Sunday, 26 October 2008

TRIP OF A LIFETIME: Start Planning

After writing my last blog I recieved a comment from Jophiel Wiis, who is planning a motorbike trip round New Zealand and Australia.

His really is a trip of a lifetime, the kind of thing I one day hope to have the time to do, and I started thinking about extending the route and length of my trip.

I speak relatively good German and I was thinking of extending the amount of time I spend there. As Jophiel is from Denmark, I have also considered riding North through the Netherlands, then the tip of Germany and heading into Denmark before back through Germany.

He also suggested looking into funding for the trip. Instead of this, I have been thinking about using the trip to make my final project. It's only an idea for now but as I have a chance to think about it I'll hopefully expand on the idea.

Places to Stay

Right now I'm trying to finalise a route and look into places to stay along the way. After travelling across America I found the use of hostels a nessessity and I have been looking into hostels across Europe.

There are plenty of places to stay and at a relatively cheap cost as well. I would quite like to get the chance to camp, especially the further south I go, and the European Park Guide has been a great help.

However, this raises the question of luggage. I already have a large back box to cart my things from home to uni and back again, but I need panniers, and then possibly a tank bag as well.

There are a plethora of clever luggage accessories available for bikes, and all can be found at decent prices if your willing to compromise a little. The question is, just when does too much become too much?

Leaving it Behind

I'm trying to learn lessons from Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor, who often talked about taking everything and the kitchen sink, then finding they didn't need it.

If I was to take camping equipment as well as clothes, maps, waterproofs, basic equipment etc then the bike would end up pretty heavy. How much of that do you actually need?
Answering Questions
In order to get any further than just having a hazy idea of going on a trip sometime next year, I need to start answering some of the questions.
The most important is where I will go, how I will get there and how long it will take.

Monday, 20 October 2008


After watching Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman go the 'Long Way Round for what must be the 20th time, I decided the time has come to sort out my own trip.

Obviously it's going to be pretty much impossible to pay for a three month journey from the UK all the way to New York, but I can try and organise a journey through parts of Europe.

The Ace Cafe

There are several places that are a must go at some point for any biker. The Ace Cafe in London is one of these, and luckily for me is only a 20 minute ride from my university. It's also somewhere I haven't been yet.

I have ridden past it on a trip back from Brent Cross shopping centre, but have never had the nerve to stop off yet. Even though I've been riding for several years, I'm still worried about making a fool of myself in front of other bikers!

The Nurburgring

Apart from the Ace Cafe, the Nurburgring in Germany is another must-see for me, and I'm sure for many other bikers. Getting the chance to try out my bike on one of the world's most famous racetracks is something I have to try.

The Ring is still under German road laws, and although there is generally no enforced speed limits, some areas actually are restricted. You are also not supposed to overtake on the right; though how strictly the Police enforce this is unknown!

Basic Route

The idea of riding through Europe is an idea I have had many times, but never really looked into it seriously. As I will have three weeks off over Easter, it seems as though this would be the best time to try though.

This gives me around 6 months to look into making a serious plan; but at the moment, a basic route would be to go into France via the Channel Tunnel, up through Belgium, across into Germany and the Nurburgring, south through Switzerland and then Italy, back into France and possibly into Spain depending on time.

View Larger Map

On a Budget

As a student this would have to be very much on a budget, so I will be looking in to cheap hotels and hostels, cheap travel through the tunnel, and cheap (yet rewarding) places to visit.

I also need to look at buying basics to carry on the bike; I have a 42l back box, but thats all at the moment. Instead of going for a very expensive Satnav, I recently bought a magnetic map holder for the tank; is this enough or will I end up getting very lost?!

Asking for Help

If anyone has managed to travel round Europe on a bike and knows of anywhere good to stay, interesting places to visit, or any information on roughly how long a trip like this would take would be much appreciated!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Councils Could Lose All Interest In Icelandic Banks

After the collapse of Icelandic banks, it has emerged that UK Council's may lose all the interest they have gained from investments - that's even if they get back the original investment.

When the Icelandic banks collapsed, the Icelandic government were quick to reassure UK investors that they would get back all their money, and that any deposits were safe.

The banks have collapsed as a result of the global credit crunch, and possible recession, that is hitting the finances of the world.

Council Money

It then emerged that various UK councils, as well as police forces, had money tied up in the banks. Once the money was frozen the government became involved, hoping the broker a deal to ensure that UK investors would get their money back.

