Friday news round-up: helmet safety, all-electric bikes and impotence

A brief round-up of bike news as we head into the weekend...


BMW System 5 helmet: rates highly with SHARP

First up, the Department of Transport's Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme (SHARP) have released their safety ratings of the most popular 'flip-front' helmets on the market.

Twenty flip-front helmets were tested, and SHARP claims that the safety performance of helmets can vary by as much as 70%. Helmets were awarded a rating of one to five stars, broken down as follows:

5: BMW System 5, Caberg Trip

4: AGV Longway, Caberg Justissimo GT, Grex RF2, Lazer Granville, Lazer Revolution, Nolan N103, Nolan N102, ROOF Boxer, Schuberth C2, Shark Evoline, Viper RS RS 101

3: G-MAC Concept, Shark Openline, Shoei Multitech, Viper RS V121

2: Airoh Matisse RS

1: Duchinni D601, KBC FFR

Head injuries occur in 80% of all motorcyclist deaths. Road Safety Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said:

"If all riders wore the safest helmets available fifty lives could be saved each year. We started the SHARP scheme to ensure that all riders have the best possible independent safety information on which to base their helmet choice."

Full helmet ratings across all makes, models and types can be found at the SHARP site.


The TTX01 (picture Gizmag.com)

A prototype unveiling with a difference, as the world's fastest all-electric bike is revealed at the NEC show. The TTX01 is road-legal in the UK, 100% emission-free, and can apparently do 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds. A limited number will go on sale in late 2009, costing £20,000.

The TTX01 will compete in the TTXGP, the first emission-free race event of its kind, to be held next June as part of Isle of Man TT season.

The prototype on display in Birmingham is built into a regular Suzuki chassis, but production models will have its own lightweight carbon composite chassis design. Two battery-powered electric motors, weighing 11 kilos each, provide 86 bhp.

Travelling at a moderate speed on a full battery charge, the TTX01 has a range of around 50 miles. The battery can be fully charged from a standard plug socket in under two hours.



Finally, news of a study in Japan showing that men who ride motorbikes are at risk of impotence and urinary problems as the vibration of the engine damages nerves in their penises.

The study of 230 riders who ride their bike for around three hours every weekend found that almost 70% had problems with erectile dysfunction or their bladders.

Both the design of bike seats and the vibration from the engine is said to restrict blood flow to the penis, as well as causing a decrease in growth hormones in the bladder and prostate which affect bladder relaxation.

DSA releases proposals for motorbike test overhaul


Superbike racer Cal Crutchlow passes his bike test in July (pic Honda)

The DSA yesterday published proposals that are seen as the first steps towards an overhaul for the UK motorbike test.

The proposals centre around splitting the current single-event test into two modules.

  • The first part would contain the specified manoeuvres element of the test, with exercises designed to assess the rider's ability to control their machine safely. This would include avoidance and emergency stop exercises carried out at a minimum speed of 50 kph.
  • The second part would include an eyesight test and up to 35 minutes of in-traffic riding, assessing the rider's ability to safely interact with other road users.


A six-week consultation period is underway, ending on January 9, and the DSA are appealing to bikers and the bike industry for feedback.

If the proposals are accepted, the DSA plans to increase the number of test sites where the specified manoeuvres module can be taken. The price of the motorbike test would also be split so each module is paid for seperately - module one costing £10, and module two costing £70.

DSA chief executive Rosemary Thew said:

"Statistics show that motorcyclists are the most vulnerable road users - they make up just 1% of road traffic, but account for 20% of road deaths. A two-part modular test would introduce a step-by-step considered approach to riding a motorcycle and offer the candidate time to absorb each separate important stage to learning. The new test may also offer a long term solution in terms of service provision for both the agency and the industry. I hope motorcyclists will consider these proposals and give us their views."

View the consultation paper and have your say at the DSA website.

NEC show: win a BMW K 1200 R!



NEC bike exhibition fever is brewing here at UKBike Towers, as the show opens for a press day today, followed by the public opening tomorrow.

Word reaches us that there is a brand spanking new BMW K 1200 R (pictured above) up for grabs at the show courtesy of BMW and BEN, the automotive industry charity.

BEN staff will be at the NEC selling national draw tickets, and the winner will be announced on the final day (7th December) at the MCN stand.

BEN's Charles Davis said: "We are extremely grateful to BMW Motorrad for their support in donating such a highly desirable prize. We will have a display model on our stand (2J29, hall 2) and really hope that as many people as possible will visit us and purchase a ticket priced at just £2."

A free bike just in time for Christmas... not bad eh?

Christmas present ideas?



Christmas, the season of giving (or more likely, an overblown exercise in mass commercialisation, bah humbug) is nearly upon us, and here at UKBike we've been looking in to bike-related gift ideas.

Harley-Davidson has released a nifty range of clothing and gifts for the Christmas stocking, including the branded stocking itself.



The HD men's clothing range has a largely historical military feel, including the Camaraderie 3-in-1 and Surveillance leather jackets, both pictured below.

Harley-Davidson Camaraderie leather jacket

Harley-Davidson Surveillance leather jacket

There's also a wide range personal garments for men and women, including nightwear, T-shirts, underwear, belts, bags, purses, caps and hats. Harley is are also offering festive decorations such as baubles, wrapping paper, a leather wall clock, picture frames and mugs.

The gift range is available at your local HD dealer, while the clothing range can be seen on the HD website.

Meanwhile, the Bulletproof Clothing Co have revealed their new line of Kevlar-lined combats, which they consider to "rank amongst the best for design and protection". The new designs form part of Bulletproof's No Excuses campaign which is being launched at the NEC show later this week.

The men and women's combats come in both dark (brown, black) and urban (grey, black, white) colours, and retail at £99.99, with Vistcotec armour for the knee areas costing an extra £9.99.

