Sunday, March 27, 2011

The road less travelled.

One of the great joys of biking is travelling the road less travelled.  I take great delight in reading other peoples blogs, on how they have travelled roads that many ad void.  Of late I have been reading a lot of such adventures.  You ride that road simply because it is there and you haven't done it before.  The thrill of finding forgotten treasures, stunning scenery, the ultimate biking road, inspires and motivates us to seek out the forgotten roads.  The result is often full of surprises and delight.

"Kiwi road sign"

In a car it is always the direct route.  You need to get some where, and the quickest route is the one taken.
And lets be honest, when you are in the car you only want to get to your destination, and normally not interested in seeing anything else in your travels.  It is not as if you get in the car and say "lets takes that really windy and twisty road with the nice views, you know the one, the one that makes me throw up every time we do it in the car"

Trying to explain to the non biker why you have chosen the 300km route home and not the 110km one often falls on deaf ears, and you get that "Deer in the headlights look", as if we are missing a marble or something.
I was explaining recently to a person I knew that I had just been to Cape Reinga, ."Why on earth would you go all the way up there?" they asked.  It seemed a some what pointless excise to try and explain it.  The answer being simply  that it was there.

I have discovered I am wasting my time  explaining my actions, because non bikers just don't get it! and they never will.  To them they see biking as  a dangerous, and reckless pursuit which can only end in disaster.  They don't understand the concept of it at all, the camaraderie of fellow bikers, the passion and freedom you feel when on the bike, the joy of seeing a 65km road ahead of you with no straight bits, the shear adrenalin rush as you lean the bike into corners, feeling at one with the road and the bike.  That sense of exhaustion after a 600km day, yet once showered and relaxed that is all forgotten, and you go to bed dreaming of the great day just been, and hanging out for the next one.

I remember my first ever weekend away on the bike after I got back into it, I remember distinctly coming to a cross roads, if I turned left  my destination for the night was just 60kms up the road, but if I turned right my destination would still be the same but I would be adding another 200kms to it.....I turned right.  Nothing has changed I still always choose the longest route...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Touring New Zealand.

I often come across people on other forums that ask questions about touring down under, the problem with this is you can not possible cover all they would need to know in just a few sentences.  With that in mind I have set a bout compiling as much information on the basics of biking through New Zealand in this blog, if for no other reason it will come in handy  when I wish to offer advice to people travelling down here.  I can simple point them to my blog.  I hope over time to be continuing editing this blog and updating with other tips, blogs, and any information that I feel is relevant.

New Zealand is a bikers paradise, From Cape Reinga in the North, to Stewart Island in the South, undulations and sweeping bends and little traffic makes New Zealand a bikers paradise.    As such  NZ sees a lot of people coming from other parts of the world to tour here.  It is an easy country to get around, people are friendly, accommodation is excellent and there is plenty out there to suit any budget.  The roads are good, and down south are sparsely populated. There is nothing that can eat you, we don't have crocodiles or snakes or creepy spiders, although insect repellent is recommended when you travelling  during the summer months.

The best months for touring are February and March. The holiday period is over and the roads are not as busy.   In reality you can ride a bike all year round in the North Island, but it is best to advoid the South Island during the winter months.  Most people choose to fly into Christchurch, hire a bike there and spend most of their holiday on this Island only.  The South Island certainly offers the best of everything, fantastic roads and stunning scenery.  But for those with extra time, a few days in the North is also good, and I know most bike hire companies will let you drop the bike off in Auckland. So adding an extra 4-5 days to see a bit of the North Island is still a good idea.  A personal tip here, do not be afraid to get of the beaten track and main highways, you just never know what you will find.

There are plenty of bike hire places , or if intending on a long trip buying a bike and selling it when leaving is always a good idea.  New Zealand version of EBay, is Trade me, searching this may provide a bargain and offers an alternative to hiring.

NZ Bike Hire
Te Waiopunamu Motorbike Tours.

