Saturday, 31 August 2013

Touring On The NC700X - Part 1 The Southern Loop

I finally managed to take some time for some touring with the NC700X, it also synced nicely with my final push to snap the last of the Irish Photo Rally locations. I broke down the remaining points into two groups, a Southern Loop and Northern Loop. Both routes will take a night or two camping, include roads of every state and lots to see and enjoy. If long days in the saddle are not your thing you could always break it down into smaller bites or even just do the entire thing in one go.

Travelling up The Healy Pass, not bad at all on a nice day

The Southern Loop

There was no specific reason for choosing to start by heading South, its just what I chose to do. It ended up being a 1,075 KM loop around the bottom half of Ireland over two days. The choice of locations to visit are based on the Irish Photo Rally 2013 points, so you can find more information there.

Google Map view of the route
The route points are:

A - Start
B - Noughaval Market Stone, County Clare
C - De Valera’s cottage, County Limerick
D - Glanmore youth hostel, County Kerry
E - Hungry Hill Campsite, County Cork
F - Thatch Bar, County Cork
G - Kilcooly abbey, County Tipperary
H - Stroan Fountain, County Kilkenny
I - Suir Bridge, County Waterford
J - Sigginstown castle, County Wexford
K - Brew / Natter / Food
L - Finish

Bring a snack and soak up the views

There really is a bit of everything in terms of roads and things to see on this route, from motorway runs to unpaved roads and plenty of miles of each. I was on a time constraint so if you had more time to take then avoid the motorways and enjoy the regional roads which are a lot more interesting. Kerry gets special mention as it is always a fantastic place to travel to on a motorcycle, not just because of the never ending scenery and the roads, but because you can go from tourist/cosmopolitan spots like Kenmare and Killarney to the middle of nowhere in no time at all. The main regional roads are a joy to ride usually being in very good condition and on a dry day that just means hours of chasing vanishing points around the twisties. Of course a caravan/campervan/RV can spoil some of that and if you are like me and prefer to take a slower pace then by taking the passes and other poorer quality roads you generally avoid much of the tourist traffic, bar walkers and cyclists, and better still you get to soak in the scenery. Bring a snack, park up on a nice viewpoint and take some time to enjoy it all in before getting back on track.

What I Pack

The NC700X was loaded up with all the usual equipment and I was all set. My general rule of thumb for packing the bike goes as follows; a pannier for personal items (clothing/toiletries/etc), a pannier for tent / motorcycle cover, luggage roll for long items and 'other' (sleeping mat / tripod / first-aid kit) and then the topcase often is left light / empty with maybe cooking items. Depending on the trip, location of items on the bike and other specifics will change, maybe I want to bring a larger/smaller tent, more or less clothes depending on the weather and so on. So none of it is set in stone but it rarely (if ever) changes once on the road.

Plenty of this when travelling through County Kerry

Where I Stayed - Hungry Hill Lodge Hostel & Camping (Biker Friendly)

What a little gem of a camp-site (location E on map above). Its not a massive location and the privacy from the road is limited but they are the only negatives I have to say about the site. I was camping so only got to use the facilities available to campers, but that did include a clean shower and toilet block, a campers kitchen complete with electric kettle and toaster. The washer and drier are also located in the campers kitchen, I did not use them here but its not a bad idea being able to sit and have a brew while you wait for the wash to finish.

Getting comfy for the night at Hungry Hill

Some camp-sites I have visited will not let you bring the motorcycle onto the grass to leave beside the tent but Hungry Hill had no issue with this, they even suggested several good spots to set up. I did go mid-week so got the benefit of a relatively empty camp ground and when leaving the next morning I only saw the manager enjoying a breakfast brew. It was dry when I got my head down for the night, but it was soon raining and was still raining when I packed up to leave. My tent, a Coleman Cobra 2, performed perfectly and I did not notice any drainage issues around the grounds. Overall I had a very positive experience at Hungry Hill and I would definitely visit again. I highly recommend considering staying here and to keep an eye on how it progresses there is a Tripadvisor page here.

