Riding On The Ice

Riding On The Ice

As you may know, I’m a bit of a Head-The-Ball.  Yes – I am one of those ‘people’ who rides a motorcycle all year round.  This means I’ve had years of experience of riding on snow and ice and in freezing temperatures.

To make things even more fun for myself, almost all of this has been done on allegedly unsuitable sportsbikes.

Surprisingly, I’m not dead, yet.  In fact, I’ve never even crashed in Winter due to the road conditions!

“How have you not killed yourself, Nasty Evil Ninja?” I hear you cry.  Well, let me give you a few tips.

Buy Decent Clothing

You need to be able to stay warm, so make sure you wrap up.  I gave you my suggestions for that in this blog.

Which brings me on to this:

Relax

Expecting the bike to end up on top of you at any moment like a cheap village hooker is stressful.

I make a conscious effort every few minutes to RELAX.  If you’re tense, then you won’t be able to react as quickly, you won’t be as smooth with your actions, and you’ll be working against the bike – which is the last thing you need.

Take a few deep breaths and chill out (in a, you know, trying-to-keep-warm way).

Slow Down

It might seem obvious, but when there’s a huge Land Rover snorting down your chuff on an icy road, you’ll feel a bit pressured.

You’re on two wheels and will crash and die if you don’t ride at your own pace.  Let the cars have their own accident and only go at the speed you’re comfortable with.  If they don’t like it, they can go around you.

Why do car drivers tailgate a biker on snowy, icy roads?  Because they’re -ing retards.  You won’t be able to help them with this, no matter how much you gesticulate.

Grip Levels

You need to get very good at anticipating grip levels – and very quickly.  If temperatures have dropped below freezing overnight, assume anything shiny is ice.

Gritted roads are surprisingly grippy unless temperatures have dropped lower than -4 degrees centigrade.  Colder than this and the grit will freeze as well.  Dry roads are your friends.

You can test grip levels in relative safety in several ways.  Tap the rear brake and see if it locks up.  Stamp on it for a harder test – if it locks or goes sideways, get away from that sucker and stay as straight as you can!

You can also give it a handful of throttle and see if it spins up – but be aware that on a really slippy surface the bike will swap ends in a split second with too much throttle – however fast your reactions are.

Staying Upright

Try and keep the bike as upright as possible, by MOVING YOUR BODY.  Hang off the side around corners or at the very least move your upper body weight.

It makes a massive difference to the lean angles you’re trying to put the bike through – and if the bike is more upright you’ve got more grip.

Filtering/Overtaking

Cars that aren’t trying to ride over your pillion seat will be crawling along at 10mph on a well-gritted and grippy road, or they’ll be stuck in endless traffic queues with their heaters and anger on full blast.

Amazingly, this means you’ll still be filtering and overtaking!

The first thing to be aware of is that although the grit will cover the whole road, the section by the curb and in the middle of the road will still be choc full of icy badness.  There may be room to squeeze around cars, but make sure you know what you’re putting your wheels on!

It’s all too easy to slip past a few cars and then find you’re riding on sheet ice with no way to stop or avoid that ‘keep left’ bollard up ahead.

Filtering is the same, but the gap between lanes is generally grippy – just be aware car drivers won’t be expecting a mental two-wheeler, and they will also be avoiding the ice at the sides of the road so may leave you less room.

Visibility

You’ll be covered in road salt.  If you open your visor, this will go in your eyes.

Even if the salt burning your eyeballs out doesn’t bother you, the extra rocks thrown up from pot-holes will.

Keep your visor down ALL the time.

If you’ve ever ridden in heavy snow then you’ll also have experienced the Time Warp/Star Wars effect it has on your vision!  Kind-of cool, but that snow will also stick to your visor, so you’ll need to be wiping it every few seconds.

Side Roads

Take the long route.  Seriously.

An ungritted road will have you off even if you ride at walking pace with your feet dragging.

Snow isn’t too bad until a few cars have compacted it, but sheet ice will see both wheels come out from underneath you however skilled you are, even if you’re going in a straight line.

And above all ENJOY IT!

It’s not really so bad – it’s just different!

Most people (even most bikers) will never get to experience it – so you get bragging rights for down the pub!

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The Rush

The Rush

Anyone who knows me will say that I’m a pretty laid-back person.  Some would say I’m so laid-back you can actually see the soles of my shoes as I’m walking.

In direct contrast to this, my interests (and some of my jobs!) have always involved extreme levels of intensity.

