Sunglasses and Summer Biker Gear

Penalty Ticket

If I don’t have to use my heated grips in the morning then it is just too darn hot for biking. What possesses these fair weather bikers to dust off their machines just in time to roast in the heat wave?

I’ve seen varied summer fashions, from the Ducati guy with shorts and t-shirt to the Vespa lady with flimsy beach flip flops. I’m sure they are cooler than me but as I followed the Vespa lady into London all I could think about was bone deep scrapes as she put her foot out at each traffic light. I think I’m rather too fond of my skin for summer biking.

I’ve trimmed down for the summer by removing the thermal lining from my jacket and discarding the leggings from under my cordura trousers. It’s still too hot though.

The motorbike sunglasses have helped. I was sent this pair of Neue glasses to try out recently. Well actually not that recently but it’s been wet and overcast for about 8 months solid and I have been mocked on previous attempts to wear them.

I was a little wary about wearing motorbike sunglasses as they steam up very quickly when the helmet goes on top of them. Fortunately with a tiny breeze these seem to remain clear and only fogged up while I was stationary and struggling to squeeze my sweaty hands into my gloves.

I usually look like a prize tool in shades but I think these are fairly stylish, I got a few admiring looks, although that could be down to the gorgeous bike. They curve around the face like the more space age sports sunglasses but look sufficiently understated for a Bonneville rider.

They obviously shade your eyes from the glare but they also provide a reasonable level of protection from the road shrapnel meaning you can leave the visor up and feel the full refreshing effects of the wind in your face.

I like getting free motorbike things, it makes me feel better about unexpected bike related expenses, like this one.

Why do they exclude motorbikes from some stretches of bus lane and how come they only caught me once when I’ve been zipping along this same stretch almost everyday since March? I’m not complaining about the latter bit obviously.

Commuting Reconnaissance Trip

1-sao-paulo-worlds-worst-traffic-jams

I hope something out of the ordinary happened today because I couldn’t move. I was trapped in maelstrom of push bikes, cars and jackknifed buses.
Bikes were crammed into every available gap, going nowhere but making an ugly disheveled plug.
Others were hopping up on to the pavements looking for escape.
I was sat behind the bus tapping my fingers and wondering if I was supposed to be somewhere else.

I was having filter anxiety.

I was up early-ish today so I could nip out on a practice commute to the new job near Kings Cross, suss out motorbike parking availability and head back to the old job before my boss sent out a search party.

It started well enough, barely 5 minutes in and I had already successfully swerved out of the path of a car who thought he was a bus, then I was picked up by an outrider who held my hand (figuratively speaking) and showed me the ropes as he weaved in and out of cars, first the inside then the outside, all the way to Clapham. I was beginning to relax and then I lost him. I didn’t quite position myself well enough for this erratic side to side motion and thought I had plenty of time and could just wait for the bus to move, but it didn’t. Bikes were roaring past me 2 lanes to my right and I vowed not to get stuck on the inside again.

I eventually pushed and wobbled my way in between the stationary cars and enjoyed an extremely short clear run until a central reservation appeared and I had to make my choices. It was time to rejoin the chaos and get myself wedged into the Vauxhall Bridge roundabout and just pray for Bonnie sized gaps or give up and head back on roads that you could actually ride on. My petrol light came on at the pivotal moment, only 60 miles out of this tank full, and not wanting to add to the congestion by spluttering to a deathly stop I opted to pull an about turn and head back to Tooting.

So much for reconnaissance, I didn’t even make it across the river. At this rate I’ll have to set off at 6am or pull the push bike out of the shed.

It’s Not Just The Bike

Dryer Sheets

Even the kids have taken to pointing out my profligate ways. No. 2 child said the other day

“but it’s not just the bike Angela, it’s all the bike related stuff!”

I feel somewhat victimised in the house, they just haven’t let me forget my last purchase of the “special sponge”.

“Is it a ‘special’ sponge Angela?”

“Yes, it’s a bloody special sponge, it’s got space for your fingers!”

And it is a special sponge, not only does it have finger spaces for cleaning spokey bits in your wheels and protecting your knuckles from graze injuries but it also has a special top for driving all the suds down and onto your bike. I don’t know how I was supposed to resist and it only cost 3 times as much as the standard variety.

