Sunday, December 30, 2007

Update 2

I have added service info as requested in the comment on the previous post.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Scooter Update

I was sorry to see the comment about problems with the Granturismo. Other people I know have this bike have had very few problems with it, and even the forums dedicated to it record few reliability issues. However, battery problems with small bikes are common. As I found the battery on my GT lasted a year with the bike being ridden every day.

If the battery is lasting only a month there is probably something wrong with the preparation of the battery, in that its initial charging wasn't done properly, or there is something wrong with the bike electrics. A new battery should be covered by the manufacturer's warranty if the bike has been tested and is charging properly.

As for the X9 - other than a few bulbs going I have had no problems since my earlier report. It has run better and better and gets more and more fun to ride. It was definitely a very good buy.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Piaggio X9 250 SL

A review of my current bike, which I have had since mid June.

2004 Piaggio X9 250sl - Lemon Yellow

Two months, 2000 miles.

On the way home from passing my test I dropped into my local dealers to see what they would offer me in part-exchange on my Vespa. I was very impressed with the offer I got and snapped up a three year old X9, a bike I know a lot about, as the Stig has had one since 2003.


Personally, I have always liked the looks of this maxi-scooter. The lines from the front look very much like any touring motorcycle, and even from the rear it doesn't look too much like a typical scooter. The bike is large enough and plastic enough to get loads of respect from car drivers, other scooter riders, and even sports bike riders who probably don't realise until too late that it is a scooter.


Having been spoiled by the GT the underseat storage does seem small, but it is easily big enough for a full-face helmet plus armoured trousers, or several bags of shopping, a twelve pack of larger or whatever.


The Honda 250 in this model of X9 is not a very sporty engine. The bike takes off only a little faster than the GT, but acceleration in the 20-60mph bracket is much better with useful overtaking acceleration when travelling at speeds up to 50. Top speed is not outstanding - it comfortably gets to an indicated 70, and then bogs down a bit. The digital dash keeps track of maximum speed so I know I have done 85 mph on it.


This bike is incredibly easy to ride unlike the GT which handled fine, as long as you worked at it, the X9 just instantly goes exactly where you want without you having to think about it. Very steady in turns, very quick to stop. The linked braking system means the bike can be braked when banked in turns without any risk of the front locking up and doesn't even upset the turn meaning that even if you make a mistake, the bike is very forgiving. Despite being a heavy bike the centre of gravity is very low meaning the bike is very easy to handle, especially at low speeds where you can keep your feet up when almost stationary.


Having done a lot of London commuting along with several long weekend runs the economy seems pretty constant regardless of the sort of riding at 70mpg. This means the bike does about 200 miles before the gauge gets into the red zone. The service interval is 6,000km, but additional oil changes are required at 3,000km. With these regular oil changes these Honda engines can last over 40,000 miles. The oil changes and gauze cleaning can be done yourself easily, which can make servicing much cheaper. The belt should last 12,000km, but my girlfriend's X9 did 18,000km on the original belt before it was changed. Unfortunately the belt on the Honda engine in these early X9s are pricey and can double the cost of a service.


When I first rode it I was a bit disappointed with the comfort. Other riders had told me how riding an X9 was like riding an armchair. Instead I found the backrest uncomfortable and the leg room cramped. I was used to the bench seat on the GT which meant I could sit as far back as necessary, rather than fitting into the bike as made. However, over time my body has bent into shape and I now find the X9 very comfortable for longer rides. The adjustable screen is a major enhancement and ensures a good view over the screen whilst most of the wind and buffeting goes over your head.


Unlike the last two bikes which were bought brand new - this one was three years old with 18,000 miles on the clock. The dealer had serviced, MOT'd, fitted new belt and rollers, new air filter and new rear suspension and provided a six month warranty. Shame this didn't stop me running out of petrol on my first commute because the fuel level sensor didn't work, or being unable to go for a ride on one of the few dry days in July because the battery failed. The Dealer, Ewell Scooter Centre can't be faulted though - they fitted a new fuel sender and replaced the battery after checking the charging circuit, all at no charge to me. The right front brake got a bit noisy after 1,200 miles, turned out to be worn out pads, which were easy to change myself.


Despite being bigger than the GT it is actually much easier to filter riding the X9. It is less twitchy so is easier to steer reliably into small spaces at low speed than the Vespa was. Weather protection is much better, as is visibility and road presence. Vehicles of all types see you coming and get out of the way. Fuel economy on commuting runs is also significantly better then the Vespa, whilst other running costs are about the same.

General Riding

The bike is much better suited to out of town riding than the Vespa - more capable of motorway/dual carriageway speeds, more stable on loose services, and generally much less tiring over long distances.


In some ways it is less fun than the Vespa - the predictability and steadiness make riding the bike a little less of an adventure than I wasused to. But the predictability and steadiness, along with the greater presence and visibility mean I feel much safer riding it. That means I go places and ride in ways I would not do on the Vespa so overall I am getting much more fun out of this - as indicated by the speed at which then ext oil change approaches.


As this bike cost me less than £200 after I part exchanged my Vespa, along with the better economy, and that fact that the Vespa was just about due for another service means the bike hasn't really cost me anything, but is much superior to the GT.

X9s are easy to pick up cheaply, and well maintained ones run on to good mileages. Unfortunately they can be prone to electrical and other faults that can be expensive, and some part, like the digidash and the drive belt are expensive. So the bottom line is that you can get a good deal as long as you make sure you are not buying a lemon. I good service record, or a good inspection is important. I only bought this one because it had new belt and suspension, otherwise a bike of this mileage could get expensive very soon.

What would I change?

The engine could do with a bit more life - the later X9 250s (the Evo model) has a different engine with more go - but mainly I would change the seating position slightly. The seat needs to be able to go back further if there is no pillion passenger. I would also change the mirrors - they look huge and well placed, but give a very poor view of what is directly behind you unless you spend ages moving them around and put up with your body blocking half the view. I also find the speedo to be a bloody long way away! At 5'10" I can see it over the digidash, but I understand some people have trouble seeing it at all.