New Zealand road laws are similar to most countries, we drive on the left.   Getting a copy of the New Zealand Road Code   and having a brief read is not essential but would be recommended reading to understand and get better idea of our laws.  Wearing a helmet is compulsory for both pillion and rider.

The weather  is normally warm this time of year, but be prepared, temperatures can drop and carrying some thermals and wet weather gear is high recommended.  I rode into Christchurch once in 35 degree heat, and rode out two days later it was 3degress Celsius.   It can rain a lot on the West Coast of the South Island, but don't be put off by that, it is fantastic biking country.  

Getting hold of the book "Motorcycle Atlas of New Zealand" is an excellent starting point for planning your trip, it is well written and gives good indication on what roads to travel and the time you should allow.  Even though some of the trips are as little as only a few hundred Kms it can take you all day to travel them, especially if you want to take in the sights.  It also covers some off road stuff for the more adventurous. Highly recommended and it is not expensive.  In an earlier blog of mine I wrote about five of my favourite roads, you can read it here.  Also the AA has a thing on its web site with great Kiwi road trips, well worth a here

The Inter Islander or Blue Ridge Ferry , takes you between the two islands.  It is a crusey 3 hour ride, and the ferry company  often provides tie downs on the ship, saying it is recommended that you take a couple of your own.  The last hour as you enter Queen Charlotte Sound is beautiful.

Here is a couple of links to great blogs of people who have all ready toured NZ.  They are well worth the read.  Kiwi bound    Dankalal  BanditRider , and this is also a great blog

Accommodation Links.  NZ Accommodation  Budget accommodation

View Larger Map

Essential Items.

Puncture repair kit. - I have only ever used this once for myself, but I have saved at least three other bikers who have got them selves stranded with a flat in the middle of nowhere. They are a stopgap only, but at least will get you where you need to go.
Tie downs- if catching the ferry Tie downs are required to secure your bike. Although the ferry does supply some, there is no guarantee there will be any available for you when you get on board.
Insect repellent-enough said, but some places can be a mozzie heaven!
Small first aid kit-and I mean small, consisting of some savalon cream, plasters and panadol. (Panadol helps hangovers).
Visor cleaner- I have some small wipes and also a little brush bottle thing, it is amazing how dirty your visor can get in a very short time. I pretty much get into the habit of cleaning it every time I stop.
A Map- for those of us that don’t use GPS, making sure you carry a map is the next best thing.   Personally I also recommend seeking out local knowledge of the place you are at, they will often recommend a road or a site that you may miss if you just follow a GPS or map.
Thermals.  It can get cold!

Other tips.  (Taken with permission from another web site Thanks to Dan)

+ Yes; do take tie-downs (two is enough), and do sort out before you go just where you will attach them to your bike and ensure they will be long enough to reach a floor-ring three feet away.

+ Heh.  You must be from the South Island.  I found both to be terrific.  It would be impossible to say which is the better.  You cannot go wrong if you stick to just one, but if you have the time; see them both!

+ Don't forget that you can rent a Guzzi from Dave Gale at Guzzi Gander.  Dave is just north of the Auckland bridge.

+ New Zealand has a peculiar law concerning right-of-way and turns.  I understand that this will be changed, but that won't be until after the rugby world cup.

+ ATMs are as common as they are in the US.  Do not expect to pay-at-the-pump, but your card will work just fine at the counter.

+ If you use what we call a DEBIT card in the US, note that you will select CREDIT on the little machine that you used to punch in your PIN.  Your card will work just fine.

+ When you check in, expect most all motels to ask you if you want milk.  This refers to what you'll want with your tea or coffee next morning.

+ Motels (by that name) are often more up-scale than the mom-and-pop motels you see in the US.

+ Do not avoid the hotels that are also taverns or pubs.  If it concerns you, check that they have in-room toilets.

+ I've looked through lots and lots of maps of New Zealand.  I think the best for motorcycle use is Reise Know-How.  These are german (which won't matter).  They are very clear, show all the little roads, and best of all, they are waterproof.

