Friday 30 September 2011

Newcastle 2

Back home now from Newcastle, and time to put down a few thoughts about my trip.
I've always liked Newcastle as a city - it exudes a feeling of confidence, is busy, wealthy, and architecturally an interesting blending of old and new in a way that doesn't jar. Best of all are the people - warm, friendly, easy going, and  nothing ever seems to be problem for them. Also, compared to Glasgow, very well dressed - a distinct lack of football jerseys and dodgy 'sportswear'.
Whilst I was there it was unseasonally hot, hotter in fact than July had been, and I haven't seen so many legs on display since I was in the South of France. A lot of men choosing to wear shorts, and women wearing  short skirts and extremely short shorts. Even 'business women' in smart suits wear short skirts rather than the trousers more common at home. T. Dan Smith (mentioned in my previous post) had referred to his plan to redevelop Newcastle as turning it into the 'Brasilia of the North'. 'St Tropez of the North' would be more appropriate judging by what I saw.
Last night, rather than just sit in my hotel room reading books, (as I had done on previous nights), I was lucky to manage to get a ticket for Reginald D Hunter who I had seen a few times on television. As those of you who know me are aware, I've not had a very good year, so it did me a lot of good to out for an evening.
How a man can hold an audience's attention and have them in stitches for an hour armed with only a microphone is totally beyond me, but Reg (as he refers to himself) was amazing. Not only incredibly funny, but also made a number of serious points about life and relationships between the jokes. If you ever get a chance to see him, go - you won't be disappointed!
Job over, and it was back home today in brilliant sunshine. As mentioned before, rather than the obvious and more direct route of driving westward then picking up the M6 and M74 home, I instead headed north up the A1, stopping at the Holy Isle, also known as Lindisfarne.
Holy Isle is a tidal island, and you have to check the tide tables to avoid being trapped by the incoming sea. When I arrived, there was over 5 hours before the tide came in, so I had plenty of time for a good look round.
There's a very pretty village:

A castle which I didn't bother walking to:

And some ruined religious buildings I didn't go to either.
One thing I did see was a man selling fruit and vegetables on a table outside his house. I spoke to him and he had grown them in his garden, so I bought some very fresh strawberries, some courgettes (zucchini to our American readers), a cauliflower, plus a 'green cauliflower' which I'd never seen before. The seller also referred to it as a  'Romano', so that's something new for me to look forward to. Why people selling produce outside their houses isn't more common, I don't know. In France you see this regularly, but it's so rare here.
Well worth a visit if you're in the area, and the woman at the National Trust van in the carpark was stunningly attractive. (Predictable joke - I wouldn't mind viewing some of her sights!)
Visit over, and I headed back to the causeway back to the mainland only to be stopped by a guy in a Toyota Landcruiser who had blocked the road and signalling people to stop. I asked him what the problem was and replied that we were stuck on the island as the 'road was flooded'. As it was hours until the tide came in I doubted it, and looking down the road I could see it was a bit wet but not flooded.  He was insistent that it was too dangerous, so I called him a rude name and drove round his car using the grass and headed over the 'flooded' causeway.

Note there about 3 inches of water, hardly flooded. Also note artistic reflection of parking ticket on top of dashboard and heating elements in the windscreen.
Needless to say I made it across the 'flood' that had defeated Mr. Landcruiser in my Ford Focus despite not having 4 wheel drive and high ground clearance.

A bit further on I saw this sign which meant that Mr Landcruiser was too afraid to cross the bit that doesn't even get seriously underwater at high tide!
If you do get caught by the tide there's this hut you can wait in until the tide goes out (and watch your car disappear under water!)

Green thing in the corner is a stick on lizard shaped air freshener - no, don't ask why!

After that it was a straightforward drive round Edinburgh and past Glasgow, then home. As It had been very hot and sunny all week I was looking forward to going out on the bike this weekend, but an hour after I got in it started to pour with rain! Welcome to Scotland!

