Custom Leathers - hideout-leathers - 14/09/13
After a 14 year and 250,000 mile riding career wearing motorcycle trousers that don't really fit, I finally decided that the time had come to investigate custom made clothing. My problem is that I am tall and thin and in particular my upper legs are too long for all off the peg items, meaning that I have a choice of too short with knees that hurt or just about the right length but far too large around the waist (and a very saggy bottom!). Not a great compromise! Of late, I have worn a variety of Hein Gericke gear, and whilst the jackets have generally been good, the the trousers either ride up above the top or my boots or the knee armour gets very uncomfortable after a short period of time. And the Gore Text Pro Shell kit, whilst relatively good value when compared to the likes of Rukka, is hardly cheap.
So, I took a trip to Hideout Leather in Ashdon, Essex. Hiedout is based on a farm in literally the middle of nowhere, unless you live close to Saffron Waldron! Certainly they can't possibly rely on passing trade - even when you know generally where they are, it's still very difficult to find! That said, the route from St Albans is a great ride, the A1/(M) to Baldock and then cross country on the A505 to Royston, Duxford, over the M11 and A11 towards Cambridge and round Saffron Waldron to Ashdon, a small village in deepest Essex. Hideout's website advises to avoid going into Saffron Waldron as finding a way out is tricky, I can certainly confirm that after blindly following my sat nav! From the south at least, the trick is to travel slightly further north around Saffron Waldron and approach Ashdon from the north.
Hideout's purpose built showroom and workshop contains an Aladdin's cave of high end gear, including premium brands such as Schuberth, Shoei, Rukka and Daytona. Of course, the main reason I was there was for custom made leather and Hideout don't disappoint there either! A great range of touring and race leathers, either off the peg or custom made. Kate Jennings and her team are friendly, extremely helpful and very knowledgeable; it is clear that my odd shaped legs are not the first they have seen. After being measured, a reassuringly comprehensive set of measurements, I decided on a pair of touring trousers with connecting zip to my Hein Gericke PSX-RS jacket (and of course, this will connect to any Hein Gericke jacket). Whilst I was there, I also chose a pair of Draggin Jeans for warmer days, again specifying the same connecting zip. Kate reckoned on a week or so for the jeans to be ready and at the same time, expected to have the leathers prepared for a initial fitting.
I returned for the fitting and even the initial, far from finished article looked great, and more importantly, it fit! Legs long enough to cover my boots when on the bike, totally comfortable knee armour and not a saggy bottom in sight! And the Draggin jeans, complete with connecting zip and armour also fitting perfectly (although to be fair, that's more to do with the fact that they do a wide range of waist and leg lengths). Kate spent a great deal of time making sure that the leather fit was right both on and off the bike. And when I returned for a second time to collect the finished article a week or two later, I was very impressed. Perfect fit and extremely comfortable. As I kept saying to Kate, why did it take me so long to realise that custom made was the way to go for me? The only downside is that I now have to think about waterproof over trousers when rain is a possibility and faff about putting them on when it becomes reality; otherwise I'm very happy. I have always been envious of bikers that fit into off the peg gear, now I have that fit to go with premium quality! Take a trip to Hideout, you won't be disappointed...
Garmin Zumo 660 - 31/08/13
So, having used the Garmin now for the best part of two years, what's my view? Well, as I said when I first got it, it's much more substantial than the previous TomTom Rider I had, and the Garmin mount especially so. It's easy to use once you've got used to a different UI to the TomTom and with a wider screen, displays more information. It's easier and quicker to zoom in and out and it's good to be able to see a wider view than just the road you're on. I particularly like the lane assist when approaching a junction on a motorway or other main road, especially where there are a number of options, which makes it really obvious which lane to be in and which to take. I have signed up for Garmin lifetime maps as well so the mapping software is always up to date with updates available on average once a month.
The Garmin also comes with a car mount kit along with cigarette lighter charger. A nice feature is the speaker in the back of the unit which plays directions and other information without having to wear a Bluetooth headset. The suction cup for the windscreen is also particularly robust and to date has not fallen off!
