6 Jun 2014

Speedmonkey Fleet - A Period Of Stability, And Hazardous Animals

My usual mindset is that I'm not happy with my car, or I've got itchy feet and just want another one - just because.  But at the moment I'm quite happy with both - and with the bike.

The TT 3.2 V6 and Triumph Street Triple

The BMW has new suspension and feels much better now.  Prior to the work being done it would judder like mad at 60mph and above, and whenever the brakes were applied.  Now it's smooth, is tighter in corners and stops as it should.

Given I only keep it for the space it offers in terms of normal sized back seats (unlike the TT's tiny +2 efforts) and the big boot there's just no point changing it.

The TT has new discs and pads all round and stops as it should.  It's also got DAB radio, although I probably use the Bluetooth function more.  The power and sound from the 3.2 V6 is brilliant and the quattro system, despite being first gen Haldex, is hugely grippy.  The traction control only kicks in when I hit a bump.  I like the TT a lot and will only change it when I can stump up enough cash for a decent 996.

I spent a few months over the winter pondering a new motorcycle.  I bought my Triumph Street Triple brand new in 2011 on 0% finance, which ends this summer.  I'm hooked on Triumphs now and toyed with the idea of buying a Tiger 800XC for it's extra practicality.  But I rode 1,400 miles on the Street Triple over a long weekend last summer and didn't want for extra space on the bike.

Nope, the fleet is just fine as it is.

Where I live the majority of roads are either fast A-roads or tiny, rural lanes.  I enjoy both.  I know the local A-roads like the back of my hand and know where to overtake and where the speed cameras are located.

The rural lanes are just as much fun, if a lot slower.  West Berkshire's lanes are normally bordered on both sides by high hedges so you can't fly round them practicing left foot braking as you scream towards the apex.  Slow in fast out is the order of the day.

Amongst the challenges down these roads are school run mums in huge SUVs that they can't drive and are scared to death of putting within two feet of a hedge lest its flanks are scratched (diddums) and Honda Jazz/Peugeot 206SW drivers on their way to church/bowls/the garden centre at 25mph.

Cyclists are also becoming ever more prevalent, and dangerous. Several times I've rounded a corner to find a luminous pelaton in formation taking up two thirds of the road.  Hitting one isn't an option, I don't want to damage the car, so I swerve into the hedge whilst they stare daggers of pure fury and hatred.

Most of the verges have been washed away in the winter floods so teams of workers are currently filling them in with dirt and topping them with tarmac.  This makes for fun. The roads are so small that they don't bother with traffic management.  The other day I was caught up in a situation where I was behind two horse riders whilst a gaggle of cyclists and a bin lorry and tractor were trying to come the other way.  Patience is the only solution in these situations.

And then we come to animals.  If you look at the roads on Google Earth you'll see they are just tiny ribbons of tarmac amid thousands of acres of fields and woodlands.  Animals don't know or care what a road is.  They're just things to cross whilst looking for food or a mate.

Some animals are controlled by humans but this doesn't make them any less predictable.  I see horses every day.  The best bet is to hold back, keeping engine speed and revs down and wait until the riders move over to let you pass.  If you try and squeeze past a horse and rider you risk damaging your car, the horse or the rider.  Again, patience is key.
Horses in the road. Best to wait until they indicate you can pass

Rabbits and foxes tend to stay out of your way but I'm amazed how many are hit by cars. I've never hit one in my life.

A road I use quite frequently use to have resident owl.  If you drove down it at night the owl, sitting in its tree, would get spooked and fly parallel with the car for a few yards before swooping off into the dark.

I was hugely saddened to see its flattened carcass recently - obviously a victim of a hit and run.  Similarly I've seen many birds of prey squashed into the tarmac.  Hitting the brakes suddenly is inadvisable but some people seem not to even slow for these magnificent beasts.

I had to slow the other day as a family of ducks waddled down the road in front of me.  For fifty yards the mother duck and her brood trotted along until they came across a stream aside the road and plopped into it.

Less charming is the massive abundance of local deer.  I see them most days.  Deer will jump out of hedgerows without a moment's notice.  They tend to travel in pairs so another will join its mate soon afterwards.

I've never hit one but have slammed the brakes on or swerved on countless occasions.  Some are tiny muntjacs and some are huge stags but all are totally random and will damage you and themselves if you were to hit them.

This makes riding the bike an eyes on stalks affair at or after dusk.  Sure, the road might be free from traffic, the clear evening wind in your nostrils and the heady smell of freedom willing you to break the speed limit in a quite spectacular fashion but if you hit 300kg of venison at 80 you'll be off the bike and down the road, and possibly end up in hospital.

But this frisson of danger is what makes motorcycling such fun, isn't it?

And finally, I popped over to see Graham King recently. Graham has written tons of stuff for Speedmonkey - but no more. He's got himself a paid job with www.onlymotors.com as their web editor.  Their office is only a few miles from Speedmonkey HQ. That's Graham in the photo below with his MX5.
Graham outside the www.onlymotors.com office

By Matt Hubbard