How The NC700X Managed

Fantastic little touring machine. I have obviously added several accessories since I first purchased the NC but I think I have found my almost perfect set-up. The 'trunk' on the bike is an absolute marvel. It defaults for what I would normally put into my tankbag for ease of reach, but being able to stow your helmet in there and walk away is a superb bit of security when touring. The way I look at it is that somebody might whip my sleeping mat, but that would not be the end of a trip, its even replaceable by finding a local Tesco. But anything happens to any of my gear and that's a world of problems.

Ireland's mini-alpine pass, The Healy Pass in County Kerry

The only irritation at the moment is the seat, about 90mins to 120mins into a ride I start getting a little uncomfortable, then it gradually gets increasingly unpleasant. I do have an airhawk seat cushion but I gave up using it on the Buell due to the extra height it added to me reaching the ground. I think I will dust it off for my next trip and see how I get on. Worse case it gets thrown into the topcase.

Next - The Northern Loop

The second part of this will detail my Northern Loop, which should be a little longer and I might add an extra night of camping to calm down the pace. More on that as soon as its done.

Peace and keep the rubber side down.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Google+ Killed The Conversation on Blogger

You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!
~ George Taylor, Planet of the Apes

I have just realised that I am not getting comment notifications any more, so for those of you who's comments have gone unanswered its not me, its not you, its Google+. Turns out that since turning on the Google+ comment integration there seems to be a problem with letting authors know that people have been trying to engage on their blogs.

To show you just how committed I am to solving this I went to the Google Product Forums. Oh yes, I danced in the pale moonlight with "Top Contributors", probably the most highly evolved of the troll species. I did come across various threads looking at the issue, littered with the usual READ THE FAQS type answers, and likewise most threads had gone inactive after nobody stumped up a solution.

Several of these FAQ links sent me to an About Google+ Comments guide, but for those of us that have read it, you will see that it does explicitly state that;
  • As the author of a post, you’ll receive Google+ notifications when readers comment on or share your blog post.

Obviously this is not the case. Further in the Blogger Posts overview page there is no longer a comment count, that may be excused if it is relating to the old comment system. However if it does then why even show it once the move over to Google+ integration is made?

I have yet to find a satisfactory solution to this and the sad thing is if you reply to this blog post with the answer I may never see it. Though my Spidey senses are tingling that with this level of Blogger commitment from Google just might be a sign of an impending Google announcement about the future of Blogger, especially considering the growth of Google+.

But that's just crazy talk.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

StrangeFOSS - Or How I Stopped Worrying About Unity And Learned To Love Gnome Shell

I am writing this post with a feeling of uneasiness as after moving to Ubuntu from Windows in the summer of 2007 I have moved again, this time to Fedora 19. Since the end of 2011 I had tried Gnome Shell several times for extended periods and while I really enjoyed the interface I found the compromises made to fit it into the standard Ubuntu repo's crippled it slightly. When the official Ubuntu GNOME was announced I was very pleased and did install it for a time, but again found the same issues with making the two ecosystems work together cropping up. To address some of these the Gnome3 ppa could be added to get up-to-date fixes and packages, but in the end I thought why not just cut out the middle man and install an OS which was Gnome Shell focused from the outset?

This is what led me to the door of Fedora 19 and I have to admit it has not been the easiest of routes to travel down as they do things slightly differently over there. That said, it is a much easier move than my initial jump from Windows to Ubuntu over 6 years ago, but Ubuntu was a very different beast back then too. Ubuntu easily has Fedora beaten in terms of ease of installation and then getting things done once its up and running. While coming from the Ubuntu ecosystem I found myself wary of how much more serious the girls and boys of Fedora take the concept of FOSS and the difficulties that may pose to the causal end-user, like  myself. In reality it is no more complicated than it is with Ubuntu thanks to a few clicks from websites like RPM fusion.

