Quick day trip to the Lambourn Valley, Oxfordshire on my R1200GS on 1 March 2014—looks like spring is nearly here!
Quick day trip to the Lambourn Valley, Oxfordshire on my R1200GS on 1 March 2014—looks like spring is nearly here!
Salisbury Plain—first time off road last October on my R1200GS
I felt cheated out of my opportunity to visit Sacré-Cœur during my visit this week. As I made my way up the stairs from the carousel I was accosted by the infamous ‘string men’.
In brief, string men are con artists who approach unsuspecting passers by, tightly tie a coloured string around their wrist or finger and then demand payment, usually 20€.
Photo credit: Europe for Visitors website
Being the middle of the day on a Wednesday in January (when most of the residents of Paris are in work and few tourists are seen) I was almost the only person in the grounds leading up to Sacré-Cœur other than a group of about 10 of the string men.
One of the men approached me with a beaming smile, asking if I spoke English. I ignored him and kept walking. He became agitated and asked why I was walking away from him but didn’t follow.
One of his counterparts then approached me asking where I was from (in English). I kept walking, hands in my pockets, and within seconds I was surrounded by three of them.
They said their string bracelets were for the church and I had to take (buy) one. I said: ‘Non, merci’ several times, and then explained: ‘Je veux rien de toi’ (I want nothing from you).
At that point one of them aggressively tried to pull my hand out of my pocket. I realise that these are not violent people and therefore my safety was not at risk, but nevertheless I am not a small chap and it’s pretty ballsy to grab me in broad daylight.
I turned to the bloke and scowled: ‘Retire ta main maintenant’ (Remove your hand now).
The all left me alone at this point but I was so put off from the experience I had no further desire to climb the stairs to the church.
I’ve visited Paris perhaps 12 times previously and have never experienced this level of aggression with the scammers/con artists etc. I guess business is slow at this time of year.
I can imagine someone unprepared would feel extremely intimidated and vulnerable in this situation yet the authorities seem to turn a blind eye to this behaviour. What a shameful disappointment.
Don’t get me wrong—Paris is an extremely safe city and one of my favourite big cities to visit but I was really taken aback by what happened and felt it spoiled the experience of Sacré-Cœur on this occasion. I just wanted to take a few photos from the viewpoint at the top after all.
Paris at night—a selection of Hipstamatic shots taken on 21 and 22 January 2014
Random street art in Paris
Paris at night—a few more photos
I spent 3 days in Paris this week for a ‘beat the January blues’ get-away. Although I travelled from London by Eurostar and not by bike, I took great interest this time about the biking culture in France’s capital.
People tend to buy expensive scooters over mid-range motorbikes in Paris, which is quite the opposite of London. A popular mode is the Piaggio MP3 because it can be locked upright when stopped at traffic lights. The French seem to have an appreciation for the effortlessness of a twist-and-go bikes for city riding.
The local authorities in Paris allow bikes to park anywhere for free, as long as they are not blocking cars or pedestrians. The rule is ~2m width for pedestrians to walk past (or on narrow roads, at a minimum, enough space for a wheelchair to get through).
As illustrated in the photo you can see just how popular bikes are in this city. The sensible and realistic parking laws alone encourage more people to get on bikes.
The popularity of bikes shows in other ways also. There is virtually no congestion in Paris, even at peak times. Only a few of the main roads had heavy traffic around 5-7pm but everywhere else had amazingly light traffic for such a large city—except when a bin lorry was blocking the road, for example.
But this brought out another bit of French biking culture—it appears to be socially acceptable for motorbikes to ride in pedestrian areas or on the pavement to get past obstructions on the road, as long as they do so courteously. The authorities seem to turn a blind eye to this and pedestrians were not bothered either.
The French have a certain respect for bikers of all types—more so than many other countries, including the UK. They recognise the benefits to reducing congestion and pollution and society shows its appreciation to bikers by accommodating them in ways from which many other countries could learn.
Once last thing that was interesting to me is that, while the majority of bikes in Paris are scooters, the only others you seem to see in any great numbers are huge bikes such as the Honda Goldwing, BMW R1200RT/GS and K1600GT/L etc. Seems to be one extreme or the other in the spectrum of available models—hardly any midsize bikes.
On 20 December Visordown published an article entitled Kevin Ash’s widow still waiting for answers from BMW.
If you see a title like that you know it’s going to be a contentious article, but I was somewhat unprepared for what, in my opinion, was tabloid style reporting, with unreferenced quotes from various points in time since the accident occurred, and what felt like the author leading the reader toward his own bias on the subject.