Tuesday 27 September 2011


I'm working in Newcastle this week so thought I'd try posting from my laptop. (Be generous if I make a mess of this as it's my first attempt). Because it's work I've had to come in the car, but I've seen a few things of interest, first of which concerns motorbikes:

In carparks they have these bike locks. There's an extendable chain which you lock in place with your own padlock.

You  see the mechanism here. You insert a £1 coin to release the chain then lock it with your padlock. When you unlock, the pound coin is returned. This is to stop people leaving the chains lying on the ground. So the parking is free. I parked my car in a car park with these from 08:00 to 18:00 and had to pay £14!!!

I'm working in Royal Victoria Infirmary (maintaining electrical equipment - very boring!), and the 2 universities are near by (Newcastle and Northumbria). As this is the start of term, a lot of the local pubs and swinging nightspots are running promotions to encourage students to go, and one is offering a car as a prize based on 'The Inbetweeners' television show:

Yes, a tatty old Fiat with a non-matching door, just like in the show! Quality!!!!!

At the hospital I saw a rack of bicycles for hire:

You hire them by sending a text to the operator who texts you back with the code for the lock. At the end of the hire you lock the bike and text the code for the location you leave it at. Let's hope the system works and the bikes don't end up being stolen or at the bottom of the river!

Also nearby is Newcastle Civic Centre, a very large and striking building of, er, 'interesting' 60s architecture.

(Picture stolen from the Web as the ones I took on my phone weren't very good)

I'd always wanted to have a look at this ever since I heard it mentioned in the song 'Dan the Plan' by local singer Alan Hull. The song refers to T. Dan Smith, a local politician jailed for corruption in awarding contracts and connected with the building of the Civic Centre. The song contains the lines:

But the Civic Centre shines like money in your hand
Let's raise another glass to Dan the Plan

This isn't the first time I've gone to see a buiding mentioned in a song. I once rode across London to see the Hoover Factory, mentioned in the Elvis Costello song of the same name, and someone once wrote a song about the Luma lightbulb factory in Glasgow when it was being used as a caravan showroom 'Caravanland'

That's all for now, you might get another installment on my week in Newcastle. It depends on how bored I get sitting in my hotel room!

Sunday 25 September 2011

Coupes Moto Légende

Every year in May, the Coupes Moto Légende is held at the Dijon-Prenois race track in Eastern France. It's a big 'classic' bike show, with the term 'classic' meaning over 25 years old, so plenty of bikes that people my age remember. There's club stands, autojumbles, and numerous of the bikes, both road and race, are taken out on the track for demonstration laps. In theory, these are not races, but someone forgot to tell some of the race riders!

Some video from this year's event to give you a flavour, and here's a good gallery of bikes at a previous meeting.
I'm planning on going next year, (26th - 27th May), so if anyone else is interested, get and touch and we'll try and arrange to meet up. How exactly we'll arrange to meet at an event with about 20,000 other people, in a place I've not been to before, and can only speak a rudimentary amount of the language; will be a slight problem, but I'm sure we'll work something out!
Website for the event gives more details, and there's plenty of video from previous events on YouTube and Dailymotion. There's a particularly good video here, but Blogger doesn't seem to like posting video directly from anyone other than YouTube.

Friday 23 September 2011

Friday bike

An old 80s Kawasaki Z1300 you think. But look more closely - it's a V12 2600cc built from two Z1300 engines! Gulp!
Don't know anything about this bike other than I found the picture somewhere on the Web and copied it into my computer. As an engineering project it's beautifully done, so well done that it looks like it came out of the Kawasaki factory like that.
Can't imagine what it's like to ride, but just imagine the sound on hard acceleration!

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Some assembly required 2

Another engineless Skorpion assembly kit on Ebay. This one appears to have a race saddle and what might be a Hagon shock. (Well, it's got a red spring.)
Does this mean people with Yamaha XTZ 660s are buying Skorpions for their engines?