I blame the scheming, thieving, marketing types, they shouldn’t be able to prey on people like me. It’s too easy, they just have to mention words like micro, multi, special and I’m reaching for my credit card.

Here’s my latest must have purchase. Apparently they are perfect for building a show quality shine on your chrome work. You can use them new or used and you get 40 sheets in a pack.
40!
That’s got to be 3 years worth and they only cost £1.25.

I’m thinking I might keep the purchase a secret from the family until they’ve forgotten the sponge.

Rides Like a Big Girl’s Blouse

Tough Biker

So its official, I’m going to have to toughen up.
I can’t keep treating this biking malarkey as a cosy pastime. There will be no more sitting around toasting my hands around my blazing hot grips – winter commuting is not for pansies.

I arranged to meet Lynn after work yesterday for tea at our favourite vegetarian caff. I set off for the 2 mile trek with heated grips on full blast and pulled up outside the eatery leaving the parking light on to save my lovely Triumph from any unintended crumple incidents.

A couple of hours later we clambered into and onto our respective modes of transport with me quipping that the only thing that could prevent me arriving home first would be a flat battery from my silly parking light.

Cars….Pah!

By the time I’d removed my disk lock, fiddled with my helmet and managed to get my gloves to sit neatly under my cuffs, Lynn was long gone. By the time I’d gone through the start up process a few times, listening to the usual whir and the most unusual click and die, she must have been at least half way home.

Harumph!

Good job I had my phone and breakdown cover and a girlfriend with a car.
10 minutes later, Lynn was back to rescue me and provide shelter from the rain.
3.5 hours later the breakdown recovery vehicle arrived.

He may have taken quite a long time to arrive but I think he was very good value when he finally got there. As a keen biker himself he had to get in a few digs about my “not a proper” Bonneville, which of course is true but I didn’t want a proper 1960’s bike, just imagine how unreliable that would be.

We all mucked in trying to fathom out where the battery would be hidden, we had both side panels off and it took 3 fine minds to work out the intricacies of saddle removal. I feel like I’ve served a mechanics apprenticeship now.

The battery was flat but he had it turning over in seconds. By the time we had reassembled the pieces he was confident that the machine would start up unaided and he was desperate to switch it off again so he could jump on my bike and show me how to bump start it. For someone full of disparaging remarks he was mighty keen to try the Triumph out for size.

Luckily the starter motor worked fine because he wasn’t going to get it bump started anytime soon. Seems the trick with bump starts is to get the ignition on, put the bike in 2nd gear, roll with it down a hill with the clutch engaged and then just pop the clutch. We didn’t get further than turning on the ignition as it seems the modern Bonneville prevents you moving beyond 1st gear unless the engine is started.

Basically if you can’t get the engine to start via the electric ignition switch you are stuffed. Bet you didn’t get that with those “proper” Bonnies that came stocked with kick starts and centre stands.

Progress…..Pah!

Pillion Debut plus Screaming and Aggression

pillion

I followed the bike dropping incident with a whole host of other bike related ball’s ups but two weeks have passed and I’m still here relatively unscathed so I think my biker chick pieces must gradually be falling into place.

4 mile commutes are barely worth getting togged up for but the miles add up slowly and we’ve covered about 160 miles since pick up. I’ve put the grand sum of £19 in the tank so it’s no eco warrior but maybe that will improve with the new extended commute when I’ll hopefully get to spend a greater proportion of my time out of 1st and 2nd gear.

The Bonneville rides very well, I just need to stop letting it down on my slow speed cornering when I manage to turn a solid dependable bike into a wobbly old crock in need of stabilisers.

I’d noticed the rear wheel skittering around a bit on the white lines and man hole covers littering the bus lanes round these parts but after taking advice from Triumph RAT forum, and then waiting a further 10 days while I fathomed out how to inflate bike tyres, I discovered my tyres were flat.

Turns out you can inflate motorbike tyres with bicycle pumps so long as they have the Schrader valve fitting. This news filled me with unexpected joy as I have an unacceptable glut of bike pumps and now I can nip out with my track pump and keep the bike properly inflated without ever having to risk a petrol station, pump related melt down.