These bikes were sold as premium long-legged commuters and that is exactly what they are. They are perfect for the 25 mile round trip I do, and could easily work well for a commute three times that. Well designed for motorways or dual carriageways, and spacious and protective enough to make sure you get to work dry and tidy, and get home with your shopping. They are getting a little long in the tooth now, but they can be snapped up for not a lot of money and are well worth considering for the longer commute with a little spare for the weekend jaunts.

Vespa Granturismo 125

My next bike was the Vespa - which I have ridden for most of the time I have been writing this blog.

2005 Vespa Granturismo 125 – Smoke Grey

Two years, 18,000km

I decided it was time to move on to a bigger scooter. Booked my CBT and took it on this brand new machine. I considered many alternatives, and have never been especially keen on Vespas, but the size and comfort of the bike, along with its highly visible front and rear lights convinced me to buy one.


What can you say? Love or hate scooters, you have to admit there is something appealing about the smooth curves of the Vespa styled scooter that Piaggio have been making variants of since 1946. This particular model is larger and heavier than most Vespas, but it also has a modern four-stroke water-cooled engine. The exhaust paint lasted longer – but like the Zip, this needed constant attention. Other than the exhaust the build quality and quality of finish on this bike is excellent. There are loads of opportunities to customise Vespas – whilst most London commuters customise theirs by sliding them down the road, I customised mine with a handmade fabric seat cover from


A large under seat space is great for carrying stuff, but there is not enough space for a full-face helmet. The dealer threw in a top box as part of the deal, so with the huge box, the under seat storage, the glove compartment in the leg shield and a shopping hook there was almost no limit to what this bike could carry.


A bit of a halt on pulling away whilst the clutch engaged, but after that it pulled well up to over 50mph. Easily fast enough to beat most cars away from the lights, and fast enough to keep up with the traffic on all but 70mph roads. Top speed was just above 60, but fitting a Vespa sports screen not only made dual carriageway riding more comfortable, increased acceleration above 40mph but put more than 5mph on the top speed making 70mph possible.


The suspension and larger wheels give the bike a much more certain feel than the Zip ever had. Cornering was very precise, but I found that I had to use very deliberate counter steering to get the best out of the machine. I rode the bike outside London many times taking it as far as Brighton down narrow windy country roads. It was very comfortable and very capable of handling some terrible road conditions!

Probably because the bike is quite heavy, and only has 12” wheels, but handling was very dependent on the type and condition of the tyres. It ran very well on Michelins, but the original Savas had it sliding around in the wet. The tyre on it when I sold it were Cheng Shins – never heard of them before – but the only thing I could get when stranded by a rear puncture. They proved very good with very precise handling even in the wet and so I replaced the front with one when the time came.


Fuel economy was about 58mpg but this varied a lot with the type of riding. Stop start London traffic gave about 55mpg, but a day out in the country cruising at 40-50mph would get better than 65mpg. Servicing was more expensive than the Zip, with oil changes needed every 6,000km. None of the parts that needed replacing, including the belt and rollers at 12,000km, were very expensive. I got £1200 exchange when I sold it so twenty months use only cost me £1400 in depreciation – not bad for a bike with 18,000km on it with the 18k service needing to be done.


Very comfortable – a good wide deep seat and plenty of leg room. There is plenty of room to move about and change position to avoid cramp etc on long journeys. The suspension gives a good smooth ride on all but the roughest surfaces. The 125 engine works hard so the bike does tend to be a bit noisy.


The battery died after 13 months, and the centre stand pivot needed constant regreasing. Other than that nothing could be faulted.


A perfect city commuter. Lots of storage, big and visible, very manoeuvrable, quick to change direction etc. The big widely mounted mirrors give a great view of what is going on behind. The only real thing against the bike is that the servicing costs and fuel economy can be beaten by other similar bikes from Japanese manufacturers, and being a Vespa you get absolutely no respect from other riders.

General Riding

With the sports screen the bike is easily capable of going wherever you want. It will cruise on motorways etc at between 60 and 70, it will safely manage steep windy roads etc. The excellent front and rear disk brakes give great confidence, and the bike always feels very stable.


This bike is great fun to ride, very easy to manoeuvre and with great comfort. As an all round bike, that has some style, character and history, riding this was always fun.


Nearly two years of ownership, 18,000km and the dealer that serviced it was prepared to offer nearly half its original price as part exchange on another bike. The running costs were higher than some other similar commuting bikes, but overall this bike was excellent value.

What would I change?

Being so heavy for a 125 the bike could do with being more powerful as at times it is a bit sluggish. However, the restriction in power is a legal one so I think the one thing I would change, is taking my test earlier, then I could have ridden the 200cc or 250cc versions of this bike! I did make some modifications – I removed the strap from the seat – it serves no purpose but is bloody uncomfortable if you sit a way back on the seat, and I fitted the sports screen which as mentioned, increased performance, economy and comfort at speed.


An excellent all round scooter perfect for commuting and going further afield if you have not yet passed your full motorcycle test.

Piaggio Zip 50

The first bike I commuted on was a Zip 50 so I thought it would be worth writing a review of that machine -

2003 Piaggio Zip 50 – Dragon Red

2 Years, 13,000km

I bought this brand new when I realised the cost of my annual season ticket to central London was going be more than buying a scooter. I had ridden a little before when I was in my late teens, but this was my real introduction to scooter commuting. I kept this bike for nearly two years doing 13,000km, riding it on the full moped license I was granted when I passed my car test in 1990.


Not much to be said here – small simple and technically uncomplicated bike using a two-stroke catalysed engine. Piaggio have been making and selling loads of these for years. As with all Piaggio painted exhausts, this needs repainting regularly. It goes from black to rust red in the first couple of months and is expensive to replace. I took to rubbing down with a wire brush and painting with exhaust paint every three months or so.


