Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cornering Practice at Albert Park Lake

My brother and I went cornering on the GP track at Albert Park Lake.  I'm the one in the black jacket (with the L plate).

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cue Evil Laughter

Traffic was stopped all the way into Eltham.  Boring!  So I took a left turn down towards the library, in the hope that I would wind my way through to the back streets behind the train station and go home down the back streets.

Round the sports oval I go, slow riding, looking cool.  Well, looking like a fat guy on a bike in hot sweaty leathers, but I felt like I looked cool and that's what counts.

At the end of the sports oval there is a road that leads out behind the railway station.  It goes exactly where I want to go.  Except it's blocked by a gate, and the gate is locked.

But next to it there is a nice gap between two posts ... I reckon a bike could just about fit through a gap like that...

And then it happens, for the very first time.  As I ride between the posts and onto the road of freedom, I start laughing like a maniac inside my helmet.  The uncontained joy of riding a vehicle that can take me down the freeway at 100 (no questions asked) being the same vehicle that can fit between a couple of posts and allow me to take a shortcut home that avoids all the traffic.  Sure I'm hot, sweaty, smelly, and all that.  But I'm the happiest man in the world!

Found it!

It was hiding above 8,000 rpm.  Not a rev range one gets to in a 60 zone ... unless you want to do all your riding in first gear!

But getting up to speed on the freeway... yup, there it was, just waiting for me to discover it.  Fuel consumption is up a bit - now doing about 5.5L / 100 Ks.

Odometer: 2014 Kilometres.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Where's the rest?

I confess, it happened sooner than I expected.

I'm in my fifth week on the road.  I've done less than 2,000 kilometres.  And today it happened.

I've turned left onto Queens Parade off Alexandra Parade - which translates to leaving the bumper-to-bumper stop start and hitting free, unhindered asphalt.  And with nothing in front of me but the promise of home and a Vodka, Lemon Lime and Bitters waiting for me, I twisted the wrist.

And yeah, ok, the bike accelerated.  It did.

But I was in second, and for much of that I must have been pretty darn close to the optimal torque band.  And I have to say, I was a little disappointed.

I keep reminding myself: this is a LAMS bike.  LAMS is good.  LAMS means I'm less likely to kill myself.  I like LAMS.  Especially with Rosemary.  And roast potatoes.  But I digress.

LAMS is a good thing - if it weren't for LAMS I'd be on a 250 right now, and would probably have written this post a couple of weeks ago!  And LAMS bikes are much less volatile (or so I'm told) and twitchy than a bigger bike... with less twitchiness comes less likelihood of throwing yourself off, and that has to be a good thing.  And let's be honest - I don't _need_ more than the 500cc at my disposal.  It does everything I need, and it does it very well.

But I'm a little flat nevertheless.  Maybe the next bike won't be the 650 after all...


I picked up the bike on February 6.  On March 6 I ticked over 1600 kilometres.  This is significant for a few reasons.

Firstly, the bike is now officially out of its run-in period.  Much less painful than I expected, and now I can rev it up to 11,000 rpm.  Yeah, right.

Secondly, it shows that over the first month of ownership, I averaged 400 KMs per week.  The question of whether the novelty value will soon fade remains outstanding, however based on those numbers at this point I can predict that I will put about 20,000 kilometres on the bike by Feb next year, and will probably be approaching 25,000 by the time I can buy something bigger (April 25th 2010 assuming I pass my next test on the first attempt).

So if you're thinking that next year will be the year you get your motorcycle license and buy yourself a nice tidy second hand bike, bookmark this page!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Look, Lean, Push

I'm still learning how to corner properly, but this is the method I've come up with thus far ...