Sunday 18 September 2011

Songs for Swingin' Lovers

This album has nothing to do with what I'm about to blog about other than having the word swingin' in the title, it's just that blog entries look so boring without a picture.
I've mentioned before that I've got 2 Travellers - the silver one I use, and a white one which I bought because it was cheap. The bike itself is fine other than being a bit tatty and the bodywork is cracked around the mounting points (common fault), but as I don't have a need for it at the moment, I haven't ridden it. I've tidied up and repainted various bits (good old Hammerite!), repaired most of the cracks on the bodywork, fitted a Yamaha TRX850 headlight (much better than the standard Traveller unit and a straight 'bolt in'), a pair of Avon Roadriders, a pair of Brembo calipers, and welded up a rear rack.
A common fault on the Skorpion is the swing arm rusting and this bike was no exception. I had repainted a spare swing arm and fitted new bearings, so today I lined the inside with Waxoyl to help prevent it rusting from the inside out.
You have to heat Waxoyl to make it liquid enough to apply, so I put the tin into a bucket full of boiling water, covered the top to stop the heat escaping, and left it for an hour. By then it had got thin enough to pour, so I poured some into each 'leg' of the swing arm (one at a time), and poured the excess back out into the tin. I did this four times, each time with a different face of the swing arm downwards so that side would get coated. I then left it to cool and harden.
I fitted the Waxoyled swing arm into the bike and replaced the alloy 'rocker' in the rear suspension with a spare one to which I'd fitted new bearings. Everything was fitted with lots of grease and torqued up nice and tightly. A quick test and the 'clonk' the old suspension had now disappeared, so that's another thing ticked off the list. Hopefully I'll get this bike finished and back on the road over the winter, then I'll decide whether or not to keep it or to replace it with another project.

Last night I was in a local supermarket and found this:

96 hour deodorant! Yes, 96 hour! I thought the 48 hour stuff was excessive, but 96 hour? Who doesn't wash for 96 hours and thinks that a quick spray with this will stop them smelling? Perhaps it's better you don't answer that!!

Friday 16 September 2011

Friday bike

Possibly one of the most advanced and influential motorcycles ever built.

The NSU Max, first built in 1953. A 250cc single with an overhead cam (very rare in those days). Leading link forks and pressed steel frame look suspiciously similar to what Honda were building a few years later, though they didn't copy the single rear shock setup.
By 1955, NSU were the biggest bike manufacturer in the world, selling even more than BSA, although few (if any) NSUs were imported into Britain at the time. NSU also set numerous land speed records with Max based bikes, and in 1956 built the first bike to do over 200 mph.
The overhead cam was driven by a sort of 'conrod', a setup later used by NSU on their Prinz car.

Look at the picture of the Max and compare it with what the British bike industry was producing in 1953.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Hillclimb video

Video from the hillclimb shot by my brother Stuart. You can see the tracks a little bit slippery! Wouldn't like to try that on a bike!

Sideways fun.

Still from a bit of video my brother Stuart shot at the Bo'ness Hillclimb.

Just for Larry

What did I get through Facebook today? Some pictures of an Irish Army Sanglas 400.

Came from this website. That's one advantage of having a Facebook account - 'like' a page like this and they send you lots of good motorcycle photos.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Bo'ness Hillclimb

Had an interesting day out at the Bo'ness Hillclimb. I'd only been to one hillclimb before, the Barbon Hillclimb in Cumbria, so was looking forward to seeing another one more locally. The Bo'ness Hillclimb was only for cars, whereas Barbon is bikes.
I got up to heavy rain and set off for the 40 or so mile ride to Bo'ness. I rained off and on all the way, and there's nothing interesting to say about a trip across Central Scotland mostly on motorway, except there was a holdup on the M8 motorway through Glasgow, (caused by an accident according to the signs). I had to filter through traffic for about 2 miles before I got to the front of the queue, where the Police had pulled all the motorbikes over to the side as there had been a fuel spillage and they were scrubbing the road with detergent. (You wouldn't want to ride on that!)
Just after I arrived, the road cleaning had just finished, and the Police waved all the bikes through. From there it was an uneventful trip to the hillclimb where I met Malcolm (Suzuki SV650), and my brother Stuart (Yamaha FJ1200).
The competitors were just stopping for lunch as we arrived, so we went round the displays by various car clubs.

