Dec 25 2013

Sleepy cat!

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 9:30 pm

image

Taking a nap so she’s not too tired for her evening sleep

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Dec 08 2013

Riding On

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 6:38 pm

Been a while since I last mentioned anything about bikes (or posted at all!). That was at the end of August when I’d just got the new bike. Since then I’ve done about 1500 km over various rides including the A62 to Manchester and the A64 to York. I’m still on a provisional licence so motorways are still out, but the dualled bits of the A64 between the A1(M) junction and York itself are probably pretty similar. A couple of weeks after I got the bike I also rode over to Squires bikers’ cafe on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday. Visiting my mum and introducing her to both the bike and the one piece suit was fun:

Bike and suit

Most of my riding is around Leeds, and I have to say that the inner loop road is a serious pain at times. The inner ring road has motorway regulations despite having a 40 mph speed limit so I’m not allowed on there. The inner loop is designed for clockwise travel, which is fine if you want to go that way round but not ideal if you want to go the other way. There are bits where you can go anticlockwise, but I’m sure they were designed by whoever did the store layouts at Ikea where it’s mandatory to go past a surfeit of tealights and couples having slow motion arguments about soft furnishings regardless of where you actually want to go.

Bike training is now on hold until Spring when there’s more daylight and I’ve got a bit more money to pay for lessons. At £160/day it’s not cheap, but at least I’m now on 600cc bikes.

Apart from getting used to the thing on the road, there’s also the biking culture to get into. I got involved with Leeds MAG because I used their website to find out about bike parking spots and I thought it made sense to get to know them and meet people who know far more about bikes then I ever will. Since I joined in July I’ve been to a few socials, both organized by MAG and by some of the other local bike clubs. (There’s a big difference between MCC clubs and MC ones. The MC clubs are the outlaw ones like the Hells Angels, Outlaws and Blue Angels. MCCs are bike clubs that are open to more or less anyone, but like most clubs they do have procedures and entry requirements).

I’m at a very early stage so I’m just getting to know people and find out what’s what. I can tell already just how important the bike scene can be to people’s lives. It’s very similar to the combat sports/martial arts scene (which I’ve been somewhat neglecting) but hopefully with less of the physical violence. A contraption that can go at high speeds with only a tiny point of contact on the ground is inherently dangerous so it’s not surprising that most bikers (me included) know people who have been killed or injured in accidents.

The next MAG event is a charity toy run. The idea is pretty simple: meet up at a central location, ride as a group, and then disburse toys at a local charity. This will be my first group ride so it will be interesting to see how it goes. I’m sure I’ll be fine but it’s just the thing of doing something for the first time. Finding toys has been tricky as most stuff I’ve found for girls features lots of pink plastic and words like “princess”. I know I’d probably be knee-capped if I gave most of the people I know presents like that, so it’ll probably be something like Lego or a jigsaw. There’s quite a few toy shops near me so it should be pretty easy to get something appropriate.

Next couple of MAG events after that are the fortnightly meeting (with cake! But you’ve got to bake it first. I’m thinking some sort of banana loaf, and a coffee and walnut cake) and then a couple of days later a band at a pub in town probably followed by a curry. Sounds like a good way to end the year before xmas.

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Aug 27 2013

Brmm Part III

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 11:52 pm

A couple of weeks ago I did half a day’s post-CBT bike training on a small 125cc bike. At the end they recommended seeing if I could trade in the scooter and get a geared bike of my own. I had some spare cash that I was planning on spending on an old banger of a bike after I’d passed my test so I thought I’d investigate. I went back to the dealer I got the scooter from and got a pretty good trade-in on another Chinese bike. 2 weeks after the training, last weekend, I swapped this:

On The Scooter

for this:

New Bike

Same power as the scooter but physically a lot bigger. Definitely a lot more my style as well:

On the bike

So what’s it like to ride? Getting it home was a bit of a baptism of fire because I’d arranged to have a lift back. However that didn’t happen and I had to ride back instead. Through central Leeds on a Saturday afternoon during match day. Fun. The day after I did a few circuits round some quiet streets to get a bit of practice. Gear changing was a bit fiddly and I stalled a couple of times, as well as making the engine scream when I accidentally changed down gear instead of up. On the Monday I practiced a few hill starts and on the Tuesday was my first longish ride (c. 11 miles each way) from Horsforth over to the MAG meeting at a pub in Morley, including the 70 mph Stanningley bypass. After a few more practice rides I rode over to CCL Computers on Saturday (dying hard disk to replace; that was fun). I’ve definitely still got a lot of room for improvement, especially knowing when and how to change down gears, but I’m certainly getting there. There’s an art to sorting out the gears with your left hand and foot while simultaneously dealing with the brakes and throttle with the right, which it feels like I’m getting the hang of. Even though it’s the same power and engine capacity as the scooter, having gears gives more control. It also feels good to be getting the hang of slow clutch control and knowing that you won’t stall when you pull out at lights or a junction. I’m afraid to say I’ve also bought a one piece leather bike suit that I’ve even worn in public, but no one batted an eyelid when I walked round the supermarket with it on.

For Bank Holiday Monday I was going to pop over to Seacroft Tesco to see how busy it was after the Leeds Festival, but ended up continuing over to Squires Cafe Bar via the scenic route of missing a turning and turning right instead of left. A bikers’ cafe on a sunny bank holiday was as busy as it sounds, with almost every possible type of bike there, including a couple of trikes, but only about 4 cars. I also wasn’t the only person there with L plates. I know there’s a bike subculture with things like the motorcycle clubs (MCC style rather than the outlaw MC groups like the Hells Angels or the Outlaws) and which I can see myself getting involved in. I joined the Motorcycle Action Group about a month ago because I wanted to get to know other people into bikes and I can imagine joining one of the local MCCs once I’ve got to know people a bit better.

Next steps will probably be booking another half day’s training to iron out a few things on my 125 cc bike, and then preparing for module 1 on a 600 cc+ one. The test classes changed in January, so now there’s no automatic moving up to a bigger bike class after 2 years like there used to be, and if you want to ride a 600 cc+ bike, you have to take your test on one.

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Jul 01 2013

Brrrmm Part II

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 11:04 pm

Last week I did my motorbike CBT renewal. Good to have it out of the way. Before I did it I was a bit nervous of some of the slow speed manoeuvres, specifically the figure 8 and U-turn, so I practised them on the scooter on the flattish bit of road just by where I live. On the day itself I started off on a Honda CG 125:Honda CG 125

Surprisingly I didn’t get on too badly compared to my first CBT 2 years ago. I didn’t quite have the hang of the clutch but I managed to get through the morning’s training OK, including those manoeuvres. Then came the afternoon, with 2 one-hour sessions of on-road training. Unfortunately the first hour didn’t quite go as smoothly: I had a tendency to let the clutch go a bit too quickly and kept stalling. It also got a bit confusing trying to make head or tail of bus lanes and partly hidden turn-offs on Dewsbury Rd in Hunslet. We agreed that it would be better if I spent the 2nd hour on my own scooter so I could get signed off and then decide what to do about further training. Apart from a couple of bits, which I blame on being tired at the end of a very long day, that went a lot better.

Afterwards I had a chat with the chief instructor about what to do next. What I want to do is a week or so of intense training which ends with me taking the full A class bike test on a 600+ cc bike. However, as he suggested, I need to spend a day or so getting the hang of a less powerful bike so I don’t end up in a hedge when I first get on it. Around Hunslet where the bike school is can be pretty busy so I might also see about doing the training at a school in a quieter part of town. Looking around there’s even a bike school based at an airstrip near York, so that might be worth considering. First step though is passing the bike theory test which is booked for a week on Friday.

Something else I noticed is that the combat boots I wore for the CBT were a bit too chunky to feel what I was doing. They weren’t steel toe-capped but I still had to work hard to feel when I was changing gears. Of course I needed some proper motorbike boots, so I ended up getting these understated things:

Motorbike Boots

I also decided to get a leather jacket that matches my leather trousers, so all this is getting pretty serious. I must get a photo of me in the full kit.