A helmet sized storage area under the seat – easily good enough for lock and chain, a couple of bags of shopping etc. I once managed to get a laptop in there but can’t work out how I did it! There is a storage hook in front of your feet for larger items, and a small glove compartment in the leg shield which I only discovered when it popped open when I hit the curb!


This is a restricted 50cc bike so what do you expect? Zipped nicely to about 25 then crawled to its maximum speed of about 33. It got faster with each service and would do nearly 40 by the time I got rid of it. It was still restricted and I have no idea what the dealer did to speed it up. Once had to slow down for a speed camera in a 40 area but that was on a very long steep hill! Don’t even think about overtaking a moving vehicle!


Very light, very manoeuvrable. It went round corners very nicely but had a tendency to slide when pushed. I also didn’t like the way the handlebars seemed to twist with every bump at higher speeds (like 35!). The brakes were adequate – nothing special, but with the bike being so very small, and so very small, the brakes never had much to do.


I got about 60mpg with all the riding being on London’s congested streets. Servicing (every 5000km) was dirt cheap but synthetic two-stroke was needed at about a litre every 1000 miles. The belt lasted 10,000km and cost virtually nothing. The tank was good enough for about 100 miles before needing to be topped up.


As a large heavy bloke I thought this would be a problem, but the bench type seat meant I just sited further back A bumpy ride with the small wheels etc but I never got cramp.


Apart from a loss of power in the rain, and poor starting when wet this bike never had any problems I nearly two years of regular use. Both problems were solved by spraying damp start sealant all over the HT leads and other electrics.


For short journeys in urban areas this would have been a great cheap and effective way to get around. However, I couldn’t really recommend this for doing the 25 mile round trip I was doing every day. The bike is too small and too slow and had no presence on the road meaning people pulled out on me all the time and would try and force their way past – even through gaps that were not big enough. From the front of the traffic you can pull away from the white vans and the 4 x4s but they will soon be on your number plate desperate to get past. The performance is not good enough for any road with a speed limit above 30mph.

As it was the depths of winter when I first got this machine I bought a tall screen for it for protection. Whilst the screen was great at keeping me warm, and was especially good at keeping my hands warm, when it rained at night or when the sun was bright but low down it was impossible to see through the screen. I got fed up of looking round the screen at night and took it off .It was easy to replace for those few weeks in winter when the cold really got too much for my hands. The rest of the time I just didn’t use it.

General Riding

I only rarely took this on roads I didn’t know or on roads outside London. The performance is not enough to give any room for manoeuvre and it is too easy to be bullied by faster traffic, which is how I hit the curb.


As long as you stick within the bike’s limits this machine is great fun – one of the reasons I stuck with it so long. The bike is so small and light it is very easy to ride.


Cheap, cheap cheap – but does not keep its value well – Despite being in almost perfect condition and fully dealer serviced with a year manufacturer’s warranty still to run I got less than 30% of its value part exchange. I would have got no more on Ebay, probably a lot less.

What would I change?

The bike as restricted is just not up to being safe on the roads so I would just change the whole bike! Other than that, the lack of a clock niggled - wearing proper protective gear made it difficult to read a watch, and with bus lane time zones etc it was worth paying £20 on a small waterproof stainless steel clock which I fitted.


Stick to the short city commutes it is designed for and it will serve you well. But this is a poor excuse for a motorcycle and should only be considered as a last resort for the seriously skint.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Now I know this summer has been renowned for its terrible and changeable weather (although I am not sure what is "changeable" about rain and more rain) but Tuesday took the biscuit.

As I was riding home approaching Wandsworth at just before 5pm I could see that the sky was getting very dark. From Wandsworth bridge Roundabout I saw two lightening strikes on nearby vehicles, and as I turned by the Town Hall the rain started to fall. By the time I had reached the bottom of West Hill the rain was falling very heavily and visibility was deteriorating fast. Just before the fire station I took the opportunity to pull up onto the pavement as the road had become a river by this point and in the busy rush hour traffic I decided that playing with the traffic should be avoided in the conditions. I thought I would wait out the storm as these summer things don't normally rain that heavily for long. Then came the hail. Tons of it - some of it very large - probably about 8 or 10mm across.

I was wrong about the storm passing fast. The hail came down for many minutes. By this time my normally very dry clothing was completely soaked through. The temperature as shown by my bike was 13C, well below the 25C it had been when I was travelling through Vauxhall about 15 minutes earlier. The torrent of water was beginning to wash along the hail. Unlike some places where it accumulated to look like snow, on West Hill the hail was washed along, floating on the water. The pictures from the BBC website give some idea what it was like!

As the hail began to ease off, the Stig came by on her bike. Always fearless she had just pressed on in the conditions and I thought I had better join her as I didn't want her to think me a wooss!

Rather than ride along the A3 where there was a high probability of spray and flooding in the underpasses, we cut across by Wimbledon Common - this seemed easier than normal so maybe traffic was avoiding the tennis (what tennis - its raining!) It was still raining hard when we stopped for petrol in Raynes Park, but had stopped by the time we had filled up and paid. Two days later my gloves are nearly dry, but I am not sure my boots will ever be the same!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Practically Testing

After my experiences with the CG125 I decided to take my test on the bike I am most familiar with, my Vespa. I realised this would mean only ever riding automatic bikes, but I can live with that, especially as I have never been a Moto GP wannabee.

I arranged a full day of training with Elite , followed by a test on the second day. When I turned up I discovered I would be riding with an instructor I had not met on my previous visit, called Jim. There were no other students so the two of us rode around Wimbledon, Putney, down the A3 to Esher and Weybridge, then back up to Chiswick for lunch with some other students, and finally a run back through Barnes. We practised all the manoeuvres etc and Jim seemed very impressed with my progress and was very confident by half way through the day that I would pass. I had a thoroughly enjoyable day and as with the other Elite instructors I have met, Jim was impressively professional, knowledgeable and good humoured.

