The New ‘Crap Bike’ – Yamaha FZR600R

The New ‘Crap Bike’ – Yamaha FZR600R

After around 6 years of service, the GPZ500, or as I fondly refer to it, The Crap Bike is being retired.

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It’s rideable and fixable, but after new front wheel, head bearings, welding to repair the exhaust, wheel bearings, and many more hours work, it will still be just an old slightly less-crap bike.

So I decided it was time to upgrade.

I looked at what I could get for as little as possible that would do for a commuter – not even considering something a bit fun this time (apart from a CBR600F that tempted me…). It was CB500 and EN500 city, with a slim chance of snagging an SV650 to join my V-Twin stable.

Then a friend with some unfortunate circumstances offered me his bike. I dismissed it instantly, as I knew he’d done loads to it, and didn’t think he’d appreciate me killing it through the Winter.

I was wrong, and he gave a good price – and so here is my new, sensible commuter (which I’m not sure I can call ‘The Crap Bike’):

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Ooh yes! My very first bike was a blue and white Yamaha TZR, so this was going back to my roots!

I picked the bike up, realising that this would be the first time I’ve ever ridden a 600cc bike on the road, the rest being on track, and pootled it home to see what I’d bought.

It wasn’t running great, possibly needing a carb balance, but I was happy with the deal in whatever state, and you can’t buy a 19 year old bike and expect it to not have any issues. And it had been stood for a good while.

Other than not wanting to pull away or rev at the top end, the low-down grunt was ok. It felt much lighter and flickable than I’d expected, and with those combined it was already seeming like a good commuter.

It felt old, and with the speedo showing up to 180mph, it seemed the bike was barely moving as I was doing around 60mph – I thought that might be a bit of an effect of using such a small portion of the speedo, as a really good one may get just over 150mph back in the day.

The front brake isn’t as sharp as I’d like, but I can put R600 calipers on and sort that out, and tyres are all good.

I took it out for a blast the next day to see if I could blow the cobwebs off, stopping off for a few pics as I tried to get lost down country lanes as I got a feel of the bike.

After about 25 miles I headed back towards home, having given it beans and not scared myself. But then, after the VTR ripping my arms out on the throttle, what could I expect from a tiny old 600?

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Then I accidentally over-revved it and it was like flicking a switch!

The sound changed as all four cylinders suddenly woke up. I got back on the power and hooooly poop!

The front lifted as the race can snarled out its true potential, and I revved out the first few gears to see what it had got.

It’s got more than I thought!

The exhaust note was now reminding me of the 600 track bikes I’d been on, hitting that sweet spot at about 13,000rpm where it’s like a drill being rammed into your eardrum.

I was suddenly approaching the corners “quite a bit” faster, and now KNOW I need to sort out the front brakes.

It also means a track day might be back on the cards!

Who was it who told me 600’s were crap on the roads? And that old bikes are slow and heavy?

I think this little old FZR600R could make me fall in love with Yamaha again!

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Auto Aid – the best breakdown cover

Auto Aid – the best breakdown cover

The big names like RAC and AA take all the limelight for breakdown cover.

Without a doubt, they are good – but they’re also very expensive.  Even if you think you’re getting a good deal having cover free from your bank etc, the chances are you don’t actually have the cover you want or need.

A basic policy can be had for £60 that doesn’t include (what should be) essentials such as home start, and, more importantly, most of these will cover only a specific car, or you as a driver, until you start paying £200-£300 per year for a service you may never even use!

But even then, what  if you own cars and bikes, and want them both to be covered when you’re riding?

It still amazes me that so few people have even heard of Auto Aid.

You pay £40 per year, and that covers YOU as a driver or passenger in any vehicle.  And you get home start, forward travel, and pretty much everything you need.

So what’s the catch?

Well, assuming you are unlucky, and actually have to use the service you’re paying £40 per year for, you have to pay for any roadside repair or recovery out of your own pocket – but don’t panic!  All you do then is send Auto Aid your invoice, and they will reimburse you the full amount in about a week.

I was a little dubious about this aspect, but assuming you have a credit card, it won’t be a problem.

Having held a policy for years, I actually had to use it for the first time a few months ago – and I had to test exactly the dodgy stuff that you’d be worried they would refuse to reimburse you for.

Basically, the brand new Honda VTR1000 that I bought minutes before broke it’s drive chain on my way home with the bike.  So on all the DVLA systems I was not even owner of this bike, although I had taken out insurance (not that they ever asked – as the policy covers me as a person!).

