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!