Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Where Are We Now? [Musings About the Future of MAG Ireland]

Saturday the 11th of October 2014

That could have been the day that MAG Ireland ceased to exist. If not for the 15 members who turned up and a relatively animated discussion (my apologies to the board) then MAG Ireland faced a potential shutdown over the course of the next year with October 31st 2015 being the date that would have been finally chiselled onto the tombstone. Don’t be fooled though, all we really did on that Saturday was keep the lights on in the MAG offices. Though not even that is an apt metaphor as over the last two years the MAG Ireland offices has been one of the things to be closed. These last two years have seen some of the most substantial changes in the group’s history, a history that has now spanned 30 years and in which David French did a fine job of summing up in his recent Bike Buyers Guide article. If you have ever wondered what MAG Ireland does, then pick up that magazine if it is still on the bookshelves or have a read of it on the MAG Ireland website. Motorcycling as we know it today in Ireland today has a lot to thank MAG for, we actually have it pretty good compared to many of our EU colleagues. Relatively low insurance rates, among the safest motorcycling roads in the EU, and a generally positive attitude from most quarters of society. It could have been a very different scenario, but now is not the time for navel gazing, now is when we try to focus on the future and ask ourselves what should we be looking for an organisation like MAG Ireland to do for us now?

Changes are coming. Bikers have just managed to survive an extremely tense period where the focus had become on zero road fatalities and the common assumption among the policy makers was that removing motorcycles from the roads altogether was the best way to achieve that. The compromise has been a push towards more rider aids; mandatory tech that is aimed at keeping the motorcyclist safe on the roads. I am not fundamentally opposed to that aspect though, having ridden for over 17 years now I have a taste of a wide selection of machinery and ideas about how to ‘best’ approach motorcycling. I have ridden the latest generation of 160+bhp, fly-by-wire, traction, and stability controlled wizardry and hand-on-heart have to say the tech is fantastic. The tech helps break-in those wild beasts and give them some manners. Do you think that Kawasaki would be rolling out their super-charged H2 if they thought it was going to lead to a spike in owner accidents? Of course not. Modern tech gives us motorcyclist’s access to all sorts of options that we could only dream of in our youth, and in packages that allow us to enjoy all the potential of those machines without actually going over the edge.

So what?

What has any of that go to do with a small little motorcycle rights group in Ireland?

The answer is both everything and nothing.

The future of motorcycling has never looked more fun, accessible and full of options galore. But we have only got here through lots of volunteer hours, wading through lots of very technical documentation, and ultimately finding compromise with policy makers. We often get lost in the conspiracy theories surrounding the influence of ‘special interests’ in policy creation. In reality those in Brussels need little groups like us to make sure they are getting thing right. They receive feedback from us, we receive it from them and then inform the membership. The role of specialist interest groups are important, and there is little evidence to suggest that if we let MAG Ireland slip away that we could ever easily get in back up to strength again. Motorcycle sales are just starting to recover following the 2008 economic downturn. Slowly picking themselves back up off the floor and into healthy double digits. We still face the prospect of NCT for bikes as the current legislation has just been deferred. We could still face long sleeve, hi-viz jackets on all of us when we go out for a ride. Bus lanes here in Ireland have started getting automated camera’s to penalise those that should not be using them, and that means us motorcyclists. The insurance industry has gotten better, but is it anywhere near as good as it could be? What about the inconsistencies with the various tolls around the country? Can we follow the UK example and ditch the tax disc? What about using the cycle boxes at traffic lights like in Spain? Ireland may be a good place to be as a motorcyclist, but it is not the best. But it can be.

We need to take a long look at the state of motorcycling in Ireland and ask ourselves what do we want it to grow into over the next 30 years? Do we really want to be guilty of being the last generation to enjoy riding motorcycles relatively freely on Irish roads before a host of automated measures take away all the benefits of motorcycling and leave us sitting in lines of traffic. As far as I am concerned the best part about the Irish motorcycle community is that it is so diverse, that when we meet up on charity runs or the like it is a vast and varied array of machinery that turns up to take part. There is no ‘one size fits all’ here, and we see lots of crossover between groups. I like to believe at least that we are not guilty of the badge snobbery that can be seen in other countries. And this is why MAG Ireland is such a useful organisation here in Ireland, because it does not just claim to represent all the interests of those motorcyclists on the roads of Ireland, it actually does. Even for those that turned up last Saturday it was a mix of bikes, as it always is.

You may not have heard of MAG Ireland, or you may not be fully aware of what it does, but for the last 30 years it has fought for you. Over the next year it will keep working for you. They will be at the Irish motorcycle show in February and in June we will be hosting the EU wide rider rights association FEMA which MAG Ireland is a member of. But this could have been the last year of MAG Ireland, all these events would have been the group’s swan song. They could still be in some fresh life is not breathed into the group, there may not be another motorcycle show, or representation for Irish motorcyclists in Europe. We deserve better than that.

