Red Dog has his day

Some songs, films or books can touch you deep where no other can, why – I’ve no idea, they just do. A book that did that for me was a Christmas present many years ago. A small unassuming book, the sort you’d read in an afternoon. The title – ‘Red Dog’. Written by Louis de Bernières after a trip to Australia where he came across the statue of a dog outside Dampier mining town in North West Australia. Like so many others he became enthralled with the story and what it meant to have known Red Dog between 1971 and 79.

Now adapted for film the story of Red Dog will spread further still and hopefully enthrall a new generation about friendship, travel, love and grief. Usually I’m disappointed with film versions of books, but they did a fantastic job here … all the humour of the anecdotes shine through and make Red Dog as vibrant as the characters and background around him. We even get to see a tidy Honda 750K thrown in – so in a small way it’s a biker movie as well!

Ok, it has to be said the film is a version of the story – with characters added or removed to make it movie entertainment. But Red Dog was real and his travels well-known … as to his international travels, hmmm, maybe just spinning out a good Aussi yarn – who knows!

One day, if I do the big trip I promise myself, I’d like to see that statue and raise a cold beer to a most amazing dog.

‘ …… he’s been everywhere mate’

Moto-logger update

Scroll down for the video!

It’s been a couple of months since I posted an update on the ‘Moto-logger’, mainly because other than using it, I didn’t update it! During that time notes and thoughts of improvements to the layout, function or stability were scribbled on bits of paper and sprinkled around the PC, waiting for a rainy day.

Last week it rained.

So here’s a screen shot of V1.7, now with a left-hand side bar and two selectable displays. One for the raw GPS data being received and the other ( a bit of a gimmick admittedly) is a ‘fuel calculator’. The Capo doesn’t register road speed in the ECU unlike the Triumph’s … so it made me wonder if it were possible to calculate fuel usage and tank contents from GPS data and the pulse width of the injectors – the duration the injector is open and passing fuel to the engine.

So here it is .. and it works. Well the needles move, the numbers jump around and the LED blinks with 5 litres remaining, so hey, it’s a runner! Clicking either gauge resets the calculators and ‘fills’ the tank to 25 litres. Turning off the bike/software doesn’t lose the calculations either, so taking a quick road-side slurp of coffee doesn’t mess up the figures. Happy days indeed!

V1.7 Improvements

  • Calculate MPG and tank volume remaining
  • Calculate Air Density
  • Calculate corrected EC80/1269 power output based on barometric pressure and air temperature.
  • Display received GPS sentences 
  • Display and log GPS time
  • Cleaned up the code (ish!)
  • Took out some bugs and improved stability.

Still to do …

  • Learn more and improve the code efficiency!
  • Add better file handling to prevent overwrites and crashes when calling a missing data file
  • Add a ‘Range’ …. miles to go, to the calculator (yes another gimmick!) – Done!
  • Temporarily log pulse width. I want to see a snapshot of what its range is. – Done!
  • Real-time plot display? – And done!!

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Alt-berg – big bike boots built brilliantly!

Bike boots wear out far to fast. Ok, that’s probably got something to do with wearing them for over fifty hours a week, a normal weeks work for a full-time bike Instructor. Even so, a pair wearing the soles through in five days takes the biscuit .. yes, that’ll be you Frank Thomas!

Most modern boots with their lashings of gaudy plastic, prosthetic hinges and zips wind tunnel tested at 200mph+ might be comfortable and maybe even waterproof of a few minutes, but then the soles just wear away quicker than a tracky-wearing teenagers arse-cheeks sliding off a moped at 30mph! That, dear reader, is the bottom line. Truth is, the professional rider needs something the high-street riding gear retailers just don’t stock.

After about a years instructing and quite a few pairs of boots, the best of which was a nice pair of (expensive) Alpinestars, I was getting pretty fed up with the constant outlay. Then I came across Alt-berg boots and everything changed. This is now my eleventh year of using them. My first pair of ‘Clubman Classic’ cost about £120, this year (Sept 2011) it’s £160 …. but still excellent value for the quality of boot you get. Alt-berg also make boots for hikers, military and supply to Police officers/DSA Examiners as well as us bikers.

Alt-berg is a small company in Richmond, Yorkshire and they are now also making boots from a factory in Treviso, Italy (more info to follow). The website is good, the telephone chat even better! But don’t expect instant gratification though, each set I’ve ordered I had to wait for (from 4-10 weeks depending on the time of year) …. remember, they are hand-made for YOU.