Dark combat and urban combat from Bulletproof clothing

NEC show bits and pieces



Another round-up of the latest news ahead of the NEC show which opens to the public on Friday.

Suzuki will be launching their 2009 models in Birmingham, headed by the all-new GSX-R1000 (pictured above) as well as the new Gladius 650 and a revamped Bandit 650. Head to hall four for a chance to see the bikes in action in the test ride area.

Suzuki are also giving away free oil filters to owners at the NEC - simply collect a voucher at their stand, which can then be swapped for a filter at any authorised Suzuki dealer.



The Driving Standards Agency people will also be at the NEC launching their new rider safety initiative. The Enhanced Rider Scheme (ERS) is part of the the Government's Motorcycling Strategy (that's GMS, abbreviation fans!) to help reduce the number of fatal and serious accidents on the roads that involve bikes.

Qualified bikers who visit the ERS stand will be encouraged to "iron out bad habits and keep you safer on the roads... and it can help to gain riders discounts on insurance" - the words of TV presenter Louise Brady, who will be at the NEC to promote this scheme, along with former Superbike Champion and now MotoGP commentator, Steve Parrish.

Bitten by the bug: a biker's life (part three)

The third and final installment of Frank Roberts' life and times on two wheels...


Kawasaki 750 turbo (not authors own!)

My Honda was becoming troublesome, along with my wife. The Honda went first and I got a Kawasaki 750 turbo - Jesus Christ, what a machine. Shortly after getting it I was out for a ride down some country lanes that I knew fairly well. Weaving around the bends it was obvious that this bike didn't feel right. It was almost like the bike was trying to throw me off.

After a few more bends something definitely seemed to be wrong, until I glanced at the speedo - 73mph. Ok, so it was me! I assumed that as with my other bikes, you're cornering too fast when your footpegs scrape the ground; not this one baby.

Around then was when I decided to see how fast I could take it. Near where I live a new road had been built, long, smooth, straight, and a curve with a decreasing radius at the end that has now become a black spot with several fatalities. I got up to 135mph on the straight, the fastest I've ever been on a bike. I had to brake carefully to maintain stability but the exhilaration factor was fantastic.

As I mentioned, by now sadly the wife became more troublesome, and when we divorced the Kwakka also went, as once again I needed a car to take the kids out on my access days. Bike-less again; this time I would be for years.

And so we come up to the present day. Two years ago I bought a Suzuki 800 Intruder that my third wife and I had found while browsing in a bike showroom. Despite the fact that the wife had never been on a bike, she liked the look of it. I'd never thought of having a cruiser, and it looked impressive.


Suzuki 800 Intruder (not authors own!)

They gave me a test ride and when I got back the salesman said, "I can see by the smile on your face that you liked it, how would you like to pay?" Bugger - and I thought I was good at poker. The proviso was that the wife was happy on the pillion, so the salesman took her round the town on the back, and she soon gave the nod of approval. It helped that she was able to see so much more than from inside a car - being only 4'11" she can barely see over the dashboard, but on a pillion in an elevated position nothing is out of view.

I now go for rides out from one of our local pubs, and really enjoy being a poser. My wife comes if there is nothing on telly to watch. When she is not there I tend to have a heavy right hand and it ends up in a race, with the underside of my footplates dragging on the road when cornering.

I love the atmosphere in summer when we are going along the sea front; twenty or more bikers, always the thumbs up from kids, admiring glances from young girls who don't realise how old some of us are - not me of course, I'm still a teenager. Strangely I don't feel much affection for my bikes, not even the old moped that got me started. Maybe it's because the feeling of riding a bike is not brand specific.

One day I parked my cruiser outside a town centre biker's pub, and a young tw*t came beside me and parked his little whiny scooter thing with L plates. "Nice bike mate" he said. My temptation was to ignore him, but suddenly I remembered myself on Dad's moped at Rykers.

I just smiled. "I started borrowing my Dad's moped, keep at it, pass your test and you'll get there" I told him. He smiled back and nodded: "Yep, one day." I wonder if anyone who was at Rykers all those years ago ever wonders whatever happened to that tw*t with the wobbly helmet on the moped?

Frank Roberts

Fancy putting your bike experiences into words for our blog? Drop us a line at tom@ukbike.com...

NEC show round-up: three days to go



A quick round up of news that has been reaching us since our last NEC-related post.

It has already been confirmed that the Bat Pod from The Dark Knight will be in Hall 2 for the duration of the show. Marvel at the 20" tyres, machine guns, cannons and hooks, as well as the unique steering system operated in the film by the shoulders of legendary stuntman Jean-Pierre Goy.

The Isle of Man Department of Tourism and Leisure will be in town to promote next year's TT, together with a special photo exhibition covering 100 years of racing on the island. Many of the 2009 TT racers will also be at the NEC on Saturday, including John McGuinness, Guy Martin, Steve Plater, Bruce Anstey and Tim Reeves.

MotoGP rider and former World Superbike champion James Toseland will be at the Yamaha area, performing with his band Crash. Also making an appearance is Scott Redding, who became the youngest winner of a 125GP race earlier this year aged just fifteen.

World Superbike legends Carl Fogarty and Troy Corser, winners of the championship six times between them, will also be at the show.

There is a full list of famous names and their appearance dates at the bike show site, although inexplicably there is no mention of the UKBike team who will be wandering around the NEC at the end of this week...

Bitten by the bug: a biker's life (part two)

Today we continue with Frank Roberts' memories of a lifetime on bikes. Apologies for the delay - final part to come tomorrow.


Honda CD175 (not authors own!)

Nothing lasts forever. I soon got married and moved away to work. The others also got married and the rich bastard was being groomed to take over his father's business. With marriage and a responsible job comes responsible family transport - thus no bike.