Day two started back at Wimbledon Stadium where I met the other candidate who would be going for a test today. My test was set for 11.41, in a place called Belevedere. Where the Hell is that? I had never heard of the place before – and was not impressed to find it was the other side of London. I also wasn’t impressed to find that Jim was even that clear about how to get there!

As it turned out the Blackwall Tunnel was closed that day which, along with the usual problems in South London, and the other candidate getting lost for 40 minutes meant we only got to Belevedere with less than 50 minutes until he test. We had a quick look at the roads where Jim had been told the U-Turns are usually done, and a quick whizz round the area and it was time for my test.

With the day before being so positive and Jim being very confident that I couldn’t fail, I won’t go into a lot of detail about what went wrong. The examiner had a strong Scottish accent I could barely understand and came over from the outset as having got out of bed the wrong side as he barked his way through the preamble and the tell me show me questions. Several times I had to ask him to repeat himself as I couldn’t understand what he was saying which seemed to irritate him further.

Out on the road I thought everything had gone OK. One or two slip ups, but nothing too serious, but right at the end I was concentrating so much on understanding his instructions I hesitated at a junction. That was fatal – if I had concentrated on the road signs, and not his voice, I would have realised I had nothing to hesitate about. Not only did he fail me for not observing the no left turn sign, which I can’t argue with – I didn’t see it - but he also gave me 9 minors for all sorts of things my instructor never had a problem with which was a major blow!

I wished the other candidate luck and left him to get on with Jim and practice for his test in the afternoon. I set off back round the South Circular, which fortunately passes close to Kay’s place and she had invited me to drop in. I was keen to see her as she had injured herself in another accident – this time it was a rabbit that ran out in front of her without looking! I wasn’t expecting her to provide lunch, but she cooked a very nice and very filling chicken dinner, and it was a great way of winding down after my test. After chatting for a couple of hours I set off home, just in time to experience some dreadful weather.

A few days afterwards I contacted Elite – I had paid for a three day course and took advantage of their free training under the guaranteed pass scheme. I booked another morning of training, and a further test, this time in Croydon an area I know much better, and an area close enough to explore some test routes I found online.

Just over a week ago I met up with three other candidates, and Ray took us over to Croydon. We did a bit of practice, but by the time the paperwork was done, the process was explained, we had done a bit of turning in the road etc, it was nearly time for my test. The experience could not be more different! The tester was a very pleasant man who clearly took the trouble to put me at ease. When he asked me to read a number plate I read all but one character and said – “I know there is nothing wrong with my eyesight, but I can’t say if that character is an ‘M’ or an ‘N’”. He said “I reckon that’s good enough, ‘cos neither can I!”

Unusually he followed me in a car despite the weather being bright and clear. Somehow that is far less intimidating than being pursued by something looking like a Police bike! I also realised that being in a car he is less able to see what you are up to, and it is easier to lose a car so you can waste some of the allocated test time stationary waiting for the examiner to catch up. All this is to the student’s advantage, although I only deliberately lost the examiner once when I pulled out of a side turning after a bus, which immediately signalled left and stopped at a bus top. I could pass easily; the examiner was stuck behind the bus for ages!

A couple of times I knew I made mistakes, I put my foot down pulling away from a hill start (don’t believe any instructor that insists an examiner will never do a hill start if you test on an automatic – mine did!) and I had a slight wobble turning right on a platform junction. However, at the end the examiner was pleased enough with my performance, and I had passed. Credit to Croydon test centre – they have a bin in the car park for you to throw your L plates into!

Now, off to look at some bigger bikes!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

London Bikers Brighton Rideout

Some weeks ago someone in the forums at London Bikers suggested a ride out be organised for less experienced riders, including learners. Jim, as usual, was soon persuaded to lead, and did his usual excellent job of organising. The Stig and I were quickly on board. A ride from Box Hill to Brighton on the back lanes was planned, and large numbers of riders were signed up, including a large contingent of experienced riders of larger bikes who would act as corner markers and tail gunners.

The day dawned bright and clear is the cliché, but this really was bright and the sky was blue and almost cloudless! The Stig and I set out nice and early for the 11am rendezvous at Rykas café at the foot of Box Hill. When we got there at 10.15 others had already started to arrive and we set to having a late breakfast including Rykas’ legendary hot chocolate.

By 11 nearly twenty bikes had turned up and Jim gave a short briefing of how he expected everyone to behave, safe overtaking, looking out for people coming from behind etc, and the duties of corner men etc. It was a shame that a greater number of smaller bikes didn’t turn up. The ride was aimed at 125s and the like but in the end the only small bikes were two Vespas and a CBR 125.

Once we were all mounted up we moved out. Jim had picked an excellent route. Whilst some of the roads were potholed, and some had patches of loose gravel or dried mud in the middle of the road, most of the first section was windy country lanes, with very little other traffic. The corner marking system worked very well, with us using a third man drop off as Huskyteer on her Vespa ET4 was riding as number two to set the pace as her bike was probably the slowest and would be most affected by the poor roads.

The Stig and I rode a little way back but corner markers on faster bikes were regularly able to get back in front of us to keep up the supply of number threes to drop off. After about 40 minutes we pulled up outside a pub for a short break, and to ensure all was working well. I was very impressed, everyone seemed to be working well together, all the corners were well marked, riders of larger bikes were happily accommodating the smaller bikes and taking over corner marking whenever one of us ended up number three. And the big Hog at the back made spotting the tail a breeze!

I was very impressed with my 125, it was coping well with the surfaces, taking the corners easily, and was cruising a 40-50mph with no effort at all. The Stig was also very pleased with the comfort and handling of her X9. Not all were so happy though. One rider who had only passed her test and moved to larger bikes had a minor spill at a nasty hill start on tight junction on a gravel-covered road. Fortunately all that happened was that bike stalled and slipped from under her. Neither she nor the bike were seriously hurt, but the spill meant about a dozen bikes immediately in front and behind her stopped. Not good when the intercom and telephone links we planned immediately broke down.

