Wednesday, November 29, 2006

For they know not what they do! 2

This morning, after a fairly clear run through Balham and Clapham High Street there was the usual jam outside Clapham North Tube. Cars and vans sat waiting to cross the box junction (someone must be reading this blog!) and join the queue running down to Stockwell on the other side.

As I got there a Porsche moved across the box junction as a space appeared. I could see there was room for me as well, so carefully followed him. I then noticed something strange was going on in that car. The driver was holding a piece of A4 paper in his left hand, and something else was going on.

I have mentioned before how riding gives such a good view of what drivers get up to. In this case, as I followed him I could see he was crossing a busy box junction, about to join the tail of a queue, surrounded by bikes and bicycles, with a printout of a spreadsheet in his left hand, and he was annotating it with a pencil in his right hand!

As he got to the other side of the junction, I pulled up alongside him, looked down at him and shouted “You stupid Wanker!” He looked up, and the look in his eyes! I thought he was going to die! That is one of the great things about wearing a Hein Gericke jacket that looks like this –

Everyone thinks you are Plod!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Sirens’ Call

Does anyone read paragraph 194 of the Highway Code?

Emergency vehicles. You should look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police or other emergency vehicles using flashing blue, red or green lights, headlights or sirens. When one approaches do not panic. Consider the route of the emergency vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass. If necessary, pull to the side of the road and stop, but do not endanger other road users.

I end up applying this bit of the Highway Code nearly every day as a day without emergency vehicle avoidance training is rare. However, I am amazed at how poorly other road users behave when they see the lights or hear the siren - maybe there are just not enough questions in the standard written test? Maybe people in London now see and hear so many emergency vehicles they are inured to them? Or is it just that they are stupid, have no idea what the code says, panic, and don’t give a damn anyway?

Today I came across more than my fair share of blue lights. A Paramedic in a car passed as I was on Clapham Common South Side approaching Clapham Common Station. It was heading towards a Vespa ET who was off at Stockwell. [I didn’t see the rider when I got there as there was also an ambulance in attendance and they were presumably being attended to in the vehicle. The bike didn’t look badly damaged so hopefully this was fairly minor.] The paramedic did the good old “let’s drive down the wrong side of the road and cut in just before the traffic island” trick and I had moved well over in front of the other vehicles at the lights to let this happen. All so good so far.

When I got to the point outside Waterloo Station exactly where “Kay” was taken out by a pedestrian I heard an ambulance coming up behind me. I slowed right down and pulled to the left. I didn’t stop but made sure that by sitting on the edge of the bus lane there was plenty of room for the ambulance to pass. Imagine my surprise when pulling up alongside me was a black Jaguar! The Ambulance I had so carefully left space for was left with nowhere to go. It was forced to cross the road, risking the lives of the pedestrians who run out in to the road along that stretch, and squeeze past on the opposite side! I think it was only when the ambulance passed that the cager realised why I had slowed down!

This sort of ignorant thoughtless behaviour is so common of all road users. I see cars simply stop and block the road, cars that pull over without looking who is behind them or to their left. I see cars that insist on turning right because the traffic lights say they can even if it means forcing an emergency vehicle to stop. I have seen pedestrians simply walk out in front of ambulances with lights flashing and sirens blaring forcing them to stop or take evasive action. I have seen scooters sitting at junctions blocking ambulances, I have seen sports bike riders trying to overtake ambulances and nearly being taken out as the ambulance swerves to negotiate other traffic.

I remember once seeing a fire engine reversing into the fire station on the Albert Embankment at the end of a shout. It blocked all four lanes as it did so and the cars and bikes waited patiently for it to finish its manoeuvre. A cyclist then comes along, can’t get past so goes up on the pavement, he then proceeds to gesture and shout at the driver of the fire engine clearly inconvenienced by his minor detour. I can tell you, he got a bit of shouting an gesticulation from me as he went past!

About a year ago I was approaching Tooting when I saw the lights of an ambulance in my mirror. I was nearly at the junction where I guessed it would want to turn left to St George’s Hospital. I stopped well short of the junction so the ambulance could round me and turn left. The cars did the same. Then, with the ambulance 100 yards behind, a Spandex Wally who had already cut me up at two previous junctions caught up. He decided to do the old, “I am a cyclist, I am immune from the law, the Angel of Death can’t get me, I will just move out across the junction during the pedestrian cycle and wait the for the light to change [which I won’t see as I will be too far forward]!

Regrettably, when the ambulance passed me on my right and turned left to pass across in front of me and right over the point where the cyclist was, it saw him in time and stopped. Lights flashing and siren blaring, he stopped, and he waited. He waited and he waited. The cyclist just hung about, making no attempt to move out of the way of the ambulance so it could get to the hospital 200 yards away.

Eventually, a car queuing from the left made enough room by moving forward on the junction so the ambulance could pass the cyclist and drive down the other side of the road to get round him. Of course, by this time the lights had changed and the cyclist wanted to move on and was not happy that an emergency vehicle was blocking his path! What a Prat! And they wonder why they are so despised!