I was bikeless for the first time by choice, and I didn't like it. True, I didn't get wet when it rained and there was no dressing up for protection, but there was something missing. Life comes up with strange circumstances, and when my industry took a down turn I applied and joined the police force.

I became a plod; my force did not allow new recruits to drive cars, and only traffic police rode motorcycles. However my then-wife had a job in one town and I worked in another, and we only had the one car and a new mortgage. With little income, the solution was to get a motorbike - yippee! I got hold of a nice little Honda CD175, complete with the dealers' free crash helmet - yes, you guessed it, white.

The Honda was not a patch on my old BSA, but it did the job to and from work in all weathers, including snow. I also went for the occasional pleasure ride on my own, since I didn't know any enthusiastic motorcyclists at the time. The denims had by now been replaced by a two piece Barbour suit and Gold Top leather boots.

A couple of years later I replaced this bike with a Honda 250 Super Dream with a Rickman fairing. I couldn't believe how dry and warm the fairing kept me. In a moment of madness I traded the 250 in for Honda CB500 twin, purely because it reminded me of my old BSA. Despite being faster I felt more exposed and colder.

Then oh, what joy! Having been a traffic officer for a short time and attaining police advanced car driver status, I was accepted to attend the traffic motorcycle course which lasted a month. It involved riding theory which I found interesting but a bit difficult, basic bike mechanics (no problem), and the best bit; a long ride out every day - and I was being paid for it!

I passed my advance bike test and returned to my division where at the beginning of each shift duties were given out. My section only had one or two regular motorcyclists and they had to patrol in pairs, so within a short space of time I became a regular motorcycle patrol officer. The bikes were individually issued, so while I was waiting for mine to come from HQ I used an old Norton Commando 750 that was begging to be retired. It had a large bright yellow fairing, a blue flashing light at the front above the headlight and bright yellow panniers containing paperwork, basic tools and a first aid kit.


Moto Guzzi 850 - bike of choice for the force

My gear was black riding breaches and a black waterproof jacket with warrant number on the shoulders. My helmet was no longer white; it was bright yellow which matched the bike. Later my own bike arrived, a more recent Moto Guzzi 850 that looked much the same, except there was an additional rotating blue light on a stick behind the rider.

This was the life, tearing around sometimes as fast as we dare with the blues and twos on, and being paid for the pleasure. While some of the incidents we attended were often traumatic, I cannot ever remember being tired of it.

Again, life puts up opportunities, and this time a senior officer looked at me one day entering the nick. "You don't look a bit like a copper" he said, noticing the bushy black beard I had at the time. "Come and see me in my office later, I'm starting a new squad."

There were a lot of ex-soldiers in the force who looked like they were born in uniform. As yours truly looked like a sack of sh*t somewhere in the middle, I was put on a specialist surveillance unit which ended my career on a patrol bike. But I needed the money, so for a time I satisfied myself with riding to and from work, and the occasional ride around on a nice day.

Frank Roberts
...to be continued

Bitten by the bug: a biker's life (part one)

Today's post is part one of a reflective look back at life as a biker, written for us by Frank Roberts. Next part on Monday morning. Enjoy...


NSU Quickly (not author's own!)

I first got the bitten by the bug for two wheels as a teenager, like most of us. I used to borrow my Dad's moped with his permission. It was an NSU Quickly, probably a misnomer seeing as its top speed must have been 45mph downhill with a following wind. It gave me the freedom to go out and see my mates down town and not have to rely on buses or walk in all weathers.

Dad insisted I had a crash helmet and was given a second hand Everoak Racemaster. I must have looked good in my gear, denim jeans and jacket, old black flying boots, and the crash helmet which I painted white and was probably three sizes too big. What a dashing figure I cut as I pedalled furiously to get the thing started while the helmet wobbled up and down, nearly obscuring my vision.


Racemaster helmet - a life saver

I lived in Reigate at the time and occasionally went up to Rykers on Box Hill to admire the bikes. I was painfully aware that the other bikers took the piss, but I like to think it was good natured. At least I was on two wheels and free. I used this little moped for many months as a form of transport, Dad only used it for work. I went out with my mates who had other forms of two wheeled transport; Lambretta, BSA Bantam, Honda 50, and a rich mate that had a new Triumph Tiger 100. All of these bikes (apart from the Triumph) were in various stages of dilapidation, but we thought we were the local Hells Angels chapter.

I did not have a girlfriend at the time, which was nothing to do with my mode of transport - I still looked cool. One or two of the others did but girls were not really a priority. I think we just enjoyed our inflated self image. We normally went out on a Friday to the local pictures or to a pub for a game of bar billiards and a pint or two.

Then catastrophe struck on one summer evening, as a car pulled out in front of me and I slammed into the side of it at break neck speed, 20mph. I somersaulted over the bonnet and landed on my knees. I can still remember seeing the nearby trees upside down. I slid down the road a short distance and stopped, feeling a bit stunned I got to my feet but felt a bit wobbly; it was when I tried to walk I guessed something was wrong. My left kneecap was shattered. I was taken to hospital where it was removed, and I spent six weeks off work.

Initially I was told I could never walk unaided as my leg would never bend sufficiently, but my initial thought was 'f**k off, just watch me.' Since then I have competed in cross country, and not once have I had to use a stick. Mum insisted that I had driving lessons - boring. It took three goes to pass my test, and even then I wasn't allowed to borrow the car; odd one that.

A year later I was back on two wheels - an Aerial 250 Super Sport, on which I passed my bike test first time. I no longer got the strange looks at Rykers and my sartorial elegance had improved. I had a real leather biker's jacket, still the wobbly crash helmet and flying boots but I looked more the part. My mates also had better bikes; the rich bastard had a new Bonneville, while the others had a sporty looking Panther, a BSA 500, and (would you believe it) a Sunbeam.