Look, Lean, Push

  1. Look - look through the corner to the exit, or if you can't see the exit look as far through as you can
  2. Lean your body to the side of the bike you want to turn - sliding across in the seat a little bit helps
  3. Push on the inside handlebar to tip add a bit more lean if necessary.
When I did the HART course, they told us that to turn the bike, you just look where you want to go and the bike will go there.  That's true, but knowing a bit more and learning how to manage turns adds a whole new set of skills to your bag of tricks, which can be extremely useful in a pinch.  And thus far, look lean + push seems to add a whole new dimension to my cornering, though I've still got a lot of learning to do!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The do's and don'ts of hanging your helmet on your handlebars

  1. Don't do it when the steering isn't locked
  2. Don't hang them right on the end of the bar
  3. Don't strap a bag on the back of the bike with your helmet balanced on the handlebar and the steering not locked
  4. Do check your bank balance
  5. Do notice your helmet has fallen to the ground
  6. Do find that it has a dirty great chip in it, rendering it structurally compromised
  7. Do go out and buy a new one
  8. Do kiss goodbye a grand on a spanking new helmet
  9. Don't ever, ever do it again!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Beginner's Twist

If you're looking for a beginner's road that's twisty and scenic, without being as busy as Yarra Boulevard, look no further than Mt Pleasant Road.  This little number is 6 km long, though it's probably only half of that where you get to lean the bike over a bit... but still, the whole lot is very pretty, and it's a back street of Eltham with little traffic to speak of.

The entire route is sealed, though I found the surface to be pretty rough compared to the roads I normally ride on.  There are also numerous gravel driveways that spill gravel onto the asphalt, so it pays to be a little wary.  

My favourite bits are the hairpins, of which I counted around three.  I took them all at around 20 km/h - the recommended speed - and felt pretty safe at that.  In the direction I took the road, two of the hairpins were right-handers and the last was a blind left.  From memory the left-hander is also on an incline.

During my ride around 3 this afternoon I encountered three other vehicles: one car that sat behind me mos
t of the way, an oncoming ute who was doing well over 60 and was kissing the white line in the middle, and an oncoming 4WD who wanted to turn right and politely waited for me to pass.  Not too much to complain about on the traffic front.  I noticed that there weren't many places to pull over and let 
a car pass you if one was cramping your style - though I imagine most experienced riders wouldn't have that problem!

The whole Eltham - Research area is criss-crossed with roads like this one.  I haven't had the opportunity to explore the surrounding area yet, and my only hesitation in doing so on the bike is there's a reasonable chance some of the roads connecting on to Mt Pleasant Road will be dirt - something I've established that the GS doesn't really enjoy!  My plan is to go out in the Forester and scout out a nice, extended route to take in the sights of the Eltham area, so more routes should be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

8000 rpm

I'm into the second phase of running in the engine on the GS500.  That means that I am now supposed to rev the engine right through to 8000 rpm.  After the bike has done 1600 kilometres, the red-line becomes 11000 rpm, and it's getting hard to imagine even approaching that limit!

For the first 800 kilometres, the limit was 5500 rpm.  At the time, that seemed quite high enough, but since yesterday the bike has ticked over the 800 k mark and a whole new world of torque has opened up.

Not, mind you, that I had a great opportunity to try it out yesterday.  The ride from work was not to home as per usual, but out to family's place in Berwick - which meant an hour and a half on the Monash carpark ... moving ... very .... slowly.

But today I got a good chance to run it up to the 8K mark.  Indeed 8000 rpm in second gear puts you at around about 80 km/h.  It's going to be damn hard to push the bike up to 8000 rpm on the trip to work and back - I don't get much opportunity to get it up to those kind of speeds, and I don't think running along at max revs in first gear is really what they have in mind!

Odometer: 1003 kilometres

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Learners' Ride

The Netrider crew in Melbourne hold a Learners' Ride every Tuesday night.  What's a learners' ride, you ask?  Well, picture this...

About 6pm I get to the BP in Elwood.  I'm well early for the 7:30 departure time, but that gives me a chance to grab a bite to eat, and then ride out into the carpark out the back to practice doing slow riding and U turns.  By 6:30 there's a number of other bikers turning up, and people are very willing to introduce themselves and stop for a chat.

It's a learners' night, so there's no shortage of L plates and 250s.  My Suzuki looks a little forlorn amongst the hordes of Ninjas and VTR250s, but there's a variety of bikes there - and a number of folks who are off their Ls and riding some more impressive bikes to drool at.

