrangement...

Then there are all the other aspects that go with motorcycling, cheap tax, the image, the sense of freedom, parking becomes much easier, the social aspect of getting waves and chats at traffic lights...basically if you get on a bike, go for a ride and do not enjoy it then I feel sorry for you.

Anyway, with a congestion charge due in Dublin within a few years we might be lucky enough to see a situation (similar to other European cities) were motorcycle are exempt from these charges. To further promote safe motorcycle use we should also hopefully see bus lanes opened to motorcycles as London has done due to a decrease in motorcycle fatalities by some 42% during trials! Though the governments fitting wire barriers separating motorway lanes is highly ill-advised as they have a 100% mortality rate in the EU with respect to motorcyclists.

Then now from July 1st we have the revised VRT (read: illegal double taxation by the government) rates being introduced designed to tax users of fuel inefficient vehicles and further bring down cost for those with efficient vehicles. Now I say 'vehicles', in reality it is just cars. The VRT rates for motorcycle will remain unchanged at €2 per cc up to 350cc then €1 per cc after that. Thus is on top of a VAT of 21% and all the associated duties. VRT is a further added tax which ministers are happy to admit that they will recoup some other way if the EU were to enforce its rules on double taxation. Yet for motorcycle rates to remain untouched seems very hypercritical, the most performance focused motorcycles can be more efficient then any hybrid car.

The government is not completely to blame though for the difficulty of readjusting VRT with respect to motorcycles as there are no industry standards for monitoring Co2 emissions from motorcycles. Each company will have their own methods, as they do for various other motorcycle specifications. Thus if the industry could come together and agree on a system then maybe policy makers could make appropriate considerations to motorcycles in this area. For further information on the revised car rates CLICK HERE.

I guess if one was to draw up a wish list with respect to motorcycle legislation it way go something like:

- No Toll or Congestion Charges (as we reduce congestion and road wear)
- Open the Bus Lanes (to further ease congestion and reduce accidents)
- Ban Wire Barriers (they are 100% lethal)
- Motorcycle 'Boxes' at traffic lights (like in Madrid & Barcelona)
- Garda run & free 'Bike Safe' training sessions through the summer
- Increasing driver awareness of motorcyclists through education and training
- Insurance companies offer discounts for riders wearing protective clothing
- Readjust VRT rates for motorcycles

I guess for any of the above to happen we will need not just to lobby the government more, but to push for the groups that should be lobbying for us to turn up the pressure. I am but one man at the end of the day ;-)

Keep the rubber side down.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Firefox 3...Rise Of The Fox

After 3 long years of development and being in beta testing since last November, while introducing some 15,000 improvements we finally will have the latest release of Firefox!

Firefox 3 is due for release on June 17th and they are hoping to break a Guinness World Record by having the most downloads of new software over a 24 hour period. If you would like to take part please CLICK HERE for more information.

Firefox is the 2nd most popular web browser available, with the added benefits of being open source and free. With a vast array of add-ons to tweak it however you prefer, making your web experience unique and personal. So join the revolution and be sure to either download or upgrade the best web browser available.

Further there will be local release parties around the release date. The Irish release party is taking place in Cineworld, Dublin from 7pm on Thursday the 19th June.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Ireland Says No

Well it is official, Ireland has rejected the Lisbon Treaty with 46.6% saying Yes and 53.4% saying No. Overall a difference of some 110,000 votes.

They keep saying that we are in 'uncharted waters', can not help but laugh at nothing has changed. Surely by bringing in the undemocratic reforms they desired would have meant us entering 'uncharted waters'? I think one of the political analysts on Sky News got it right when he said that the "elected and unelected leaders of the EU now had to decide what to do next". Obviously my emphasis is on the 'unelected' bit.

I guess this is strange for them, this thing called democracy rearing its ugly head. Guess we will have to muddle along with the current system and they may actually attempt to connect with the citizens or they may just pass most of the reforms without implementing any of the major ones. The leaders wonder how we will now deal with 'trouble states' without the Lisbon Treaty? Well, based on the Europe's history of dealing with obvious 'trouble states' I do not think much will have changed treaty or not.

The EU can once again retake its mantle of criticizing the USA for either doing too much or too little while not actually doing anything itself...yes, we have much to be proud of.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

The Lisbon Treaty - Get Out & Vote

It is almost time to vote on the Lisbon Treaty, I will be voting against it but no matter what anyone else thinks please get out there and cast your vote.

As I have made clear before, I fully support the idea of an United States of Europe. This document is not the right step in that direction. This is a document which as far as I can tell from my reading of it just further shifts power to elites from an already disenfranchised European citizenship.