We all had girlfriends as well. Our 'rides out' were much the same but went further, as we met other bikers from various places and swapped stories of mechanicals, near misses or accidents. I always had to show the battle scar on my left knee.

All was well for a while, until another catastrophe. I did a U-turn in front of a car and the inevitable collision occurred. Despite being unconscious I was not as badly hurt, as the wobbly helmet saved my life. My right leg was in plaster for a short time and my lovely face looked a mess. My nose still looks like a pink shark's fin which has been a source of amusement to my three wives and many friends over the years.


BSA 650 (not authors own!)

Fortunately the rich bastard came to my rescue and temporarily fitted an extra leg rest on his Bonneville so I could still go out with them until I got my next bike, a BSA 650. Once again I was mobile and my bike attracted more interest, my dress code was the same but this time a new white helmet... what was it with me and white helmets? As well as my knee, I was now quizzed by other bikers about the state of my face; the short answer was always "yes, in two years I fell off my f**king bike twice."

Frank Roberts
...to be continued

NEC show: t-minus eight days and new models announced



With the Carole Nash Bike Show kicking off in just eight days time, the UKBike inbox is starting to fill up with details on the various models that will be launched at the NEC.

BMW Motorrad's flagship bike at this year's show is the "eagerly anticipated" S 1000 RR, said to be a contender for the 2009 World Superbike crown.

The race trim version will be on show in Birmingham, complete with carbon fibre bodywork - the production model is set to go on sale in early 2010.



The BMW stand will also feature the updated, more powerful K-Series (including the K 1300 R, the K 1300 GT and the K 1300 S). Also appearing will be the all-new F 800 R naked roadster, which BMW tell us is "sportingly designed to deliver uncompromising handling, agility and steering precision, as well as maximum riding enjoyment".

Charley Boorman will be appearing at the NEC, together with the three BMW bikes that he used on Long Way Round, Long Way Down and Race To Dakar.

More importantly, UKBike will also be at the show - if you see us in our fetching t-shirts, come and say hello...

Almeria circuit trackday report (part two)

Following on from yesterday's post, here is part two of Brendan Kelly's Almeria experience...


Copyright © www.BritishSportPhotography.com

Day two

No-one else has been at the cheese platter since yesterday - it must be just for me. A great start to the day. And so, to the track once more.

It was beginning to niggle that some people on 600s were really moving on. Their corner speeds were getting higher and I was doing nothing to make up for it elsewhere, despite being on a thou'. Subliminally, Mr Cobby's words seemed to be sinking in though. I dropped down a gear compared to day one, using second instead of third nearly everywhere, dropping to first now in a couple of places, and nailing it hard on the long back straight, changing up only as I bounced off the limiter. This more spirited riding required more aggressive use of the brakes too, and now the chassis was really moving about. I started to feel the benefits of still being on a trailing front brake at turn-in time. The bike was digging in hard at either end, but felt stable regardless of which end was dug in and which end was barely kissing the tarmac.

My confidence grew and by the end of day two I'd surprised myself. I felt I was giving the bike a lot more of what it deserved. Mid-corner speeds were still lagging behind the 600s, but now I was making up for it all over the place, blasting and braking on the shortest of straights (not just on the long back straight), and charging uphill in a way the nothing else seemed to match.

My mate's confidence on the Fazer was growing too and a session with Mr Cobby had him using "more revs, less gears, more brakes" too.


Copyright © www.BritishSportPhotography.com


Copyright © www.BritishSportPhotography.com


Copyright © www.BritishSportPhotography.com


Copyright © www.BritishSportPhotography.com

But oh, that long back straight! After the chicane, turns 11 and 12 open up onto a huge 900m straight. Half way through turn 12 the in second the revs are well over 8000 rpm and the motor's getting ready to bite, so I roll on the throttle cautiously until we're a bit more upright. Then, right cheek still hanging off, I drop lower and reach forward as I wind it full on.

The front is light, but not aerial, until, in the blink of an eye, the 13,750rpm limit (that's 124mph) arrives. Nailed wide open, third is disposed of in next to no time too, and at around 148mph it's time for fourth, and now there's time to think. At this point I already seemed to be going faster than any of the other bikes, but I was still charging hard and didn't plan to stop just yet. When my nerve held I could just hit the rev limit in fourth (that's 170mph) before braking for all it's worth became an absolute priority, with just a couple of hundred metres to shed at least 120mph and settle it for the uphill right hander.

The gixxer's brakes come in for some stick in the press, but I couldn't fault them. During day two I'd dialled up an extra notch of reach on the lever to firm it up under such extreme loading, but the stopping power was awesome and was never in any doubt. Too many times the back wheel was in the air making downshifts trickier to slot in.


Copyright © www.BritishSportPhotography.com

The back straight experience will remain an outstanding memory of the trip. It's the fastest I'd ever been on two or four wheels, and by some margin. I've had my speed fix. Somehow it doesn't matter anymore that the bike could do 186, in a straight line on an endless expanse, where's the fun in that? When you've had it to 170, throttle nailed open, other bikes whizzing back past you like Sunday drivers, and a 100° tight up hill right hander looming large, then you've learned something of what the beast can do. The butterflies are forgotten and risking my own bike in this venture was so very worth it.

On the last lap of the last session the rubbered track started to glisten at the chicane and a few drops of rain appeared on my visor. I'd seen the clouds coming for a while but they'd held off just long enough.





The Good, The Bad and The Ugly...

The end of day two was adrenalin overload time. I was absolutely buzzing. Would I ever sleep again? Maybe I should have skipped the goats' cheese at tea? Sleep brought with it dreams of getting hopelessly lost in a crazy in-field maze with 9" vertical kerbs - could this be a reference to the spectacular fall of the day? Yes, these were track days, and there had been "incidents", but only one had been "spectacular" and even that had resulted in nothing more serious than a torn ligament or two – though the bike came off rather worse...