The Independent has reported that the councils could lose up to £60 million in interest - money which they may have based future spending on.

The three local councils that are thought to be most at risk at the moment are Uttlesford in Essex, Wyre Forest in Worcestershire, and Tamworth in Staffordshire.

The Audit Commission, who are overseeing proceedings with the UK money in Iceland, have also had to admit that they have around £10 million invested in one of the bigger Icelandic banks, Landsbanki.

Facing Problems

Plymouth City Council, based in Devon, has already shown signs of strain. The council has around £13 million tied up in Icelandic banks, and has had to borrow £9 million in order to pay its bills.

Other councils who may soon become a concern include Braintree in Essex, Cheltenham in Gloucestershire and Daventry in Northamptonshire.

With so many local councils being hit by the collapse of the financial system in another country, it makes you question how long it will be until the whole local government and national financial system in this country goes under?

Government Support

So far, the British government has been able to prop up ailing banks, starting with Northern Rock a few months ago. Essentially, we all own the bank (and as such, also own shares in various football teams which the bank supported!).

The government also managed to help out other banks before they started facing the same kind of problems, with a massive government loan. Banks that didn't take any part of the government loan, such as Barclays, managed to find money elsewhere.

But if the local government itself starts losing money, how long would it be until this spreads upwards, towards national government?

If that were to happen, how long would it be before the government was no longer able to keep the credit crunch at bay?

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Cost, The Whole Cost, And Nothing But The Cost

It’s often been suggested to me that the cost of getting on a bike must be much more expensive than driving a car.

After all, after passing the driving test all you need to pay for is the car itself, while after passing a bike test you need a helmet, jacket, gloves, trousers and boots before it’s really safe to ride.

So I thought I’d look at the difference in start-up cost between riding a bike and driving a car, to see if this really is true.

The Vehicle

Buying a car or a bike has the same principles; the more you pay, the more you get. Keeping costs down and buying an older, smaller car is the same as buying an older (though not necessarily smaller) bike.

I paid £1650 for my second hand, 2004 Suzuki GS500F. It was restricted already to meet the Standard Access regulations (saving me around £100), and the seat height had also been lowered. The mileage was 11,000 miles.

For around that money, Autotrader says I could buy a second hand 2000 1.3 litre Ford KA, having done 70,000 miles.

The Clothing

My first helmet cost me £100, and by law that’s all you need to legally ride a bike. However it didn’t feel that safe (And was also pretty cold!), so I bought other gear to wear as well.

My leather jacket cost £250 – but that was one of the more expensive. I could have bought a textile one for under £100. My waterproof trousers cost £140 – and again I could have paid under £100 if I had just wanted to buy cheap.

The gloves cost £50, and I haven’t got round to buying boots yet. Instead I wear my trainers still, but if I were to buy some they would cost in the region of £120.

So far it looks like it really is cheaper to drive than ride. The Ford KA cost £1650 as did my own bike, and I’ve spent £440 more on clothing without counting boots.

Making it Legal

But what about insurance, tax and MOT, which both cars and bikes need to be legal on the road? The cost of petrol is also important.

My tax for the full year is £48, and for my old 125cc motorbike it was only £15 for the year. The most expensive bike tax is £66 for the year. For a car the tax can again differ, but even the cheapest petrol car costs £120 for the year.

I am lucky enough to be not only a woman, but keep my bike in a relatively safe area and also keep it garaged. My insurance at the moment is £50 for the full year, but in the first year of riding it was £75.

That’s with no claims made, and no points or accidents had. I put the same details into Direct Line’s insurance for the Ford KA, and I was told that insurance for a full year would be £895.

The cost of an MOT is usually around the same for both: mine costs £20 and a car could be done for the same. Sometimes you can even find places who will offer free MOT’s on cars if you’re a regular customer.

So the average cost of getting a bike on the road (excluding the cost of the bike itself), is £583, while the average cost of the car is £1015.

It's not always going to work out cheaper on a bike than a car, but at least it may disspell the idea that a car is always the best option financially.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Best Broadcast Interview Award With Johnston

Carrie Gracie, presenter of 'The Interview', has won an award for her interview with the BBC Correspondent, Alan Johnston.