It’s a miracle with all my bike related anxieties that Lynn ever agreed to ride out with me but by yesterday lunchtime we had cobbled together enough additional biker garb to remove most of her pre-existing excuses and delaying tactics. We set off on a major expedition to the old allotment in search of leeks and parsnips. It’s was pretty cold and Lynn noticed my wobbly old crock tendencies on the corners but I think the ability to whizz down the bus lanes avoiding horrendous tail backs through Mitcham and Wimbledon may have sold the biker lifestyle to her.

Actually I don’t think she liked the Wimbledon bit very much, I recollect screaming and aggression there as I threatened to scrape her knee caps between two vehicles but the rest was good.

Hill Horror

Retro Chic

The calendar entry for Saturday read “Pick up Bike”, I couldn’t have realized quite how literal that reminder would prove to be.

I like riding bikes but I have a severe and disabling bike parking phobia. I always have had. I took the first bike I had, out on a trip to Matlock – motorbike heaven, but rode right through before looping back and heading home dejectedly because I couldn’t bear to park in front of all those experienced bikers.

For the last month (which happens to coincide with the onset of my latest bike “enthusiasm”) I have had terrible night sweats relating to the bike parking anxiety.I’ve done my best to calm my fears. I’ve watched youtube videos on the subject and visualized parking spots and methodology. I really felt I had my demon whipped but that was BS….before Saturday.

We live on a hill. The sign says 17’ but it’s near vertical in places. Obviously you can’t park a bike on inclines like that so I’d earmarked a spot across the road, just on the brow of the hill. Of course when I get the Bonneville home I find a car sitting in the one and only spot I’d psychologically mastered.

Curses!

There followed a period of considerable revving as I looped around the block a few times sizing up the options and ensuring an audience of curtain twitchers had amassed.

For some reason I have a brain fart at this point and decide to park right in front of our house so I can admire it from the living room window. So I pull in with my wheel pointing up the hill (like I say, I’ve done my research) and kick the side stand down. I then combine my clambering off the machine with my release of the front brake; just to ensure I am at my most unbalanced as the Triumph starts to slide down the hill, scraping a trail in the tarmac.

I’m not too sure what happened then. I resigned myself to being pinned under the bike but made some heaving attempts first. There were horrible revving sounds, grunts and then a ping of snapping metal.

Bollox! My foot rest was off and impaled in the tarmac.

I hauled the bike up and across the road and deserted it while I walked nonchalantly back, stooping surreptitiously to retrieve the shrapnel and heading inside to wail about my broken bike.

<

I was very lucky not to have completely ruined the new machine.

None of the paintwork was touched and the impaled foot rest must have saved both me and the engine from any serious crush injuries.

My pride is seriously dinted though. The neighbours spotted my ineptitude and then I had to ring the dealer to see if he might possibly have a spare pedal because I managed to break mine off less than hour after taking it away.

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By Sunday life was looking up again.

Lynn fixed the bike for me and is showing signs of wanting to go for a ride and the neighbour took pity on me and offered me the use of his drive to park on.

The world is back to being a wonderful place.

Big Betty’s Bonnie

The discovery that “I was too short for BMW” floored me, but as the t-shirt says, Fat Bikers Bounce Better.

I bounced back quick smart and found myself sitting comfortably astride a Triumph Bonneville the very next day.

The 2009 Bonnie has been shrunk by a whole inch and must now be at least two inches shorter than the BMW F650 GS, couple that with the nearer vertical position into the side stand and you have a bike that I can actually get my leg over and get in the upright position without the need for pulleys and heavy equipment.

So the size was right but what about the ride?
My previous experiences with bikes fell into two categories, fun and boring:

BMW F650 Strada (1998) – extremely nippy and fun
Yamaha Virago 535 (1998) – shiny, slow, hard to turn and boring
BMW F650 GS (2010) – powerful, nippy and fun again but did I mention I’m too short?

My demands for the Bonneville were that it should fall slap bang in the middle of the right category.

The test ride started well, I got it out of the courtyard without stalling. The Bonnie is incredibly easy to ride. It has a very solid gearbox with a good clunk as it pops into gear and I had no problem finding neutral. In contrast the BMW’s gearbox felt fussy and demanded millimeter precision from cold and booted toes before it would display the neutral indicator.