I and some others went on ahead to try and link up, but things got worse when I saw someone at a corner and thought he was marking it. Instead he just wasn’t sure which way to go. Whilst I discussed the route with him, others turned up until there were four or five bikes. We settled on the most southbound route and tried to catch up with the front of the ride. By now Jim had stopped, and all the corners were marked, but he was in Cowfold, about five miles ahead of where the incident occurred. Fortunately, once the corners were marked, the bike and rider were checked over, and everyone moved off again, we soon gathered in Cowfold, and set off again.

Jim’s route took us across some lovely countryside including the meadows of the Adur Valley, before a 690 foot climb to the car park on Devil’s Dyke for a last break and a 99 (thanks Kay!) before dropping into Brighton.

The traffic in Brighton is never much fun, but we managed to get through it OK and found just enough bike parking for us all on the seafront when we arrived at just before 2pm. Some went off to do their own thing, but most of us headed straight for some shaded tables outside a seafront fish and chip restaurant. I know there is no reason for it, but fish and chips always tastes better at the seaside, and we were not disappointed.

After an hour refreshing ourselves, Kay, who had originally introduced The Stig and I to London Bikers, and Huskyteer decided to make their own way back, as they had people they had planned to meet up with, whilst the remainder of us set out to spend some time chillin’ on the beach. Some played some energetic looking Frisbee, whilst other’s paddled. Most of us just had a good rest!

At the agreed time of 4pm we met up back at the bikes, and Jim offered to lead us back to Godstone, just outside the M25, but further east than where we had started. As Huskyteer had left he needed new pace setter and Jaxster on the CBR125 agreed to do that. I confess I didn’t really want to set the pace, as I quite we enjoyed moving forward and backwards through the group, but as it turned out I spent most of the run in third or fourth place.

After a short refuelling stop, and a tiresome ride through Brighton’s traffic, a couple of chav scooterists who found themselves surrounded b your group, Jim soon had us out on the open road. This time we were mainly on better faster roads than the ride south. I was a shame there was no time to stop at Ditchling Beacon, about a hundred feet higher than Devil’s Dyke, but still the views across the Low Weald were fantastic, as the earlier haze had burned off. The 400 foot drop down the face of the hill was good fun, certainly much more fun than the congestion we found in Ditchling Village. From there it was a mainly straight run north at 40mph until we stopped in Godstone at a little before 6pm. There followed the inevitable long discussion about how to get to the Ace Café. It seems compulsory that any discussion involving London Bikers about how to get from or to anywhere has to involve the Ace Café!

I suggested that as The Stig and I would be riding up the A217 from Reigate to Sutton the others that wanted to go to the Ace could peel off at Burgh Heath and follow the signs to Kingston. The consensus appeared to be that I should lead through Redhill and Reigate. Jaxster and The Stig stayed with me, but somehow I managed to lose sight of all the faster bikes, despite riding strictly to the speed limit. I would have though at least one London Biker would have caught me up! To be honest I wasn’t that bothered as I knew Jim would be familiar with the route. The Stig, Jaxster and myself pulled over just after passing through Reigate, I thought it best to get reorganised before we crossed the M25.

We rode on through Kingswood and to Burgh Heath. Jim and the others split off towards Kingston, and The Stig and I set off for home and got in the door just in time for Dr Who!

I would like to give special thanks to Jim for organising the route and doing his usual excellent lead. Rocketman and Elad for holding the line at the back, Alice and Jaxster for setting the pace, and everyone else for some excellent corner marking deserve special mention. The Stig and I had a really good time, and I hope everyone else did also. I know The Stig and I would we well up for similar rides in the future, I just hope we are so lucky with the weather next time!

More pictures are available in this Gallery.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Chronically Bad Trainee

The day dawned bright but cold. I rode over and completed the paperwork. The CBT took the same course as before with minor changes – first there was the safety and legal requirements lecture, then it was out in the car park for a guide to the bike and then the riding it round the cones.

That was where it all went horribly wrong! Despite driving a geared car for twenty years, I found it impossibly difficult to properly control the CG125 I was given to ride. Whatever I did I could not find the bite point for the clutch, and despite listening to the engine; I found it very difficult to gauge when to change gear.

I was clearly having far more difficulty than the complete novices. I can only put it down to being used to constantly variable transmission, I was even finding it difficult to control the revs of the bike – possibly because on a CVT bike, the transmission system means the revs don’t change much at all. I am also glad it wasn't wet as I am not convinced that I ever used the rear brake other then when doing hill starts!

By now the sun was high in the sky and it was getting very hot. I was melting in my jacket and was very grateful for a break for lunch. I had never visited it before, but was very impressed with the burger and sandwich joint on the edge of Wimbledon Stadium and would recommend it for good value tasty fresh food.

After lunch we had the on-road safety lecture, and having passed the theory, Ray the instructor for this bit ended up asking me not to offer answers to the questions, as I obviously knew all the answers! None of the other students had taken their theory, despite two of them owning and admitting riding their 500 and 600cc motorcycles for many years!

After this each of the two instructors took two students on the road for two hours. Three others and I were left to our own devices. To be honest, I was a bit surprised they intended taking me on the road as I didn’t feel I had got good enough at controlling the clutch and throttle – but they are the experts! I used the time popping home on my Vespa to get a cooler jacket, and then stood around with the others in the sun getting accidentally sunburned!

Eventually the other instructor, Richard, took me out with one of the other students who we will call Chris. We went up through Wimbledon Village and back down through Raynes Park with Chris and myself taking it in turns to lead. It was much better getting practice controlling the bike on the road, and on familiar roads at that, but I really still did not have the clutch right and was regularly stalling the bike. We rode round parts of Raynes Park and Lower Morden and ended up near New Malden. Richard then realised that one of the CG125’s was hired from a shop in East Hill Wandsworth and needed to be back before they closed. Richard checked were both happy to go down the A3. If I had known how gutless a CG125 was, I might have been less happy! It struggled to do more than an indicated 50mph making it much slower, and certainly much more less willing to accelerate than my Vespa. However, I was able to practice overtaking.

