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!

Winter Friggin’ Winter

Winter Friggin’ Winter

“What did you do in The Great War, Nasty Evil Ninja?”

I keep telling you – I wasn’t in any -ing war!  Having said that, I was wounded in ‘Nam.

Birming’Nam.

Weirdly enough, from what I can work out, I’ve picked up a nasty knee injury by sitting on the couch, drinking Bud and eating cheese and chilli covered nachos whilst watching the Superbowl.  Either that or Lill Boo was practising her wrestling moves on me when I was asleep afterwards.

Either way I woke up with pain and ruptured synovial membrane.  Bah!

As the internet is down at work I figured I’d update you on random thoughts, and a bit about what’s going on in my life.

Not bloody much!  It’s Winter – so I haven’t been riding my bike.  It’s not how it used to be…  I mean, I did 10 or 11 Winters riding sportsbikes on the snow and ice!  Looking back at it now I have no idea how I ever survived?  I’m so glad I managed to capture a few rides on video, because who is going to believe that I rode a ZX9R through fairly deep snow in conditions so slippery that I actually started sliding backwards down a hill!  Well here is the proof:

Aside from being pretty damned sure I’d never try and repeat anything like that (I actually rode my VFR750 in much deeper snow and slid backwards down a different hill), I have to admit that there is a part of me that misses it.  I’m not sure if it was ‘fun’ exactly, but it’s probably more to do with how much of a thrill it was.  How extreme.  How unique.

But after 11 years of that I learned to drive a car just over a year ago, and find I also love driving.  Compared to being on a bike, if you get out of shape in a car, you have time to go and make a sandwich, have a quick look on Facebook, and THEN do something to stop you from crashing.  It’s easy as Hell!

Winter is pretty much dead time for me.  I can’t do trackdays or anything I want, and there isn’t even any motor racing on TV.  Apart from rallying – and that just doesn’t cut it compared to waiting to see the Moto 2 boys slugging it out with 20 bikes going for the lead!

So I’m on Facebook a lot.  Playing stupid games.  And if I can safely sneak it in without Lill Boo getting bored to death (no, this is not inuendo!), then I’ll get the Xbox 360 on.

I’m still waiting with bated breath for GTA 5 to come out, but that’s ages away.  I discovered the Dragon Age games a few months back, and sunk many hours into those, and have just started on Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.

I think I still prefer Fallout for that type of game, but Elder Scolls is pretty damned good!  It should tide me over until the snow pisses off and I can get my kicks scraping my knees on the tarmac again!

What do you lot do to keep you amused through the Winter months?

As a side note to all this, I learnt the other day that one of my favourite people on YouTube for his hilarious bike vids, mask pranks, and other malarkey – Svengalie – has passed away…

He seemed like a really good bloke, and it appears it may have been a suicide.  It goes to show that you never really know what’s going on in someone’s Real World away from their online antics…  Such a shame.  He was only 30 and had kids.  My dearest thoughts go out to them and his friends and family.

I’ll leave you with the first ever vlog I saw of his (before I even knew what a vlog was) that made me laugh so much.  Hopefully it will do the same for you, and spare a thought for Steven Love:

First Ride And Chances For Kneedown Action

First Ride And Chances For Kneedown Action

I had no chance of using the Kawasaki ZX9R over Christmas.  The snow was a Hell of a lot worse than last year (the reason I got a car license for this Winter) and just lasted forever!

When it finally did go it was still all icy or at the very least wet.  So after one of the longest periods I’ve ever had without riding, I decided that Today Was The Day.

I happily logged onto Facebook to see complaints from everyone that they’d had another few inches of snow!

Looking out the window again just in case I’d gone blind, it confirmed that there wasn’t so much as a flake of it here.  A quick ask around showed everywhere else in the world has the white stuff, so I though I may as well do a very local ride!

Kitting up with my new Knoxx back protector for the first time, I taped a cam into the helmet to capture any spectacular crashes and went to see if the beast would start.

Pressing the starter briefly to prime everything after the lay-up, it sounded like the battery was a bit low but it would go.  I pressed again and the trusty steed fired straight into life!  What a machine!

Slithering down the rough track to the road, as soon as I pulled out the tyres started sliding.  The engine was also choking up a bit, so I gave it several large handfuls to get it revving cleanly.

I can’t advise doing this because it DID spin up everywhere, and there were a few small slides and one rather large sideways lock-up braking for a pedestrian crossing.  The camera battery ran out about 10 seconds before this – typical!

It is slippery out there!

I don’t know if it’s just the cold (and cold tyres) or grit or more likely some overnight sleet, but there’s just bugger-all grip for two wheels.

Still, I was nicely relaxed even when the tyres slid, and almost instantly forgot I was even wearing the back protector.  Of the bike it feels a bit like a rucksack, but it’s perfectly comfortable on the bike and also an incentive to loose more Christmas chub so I don’t have to rob a bank to buy new leathers!