Anyway, enough of the past crimes of cyclists. On the way home today I was passing through the Tibbet’s Corner underpass on the A3 when police vehicle appeared in my mirror, lights and siren, it was going like the clappers. I was in the right-hand lane about to overtake the Stig and a car. I wasn’t going to get through in time and had few options. Slowing would only make it more difficult for the police not to hit me. I could pull to the right and hope the police passed between me and the Stig, but I tried that once before on the Albert Embankment, and despite being on an emergency call, the police pulled over to give me a ticking off for pulling not going to the left and probably colliding with a taxi!

Accelerating was not going to work, the bike is a 125 after all and I was doing well above the 40mph speed limit here and by this time we were coming out of the dip of the subway. In the end I gambled on the Stig having the sense to leave a space, and on the car in front just continuing and not trying to brake or pull over or anything stupid. It was a gamble, I didn’t feel I had a truly safe option, which I didn’t like, but fortunately the Stig was able to leave me enough space, and the police sped past into the dark.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Watch Out, Watch Out, There’s a Pedestrian About!

I have long believed that if I am taken out on London’s roads it won’t be a Chelsea Tractor driven by an idiot chatting on his or her mobile, it won’t be a spandex wally crossing at red, it will be a pedestrian stepping out without looking.

It is something that haunts me and I am always very careful assuming that every bus, every lorry, every people carrier and every Chelsea tractor hides that pedestrian waiting to jump out and try and kill me. Today I saw it happen to someone else.

The Stig and I were riding to work aiming for Waterloo Bridge. We were waiting at the lights outside Waterloo Station when I saw a pedestrian running out from between two buses that had stopped at the bus stop. Coming the other was a motorcyclist carefully passing the buses at about ten miles an hour. We will call the biker “Kay”. She had no chance. The pedestrian took no time to look and just ran straight into her. Kay went straight to the ground with the pedestrian falling on top of her.

The Stig and I immediately stopped and ran over to help. A pedestrian also came over to assist. The perp and the other pedestrian were checking Kay was OK but she was clearly in pain. I asked her what the problem was and she said her ankle hurt. It also looked like she may have hit her head on the ground when she went over. I asked if anyone had a mobile to hand. Mine was switched off under the seat of my bike. So was the Stig’s. Fortunately the bus driver waiting patiently behind our bikes called over to ask if an ambulance was needed. I said that Kay would need one as she had been hurt, and the bus driver radioed for one. London bus drivers get a lot of stick, but in emergencies I have found them to always do the right thing.

To clear the road for the bus and the rest of the traffic the Stig and I moved the three bikes off the road whilst the two pedestrians helped Kay to the pavement, as she couldn’t walk. The Stig gave Kay our names and numbers on a piee of paper in case she needed witnesses. Within a few minutes a paramedic had turned up in a car. He asked me what had happened and then set about examining Kay. As well as the ankle injury there was also some neck pain. Whilst she was being examined I asked Kay for the keys so I could secure her bike. She told me there was a lock in the top box and the Stig and I started looking around for the best place to put the bike where it was not blocking the pavement, and was less likely to get a ticket. After a few minutes of exploring where we could put the bike I looked round and the paramedic had gone, Kay had gone, and so had the perp. The pedestrian who had helped told me that Kay and the perp had been taken to hospital by the paramedic.

Hmm – I now have the keys for a rideable CBF600 with minor damage and no way of contacting the owner and no idea who she is! Fortunately for Kay the bike was fitted with engine protection. This was smashed out of shape but had saved the bike. There was no faring, engine or frame damage visible. There was some scraped mirrors and bar ends, and the most expensive looking damage was some damage to the Givi top box and scratches to the damaged exhaust. Then I noticed that there was a metal tag attached to this huge bunch of keys I had been handed. It had initials, a surname, a date of birth and a mobile number. Great – now all we needed to do was sort out a good place for the bike.

Just as we were running out of options the Police turned up. They were polite and efficient. Took some basic details from the Stig and I about what had happened and made sure they knew how to contact us if they needed to. They asked what had happed to Kay. We guessed she had gone to St Thomas’s as it is just round the corner. They suggested they take the keys after I had put a disc lock on the bike, and they also took a large camera bag that was in the top box that looked like it contained valuable equipment they didn’t want to leave in the box, and said they were going to find out where Kay had ended up. The Police’s view was that the bike should be left where it was, blocking a pavement, and that any ticket would be overturned on appeal! I handed over the keys, and only later realised I had handed over any means I had of contacting Kay to check she was OK.

The Stig and I went on to work, arriving much later than planned, but feeling we had done the right thing. Later in the day I had a meeting in Whitehall, very near Westminster Bridge. It was lunchtime and I thought, maybe I should walk over the bridge to St Thomas’s and check Kay was OK. I was worried she might not have got her keys and camera bag, and was a little concerned that she might not have been able to contact anyone and may need things doing for her.

I have not been to St Thomas’s since an unsuccessful job interview in 1978, so have little memory of the place. However, despite it being a physically unpleasant environment the staff were very good in helping me track down Kay with only her initials and surname that I remembered from the tag attached to the keys.

When I found her she was with her mother and sister. I was so glad she had not been alone. I know from my own experience in hospital following an accident that being there alone is the worst bit. With friends and family it is easy to forget your predicament, but with your own company things tend to tell!