I rang up at around 10pm, and they got a local contractor (exactly the same as some of the more expensive companies) to come out to me within about 40 minutes.

With no hassle at all, they loaded up my bike and took me and the bike home, as all the garages were closed at that time of night.

I paid their flat fee of £50 for a journey of about 20 miles by card over the telephone.

Now for the dodgy part – I had to get the bike from my house to a garage the following evening (again outside of working hours), and the person on the telephone had advised me to just call them again, and they would send someone out to collect the bike and take me there.

Again, no hassles – I paid by phone another £50, and they took me where I wanted.

Still nervous, I posted the invoices and receipts (keeping a copy just in case) back to Auto Aid with their simple claim form, and exactly as promised, they refunded the entire amount to me!

I’m not making anything from this, I’m just doing my good deed of the day by letting you know of a brilliant and much cheaper alternative.

You’d be crazy to sign up to anything else!

Mobius HD Action Camera Review/Mounting

Mobius HD Action Camera Review/Mounting

I’ve used cameras on my bike for around 6 years, now, eschewing the ‘popular’ (i.e. expensive) cameras in favour of the cheaper options.  I’ve also found that the cheaper cameras are smaller, and so more covert to use.

Whilst looking for a new helmet camera, someone on a bike forum mentioned the new Mobius HD Action Camera.

It’s designed by the same people as the very first Keychain Spycam I used all those years ago.

It’s far smaller than the rest (although bigger than the Keychain Spycam), and a more sensible shape for most fitments than Go Pro’s and the like.  It was also boasting some extremely impressive HD 1080p quality.

The more I read, the more I liked: 80 min battery life – but you are also able to record whilst using external power, great low light resolution, super-wide lens available as standard, and a promise that this is a camera FOR THE PEOPLE.  As such, there is a user designed software set up package and the whole shebang is still being actively developed.  And a good price of £50-£90 depending on where you buy from.

The only thing stopping me buying it was the lack of waterproofing or any cases for it.  This makes it pretty useless most of the time for what I want it for.

Then, after keeping my eye on things for a few months, I saw mention on a forum that JooVuu have created a custom waterproof case for the Mobius – and so I ordered a camera and case.

The Mobius has been developed primarily for use on radio controlled planes and helicopters, because of its small size and light weight.

My ultimate plan was for something to use on the Formula Vee race car this season – and being able to use it on the bike would be a bonus.

Mounting it on the car won’t be an issue (I’m thinking on top of the roll hoop so it give a view ahead and down into the cockpit), but for the bike it posed more problems.

As an initial test I used the supplied Velcro mount stuck on top of my helmet.  This works fine, but wind noise is a major problem – and there is no external mic.  In the waterproof case the wind noise is massively improved, but the overall sound is also far quieter, so you can’t hear much of the bike engine, for example.

The problem was trusting the extra weight when the camera was in the waterproof case…

I ordered a few new mounts, deciding I’d use a permanent stick-on mount screwed into the camera.

As you can see, this took me back to the whole Go Pro situation of looking like a damned Telly Tubby with the camera sticking out the top of my head!

I couldn’t live with this, so found some sturdier Velcro, unscrewed the bolt mount from the waterproof case, and went back to the tried and tested Velcro method.

This is still far less covert than an MD80 hidden behind my tinted visor, but it’s just about acceptable.

All seems pretty stable using just the Velcro up to speeds that wouldn’t be legal off a race track, but I’m sure there would be an upper limit where things might depart company, but it would take a lot.  How fast to RC planes go, anyway?  120mph plus?

So the Mobius Action Camera itself is well impressive.  File size is quite large (about 1.4GB per 15 minutes), but not too bad in comparison to other action cameras.  You would be wise to choose a 32GB card for it, though.  Incidentally, the software program will allow you to set recording to chunks of 10, 15 or 20 minutes.  There is no gap between the files.  There is also an ‘max’ option which will record up to 4GB to each file, but I found reviewing footage could freeze – probably down to my system limitations than anything with the camera, and all footage was useable.

The only fault I can really find is the picture is a bit blurry/pixelated in the bottom right hand side. It just looks like there’s something on the lens, but is such a small area it’s not a worry.  Also, the spare lens covers supplied with the JooVuu case are pretty scratched up (See comment below – I now know there is a protective sticker you’re supposed to remove- doh!).  You can’t see any difference in picture quality when using the case, and I’m sure dropping a quick email to JooVuu’s excellent customer support would mean a few replacements being sent out – I haven’t done this as it really isn’t an issue.