I was a bit nervous around slow corners and junctions, but I’m pretty sure that was just my survival instinct doing the right thing.  It’s not exactly fun out there, but it felt great to be back on the bike again.

If you’re still riding out there, keep it safe – and let’s hope for a great year for all things bikey!

First Drive On The Snow

First Drive On The Snow

Having ridden bikes in the snow for the last ten years, and not having had any reason to take the car out in recent snows, I decided to make one up!

So, in order to do lots of ‘essential’ Christmas food/booze shopping, and with more heavy snow forecast overnight, I got to see what all the fuss and panic was about.

My garage is on a steep hill up a dirt track.  I figured I could probably get down the hill, but doubted I’d ever get back up.  So I dug out the garage door and went for it.

I was suprised by how much resistence deep snow offered to a car.  Reversing down the hill, where I expected it to roll back through it, I found I had to give it a bit of gas.  Other than that it was stable and did nothing silly.  I turned around at the bottom, engaged first gear, took a deep breath, and turned out onto the road…

And drove.  Nothing else happened.

I drove slower than normal, but to be honest didn’t really have to.  I did put into practice the theory of downshifting and using careful engine braking rather than touching the brakes wherever possible, and there were no dramas.  I was able to pull away with no wheelspin, and turn through corners without falling into hedges or running any kittens over.  Unlike everyone else, I kept a good gap to the car in front (notice to the ihabitatnts of the seal farm that is Bromsgrove: this does NOT mean 6″ away).

So I decided to provoke it.

From second gear I floored it and was chuffed to hear it spin up like a good ‘un!

You have to bear in mind I can’t condone this, but at the same time understand that the last time I drove it was to a skid control course.  I knew what to expect, and the little Fiat seems to have very predictable understeer, but with nice balance to it.

Locking the brakes made it slide straight on with slight squiggles if provoked further.  And it seemed to drift ok, too!

It’s quite amazing what you can do in a car and stay in control.  That much lack of traction on a bike would equal lots of airtime, groundtime and abulancetime.  I wasn’t anywhere near pushing it, and don’t intend to on the roads.

In short, it was exactly what I needed, and allowed me to safely explore the limits of the car at slow speeds and on some empty roads.

Oh, and my 1 litre snorting Italian beast on its skinny tyres also seemed to be one of the fastest accelerating cars on the roads for once!

The fun ended when I found there was no way in Hell the Fiat was going back up that hill to the garage, though… Ah well!

Snow driving is snow- oops I mean IS NO trouble at all – providing you just leave yourself a load of space to do it safely!  Look and plan well ahead, and it’s a lot of fun!

Keep it safe out there you kids – and if you haven’t already GET SOME BLOODY ADVANCED DRIVER TRAINING!  It will give you the confidence to laugh at all the other muppets out there!

There’s also a video of some in-car action and ranting.


More Skidmarks Than A Curried-up Pub Crawl!

More Skidmarks Than A Curried-up Pub Crawl!

Almost as soon as I’d passed the car test I was turning my attention towards what else I could do to get some fun out of the boring four wheeled stuff.

There are a fair few courses around to train you up to control a skid.  Most of these seem to be held at race circuits as part of a ‘Gift Experience’ type setup.  They seemed ok.  The going rate appears to be around £99 for your session, but reading the small print you only get around twenty minutes of actual driving time!

Now, assuming these are valuable life-saving skills and not just the bloody good laugh that I wanted, twenty minutes seems a little bit short to me!  Imagine learning any brand new skill for the first time.  Twenty minutes of that will just about get it through yer noggin what you’re supposed to be doing – but nothing more…

So I searched around a bit to find other schools offering skid-pan training but with more actual driving time.

I found www.skidcontrolcentre.co.uk and as a bonus,  they were offering more like 90 mins driving time for £85!  Bargain!

Even better is that they just use normal cars (although they used slick tyres as I found out) rather than the cradles with wheels on like most other places have.  They may be good, but surely they’re not quite as realistic?

Saturday was that date, and I headed around the filthy country lanes around Corby to try and find the damned place.  Eventually I found the old airfield, and having avoided pot-holes all around the runways the size of a fat kids lunchbox, I pulled in to find just the instructor (Stan) and a female Other Monkey ready to drive.

After talking us through the basics of why a car skids (tyres lose traction) and what causes it (mud, diesel, water, leaves, ice, cow-pat etc) we jumped in the front wheel drive car with Stan at the wheel and he took us out onto the skid pan.


The skid panconsisted of an oval track with two ‘roads’ running through the middle to do braking maneouvres.  It was damp and Stan had helpfully poured lots of vegetable oil all over one half of the track.  As you do.