By 7:30 there's 47 bikes at the BP, and the night's nominated leader calls us over.  The briefing is simple - be good to each other, watch out for each other.  One person in a corner at a time, ride your own ride at a pace consistent with your skills and experience.  (There's also instructions on being a corner marker, but I won't explain that here coz I'll just make it more confusing!.)

Instructions over, and 47 bikes rumble to life, and start heading down Marine Parade towards Station Pier.  This is Follow The Leader en masse - which is great for a learner as you don't have to worry so much about visibility (you're not one rider in a sea of cars for a change) and you don't need to worry about where you're going (just follow the bike in front of you and keep your eyes open for a bike pulled over at the side of the road telling you to turn here).

We wind through the inner west suburbs, going through industrial estates here and cobblestoned alleyways there, before opening up a bit on some windy windy roads that led us up to the streets out behind Tullamarine Airport.  For all the appearances of not being sure who was going to lead the ride, the guy who led it had clearly put a lot of thought into a route that would be both enjoyable and a chance to practice the technique of riding a motorbike.

The half-way stop is down a dead end street in Tullamarine, and it is here that I have to split off from the rest of the group and make my way home.  Thankfully, Drew (the leader) explains that if I turn left up ahead, I'll wind up back at H.A.R.T. where I got my learner's permit (about three and a half weeks ago - is that all?!).  Now I have a landmark I can find my way back home from!

As I'm riding home down the Western Ring Road, the rest of the bikes make their way to an all night diner in North Melbourne somewhere, after doing a slow ride past the departures area of the airport, which I'm very sad to have missed!

So if you're a learner who's a little afraid to get out there on the bike, this is the ride for you.  Lots of friendly people who are more than willing to help you out, and a chance to go for a ride and build up your skills and your confidence, without pressure to ride beyond yourself.  There has even been pick-up points where an experienced rider will meet people who want to be guided in to the meeting point.

If you want more details, jump on to the Netrider forums and have a read.  The details are all on the first page, then skip towards the end to pick up the recent conversation.  You'll even come across a girl who heard us riding past her place, saw that most of us were learners, and searched the net to find out what was going on.  We should be meeting her on her bike at the learner's ride next Tuesday!

Monday, February 16, 2009


Saturday's hazard - the old man who walked across a 4 lane road without looking in any direction, let alone at the bike approaching him.  Rapidish slow down required to not skittle the poor old sod.

Monday's hazard - the volvo station wagon with no fidelity to any particular lane.  So much fun, especially going around the roundabout near the cemetery at the top end of Swanston St.

Odometer: around 520 kilometres, can't quite remember :)

Friday, February 13, 2009

First mileage check

11.8 litres
244.3 kilometres
4.8 litres / 100 kilometres

figures are approx, but overall, it's hard to complain!

One week tonight

Location: Eltham, Victoria.
Time: 6:45am.
Temperature: 7.5 degrees celsius.
Weather conditions: Clear skies, a little smoke haze. The sun has just begun to rise.

First of all, I'm feeling like a right idiot for going for more 'summer oriented' gear this morning. A week ago it was 46.4 degrees (that's 115.5F if you're that way inclined), but this morning it seems like that was summer's last gasp, a final ferocious stab in the back before plummeting the city into the premature depths of autumn. I know my frustration won't last - we'll be back up into the 30s next week, and I'll be blessing my vented jacket and light, airy gloves. But this morning is cold, significantly colder than a summer morning ought to be, and my fingers are feeling it.

I've learnt the lessons of previous mornings, and today my route is clear cut. Up through St Helena and around the back of Montmorency, down Para Road around Greensborough and then follow Lower Plenty Road through to Heidelberg Road and in. The freeway would be faster, but am I really in that much of a rush?

Turning onto Rosanna Road, I see the reflection of the sun in the building windows in front of me. It's a huge, red ball of wrath this morning, a beautiful and terrifying sight for one living on the edge of the bush.

It's a fairly cruisy ride in, the traffic is light and flowing freely. I see a taxi making a couple of inadvisable lane changes... must be the end of his night shift.  Remember to steer clear of taxis this time of day...