+ New Zealand pavement if mostly what we would call chip-seal.  In fact, the word "pavement" isn't much used; instead, these roads are "sealed."  In hot weather you need to pay attention to the color of the roads to avoid the slick spots which are generally before curves (areas of braking).

+ Apart perhaps from Auckland freeways, I found the drivers all to be friendly.

+ A bakery is a great place to stop for lunch.  Do not think of a bakery as a place to only buy bread and cake.

+ bring your own tire gauge (in units that you know).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nearly Got there.

I headed off on Friday and decided that Taupo would be my destination for Friday night, from there I had plans to head further south , drop my gear at a mates place in Fielding then continue through to Castle Point out on the coast. 

I had a nice cruisey ride to Taupo on Friday night getting into the motel about eight.  Even though I only went down SHW1 it was still enjoyable, but one must keep alert as revenue gathers lurk behind trees and all sorts.  My detector saved on me on two occasions.  It is a pain really, as there was very little traffic and the bike was just singing along.  I travelled it at a brisk pace, but still needed to watch the speed. There is something to be said for riding in the evening, it's cooler and after a week of work it is relaxing, the worriesof the week disappear as you round each corner.The memory of a stressfull week left behind as the kilometers mount.

Once arriving in Taupo I was greeted to the news of the earth quake in Japan.  The footage was unbelievable as many as you would have seen.  My heart goes out to those people and I am sure it is going to be a tragically high death toll. 

Sun rise Taupo

On Saturday morning I awoke to another stunning day, and continued my journey south, passing through Turangi then stopping at Waiouru for some brekki.  The central plateau was indeed cold and I hadn't been prepared for such a drop in temperatures.  I went out to the bike after breakfast and noticed it was sitting rather low to the ground......the back tyre was flat!  I have a puncture repair kit on the bike and once I located the stone that had caused the damaged I went about fixing the problem.  Using the "Dog Turd" method which is rather crude but very effective.  I put the last CO2 canister in the tyre and took the bike over to the gas station  to top up the air further. 

I decided it was not prudent to continue travelling south, I had no more canisters with me, and even though I was confident that the repair would last I decided that it was better for me to head back to Auckland and get the tyre fixed properly.

I left Waiouru and went through national park, Ohakune , then Taumarnui , Te Kuiti then home.  Even riding at a reduced speed I had a great and enjoyable ride.  I got back into Auckland about three,  and in my short, but interesting 24 hours I had covered 850kms.  These are just fantastic roads to ride, lovely sweeping corners and little traffic.  You also get wonderful view of the mountains. 

This is the fourth time I have had to use the puncture repair kit, twice for myself, and twice for other stranded bikers.  They are a very handy thing to carry on New Zealands bumpy and sometimes crappy roads.

Unfortunatly I didnt stop and take many photos, just a couple as I left Taupo as the sun was rising. 

View Larger Map

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


In know when you ride a bike a bit you can begin to feel a bit buggered, especially after a hard days ride.  What happened to me on Sunday was just a tad different, but it was obvious to me that I was struggling from a very severe case of fatigue.

I had gone to bed about 1.30 in the morning and even though I had had a few drinks I certainly did not feel that I had had to many.  On Sunday morning I left Whakatane just after 8 and started the journey back to Auckland, as in my previous post I went past Rotorua lakes and into Rotorua.  It was here that I screwed up a couple of corners, nothing serious , no wrong side of the road stuff, but enough for me to realised that perhaps I was a bit tired.   This was not just a case of "not being in the zone", but a serious lack of attention.   When I got into Rotorua I had a coffee and some breakfast and carried on.  

About an hour later as I was on a particular boring piece of road I could feel my self all but falling asleep.  Now, I no enough about danger signs that I had to do some thing about it.  Seriously falling asleep. I had never felt that way before, not on the bike anyway.