(That's suspiciously close to Periwinkle and Creme de la Creme - mmmm, nice!)

(Early 60s Ford Zodiac. My Dad had the slightly less swanky Zephyr)

(There was a stall from a place that trained owls for demonstrations, I thought this pair were just so sweet.)

(Norton single on one stall)

We went for a wander down to the competitor's paddock for a look at some of the cars.

(Norton 500cc single powered racing car. There were a few of these.)

(JAP V-twin powered. This was really loud!)

(Yes, someone is rich enough to race a Ferrari.)

The object in hillclimbing is to drive your car as fast as possible up a short but winding road. Cars go singly and are timed against the clock. There were various categories from pre 1918 road cars to Single Seater Racing cars up to 1973. Last year they also had bikes, but there were none this year. The track is very narrow and lined with straw bales, so I think it would be a bit dangerous for bikes. It doesn't say anywhere in the programme, but the track looked to be about half a mile.

The racing restarted for the afternoon session and we watched from 'Old Paddock Bend', where the still damp track caught out a number of competitors. Most managed round only clipping the bales, but one wasn't so lucky!

There's very limited viewing points on the track, so these tend to be busy. This added to the safety fences and straw bales makes it very hard to photograph cars during the event. Best to look at the galleries on the website, where pictures by photographers who had access to better parts of the track are posted.
As the day went on the weather got better, the track dried, and the cars got faster. By the end of the afternoon it had got so warm that we had some icecream - not often you can say that in September!
In the paddock I spotted this AJS:

And in the car park I saw this really nice MG:

It was a great day out and the trip back was a lot warmer, sunnier and drier than the trip over.

Friday 9 September 2011

Some assembly required

Anyone fancy a winter project? Saw this on Ebay.
My, the long winter nights will soon fly in!

Friday bike

I've never really been into the Harley 'scene', but sometimes a bike comes along that makes you stop and go 'Oh, Yes!'

The  'Sportster Custom XLST3' by Shaw Speed & Custom a Harley Davidson dealer and custom shop in Brighton. Loads of very well customised Harleys on their website.

If I was ever going to build a 'custom' bike, (unlikely due to my lack of skill!), I think it would have to be a Flattracker, but probably not a Harley powered one.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

High security

Found this picture on another blog.

These are lockers to put your motorbike in whilst shopping at a Carrefour supermarket in France. Must be in a rough area, as when I've been in France it's normal to see bikes parked without any locks and with a helmet left hanging on a mirror!

Monday 5 September 2011

Old flames: Part 7 - 28 (or thereabouts!)

Make yourself a big mug of coffee and make sure you've got plenty of time - this is going to be a big one!