It's a week ago tonight that I picked up my first motorcycle, with the only experience under my belt being a two-day learner's permit course at H.A.R.T. and half an hour on my brother's bike in the Bunnings Carpark. I'm surprised at how comfortable I am feeling on the bike, that on the whole, the riding of the bike is already mostly automatic. I'm also surprised to discover how easy it is to lose concentration as soon as you don't need to focus all your attention on not falling off. Minor experiments in countersteering turn out to be inadvisable while traveling down Nicholson St in the city... at least it is when the traffic ahead is stopped and you're still thinking about weaving between marks on the road.  Once again it's a cruisey ride in to work, and I get there in a good mood - albeit with cold fingers.

Home time and it's out to Victoria Gardens in Richmond to hook up with Zenali for a cruise down Yarra Boulevard, which is totally worth the detour!  Lesson to be learnt here too, though... after work social rides generally wind up in the kind of traffic that carefully chosen commute times set out to avoid.  There's a bit of stop starting, but on the whole it's just damn fun.

We separate at the top end of Burke Road and I head north through Heidelberg.  Somewhere along the line I must have pissed off a bee, for when I stop at a set of lights, it's buzzing around me like nobody's business!  Score 1 to full face helmet, 0 to rabid, ravenous bee.

Home again, watching the sun burning bright red behind the haze of smoke.  Sat down, had dinner, and while most of me wants to flake out in front of a movie, there's part of me that wants to put the boots back on and head out for an evening ride.

Odometer: 381.4 kilometres.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

So, how does it handle dirt?

Well, it doesn't. It doesn't handle it at all. While it would be an injustice to say that the bike fell to pieces - I reckon if I'd gone down the dirt road another 500 metres or so, it just might have. After all, that would have doubled the poor little bike's exposure to a corrugated dirt road... I can almost feel the bike shuddering at the thought.

But I don't really blame her. Before today the bike hadn't even heard of dirt.  Well, of course it had heard of dirt - all the young bikes hear of a thing called dirt while they're growing up in the factory.  Old Grampa Kaytee'em used to come around and tell stories about the day the bitumen ran out and give the pocket rockets nightmares about an asphalt drought.  But as the bikes grew up they recognised these tales for what they were: old bike's tales, and nothing more.  How could there be a road without bitumen?  What a preposterous notion!  Just look at their tires - if there were such a thing as a road without bitumen, why all the motorbikes would just fall over!  How ridiculous!

So anyway, I took the bike up to the end of the bitumen and onto the dirt part of Alendale Road, and immediately regretted it.  The bike bounced and shook and suddenly felt like it was on rollerskates, instead of the solid, connected feeling I get riding on the road.  I pulled over towards the side of the road, and the bike slid surrenderingly down the cambre into the soft dirt at the edge of the road.

Fantastic.  I am Ewan McGregor.  Quick glance in the mirror.  Actually, I'm Charley Boorman.  Who's let himself go a bit.  Anyway...

So we turned around and made it back to the bitumen.  Went for a quick lap around the area, up past Wellers Restaurant and the Kangaroo Ground general Store, across to Wattle Glen, up through Diamond Creek and then back home to Eltham.  I really do live on the doorstep of Motorcycling Paradise, even though most of the town names on the roadsigns around here have been wiped out, or at least tormented, by last Saturday's fires.

Odometer: 318.4 kilometres

Now I know why they're called "Super" bikes

At last! I have had my first experience of the motorcyclist's SUPERPOWER!

I had heard rumours, read the forum posts, but until this morning, I didn't really believe it was true.

And then, out of nowhere, it happened!

I became ... *invisible*.

The lady deciding to merge into me couldn't see me! She just ... well she didn't even look actually, but if she had she would have looked right through me, I'm sure.

# times horn beeped in anger: 1.

Odometer: 294 kilometres

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The first week

Day One:

1. Pick up bike in Elizabeth St, Melbourne. Reading on Odometer: 4 kilometres.
2. Meet up with brother and wife for escort home
3. Ride from the city all the way out to Eltham
4. Recover, relax, take photo!  Odometer: 38 kilometres.