After all that it was quite entertaining travelling back home. There’s a lot of roadworks in South Leeds at the moment while Northern Gas Networks installs a new pipe under one of the busiest non-motorway roads in town, which means all kinds of strange diversions. At one junction I had to pull out into two lanes of traffic. Unfortunately there was a broken down car with a police car next to it (presumably shielding it from oncoming traffic) roughly where the red box is:

Blocked junction

As Google Streetview shows, visibility there isn’t brilliant at the best of times so I had to be extra careful. Plus it was rush hour. Meanwhile White Van Man is beeping away behind me because I’ve been sat there for more than 10 seconds. Unfortunately for him, the second time he beeped, the traffic cop noticed and walked over to have A Word. By then the traffic had cleared so I pulled out, trying not to fall off the scooter for laughing. Result!

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Jun 10 2013

Brrrmmm

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 6:31 pm

So last year I bought a scooter:
On The Scooter

After having to rely on public transport for so long it was good to finally have an alternative. One thing that stands out on the photo is the big L plates. UK motorbike rules are complex and designed to make sure young riders don’t ride powerful bikes immediately. It used to be that anyone over 17 could ride up to a certain power on a provisional licence with no training. Then they brought in a rule that you must complete a CBT course and hold a DL196 certificate before you’re allowed on the roads on your own. It lasts for 2 years and restricts you to a 125 cc bike or scooter with a maximum power of 11 kW. No passengers or motorway riding allowed. However I don’t think a small bike would really be powerful enough for either. There are exceptions but they don’t really concern us here. Interestingly, if you take your CBT on an automatic scooter, you can still ride a geared bike. I phoned DVLA and asked them to confirm this.

Anyway, my certificate expires in July but I want to renew it slightly earlier so I’ve got a bit of time to try and get a full A class licence that will allow me to ride anything before my insurance is up for renewal at the end of August. The bike training place suggested I do my CBT on a geared bike so they can see how I get on and then decide how much training I need to take the full test. This is in 2 parts: off-road manoeuvres and then on-road technique including a certain amount of independent riding where you get told where to go and then decide how to get there. The motorbike theory test isn’t very different from the car one, apart from a few extra questions on things like bike handling and pillion passengers. It also includes the hazard perception element, where you have to work out which fuzzy mass of pixels on a low resolution video might cause some sort of danger.

I’ve already done quite a bit of independent riding, including a few long ride outs to places like Sheffield, York, Manchester and the Yorkshire Dales. The tricky bit is when you end up somewhere unfamiliar and get stuck in the one way system. When I rode over to Mcr I was going to ride down Oldham Road and Oldham Street and round to a bike parking spot on Fountain St, near Pizza Hut. Unfortunately Oldham St was closed because of an unsafe building so I got stuck on Great Ancoats Street and somehow ended up going past Victoria Baths, up Oxford Road past the university and up Sackville St. After that I had to get across a partly-gridlocked bus lane to get to the bike parking. All good fun. Even if I’d been riding in on motorways I’d just have come in from a different direction and probably still got lost. It’s difficult (although not impossible) to have a Satnav on a bike, but road works and road closures make it very easy for them to get out of kilter and it is impossible to have a roadmap on the seat next to you,  unless you’re a London cabbie revising the knowledge and have a map on a clipboard on the handlebars.

So, 2 weeks until I renew my CBT and then hopefully get my full licence within the next 2 months. Wish me luck…

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May 28 2013

Testing 2

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 11:49 pm

Trying to get Twitter image cards to work

Test Card


May 28 2013

Ribbit!

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 10:23 pm

The news is pretty depressing at the moment, so here’s a nice photo of a frog in my mum’s pond.

frog

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Apr 14 2013

Beer!

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 1:59 am

Testing.How long does it take for Twitter card approval to come through?

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Apr 07 2013

Pie!

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 11:32 pm

Egg and bacon pie

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