Kay and her Mother were pleased to see me, and I was pleased to find out that she had not broken her ankle, only sprained it, and that whilst she had neck pain, she was going to be sent home soon. I checked the police had given her keys and her bag, made sure Kay knew she could contact the Stig and I should she need to, and went back to work.

I am glad the damage to the bike is not major, but is bound to run to hundreds of pounds to get the bike back as it was before the accident. I am very angry that Kay told me the perp disappeared and will not have to pay the cost of his stupidity.

For the record, (although I don’t really care) I did speak to him about what at happened whilst waiting for the paramedic. He said he had “looked through the bus” and not seen anything and did not remember having time to look round the bus to see if anything is coming. I pointed out that if Kay had been travelling fast he would not have ended up on top of the bike as the bike would have come to rest a hundred yards down the road. The fact that he, Kay and the bike ended up in one heap at the point of impact showed that Kay was moving slowly when he stepped out without looking.

We spoke about his injuries. He had torn his clothing (Kay was wearing full protective gear thankfully) and had a painful buttock and a grazed hand. It was easy not to show too much concern for him. He was lucky, many bikes ride past there at 30mph plus and he could easily have killed and been killed.

When the Stig and I got home we found a message of thanks from Kay on our answering machine. However, the law of karma does not seem to be working today. Having stopped and helped out a biker in distress, the Stig has some hand and wrist pain after trying to lift Kay’s bike single handed, and her electrics were playing up all the way home with no tail lights and no illumination of the instruments but now seem to be OK. That’s an Italian bike for you!

I am sure the Stig will be OK, and Kay is on the mend, but remember where this story started - Watch Out Watch Out – There’s a Pedestrian About!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Box Clever

What is it about box junctions? Why do people just not understand them? Certain tabloid newspapers seem to be trying to run a campaign against enforcement of box junctions. Apparently it is unfair that people who stop on them and block the movement of other traffic can be fined for being stupid.

Box junctions are not difficult to understand. You just don’t go there until you know you can get out the other side. The only exception is turning right when you can stop in the box if you are stopped from turning right by vehicles coming the other way, or because other vehicles are waiting to turn right. That is not permission for idiots to stop in the box because they are turning right and other vehicles block the exit from the junction. Yes – you lot outside Oval Tube Station – I am talking to you!

What does annoy me about box junctions is that often the combination of the box and the sequencing of lights can mean that one exit from the box is permanently blocked leading to no vehicles from one road being able to cross the junction at all. The solution is not to park in the box causing gridlock – instead use the form on TfL’s website in the Roads section to point out why the junction does not work. Keep on listing it as a road fault until the junction is redesigned. If they don’t – write to your councillor, MP, Uncle Ken etc. Actually, it is more fun complaining than it is sitting stationary in traffic!

My biggest problem with box junctions is that there are too few. For example, since the demolition work started on the south side of Westminster Bridge traffic regularly backs up past Lambeth North Tube with bendy buses often sitting across the junction blocking all traffic movement. Why is there no box junction there? There should be – it is an ideal place for one, one that should be properly enforced!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

For they know not what they do!

I have been very busy at work recently and get very little time to do things like recording my thoughts. I spend most of my life recording what other people's thoughts should be!

However, the last few days I have been blessed with the sight of some bizarre driver behaviour. One of the joys of riding a bike in traffic is you get to look right into driver’s windows as you pass. In the weeks since I started this blog I have seen all of the following going on in vehicles that are moving – no stationary vehicles here - all activities were being carried out by the driver -

1. Talking on Mobile
2. Dialing on Mobile
3. Texting on Mobile

OK, no surprises there!

4. Lighting a cigarette
5. Eating
6. Drinking

Again – nothing too surprising.

7. Applying lipstick
8. Applying eye shadow
9. Applying mascara

OK – I suppose looking in the mirrors is good. It is probably the only time some of these women use them! But how about -

10. Applying lip balm with both hands at 40 mph! Yes. One hand holding a container, the other applying to the lips – no hands on the wheel at speed!

We don’t want our drivers to get bored, do we? So when crawling forward through traffic why not -

11. Complete a crossword
12. Solve Soduku
13. Read a newspaper
14. Solve a wordsearch
15. Read a trashy celebrity magazine
16. Read a novel
17. Play around with your Ipod

Now I want drivers to know where they are going – map reading is an underestimated skill. You can -

18. Read a map on your lap
19. Read a map on the passenger seat,

or my favourite method -

20. Pin your A to Z to the wheel with the heel of your right hand whilst you turn the pages with your left!

But best of them all was the driver who had a PDA stuck to the windscreen of his car as he drove at 10 MPH in queue approaching Westminster Bridge -

21. Playing a game!

Any others you have seen? Please let me know!

Friday, September 29, 2006


This morning was a great ride in. The last two weeks traffic and weather seems to have got worse and wore, but this morning it was bright, but no sun in the eyes, it had been raining, but the roads were dry, the sun had not been up long, but visibility was great! Having whizzed in quicker than most mornings of late, I was looking forward to similar ride home.