My Suzuki GS500

Day Two:

1.  Victoria experiences its most devastating bushfires ever.  Spend the day trying to keep cool (46.4 degrees celcius), monitoring the fires.  
2.  In the evening when it has cooled down, ride over to neighbour's place in Eltham.

Day Three:

1.  Get set for ride.  Put on gear, start bike, head down the driveway.
2.  Turn onto main road.  It starts to rain.
3.  At intersection, go around the block and head for home.
4.  Reach home.  The rain stops.
5.  Ride past home, and go back onto the main road.
6.  It starts to rain again.
7.  Give up, go around the block, go home.
8.  The rain stops.

Day Four:

1.  Train was packed - horribly packed.  Spent the entire trip wishing I had the courage and experience to ride my bike to work.
2.  Got home, got on bike to go to Bunnings to get octopus straps to tie bag down on back of bike.  (Plan is to ride to work the next day, need to be able to carry a bag with work clothes / shoes etc, and the top box for the bike won't arrive for a week or two yet.)
3.  Ride to Bunnings, get straps.  It's dark by the time I leave for home.  Bike's headlight needs adjusting.
4.  It's bloody cold!  I've got the jacket set up for the hot ride home from the shop on Friday night (high 20s or low 30s), and currently it's about 12 degrees up here in the hills!
5.  Go to bed early, excited about the prospect of riding in to work the next day.  Need to be well rested before I attempt to ride into the city on my own.  Need lots of sleep.

Day Five:

1.  Still awake at 2am, alarm set to go off at 6am.  Very mindful of needing lots of sleep before riding in to work.
2.  Hit the snooze button.
3.  About 6 times.
4.  Catch the train in to work, utterly exhausted.
5.  Get home from work, decide it's too late to get on the bike and head in to the city for the Netrider newbie ride.
6.  Change mind, scoff down dinner, jump on the bike and head in to town...

This point needs more elaboration.  I decide that the only way I'm going to make it to the newbie ride on time is to take the freeway.  It's 6:45pm and I'm out in the sticks, so the traffic shouldn't be too bad.  I pluck up my courage and head towards the freeway.

70 km/h didn't feel too fast when I was riding with my family in basically no traffic.  Now 80 km/h is feeling fast as I approach the freeway in light-medium traffic with 45km/h winds.  Get onto the freeway... What do you know - this bike has a 5th gear... and a 6th!

I trundle along in the left hand lane, moving between 95 - 105 km/h (still running the engine in, important not to sit on the one engine speed for long periods of time) as every other vehicle known to man passes me.  Must have been about 30 kilometres like this.  By the end of it I'm tense and knackered.  And, as it happens, not 100% sure of the way to go to get to the newbie ride!

I adlib in the direction of the beach road.  Finally get to Marine Parade, Elwoodish, and toss a coin as to which way I need to turn to find the BP where the riders meet.

I guess wrong, and wind up in Sandringham.  This is my clue that I've gone too far, so I do a (very ungraceful) U-turn, and head back, reaching the BP half an hour after the scheduled departure time.  Despite complaints that the ride regularly leaves late, there's not another bike to be seen.

I decide to fill up with petrol.  $7.69.  I could get used to this.

Riding home again is fun.  I'm not stressed about the time any more, so I just point the bike in the direction of home and make it up as I go along.  Onto the Eastern freeway this time, but only for a short distance.  Once again I'm the slow coach in the left hand lane, as most of Melbourne's motorists decide to embrace the opportunity to overtake a motorbike on the freeway.  It's raining a bit, but oddly, that doesn't bother me.  Jump off at Burke Road, and wind through the hills to home.  2 1/2 hours on the bike, with at least a third of that being freeway time.  Odometer: 173 kilometres.