So my next step? I am going to ask MAG Ireland to find out who the motorcyclists of Ireland are. Let’s start an annual rider survey. From there we understand who we are representing. From there we start the next 30 years of MAG Ireland.

Actually maybe that will be my second step. The first really should be asking what I can do to help MAG going forward.

Peace and keep the rubber side down.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Accessorize This! Trying Out D3O Impact Protectors

Fashion and I have an uncomfortable relationship; actually, we barely even speak at the best of times. My greatest concern when it comes to clothing comes down to the simple question of "how will this perform and feel under my motorcycle gear?". Therefore, my wardrobe is a mix of functional layers of various brands where black is the predominant colour. Yet something changed recently and I have had this strange need to partake in what is referred to as 'accessorizing', now I am not going to go too crazy here with the bling, but I decided to take the plunge and mod my gear with some D3O armour. I had heard about these new impact protectors some time ago, essentially it is motorcycle armour that is flexible but when impacted it firms up and absorbs the impact, performing just like any other CE 1 and 2 category motorcycle armour. My reason for upgrading is just to add a bit of flexibility and comfort to my motorcycling, both on and off the bike, maybe I am getting soft in my old age but those are the main reasons. For more about how D3O works you can pop over to the official website and read here.
After a bit of Googling, reading of reviews and the usual bit of care taken before investing my very limited funds I popped onto GetGeared and ordered a set of armour. All the armour seems to be of standard sizing, it is just the back protector you need to choose a size, in my case, the suggested armour size for my size jacket was accurate and it fits perfectly. After placing the order I had the box full of goodies to be slipped into my gear 3 days later. At the bottom of this are pictures of the new D3O armour (orange) and how they compare to their equivalent 'standard' motorcycle armour (black).
My kind of bling
As is apparent from the pictures below all this armour is shaped for the locations they are supposed to be protecting, and all of it slipped easily into the pockets in my existing gear. To the touch, the D3O armour is soft, bendy and lighter than what it was replacing. Once fitted in the gear the only armour that was noticeable was the back protector, but even that was much more comfortable and easier to live with. I then slipped some into my Bull-it Jeans to see how they would look and feel, again the armour was much less noticeable and the jeans felt as close as a fashion jean as you are going to get. Overall, I was very impressed, but obviously needed to take out onto the road.
The Full Set
This is when the D3O came into its own because you forgot it was there. Again, there is no getting away from the back protector, but the D3O made movement on the motorcycle much easier and fluid. The rest of the armour was unobtrusive and you could easily forget it was even there. I have ridden for 17 years now with ATGATT and have grown accustomed to the relatively stiff and bulky feeling that comes from wearing motorcycle armour. However, this relatively simple modification to my gear has made a significant improvement in my motorcycling enjoyment because it has made the experience a nudge more comfortable. Anything that makes your life in the saddle that bit better is a farkle worth making, at the end of the day the best mods are those that keep the rider in their 'comfort zone', the stuff that helps us focus on the ride. Or to use Dave Preston's mantra; When the helmet drops, the bullshit stops. To that end, I am happy to recommend this gear. That said I do hope never to fully test it!

Peace and keep the rubber side down.
Back Protector
Shoulder Protector
Elbow Protector
Hip Protector
Knee Protector

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Turning The Wheels Against Depression - AAI 2014

Motorcyclists and raising money for charity go together like leather and chrome. Combining them brings out all the best in people, both those who ride and those who don't. Going through towns on a sponsored motorcycle run, waving, with buckets ready raises awareness for all taking part. The Annual Across Ireland (AAI) is a prime example of this, having been running now for almost 15 years and has raised over €2,000,000 for the charities which they have supported. This is a significant contribution which has affected the lives of 1,000's of people, and this year we are looking to do it again.
This year the charity being supported by the AAI is TeenLine Ireland, a service dedicated to helping young adults cope with depression, and most importantly to just offer them somebody to talk to. Note that Ireland is second only to Lithuania in Europe for suicide rates among young adults, and with the reduction in health funding over the last few years, these services are under heavy stress seeing a 15% increase in demand this year alone.

This year also marks a change in the regular AAI format as the route has changed from Dublin - Galway - Dublin to Dublin - Limerick - Dublin. Leaving on the morning of August 23rd and returning August 24th. The departure point is Xtreme45 on the Old Swords Road at around 12.30pm and returning the next day. The full route down to Limerick will include the Naas Road, Newbridge, Kildare Town, Monasterevin, Portlaoise, Mountrath, Borris in Ossory, Roscrea, Moneygal (Home of President Obama's Irish roots), Nenagh, Birdhill, Limerick City, and Castleroy.