Jackie and I left work at 5pm. We planned to get home, and then set out on public transport for an evening of wining and dining.

Before leaving I checked the TFL website for signs of hold ups on our route. Warnings and congestion are well displayed on their new graphic website. It has been in testing for months and have used it almost every day. However, for some reason, today they and the Police let themselves down badly!

On Tuesday in a horrific accident a crane fell near Battersea Dog's Home killing two people, the crane operator, and a man who was cleaning his car.

I arrived on that stretch of the road about 30 minutes after it happened and had a short hold up due to fire engines, ambulances and police vehicles blocking so much of the road the buses could not get past. Every evening since I have passed the wreck of the crane and it has not been pleasant seeing it silhouetted against the skyline.

Today, the crane was lifted. I confesses I was shocked to read that the man who was cleaning his car has been lying under the wreckage for three and a half days!

I knew the wreckage was being lifted today, and was glad for that, but the TFL website made no mention of the resulting traffic chaos they had planned for us.

On leaving the office Jackie and I had a good run from work to Vauxhall Cross, but once under the bridge it was obvious the traffic was at a standstill. The last time I saw anything like this was after the failed bombings in July last year when the Oval area was closed off and traffic crossing Vauxhall Bridge had nowhere to go. There were lots of cars, and they were going nowhere! I had lost Jackie as we turned left past Metropolis Motorcycles and as I was forced to go to the left round the gyratory system to get through I pulled over in the only safe space just before the turn off to Stockwell as I was going to suggest we headed that way instead. Unfortunately, the Stig did not see me, went straight past and back under the rail line towards Battersea. By this time I had a good idea why there was chaos, even if TFL didn't seem to know!

I was worried because if the road was closed at Battersea she probably would not know a suitable alternative route as she has been commuting only a few months and only knows one way to, and one way from work.

I had to proceed down the road to Stockwell a short way before I could turn across the central barrier. Then I had to fight my way through the traffic, including an altercation with a Royal Mail van driver who went through a red light so he could sit on a box junction! Eventually I got heading towards Battersea.

Back on the north side of the rail line there was a sign saying " Follow diversion" but there was no sign of what that diversion was or why. Further on there was also a sign saying "Battersea Bridge Road Closed" - now the road concerned is called Battersea Bridge Road - but it is also called Parry Street, Nine Elms Lane and York Road so unless you know the area, you might not understand that you were heading nowhere! There were loads of traffic wardens all standing on traffic islands at this complex junction, and all doing absolutely nothing to direct traffic! In all the information was rubbish!

I headed towards the area where the crane was because I guessed that the Stig would have done so and would probably find herself stranded with no clear directions as to ow to get home. I headed down the dual carriageway towards New Covent Garden and was soon pleased to see the Stig heading the other way, obviously having turned round when she found she could not get home that way. She saw me and I was able to cross the barrier at a gap and catch up with her before she got back to Vauxhall Cross.

Back at Vauxhall Cross things wre really bad with lots of stationary vehicles. I considered the options and decided to take the line of least resistance and head over Vauxhall Bridge despite long queues to get over, but we filtered our best! We then turned left and had to fight with loads of traffic going west on the north side of the river. Eventually we got to Albert Bridge, turned back across it and found very little traffic going that way. Once back in Battersea there was less traffic than I have ever seen, including on very quiet Sunday afternoons, going towards Wandsworth. Presumably it was still all jammed up back at Vauxhall!

In the end we got home after about 100 minutes, on a journey that normally takes about 45. We were exhausted. It was one of only three trips in three years of commuting that took more than an hour. It ruined our evening. Our plans to go out and eat were abandoned as we found ourselves wanting to just put our feet up, crack open the wine and order a pizza.

The collapsing crane and the deaths is a terrible tragedy, and it is horrific that someone had to lie there for days before their body could be recovered. It is even more horrific that his family knew that outside their home his body was still lying there. But damn you TFL! What excuse is there? This happened days ago so why was it that today there was poor information, no proper signs for the diversion and why was there absolute chaos this evening?

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I started this blog when the weather made riding too hot, and too sweaty. Now the seasons are changing, and my working hours are extending. Tonight I got to ride home in the dark and the rain for the first time this winter. Dark and wet - I don't like it. But I never liked Guinness much either!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Commuter Survey

The London section of MAG are conducting a survey on commuting. If you commute in or around london you can complete the survey here -

MAG London Commuter Survey

I don't agree with all of MAG's policies but most of them make sense and are worth supporting.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Today The Stig and I were riding home across the front of St Thomas’s Hospital following a BMW C1 – you know, one of those strange bikes that has roof. The C1 was in front of us by about 100 feet, and The Stig was a little way behind me.

There is a small side turning across the road from the hospital, it leads to a car park I think, and cars often try pulling out of there when discretion would be the better part of valour. Today I noticed a grey sports car edging out from the left as we approached. I began to get concerned in good time and was slowing as the car was rolling forward and I could see the driver was looking to his left, preparing to turn right. At no time did he look to his right to see what was approaching along the lane he was about to cross. I soon spotted that his right hand was holding a mobile phone to his right ear, which is always a good sign of poor attention and poor vision to the side where the phone is held.