I know the journalism community is tight (‘take one for the team’ etc) and they lost a very highly regarded colleague on the day of the accident, but I would also expect the reporter to indulge in at least a dribble of objectivity. Instead, the tone was one of the ‘big bad corporation’ remaining tight-lipped—despite stating that the public prosecutor in South Africa hasn’t yet released the findings of the investigation. Is BMW meant to fabricate something in the meantime?
A couple of ‘facts’ in the article were not well researched. The article states that the R1200GS has been equipped with a steering damper since October, although my bike, which was built in late August and delivered at the beginning of September, came with the damper. Sloppy reporting, but forgivable. The statement about ‘a new traction control package called Automatic Stability Control’ is incredibly misleading. The system is not new—in 2013 buyers could optionally have the bike fitted with 5-mode ASC (rain, road, dyna, enduro, enduro pro), and the vast majority of the bikes sold were so equipped. For 2014, BMW made 2 of the 5 modes (rain, road) standard on all models, and the other 3 modes (dyna, enduro, enduro pro) optional. To give some context, they also made ABS standard on all models in 2012, when this was previously optional.
The context in which the steering damper and ASC were mentioned implied that BMW had added these features in response to the accident. Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t—but objectively speaking, there are simply no facts to prove or disprove this theory at this point in time.
With very few exceptions, I have all but stopped reading comments on news articles, much less getting involved in futile commenting wars with armchair activists (too many angry people propagating thoughtless and hateful drivel) but this time I felt compelled to create an account and express my views objectively:
Firstly, RIP to a great personality, reporter and loving family man. No one wants these things to happen in our circles. And like any grieving family, KA’s wants answers. They are angry. Upset. They want someone to blame. They want closure. I would too. As it stands now, no one knows exactly what happened and it will likely remain this way indefinitely.
Almost unanimously, the responses here are quick to point the finger although none of us witnessed the accident. If a tank slapper was the cause of the accident there would most certainly be damage to the steering stops which inevitably would have been reported by this point by the public prosecutor based on the finds of the SA police who investigated the incident. Since this has not been reported, no manufacturer (BMW, Ducati, KTM, Honda etc) could be reasonably expected to admit liability for speculation or allegation of which there is no proof. If BMW were found to be negligent by the investigation you can bet it would have been splashed across international media circles like lightning. But people love to vilify the ‘big, bad corporation’ without any objectivity. A corporation with people like you and me who have exactly the same strong feelings about the incident. You can bet there are engineers and testers losing sleep about how their work resulted in someone’s death.
BMW claim their decision to fit a steering damper on 2014 models of the standard 1200 is to harmonise the production of the platform which now includes the new Adventure and RT models which were designed from the start to include the damper—exercising economies of scale or some such economics-speak. Everyone will of course have strong opinions on this claim but it is nevertheless nothing more than speculation to connect this to an issue that was experienced by a couple of reporters, yet strangely not reported in various forums by the 17,000 or so owners of this model.
KA had a reputation for being a sensible, experienced rider. But he was still a human being with the potential to make errors in judgement like any other person. Was this the case? Again, nobody knows. I don’t know how many of the people commenting here ride regularly off road… I have enjoyed doing this for years on heavy bikes, and despite my experience I still come off the bike from time to time—it’s an inevitable risk of the activity. And for any number of reasons… Misjudging a rut. A brief lapse of reading the trail surface. A small, unfortunately located rock mid corner.
So we are back to the beginning again. A person has died who shouldn’t have died and I wholeheartedly join in with everyone else who sends their best thoughts to his grieving and heartbroken family. I hope they find closure somehow. But perhaps the reason nothing more has come from this incident, is because there is nothing more to come. Sometimes accidents happen to good people.
I was somewhat surprised by the response (perhaps I shouldn’t have been). Wild accusations of being paid by BMW to write this, corporate astro-turfing (ie a BMW spokesperson attempting to appear as a general member of the public). Of course it’s all a conspiracy and we should all sit around wearing foil hats. My response:
I’m not sure how I should take the comments above. No, I most certainly do not work for BMW. But at the same time I don’t feed into foil hat conspiracy theories based on speculation. My line of work is in communications in a healthcare setting which involves considering events and writing with objectivity—I have also worked in clinical risk management.
Re-read what I have written carefully and you will find that I have not sided with anyone—I have simply pointed out the knowns and unknowns in this incident without drawing any conclusions based on speculation.
