First steps back to motorbike training, update

Snow stopped play, which was always a possibility at this time of year. I was out for an hour or two on my own yesterday, and the conditions were pretty baltic. It actually wasn’t that bad riding in the cold weather, but the thermals add an extra layer which makes me feel like the michelin man, and even with all that my fingers started getting a bit numb.

Cleaning the bike afterward wasn’t that bad, at this time of year the salt tends to collect and harden on the bits of the exhaust but a bit of clean water got rid of that.

Highway Code Sign of the Week

I bought myself a copy of the latest Highway Code to see what had changed over the years since I passed my bike test, and my car test before it. Things look good, apparently we are still supposed to drive on the left in this country, and green on a traffic light still means go.

Like looking up rude words in a Dictionary, the traditional thing with the Highway Code is to find amusement in the Traffic signs section. My favourite has to be No Vehicles Carrying Explosives.

Remember kids – if you are, and you see that sign – don’t go there.

Requirements Analysis

I’m currently working in an assingment as a Business Analyst, I view it as a bit of a sabbatical from proper work like career development for development team members and proper techie stuff like web architectures, knowledge management etc. Anyway, whether I see myself working long term as a BA, I still think it is an essential role in the development of solutions using technology.

Unfortunately it is also a bit of a thankless task if you have any inclination to doing it “properly”, for instance the term analysis paralysis comes up. Two options ring home in the wikipedia description, bureacracy and inexperience. What is unclear is the particular area of inexperience they mean. Is it lack of time in the role? Is it lack of business awareness? Raw analysis skills, or time management?

The wikipedia has a good section on requirements analysis which discusses some of the issues, some of which although recognised over two decades ago are still around in the industry.

First steps back to Motorbike training

You may have read in previous postings that I recently acquired a motorbike. For those of you that don’t know, I passed my bike test almost a decade ago when I was single, and a shade off the age of 25. I did have a bike of my own for a little while, purchased to help me pass my bike test. It was a Honda MTX 125 which was legal for licence I had and tall enough for me to be comfortable riding the small machine.

I duly passed my test on that, and having moved near to Livingston sat in my garage for a wee while until I sold it through Autotrader. Since then I’ve thought about it, but not bought a bike. I simply had other, better, things to spend my money on.

With that long absence, I promised myself that I would invest in training when and if the event happened, and to that end met up with the chaps at Lothian Motorcycle Training this afternoon. Joe Duffin runs their outfit from a small office in a trading estate near Bathgate, not far from the local Tesco and along the road from the Volkswagen Garage. He and Andy were in waiting for their trainee for the afternoon, so while they were waiting we had a chat about what LMT could offer and my own particular requirements. Its a while since I’ve had any form of driving or riding training, and I must admit I was a good bit nervous. I went down on the bike, which appeared to surprise Joe a bit, but I suppose with the temperatures hovering just above zero, I was a bit surprised myself.

Motorcycling is a bit of a serious subject these days, the boom in the leisure sector has bought with it an increase in the number of riders and unfortunately corresponding injuries and fatalities. And its evident that both Joe and Andy have a serious message to deliver, safety is paramount and frankly, for many it is ego and arrogance that prevent them listening to the message they can deliver. Of course, being male and coming packaged with a good bit of ego sprinkled with a bit of arrogance myself, I’m really setting myself up in doing this. Sadly they’ve seen a variety of folks that are a danger to themselves, whether it is the novice completing their training and thinking they know it all, or the middle age guys who passed their test and have gone back to biking. The common factor is lack of up to date experience, new bikes and over confidence.

To help me along with the idea of continuing to learn, they recounted a bit of their recent experiences on their ROSPA bike retest. When you sit your advanced motorcycle test with ROSPA, their grade only lasts three years and then you have to resit. Taken with a serving motorcycle police officer, the test evaluates the rider against the “system” as described in Motorcycle Roadcraft, the police rider’s manual. As Joe Pointed out, his ride was assessed and analysed, pointing out what he could do to sharpen up his riding. From his experience, even with the number of years he has held the gold certificate and he has the instructor’s diploma too, every time they still manage to give pointers for improvement. I guess I should be ok in the thought that there is always something that can be learned in one’s riding, whether new or old, or highly trained or otherwise.

So I wouldn’t count myself as middle aged, but I do have a big gap in my experience. Gulp. So I’m booked up for a couple of hours on the morning of the 28th December to get followed around by Joe on his Honda Pan European, then he’ll be telling me what I need to sort in my riding. I’m hoping we at least manage to travel the two miles in to Bathgate from their premises before he has to stop and tell me what I’m doing wrong. I had the nightmare of having to ride out of the carpark when they were getting the bikes ready, and Andy managed to spot stuff for me straight away. To get me off to a good start, I have to remember not to start the engine before I back the bike out of a space, and to cover a brake while stationary. Good on Andy, these guys are well trained to spot things both from on foot and on a bike when they follow you. Mind you, two learning points and I hadn’t even left the carpark. And a little note to myself, don’t mention BMW to Andy.