Just as the C1 got to him the car started to accelerate out of the turning. The driver saw him just in time and stopped, as did the C1. By the time I caught up with the C1 it was stationary across the front of the car and the rider was giving the driver a gob full. I pulled up behind him and also gave the driver a piece of my mind about mobile phone use, its effect on visual fields and the impact upon cognitive skills of attempting a phone conversation when driving! I may have also made one or two observations about the marital status of his parents and his solo sexual activities.

On the TV there are regular public information films about drivers looking but not seeing. This driver never at any point looked to his right. What he was doing was talking without thinking! I would like to see a TV campaign about mobile phone use by drivers. It is amazing how many cagers I see every day chatting away on their phones without a care for other road users. I am also sick of the number of times I have had to avoid pedestrians who think idle chat is more important than the Green Cross Code! Every day at least one steps out in front of me, oblivious to anything other than what their mate is saying on the other end.

In this case the car driver seemed to think that his phone conversation was more important than the road situation, even after the C1 and myself were sitting in front of his bonnet giving hi ma piece of our minds. Once the Stig caught up with us we all moved off, and the driver didn’t stop taking into his phone even once!

Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You? Or was it Sorry Mate, I didn’t Care?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Fair Weather Bikers

Where was everyone today? Yes, I know it is a Friday, and yes, it was a bit colder then recently. Yes, I wore a neck sock for the first time, but I also wore my summer jacket which is designed to not be wind proof and I didn’t get cold. Other than it only being about 12C during the morning rush instead of the 16C of late, conditions were perfect with clear skies an great visibility.

The number of bikes I saw on the way in was very small. Well less than half of a normal Friday. When I got to work the bike park, which normally is overflowing with more than 20 machines, still only had seven, including mine at 9.45.

So where was everyone?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Birthday Surpise!

I have never really been into customising vehicles. Sad but true – to me motor vehicles have always been devices for getting me from A to B. I even bought the Vespa because it was the ideal vehicle for what I wanted, and not for any reasons of style. Customising for customising sake has never excited me. I remember when I first met the Stig she used to subscribe to Back Street Heros. A mag full of pictures of custom motorcycles. Some of the articles were amusing, mainly because of the pages of paint jobs and incredibly uncomfortable looking riding positions!

I never made any changes to my previous scooter. I bought it standard, and part exchanged it standard apart from the many coats of paint trying to hold together the rusting the exhaust. But there is something about Vespas that makes one want to individualise them. I don’t know what it is. My car is a Mondeo, and I have no desire to make it look any different to any other green Mondeo, although the current drought order means the patterns of filth I am not allowed to wash off give it a distinctive, if unpleasant character.

I can see the point in improving your machine. Ssoon after I bought the Vespa I unscrewed the clear red panels from the top box, stuck down some reflective disks, and screwed it all back together. In less than five minutes I had improved the visibility of my scoot, especially when parked at night.


I also spent £7.50 on Ebay including postage to buy some vinyl panels to protect my scoot when getting it in and out of my property and in crowded parking bays. This time, fitting took less than three minutes. As mentioned below, I broke all previous expenditure records when I splashed out on a screen, but that was a performance part!

I don’t know what it is. Maybe it is the dozens and dozens of other scooters I see every day. Not only do I see a lot of Vespas, I see a lot of my model, in my colour. Something has been calling me to make my bike more distinctive. For some time I have been toying with getting a custom seat cover from Crystal seems to have some excellent designs, and it was the choice of fabrics that always delayed my purchase. I just could never make my mind up.

Then one day, looking at the site I saw that one of my favourite motifs, a blue celestial pattern, had just become available. The Stig pointed out my birthday was coming up and she ordered one for me. Despite being hand-made to order, and having a large ocean to cross, it arrived just over a week later. I fitted it straight away. This time it took only a minute. It looks great and seems very well made. At last, a real convert to customising motorcycles, a real back street hero!

Scooter Seat Cover 1

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Stig

The Stig

Otherwise known as Jackie, she has a great love of her Caberg helmet with its tinted inner visor. A one time GTR1000 rider, she now commutes back and forward to work with me on her X9 250.

The Stig can claim a lot of the credit for me commuting on a scooter. When I met her over 20 years ago she rode a Honda Super Dream and I rode a Puch bicycle! She gave up biking in the early 90’s due largely to the huge cost of maintaining the GTR when we were struggling with Norman Lamont’s 15% interest rates. However, back in 2003 she saw the opportunity to get back on two wheels when she saw a good deal on the X9. It made her commute to Kingston much faster and cheaper than before. I took this as a prompt to give up the bus and tube, save money, and bike to Central London where The Stig now works with me.

I have been very lucky. The Stig taught me a lot about safe riding. I had a little bit of experience of motorcycles from my teens, I even owned one of these –

M50 Sport

But in those days there was little training as you could hop right onto a 250 with the only competence you needed was the ability to write a cheque and send it off to DVLA. The Stig’s advice has been invaluable, as has watching and learning as I rode pillion with her a lot in the GTR days.