The motorcycles will be assembling from 0930 onwards and people are welcome to come around and see what all the fuss is about. There will be refreshments available and of course items to purchase to help support the charity, such as official t-shirts. 
Most importantly if you are interested in showing some support then please follow the link to the AAI website and click the donate button on the bottom of the page, giving as little as $1. If you do so I would appreciate you adding my name or sponsorship card number (1035) to the "Add special instructions to recipient".

And just to wet your appetite this is what we got up to last year...
Peace and look forward to seeing your support in whatever form it takes :-)

Monday, 28 July 2014

20,000KM's Later - A Year with the Honda NC700X

A lot has happened in the last year since I collected the Honda NC700X, both professionally and personally, but let’s get to the meat of this and just focus on what it has been like living with the NC700X. It is worth noting that the 700 has been replaced by a 750 version, so if buying new chances are that this is what you will be looking at, however there does not seem to be a huge difference between the two models so the older 700 should serve any potential owners well.  

Me & Her. Wearing Bull-It Jeans, Caberg Hyper X, Hein Gericke Tripmaster Cool Jacket

I love it. It is a fantastic workhorse and has never let me down once over the course of the year. If I was to start with the negatives then the only two things I would complain about are the brakes and tires. The brakes are not 'great', it is a single disc setup front and rear, and the version I have is non-ABS. What this really translates to is needing to think a few more seconds ahead than normal when riding on the twisty bits, but that is only when you are trying to push. At a more relaxed pace the brakes are not an issue and thus are adequate, especially on the commute and filtering through traffic. The rear can feel very wooden at times and is only useful at very low speeds or to smooth out hard braking when the bike may want to see-saw. It is only when you get caught out by a car that has pulled out on you that you wish you had a bit more stopping power, but then you always want more options in those situations.  
As for the tires, this may be just a personal thing and will be sorted when the life on these are up. The NC700X came with Metzler Z8's fitted as standard. I did not like them at first, but just figured it was a new bike and needed getting used to. I had just come from 5 years with the Pirelli Angel family of tires and had loved them. What made up my mind about the Metzler's was wet weather riding, and here in Ireland you get lots of that. Compared to what I was used to they just would not give me anywhere near the same level of grip in the wet. Every roundabout needed to be approached very cautiously once the wet weather began, otherwise the rear would start stepping out. In the dry I have no complaints, they work well, but for an all year biker like me the wet weather abilities were very disappointing. I plan to try out the new Michelin Pilot Road 4 range, though also tempted to go back to the Pirelli's. I am not sure if the braking and tyre issues are related, but will find out sooner rather than later.  
Okay, enough with the negativity, and let’s face it these are not huge issues. Both sorted by a tweak in riding style and a change of rubber. The NC700X is extremely well built, this is my first Honda after 17 years in the saddle and now I get what people mean by 'Honda quality'. It is superb. The engine is as smooth as silk, almost silent and vibe free when running. This bike has spent a year going through it all, sun, storms, snow and everything else Irish weather could throw at it with me in the saddle. But every morning and evening she starts instantly and runs perfectly. I spent over 5 weeks travelling for work over May/June, went into the garage, dusted off the battery charger, but when I hit the starter she fired into life first time.  
I had been waiting to write up this review as one experience I had not tried on the bike yet was two-up touring. Within a few weeks of getting the bike last year I was off on a 1,000km camping trip, which was excellent. It was a solo trip and on a 50bhp bike with some camping equipment strapped on it, which is not much more challenging than the average daily commute. I wanted a taste of two-up touring and that finally happened when the better half and I got to spend 1,000km in the saddle traveling to and from, then around, the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. For anyone wondering the simple answer is YES, this bike can tour two-up, and also save you a small fortune in fuel thanks to the crazy MPG figures (my average over the year is 74.2mpg or 3.8L/KM). When Honda first released the bike they made a big fuss about how they designed the engine to be useful for riders 90% of the time, it would only be in that 10% that it would be found wanting. It has to be said that they nailed it. Loaded up with 2 30ltr side cases, 45ltr top case, 21ltr front trunk, rider and pillion, the NC700X pulled away just like she always did. As with any bike with extra weight your braking distances change, and obviously those quick overtakes need an extra few seconds of planning, but she performed flawlessly. The pillion comfort was more than adequate too. I had brought along an air hawk seat cushion, but we had stopped using it before the end of the trip, the pillion seat was doing a fine job.  
My odometer has just ticked over 20,000KM now, next service is due at 24,000KM and she is just over a year old. Like anyone of course you would like a little more here and there, but overall this bike has proven to be a great investment, a brilliant workhorse that just keeps performing to my expectations, and then some. I am really looking forward to the next year in the saddle with her and at least another 20,000KM of happy miles under her.