While I am annoyed every time the 'Yes' supporters tell us it heightens democracy. No it does not. Any legal document that say that your state will go without representation within the Commission just does not go hand-in-hand with the idea of democracy.

Yes, the EU will become much more militarised as neither the UK or France can afford to maintain their forces at current levels yet there is more need for them abroad then ever. The simple solution is to consolidate and have more EU rapid reaction forces which will be allowed under the treaty and France has already started work on, the French President will not announce until after the Irish Referendum Vote. The European arms industry has already been consolidated relatively successfully, but I do not think a European army will ever be as effective as its US counter part, for many practical reasons, but that is another debate.

This document will give the EU significant power over public goods (energy, security...etc) while one of the stated objectives is to combat climate change, at what cost or to what degree is not covered. Is this going to be in our best interests or will we suffer on the back on knee-jerk reactions?

OK, I have heard the NO campaign talk about losing control over taxation while the YES campaign say that a no vote would be bad for business. I do not buy either. What government you have sitting at the top at the end of the day has very little influence over the globalised free market we are part of. Yes they can make preparations for the bad times and try to lessen the pain, or simply spend the money that comes into the country but these are reactive measures to the free market. So try not to be lured in by these arguments, just look at the current credit crunch going on in the USA and how it has affected our markets, whatever we vote would not change our situation. Though personally I prefer the idea of looking to a national government responsible to local citizens for accountability.

While I also keep reading references to 'streamlining' democracy and many people around me are concerned by this. How do you streamline a democratic process without cutting aspects out? Democracy is a slow process, look at the US, we have watched for almost 2 years just to get nominations for the President. Meanwhile over here the Lisbon Treaty may allow rumours of Tony Blair's push to be the first full-time EU President come to fruition, the EU citizens would not get to vote on this position, just the elites. Is this what we want? A man who 'believed' going to war with the Middle East was the right thing and now has found a god! With a reduced say in the running of Europe how could this benefit Ireland, look at the recent Eurovision song contest as to the prevailing attitudes and blocks within parts of the EU, this would be a Europe where our influence is minimal at best.

Speaking of voting, bare in mind that at best an average of only 45% of the EU citizenship voted in the last round of elections. Yet countries demanding most influence within the EU have some of the lowest turnout rates when it comes to EU elections (Poland @ 20%, UK @ 39%, Germany & France tied at 43%). Is it no wonder that this is only being put to a referendum in Ireland and does this not show that this is a top-down driven reform? This should be a Europe built from the citizen up, why push on with reforms which are bureaucrat led?

In the end, for me I do not want to give up further national power to a body that is still finding its way...or at worst still an experiment. It has not worked hard enough to win our confidence in this institution, most people can not name there MEPs, let alone say how many we have...or how many will remain? I want the EU to get me excited by it, to make me proud of it, to get me actively involved in it, not just something we look for to fund projects and bring in daft health & safety regimes. A no vote might not be welcomed in Brussels, but it will be by the almost 495 million EU citizens that do not get a say in the matter.

I wish I could remain biased, but this is too important to us and our future. As the saying goes, why fix something if it is not broke? Then when it does break, replace it.

If nothing else, get out and vote!

Monday, 9 June 2008

Test Ride: Buell Ulysses XB12XT

I was lucky enough to get a test ride on the new Buell Ulysses XB12XT recently thanks to the nice guys at Dublin Harley Davidson, so I thought it only right to give a brief opinion of what I thought.

First though I must admit that I have always liked the Buell motorcycles, but due to their very focused streetfighter styling they were never high on practicality. This being mainly down to my requirement to be able to carry a full hard case luggage system. That all changed when the original Ulysses XB12X was released in 2005. Not long after I managed to get on the original Ulysses but found it too tall for me, even with the low-seat option I found myself unsteady on it.

Fast forward to 2008 and the original XB12X has had a few modifications but also the release of the pure road focused XB12XT. Essentially an Ulysses which is shorter and styled slightly different changing more from adventure bike to sport touring machine, complete with heated grips, hand guards, 2 power outlets, full luggage system, triple tale system, tall screen and of course the lower seat height.

Being so interested in the bike I made a point of calling into Dublin Harley Davidson and was allowed to take their demo model out for a spin. Due to the heavy traffic I could not really push her, but on the plus side I got to get a feel for her in the sort of everyday conditions I would be facing. When I went out and turned on the motorcycle and heard the sound from that machine I new I was going to enjoy the ride.

Here are a few items I noted from the ride:

1 - Inside of right leg, you feel a fair bit of heat from the engine. This is most noticeable when stopped or slow moving, but I never felt uncomfortable. Then again pillions on my Er-6f have commented that they feel like there right foot is on fire sometimes due to the exhaust gases.