I know she doesn’t really approve of me riding a Vespa having ridden with back patch wannabees before she met me. She likes the fact that the X9 looks more motorcycle than scooter, especially from the front. But she also likes the automatic transmission in London traffic. However, geared machines have their uses. The heavy clutch on the GTR did more to rehabilitate The Stig’s broken hand in a few months than the NHS Physiotherapy service had managed!

Today we were not working and decided that for the second day running I would venture beyond the M25 in the company of an X9. It must be ten years or more since we visited Reigate, so we set off on the assurance from the Reigate and Banstead Borough Council website that there is free motorcycle parking in their car parks. Now don’t get me wrong, I am always grateful when the needs of motorcyclists are taken seriously, but is this the world’s smallest dedicated Solo Motorcycle Bay? I really would like to see pictures of any smaller ones!


We spent a couple of hours in Reigate, other than the bookshop, we didn’t find much of interest in the main streets, but we enjoyed exploring the Castle Gardens and the Priory Park. We left just before the rain, and having travelled the direct route down the A217 we returned via the A25 and round the back side of Box Hill and back to the Kingswood Roundabout as Jim had taken me yesterday. It started to get damp on the way back but we missed most of the downpour that hit just after we got home.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Box Hill or Bust

Jim, someone I have known for along while before discovering a shared interest in scooters took me out for ride in the Surrey countryside today. Despite commuting for nearly three years, the furthest out from the city I had ridden on two wheels was Burgheath. We agreed to meet up on Epsom Downs, at the fantastic viewpoint where you can see almost all of London laid out before you. Two problems, the mixed sun and clouds had become persistent heavy showers just before I set out, and when I got to the Downs, there was racing on and the normally free car parks had been turned into £5 a day parking for besuited race goers heading for the Grandstand. Fortunately I was able to slot into a coach park without being stopped, and Jim was along on his X9 before long.

Jim took us through Headley to Rykers Café at the foot of Box Hill and a favourite meeting spot for bikers since time immemorial. The journey there was a bit hairy in places. The rain had been quiet heavy, and the roads were often windy, steep, very wet, and with gravel and branches washed across them. We took it carefully, but it was good fun, if requiring a lot of concentration. Although not previously riding in these conditions, I have driven on these roads many times so knew what to expect, and what to take carefully. In all I was quite impressed with the Vespa. It held the line well even when the road was more river than tarmac. There were a couple of scary moments when the rear Sava slipped ever so slightly on wet manhole covers etc, but this was no worse than I get in London when commuting in the rain.

By the time we got to Rykers the sun was back out. The ground was still wet, and the car park was lacking many of the bikes the sun would not doubt bring out later on this Bank Holiday afternoon. Jim bought me a rather overpriced tea. Rykers must serve the smallest cup of tea I have ever seen. Next time I will be ordering large!


After this short refreshment we set of in improving weather for our lunch location. Jim took us a roundabout along the downs to the north of the A25, then an enjoyable ride down a steep wooded road, through Abinger until we got to Ockley.

We parked up, chatted, and had a drink and a light lunch. I popped outside to see if I could get a phone signal. No joy, but I did see a Vespa PX, two up, and with a mountain of luggage on the font, back and on the footplate. It was travelling at speed on a long straight stretch of road. Both were Italian made - the road was built by the Romans, the PX was weaving all over the place!

After stopping for about an hour we set of back. Jim picked a route cross country towards Reigate, then back along the A25 towards Dorking. The weather had got much better by now with dry roads, excellent visibility, and much faster riding. There were still some hazards though. The horse was simple enough, slow down, try not to scare the poor animal. I was a bit more alarmed, and had to check I was really riding and not just watching an official hazard awareness video when we swept round a corner to see a woman walking up a narrow lane with a dog on a lead, and a wide push chair. Fortunately, nothing was coming the other way so we slowed and passed with no problems.

At Betchworth we headed off to the East of Box Hill towards the Kingswood Roundabout on the A217. At the Burgheath lights we went our separate ways with me getting to Tescos on the Sutton Bypass just before they closed at 4pm.

In all a very enjoyable ride out, and big thanks for Jim for not getting us lost! I was very impressed with how the Vespa coped with the narrow winding back roads in Surrey which really showed how this bike is not just a city commuter and lives up to its Granturismo epithet.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Final Destination 2

The roads are still pretty quiet in London as many people are still clearly away on holiday. However, the standard of driving has taken a massive leap towards the depths in the last week with me witnessing several very dangerous manoeuvres by all types of road users, including the pedestrian I had to swerve round in Stockwell as they walked down the middle of the A3 at the height of rush hour with their back to the traffic chatting on their mobile phone!

The journey home today was pretty eventful. Leaving work with Jackie she had to take evasive action to avoid a small white van being driven very aggressively along the Embankment under Hungerford Bridge. She then looked with horror as the van tried to race me, first trying to pass me on the right, then when that didn’t work, he tried cutting between me and the coaches parked along the riverside. As we approached Westminster Bridge I moved to the left and waved hi m through. He was screaming some abuse and waving his arms aggressively as he went by. He shot off and then narrowly missed a cyclist and another vehicle before queuing to turn right into Parliament Square.

The joy of couriers that drive like this is they advertise their employers on the back of their vans – so when I got home I Googled (yes Google – it is a verb!) only to discover that the head of the company is chair of the despatch trade body. I have emailed to ask him what he thinks of this sort of behaviour!