We successfully negotiated the Wandsworth one-way system and dropped the bike off. Richard had obviously decided that I need more practice than Chris so put him on the pillion and I followed him down Trinity Road back to Wimbledon Stadium.

One might think that this extensive ride round South West London means I must have been doing something right, but my throttle and clutch coordination was still terrible, pull aways and gear changes were rarely smooth, and stalling was still a problem and the occasional unintended wheelie was worrying!

When we got back I was given a new CBT certificate as was Chris, and had the chance to talk to Richard about where I was heading. His view was that my riding was OK and that on my automatic he would expect me to need no more than a day-and-a-half training to pass. But if I wanted to pass on a geared bike, then I needed to lock my Vespa away and get a geared bike and do nothing but ride it for a few weeks to improve my clutch and throttle control. Richard has given me a difficult choice as I want to pass my test, and I don’t really have the time to spend riding a geared bike to improve my control.

As for Richard – I must say, this man has the patience of a saint. He was always professional and helpful, and always showed good humour and never fell into the trap of denigrating students who were having problems. Both Richard and Ray are a credit to Elite Motorcycle Training and I would recommend them.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Theoretically Testing

Last summer I had every intention of passing my full motorcycle test. Current law makes getting a full motorcycle classification on your license almost as complicated as possible. Only almost, because next year they are going to make it even more difficult!

Firstly, before you can ride a motorcycle you need to undergo a day’s compulsory basic training carried out by a licensed company. I went through this in October 2005 when I picked up my Vespa.

Then you need to pass a combined theory and hazard perception test carried out on a computer at a designated test centre.

Finally, you need to pass a practical on-road test within two years of you undertaking the CBT and passing the theory test or you have to start again at the beginning.

I originally intended to take the theory and practical last summer, but after buying various training books and CDs work took over and I didn’t have the time to get them done before the summer was over and things got far to hectic to concentrate.

This spring I finally had the chance to think about it again. I booked my theory, and was disappointed to find this would involve waiting nearly four weeks for the first available slot. I had done some hazard perception practice last summer, but discovered my theory book and CD were now out of date as the questions had been reviewed and updated.

So after spending a further wad of cash I had updated products, and set a few days aside for practice. It all paid off on Tuesday when I went to the Kingston-upon-Thames test centre and passed the test. The staff were very friendly and professional, and the whole thing involved no stressful waiting around. It was all a very positive experience and I am pleased to say I had a creditable score, well above the pass marks.

After the test I popped in to see Jim. I knew he was after a set of practice disks for his son who has a less than perfect record at passing the theory test. He was very grateful for the disks and official question book and showed his usual generosity by offering me tea, and cash!

When I got home that afternoon I rang Elite Motorcycle Training who had been recommended to me to discuss options for the next stage in getting a full license. As I wanted to take my test on a geared bike, and have not ridden one except for a few days over quarter of a century ago, they suggested the best thing was to retake my CBT on a hired geared bike and that at the end of the day my instructor would be able to advise me on what else I needed to do to pass the test in the way of training and practice. The fee for the CBT would be knocked off the final price for the training.

When I rang back to confirm the booking they told me they had a cancellation for Maundy Thursday – all I need do was turn up at Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium at 8.45.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

National Bad Driving Day?

What was up with everyone today?

There was the minor stuff like the stop start car in the stop start traffic in Colliers Wood who thought no-one could see him continually looking down to text on his mobile. There was the usual stuff like the idiot cyclist who came across the lights on Victoria Embankment just as The Stig, a Taxi and myself came out on a green light. There was some dreadful motorcycling, like the two bikes who just had to get past the slow moving car on Albert Embankment by diving into the gap between it and a bus when they had to only wait two seconds to legally and safely overtake on the right. But what took the biscuit was the stupidly dangerous driving I saw today.

On the way home I was nearly killed by a man in a small hatchback who decided to pull out in front of me on the A3 as the Roehampton ASDA. There was plenty of space to pull out behind me, but this driver had to get out and overtake the other hatchback in front of it regardless of the consequences. He therefore dived out of the accelerator lane and tried to overtake the car in front only to find that the car in front was pulling in front of him. The two got in a mess avoiding one another and the result was I in turn had to take evasive action. It could have been much worse, but at least no-one was hurt!

The same can't be sad of what I saw in the morning. The Stig and I were riding up the A3 through Stockwell when we saw a Burger with Italian plate taken out by a silver grey car. The first I saw of this was as I rounded the left of a white van turning right. I checked it was safe to pass, and looked forward to see the Burgman, flying at right angles across the road. The bonnet of the car that hit him was sticking out of the stream of the queue of traffic. It appeared to be trying an unannounced U-Turn and hit the Burger without crossing the centre line. The Burger was only doing 10-15mph at the time and the queue of traffic was stationary.

Fortunately the rider seemed to not be badly hurt as he got straight up and didn't appear to be in particular pain or distress. The Stig and I didn't stop as we didn't have a very clear view of what happened as there was a pack of scooters between us and the incident, and the pack had stopped to assist, as had several car and van drivers, and a wagon full of Police!

Today there was a lot of talk about how dangerous bikes are and how they should be fitted with speed limiters to make them safer. Maybe they should put limiters in cars so they can't do U-Turns without signalling?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Mysterons SC Toy Run

One of the joys of riding any type of powered two-wheeler is the instant camaraderie of fellow riders. Any shared interest at all and everyone becomes your life-long friend. Another fine aspect is the genuine desire many riders have to mix having fun with helping good causes.

Jim from the X9 Owners had announced that the Mysterons Scooter Club, based in Teddington, would be having a charity run on 25 March from Carnaby Street to the Shooting Star Children's Hospice in Hampton. I know the hospice because my parents live about 100 yards away.