Fedora 19 with a few Gnome Shell extensions applied
That's another thing, deb and apt are dead. It is all rpm and yum! That's really all I know about that difference, the how's and why's are PhD worthy but admittedly a big part of me just does not care as long as Shotwell handles my photos, Chrome gets me around the web and I can play Minecraft when I want a break running on my Nvidia card. I am happy to say that that I had achieved all that within the first few hours of installing and everything since then has been a bonus.

For me the computer/laptop's local abilities have become less important, I use it as a storage device for my photos (many thousands) and back-ups. My music collection is synced with Google Music while virtually all of my work is done via Google Drive now. So long as I can run Chrome then that is 90% of my needs met and probably explains why my next laptop most likely will be a Chromebook. Yes there are debates about relying on the cloud and I am not naive enough to believe it will be perfectly accessible forever, hence I use Evolution to keep a local sync (backup) of all my email and anything I have in Google Drive has is transferred to and from my HDD, though the sooner Drive for Linux arrives the better. I digress.

A more recent screenshot with the Numix theme (details below)

Most of the blame for Fedora's barrier to new-users I put down to a combination of installer and software handling. The Anaconda installer is a minefield of trouble and I personally think it would be much simpler if it was just a flow of options instead of that main landing page and having to dig around various levels to find everything. Then once you are in the Fedora environment the native Software handler is only useful to those that know the specific_name of the apps they are looking for. Its a shame as the Gnome Extensions website handles installation and search so well, and its still only in Beta.

"Well here's another nice mess you have gotten me into" ~ Oliver Hardy

On the plus side I have read that Anaconda is still being worked on and that in Fedora 20 there might be a proper software store. Though I have not yet been able to print a test page in Fedora from my printer as I get a security alert every time the printer goes looking for fonts. Luckily my printer is cloud enabled so I can upload and print from Google Drive. Less than ideal, but it is a Kodak which does not have any native Linux support and was similarly unfriendly under Ubuntu (scanner has yet to work). I also do not like how it is hard to distinguish multiple windows from a single app, namely if I have Chrome and Keep open at the same time, I need to go into overview to find the other open window, or be surprised by pop-up windows I were not even aware of being open. Learning how to use keyboard shortcuts really goes a long way to making Gnome Shell much more user friendly so reading through the 'Help' application is highly recommended.

My preferred Gnome Shell extensions

Gnome Shell does look fantastic. Its also quick, searches your local/online documents, and there are no $£€ signs or Amazon ads in search results. I do have an issue about how it hides notifications, luckily extensions take care of the IM related notifications but if you miss a message from an app then you will never know until you check. I really enjoy the minimalistic environment that Gnome Shell is centred around, I just want to be able to focus on the task at hand without clutter. The default Gnome icon theme has been upgraded with a bit of colour and refinement that makes it much more pleasing to the eye. Overall the default theme settings are more than adequate, and some pretty cool wallpapers too.

In an effort to address the difficulty of installing codecs I have installed the Fedora Utilities tool and the RPM Fusion repo's, both of these have addressed everything from Skype, media codecs and Nvidia drivers. Much how Ubuntu was until recently, you have got to go looking for these solutions. Like I keep referring to, the Software application runs off looking for things and often never seems to come back to install the items, or it does not seem to be doing anything for long periods of time.

If any of the above has not completely soured your desire to give Fedora a try and you have been mulling over the idea of trying out a native Gnome Shell environment then I do recommend giving Fedora a spin, especially if you like clean minimalistic desktops. My general guide for getting it up and running is as follows;

1 - Make a full backup off my system on some external media

2 - Head over to the Fedora Project and download a copy of the OS

3 - Make sure that backup did not miss out anything, actually, just run it again.

4 - Install UNetbootin from the Ubuntu Software Centre to create a Live USB.

5 - 100% confident about that backup? Bet my life on it? No, did not think so. Check it again.

6 - Try out the Live USB and having used Gnome Shell under Ubuntu little seems new here.


8 - Installing with Anaconda (the beast!) took me 3 attempts to get right, each one a variation of partitions, applying Logical Volume Management (who knew!?) and encryption. So good thing I had BACKUPS as in the end I just completely reformatted my HDD and started from scratch.