The Nick Clarke Award for 'Best Broadcast Interview' was won by Carrie after her interview with the Gaza Correspondent, who was kidnapped and held for nearly four months.

Alan Johnston was the BBC's Gaza Correspondent, who was kidnapped by Palestinian militants in 2007.

There was a massive backlash to the kidnapping, with the BBC launching an appeal, and there were protests worldwide. Pressure was put on the political party Hamas to try and have Johnston released.

The BBC compiled a timeline of events from his capture, through the stories of murder, to his release on the 4th July 2007.

Carrie Gracie's interview with Johnston covered his feelings while incarcerated, his feelings towards his kidnappers and his plans for the future.

The full interview can be heard here.

Speaking to BBC News, Kevin Marsh ,the former Today editor and one of the judges for the award said of the interview that it was "conducted in Nick's spirit, offering a rich radio experience of remarkable quality".

The award was launched in honour of the fromer presenter of Radio 4's The World at One, who died in 2006. The winner of the award is given a dozen bottles of 'good claret' - as Nick Clarke himself would have enjoyed such a prize.

The interview with Alan Johnston by Carrie Gracie is notable, in that it is the first time the award has been given out.

The Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer said "I believe Carrie Gracie will be the first in a long line of terrific broadcast journalists to win an award named after one of the BBC's greatest interviewers".

By giving out awards such as this, it gives journalists something to aspire to as well as recognising quality in an interviewer.

I find the award notable because one in the future I plan to be among the terrific broadcast journalists to win the award!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Speed Limits at Night

Take a ride down the motorway during the day and you're bound to encounter plenty of traffic. But late at night it's a completely different story.

Some parts of the motorway are so full of traffic at peak times that it's impossible to reach speeds close to the national limit, let alone to go over it.

Come late evening and into the early hours however, and you can go for miles without seeing another vehicle. So why is it that speed limits need to remain just as stringent?

We all understand that speed kills; and through villages and towns it can be harder to spot a pedestrian in the road in the dark. Yet on motorways; cyclists, mopeds, learners and especially pedestrians are supposed to keep well clear.

It seems to be a matter of trust. Despite the speeds that most cars and bikes can now achieve, motorists are not trusted to stay safe, even when there are few others around.

Crashing at 80 or even 90 on a motorway, late at night, while no one else is close by, still must be safer than crashing at 70 at 5 in the evening, during the start of rush hour traffic, while other vehicles are all around you.

The outcome may not be as good for the driver as it would be at 70, but there is a much lower chance of involving anyone else. Besides, many cars are now equipped with the safety measures to help combat a high-speed crash.

Most motorists understand the need for speed limits throughout the day and at peak times; no matter how hard we moan about them. We even pay attention to the lowered limits through accidents and roadworks.

There is currently a stretch of motorway covering around 3 junctions on the M1, that has just been turned into 4 lanes either side. The roadworks are ongoing throughout the day, and the limit is set at 50.

This stretch is covered by 'average-speed' camera's, ensuring that no one breaks the limit. Throughout the day the traffic flows freely, using all 4 lanes; yet remains at a speed of 50.

Late evening and you can cover this stretch seeing only one or two others. Yet everyone still plods along at 50, despite the fact that workers are tucked up in bed for the night: thanks to the cameras.

Is there not a case to suggest that areas like this should be given some leeway at night? Perhaps its time motorists were trusted a little more, and the cameras were turned off in the late hours.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

BBC World News In America...1 Year Old

Last week the BBC World News in America celebrated it's first birthday. What is the difference between British and American broadcasting that mean the US needs a British style news?

Having studied at an American university for 6 months in 2005, and being a broadcast journalism student, this is a topic that I have a lot of interest in.

Rome Hartman wrote on his blog about the celebration, and gave a brief history of the service. He suggests that the BBC covered news events that the rest of the American press wasn't touching on.

I spent a lot of time watching the TV while in America, and watching the news every night has become part of my daily routine, after sitting with my family every evening for 23 years.

Apart from what was going on in America, I was on the look out for news from the UK and Europe. It didn't take me long to realise that global news events were hardly ever covered.

Two major news stories happened during my time studying in the States. Firstly, Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, where friends were living at the time, and I was anxious to hear everything I could on the event.

The American news channels covered this admirably, though I still managed to find out additional information by checking the BBC News websites.

Secondly was the Buncefield Depot explosion, which I had a vested interest in as it was only a few miles from my home in the UK.

