Saturday, 21 July 2012

A family day out

Oh yes, but how do you have a family day out if you are a Biker family?

A family of bikers
Well, you jump on your bikes and go for a ride. Sadly ever since Alex took delivery of his 2005 Yamaha DT50 as his first ever bike, it has had problem after problem and has infuriatingly refused to start! So before he gave up completely and threw the bike in the sea, he gave it one last chance, with Carol and her fabulous tool box.

We ordered some new bits and waited patiently for them to arrive. Luckily for us E-Bay proved to be a worth while place to shop, until the company involved told us that the part we had ordered and paid for was not one that they even had in stock, despite them advertising it! So after a few cross e-mails, they special ordered one and shipped it out.

Carol fitted it and we kicked the bike over, at long last, it fired in to life and sat there purring away, like a tiger with a head ache! Alex was overjoyed and arrived in time to put it back together with a little help from Carol and I. Nothing like the irritating mechanical inefficiency of a machine to bond a family unit!

Alex then jumped on his bike and took it for a spin around the block, at first he was a little nervous, having learned the hard way that bikes that break down mid corner tend to fall over! However, after a couple of laps of the street, he was looking as cool as a polar bear on a particularly cold Tuesday!

Alex on Yoshi, the Yamaha DT50
So it was then off down to Sand Bay, the test track of the masses. However once safely there we were accosted by the Rozzers! They pulled over to chat about bikes and wish Alex a safe and fun riding career, however Jayne joking that she did not have a license caused a gleeful Policeman to rub his hands together and start looking forwards to impounding her bike and riding it back to the cop shop!

Riding back home in the dark with Alex was one of the proudest moments in Carol’s life and Jayne was sat at the back of the queue smiling like a loony on Largactyl! Alex however was riding like a road god and his exhaust was spitting out orange sparks as the engine raced! The sound and smell of burning two stroke oil and the little clouds of exhaust smoke made riding at the back a similar experience to riding across Dartmoor when the beast is about on a foggy night!

Bikes and Rozzers

So what do we do now, we chat to the Rozzers!
 So, this post is about Alex, well done to him for starting out on his biking career. Alex is joining the next generation of bikers and we need them to keep the memories of what biking is about alive and also create new ones in the future. Keep on Biking. 

Alex on Carol's bike

Friday, 13 July 2012

Oh what a Gig...

Bloodstock, Metal to the Masses Battle of the Bands.
Bristol Final. Thursday 12th July

Bands playing were       :- Fever Sea
                        :- Seprevation
                        :- Control the Storm
                        :- Somnus

The premise behind this gig was that the many bands in Bristol were competing for a place on the Bloodstock stage and even being sent out to Waken. With such a prize, was it any wonder that some very talented bands tried to get to the place?

Carol and I were invited to the final of the events by the organiser Lawrence and frankly it was not a disappointment. Every band that played showed a level of professionalism unsurpassed by many actually signed bands. Not every band was to my personal taste, but it was not possible to fault them for effort, talent or showmanship. Frankly, having four bands of this quality on one stage in the same night is just spoiling the appreciative fans.

Now as a reviewer, I am looking to be critical, offer my opinion and let you know if I think that seeing these bands is worth while, but you know what? You need to check out these bands yourselves, if you get the chance, do so. You will not be disappointed because each one of them was awesome.

The intro by Simon from Bloodstock was fun and informative, seeing that metal is alive and well in the UK was obviously a boost for him and seeing the fans responding to his comments and free t-shirts was pretty cool. He then told the crowd that tonights winner was going to Bloodstock. You could feel the excitement in the air.

The first band was my personal favourite, which is one hell of a statement given the impressive display that was about to commence. So Fever Sea, a band so heavy that they have their own gravity! If you want to categorise them, imagine a band made up of six parts Neurosis and four parts Isis. With elements of evil and pain, the sound that came from these guys was bleak and dark. Frankly, it was beautiful. I could feel every blast beat in my heart, physically and metaphorically. The music is punishing, angry and aggressive and just when you thought that the torment on stage could not get worse, the singer starts hitting himself with the mic. It symbolises the pain of the music and the show is utterly epic.

Fever Sea
The singers vocals are mixed between the guttural despairing howls of a dying animal and the clean crisp sound of a man who knows how to use his voice to touch the heart of Gods. This band are the sort of band that you want to spend time listening too, this is not a band to have in the back ground when you have friends over, this is a band that want you to feel the emotion of every song and I think that they are right. I want to hear them on an album because it think that they have the sort of sound that can pull in light. A thirty minute set was not enough.