The CBR had been sold and I had my 'winter bike', an MZ TS 250. When I had moved to the flat where I was staying a couple of years before, a guy who lived upstairs owned this. When he replaced it with a BMW, he had given it to a friend. I'd mentioned to him that I was looking for a winter bike, and he got back to me saying that I could have his old MZ for nothing if I collected it from the other side of Glasgow. Only problem was that the new owner had forgotten to add oil to the petrol and seized the engine.
I got a friend with a trailer to collect it, and set to work fixing it. The seizure wasn't too bad, and I managed to free the piston by removing the head, placing a piece of wood on top of the piston to protect it, then whacking it with a hammer! The piston freed easily enough so I took the barrel off to survey the damage. There was no damage to the barrel, and the piston cleaned up easily enough, leaving only the rings to be replaced. This was still in the era when East Germany had a communist government, so spares were cheap, and the rings were 75p each!! I replaced them and reassembled the engine, fitted an new battery and chain, then fitted a set of Honda indicators and handlebar switch unit from my 'box of spares', and the bike was back on the road for only £30!
It was a bit rough and rattly, but it went and I had transport. One bonus was that it had been fitted with a Honda front brake (CB 250/350 K series), which was a huge improvement over the standard MZ brake. In truth, dragging your feet on the ground was better than the MZ brake!
When I started thinking about this post, I decided this was my 'Jazz Bike', as at the time I was developing an interest in jazz, and jazz concerts would play a role in my ownership of this bike, starting with my first ride on it to a concert by George Melly in Edinburgh.
The bike wasn't too bad although it was a bit scruffy with vinyl stuck over the rusting chrome tank sides, but any scruffy and rusty bits were soon treated to a coat of Hammerite. I also found out that the rear frame tubes under the saddle had the same inside diameter as the outside of standard electrical steel conduit, so I found a couple of lengths in a scrap bin, cut them to length, and pushed them up the frame tubes. I held them in place with a couple of self tapping screws and bolted an old topbox to them. Voila! Instant luggage carrying ability! Around this time I joined the MZ Riders Club where such modifications and liberal use of Hammerite were the norm.
I rode the bike to work every day for about 2 years, although city traffic highlighted the main failings of the TS - Poor electrics (you want the ignition, headlight, AND indicators to work at the same time?), no tickover, a dreadful clutch and the world's most crunchy gearbox.
Back on the jazz theme, on the way home from a Courtney Pine concert the already very rusty silencer called it a day and a large chunk of metal fell off the side of it, turning the MZ into 'The World's Loudest Motorcycle'. I patched it up with a tin can and an exhaust bandage, but the hunt was on for a replacement silencer before MOT time. I was told of a bike shop in Stirling that was breaking an MZ, and ended up buying the whole bike for £30. This one was the later TS 250/1 model, basically the same as the TS but with a much better 5 speed gearbox and a horizontally finned head, which had a better machined combustion chamber (better running), and a central sparkplug (easier to set the timing). This bike was a non runner due to faulty crankcase seals and various parts had been robbed from it, but it was worth the money for the silencer alone. When I got it home I swapped various bits onto the TS, and made one good bike out of the two.
I was going through a particularly bad time in my life at this point - no money despite having 2 jobs (the good old 80s, eh?), this led to no social life and scrimping to get by; I was also attacked twice within 6 months, once an attempted street robbery where I successfully fought off my teenage attackers, but suffered a broken rib. And a second attack where I was struck on the head with a hammer, which left me not feeling 'right' for a couple of years. I was also suffering from depression, although it hadn't been diagnosed at that point.  I completely neglected the bike, never washed it, and just did enough work to keep it running. that's why it looked like this:

I even went a holiday on it, camping round the Highlands for a week.

Through the MZ Riders Club I found out about the much improved current model, the ETZ 250, and set out to find one. At the time, MZs were very rare in Scotland due to hopeless dealers, but after a year of trying managed to find one near Perth. It would turn out to be a very long relationship with this bike.
When I bought it, it was 2 years old, was in reasonable condition (well, nothing that couldn't be fixed with some Hammerite!), and the disc brake, 12V electrics, and oil pump made it a much better bike to ride than the TS.  I fitted a pair of Krauser panniers I had bought cheaply, and it was ready to go.