That wasn’t the end of it. Having crossed Westminster Bridge, whilst following the south side of the River through Nine Elms a red hatchback alongside me on a dual carriageway decided to change land without signalling or, presumably, looking! I had to brake and take evasive action. I followed the car along to the next junction using my horn in a vain attempt to get some sort of acknowledgement from the driver. As I said the other day, I much prefer it if a road user doing wrong admits their mistake – we all learn that way. It is the idiots who just don’t understand the consequences of their actions that gets my goat!

She stopped at the lights, and I pulled alongside still using my horn. She sat there looking ahead – I thought she might be deliberately ignoring me so as her window was wound down I flipped up my visor and said to her “Did you not see me?”
She turned and said “Whaah?
I said, “Did you not see me?
She said “Whaah?
I asked a third time. She then turned off the very load music she was listening to and said “Whaah?
I said, “You nearly hit me back then. Did you not see me?” She said “Whaah?
Starting to feel a bit like Jules in Pulp Fiction I really wanted the next line to be “Say “what” again. SAY “WHAT” AGAIN. I dare you, I double dare you, motherfucker. Say “what” one more goddamn time!
Instead the lights changed, we both moved off towards Battersea, and I am now on the lookout for badly driven red hatchbacks!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Final Destination

This morning on the way to work, Jackie and I could tell something wasn’t right as we passed through Clapham. There was a queue of cars right up Clapham High Street, when at 8.15 in mid-August, traffic should be travelling quite smoothly. We were passed by a Police car with flashing lights, and at Clapham North Station the Police were starting to close the road. There had been an accident at the junction of the A3 Clapham Road with Union Road. The police had closed everything off and directed all traffic down Mayflower Road. The back streets were jammed solid and it took several minutes to cut through back streets to get back onto the A3 at Stockwell.

Later at work I was talking to an ex-boss of mine and I asked him what had happened. He lives right where the accident occurred, and I know I would only be getting up at that time in the morning! He said it looked nasty. A cyclist under a lorry. I hope it wasn’t as bad as he said it looked. I have seen accidents at that junction before. Cyclists carry on when the lights change and get hit by vehicles coming out of Union Road. I have seen cyclists hit that way, fortunately each time they picked themselves up and were able to cycle on. This time it was worse, but I hope the cyclist wasn’t at fault.

On the way home I was travelling the opposite way along tha A3 at Roehampton Vale. I had seen a dark blue Fiesta being driven by a madman swapping lanes, tailgating and cutting between the traffic. I left him behind at the Roehampton lights, but after passing ASDA in the right-hand lane, I saw him try and overtake me on the left, he pulled very close to the van in front of him that I was slowly passing, and then, to my amazement, he started pulling into my lane. I braked and he suddenly saw me (bright lights – hi-viz clothing, bright daylight) and pulled back into his lane. I mouthed obscenities at him, but to his credit, he waved to make clear that he knew he had made a mistake. I acknowledged that (I don’t mind playing fair when cagers realise how stupid they have been) and pulled away.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Performance Boost!

Having spent most of the day indoors at the computer, I looked outside at 5pm and realised what a wonderful afternoon it was! Just right for a short ride out before my other half got home. It was also a chance to see how effective my new flyscreen is. This small screen is only eight inches high - it looks like it does nothing, but Piaggio have designed it well and it fits in with the style and curves of the bike. This screen is meant to make a significant performance improvement, and boy it does!


The Granturismo 125 is not the fastest scooter you will come across! It is big and heavy, and shares the same engine as plenty of other bikes which all tend to be lighter or more streamlined. My GT struggles to exceed 60mph, which is fine in the city, but limiting on the open road. I fitted the screen last week, so today was the chance to find if it really makes a difference.

I pulled onto the A3 at Kingston and acceleration felt very smooth - passed under the Hook Underpass, acceleration still very smooth - for once the needle didn't stop at 60, it didn't stop at 65, it carried on rising until 70! A 15% increase in top speed from a small piece of plastic! Unbelievable but true!

Having very quickly got to the Esher turn off, I left the A3 and took a very pleasant ride through Esher and Thames Ditton - I returned via Hinchley Wood and back onto the A3. The weather was great, the traffic was great, the increased performance was great! 65 quid well spent!

Sunday, July 30, 2006


Friday evening Jackie and I went by scooter to visit a friend and fellow scooter enthusiast. The early evening ride was pleasant enough, but some kids playing cricket alongside the A3 managed to hit my bike with a ball as I rode past. Fortunately, I can see no damage to the bike or me!

At my friends BBQ, it was a hellish job avoiding the firkin of locally brewed bitter he had bought in for what looked to be a long weekend of serious drinking. I make a strict rule never to drink when driving or riding, but it did look so appetising! Fortunately, so did the food. Jim had put on an excellent spread; the minted lamb kebabs were a delight!

Jim, as always was good company, but the best bit of the evening was the ride home. I always enjoy riding in London late at night, especially in summer. The cool clear air, the dry, open roads, and the simple pleasure of riding without the knowledge that up ahead there will be a queue of stationary traffic to negotiate!