All in all, in many respects, it depends what you're used to. The 660 unit is expensive and does have a premium feel to it. I prefer it to the previous Rider that I had; however, if you compare it with an equivalently priced TomTom, the gap might not be so wide. Another option though is to use a smartphone in a waterproof mounting case with the TomTom app installed - the app costs about £38 and turns an iPhone or similar into a fully functioning sat nav complete with real time traffic reports. Connect it to a suitable Bluetooth helmet headset like a Scale Rider or Sena SMH10 and you have phone, sat nav (and if the mood takes you, music) all in one place. Connect a charging wire into your bike and you have all you need for any journey - and given the prevalence of smartphones now, this seems like the way forward. The only other thing required is a pair of gloves that work with a smartphone touch screen!
Article below by Nick Bailey, of Passport Tours, written 08/02/2012
My first foray into motorcycle SatNav was with a first generation TomTom rider. It served me well, and was certainly much better than the TomTom One car SatNav stuffed into a tank bag Chris and I used on our first European tour in 2006! When I ordered my Tiger 800, I included the SatNav mounting bracket which although would take other SatNavs, is designed specifically for a Garmin Zumo 660, so despite the £400 price, I took the plunge with a new Garmin. My TomTom was in good nick and along with the Ram mount I had for it, raised over £200 on eBay which helped offset the cost of the Garmin.
First impressions were very good; it's robust and slim, and the mounting bracket is equally solid, fitting the Triumph SatNav mount perfectly. The interface takes some getting used to, although to be honest, it's more a case of being different to what I was used to with theTomTom. The Garmin doesn't come with a Bluetooth headset although it will pair with one; it works fine with the Scala Rider I had previously bought for use with my TomTom. I used the Garmin extensively for the first time on the 2011 tour and it was fine. Downsides, not all Alpine towns seem to be in the database and setting the screen up to display the data you want takes a bit of fiddling. The Garmin has a facility for playing media, either music off books, on the move and bizarrely, it is not possible to remove the button for this from the screen, even if you don't ever want to listen! Furthermore, the Garmin doesn't tell you which road you are currently on unless you have a destination programmed in.
I've had the unit since March and apart from the 2011 tour, haven't used it a great deal. Given the choice, I'd have a TomTom in preference although that's because it's what I am used to. I will of course persevere with the Garmin and keep you posted on progress.
Advanced riding courses - 21/01/12
After receiving my first and to date only speeding ticket in 1991, I decided to take some advanced driving lessons with a view to sitting the Institute of Advanced Motorists Advanced (IAM) Driving test. The improvement in my general observation and road craft was amazing and I am sure has made me a better driver. I was also successful with the Institute's driving test in July of 1991.
Fast forward 8 years and I sit on a motorcycle for the very first time to undertake CBT. I am certain that I found taking to two wheels easier as a result of my advanced car training. Direct Access followed and since passing my full motorcycle test in 1999, I have ridden over 150,000 miles on two wheels commuting and as you can read elsewhere, touring. Despite the advanced car training and the impact I am sure it has had on my driving and riding, it was only this year that I took the plunge with advanced riding lessons. Along the way, I signed up for Bikesafe London www.bikesafe-london.co.uk in 2003 and again in 2006 which I would thoroughly recommend as an introduction to advanced riding. The catalyst for me starting advanced motorcycling came during route training for SERV blood deliveries in March 2011 which was lead by an observer from the local advanced motorcycle group (see below) and one of the other route trainees was a retired class 1 police motorcyclist who now provides advanced rider training.
So, what are the options? Well, it seems that the two main ones are advanced tests offered by either the IAM or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The former involves joining a local advanced motorcycling group (Herts and Beds Advanced Motorcyclists or HBAM www.hbam.org.uk in my case), the latter does have local groups although you can just pay a fee and take the test without being involved with the local group. A little subconsciously, I ended up pursuing both qualifications simultaneously and below I've outlined the differing approach and what's involved.
The cost of joining HBAM (or any other advanced riding group affiliated to the IAM) is £129 (or £109 for existing IAM members) which includes the IAM's Skills for Life programme. This comprises as much training as you need to pass the test, a copy of the IAM's How to be an Advanced Motorcyclist book and the actual test itself. The only other cost is offering a contribution to cover the cost of the observer's fuel for each observed ride. Once I'd joined up, I was contacted by a HBAM observer and we then met up for my first observed ride; essentially this involves a c30-35 mile ride over most road types and then a debrief on what the observer thought needed attention. If nothing else, it requires good rear observation as there is no radio contact and so the only way to know where to go is to watch for the observer's indicators! My observer also produced a very comprehensive written report of the entire ride, highlighting the good and not so good elements. I was amazed by the detail in this report and particularly how much my observer had remembered about how I had ridden each part of the ride. There were a few bits to work on and there then followed another 4 observed rides over the course of the next couple of months until we both felt I was ready for the test. I then had one final observed ride with a senior observer to confirm my readiness for the test prior to applying for the test itself.