I ended up pulling over and having a nap under a tree for about half an hour, once back on board the bike I travelled for about another half hour before stopping at a cafe and buying some water.  It had occurred to me that I had not drunk any water since the day before, alcohol the night before and a coffee in the morning would only add to the effects of dehydration.

And here in lies the moral of this brief blog, being tired is one thing , suffering fatigue from a lack of sleep and water is another quite serious issue.  When ever I have travelled with my partner they are pedantic about carrying water, and every time I stop it is shoved into my hand, so I never really think about it.   Hydration is not just for elite athletes.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Advanced Riding..Part 1

On Monday night I set off from work to attend my first ever advanced riding course.  I have never embarked any any type of training what so ever.  Apart from doing my basic handling certificate 12 years  ago, the only training I have ever had is to read a few chapters of a couple of books, watch, listen and take advice from other riders.  And who is to say that even that advice is correct. 

I was apprehensive from the outset.  I am well aware that I am an  average rider, and I was sure my technique and skills are below par.  What became obvious to me during the entire training is how little I really know.   Just because you are passionate about some thing does not mean you are good at it. Passion alone will only take you so far...

I went with a completely open mind, and was eager to learn and soak up what ever I could.  Anything that I all ready knew, or considered gospel, I decided I would put on the back burner.  I would take a completely fresh approach,and see how it would end up.  Someone once said to me "a wise man who thinks he is wise is in fact a fool"

I left work early and after fighting the dodgems that is Auckland peak hour traffic I arrived in Orewa.  Meeting Tricia for the first time we set about completing the formalities.  She commented that as I had entered the car park my left foot was to a good start!

Once fitted with the radio we set off for a 20 minute ride through Orewa, up into Waiwera and back to Orewa, stopping in a car park.  It was here that we began to work through some riding techniques and obvious mistakes I was making.

Position on the Road.  One of the few things I was doing right was where I was positioning myself on the road in relation to the vehicle in front.  Riding just to the left of the cars right wheel ensured that the driver could see me, but more importantly I can see the driver and what they are doing.  You will also be able to tell if they are on the phone, doing make up, or even if they are wearing a seat belt.  As the saying goes, if they are not worried about their safety they certainly are not worried about yours.  Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, eg; an oncoming truck with the vortex of wind that it is pushing will greatly affect you as it goes pass.   Moving to the left takes you away from this, but once pass you move into the correct position.  Being aware also on wide road's that you are not leaving to much space to your left that a car or bus 'undertakes you" Controlling your presence on the road, you are after all entitled to be there just as are the buses and other vehicles.

Position of my feet was the first obvious error. Riding with my feet on the foot pegs but on the ball of the foot as opposed to the heel..  This created a delay in the time for me to access my back brake and also my gear peg.  Very much a racing stance, but not practical or safe for the road.  On the road you can never be sure when you need to brake and change gear etc, on a track this is not an issue as you are aware of up and coming corners and braking points.  It did feel very weird the first time I adjusted this, but I could feel almost immediately how quicker it was to access my rear brake and gear lever.

Braking.  This was perhaps my biggest revelation during the whole three hours.  For some reason years ago when I got back into biking a friend of mine who is a very good rider told me to never use the back brake, "you'll just end up locking up the back wheel".  So for as long as I can remember I have never used it. 
Using the new technique of applying the front brake and then some of the back brake steadies the bike immensely and settles the bike down, and gone are the head jerk forward and back reactions which are classic signs of to much pressure on the front brake and forks.  By applying some back brake momentarily after the front forces the back of the bike down and increases  the amount of contact the rear tyre is having on the road.  Now some you of you may laugh at this and my ignorance on such issues.  But I must emphasize no one has ever told me how to brake correctly.

The first time we left the car park and I tried this new technique I stopped two metres short of the entrance way.  It was then that I realised how my stopping power had suddenly increased by at least 30%.  In fact the next few times I found my self, either slowing down or stopping way before my intended stopping point.  This came as a huge revelation to me.  How some thing so simple can completely change the way I ride my bike, and the added safety factor that was now built in.