Each pair has fitted perfectly and broken in quickly. They’ve remained waterproof and comfortable all through their life (18 – 24 months continuous use). And then? This is the kicker … I send them back for a refurb!! Yes, for approx. £80 they resole and re-line the boots and they are good for another couple of years use. What other motorbike boot manufacturer offers this service? None that I know of in the UK for sure. Sadly, the service was suspended on 7th December 2011.

Ok, they might not be the most trendy boots, definitely no sultry smouldering looks of appreciation from the über-techno Power Ranger brigade at the local bike cafe … but then do I give a gnats nadger anyway? For all year round, four seasons use, function wins hands down any day in my book! Oh yes.

Cda di Ginestre …. Strada Brutale!!!!

Not much content about the Capo in this post I’m afraid, it’s about the road its poor wheels have to traverse!

I must admit, I get upset at empty promises, I really do. Political worse than any. And frankly I feel we’ve had more empty promises come our way than most! The problem, is the road ….. it’s not ours. It belongs to the Comune (sort of parish council) and so it’s their responsibility to maintain it. Except they haven’t.

Over the past four years it has steadily got worse, the rain has washed the white stone topping into the valley, the tractors/trailers (and our Land Rover) have methodically dug the pot-holes and wheel ruts deep enough to leave an average car suspended by its axles.

The postman was the first to refuse to come down it in 2009. Since then the list has steadily grown long enough to fill a phone book. We have to drive out to meet any deliveries and hitch up the trailer for the bigger stuff and hope the Landy can haul it back through the winter quagmire. The lack of a warning sign at the end of the road does however provide us with a form of hillbilly entertainment – a trickle of vehicles in various stages of ‘stuck’, each being pushed/pulled, towed or just abandoned until a drier day.

And so we started asking for repairs. We asked and asked, we photographed, we videoed, we wrote. We had a string of visits by the powers-that-be and we got nowhere. So through 2009-10 we slowly ramped up our little campaign – recorded delivery letters and more videos on an almost weekly basis.

Then at the beginning of 2011 we get told that our road will be done as soon as the weather improves. By June it was very improved, but still no sign of a little man with a digger. More phone calls and visits to the comune.

June gave way to July, then in early August a little man did indeed come along with a digger. For a week he widened and levelled the road, hell he even rolled the thing flat as a billiard table. He even dug up our water pipe, severed it and damaged the valve … then he went home.

At first glance his handiwork is an improvement (the road, not the water pipe!). But hold on a minute, he’s scraped most of the stone topping it had into the field and left it with a nice soil finish. Soil, feverishly sprouting vegetation and a few stray stones. August became a fading memory, then September along with it. The temperatures dipped and the sky became swollen with heavy storm clouds. And still no sign of the little man with a topping for our road.

More phone calls.

Into October we swing and  the vegetation is growing nicely on our once flat road. A constant succession of tractors, trailers and tracked vehicles have seen fit to tear up the once smooth surface. Stones from pea-size to axle bending boulders now litter the surface. Then the rain finally arrived and the soil-topped road soaked it up like a man dying of thirst. The vegetation flourished and the first tentative vehicles sank an inch into the goo. What hope then of getting the Capo out on Anakee 2’s? Back to the TKC80’s I guess.

Is there a happy ending? No. We’re back on a campaign to get it finished and no doubt we’ll get nowhere quickly, hey-ho. Mind you,  I feel better now I’ve got that off my chest!

How much are all-terrain quads these days?

Shorai batteries now in the UK

It’s a lovely warm afternoon and I’m stood holding a little lightweight box with two terminals …. It’s a fake, a toy, it has to be. This simply cannot be a real battery!

Some sleazebag once tried flogging me a wooden camcorder in bubble wrap at a French fuel station, luckily I rumbled him. I’m starting to have a sinking feeling, maybe I’ve been stitched up like a kipper this time. No way is this a battery, no siree Bob!

The thing is though, the Shorai LFX18A1-BS12* is indeed real, and yes, it does only weigh 0.96Kg against the portly 4.6Kg that the YTX14 tips the scales at. It can weigh as little as a budgies fart and pack more punch than a high power version of the standard battery because of the lithium-Iron technology it uses, frankly it’s way over my head but if it works, I’m all for it. Here’s the bullet points the technology is supposed to offer:-

  • Fraction of the weight of traditional batteries
  • Faster cranking for better starting
  • Faster charging
  • No lead or explosive gasses
  • Twice the service life

 What’s in the box? Firstly, a neat carbon composite battery with a measured floating voltage of 13.36v – that’s about 90% charged, exactly what the website says it should be. The box also contains an instruction leaflet, stickers (ooo!!) and lots of adhesive backed foam strips to pad out the little darling to fit your battery bay nice and snug like. It only took a few minutes to match up the foam to pad out the Shorai to YTX14 dimensions, then ease it into the battery bay and begin reconnecting the cables. One nice touch is that all the terminal nuts have a piece of foam pre-attached to hold them in place and hence, make bolting the wires in much easier … a simple thing, but much appreciated!