As Fever Sea left the stage, the change over crew hit it running and the next band started to set up.  Carol popped outside for a fag and I watched the crowd sudden swell, including a couple who were clearly the parents of one of the bands members.

Seprevation were all smiles, innocent smiles and Iron Maiden patches. Nothing indicated that we were about to be battered about the head with some brutal Thrash Metal! The lead singer is everything that is good about Old School Thrash, he has the smile that screams out loudly “I love what I fucking do!”  He has the gurns needed to front a band like this and he works his face as hard as he works his Bass. Kids this young throwing out Thrash of this quality cannot be a bad thing, the roots of the scene can be heard in there, but this is all original and the crowd are clearly and rightly on their side.

One word of warning though, if you go and see this band, make an appointment with your spinal unit for the next day! Head Banging that hard must cause damage! Fuck me, they went for it and you can see the allegiance to the scene in their denim cut offs and band shirts.

Now I have stated that you can hear the influences in the sound and this is not a bad thing, I could hear the old school being channelled by this band, bands I have not listened to or thought about since I was in my late teens. This is a band that will be worshipped in modern German Thrash circles and we all know how mad German Thrash fans can be for the music. The pace is typical of thrash, it gallops along, no that is not right, this is beyond gallop, This is the equivalent of a drag bike on a quarter mile, damn they are fast!

The vocals came through loud and clear, clearly enjoying his singing and yet bashing away at that bass, which leads me to a question. How the fuck does a guy like this head bang like a loon, continue to play his guitar like it is a tactical weapon and sing like that, all at the same time! I would hazard that this guy can rub his tummy, pat his head and juggle chainsaws at the same time!

The energy coming from the stage is huge, you could have run a city on the power produced, these kids are energised with a love of thrash and the influence is so clear it pats them on the back with gratitude for keeping the scene alive. The Slayer influenced solos are accomplished and expertly executed, have these guys done anything else in their youth other than listen to the best musicians out there? I knew that they would be successful, but at the end of the night when they were announced as winners, I do not think that they believed it. Well done lads, Bloodstock and Waken will love you.

The third band to hit the stage were Control the Storm, a six piece band with a woman vocalist, a manic keyboardist and a lead guitarist who has probably been intimate with that guitar! Now let me state for the record, I am not a fan of power metal for any of it’s dramatic solos and squawking vocals, but even I can see when a band is worthy of respect. Sadly for the first couple of songs, the sound levels were somewhat out and the singers vocals were buried in the guitars along with the keyboard. However, once this was sorted, a talented and exceptional band rocked through the sort of set that makes men in kilts want to quaff ale and rampage!

Control the Storm
When I saw them hit the stage I had horrible fears of a Nightwish clone, but this is actually a long way from the reality. This band are a disciplined, practiced and relentless force to be reckoned with. Carol the photographer looked at me and gave me her biggest smile of the night, her thumbs up only added to the message. This band was Carol’s band of the night and I am pretty sure that she would have been happy to just see this band all evening. Knowing that I am a nasty cow who loves black metal she has told me that I have to tell you how much she enjoyed their performance.

For me, I can admit that they know their stuff, but I would ask that they sutbly change their mix a little so that the vocals, keyboard and backing vocals are a little higher in the mix. The drumming and guitar though are mesmerising and played with an honest intent and brutality that is refreshing in the power metal scene. Each song is performed with an honest integrity, this band earnestly want you to believe in them as mush as they do themselves and to be honest it is not hard to be drawn along, even if you are a jaded Black Metal fan like me. The fan that climbed the support beams that hold up the ceiling just so that he could rock out is a clear sign that these guys know what they are doing and when they get you in their sights, they absolutely shine. Power Metal is pure escapist fun and if that is your thing, you will love this band, but maybe not as much as Carol did!

The last band of the night was Somnus, and as soon as I saw the Bass player, I knew that I would enjoy the music about to start. You see as every one in the metal scene knows, when you see a man with his head on upside down, it is going to get heavy! Yes, the ubiquitous Heavy Metal Beard and shaved head look is an indicator that the next band mean serious business. The Anthrax shirt on the guitarist suggests that they know what heavy stuff is and then the painfully sharp witted singer comes forward. Noise annihilates the crowd, the screamed vocals brutalise the room. Oh fuck yes…

Somnus bring you the Death strike. I stood there watching that stage and I knew that this band were going to hurt us, but it was ok, they had to do so! When Simon introduced them he warned us that they were going to rip our faces off and he played it down. Musically they are deeply intense, it comes at you wave after wave of brutality, clearly a professional band, doing what is encoded in their genes, this is the terminator of death metal, they just do not stop! The first two tracks decimate the room, the suddenly enlarged crown worship them for doing so. The vocalist is terrifying in his intensity, this is not a band you want to face when you are in the wrong, they will flatten you with a look.