Slow Speed Manoeuvring.  Did a U turn once to pass my basic handling certificate, and to be honest always just winged it since then.  Now I was suddenly being asked to do one on the 210kg sprint, and I wasn't confident.  Yes I now about looking where you are supposed to go, but controlling the bike plays a huge part in this.  Using a bit of throttle and the rear brake to control speed gives you an enormous amount of control and feel of the bike.  It took me at least three times to get it right the first time and what a difference.  This same technique when riding in slow traffic or coming to a set of lights, means you can control the bike to the point that you are almost travelling at less than  walking speed, but travelling you still are.  This is one area I will work at a lot, as it is not easy to master, yet at the same time not difficult to do.  Once you start doing it you feel far more empowered and in control of the bike at extremely slow speeds.  Before I would "drift " up to stop signs and traffic lights using only the front brake.

Feet position when stopped.  Another simple exercise that I was not doing.  When stopped at lights I would often have both feet on the ground.  All that has chnageed, Now the bike is placed into neutral when at lights, and the left foot is on the ground the right foot is on the rear brake holding the bike firmly in place.  Anticipating just before the lights change I swap feet, put bike into gear then swap feet again, pulling of and having to move only my left foot back up onto the peg the moment the bike is in motion.  Compared to my shocking habit of often leaving the bike in gear and with both feet on the ground, then pulling a way, taking my time to get both feet back onto the pegs.  One of the highest reports of bike related injuries is to the lower feet and ankles, feet getting trapped beneath the bike or caught on a car etc.  The new techniques removes this danger.  The fact that I would often keep the bike in gear is not only bad for the clutch, but the risk of some one rear ending you would result in you immediately lifting you hands up and off the bike, the bike shoots forward into the very intersection you are waiting to cross.  That is not to say that in the event of big shove you will still get pushed, but the fact that the bike is not in gear so has no forward momentum on its own limits the distance you would travel.

Blind Spots.  I have always been aware of blind spots, but not until Tricia did an exercise showing me just how big the blind spot is did I realise I was not covering this area enough, and certainly was not paying enough attention to it.  While sitting on the bike Tricia marked out an are where I could not see  using my mirrors.  When I turned around and saw the actually size I was shocked.  It could have been a good 7 x 7 metre square are behind me.  I am now far more conscious of turning and looking at these areas before I merge or change lanes.   A simple but very effective exercise

These were the main areas that we covered.  All of them with out a doubt has impacted on how I am riding my bike and the skills required to do so safely.  I will admit I was embarrassed by my ineptitude, and complete lack of understanding on some very basic yet essential skills needed to ride a bike.  I mentioned to Tricia how embarrassed I was, she just laughed.  She told me how she had had some riders come in who considered themselves excellent and top riders, only for them to never get out of the car park during the entire session. 

Tricia's style of teaching is forth right and to the point.  She explains in detail why we are doing what we are doing , and how.  She does not play to egos and deals with the most immediate issues that are at hand.  She is not afraid to tell you what you are doing wrong, but in the same breath explains why and how best to fix it. 

In the last few years I have done around 80000km;s yet the amount of mistakes and basic handling errors I was making was scary.  I have taken a awful lot out of this first session and have made plans to go back and complete more until I feel that I am at a satisfactory standard. Yes, it was ego busting, as is writing this blog and admitting to every one my obvious failings.   The session has certainly not made me a faster rider, but that was never my intention.  It has made me a far more safer rider but most importantly has given me the tools to work on my own skills.

Now perhaps you have read this and consider yourself an excellent rider, and perhaps you are.  But you can only benefit from attending a course like this, and improving your skills no matter what level you are at. For me it has been a revelation, no other word can describe it really.  Even though I felt like a complet num skull, the benefits far out way this feeling.

If you want to contact Tricia just click on her name and it will take you direct to her web site.