BBC News item of the day, Wednesday 14th December 2005 – Yes Car Credit

I feel a little guilty about featuring this item, particularly as it relates to the failure of a business with the resultant loss of 820 jobs. The Yes Car Credit business is to close, apparently the core business model that it operated on is now unviable – check the content of the article as to why.

Together with the other numerous financial services adverts that feature on the satellite channels, the wee blonde lassie with the green body warmer made a brief impact on popular culture. Ok, so the advert was taken off on chewin the fat with their “Aye car credit” sketch. I say that is some indication of their level in contemporary culture.

From what I know they sold to what the banks call the sub-prime sector of lending, with corresponding cheap cars and interest rates matched to the risk of the market. I guess their margins were tight, and didn’t cope with the increased expectations on them. This makes me wonder how long the budget airlines will be cheap in the face of increased demand for the cover and service of the bigger airlines. I don’t get how people expect to pay peanuts then complain bitterly when their flight it cancelled. Surely the extra margin of the not-so-budget airlines is there to provide such “frills”? Or maybe I’m a bit soft.

Where did November and the beginning of December go?

Thanks to Matt for giving me a little nudge to get on with this, so where did the last six weeks go?

As I mentioned in my last posting, I at last moved from the ranks of biker without a bike to biker with a bike with the purchase on ebay of a ten year old BMW motorcycle. A bit of a risky thing to do, but all worked out in the end with a bargain being had and delivery from Yorkshire to West Lothian all arranged.

Being a bargain it needed a little bit of work done, a set of tyres was in order and a service to make sure everything was a known quantity. After a generous gift from my Father In Law, I arranged for a new set of tyres. The manufacturers of motorcycle tyres are pretty much the same as those for cars, Michelin, Bridgestone etc, although the life of a typical motorcycle tyre in miles is about a quarter or less of the equivalent on a car. Even the so-called “touring” type tyres are quite sporty compared to car tyres.

Another interesting aspect is that removing the wheels on a motorcycle is a lot more involved than on a car. To me removing the wheel of a car is simply a case of jacking up the relevant corner, removing four or more wheel nuts and the wheel is off. Refitting is more or less the reverse. Checking the technical manual for my bmw on the removal of wheels talks about moving brake parts, removing mudgards, moving the exhaust if dealing with the rear tyre etc. All of this means that motorbike rapid-fit doesn’t exist unless you remove the wheels yourself (i.e. fit to loose-wheels) and even then the market for motorcycle tyres means a limited amount of outlets in central Scotland, even in the locality of the capital.

After a good bit of phoning around, the “local” options were C&J Wilson, in the next town, Alvins in Edinburgh and Strathearn Tyres in Crieff. National tyres were really good and helpful, unfortunately they are only geared up for complete wheel removal in Yorkshire, but the chap there is really helpful. In the end I went with C&J Wilson, the local Kawasaki dealer in Uphall and an excellent example of a traditional bike dealers. Booked in to the workshop for a Saturday morning, I got a set of new Bridgestone BT-020s fitted to the bike. That was after calling out the AA to start the bike.

The other thing that is different about motorcycle tyres is the shape. Car tyres are pretty square in shape, motorcycle tyres start out very much round (so they can go around corners) rather unlike the tyres on Judge Dredd’s Lawmaster.

In the middle I had the motorcycle serviced by a chap in Queensferry who only works on BMW Boxers, and an excellent job he did too. Not knowing much about the bikes, I was really pleasantly surprised to be able to feel the difference in the smooth running of the bike after he had worked on it. Before heading out to Queensferry I had to call out the AA again, the culprit being identified as a battery, so I got one ordered up on Monday and sent to Queensferry from Sherlocks. The bike also got a once over to spot anything needing attention and got a generally good clean bill of health, apart from the brake bobbins and the paralever bearings. To give a quick idea what these are, there are two discs on the front of the bike and these are free to move on bobbins along the axis of the wheel – floating discs is what I think they are called. These will need new ones to prevent other wear in the disc happening due to excessive movement. The paralever is the device invented by BMW to deal with the torque reactions that happen on a shaft-driven motorcycle. There is an arm mounted to the bottom of the swinging arm at the rear of the bike and a lot of twisting forces go through there, resulting in wear of the bearings.

Unfortunately he also spotted a problem with the new front tyre – the pressure had dropped by half over the weekend. So back to C&J Wilson who attended to it quickly, turned out to be a faulty valve. Sorted free of charge, but I bet that was a bit annoying for them. They did all they could to do it properly.

So everything is pretty much working, the ABS fault it was showing cleared with the new battery so my ABS is operational but I haven’t been in any situation to activate it yet. I’m also getting to know the bits and bobs of the Boxer. The engine is called a Boxer because the pistons fire in opposite directions, in this case two pistons going in opposite directions lying across the bike. The cylinders stick out and are finned as air is one of the main coolants for this type of engine.

There you go then, a wee intro to my bike, took a few of my weekends in November, weather and a cold took most of the rest.