2 - Vibes are strong. My first experience on a big (1000+) V-twin. Personally I loved it! Sounded great, looked great and felt great. Once moving and up to around 4000rpm the vibes were barely noticeable. If this is an issue then you could try to keep the engine rpm high.

3 - Front brake is strong! The unusual Buell ZTL (Zero Torsional Load) disc brake proved its worth when just 10mins into my test ride on the motorway and a guy crossed 2 lanes of traffic without looking and then straight at me. I was doing 120kph (75mph) and she scrubbed off speed no problem. The back brake I really did not get a feel for. I tried it in slow moving traffic but you need to apply a good bit of force, some more experience with it would probably help.

4 - Engine is rated at 94bhp. If performance is an issue then maybe that could be a problem for more aggressive road riders, personally I just want the torque. I would be happy with a smaller engine but I do a good bit of two-up loaded with luggage. 5 gears but the engine was so easy to use, after over 2 years on Jap multi's this was a huge change! Barely shifted, just roll-on/roll-off with the throttle.

5 - Switchgear and dash are basic for the price of the bike, but tells you everything you need to know. Coming from experience, I never trust most gauges anyway and taking a minute to check visually is no big deal for most. I prefer it like this, while the 25th anniversary plaque is pretty cool.

6 - Seat allowed me to touch the ground. I have a 29.5' inside leg. Now it was either 2 feet on the balls of my feet or one foot flat on the ground. My commute involves a good bit of time stuck in 'stop & go' city traffic so seat height always a big issue. While I almost always have hard cases so filtering/lane splitting generally not an option. The seat felt comfortable and gave loads of room to move around, important for those long trips. While the pillion seat looked like the biggest I have had on a bike, while they have the added benefit of a backrest.

Like all Buells, where the fuel-tank should be is actually an air-box while the fuel is kept in the frame, hence its substantial appearance. You also get the belt drive which should mean low maintenance. Also the oil is kept in the swing-arm, again helping to explain its appearance.

All-in-all, I really enjoyed this bike and would happily admit to putting it on top of my wish-list. Most sport-tourers push you into a racing position that my back can not handle for long. So 'sit-up' positions suit me perfect together with those wide handle bars that allowed for very quick changes of direction. Everything in this package ticks all my boxes together with a motorcycle with loads of character. This is worth a serious look if you want a interesting, road focused motorcycle.

The RRP is €14,950 and service costs are €275 every 7,000KM according to the salesman with the first service being free (that usually being at the end of your run-in period).

Keep the rubber side down

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Restricted But Not Out

When I heard I was getting the Kawasaki Er-6n as a hire bike while my Karma was getting repaired I was both excited and disappointed. Part of me was hoping for something like a Honda Deauville as my routine would go unaffected with its built in luggage, I know, sounds like a strange hope but I value practicality over most things and there are not many other bikes that come in a complete package.

Excited because the Er-6n was the motorcycle I originally wanted, it is what I had tried to order at first but after some 6 weeks of promises the bike never materialised and I ended up buying a showroom Er-6f. Though to my dismay I was also informed it was a restricted bike...I have never owned or ridden a restricted motorcycle before this so it was going to be a learning experience.

Most of my commute is done on motorways and dual-carriage ways so within a few days I was sick of the Er-6n. No wind protection at all made for long unpleasant rides in bad weather. This lack of protection really did colour my judgement considerably. While the restriction drove me insane. Being stuck behind dangerous drivers and not being able to overtake quickly and safely. This inability to 'ride for yourself' and look after my own welfare while on the bike left me not wanting to ride!

Though it was during the last week of having this bike that did make me realise what she is good for. After a few short trip on local roads, generally of poor quality, you have to take it easy and enjoy the scenery. This is when the bike made sense. I could ride it within its limits and enjoy. Weather protection generally was not required while the roll-on/roll-off nature of the engine on these roads gave me a new appreciation of this bike. Especially when I was in the city dealing with heavy traffic. It took it all in its ease with no complaints.

Something that did keep surprising me was the breaks, any time I applied them she just wanted to slide! My Er-6f never gave me such issues, but coming up to traffic lights for instance had the back wheel sliding. The bike has the same tires and is less then half the power, I know it had a slightly different rake so whether that has something to do with it I am unsure but I have not read of similar experiences...though one owner of a same specification bike said he finds it hard to keep the front wheel down!

This is a fun bike, even with the restriction. For city riders or any riding that does not involve lots of motorway work this is a highly competent machine that will leave you grinning. The restrictor is extremely novice friendly I would say. Allowing you to get away with a lot of sins without being punished. None of my mates like the looks of the bike, but the more they complained the more I grew to like her. Keeping in mind the price of these bikes new I really can not recommend enough and well worth trying.

Keep the rubber side down...