I’d definitely recommend the Mobius Action Camera to anyone, and the fact that it is still being developed for the end user by Mobius and third parties like JooVuu is extremely impressive, and bodes well for the future of this fantastic camera.

 

GTA 5: It’s… ok…

GTA 5: It’s… ok…

I had fallen out of playing games for years until my mate Steve leant me his Playstation 2 along with a copy of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

From that moment I was hooked again.  I missed food.  I played until 4am on work nights, figuring if I could learn to fly the damned plane (as “White Wedding” blasted through the speakers) around the airfield and land it again, that would compensate for how I’d be feeling getting up for work ina  couple of hours time.

I bought San Andreas again for the Xbox after I’d played GTA IV almost to death.

So it’s no real surprise, after 4 years and £170 million spent on making GTA V, that I’d place my first ever pre-order for a game.

It didn’t arrive on the day of release.  Getting over the disappointment of that, I survived to find that it did arrive the day after!

Because I’m an Idiot (Town Idiot, in fact, as I moved from my Village), the first thing I did was swap it for my old copy of GTA IV, took a pic, and uploaded it to Facebook pretending not to notice it was the wrong game until afterwards.  Hehehe.  I do sometimes think I’m funny – and not just in the head.

As everyone was laughing at my expense, I booted GTA V up in eager anticipation…

It takes AGES to install the content, too!

Finally getting to play, as you’ll have seen in a million other reviews, you’re dropped into a bank robbery where you have to escape the Police before the game jumps forward a few years and starts properly.

My ultimate hope was for the game to be a cross between IV and San Andreas, and on that score, it does seem to be spot on.

First impressions are that the target showing where you’re shooting isn’t really clear enough.

The ‘help text’ that pops up on screen (“Hold RT to touch the lapdancer with your hands” etc) is tiny!  I think everyone is assumed to be on benefits so they play games on their 128″ HD plasma-LCD-super TV, so text size doesn’t matter.  I work for a living, so can only afford an old 36″ CRT TV (widescreen!!), which means if I want to make out the ‘help text’ I have to jump off my couch and crouch near enough to the screen to read it, and even then guess what button the illustration is actually telling me to press.

This is A Pisser.

I’m sure once I’m used to the controls it won’t be a problem – but come on!  How about a way to at least increase font size?

The storyline is as engaging as ever (I’m not going to get into it, as other reviews will do a better job), and, as you’d expect, the radio stations and music are totally awesome!  With the older GTA games I’d often park up somewhere and just listen to the radio on the game, and you can be sure part 5 will be the same!

The vehicles seem to handle a little more realistically – the biggest change being that you can’t just ram another car out of teh way by holding the throttle, or you just get stuck.

So, it’s as expected (which isn’t a bad thing!), but with nothing so far that’s totally blown my head off.

I can’t see me going quite as mental over it as I did with San Andreas – but give it another week and that might change.

One thing I do know is that last week, my fiancee was off work ill.

Now, a week on, I’m still fine and dandy.  You can bet that this is the one bloody time I actually wouldn’t mind a few days off sick, but of course I’m not going to catch The Lurgy!

If I don’t come down with anything soon, I think I’ll have to book a day or two off work to have a proper play!

Have you played it yet?  What do you think?

Nasty Evil Ninja Goes To See The Shogun

Nasty Evil Ninja Goes To See The Shogun

As most of you will know – I’m always up for trying new (and unusual) food.

I do like sushi, but I’d never actually been to a proper restaurant to try it.  All I’ve had is the pre-packed, err… packs that you can buy in supermarkets and stuff.  So it’s a bit like saying “I like Italian food” when all you’ve had is microwave lasagna meals.

When a few of the lovely Office Monkeys I work with decided to arrange a meal at a sushi restaurant, I jumped at the chance to go!

Even better – we’d found somewhere that did an all-you-can-eat buffet for a set price.

I eagerly awaited the arranged day, probably a little more excited over it all than I should be!  One person dropped out on the final day (she realised there wasn’t much but fish on the menu, and doesn’t like it – don’t ask!), but the rest of us, most who had never tried ANY kind of sushi, finally got it all sorted out.

We went to Shogun, which is in The Mailbox in Birmingham city centre.  For about £12 you could choose whatever you wanted from the sushi selection, and eat until you dropped.

When we entered, we were directed to sit on little stools surrounding a moving conveyor belt that had small dishes constantly moving around.

You literally grab a small plate full of various foods as it comes past you, and chomp it down.

