Saturday, 14 February 2009

Back on the Blog and the Southend Shakedown

It's been literally months since I last blogged: I keep meaning to sit down and write but there's always been something else to do that's got in the way.

I've always thought any type of writing is something you should do for fun, when you want to, so I never made myself sit down and start writing this again otherwise I'd have ended up hating it. But I'm back now with plenty to say!

The weather has been getting warmer for the past few weeks, and there are more bikes out on the road than there has been in ages. I've even been able to put away my inner gloves, and at times have ventured out in no more than a T-shirt and jacket!

This may not make any sense to those of you in warmer, sunnier climates, but the winter in the UK really can be enough to get any biker thinking twice about getting a car. If it's not cold its still raining, which makes visibility impossible. Its hard to find riding fun no matter how hard you try!

Southend Shakedown

Yesterday the summer weather was officially welcomed with the first big ride out of the year, down to Southend. Living as I do only 20 minutes from Stonebridge, I went from the Ace Cafe with maybe thousands of other riders.

Although it wasn't a gloriously sunny day (the sky was grey almost all day, with the sun coming through around 3) it was still warm, and it was a nice ride. Seeing bikes parked up at every petrol station you pass is a great sight...and surely thats how it should be all the time?!

I have no idea how many bikes were in Southend, but I know I must have been parked about a mile away from the start of the line of bikes. I wasn't among the last to arrive by any means, and still saw bikers turning up after I'd been there well over an hour!

The first thing I needed to sort once I was there was food, and there were queues of bikers pouring out of every chip shop, burger van and ice cream stand. Seeing big, burly bikers in their Harley leathers just sitting on the beach eating ice-lollies is a fantastic view!

People and the Bikes

I got talking to a few people once I was down there, including a father and his thirteen year old daughter, who wanted to ride the moment she was old enough. I got the feeling she already had a pretty good idea how to!

They were on a beautiful Goldwing, which was obviously about 5 times the size of my puny little GS500. They'd passed me at some point on the way down and I'd seen them both relaxing and listening to the radio!

Once I was down there I tried to get some pictures of the bikes I liked, including, I'm ashamed to say, a very nice pink one. I didn't even bother to see what the bike itself was, I was more interested in the paint job! I've included some pictures in various places throughout the blog: I'm still not very good at organising them to stay in the right places yet...

Unfortunately my camera died long before I had even walked past a quarter of the bikes that were there, so I missed out on photos of some amazing rides (and their riders!). It was definitely a great day and not one to be missed!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Happy New Years Honours List

The New Years Honours List has recently been published, and motorcycling has a mention as Sammy Miller recieves an OBE.

The list is published at the end of every year, showing who will recieve recognition for their contribution to society.

Sammy Miller will be awarded an OBE for his services to motorcycling heritage, after his many years of work at his motorcycle museum.

The Museum

The Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum is said to house one of the finest collections of fully resored motorcycles in Europe.

According to the website, he is dedicated to "keeping alive the memories of the golden age of British motorcycling".

The museum is located in between Southampton and Bournemouth, although the bikes have been seen at various events across the world.

Trials Rider

Miller is also one of the most successful trials rider's in the world, having won the British Championship 11 times.

He has also won the European Championship twice, and in 1957 he came third in the world Grand Prix.

Although he still occasionally takes part in races, he now looks after more than 400 rare and classic motorcycles in his museum.

Miller is among many others from the Bournemouth area who have found themselves recognised for their services to the community.

The List

He is among many other greats who have made the New Years Honours List this year.

Sporting names have topped the list this year, with Olympic three-time Gold Medalist Chris Hoy due to be knighted.

The Scottish cyclist took home gold for the team sprint and the keirin event. He recently won the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award.

Also on the list was Rebecca Adlington, who will recieve an OBE after winning two gold medals for swimming.

Lewis Hamilton, who became the youngest man to win Formula 1's World Championship this year, will recieve an MBE.

Positive Reaction

Seeing the services of motorcycling heritage being recognised through the Honours List is a great feeling, as it shows that not all motorbikers are dangerous thugs!

After winning the British Campionship many times, as well as the European Championship, it is right that Miller should be recognised.

It is also great that sports have featured heavily on the Honours List this year, as it is promoting health and fitness.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Dropping Out Of The Race To Save Another

The British Yachtswoman Samantha Davies, who is currently taking part in a solo round-the-world race, changed her course to try and save a fellow yachtsman.

The French sailor Yann Elies, who was also taking part in the race, had got into trouble after a wave hit his boat and he broke his thighbone.

The British woman diverted her course and sailed nearly 40 miles out of her way to try and reach to Frenchman.

She wasn't the only one to forgo their place in the race, as fellow Frenchman and sailor Marc Guillemot also changed his course to help out.

Helping Out

Guillemot was the first to reach Elies boat, which was 800 miles off the coast of Australia, and managed to throw painkillers to the injured man.

However the seas were too rough to be able to get on board or move Elies from his own boat to another.

Davies said to The Guardian that "there's no way we can get him off his boat and onto one of ours. The plan is to stand by and be moral and phycological support for him while he's waiting the real rescue".