Day three

I still have 2mm chicken strips on the rear tyre. As day three progresses I'm getting faster, but mid-turn I'm still in my comfort zone. Confidence has continued to rise though and I'm accelerating harder, earlier and braking harder, later. And I'm doing both everywhere; every glide across the bike is now just about squeezed in between a blast of throttle and a handful of brakes, and as a result I'm passing people, as I should be, given what I'm riding. All manner of 600s, 750s and 848s are going backwards.

At lunch a couple of guys from our group inform me that my rear tyre left a big black banana shaped stripe in front of them exiting turn 12 into that long back straight. This bothered me as I hadn't thought I was trying that hard. I could remember one clumsy exit so maybe that was it? A garage mate said the 1000s do that all the time and you don't even realise: I surely hadn't...



After lunch the fear of big black bananas seemed to tame my right hand a tad, and after nearly three days I'm beginning to feel ready to wind down.

The last laps

The return to the airport was beckoning, and the day's penultimate session would have to be our last. My mate and I were agreed – we'd done well so far, so no time to tempt fate. We'd take it steadier, wind down gently and savour the last moments. If only...

My fuel light was becoming more and more insistent (let's just stay out a couple more laps) when a rider who'd been bugging one or two other guys with his "dives up the inside" came steaming up my inside on the big loopy left hander. I'd left the door open because (a) we weren't racing, and (b) half way across the track was the right line at that point. If he really wanted to pass he could have shown his skill by riding around the outside. What happened next was a little more point and shoot to stay with him through the tight stuff, and a determination to pass him back, preferably as rudely as possible. Not very grown up, I know.

As we hit the big back straight there was a gaggle in front, so I let him pass them all before diving past and out-braking myself right in front of him to the point of just making the turn, but non-the-less blasting onto the finish straight "victorious". I didn't know quite where that came from but it was definitely time to call it a day. One more lap to cool down (myself as much as the bike!) and it was back into the pit lane for the last time.


Copyright © www.BritishSportPhotography.com


Copyright © www.BritishSportPhotography.com

How it all held up

I'd covered just about 300 miles in sixteen twenty-minute sessions. That's a normal two weeks' commuting done in half the time and in just three days. If I counted right, I'd used just four lots of ten litres of petrol, meaning a slightly surprising okay 33mpg – did I count right? The oil though, just 400 miles old and a nice clear yellow at the start, was now a very dirty grey. This was disconcerting, as the previous fill had stayed clear and yellow for a full 3500 miles – fresh oil and filter required! The front discs had changed colour too, turning deep dappled blue – very cool but I'm sure it'll wear off.

The left hand engine mounting bolt, carefully torqued in and its' R&G aero bobbin, had worked loose and been re-tightened, but the left hand bar-end had leapt clean off into the unknown, never to be seen again. The rear tyre had gone from nearly new to nearly shot, and I've probably knocked a couple of thousand miles off the front tyre too, but they held up better than I expected and look properly used.



In short

A fantastic time. There was a brilliant atmosphere and we were really well looked after from start to finish. It was everything I could have hoped for, the guys from Track Sense were great and Ryan's amazing action shots are a great memento. The suspension tweaks had transformed my bike and, with three days to go at it, I had learned so much about what the bike, and with its' stock BT015s, can do, and how to make it them do it, not to mention just how physical it can be.

I'm glad I did it on my own bike this time, given that you can't hire the full-on 1000cc experience, but if I go again I'll probably hire a school R6 to advance my cornering skills and maybe get my knee down.



All in all, thoroughly recommended.

Brendan Kelly (bbstrikesagain)

UKBike now on Facebook and YouTube

Just a quick post to say that UKBike can now be found elsewhere on t'internet - namely our very own Facebook page, and a dedicated YouTube channel.



Our YouTube channel is full of roadtest videos from the last year or so, and will soon be updated with new video content that we hope to share with you in the new year.



The Facebook page is full of photos from previous Brightona events and roadtests, as well as all of our video content. Join us as a fan today!

  

Almeria circuit trackday report (part one)

UKBike regulars may remember a competition we launched in August in association with Track Sense, offering the biking trip of a lifetime to one lucky winner and a mate - three days of riding at the Almeria circuit in southern Spain, along with accommodation and plenty of extras thrown in.

Brendan Kelly (a.k.a. bbstrikesagain) was the lucky winner of this fantastic prize, and we are delighted to bring to you his report from four special days in sunny EspaƱa. Part two to follow tomorrow...




It could've been you, but no, it was me! (part one)

Back in August I submitted a follow-up review of my GSX-R1000 K8. I'd seen one or two quite detailed and informative reviews on UKBike, not to mention a few short and to the point one-liners, so I tried harder this time to be informative and entertaining. After all, even the runner-up prizes of off-road days, riding and days, dirtying someone else's bike and someone else's kit, sounded great, and there were five of them up for grabs. The closing date came and went, and just four days later there was a PM in my inbox with the subject: "How’s your Spanish?!"

Unbelievable, top step of the podium! The prize: three days on track at "Circuito de Velocidad de Almeria", in southern Spain's spaghetti western dessert, for me and a mate, on our own bikes, fully inclusive of bike transport, four nights in a four star hotel, hire car, etc., all complements of UKBike and TrackSense. Brilliant! All I had to do was buy the plane ticket! Oh yes, and tell the wife...

Tell the wife... This whole thing was down to her really. She'd recently arranged to go with a couple of friends to... Almeria. Now those friends were my friends too, and I love the Sergio Leone movies as much as any of them, so, why couldn't I come along? Apparently theirs was to be a "girly" trip: entirely burp, fart and testicle free! Doh! Prior to their departure though, the UKBike competition was announced. "Hah!" says I, "I'll win me a boys' trip!" Imagine the girls' faces when I announced that I'd done just that! Priceless, and the trip hadn't even got underway yet.