For the most part, I get involved in an activity and it totally consumes me.  I don’t mind not being the best at what I do – but I will put every part of my soul into finding out just how well I can do something!  Then, I’ll move onto the next thing…

Even from when I was an early teen, I found that I got a very intense rush from writing poems and stories.  The experience was almost like being sick – scribbling out the words all at once and then sitting back feeling relief.  Calm.

The band came next.  Playing the bass or taking on vocal duties for a band is pretty extreme – but the buzz you get from stepping onto a stage in front of people can completely overwhelm some people.  I found I thrived on it!

And not just folk music, of course – my choice was thrash, death metal, grindcore – anything fast and loud!

I never had a massive interest in sports at school until I got to do things my way.

None of the pansy-assed school soccer or rugby – I got out there and joined a full kit US Football team, and let my psychosis carry me through!

People say US Football is all stop-starty – but I bet they’ve never played it.  In the time the ball isn’t actually moving, before that whistle blows, the anticipation is immense.

You’re about to smash your way through people who will try to seriously injure you – and everyone is wearing bloody armour so they can hit each other even harder!  If you think THAT is ‘a bit boring’ then you’re a -ing idiot!

Next came the clubbing days.  Not seals – the music type.  Hard as bastardy techno and trance… Dancing like a loon through the night to it…

Each thing seeemd to be getting more extreme – more intense.

Then I bought a motorbike – not for a rush, but just to get me to work.

If only I would have known years before… I still say my bike is the best thing I’ve ever bought in my life.

I guess looking back it’s no surprise I’d get into sportsbikes, where I can experience 1000hp per tonne blasting me to 60mph in under 3 seconds, and stupid lean angles as I scrape my knees on the tarmac at over 100mph!

Not many would have pegged me for getting a cruiser motorcycle and plodding around on it just for the image!  Give me the foetal position at 190mph any day!

Most of these previous things apart from bikes have fallen by the wayside now.  I do still demonstrate martial arts in almost every aspect of my life (and a lot of those activities above!), but I think even that peaked a few years back when I was sparring with friends for hours every single night preparing for a no holds barred tournament.  Now I still learn new techniques, but hardly do any proper training – so you can bet I’m weak and slow compared to how I was.

The bike thing is still going strong, and earlier this week I had this arrive on my doorstep:

MSA ARDS National B Racing License

That’s my car racing license!

For the last few months I’ve been totally immersing myself in the Skip Barber race manual learning ungodly amounts of stuff about race car physics and techniques, so the intensity for driving racing cars has already hit me.

Just wait until I slide myself into that single seater for the first time, and we’ll see what kind of rush I get from this one.

The way I see it – if you’re not constantly chasing that rush, you’re doing it wrong!

 

Living With A Kawasaki GPZ500s

Living With A Kawasaki GPZ500s

Bandit 600 & GPZ500s

I was a little shocked to realise that I’ve now had the Kawasaki GPZ500s for 6 months now – so I guess it’s time for an update to let you know what I think of it now!

Way back in my first blog I said it was a lot more fun to ride than I imagined it would be.  This is still true.

Within the first week or so, I completely ruined the whole ‘sensible’ bike idea by getting my knee down on the GPZ for the first time!  No drama – it feels a little twitchy when banked right over, but never enough so you lack confidence in it.

From then it became another bike for hooning around on – just slower than the ZX9R that sits next to it.  I have been out a few times on the 9r, but it still has an electrical issue that means it cuts out, so the GPZ is definitely my main bike.

I also did some flat-out runs up the motorways to which I thought had taken their toll on the bike… Normal fuel economy seems to get me close to 170 miles from a tank of petrol – flat out runs dropped that to less than 100.

It also started making some strange whistling sounds, which I diagnosed perfectly as being a loose spark plug.

No problem!  I whipped off the tank (didn’t even need to take any bits of fairing off) gave the top of the block a good clean with an air hose, removed and checked old plugs, shoved in the new ones I’d bought anyway, and all was right with the world again.

Next purchase was tyres.  As my intention was to ride through Winter I wanted something better than 15 year old BT45’s or Mac 100’s, so did a bit of research and found Michelin Pilot Activ came with good recommendations.  The downside was they cost a third of the price I paid for the bike!

As it turns out, it was money well spent.  They are excellent all round – right from cold, in the wet, dry etc.  Very confidence-inspiring even braking very hard in the wet.  I’ve done about 2000 miles on them so far and they show no signs of wear, so I’m hoping for big mileage from them, too!