So the proof of the pudding, the first start. Nothing much to say really …. It started up nice and strong like it had always been there, absolutely amazing! It settled down to a normal 14.2v charge at idle and I left it for about 10 minutes and then turned the bike off. I went back the next morning and measured the floating voltage – 14.04v …… about 95% charged! So even in the few minutes I ran the bike, it had taken charge and dropped nothing overnight. This is looking promising!

The YTX14 that came out is about 3 years old and a quality make, but has started to show signs of distress over the past few weeks. So I think it fair to consider it life-expired and so use its cost/life as the yardstick with which to measure the Shorai unit.

This then is day 1, I’ll write periodically over the coming months about its performance, especially on balance with the YTX14 it has replaced. Hopefully in the next few weeks I should be getting the Shorai SHO-BMS01 charger to use directly into the batteries own port and then I’ll see how it fairs in ‘storage mode’ for the winter period.

The Caponord (all years) can take either the standard fitment LFX14A1-BS12 or the higher powered LFX18A1-BS12, they are both the same case size.

UPDATE 2014

Shorai have now replaced the original battery model for the Caponord/Futura with the LFX21A6-B12.

I’m an Anakee-st!!!!

Well, after four years and a steadily deteriorating road, the authorities have seen fit to scrape and widen our road in readiness for a nice topping of something-or-other. For the past three years I’ve been running the Continental TKC80 off-road biased tyres, simply because they were the only sensible choice for such a poor road ……. and it’s the only road I have to reach civilisation!

The downside was a tyre that wears quickly and is expensive for its type. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad tyre …. quite the opposite, it handles far better than its chunky knobbles would have you believe. It just wears away quicker than a kids crayon at motorway speeds!

So the choice has been to replace the worn out TKC80 rear in anticipation of the road improvements and an impending trip to the UK, or add a few more shekels to the pot and change both tyres to something road-biased. Hmmm ……. Michelin Anakee 2 here we come!

For the princely sum of €230 I get two tyres nicely fitted and new valves thrown in as well. I checked the manufacturing dates (2611 & 2911) – they’re so new they’re still hot from the oven! The rims get a spruce up and all the bearings and seals are good to go.

So what is the first impression? Truthfully …… a mix of disappointed and impressed! I guess I was expecting a major ‘wow’ moment when I hit the road, but no, the bike tracked as usual and is no quieter than usual. Frankly it doesn’t feel any different … or does it ….. well it turns in a little quicker and seems to hold it’s line better ( no ‘walking’ on the knobbles!). But I guess I expected more. OK, the tyres are new and need fully bedding in.

But I think I looked at it the wrong way round … it isn’t about how good the Anakee2’s are, it’s about how good the TKC80’s were! That’s the point. I’m sure that as the Anakee’s bed in, they’ll shine through … greater grip at higher lean, a longer life and improved wet-weather grip would be most welcome!

Bottom line, I’m looking forward to the miles ahead and seeing how the Anakee 2’s work out. As for the TKC80’s, would I go back to them at some point in the future? Without a doubt!

Tread depth @ TWI (Tyre Wear Indicator) – 0 miles

Front: 3.7mm              Rear: 6.5mm

After 3,096 miles – still excellent profile.

Front: 3.3mm (11% wear)   Rear: 5.1mm(21% wear)

Motolombia – Colombia Motorcycle tours … on a Rally-Raid!

Occasionally I get emails asking for info or help and I’m more than happy to assist if I can. Frankly, I’m flattered that people think I have something to offer. The other day, Mike from Motolombia contacted me about his Rally-Raid ‘Bella Donna’ ………. and frankly, it knocked me for six! For the past couple of years or so, I’ve followed the adventures of Mike and ‘Bella Donna’ – their highs and lows as he travelled extensively, finally planting roots in Columbia. Now married with two children he’s the owner and driving force behind Motolombia Adventure Motorcycle Tours.

It’s been a real delight for me to make this connection across the continents and I hope that if all things work out, next year I can visit Columbia and we can sink a cold beer or two. Mike and ‘Bella Donna’ have proved beyond a doubt that the Aprilia Caponord is as capable as any bike out there at this over-landing lark. Please, take a moment and have a look at his site – especially the videos. What a beautiful country! www.motolombia.wordpress.com

Quill Exhausts – new straps in a Jiffy!