Monday, July 24, 2006

La Dolce Vita

Today is what riding in London is all about! This morning the roads from SW London were clear of congestion, the sky was blue, the temperature was a sensible 18C. Riding in was a joy! 12 miles across London in 45 minutes, as it should be!

Riding home was much the same. Left Westminster at 6.40pm and was home in Surrey by 7.25. It was very much warmer, but very comfortable as I almost never had to stop!

Yes, I know this post is boring! But some days, now and again, it really is just so good there is nothing to write about!

Friday, July 21, 2006

You can't park that there!

I am no great lover of cyclists in London. They do great good for the planet, they do the right thing and make themselves more, and not less healthy on their way to work. I understand the frustrations of trying to cope in a city designed for people, but usurped by huge inhuman mechanical vehicles.

I spent nearly a quarter of a century as a cyclist – cycling to work, cycling to the shops, and most importantly, cycling to the pub! But what I didn’t do, is make every effort to be a menace to every other road user, whether the bus full of pensioners trying to turn right whilst avoiding the cyclist going through the red light, the ambulance blocked at a junction by the cyclist who seems to be deaf and blind to the flashing blue light, or the school children sent scattering at a lollipop controlled school crossing by cyclists determined to absolve themselves of any responsibility for their actions. Yes, I know not all cyclists are like this, but when the majority, rather than the minority start stopping at red lights, I will start to believe they are not an alien species.

Despite being a cyclist turned to the dark side – there is one battle I am securely on the cyclist’s side. Cyclists, just like motorcyclists, need proper provision. National, local and regional government is meant to support the use of two wheels over four to reduce congestion and minimise pollution. But where are the facilities? Motorcyclists have long seen that central London motorcycle bays are getting more and more full. Gone 9.15 in the morning in the Covent Garden/Strand area and there will be no chance of parking a powered two-wheeler. In Whitehall the bays are long gone well before that.I am lucky; my employer leases a building with a large subterranean garage, which I use. But hang on – the landlord seems reluctant to authorise more and more motorcyclists and cyclists to use this space. New applicants to get their security passes enabled for the garage are turned down. Presumably this is so the bikes don’t get in the way of the 4x4s, Ferraris and Porches that occupy half the places down there. Sensible vehicles occupy some of the rest, but the remainder are left empty. Presumably the landlord gets paid rent for those spaces just in case the owner can be bothered to drive their planet destroying vehicle into the congestion charge zone.

So what do two-wheelers do? Motorcycles look for the local bike bays. Fortunately there are plenty, but as mentioned above, come not long after 9am, and they are gone. The bicycles simply get chained to parking meters and lampposts. Hang on – cycles might be environmentally friendly, but there are two problems. Firstly, in central London chained bicycles are seen as a menace – the IRA packed the frames full of explosives and so many buildings of a sensitive nature or with VIP visitors, just don’t want them there and will forcibly remove them if chained to private property. But surely an out of the way lamppost is OK? Not any more. Westminster Council, famous for selling off dead bodies so they would not have to maintain the cemetery and moving poor residents so that their homes could be sold to up-market types, have started posting notices on bicycles parked on Westminster streets that they will be treated as litter unless removed. Westminster seem to think the 3000 dedicated bicycle bays they provide is sufficient, especially as they plan to increase that by 300 a year. Sorry! But there must be 30,000 cyclists entering Westminster every morning. What do the other 27,000 do?

As I said above, I am no great lover of the London cyclist. I might have been one once, but I have had to brake heavily too many times to avoid collision with people too ignorant or too egotistical to look over their shoulder before changing direction. I have had to avoid cyclists running through red lights too often to learn to love them, but I recognise a bad deal when they get one – and Westminster are behaving in a way that shows how 4x4 centric they really are!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The heat is on

After nearly eleven years in the tender hands of Southwest Trains and London Underground I finally took the plunge and decided to commute from my Surrey home to my Westminster job on two wheels.

Yes, I seriously thought about cycling. I didn't drive until I was 30 so for the first three decades of my life I cycled most places, but I decided 12 miles, much of it up hill, was just too far for this middle aged office worker!

When the price of the annual season ticket finally passed the price of a brand new small scooter, the decision was made - I bought my first powered two-wheeler. For two years I rode a 50cc Piaggio which was a serious adventure, I no doubt will recount, but last year I splashed out on a Vespa Granturismo 125 even though that meant having to take the CBT before I could legally ride it.

Currently the roads are very clear of traffic. Maybe the warm weather, currently over 30C is keeping people in doors, but even Wandsworth is virtually traffic free at 5pm this week. Even though it is easy to keep moving, the heat is starting to prove a problem. Yesterday the road surface was starting to melt, and today, with the higher humidity, so was I!

I am a firm believer in wearing protection on a bike. I once lost some skin coming off a pillion in my teens. Although it was very hot today, it could have been so much worse. I have invested in a flip up helmet to get some air on my face, a vented mesh jacket to get some air on my body, and some vented mesh gloves to get some air on my hands. I know it looks and feels cooler to ride bare handed in shirt sleeves, but road rash doesn't feel very cool when it happens to you!