Ready for the off?

For some people, track days are their bread and butter. Somehow, they were one of those never-quite-got-around-to-it things, for my biking friend and me: probably on both of our bucket-lists, but there never seemed to be a right time. So, last April, when I plumped for the white gixxer as my daily transport, it had been for its impeccable road manners (see the reviews) as much as anything. The idea of taking it out on a track full of other lunatics was slightly disturbing, as was the idea that if I, or anyone else, broke it I'd have to fork out for any repairs. In September my bike and I were rear ended by a Galaxy, so I was painfully aware how repair bills can mount up!

There were plenty of butterflies fluttering daily during the countdown, peaking when we trailered the bikes to the depot for their long journey south. My mate's Fazer FZ6S was much loved and had to be the tidiest and sparkliest specimen on the planet, so I suspect he too may have had a few nagging first-track-day doubts.

The day after before tomorrow

It'd been a couple of hours drive from San Javier Airport (near Murcia) to check in to the Gran Hotel, Almeria late on Saturday night. On Sunday morning, seeking distraction to calm those butterflies, we drove to Fort Bravo a.k.a. Texas Hollywood. One of three spaghetti western studio theme parks in the area, and reputedly the best, it was good for two or three hours taking in the vibe, delving into the saloons, banks and jails, remembering the great Sergio Leone masterpieces, and finding shade. Yes, southern Spain is still pretty hot and sunny in October.

Driving a few km down the road we located the circuit. Seeing and hearing other bikes screaming past wasn't too good for the nerves, so rather than hang around we took a drive up the nearest mountain pass. In twenty kilometres we rounded countless dozens of hairpins and attained an altitude of 1,860 meters. Sadly we were about 200 metres into the cloud: I'm sure on a clear day the view would be quite something.

The white graffiti on the tarmac on the way up was testament to the local enthusiasm for cycle races. Making it to the top of that pass on pedal power would be astounding enough, but racing up it? At the summit we took leave of the car for the cooler, cleaner air, but after a few minutes we retreated as the distant gunfire seemed to be getting closer – we didn't want to be mistaken for vermin before getting on track.

On the way down, a wondrous Mordillo style image of the impossibly twisted road below peeked though the clouds.



Day one

Breakfast was great. It included a cheese platter with an amazing range of fine, presumably local, goat's cheeses, coffee as strong as the goat's cheese, and plenty of other stuff for normal folk.

Apparently, in Almeria it rains just four days a month at this time of year. This was looking like one of them, with a steady morning drizzle, but by the time we'd driven up to the circuit it was beginning to lift.

We collected our bikes from their pallets and found a garage. The garages had just been extended to double their original depth, so there was plenty of room. We shared with a nice couple from Stuttgart with a wicked Ducati 999 SuperBike and a beautiful little Bimota DB1; a couple of guys supported by respective family and partners with their track honed '08 blade and trick gixxer 600; and a pair of adventurous chaps who'd ridden all the way down on their Ninja and CBR sixes (and were planning to ride away on them too, all being well). There was also a gorgeous tricked-up Ducati 749. A mixed bag of abilities, experience, and nerves...

Track Sense's Alan was to prove an excellent host, doing his rounds of the garages, making everyone feel at home and making sure we knew what was on the agenda – like the compulsory first day briefing, and the optional extra classes on the following days.

After a short briefing the red (advanced) group were sent off to fuel their bikes. There was a little more briefing for the green (intermediate) group and yet more for the green-behind-the-ears blue (novice) group. How many flags?!

Having waited for the rain to stop, the start was an hour late, but an extra session was added at the end to make up. Finally the sound of thunder erupted all around and the advanced group took to the drying track. Sighting laps at warp speed it seemed – luckily each garage was thoughtfully equipped with two khazis, just enough...

A fistful of dollars...

Or, more particularly, euros, buys the first can of fuel, pretty much at pump prices, which is lucky, as there'll be a few of these needed. Ten litres straight in and we're finally ready to go.

First laps

Each day for each group would begin the same, with three single-file sighting laps behind the instructor. To a complete novice these felt brisk enough on day one. I'd studied the track plans and watched a few videos, but the sighting laps filled in a lot of gaps, especially where the track rises and falls, and the blind turns.

After the sighting laps I gradually lifted my pace, but I was constantly aware (and photographer Ryan's photos prove this point) that one finger of my right hand was always hovering over the brake lever. Not good.


Copyright © www.BritishSportPhotography.com

I was mostly using mid-range revs, emulating the many videos I'd seen on t'internet, sticking to third gear through all but the tightest turns. I was just trying to be smooth, trying to ride the line we'd been shown on the sighting laps. All too soon, the chequered flag was out and the first twenty minute session was over.

The second session was more of the same, trying to be smooth, and trying not to be phased. The mantra of "if you think you're not going to make it round a corner, tip it in anyway, the bike will do it" ringing in my head, striving to prise that finger off the brakes...


Copyright © www.BritishSportPhotography.com

On the long back straight I found time to experiment with the A/B/C throttle mappings. Just like on the road, C was non-linear and slow: the bike pulled like a 600 but why would you want it to? B was smoother and stronger but still reluctant to give its all. The default A (full power) setting was the only way to go, so much more linear and instinctive that I never touched the switch thereafter.

Sussing the suspension and tyre pressures

After just two sessions the rear tyre was looking seriously scraggy on the shoulders but largely untouched in the centre. Meanwhile the front was showing no obvious signs of use. I'd also noted some judder on the brakes into the chicane. Word in the garage was that my suspension and tyre pressures badly needed sorting.



For a few dollars more...