Day Six:

1.  Alarm goes off at 6.  Out of bed by 6:15, go put coffee on.
2.  Start the bike around 6:35 - 6:40.  I can't see my watch with my gloves on, but I don't really care.
3.  Ride in to work.  Traffic is light, I've chosen a route which is both hilly and pretty and for the most part familiar.  The ride in is fun - not stressful, not busy, just fun.
4.  Arrive at work at 7:35, am changed and at my desk by 7:45.
5.  4:15pm: get up from desk, get into riding gear.  Get down to the bike about 4:30.  Traffic is slow, and I'm not filtering, just sitting in my lane, minding my business.  Get home around 5:30.  Not bad considering I usually get home around 7pm when taking the train.  True I got up earlier (half an hour or more) and left earlier (an hour or thereabouts) - but still, I'm home in time for dinner - bonus!  Odometer: 234 kilometres.
6.  Start planning route to ride to work tomorrow...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Deposit paid...

Learner Legal!

Well I finished up the H.A.R.T. course with a sunburnt nose and my learner's permit.  A few things I picked up along the way.

  1. Wear sunscreen on your face - you're spending lots of time out in the sun, and the helmet has this big hole in the front to see out of...
  2. The written test questions are taken from the whole book, not just the parts I found interesting.  Sure, I'm not looking for a recreational registration, but they still had the nerve to test me on it anyway!
  3. Bringing your own gloves - I should say, bringing your own racing gauntlet style gloves - means you take about 3 times as long to get ready to ride as everyone else when putting gear back on.  If possible, park your bike at the end of the queue so nobody is waiting for you.
  4. Don't forget to do up your helmet before you put your gloves on!
  5. In the riding test, there is no minimum speed for taking the corners at, providing you don't stall (which is an instant fail).  I found that taking the 2 test corners at idle in second was perfect: fast enough to maintain balance and control, slow enough to have little risk of running outside the lines.
  6. During the test, put the clutch in well before coming to a stop (emergency break excepted).  There's no point leaving it to the last second if you stall.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

H.A.R.T. Learner Rider Training - Day One

I've just gotten home from day one of the 2 day learner rider course run by H.A.R.T. at Tullamarine.  Not a lot to say, except that riding bikes is a hell of a lot of fun!

The sense of achievement is excellent - I think the course is worth the price for that alone!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

YouTube - First time on a bike (instructional)

I've been searching the internet, font of truth that it is, and have found a few useful things along the way...

There's also this 1993 study into Motorcycle safety in Victoria, and the 1998 follow up study (if you like reading academic reports).  Apart from the stats on accidents and the contributing factors, the one thing that jumped out at me was the recommendation in the '93 report of a scheme to limit motorbikes for learners based on power to weight ratios rather than just engine capacity.  Victoria introduced such a scheme in the middle of last year - 15 years after it was mentioned in the report!

There's another intro to riding video by a guy who calls himself "Motorman".  The video is okay once you get the image of Duffman out of your head (though the audio quality is irritating).

If you're in search of a reality check, here's 10 minutes of accidents accompanied by tips for riding safely.  Some of the accidents were fatalities and they look it, pretty chilling when the biker wasn't at fault.

Lastly, this add is good for a laugh.

Where it all began

Thinking back, I have to blame Ewan McGreggor and Charley Boorman.  It was their Long Way Round motorcycle adventure that first planted the seeds of wanting to ride a bike.  The show itself I found compelling viewing - frustrated watching it only in weekly installments, we went out and bought the DVD so we could binge on the rest of the series!

Then came Long Way Down, Race to Dakar, and Charley Boorman's "By Any Means", followed closely by train cancellations galore courtesy of Connex who are incapable of running Melbourne's train network when the temperature gets above* 30 degrees.

Somewhere in there, my brother and his wife got their bike licenses and started riding to work, and I have thought about their descriptions of arriving at work refreshed after a fun ride in while I sat on an overcrowded platform waiting for a train that never came.

This is a bit unusual for me.  By and large I'm risk averse.  I have a little daughter and I worry about her growing up fatherless.  Oh and did I mention, if I died in a motorcycle accident my wife would kill me?  And yet, thinking about shaving between 30 and 60 minutes a day off my commute, not to mention the adventure of learning to ride and buying a bike, has me thinking that this is a really viable idea to explore.

So here we are on Day 1 of the journal - exploration continues, and I'm booked in for me Learners test next weekend!

* or below, apparently.