Although the run, aimed at delivering toys and cash had taken place in previous years, this year was the first time this hospice was to benefit. The run is mainly by old school scooterists riding customised Lambrettas and Vespas, but the X9ers had always been welcome. The Stig had a prior engagement, but I agreed to carry both our gifts and arranged to meet up with the X9ers near Cleopatra's Needle early on the day. Too early as it turned out - I can do without them pushing the clocks forward the night before a day like this!

Anyway, the weather started grey and damp, but the roads were clear and I got the meeting point ahead of the others. About ten minutes later I was joined by Mike and John, and the others soon piled into the not quite big enough bike bay we had chosen. Then there was the long wait for Jim!

Once we were all there we rode off to Carnaby Street to meet up with over 100 other scooters. I really can say of all shapes and sizes, what with MP3s and miniscule 60's machines. My modern Vespa looked a little out of place, but was not unique. The custom seat cover allows it to hide amongst the other GTs with Chelsea FC and Beck's Beer custom paint jobs!

After an hour looking at the bikes, chatting and persuading the traffic wardens not to book people setting out on a charity run, we all set off.

I had been warned that all the old scooters would mean we would be riding in a blue haze of burnt two-stroke oil - and that was no exaggeration, but it was good fun riding amongst a group of about 120 scooters. We quickly got out onto Oxford Street, but then tended to get broken up by the lights. By Hyde Park Corner I was on my own. A group had gone up ahead, and everyone else had dropped back. Fortunately, the marshalling worked reasonably well. Although it was not possible to keep the roads clear, the marshals marked all the corners so it was easy to follow the route (which was completely different to the one handed out before the event!)

I caught up with the leading group just before Olympia, and rode with them, and a few X9ers who had caught up, through Hammersmith and over Chiswick Bridge. The weather had started none to impressive, but by now was warm, dry and bright. After passing through Richmond, the lead group turned off just before Teddington Bridge and stopped in the large car park opposite Old Deer Park. Over the next twenty minutes or so the stragglers came in until all the scooters were parked up ready for the final stage.

Now this was the best bit. With everyone riding together, the marshals managed to hold up the traffic on all the roundabouts and junctions so that one large body of bikes progressed together down the road enveloped in its blue haze. In London it is very easy to develop a low opinion of other road users, but whilst there were some exceptions, most of the drivers of help up vehicles were smiling and waving as we rode past. However, we were probably the most exciting thing to happen in Whitton so far this century!

After some humped back roads, we rode past the hospice and parked up outside a local church hall. Light refreshments were available, and a huge number of raffle prizes were disposed of in what seemed like the world's longest raffle! Of course I didn't win anything. I don't know how much was raised, but there was a pile of toys, and plenty of heavy sounding charity collection buckets by the time the day was over.

Overall the event was well organised. A lot of effort had clearly gone into trying to make things run smoothly, and in getting hold of some excellent raffle prizes. The only gripe I have heard from others who attended was that they never got to visit the hospice, or even were aware they had ridden past it. However, this is minor and will not stop them riding again next year. I am looking forward to the next similar event I can go on!

A slideshow has been put up by the South London Revival Scooter Club and a video of ride setting off from Carnaby Street can be seen on YouTube.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


The idiot on the blue X9 (LF04??? - I have the full number) is at it again. This morning he cut me up from the left leaving me about four inches of space as he passed me at speed from the left in crowded traffic at Clapham South. This person certainly needs some professional help!

On the "They Know Not What They Do" point - I have seen some more interesting driver activity. The most impressive was the car the Stig and I pulled alongside at the level crossing a the junction of West Barnes Lane and Burlington Road just off the A3 at New Malden.

I thought he had one of those stupid CD players where the screen sits over your radio, then I realised, this was no movie, this was 6.10pm in the evening, and this was the BBC news! The cretin was driving a car whilst watching TV!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Why the hurry?

The Stig and I were coming up past Tooting Bec station this morning at 8.40. As usual, there was a long queue, mainly of buses, vans, lorries and 4x4s. We know from long experience that plenty of pedestrians choose to run out into the road without looking here, plus there are several side turnings that cars turn into and out of without signalling.

The Stig was in front giving herself plenty of space and time as she filtered past this traffic. As she passed a bus it slowed just as it approached a side turning. She sensibly slowed down. I was a little way back as I had stopped to avoid hitting a pedestrian that stepped out between two vehicles, between us was another blue X9.

He shouted out an aggressive stream of abuse at the Stig because she wasn't moving fast enough for him. It was totally uncalled for. I couldn't see anything the Stig was doing that wasn't common sense. Of course, once he could he shot past the Stig, cut up a car and then swerved his way through the traffic until he was out of view.

Now the Stig is an experienced rider who has had a full licence for nearly a quarter of a century. She has an excellent safety record and has ridden bikes of all sizes from 100 to 1000cc and has trained as an instructor. She is a firm believer that having set out on a journey, it is much preferable to actually arrive!

The behaviour of this other X9 rider was deplorable, and I sincerely hope they read this and feel utterly ashamed of themselves! Maybe if they had seen Kay taken out by a pedestrian as the Stig and I have they might understand defensive riding!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Grease is the word!

This morning was not much fun. The weather was cold, the weather was windy and there was an icy drizzle all the way to work. Fortunately the traffic was light, and the heated handlebar grips made things bearable, but a lot of concentration was called for.

On almost arriving at work I turned out of Savoy Lane into Savoy Hill and it felt like I had a rear flat. The back end was snaking uncontrollably. With luck I didn't go over, but mainly because there are a lot of white vans speeding the other way most mornings so I always take that corner with care. I slowed and put my feet down to steady myself, only to discover my feet had no grip either! By this time I was alongside the bike bay in Savoy Hill so I parked up to assess the situation. A short exploration found the road back and forward for some tens of yards was covered with black oil, which on black, wet, tarmac was invisible. The oil also covered the pedestrian pavements. I got the phone out to call 999 to report the dangerous road surface, and whilst I did so, a pedestrian and a cyclist hit the deck! The Police said they would send someone to cover the spill - I did warn them that this was going to need more than a bucket of sand!