9 - I tackled Anaconda like so, on the main screen work down from the top going left to right. I took my time. Once I got to the partitioning, and from what I read on the web, I knew I was going to end up with a /, /boot, /home and swap partition. Also I decided to apply the LVM option. To do this meant a reformat and so after removing my then partitions I let Anaconda apply its recommended partitions. I was happy, it was happy... we moved on.

10 - I kept doing the steps, left to right, top to bottom. Set up my root password, then my admin account. After that just let the installer finish.

11 - After a reboot welcome to Fedora! I get a snazzy little video after logging in and then while I wait for 'Software Update' (see, not so different from Ubuntu) to grab updates I am restoring various folders from my backups (phew, good thing I had them). I purposely avoided restoring .config folders and the such to avoid messing with the default Gnome settings and generally remove several years of cruft.

12 - After the updates and backups are finished I reboot. After the reboot I head over to Gnome Extensions to add my favourite tweaks to Gnome Shell, then over to RPM Fusion to enable media codecs with just a few clicks. I also install the very useful Fedora Utilities to also help get me up and running. To get Minecraft working I used this very useful guide on Ask Fedora. When setting up online accounts and you have Google Two-Factor Authentication turned on then this guide will help address that.

13 - If you want to get funky with the theme then I highly recommend you start with the Numix theme, everything to get it set up can be found via that link and well worth installing.

And that is where I have been at now since the start of August. Yes, the software handling does drive me up the wall and the security features can be over zealous in their attempts to defend you, though I blame that on whatever the developer equivalent of hazing must be in IT departments, "awh man, you changed my printer fonts" and the like. For the rest of us though we must stumble along, but nothing worth doing is usually easy.


Friday, 9 August 2013

Naughty Or Nice NC700X?

I have owned the Honda NC700X for over a month now and the first service is out of the way, so now I am going to type up my initial thoughts about ownership and anything that has stuck out. It is a very positive review mainly as its all been good so far. I am still smiling every time I climb on board and happy to say that if I could have just one bike in my garage this is the one I would still pick.

Missing Links

Anything I thought I needed to get myself into my comfort zone I bought from the off. This included luggage, chain-oiler, mud-guards and hand-guards. Daytona heated grips and a Honda 12v accessory socket have been installed during the first service as they were on backorder.  Of course owners do bemoan the need to purchase various bits and pieces they view to be obvious necessities. I have to admit that I understand why these items are not seen as deal breakers by companies, because they are not. Those of us that only use and own motorcycles are in the very small minority, for most the motorcycle is now a luxury item and not a workhorse. If I could not sit unaided on the saddle then would buy an Ural outfit before a car, but again that is just me. I am perfectly OK with Honda building a motorcycle as useful as the NC700X and then making it versatile enough to get tweaked to the owners needs and desires, regardless if they lean towards bling or rat.

I will add reviews of the specific accessories I have added in due course, really not had a chance to give everything a good test out yet.

Going Round The Bend

Or coming out of the bends I should say, this is when I notice the difference in engine performance compared to the Buell. Normally I would hustle through the bend, exit and be on the back of whatever vehicle was ahead of me, instead now I exit and watch those same vehicles escaping from me. This was disconcerting the first few times I took the bike out, I kept thinking I was doing something wrong or telling myself that I was taking it easy for the first 500 km so this sort of thing is a given. That said I started coming to terms that maybe I do not need to be on them like Lorenzo chasing Pedrosa into the first corner. Once I detuned my attitude a bit then riding started becoming a lot more rewarding and also much smoother. To paraphrase Lorenzo's phrase, the NC is less about the hammer and all about the butter. Its also a little bit more work on the back roads, the Buell was probably the easiest motorcycle to turn I have ever ridden but with the NC700X I am consciously aware that I need to counter-steer a little more to get myself around.