It’s nice to write something positive especially when it’s a British company involved! Some of you may remember that I didn’t have the best of dealings with Quill Exhausts in 2009. Well last month I contacted them again by email and this time – wow, what a difference! I enquired about a new silencer strap as I lost one and have been using a flimsy ‘universal’ one since. In the end I got two …… free ….. yes, free! Just send a pre-paid jiffy bag and we’ll have them in the return post, I was told … and sure enough, a couple of days later they arrived. So firstly, thank you James at Quill Exhausts for your exemplary customer service and quick email replies, I’m very impressed, thank you. And secondly, thank you to Jim Smith (Abbey Motorcycle Instructors) for sending the Jiffy bag on my behalf, you sir are a star!!

RecReg takes poll position

Ok folks, with over 80 votes on the poll – ‘What part(s) have you had fail on your Caponord’ – I’ve decided to close it and publish a new one. So firstly a big thank you to each and everyone of you that took the time to participate, I really appreciate it. Click on the image to get a better view of the list.

Well the data certainly mirrors the perception I get from hanging around the AF1 forum … no big surprise then what the top 5 causes of vanishing bank balances and roadside tears are;

•RecReg • Coils&leads • fuel connects • wheel bearings • instrument panel •

I was surprised that the clutch slave cylinder seal and starter solenoid didn’t appear to score very high … maybe they are not so prone to fail as I’d thought. Mind you, I still carry spares in the tool kit just in case! Other items listed include a couple of the ‘Y’ coolant hose, a couple of rear shock failures – including the nitrogen unit on the RR shock (gulp!) and a head gasket! In fact that’s the only engine failure listed …. that Rotax engine is most definitely bullet-proof , especially in the de-tuned Capo version.

So all in all, we can quite rightly blame the Italian electrics for most of our woes, or can we? The RecReg is made in Japan, the coils in France, the brown connectors in ……. well do I need to go on? Ok, the Italians connected them all together with a less than perfect wiring loom, but hey, it’s what gives the Capo character right?

So on to the next poll ….. are you a weekend-wonder or a four seasons mile-muncher, does your Capo spend more time on the center stand than wearing out its tyres? Go on, let us know what mileage your Capo has racked up over the years!

The Nautilus pays for itself!

Years ago I was reversed into …… a HGV stopped on a main A road, we and the traffic behind us stopped as well. Then he reversed. Instinct 1 – horn, instinct 2 – bale out, or be crushed. As accidents go, being reversed into is quite a slow affair, time enough then to process the outcome, time enough to let the dread take hold. My step father and I were lucky, trapped by the car behind with nowhere to go, a quick thinking German jumped the line of traffic and drove alongside the tractor unit with his horn blaring.

Role on to yesterday ……. heading back home on the heavily laden Capo. I take a right turn onto a decent section of road I know well. Ahead is a HGV. He’s moving at a reasonable speed and I’m in no hurry, so I settle on the crown of the road about 100m behind. In about 2Km I’m turning left (pic. above), about 75% of traffic turns there …. So it’s quite conceivable this chap will as well. In my mind I’m setting up for the overtake once we’ve settled down after the turn.

We approach the junction doing about 70Kmh and his left indicator starts flashing. A second later I indicate as well. He starts braking and I back off the gas. I’m thinking he’ll shave off 20-30Kmh to make the turn. As you can see from the picture above, it’s a wide open junction with good visibility.

Then things rapidly unravel.

I’m still at the crown of the road, so I can see his mirror clearly …. And the fact that he’s scrubbing off way more speed than I’d anticipated – he’s stopping! I’m now about 30m behind.

He stops …. I stop about 15m behind, in clear view of his mirror. He’s still indicating left.

Then it happens. The engine revs, the reversing lights go on and with a lurch he’s accelerating backwards towards me.

It takes 0.7 seconds to process and react so they say.

14m, 12m, 10m ……..my thumb hits the horn button …… and the Stebel Nautilus sings out. It echoes off the back of the truck and floods through my earplugs, it gets the job done. Sleeping Beauty is awoken from his afternoon siesta by the 139db kiss on his delicate eardrums.

And just like that, the situation is defused, my pulse falls as I ride away and I realise my tongue is well and truly stuck to the top of my desert-dry mouth. The weak knees and tremors take a bit longer to fade away.

Why this muppet did what he did I have no idea, the nearest entrance behind us was about 400m and anyway, the junction is so spacious and quiet he could have turned around easily. I guess I’ll never know what thought was crossing that barren wasteland called his brain.

The question is, would the situation have had the same outcome if I hadn’t recently fitted the Nautilus …..