The exhaust was the next thing to go – although it started blowing where the can joins the pipe… very quickly this separated completely.

 

GPZ exhaust break

A bit of welding genius, along with an old exhaust from a Formula Vee race car saw a replacement on within a few hours. (See pic at the end of this blog)

But it was LOUD.  Being pretty open also meant I had loads of low-down grunt but absolutely no power at the top of the rev range.  This was great for city centre riding, but no good at all on motorways.

I bought an extra baffle which made the sound tolerable (I loved it loud, I have to say!) and also gave a nice spread of power back but still leaving loads more low down grunt than standard.

I will replace it with another end can but this has complications, as the exhaust is one complete unit and quite expensive.

Commuting is great on the GPZ because it’s nice and narrow, so I can fit through stupid gaps in traffic.

Even on icy roads I was never let down.  It starts every time, too.  I fitted Oxford heated grips and it doesn’t affect battery power at all.

The front caliper did gunk up a bit with the Winter salty roads.  20 mins to give it a clean up sorted this out.  I had to remove a dust seal, but this shouldn’t cause any problems if I stay on top of maintenance.

The current expense is a new chain and sprocket set… I bought the parts from different Ebay sellers and got the lot, including postage, for under £40.  I just have to fit it, now.

The rear shock will possibly need replacing for the next MOT, but again that should be pretty easy thanks to the centre stand.

It’s a great bike for a workhorse/commuter!

I’ve already scraped the pegs again this year, and maybe this will be my earliest ever kneedown of the year?

I’d happily buy another GPZ, because they’re pretty bomb proof and very easy to work on if you do need to do anything!

GPZ500s Barber Institute Of Fine Arts – note custom exhaust.

ARDS Test: The Medical

ARDS Test: The Medical

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The final piece of the jigsaw to be granted an MSA National B Race License is to book and pass the full medical checkup.

It is essentially the same as what you’ll need for top quality life insurance.  Most Doctors charge around £100 for this.

I did some searching around, and found others had paid a lot more than this, and some as little as £50!

On a recent first aid course at work, I asked the instructor on the off-chance he’d know someone who could do a good price, and as it turned out he did!  As a PCV license holder, he was subject to regular medicals, and used a Dr Hill based in the West Midlands area.

I called the number I’d been given, and spoke directly to Dr Hill (I’ll add his details below) – no nonsense, nice and friendly, and he offered me his first available appointment on a weekend.

This involved a bit of a trek to Shrewsbury, but getting somewhere closer to home would be a longer wait, and at least it’s a pleasant drive out that way.

And he said it would be £40!  Bargain!

So the day came, and off I headed, praying my urine sample didn’t leak in the car on the drive over (as it turns out, a can of Guinness exploded in my car on the journey, but I suppose it’s a more pleasant smell to put up with).

He prodded me about a bit, asked the important questions (about diabetes, epilepsy, non-motorsport related mental defects etc), listened to my heart and breathing, and did a full eye test for vision and colour blindness.

I’m pleased to say my eyes are perfect.  My blood pressure, on the other hand, wasn’t.

The first time he took the pressure, he’d been asking me about what I was racing and stuff.  I’m sure this might relax most people, but even typing about the chance to climb into a Formula racing car now gets my adrenalin going!

Ray Formula Vee chassis

Added to this, I’d woken up with The Lurgy.

So I had it recorded at 140/90 on the form – which isn’t ideal, but shouldn’t cause any problems.

The whole thing was done very quickly and efficiently, he stamped my ARDS license application form, and I was out the door within a very short time to go and find things to do in Shropshire on a Sunday when you’re ill.

I gawped at a few floods in the area and then went home to get the last parts of the film filled in ready for the New Year when I could send it off.

So it’s all in the post – practical and medical tests done and dusted, passport pic attached, and within the next week or so I should be sent out my first ever National B Race License!

In the mean time, the Motorsport International Show is on at Birmingham NEC shortly, so I shall hopefully get my race equipment cheap from there.

Then it’s time to talk about getting the Formula Vee booked in to a test day – and I can take to the wheel for the first time and see…

Who knows?  If I’m Senna or Slow!

Bring it on!

*** If you need a reasonably priced medical check, and are based close enough to the Wolverhampton/Shrewsbury/Kidderminster area, contact Dr Hill on 07802 690 896.

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Read the other blogs in my ARDS license series:

ARDS Test: Following My Childhood Dream 
ARDS Test Part 2: The Go Racing Pack 
Taking The ARDS Test – The Morning Preparation 
Taking The ARDS Test – This Is It!