In terms of delivery, this band is by a head, above the other bands that played, yet the political side to them makes them a difficult pill for the fun loving metal heads to swallow. Do not listen to this band if you like songs about riding on freight trains, roses with thorns or girls who are poison. Do listen to this band if you are mature enough to understand that the world is shit, to know that capitalism is eating the soul of humanity and that fascism is not the way ahead for a thinking society. This band are making a point and it is nailed on to their performance with integrity and anger and hatred of injustice. I knew this after three songs and then he said it, “This song is about my desire to punch Simon Cowell in the face… with Jason’s (Bass player) cock!”

Leaping into the crowds and surfing over the hands of those who adore them while still managing to brutalise the crowd with evil vocals is a skill that this man has mastered, their stage presence is intimidating and yet loving. There is a feral quality to them, like a hungry tiger, you want to approach, but worry that you may get eaten! With the last song played, I was reminded of Ripley in Aliens. We were just Nuked from Orbit! What a gig.

Through out the night, the biggest problem was the sound levels, given the difficulties of the room, it was impressively handled, but it was there for almost every act. The final speech from Bloodstock Simon was heartfelt and earnest. Heavy metal music is about passion and the scene is alive and well despite what the mainstream wants you to believe. I have been lucky in that I have seen some great bands in the last couple of weeks, but the message is important here. You must absolutely support the new up and coming bands, give them a place to play, congratulate them when they succeed and don’t hold a grudge if they need to practice a little more. With out the musicians and fans, there is no scene, yet with out the scene, you will be drip fed the sort of music that Simon Cowell believes is right for you. Say no to manufactured Pop Music, organised number ones that put the latest radio friendly shite in the sales lists. Say no to this bollocks and embrace your local scene. There are bands out there who are blowing peoples minds and at this gig I saw four of them.

Support your local scene and have your mind blown, you will not regret it and send the corporate music machine this message. FUCK YOU!

 We would like to give a big Thank you to Lawrence from Megalith Pro Motions for the tickets and warm welcome at the venue. Folks, you need to keep your eye on these guys, because they have some good stuff on the books and they support the scene. Keep it real guys, we need more promoters like you at Megalith Pro Motions to make brilliant events like this work as well as this one.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Riding a motorcycle is not about the pursuit of speed, it is about the pursuit of a moment of perfect beauty

This thought struck me as I rode my bike through the beautiful Somerset countryside, on a day where the sky was blue and the air cool. The road tearing past below my wheels was dry and my tyres were sticking perfectly in every corner. Yet as I blasted along, I thought not about the road ahead or the country side around me, but rather about why I did this peculiar thing for fun?

Why do I enjoy riding Sylvie, my precious motorcycle?

My life is grey, a flat tyre on the trailer of existence.
Because it is fun would be the simple answer, but why is it fun? What is it about riding a motorcycle along the road that fills the heart with joy?

Now, before you vanish to think about this and also because I am both thinking about and  writing this, I am going to try to answer my own question. Firstly let’s break this down, is riding my motorcycle to work fun? For me, yes it is because it is a way of relaxing before the stresses of the day. Riding home is a way of removing that very same stress once I leave. Is riding in the rain fun? Again for me, it can be and it requires a very different skill set depending type of rain or how long it was since it last rained. OK, so when is it not fun?

It is not fun when I do not enjoy the riding experience and those times are when I have a migraine because the impairment to my functioning makes it too dangerous to enjoy the bike, also throwing up in my helmet every time I see a bright light or hit a bump really can be horribly irritating. I don’t like riding when I am afraid, on those moments of fear when I have made a mistake, misjudged a corner or some one else has impacted on my experience by being dangerous on the road.

Riding when cold is no fun and riding when tired can be just plain dangerous; combine these and you are in for one bad ride. I rode in snow after a hard day at work once and this is something I never intend to repeat. Heavy traffic can really spoil a ride too, if you hit standing traffic and have to spend an hour threading through it all can be fun, until you get stuck or hit a dog lead from the idiot who thought that they can walk their dog on the hard shoulder from their car while stopped!