The test is undertaken by a serving class 1 police rider and takes about 1.5 hours. A slightly longer ride over a completely different route, again requiring good rear observation for the direction instruction. The test also involves a comprehensive machine inspection review and the ability to highlight all of the key safety and per ride checks. The IAM advanced test results in either a pass or fail and once passed, entitles you to life membership of the IAM with no retest, subject to paying an annual fee.
Pete Wood, firstname.lastname@example.org the retired police rider I met during SERV route training offers 1:1 advanced training covering whatever you want at a cost of around £120 per day. Pete has worked with most of the bike press on improving their riding technique and has featured in Ride, Bike and MCN to name but three. I chose a general all round day with some focus on cornering and braking. We met one spring Saturday morning at 10:00 at Baldock Services on the A1 in Bedfordshire. Pete has rider communications equipment which enables him to provide commentary and instruction throughout the ride. During my day, we covered 115 miles, going as far north as Lincolnshire, and covering every type of road. We stopped regularly for debriefs and advice, switching between being followed and following throughout the day. Towards the end of the day, we stopped in a quiet industrial estate and practised braking as hard as possible - the difference in my stopping distances at the end was significant, and certainly considerably more than the width of a pedestrian crossing...
I cannot rate Pete highly enough; his commentary is engaging, interesting and above all informative. He provides insight to riding and observation that I didn't know was possible. All in all, a fantastic day and without doubt the best £120 I have spent on improving my bike (by improving me!).
Pete's view was I that I was ready for taking the RoSPA test. We agreed that I would apply for the test and then when I had a date, meet up for a further half day to refresh and undertake a short mock test. After that, I took the test. Joining RoSPA costs £48 which includes the test fee. Unlike IAM, RoSPA has three grades of pass, gold, silver or bronze or fail (or "deferred success" as my examiner put it!) and to maintain RoSPA membership, a retest is required every three years. The actual test was very similar to the IAM test, requiring the same machine checks and a similar, comprehensive 90 minute ride. According to RoSPA, a gold pass is the highest award a civilian motorcyclist can attain and is awarded to riders who, if the opportunity were available, have the potential to do well on a police advanced motorcycle course.
So what do I think? Well, as I say above, the actual riding tests are very similar and both require smooth progress to be made, demonstrating a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the Police Roadcraft system and within the law at all times. The RoSPA test, and especially a gold pass, requires a particularly polished ride with exemplary positioning, cornering and taking all appropriate opportunities to make progress. Both organisations have local groups that encourage social gatherings and ride outs, although this is more prevalent with the IAM. All told, I think RoSPA requires a slightly higher standard of riding and would be my recommendation of the two.
Rok Straps - 09/12/12
I’ve used bungies, cargo nets and straps but these are definitely the best way of attaching luggage to your motorcycle. The elastic nature of the straps means that you can get them really tight. Also because the attachment loops are material they do not scratch the bike. They can be purchased from most motorcycle shops / websites and if you don’t mind purchasing from the tax avoiding Amazon you can buy them there as well! I paid about £20 for mine and longer versions are available for £30. I’ve had for a couple of years now. Looking on the web prices seem to have dropped to between £15 and £30.
Wear proper kit - 23/12/11
Thank God I was wearing my motorcycle boots, full armoured waterproofs, gloves and helmet on Wednesday 14th December. It was only a short 9 mile commute across London, a route I ride every day, and all low speed. However, less than 5 minutes into the ride I was knocked off my motorcycle while filtering up to some traffic lights. The driver who hit me was pulling out from between two lanes of traffic and whilst I stopped I couldn’t stop before pulling slightly ahead of the front car. The driver was now focusing on whether traffic was approaching up the other lane and drove into me at about 5 - 10mph!
The bike was knocked over and my foot / leg was trapped between the bike and the car! I thought the bike wan’t that badly damaged until the garage sent the ladies insurance the estimate! £7.5k - well I suppose it was hit one side by the car and then fell over the other side and whilst the damage looked fairly superficial most of the parts needed replacing!