This became my sole form of transport, and over the next 12 years I did 120,000 miles (200,000 km) on it. I went to work on it, went holidays, went to lots of rallies, and even used it for shopping. When I got married, we even went our honeymoon on it!
Occasionally, I would buy another ETZ if it turned up cheaply enough and use it for spares (I had at least 4), I once bought another TS 250/1, fixed it up and sold it, and once when buying spares arranged with  breaker to buy any MZ he got in. This let to me owning at least 10 ETZ 125s, a TS 125, and even a Simpson 50. I was also given a TS 125 by a passer-by who saw my MZ and asked me if I wanted another one!
I became very active in the MZRC, went to lots or rallies, rebuilt and sold the ETZ 125s, and learned a lot about MZs. To be honest, I can't work out how many I owned, but it must have been about 20.
When the crankshaft went on the ETZ after 120,000, I bought another complete bike and swapped engines. The rear engine mounting plates on the ETZ cracked (a common problem on high mileage bikes), and as these pivot on the swing arm mount, you have to remove the swing arm to replace them. Unfortunately, the pivot had rusted in place and the frame bent before it would come out (another common problem), so I put the good engine back into its original bike and rode it.

I was riding this through town to work, hence the 'day-glo' topbox with extra brakelight on top. We also went a holiday to Ireland on it.
Around this time I decided I would build a really good ETZ with all the modifications I'd like to see, so started collecting bits. Through the breaker I got a crashed Saxon 125, so learned how to weld so I could fit things like the alloy footrest hangers from the Saxon. I also welded on pannier mounts, and decided to use the (better) Saxon electrics. I had also bought a BMW saddle, so modified that to fit, and along with a whole host of other mods, built my 'super' ETZ. I had bought an ETZ 301 (turned up at right price), but didn't really like it.

Although I liked the improved mid range pull of the 301 engine, the frame was based on the smaller ETZ 125 model which meant it was a bit small for 2 people. Also, being shorter, the bike became a bit 'flighty' at speed, and was upset badly by carrying luggage. So, out came the engine and it went into the super ETZ.
Eventually, the super ETZ was finished, and I have to say I was quite impressed with what I had built.

Paintwork was Plastikote 'Periwinkle' and 'Creme de la Creme' - mmmm, nice! It was a pleasant bike to ride and probably was as good a 2 stroke MZ as you could get.
Just around the time I was finishing this bike I got a job that paid TWICE what my previous job had paid, plus a company car! I'd always like the MZ Skorpion, so started looking for one. I had originally intended getting a Tour, but an example of the usually much more expensive Traveller came up so I bought it.

This was one of a batch of white Travellers that had been bought by the CSM training school. When the training school went out of business, the bikes were sold off. I found one, fitted larger 40 litre panniers (rather than the standard 30 litre), bodged a rack to fit, and the following summer my wife and I went for two weeks in France, (where the pictures above and below were taken).

 Me with the bike in La Rochelle - yes, it was hot!

I had been slightly apprehensive about buying the Skorpion in case I didn't like it, but after the France trip I was hooked, so did a lot of work on it over the following winter, including having it resprayed Diahatsu 'Mica Silver'. It's not really clear in photos, but although the bike looks silver, there's a purple sheen which can be seen when the light hits it at the correct angle.
I also welded up a proper rack and replaced a lot of the nuts and bolts with stainless. The following year I went to the Emmenrausch Rally at the MZ factory on it, with a friend riding my 'super ETZ' Report of that trip on my website here.
As I rarely rode the super ETZ after that I sold it to a friend who painted it matt black and silver (no taste!), he then sold it to M@TD who rode it to work for many years before selling it. A couple of months ago it was for sale on Ebay, now painted green in that strange 'faux army bike' look so favoured my some MZers. Shows I must have done the job right if it's still going 12 years after I built it!
I continued to ride the Traveller, and my wife and I went to France for our holidays on it for the next 5 years, until her declining health meant she couldn't go on it.

Over the years it's been to Ireland on numerous occasions, as well as a trip to the French Alps with a group of friends.

In Luxembourg on the way to the Alps

Over the years it's had various mods, I'll write some posts about various of these.
That brings my 'old flames' list nearly up to date. A couple of years ago I bought another white Traveller (the price was right). I haven't ridden it as I'm in the process of tidying it up, repairing cracks on the plasticwork, and general small jobs it needs. More on that bike later.