Out on the open road its a pleasure to ride. The seating position puts you up nice and high, well high enough to be able to see over the tops of most vehicles and get a good narrative of what is going on ahead of you. I notice very little vibration from the engine and likewise it just purrs underneath you all day long. The legal limit on the motorway/highway here in Ireland is 120 km h and the NC handles this with no fuss or stress. Like I said, the only time the power difference becomes apparent is when you want to make a quick overtake, it just requires you to engage the brain a bit more and plan the safest way to do it (or as the rule goes; Is it legal? Is it safe? Do I need to?) . As long as instant power is not an absolute requirement then the NC's power delivery is exactly what you need 90% of the time.

Quality - Build It & They Will Come

I went to the cinema on a Tuesday night, a late night showing of World War Z, which I recommend, and the after midnight run home was going to be my first night run on the NC. I slip into my gear, turn the key and on comes the light. I looked down to check if I had turned the high-beam on by mistake, nope, this was the standard light. At that moment I was smiling like a Cheshire cat, why? Every bike I have owned previous has required me to upgrade the light to some extent, be it expensive bulbs, messing with positions and researching all sorts of accessory lights. The headlight on the NC is superb. I headed straight for the back roads just so that I could use the high-beam, and when I did everything seemed to turn to daylight. I was a very happy camper. Also the side mirrors are a decent size, do not vibrate and do exactly what they are supposed to. Again, the first bike I have owned that I was not going online looking for replacement mirrors or extensions. That sort of attention to detail is all over the NC, yes it is built to a price, but everything is put together very well.

Where you notice the budget the NC is built to is with the suspension. An indicator of this is that if you go through the manual from cover to cover you will find no mention of suspension settings. You can make some limited adjustments but I would hazard that the default setup is as good as it gets. On the bumpy bits or when dealing with speed bumps in built-up areas it is nowhere near as plush as my previous bike, but that was also €6,000 more bike! Most of the time the suspension is perfectly adequate, though I find myself easing off into certain stretches of road which I would not have before.

Economical? Yes...VERY

When I got the bike it had 3 bars on the display and it would be 172 km before I would fill up. I am going to keep a link on this blog to show how I am doing mileage wise. Some owners have said they see the lowest mileage figures when they first get the bike, that could be down to new bike, new owner or combination of both. Economics had a big part to play in choosing this motorcycle so hopefully this proves to be a wise investment over my period of ownership.

Between bringing Nyx home and dropping in for the first service with 1091 km on the clock I had two full fill ups. On the way home from the service I filled up a third time. In all my average since purchasing has been 3.4 L/KM (or 82.6 UK MPG or 68.8 US MPG).

Summing Up

It does not come with a whole lot, but what it does have I am not looking to replace. Anything I am adding is to suit my own personal requirements. The engine will keep you happy 90% of the time. The fuel economy is ridiculously good. It's also priced pretty damn good. Sure the adventure style might not suit everyone, but that explains why Honda has grown the NC700 range to include naked, maxi-scooter and now cruiser models. If any of the above ticks many boxes for you then give one a test ride.

Peace and keep the rubber side down.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Clearing Out The Stable - Various Buell Parts For Sale

Now that the Buell is long bolted from my stable doors it is time to start making some space and clearing out the various parts and accessories leftover from ownership. I have started by listing a few of the items on my ebay profile and if you dig around on my flickr page you should also find better images for most of the items.

Most of the items are used, but I do have a few unopened items like H-D relays and a front muffler strap that never were needed. You can find them all via the ebay link above. I do have a few items I have not yet listed, mainly Touratech parts, but I am missing mounting bolts and the cost of me shipping that stuff would probably be worth more than the items. If I come across the mounting parts I might rethink it, but right now they are probably destined for a landfill...or a contemporary furniture installation!

On the plus side in the less than two weeks the items have been up I have already made my first two ebay sales, so have have broken my ebay selling 'duck'. Ebay could make the whole process a little easier by sorting out their Google Chrome integration, they provide a nice little extensions for Chrome but you need to use IE or Firefox to get all the features working when accessing the website, at least on Ubuntu anyway.

Hopefully there will be some bits up for grabs that people will have a good home for, plenty of miles left in them yet.