She said that as soon as she heard to news she was determined to sail to the aide of her competitor and friend.

The Race

All three of the competitors were taking part in the Vendee Globe Race, which is essentially a race around the world, on your own, without stopping off anywhere and without any external help.

The competitors set off on the 9th of November this year. The starting point was Les Sables D'Olonne in France.

There are eight 'gates' that competitors must pass through in order to complete the race, and the total length of the course is around 24,000 miles.

Davies was competing on her boat named Roxy, while Elies' vessel was named The Generali.


This is not the first time in the history of the race that a competitor has been in trouble.

The Vendee Globe Race covers some stretches of water that are thought to be particularly dangerous.

In the race beginning in 2004 and ending in 2005, over a third of the boats that took part were forced to retire from the race.

According to The Telegraph, there were also several fatalities during the races that took place in 1992/1993 and 1996/1997.

Time Credits

After Elies was rescued by an Australian Navy Ship, both Davies and Guillemot returned to the race.

They have been told that they will recieve time credits for helping out their competitor, and will not lose their position in the race.

It was great to see such an uplifting story in the news, celebrating the willingness of people to help others when they were in need.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

New Test in Northern Ireland

The new motorbike test that was supposed to come into force in September this year has just been introduced in Northern Ireland.

The new test involves having to complete the original theory test and practical test, but now also includes taking part in a manouvres test as well.

It has been introduced by the Driver and Vehicle Agency as part of the European directive.

The test was supposed to come into force across the whole of the UK in September 2008, however there was a mix up. It will now be introduced in the UK in March 2009.

Whats Involved

The new manouvres test will involve a number of exercises that have to be completed. These include:
  • A slow riding exercise where the rider has to ride alongside the examiner at a walking pace.

  • A slalom and a figure-of-8 exercise. In the UK these are taught at a basic level during the CBT test.

  • Walking the bike in a 'U' turn, and then riding in a 'U' turn.

  • Getting the bike both on and off the motorbike stands.

  • Riding the bike in a curve, in either second or third gear at a minimum speed of 30km/h (roughly 19mph).

  • Emergency braking exercise, as well as an avoidance test at a minimum speed of 50km/h (roughly 32mph).
After passing the test you will be given a certificate, that like the theory test, is valid for two years and must be presented when taking a full test.

Comments on the Test

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson, who is a biker himself, has said of the test that "it is important that motorcyclists are fully equipped for the challenges they will face on the road. The new motorcycle manouvres test will enable examiners to test core skills in an off-road environment".

Others have suggested that it will help to reduce the number of motorbike casualties on the road.

DVA Chief Executive Brendan Magee has said that "only candidates who demonstrate the ability to carry out these manouvres safely will be able to progress".

UK Centres

In the UK, the test was due to be introduced at the end of September. It involved various new test centres being set up where the manouvres test could take place.

However the centres were not ready in time for the introduction date, and the government faced a lot of embarassment as learners were charged for the new test but could not take it.

In the end the introduction of the new test was put back until March 2009, so that the new centres could be set up. This did however leave a lot of angry new riders out of pocket, having paid for the new test.

So we'll have to wait until March to see if this time, the new test will go ahead.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Manchester Says No

On Friday, the city of Manchester voted whether or not to introduce and Congestion Charging zone like London's. The outcome was an overwhelming 'No'.

The idea was introduced after the success of the London Congestion Charge, which was put in place by mayor Ken Livingstone in 2003.

The city has been discussing the possible introduction of a Congestion Charging Zone since 2007.

Manchester is not the only UK city to consider a Congestion Charging Zone proposal, but they were the first to apply for backing from the Transport Innovation Fund.


It was decided that the citizens of Manchester should be able to decide themselves whether or not the plans should go ahead.

Cars were to be charged £5 a day to travel into the centre of Manchester. For the first years trucks would be exempt from the charge, until a study into it's effectiveness was carried out.

If there was a positive response to the proposal, the new Congegstion Zone would be effective from July 2013.

However, on the 12th December 2008 all ten of the Manchester boroughs that make up the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities voted against the plans.


Apart from London, Durham has also introduced a Congestion Charging Zone in the busiest areas of it's city from 2002.

Cambridge is one of the cities that is considering introducing the charge, along with Manchester.

However, Manchester would have been the biggest city to introduce such a charge since London in 2003.

Had they gone ahead with the plans, it is thought they would have been the first of many large cities to bring in such a charge.

By saying no, there is a suggestion that other cities and congested towns will also follow suit.


One part of the proposal from Manchester's AGMA was that motorbikes would not be charged to enter the city.

This is the same as London and Durham, and is also what Cambridge have suggested would be part of their own proposal.

In effect, the introduction of a Congestion Charge in Manchester could have lead to an increase in motorbikers, as drivers try to find a cheaper way to travel.

An increase in the number of bikers can only be a good thing: with better awareness paid to motorcyclists.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Ace Cafe Xmas Toy Run

Every year just before Christmas, the Ace Cafe hosts the Xmas Toy Run - whereby hundreds of bikes ride from the Cafe, stopping off a three London hospitals to give out presents to children.