My foot was not broken but was very bruised and I was on crutches for two days. 9 days later and I was still limping but able to get about. I just hate to think how much worse it would have been if either I hadn’t had proper motorcycle gear on or I had been going any faster!
Ride safely at all times as you never know what’s out there!
P.S. A big thanks to all the witnesses who stopped to help me, the lady who drove into me for being so kind and considerate, the ambulance staff, the CSOs and the police. All of you were brilliant.
Flexible weather strategies - 21/12/11
As you can read in our tour report for Passport Tour 2010, when we motorcycled around the Pyrenees, planning for bad weather is a good idea...
As mentioned before riding in the rain is not great, especially when you have waited a whole year for your touring holiday to come around and you have ridden hundreds of miles to get to your destination. Well that’s what Nick and I found last year. So this year we developed a flexible approach to our motorcycle touring. We had four possible destinations:
1. The Alps
3. The Pyrenees
Our view was unless we were very unlucky one area would have good weather in any one week! So in order to see what the weather looked like we bought the iPad and iPhone ‘Weatherpro HD’ and ‘Weatherpro’ apps and tracked the forecasts for all four areas.
We then put the forecasts in a spreadsheet and tracked the accuracy of the forecast to try and get a view for how stable the weather and forecasts were for each area. I have attached a PDF of our current spreadsheet. As you can see 2011 is a close shout between the Alps and the Pyrenees. Follow us on our facebook page to find out where we end up... Well now you know - we went to the Alps and had a brilliant tour albeit not the best weather. See our 2011 tour report...
Pacsafe - lockable, waterproof kit bag - 03/12/11
This is a really practical and massively useful piece of kit if you don’t have hard luggage or you have too much to cram in to it!
I have used it on many occasions, outdoors at the Triumph Live event, indoors in many London car-parks and garages. It is the business. Ride in your waterproof and full safety gear with helmet and boots. Don’t want to take them around with you, or into the theatre, no problem stuff them in the sack and then lock it to the bike! Brilliant. You can buy online for circa £75 last time I looked.
Get one and enjoy your freedom!
Jackets and trousers - 08/10/11
Leathers and waterproofs or waterproof textiles? This has been a major debate between Nick and I for some time! Read and find out where the argument has got to!
In our first tips on gear blog Nick and I stated that the best all weather touring protection was leathers combined with waterproofs. This year Nick challenged that by buying Hein Gericke pro shell jacket and trousers. Whilst hoping for no rain on our tour we did get some and at points it was torrential.
Of course every time it rained I had to stop and put on my waterproof overalls. Sometimes this is really annoying as you stop put on your waterproofs and then the rain doesn’t last for more than a couple of moments! The good news is that by doing this I stayed completely dry if not a little too hot! On the other hand Nick didn’t have to do anything and he also stayed completely dry. Not only dry but within minutes of getting off the bike his clothing was dry as well. In past blogs our beef with normal waterproof clothing is that it keeps you dry but does get very water-logged.
As a result I went out and purchased a HG Pro Shell suit. It wasn’t plain sailing as the first set of trousers leaked and the jacket had problems with the lock out zip! However, with a five year guarantee that was no issue, well other than having to go back to the shop and wait for HG to test the trousers! Since then everything has been great and I am enjoying hassle free dry riding.
So we now recommend Pro Shell Gortex gear above all else. It is expensive but very very good.
Tom Tom Urban Rider - 3rd Edition - 08/10/11
My TomTom rider 2nd edition died on our Pyrenees tour. Too much rain and a fairly unprotected position on my Rocket Roadster were its downfall. I managed to make it last for the 2011 tour but it did die a few times so I replaced it on my return. I bought the new Tom Tom Urban Rider and am very pleased with it. However, you need to be careful which version you buy.
As I said the Urban Rider is excellent, however, you have to be careful which version you purchase. I decided not to go for the version with the scala rider as my previous Tom Tom had that and it was the first thing to die in the wet of the Pyrenees tour, also it saved me over £100! The mistake I made was that my version does not have a chargeable mount. As my Rocket has Tom Tom power outlet that is frustrating! I can buy a compatible chargeable mount but am frustrated I didn’t get one in the first place.
A neat feature which helps preserve the battery power is the fact this Tom Tom turns itself off in between instructions to save power. Very cool. The new device has detailed lane instructions and is very easy to use. It also has a useful feature to reverse itinerary routes.