Stan drove us around first, showing us what to expect and what to do about it, then we swapped seats and I took it in turns with Other Monkey to have a go.

First was the FWD (Front Wheel Drive) car – I think it was a Ford Orion – on full slicks.  Driving around the outisde course, I hit the vegetable oil mid-turn and the little bastard just goes straight on!  We tried it slamming the brakes on and steering hard to the side with the same results.  Then under Stans expert guidance we tried lifting straight off the gas and turning the wheel just slightly, taking steering off until grip came back and getting some steering control back.

This was the key for the FWD – lift off and steer slightly where you want to go.  We did the same for braking in a straight line and trying to avoid an imaginary truck ahead.

Next we jumped in the RWD (Rear Wheel Drive) car – a Ford Sierra – for the bit I’d most been looking forward to!

Driving the outside course we hit the oil, and whether you hit the brakes or eased off you could instantly feel the back start to swing around.  Then it was a case of getting as much opposite lock on as fast as you could to try and catch it before it spun, and then judging it so you don’t over-correct it – which meant it started to spin back around in the opposite direction.

Most of the cars in the UK (and Europe) by a lonnnng way are FWD.  As I understand it, most cars in the US are RWD?  Well if that’s true then you’re lucky gits!!!

The FWD was a bugger.  All you could hope for was to get it to turn eventually.  And this is safer?

The RWD in contrast was an absolute hoot!  It came around so slowly and predictably that if you were quick it was easy to catch.  Best of all, it was totally controllable.  Where the FWD had no ‘feel’ to it, in the Sierra you knew exactly what was going on all the time.

The best bit about the course was that after the Instructor had shown you, and then watched you do each task, he then got out of the car and let you have a go completely on your own!  Now THAT is something that boosts your learning curve no end!

It also meant that I got to try getting straight back on the gas and powersliding and drifting around the course – which, let’s face it, is something every person who’s ever played Forza or GT or just about any other driving game has ALWAYS wanted to try!

Yes – it is as much fun as you think it would be!

It was a great few hours and I learnt loads AND had a good laugh.  As it turned out, we had over two hours in the cars.  Oh, and we got a certificate, too.

For the last bit I clipped one of my mini cameras to my jumper to try and get a bit of footage – unfortunately you can’t see much over the wheel, but you can watch my hands going for it like a cheesey UK hardcore raver!

Highly recommended – get theeself to one now!  It could even save your life!



Thoughts Confirmed: Car Drivers Are Spastics

Thoughts Confirmed: Car Drivers Are Spastics

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Having spent the last 10 years riding through Winter on a variety of hideously unsuitable sportsbikes, this will be my first ever on four wheels.

I’m sure most of you have seen my videos from last year riding in the snow – the most noteable where I took out my near-1000hp per tonne Kawasaki ZX9R Ninja and attempted to get through the snow to a main road to get to work.  When I did reach the main roads, they were almost as bad, and I eventually gave up when I started sliding backwards and sideways down a hill.

At the time this wasn’t exactly ‘fun’, but looking back now I have to say I rather enjoyed the challenge, and am especially glad to have caught it on camera!

And while bad, this wasn’t the worst!  A few years before I’d ridden my Honda VFR750 FM down more than 10 miles of abandoned roads covered in 6″ of snow, passing many cars which had given up.  Ironically, this journey also ended with me sliding backwards down a hill within sight of my house, and I had to dump the bike in a safe place for the night.

Now THAT was both very scary and very kick-ass!

I love to do stuff that nobody else has done.  Stuff that nobody else would even attempt to do!

If that involves using some actual skills and talent then it’s a proper bo bonus!

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So I booked up a skid-pan training course to do in the car.  And the snow hit yesterday with my course still a few weeks away!  Doh!

Now, I’m fully aware that I’m still a rookie driver, even though I’m eager to grab any advanced training that I can.

Right now I’m no Driving God.  OK, so I have to slow down my thinking to drive cars, because it all happens so much slower than on a bike.  Apparently this biking stuff has taught me to be a perfectionist on the controls, actually THINK about the whole driving experience, and plan well in advance.

And THAT’S the problem!

Come on!  If I can be smooth and not crash a 16 year old rustbucket on skinny tyres, then what the Hell is every other flid doing on the roads?

I have renamed the Bromsgrove-Redditch dual carriageway ‘Flid Road’, because every single day some fuck-tard manages to crash and close it off!

Honestly, I’m the Rookie and yet nobody else has a -ing clue about how to drive as soon as they’re faced with adverse conditions?  It’s shocking!

Or maybe it’s because I invested in a Madcatz steering wheel controller for the Xbox 360, and if I can get a TVR Cerbera around Mugello on road tyres, a snowy commute in a Fiat Uno just isn’t going to challenge my skillz?

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