I visited Almeria's resident suspension expert. I explained that I was out of my depth but wasn't at all sure things were working right. He only had to bounce the bike around a bit to know it needed work. Everything was way too stiff and he found it difficult to believe these were the standard factory settings. For a small fee he set to work, and would look after me for the duration. He dropped the front preload and reset the front and rear compression and rebound damping, high and low speed. The bike was radically softer, and as I rode out across the paddock I wondered how I'd ever adjust.

Through the rest of the sessions I started to appreciate his work. Now I could feel things happening when I accelerated and braked, and with it came a little more confidence. The chicane judder was gone, and better still, in the middle of the long turns the bike felt much more adjustable in response to the pegs. I hadn't seemed reluctant to turn before, but now it was eager to drop in whenever I was ready.

The suspension changes, together with finding the right pressures for the BT015s (31/35psi front/rear when cold), meant that now my tyres were looked to be working much better, both wearing nicely as far round the profiles as I dared to push.

A lesson with Ian Cobby

My last session was a lesson with the patient and obviously talented Ian Cobby. As I drove back to the hotel his words were still ringing in my ears: "more revs, less gears, more brakes". I didn't dwell on the positives (body position and lines) but on the fact that I supposedly had to hustle this 1000cc monster, the message being that you can be in charge of a 600 but when you're on a 1000 it's in charge, so you have to use what it's got where you can, ride it like a superbike and nail it hard between all the turns.

It had been a long day. Did he realise I wasn't planning to be a racer, and that my bike wasn't some sacrificial track hack but was pristine, new and much loved? How could he expect a novice to do this thing justice? I was resigned to quietly forget what he'd told me and go out tomorrow trying to be smooth and safe.

Back in Almeria, goat's cheese pizza, ice cream and San Miguel topped off the day.

Brendan Kelly (bbstrikesagain)
Read part two here...

Bikes to be banned from new 'protection zones'?



The Telegraph posted an interesting article which caught our eye at the end of last week, suggesting that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has called for motorbikes to be banned from certain areas of the UK in a report to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee. Quotes...

The ACPO submission said: "There is a need for radical thinking in respect of motorcycles, including consideration of engine capability and the creation of protection zones where all motorcycles other than those specifically permitted, would be prohibited." This apparent call for power restrictions on motorcycles and their prohibition in some areas of the country flies in the face of substantial independent evidence that there is no correlation between a motorcycle's power output and its likelihood of being involved in an accident.

Another strange claim by ACPO to the committee is that motorcycling presents a problem of "Vehicle Excise Duty evasion on a massive scale." This appears to be based on a DVLA report published at the beginning of this year suggesting that almost 40 per cent of motorcycles are untaxed, even though an apology was later issued by the Commons public accounts committee when it was discovered the figures were wrong, and the true number was only slightly greater for motorcycles than cars, at about six per cent. In its submission, ACPO used the 40 per cent figure to suggest that motorcycles should be fitted with electronic chips to allow automatic vehicle identification.

A further inaccuracy presented to the committee by ACPO is that, "Production machines are readily available for use on our roads with top speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour." In fact there are no production bikes capable of more than 200mph, even without the motorcycle industry's voluntary 186mph speed limitation.


Bizarre claims by the ACPO that put into question their suitability as a source for a Parliamentary committee, and road safety in general. Sounds like someone just doesn't like bikers...

Round the world ride coming to an end this weekend



Readers may remember a post from last month covering Geoff Thomas and his incredible bike ride around the world on a Triumph Tiger (pictured above).

Geoff and his riding buddy Alan arrived back in London last Thursday, and will officially end the journey at the Ace Cafe, London (map) this Sunday (16th) at 10.30am with a "big breakfast and a nap" - the more the merrier.

UKBike would like to congratulate Geoff and Alan for making it back in one piece, and we hope that they make their fundraising target of £5,000 for the St. Theresa's Hospice, Darlington - donations can be given at justgiving.com/geoffgthomas.

Anyone need assistance?

Here at UKBike Towers, we enjoy pouring over all the various model launches and new bike gadgetry as they appear on the web. But sometimes we just want to read about what it is to be a biker. So we had a little recruitment drive when the blog was launched back in September, looking for riders who could put their biking experiences into fine words. Today we feature an article from Mike, a UKBike forum regular with years of biking experience.

If you fancy putting your bike-related thoughts into words for this blog, then please drop us a line at tom@ukbike.com.




Anyone need assistance?

The weather, over the last few days, has been pretty grim. Rain, and lots of it, high winds, waterlogged leaves everywhere: a typically British autumn (and winter, spring and summer, come to that...). But it's been fun being out there on the road, adjusting to the conditions, starting to dial in to the changes in feel and grip. It's a good time of year, in my opinion: suited to a relaxed and smoother type of riding, every bit as satisfying to get right as the frantic speed of a sunny thrash, but in a different, more controlled way. Kit has come a long way: waterproofs can be worthy of the name, warmth is possible – even in the depths of winter – and with that comfort available, there is no reason not to get on and enjoy it.

That isn't, however, the point. I've been riding all year round, every year, for the best part of two decades now and would be anyway even if still meant being cold, damp and miserable to do so. No: what I was thinking about was the welter of new rider assistance technologies, either in production or under development, and what difference they would make if I had any or all of them fitted to my bike.

I don't claim to have any special riding abilities. Over the years, quite naturally, I've learned roadcraft and machine control, gained experience and awareness, developed feel and understanding for the dynamics of being on two wheels. In measurable terms, I have no idea how "good" a rider that makes me, but I am at least comfortable with what I can – and can't, or don't want to – do on a motorcycle. It is an understanding of what the limits are, whether they originate from me, from the road or from the bike – and in all honesty, in real-world situations, it isn't the potential of the machine that often sets those limits.