Nick bought a Garmin with his Tiger 800 and I will get him to write up his experiences with that.
Bike Safe London - 06/02/11
Nick and I booked up and went to the Ace Cafe for a days instruction run by the Metropolitan Motorcycle Police Division. Similar schemes run across the UK and can easily be found on the internet.
Bikesafe London is great. You get safety talks and lectures at the Ace Cafe, a morning ride out into the City to improve your City riding techniques. Then after a quality bikers lunch at the famous Ace Cafe you are given further safety briefings and taken out for a second supervised ride this time out in to more rural roads.
All in all an excellent experience and worth its weight in gold. Furthermore the small cost is quickly recouped by reduced insurance, etc once you have obtained your bikesafe certificate.
Click on the link to go to the Bikesafe London homepage...
Get a Grip campaign - 06/02/11
The Get A Grip campaign was mentioned in last months MSL. There is an on line petition you can sign up to which encourages councils to use modern substances for man hole covers, etc. These modern materials provide extra grip thereby reducing the risk for motorcyclists. Please follow the link below and sign the petition so we can all enjoy safer riding...
Recommended read - 06/02/11
Recommended read for anyone planning a motorcycle tour in Europe. Nick and Chris have used John Hermann’s fantastic book “Motorcycle Journeys Through The Alps and Beyond” to plan all of our European tours. It is well written with excellent advice, good maps and useful information and tips. You can buy it at Amazon.
Packing - 30/01/11
Packing for the bike:
Packing for yourself:
Tom Tom - 29/01/11
Itinery planning is very useful for tours but can also be a real pain! If you don't pass right by a waymark Tom can try and take you back to it!
Remember once your moving you can't alter the route or do anything with Tom. So it pays to get the route sorted before setting off.
Also don’t rush off in a hurry before Tom has worked out where he is! Nick and I did this in 2006 and found ourselves trapped in the middle of Lake Como with our only option being 20 miles retracing our tracks or a ferry - we choose the ferry much to Nick’s horror!
Using the map to locate waymarks / destinations can be dangerous as it often looks as though you have the road you want but when you zoom right in you can be several miles off the route you planned. Even when you are close you can have trouble. I have chosen the wrong side of a motorway and Tom takes you off and then back down the other way!
Know where you are going! It is well worth making sure you know the general direction you need to travel. Either by looking at a map or from road signs. Nick and I have been lead significantly astray by Tom!
Beware postcodes. The later versions of Tom won't let you put all 6 characters in. Rather the 1st three and then it forces you to use the street name. This is excellent. I once went to a meeting in Cambridge and the postcode took me to completely the wrong side of the City.
Tom Tom traffic is outstanding and has saved me many long delays. You need to ensure it is active before you set off. Sadly for Nick and I, however, our iPhones don't support Bluetooth data therefore traffic doesn't work!
Always study your destination well before setting off to ensure that you know where to stop.
Make sure that your Tom Tom is well attached to it's bracket. My original wasn't and flew off the bracket on an autobahn!
Don’t rely on Tom’s built in trip statistics. I have tried a few times but it never seems to tally with what we have actually done and is very unreliable. It seems to work on when Tom is switched off and on rather than day statistics.
Ear Plugs - 29/01/11
These are so important it you are a serious biker. Everyone who I know who hasn’t used them and has ridden a lot now has tinnitus. I have no intention of getting that and so use ear plugs all the time. Even for short low speed city commuting. Different types suit different people so you may have to shop around at first. I use Moldex Spark Plugs and get them from the snorestore. Click on the image to be taken right to the Moldex page...
Route planning - 29/01/11
Don't plan in such detail you feel unable to deviate from your route. It is great to plan but you don't want to ruin the tour by having to stick to a route when it becomes too challenging. The amount of distance you cover on motorways and straights is completely different to the distance you cover on twisty Alpine climbs.
Make sure you know enough about where you are going so that you know how to deviate, where I likely to be best to stop, etc. Also make sure you spend enough time researching to understand which are scenic routes verses those that get you from a to b!
Again it's worth doing research to find places that you might want to visit / stop to take photos.
Finally, as you can read in our 2010 Pyrenees tour it is well worth having a number of different routes planned to avoid bad weather. By that they need to be significantly geographically different otherwise if, as we did in 2010, you find yourself facing terrible weather where you planned to go be wise and go somewhere else!
Bewdley Bikers on Tour
Ride magazine - touring