Each of the small saucers contained three or four lumps of sushi (I’m no expert – have a look at this link for the names of the different types: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sushi ), noodles, or stir fry.

We split some of the dishes between us, as they are very deceptive in how much they fill you up.  I’d gone in expecting to have 10 dishes minimum to myself, but in reality had half that or less.

The freshness of all the food shone through immediately, and it was all presented immaculately.

The conveyor was always kept full by the chefs, so there was never any shortage, or having to wait for more to appear.

Between us we tried lots, and nobody managed to find anything we didn’t like!

The conveyor belt thing might sound a little cold and industrial, but in contrast it creates a very sociable atmosphere.  I also noticed that, unlike most all-you-can-eat buffets, nobody there was stuffing themselves with stupidly huge portions of food to ‘try and get their monies worth’ – it all seemed very respectful and civilised.  Even stranger when you consider there was absolutely nothing to suggest in any way you were limited to how much you could eat, or even how much you could leave half-eaten.

Japanese food can be very expensive (indeed, some of the dishes on the regular menu were pretty pricey), but as a stereotype you’d also expect it to be of a very high quality.  The food at Shogun didn’t disappoint.  In fact I’d say the sushi buffet option is an absolute bargain!

With the amount of vegetarian sushi I’d recommend it to anyone – although it can be hard to tell if some of them do contain fish, so you’d have to be a bit careful.

The only criticism I have is that the stools aren’t the most comfortable to sit on, and none of the dishes are labelled.  If you’re a fussy eater, this might drive you mad – it was a mild irritation to me because I WANT to know what that strange bright red fish was, because I’m trying to munch my way through every animal in existence.

Not that it REALLY matters, because you eat your fill, and ALL of the fish is beautiful.

I’ll be looking forward to the next time I go there – and I don’t think that will be too far into the future!

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.

The Death Of The Mighty Uno

The Death Of The Mighty Uno

When I bought the 1994 Fiat Uno as a first ever car around a year and a half ago, I didn’t really expect it to last for a year.

As it turned out, the car never let me down!  It still started first time every time, and ran well.  Handling was surprisingly good – it went exactly where you pointed it, and having hardly any mechanical grip taught me how to drive smoothly and keep the momentum going to make progress with a car that made maybe 45hp back when it was new.  Pushing past those limits it was very predictable (and drifted quite nicely!), and much as I tried to hate it at first, it was quite a pleasure to drive!

So despite me thraping it around, it took it all and actually seemed to get faster to suit the way I thrashed it with a metaphorical stick.

Sadly, just as we went into Winter, it started blowing out it’s coolant.  Smelling the coolant made it almost certain that the head gasket was blowing, and combine with rusty sills and unrepairable rear suspension, there was no point spending cash on what was about to become a money pit.

Although it still ran perfectly, it wasn’t going to get any better – so I started looking around for new cars – aiming to pay £300-£500 for some shitter with long tax and MOT.  Basically, the bike is my performance/fun vehicle – the car needs to get me to Aldi and fit the shopping in the boot, and be capable of long motorway journeys off to weird and wonderful places to shack up and shag.

How crap is buying a new car?  I mean, it’s probably ok if you have a big budget, but to try and find something that’s cheap and runs is a nightmare.

Everyone lies.  Someone once made the very good point that “Nobody ever sells a car because it’s perfect”.  Most people sell them because they want it off their hands before they have to pay huge bills for it.

So my main concern was that it DID work, and that the even bigger expense of insurance was affordable!

And insurance makes no sense!  A Fiat Bravo crapper can cost twice the insurance of a much newer, bigger engined Ford Focus?!

As it happened, my sister was selling her Honda Civic Sport – so a few checks online showed that this VTEC ‘sports’ was still cheaper than either of the two mentioned before!  WTF?

And so that’s what I’ve done!

Expecting another old shitter of a car, I’ve actually now ended up with a car I actually quite like the look of, has ‘Sports’ written on the back (and it wasn’t done in permanent marker by me), and might even handle quite well!

And of course it’s a known quantity and not being sold because it’s about to blow up!

So R.I.P. Fiat Uno – I did a quick search for local scrapyards and was going to get some quotes, and came across: http://www.cartakeback.com

They gave a list of what local scrapyards will offer for your scrap car, or a price that they’ll come and collect it off you for  £140 in my case, and there was no hassle or anything.  I put my request in online, they called me back confirming details and arranging the pick-up, and then I came back to find the cash pushed through my door and the car gone!  Excellent service and highly recommended!

Now, should I factor in a drive to the Nurburgring this Summer…??