I rode it out of the Sanderstead showroom and headed left, into the unknown but remarkably picturesque landscape, winding round hilly roads with the mist clinging to the chalky cliffs at the side of me. At one point as I started to descend I heard a low throaty rumbling over each shoulder and glanced into my wing mirrors expecting to see an escort of Harleys, but the road was clear. I smiled with pride as I realized I’d found myself a proper bike.

I don’t really have the experience or vocabulary to describe quite how the bike felt or understand the differences between the Triumph and the other bikes I’ve ridden but it certainly didn’t disappoint. I’m not a speed demon and have no interest in topping 100 mph (or even 80) but I do like acceleration. Quite a lot actually. The Bonneville has a good kick, I’ve no idea how it would fair head to head with the Beemer but it felt powerful. It’s got a flat seat and opening the throttle swiftly gave me the sense that I could quite easily slide off the back without some firm inner thigh action. I’m exaggerating of course but I did think it would be sensible to get a sissy bar before accelerating hard with Lynn on the back – she isn’t built to bounce as well as me.

I pulled off into a lay by to admire the machine and all felt well with the world.

I was introduced to the biking world by my brother who used to take me to school on his 1970’s Kawazaki Z1000. That still holds the benchmark of a real bike to me and the Bonneville came pretty close to the mark. It’s a modern retro so there will be no opportunity for me to tinker, stripping the engine out and cleaning it in the kitchen sink but that can only be a good thing, the last thing I touched with a spanner remained out of action for at least 3 months.

I rolled back to the dealers about 40 minutes later than expected but I could have gone on and on. I was tempted to just ride until the road ran out but instead I turned back and signed on the dotted line.

I pick it up on Saturday after they’ve given it a polish and fitted me with some heated grips.

All the Gear, No Idea

sad biker

I’ve been acquiring gear for my latest obsession at a fair rate of knots and the pile of trammel in the hall is now reaching embarrassing proportions.

I’ve sourced fat bikers trousers, extortionately priced yet rather swanky bad ass biker jackets, helmets, special socks, neckerchiefs, outdoor bike covers and locks. Quite frankly I’m the best kitted out biker in town apart from one startling omission……

The bike.

It keeps evading me.

I’ve come mighty close on a couple of occasions.

My first bike of choice was an ebay listed 10 year old BMW F650 GS. A single cylinder version, factory lowered and with a whopping 55k on the clock.

I think I might have had a lucky escape with that one.

I lost the bid in the final millisecond and shifted my glances in the direction of this beauty. Still a BMW F 650 GS but completely revamped for 2008 with an 800cc engine and a twin cylinder. Again factory lowered but with only 5k on the clock this time.

The snow did it’s best to deter my biker dreams. Police actually closed the roads around the dealership on the day of my first planned test ride due to the treacherous conditions.

I stuck a deposit on it to hold it for another week and then two days before the rearranged test ride, more snow fell. Fortunately heavy rain followed and cleared the roads sufficiently for me to take it out to play in the downpour.

My new biker trousers must hang a teensy bit low because I struggled to get into the saddle and then I could barely reach the floor to provide enough leverage to take the bike of the side stand. I’m surprised the dealer didn’t rush out and whip the keys out of the ignition as he saw me teetering from side to side trying to reach the ground on my tip toes.

Having got the thing upright I managed to stall it on the way out of the forecourt but then I was off and flying.

It was the fun machine I remembered from my direct access course more than 12 years ago. Nippy and seriously easy to handle, at least until I needed to stop and put my foot down again. Stopping on even the slightest of inclines was a little bit hairy and left me in no doubt that this bike was going to sit on me one day.

The final straw came after I’d pulled into the petrol station to load up. I’d filled up and paid and with a fair queue of cars pulling in behind me all I had to do was hop on and speed off gracefully.

I leveraged my leg up in a passable fashion but couldn’t even come close to throwing the bike upright. The big GS bikes have one heck of a tilt on to the side stand and you need at least one firm foot on the ground to handle them. I came so close to having to ask the guy in the station to push me up that I had to face facts. This bike was just too darn big for me.

I tried not to get too dejected and enjoyed a bit of a blast along the A22 before taking it back to Vines and asking for my money back.

Now I need to find myself another dream bike or risk looking like a complete narna on my Brompton.

I’m currently toying with a Triumph Bonneville, on paper they seem lower than the BMW and are probably considerably narrower. They can hold their own in the charm stakes as well.