I agree with [nickname removed]—it is a rather convenient coincidence that BMW have added the damper on 2014 models. But no one outside of BMW has all the facts behind this decision, so to draw a parallel to the accident would again be based on speculation. If I had to harbour a guess, I would say it would be more toward the public perception side of things than an outright design flaw, based on the negative press. But that astro-turfing remark is a bit rude—I’m not difficult to find on google, I’m either duffs or duffs10 on several motorbiking forums.
Also agree with [nickname removed]—large corporations are not quick to issue statements until all investigations have been completed. If anyone of you were potentially liable for a tragic event, would you issue a statement before having all the facts? I would expect once the public prosecutor has issued their statement, one will follow from BMW.
I would love to know if there was a clear root cause behind the accident—as much as anyone else here—but this just isn’t the case at this point in time.
As of 9:30pm on Christmas Eve (how sad am I to be doing this when I should be focussing on the lovely bottle of red staring at me from across the room) the comments have been suspiciously disabled for the article, although they are still accessible in the Visordown forum.
It worries me about the state of the world when objectivity is viewed with suspicion, and where people form such strong opinions based on nothing more than speculation and hearsay, instead of researching the facts, however few are available.
But when this includes reporters, who are paid to write objectively and without bias, there simply is no excuse.
Come on, you know you have an opinion—let’s hear it.
How the liquid cooled R1200GS engine works
I love this video which shows the operation of the R1200GS engine!
This is perhaps a topic no one wants to think about. When the lovely Leslie over at one of my favourite blog sites Advgrrls.com posted an article about road safety stats I started doing a bit of digging.
I was really surprised that the US had such shockingly (for a westernised country) high RTA death rates—13.9 deaths per 100,000 people. Compare this to Canada at 7.8/100,000, the UK at 4.8/100,000 and Japan at 3.8/100,000. Belgium has a reputation of having the worst drivers in Europe and their rate is lower at 10/100,000 (actually it’s Lithuania which takes this title at 15.5/100,000)… Source: WorldLifeExpectancy
What is interesting is that the US has such large, open and comparatively straight roads compared to Europe, Japan etc, yet the Europeans (subjectively) tend to drive faster and more aggressively than their American counterparts… But then, Canada has roughly half the death rate of the US, with similar types of roads…
So where is it all going wrong?
Insufficient driving training—or driving training designed to pass the test and not actually teach real world skills? Canada has graduated licensing which probably helps bring the death rate down whereas the US varies state by state…
Cultural/attitude/ego differences within the populations of the different countries? Japan, Canada and the UK are all countries which have reputations for high overall standards of conduct, etiquette and appropriate behaviour in public (although that goes down the toilet when the British travel somewhere warm!!)…
Penalty rates? Europe, Canada and Japan tend to have FAR stiffer fines than the US… Drink/drug drivers? Who knows…
All I know is that I feel a hell of a lot safer on the roads here than I did before looking into this.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) website has an interesting and very comprehensive report about RTA rates—what is quite interesting is that the report identifies that RTA rates are disproportionately higher for lower income/education groups which makes logical sense… these groups typically aren’t using vehicles with the latest technology/safety features, and typically don’t have the disposable income for proper PPE, training etc.
I drove (a car) for 14 years in Canada totalling in the region of 200,000 miles and about 20,000 miles in the US for holidays. While in general I never felt particularly endangered I did find, subjectively, that in both countries there was a whole lot more road rage than anywhere I’ve driven in Europe. Silly things like someone not looking when changing lanes, and the car which was wronged just not letting it go… people holding down the horn when pensioners were driving below the speed limit. Things like that. Of course this was mainly in cities/built-up areas—it was much more relaxed in rural areas (Californian redwoods was a particular delight, as was Hwy 99 from Cache Creek to Pemberton, BC).
It would be interesting to have someone who specialises in social/cultural psychology or a similar field provide an analysis. For example, the differences in general stress levels between North America and the EU (the speculation being that higher stress equals more distraction equals higher accident rates)…
One thing that stands out in my mind is paid leave from work. My understanding in the US is that there is no obligation for an employer to provide this—in Canada it was (when I lived there) a minimum of 10 working days (2 weeks). In the EU (where it is felt that sufficient time away from work makes for more productive and happy employees) it is a minimum of 20 working days but most people get 25 + bank holidays (of which there are between 5 and 10 depending on the country). In my current role (which I’ve done for 5 years now), I am entitled to 38 days of paid leave each year (including bank holidays)—in other words, nearly 2 months each year—and this is quite typical.