So there is an inherent quality to the experience that we are looking for here, the difference between a good ride and a bad ride. Now if you want to read a book that talks about quality and its use in motorcycling as a hobby, go and read Zen and the art of Motorcyclemaintenance by Robert M. Pirsig (which I shall add, that although I read it over ten years ago, remains a fantastic read). I however am not going to discuss the definition of quality here, save for this. I am looking for the delicate qualities that make a good ride great.

So when do all of the factors that come together give a quality ride that makes my heart soar with exhilaration? Now I know that it is not just speed, but maybe speed (as in motion, not amphetamine!)  helps? Think about it, do you enjoy riding fast, I mean ride really, really fast? For a thought experiment, imagine an empty road through the countryside. This road has no speed restriction, it is long and wide and has sweeping curves that can be taken at terrific speed. It has the grip of a racetrack and the surface is perfect. In this experiment, you my dear reader, stand at the start and no matter how fast you ride, it is going to take an hour to reach the end. So what ever speed you go, you have an hour of riding ahead of you to reach the café at the other end that serves the best cuppa in the known universe!

You and I set out on this journey, you have your bike and I have my precious Sylvie on this mythical road, together we are blasting along the perfect tarmac, fully maxed out, sixth gear, just below the redline, engine screaming and reaching the top speed of the bikes. Is this Great fun? Undoubtedly, riding fast with a friend is always fun

The next day, you stand at the start once more, alone his time and set out once again, hitting that silky smooth sixth gear and hold her steady at eighty miles per hour again through the sweeping bends, is it as much fun at eighty miles per hour as it is at one hundred and eighty?

Well, if that mythical road were to exist and if I rode it every day, in the end I would get bored of it and it's perfectly smooth curves. That road would not be the same amount of fun anymore, having lost many of the good qualities that it once had.

Now imagine a different road. A road that is twisty and turny, it has you constantly shifting up and down the gear box, moving your weight around the bike as you guide her through the curves, this is a road of total involvement that will always require your concentration because if you stop thinking about it, you risk coming off of it. There are small dips and rises and this road will have changeable conditions, every day will have you going along it subtly differently in style. Now this is the perfect type of road

So what makes a quality ride? It is those collections of moments where I as the rider am in perfect harmonious synchronicity with my bike, those beautiful seconds where I don’t feel my hands on the bars or my feet on the pegs, but I feel the road under my wheels the pull of gyroscopic effect on my motion. It is those beautiful moments where the border between bike and rider shift. In short, it is those moments when I feel connected to my bike and these moments are the ones that are truly the most beautiful.

So that is now my aim when I am riding my bike, it is not the speed, it is not the prefect road and it is not the café at the end. My aim is to find those moments of perfect beauty, they come for fractions of a second and last in the memory for ever. I ask you dear reader, can you think about a moment when you truly enjoyed riding your bike? Was it like mine, a moment of beauty?

OK, so this is a penny farthing, but it still has that momentary beauty.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Another Sylvie Modification

As many of you know, I am very proud of my beautiful Suzuki SV650. I have done a lot of work on her, made a few modifications slowing turning her into a very capable touring bike. I love the pull from the now unrestricted engine and find that she is powerful enough to really put the miles in, even when fully loaded with panniers and tank bag.

The most recent modification are a combination of practical and cosmetic and for this, I have a friend in a motorcycle forum to thank. The modification is such a simple and elegant piece of engineering because it is simply the adjuster plates that hold the rear wheel.

Old above and new below
The old plates are made from mild steel, they bend when the wheel nut is tightened and on one occasion, twisted around the swing arm and scratched the aluminium rather badly. The new units are made from high grade stainless steel which is much harder and holds the wheel in perfect alignment. The small markers cut into the new plates make putting the wheel in straight, a very easy job and once tightened they look lovely.

So, I hear you ask, what is that strange arm coming off the the plate on the left? Well my dear friends, that is a mount for an oil feed pipe. This puts the nozzle from my fabulous Tutoro in just the perfect place to ensure that the chain is well lubricated.

Oil Feed pipe from my Tutoro Oiler

So folks, if any of you ride a Pointy SV, then get yourself over to the SV forum and find a chap called Bibio, he is the one who made these fabulous plates and his prices are more than reasonable.

A very clean Sylvie back wheel
My final words on this are a little thank you to Bibio, he did the research and development himself and put his own money into this before he offered to sell the parts. He also has other items for sale that make working on your SV a whole lot easier.
So well done Bibio and thank you for your effort.