My office was only about 300 yards away so I decided to sacrifice secure underground parking, for a spot were I didn't need to ride on oil any longer! I apologise for my less than perfect parking, which took up far too much room in what at the time was an almost empty bay - but I could barely stand on the surface, never mind manoeuvre the bike!

That was at 9am. An hour later at work a colleague said he had almost come off on the same corner. There was sand down, but the surface was still unrideable. I got him to 999 it, whilst I rang Westminster and told them they needed to clean up PDQ before someone was injured.

Just after noon the Stig and I went to lunch nearby and I checked on my bike. There was one of these, and several empty drums of heavy duty degreaser.

A worker was drawing up water from a hydrant and was testing the surface as he went. I thanked him for cleaning up, but he didn't seem to appreciate my gratitude. I would have thought thanks were pretty thin doing that job!

When I left the office just before five the surface was dry, and there was no sign of any oil. If it rains overnight I probably won't be going that way just in case!

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Mitcham's not my favourite place, and to be honest, I am not sure why I went there today, but hey, it was all a bit surreal.

My ride started with a shopping trip into Sutton. Got what I wanted, and thought that as the weather was pretty good I would pop down to Burgh Heath and surprise the Stig. After we had lunch I set off home, but the A217 doesn't make that easy. From where we met you can't go North, and are forced south for about mile to the next roundabout. As the day was so good I decided to turn of the main road and double back through Kingswood and Banstead as that would be more fun. Instead of turning off I followed the road through Chipstead Bottom.

When I got to Coulsden I decided to head towards Croydon. My new job may require visits to offices there and I thought it would be worth checking out the layout as I rarely visit Croydon these days. Getting to Croydon was no trouble, but once there I found the maze of bus only and tram only roads took me away from where I wanted to be and heading for Streatham. I gave up heading to the office after several changes of course were thwarted by the road layout and instead head off towards home.

As I left Croydon I spotted a couple of fire engines up ahead. No smoke, but there were a load of firemen, a lot of water on the road, and an old building with an ancient faded advert painted on the side. It covered the whole of the side of the kebab shop where there obviously had been a fire, and said "Bryant and May matches - the smokers choice"!

From there I cut through the back streets towards Mitcham to find my way home. As I passed through Mitcham town centre, glad that so far no chav had thrown anything at me like last time I passed through, when an an old green hatchback parked by the side of the road suddenly pulled out without indicating. I took evasive action as he took off like a rocket with his engine screaming. Following at my own pace he soon disappeared from view, but I expected to catch up with him as I got to the next set of lights. When I got there I was surprised to find that he had smacked into the back of a white van!

Already the van driver and the hatchback driver were out of their vehicles. I was about to pull over and tell the van driver that although I didn't see the accident, I could give evidence that the perp had been driving fast and recklessly immediately before the accident. I soon changed my mind when he started beating the shit out of the perp - I really didn't want to break up the fight just to tell him how justified he was! Instead I kept on going, but about half a mile on I turned round. I decided they might have calmed down by now - instead when I got there both vehicles had disappeared, leaving no evidence of the crash. I didn't imagine it - they were there!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The slippery slope!

I have come to the conclusion that heated grips are like crack - it has not been that cold since they were fitted, certainly not cold enough to cause discompfort. But warm hands is so addictive the heated grips get switched on for every journey!

Talking of slippery slopes, I was very disapointed to hear that Westminster are going to charge for motorcycle parking. I am lucky to have free secure parking underneath my place of work, and only 200 yards from Trafalgar Square, but even I sometimes like to travel to other parts of the Borough.

Westminster claim it is due to over demand - they want to help us poor bikers with more spaces (although not enough) and more security (which will only serve to make using all the available space more difficult). Anyone whi visits central London can see that car parking spaces are rarely full, but the bike parks are packed. Apparently it costs £10,000 to convert once space to motorcycle use - rubbish! Just allow motorclists to use unoccupied car spaces for free like some other boroughs. That can't cost 50p!

Heated grips may be like crack, but the addiction is not as strong as the addiction London Boroughs have to stealing every penny they can from everyone who uses any sort of vehicle. Westminster is even looking at charging cyclists to leave their bikes on the street! Eventually they will charge pedestrians for walking on the pavement, and charge double if you tread on the cracks!

I am sure there will be protests, but if Westminster actually enforce this, I will simply boycott all Westminster businesses. If they want my money, they can whistle!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Back to Work

Today was the first day back after the Christmas and New Year break. Let’s skip over work – that wasn’t any fun, but the riding was great!

Despite some terrible weather over the last few weeks this morning was clear and bright, and even this evening, the little bit of drizzle was too light to affect the conditions. Riding was a joy. Although the traffic has been light and getting lighter since the first week of December, the fog and rain made it difficult to enjoy the clear roads. However, today’s commuting was almost unimpeded by cars, bliss! No doubt the traffic will build up over the week, but I will enjoy it whilst I can!

Another joy today was the present I bought with some Christmas money. Hein Gericke in Stockwell were selling Oxford Hot Grips for only £29.99. With the right gear I have always s been warm and dry on the bike, but two fingers on my right hand have always been prone to getting painfully cold, even when wearing three pairs of gloves.

At that price I had to get the grips once my local dealer, Ewell Scooter Centre, told me he would fit them for £25 if done alongside the 12,000km service booked for Friday. On Thursday I rode up to Stockwell on deserted roads to get the grips, and on Friday Ewell Scooters did a great job, as usual.

Due to illness over the weekend this morning’s start (4 Celsius) was the first test of the heated grips. They definitely work! My hands were very comfortable for the whole journey, even though I was not wearing my thickest gloves and the heated bars were only on a very low setting. I see Oxford have brought out a new version with more elegant controls, but even if they are the older type, snap them up if you can get them at the lower price. If you do any regular riding in cold weather, you won't regret it!