I didn't even hear of the story until almost two days after the event, when a friend from the UK rang and told me about it. Once again I reverted to the BBC News web pages to find out the full story.

It turned out to be quite a major event, with most of the European press being interested int he story, and it was covered by French, Spanish and German news.

The American press however, didn't even mention the story.

This experience leads me to believe that the BBC World News service is indeed a service that the US is in need of.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Motorbike Privileges and 39 Points

Trawling the BBC News website this morning I found an article about a biker from Southampton who's been banned from riding and recieved 39 points on his license.

He'd been caught speeding on camera, seven times in the space of a month; sometimes the camera has even managed to catch him pulling a wheelie.

As bikes have no front numberplate, the BBC report says that police eventually managed to catch him thanks to his flashy jacket, of which there are only two in the country.

Bikers already get a bad rap in the press, and are stereotyped as ignoring the rules of the road and seeing themselves as invicible. With a story like this, questions about motorbike rules could become an issue again.

Everyone, whether on a bike or in a car, has pushed the boundaries of the speed limit from time to time. Yet on a bike, riders are somehow more distictive and prone to critisism about speed.

There is an inate negativity that all bikers face from the rest of the public, and by showing a lack of respect for the cameras, it can also be seen as showing a lack of respect for other riders.

The motorcycle community is already facing the possibility of stricter testing, stricter rules and regulations, and stricter costs of keeping a bike on the road.

Drawing attention to the privileges of riding is something that needs to be avoided: through this stunt he may have lost his right to ride, but he may also have an impact on the right of others to ride.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Profiting From The Credit Crunch

As the financial markets start to tumble and the western world fears a recession, not everyone feels so glum.

President Ahmadinejad of the Islamic Republic of Iran has announced that while America has started to decline, the Iranians should get ready to 'manage the world'.

So far the share prices on the Tehran stock exchange have hardly been affected by the credit crunch that is reaching the West.

In fact, many stockbrokers are seeing the crisis as an opportunity for their country, and a prime investment time.

Mr Ahmadinejad has said that the crisis will not affect his country, and that they have excess amounts of cash in the economy.

One of the senior clerics in Iran , Ayatollah Jannati, has said to BBC News "we are very happy that America's economy is in jeopardy and they are paying the price for their misdeeds. God is punishing them".

Foreign investors however are unlikely to be successful if they want to invest in the country. Foreigners need government approval if they wish to invest, and this proccess takes at least a month.

However many have warned the country that it will not be long before they are also hit by the crisis, and the chances are that it will be worse for Iran than it is for America.

Saeed Layez, one of Iran's outspoken economists said to BBC News that it will be worse for their country "because of the oil price and our dependency on oil income".

The country has faced high inflation as well as high unemployment for a long time, and the fact that property prices are likely to fall if the financial crisis does hit could be a good thing for the poorer classes.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

New Motorbike Test Mess Up

For over a year now, potential motorcylists have been warned that a new test would be in place by the end of September. Yet the date has come and gone and nothing is ready.

Although I've ridden for nearly 3 years, I took my Standard Access test just 5 months ago, with the warning ringing in my ears and in the hope of beating the clock. It worked; I now have a restricted license and Fylix the GS500F sitting outside my halls.

Yet the warning seems to have been all for nothing. Motorbike students have been asked to pay £80 to include the new test, but from the first day the DVLA had to admit it wasn't ready.

The test consists of a series of manouvres, such as a slalom and various breaking exercises, designed to help new riders learn to avoid potential accidents when out on the road.

It is supposed to "improve the standard of road safety for motorcycle and moped riders" and is aimed at complying with EU legislation. In theory, it's a good idea but it seems putting it into practice has been a headache.

Even while I was taking my test, there were mutterings among my instructors about the problems with the sites themselves. It seemed there weren't enough sites; the nearest site would involve a 3 hour road trip, and the BBC picked up on the problems.

For those who missed the deadline and shelled out the full £80, there'll be no refund. We're told thats the cost of the old test version now, though it seems it's more to avoid an administration nightmare.

In fact the DSA have announced that the whole thing is going to be pushed back to March 2009, so they can create more sites. So when you break it down, we've had a year to warn us that the cost of passing your test is going up.

Now it's just a case of wait and see if it'll go ahead next March: but I can say for certain I won't be holding my breath.