Over the years, bike design has been refined continuously, if not particularly radically, to reach a point where most of the available models are reliable, stable and capable out of the box. We have engines that don't hand-grenade, frames that don't bend in the middle, working suspension, brakes which stop and tyres which grip. All of which are quite welcome developments, not least because they leave the fundamental relationship between rider and bike intact: a relationship where the machine obeys the rider's instructions. If those instructions are wrong, or exceed the mechanical limits of possibility, or even overwhelm the rider's own capabilities, then the machine still obeys them. That is why riding a bike requires skill and judgement and rewards the constant improvement of those abilities. It is a pure form of freedom, where a rider accepts both responsibility and consequences for their actions and earns every moment of pleasure that comes from getting it right.

Electronics, though, are a different matter. In many respects, it is an insidious form of marketing to describe them as safety aids or rider assists when they actually do neither. In fact, they overrule. They have to: this isn't the Matrix and the technology isn't a sophisticated augmentation of human abilities. What it is, simply, is the interception of the rider's input. If that input is deemed to fall within acceptable thresholds, it will be passed through, if not, it will be replaced by whatever the device in question is programmed to consider safe. Philosophically, that represents a huge shift in the bike-rider relationship – one in which the rider is only allowed control over aspects which the machine permits – even if, technically, at this early stage it appears a relatively minor change.

The obvious consequence of this shift is that the rider will be required to maintain fewer skills, at a lower level, to achieve the same, or higher, level of machine performance. That may sound like an attractive prospect, but is it, really? Look closely at what is on offer – easier, faster and safer – and then at the price being asked – acceptance that electronics can and should be used in preference to human skills. It is a very Faustian bargain: once taken, that acceptance cannot be retracted. Implicit in that is that the craftsmanship of riding can be devalued, reduced to the lowest common denominator. That motorcycling can be treated like any other activity, de-risked, de-skilled and marketed to the masses as just another lifestyle choice.

It won't happen yet – the technologies are still immature and crude – but take a look at the more advanced parallels of the car industry. Better, faster, shinier, laden with gadgets to relieve the driver of the burdens of being able to drive, or observe, navigate, steer or even park. And look at the results: an increasingly large number of car users who not only lack the skills to drive properly, but are so insulated from their vehicle's actual workings that they have no way to even learn those skills. Ironically, of course, risk compensation does mean that, despite the increased safety measures, levels of recklessness actually increase even when the person taking the risks is significantly less equipped to deal with the consequences.

So, out there in the rain and wind and darkness, I was wondering: would I like to be able to simply open the throttle wide, knowing that fly-by-wire would moderate it and traction control would find me some grip? Would I like to be able to grab the brakes as hard as I can and let ABS stop me crashing? Would it be nice to flick a switch and set my engine to a manageable level of horsepower? How about having a V2V Bluetooth phone call to warn me every time there was danger nearby? Satnav to dictate the best way home? Would I be faster as a result? Possibly. Would I be happier?

No.

I can already control all of those things. I have working senses, a brain, and some semblance of control over my limbs. My bike has a throttle that works both ways and a level of mechanical capability that is more than equal to the conditions. As the weather's bad and the road is slippery, all I really need to do is observe more carefully, exercise some additional moderation and enjoy the ride. My ride.

A better headlight would be nice, though.

Please feel free to challenge any of my points or assumptions - you can usually find me posting in the forum section if anyone is interested in entering into more of a debate on the subject.

- Mike Liassides a.k.a. endemoniada_88

New Suzuki Bandit 650 range announced

2009 Suzuki Bandit 650

The new models for 2009 seem to be flooding in, with Suzuki announcing updates to the Bandit 650 and 650SA models at EICMA this week.

According to Suzuki, the 650 now boasts sleeker headlights, newly style mirrors, a slimmer tail light, new instrumentation, a black engine finish and newly shaped muffler ends; while the 650SA now features stacked high and low beam multi-reflector headlights and other styling updates.

The new models will be on show for the first time at the NEC Bike Show at the end of the month.

2009 Suzuki Bandit 650SA

2009 Suzuki Bandit 650SA

Six And The City and The Boy Biker: new articles on UKBike.com

Regular visitors to UKBike.com will know about two guest articles that we feature on the site, The Boy Biker and Six In The City, courtesy of The Riders Digest. Both have been updated this morning and are well worth a read...



"Do other road users HATE bikers? Or is it just the ones on mopeds? Maybe it's the 'L' plate? Whatever, something seems to attract them and they turn, 'going for a ride' into 'going to see if I can survive'. Without wishing to get into the whole, should we speed or not argument (which is a bit difficult on a moped) I believe that a lack of speed can be just as dangerous. I do not think that riding a moped has made me paranoid, I really do believe there are loads of people who are out to get me. Any biker reading this who can borrow a moped should try it. I give you a challenge, take a journey somewhere on the moped, a good hour's ride (you won't get too far), add up the number of near death experiences you have, divide that by 2 and see if it is less than your age. If it is, you're an old fart. Maybe it's just me, maybe I ride like a... well you get the picture, or maybe it's just the area I live in, it has to be something."
- read on at The Boy Biker @ UKBike.com



"Got a text from a mate I've not seen in ages. 'Do you always use your column to hint for free stuff?' Reference my knackered Sidi's. Well, yes. There is no point in denying it. And guess what? It works cos I've got a nice new pair of Sidi B2 Goretex in a dainty size 3...
...For my birthday from Hornet Boy, not scrounged through the Digest. However due to the Editorial team's almighty cock-up last month, I think the least the Digest can do for me are a few little goodies gratis so here goes: Akrapovic full system, PCU, made to measure leathers, Suomy Defender Fantasyland lid, personalised number plate and a track day somewhere hot and sunny... for starters."
- read on at Six And The City @ UKBike.com