The typical work ethic is different in the US, Canada and UK (three countries on which I can comment from first-hand experience). Canada and the UK are fairly similar—people are committed to their jobs but it’s not particularly commonplace to find people ‘burning out’ from work. However, in the UK people tend to include A LOT more about their personal lives in their relationships with colleagues than in Canada where this practice was a fair bit more restrained. A lot of my friends who live in the US seem have a huge drive (and therefore source of stress) to work as hard has they possibly can to get a promotion and a higher salary, move up the social ladder and repeat almost obsessively. They seem to take failure as just that, rather than a learning experience for success in future. There’s often no convincing them to take a holiday to come visit me out here, for example—and when I’ve visited them I know to make my own agenda to accommodate their work schedules! The culture is very much ‘keep aiming higher’ whereas in the UK it’s more ‘keep aiming higher but know when to stop and have a pint’.
Aside from speculations about stress levels and work ethic, one serious and highly researched issue in both the US and Canada is people using mobile devices while driving—not sure if this has reduced in recent years and what laws have been passed. This used to be an issue here as well until the police started proactively handing out huge fines plus 3 points on licences, and mandatory driving bans in certain circumstances. If you drive for a living, it’s a pretty convincing incentive to not use a mobile phone while driving when you could be banned for 2 years if you cause a crash or kill someone…
All of our countries have their positives and negatives (don’t get me started on the negatives of the UK) but the more you delve into the social and cultural complexities of each, the more you realise how unique each one is. Which may go some way in explaining the differences in RTA rates.
I would love to hear other peoples thoughts.
A compilation of places I’ve travelled by motorbike during 2013 filmed with my GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition
Following on from my trip to the Alps, and now over the post-holiday depression I paid BMW Park Lane a visit earlier this week to have a look at a new R1200GS and took this fetching red example for a short test ride:
I won’t bore you with all the details (there are plenty of online reviews on this bike) but suffice to say it ticks all the boxes for my inner geek with a long list of electronics. It is hugely powerful, reverberating at idle and accelerating with more torque than a freight train. The sound it makes echoes between the buildings.
I love my F800GS and it’s not going anywhere, but the next time I do 3,000 miles over 12 days I need something a little bit more spacious and with adjustable seats. The 1200 ticks the box here also with the front seat adjustable for height and angle, and the rear seat adjustable for space (moving forward and backward). And with 50% more horsepower and nearly double the torque of the 800, it promises to be even more effortless on a long day of riding.
After discussion with excellent sales exec Harald I selected options and accessories. I say excellent because Harald was patient and transparent with all my questions and went out of his way to liaise with the regional BMW UK manager to look into a small insurance issue for me (which was resolved to my satisfaction within 2 days).
I put down my deposit on a red 2014 R1200GS TE to secure a slot on the assembly line in Berlin. Third week of September, the computer says. Tick tock.
The TE (touring edition) includes the gorgeous full LED headlight/daytime riding light, electronic semi-active suspension (compensates for weight and road surface and can be adjusted firmer or softer as required), 5 riding modes, GPS mount, heated hand grips, tyre pressure sensors and cruise control.
I ordered it with the following options/accessories:
It will look similar to this bike (photo credit: BMW):
…but with these wheels (photo credit: BMW):
Why do I need two bikes? It gives me the best of both worlds really—I will use the F800GS for treks out on rougher roads/byways/trails, being the more suitable (and lighter) bike for this type of terrain, and also fitted with the tyres for the job. Since it has already done a winter on our salty roads, I can keep using it for commuting when the weather becomes foul without losing sleep over the inevitable damage the salt will do to the finish. For long trips and on days where it won’t be getting a salt bath I’ll have the R1200GS. That’s not to say it will be a sunny day/Starbucks cruiser bike, I intend to use it to its potential as well.
If, down the road, I find it does everything I want and the 800 becomes redundant I can always consider selling it on at that point. But for now it would break my heart to get rid of it when it has been a model of reliability and enjoyment.
BMW’s own insurance offers a really good deal for people with two BMW bikes—the insurance is paid on the more valuable bike and the less valuable bike is insured under the same policy at a flat rate of £5/£1,000 of value. A really good deal I must say.
I’ll need to update my blog description since it will now have a joint F800GS/R1200GS focus… Six weeks to go!
Today’s outing to mole valley