This year is the first time I have taken part, and it was such a great atmosphere that it will definitely be on the calendar for next year!

Although I had been planning to take part in the Ace Cafe Xmas Toy Run for several weeks, I forgot about the event until late on Saturday night.

I had planned to decorate my bike, however by the time I remembered all the closest shops were shut. I had a little bit of wrapping paper left over and decided to wake up early the next morning to do the best I could.

Childrens Presents

Every biker that turns up to take part in the run brings along a childrens toy, wrapped up and labelled with age and sex. I brought a couple of Doctor Who books.

These get put into sacks and loaded into the back of a van, which comes with us an the run. After parking my bike and handing over my presents, I headed inside the Cafe to get a cup of tea.

The great thing about bike runs, is that you always meet new people, and everyone is very friendly. I got talking to a couple who were riding a new CBR 1000, as well as someone who had the 'naked' version of my bike.

At around 10.30 in the morning, bikes started to line up on the road opposite the Cafe, getting ready to leave. I finished my tea and heading over to put on all my thermals: it was a very cold day!

Ready for the off

I found myself somewhere in the middle of the bikes, with a Police escort bike to the right of me. Once all the bikes were out of the parking lot, we were off!!

Having a Police escort was amazing. Being able to get all the bikes onto the North Circular at once, while the Police blocked the cars from moving was a sight to see.

As we were going up the hill, all I could see in front was a sea of all different kinds of bikes; from cruisers and sportsbikes, to tourers, scooters and even a couple of trikes.

Fancy Dress

Most of the riders had either decorated their bike, or dressed up themselves. It was great to see a snowman overtake you, followed closely by a santa clause and a turkey!

There were many notable costumes, one of which was a woman who had turned herself and her bike into a moving Christmas tree, complete with fairy lights.

Another was the couple who were both dressed as bears and riding with a sidecar. Riding in the sidecar was a soft toy bear!

The best dressed bike had to be the one that had been made to look like a reindeer, complete with red nose and antlers!

The Hospitals

By the time we reached the first hospital, St Mary's, it was time for a well earned rest. Not that we had ridden far, but it was so cold everything felt a bit numb.

I got talking to a guy who had only recently taken up motorbiking, and this was his first big ride out. He told me he was thinking of buying heated gloves after today!

The van was unloaded, and a few people went it to give out presents. All too soon it was time to get back on a head off to the next hospital.

The great thing about the Police escort, was being able to go through traffic lights even when they were red. All the cars and buses stopped to let us pass, and many people honked or waved hello.

The second hospital was St Thomas's in Lambeth, where we stopped for quite a while, and I got talking to a woman dressed as a turkey.

She was videoing the ride as she was riding pillion on the back of a bike belonging to a snowman.

End of the Day

After the third and final hospital, where there was not enough room to park all our bikes so we all parked in a long line downt he side of the road, we headed back to the Ace Cafe.

I didn't stay for long once we were back, just long enough to buy a cup of tea and sit inside in the warm!

In the end it was a great day, everyone who was stopped to let us pass was friendly enough, and it must have been an amazing sight to see hundreds of Santa's ride past on motorbikes!

Friday, 12 December 2008

TRIP OF A LIFETIME: Plans Wrecked!

Just as things started to become more concrete on the bike trip round Europe, everything has come to a shuddering halt.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been looking into getting together a worst-case cost for the whole trip.

It looks like not only would it be an affordable holiday, but also I could afford to stay in an actual hotel once in a while, and even go shopping on the odd occasion.

I have managed to get hold of some hard panniers for my bike that are pretty sturdy and also don't feel as heavy as others I've seen. After a bit of bargaining, they turned out to be relatively cheap as well.

I've asked for various things for the trip for Christmas, and I have been faithfully promised by various family members and friends that I should find them under the tree come Christmas morning.

University Course

As part of my Broadcast Journalism course at university, I have to put together a documentary, either for radio or television.

I have been considering making the trip the focus of the documentary, as it would be a great way to record everything.

I am planning to take a module in Travel Journalism after the Christmas break, so hopefully this class will help turn it into a great project.

It also seems like a great way to combine the two interests into one: journalism and motorbiking, as well as travel!

Spanner in the Works

However, recently it has turned out that all my well laid plans may not be able to go ahead after all.

As part of the course, I also need to complete three weeks work experience at a radio station newsroom. This is due to take place in January.

I have been really looking forward to putting to use everything I have learnt, and getting to see how a real newsroom works.

Last night I had a phone call to let me know that I had been accepted onto a work experience placement - but it wouldn't be in January as expected. It is in April - the month that I have planned my trip for.

New Plans

So now I'm thinking about how I can work around the setback. I still want to go, and I do have three weeks in January when I won't have anything to do.

I'm not sure how much I fancy the idea of riding around in the middle of winter however, so I not sure if that idea will last long!

I could reduce the trip drastically and try and do less in a shorter period of time. I still have a week in April that I might be able to fit something into.

For now the trip takes a backseat as I focus on getting ready for Christmas, then a media law exam in January. Hopefully I'll think of something and still be able to complete the trip!