Category Archives: Motoring

Beer, Bikes and Burritos – a Ride Out to Southern California’s Most Famous Biker Bar at Cooks Corner

What on earth possesses a man, evidently in his late fifties to wear a tassled baseball cap back to front, and wear a ripped tee shirt bearing the legend “Red Rider – Death Machine”  My mind is definitely boggled. He arrived by pick up truck rather than a hog, so I was a little confused as to why a Ford Ranger could be regarded as a Death Machine.

Unless there is something I don’t know…

I was sitting at a beer-stained table at Cooks Corner, a well-known biker’s bar in Orange County, California.  Sitting in front of me was a large pitcher of ice cold beer.  The hubbub of conversation was frequently overwhelmed with the booming thunder of a large capacity Harley Davidson arriving, or the bellow of one accelerating hard up East Santiago Canyon Road, heading for Silverado or the Limestone Canyon National Park

Cook’s Corner, Trabuco Canyon, Laguna Hills, California

Just behind me, a simple stage had been set up under an awning upon which was a drum kit, three guitars and a keyboard. As it was a warm and sunny lunchtime, the place was filling up fast. I have never seen so many tattoos, leather waistcoats and goatee beards….and that was just the women!

Plenty of seating and near to the stage!

The atmosphere, for a busy biker bar was relaxed and friendly, with everybody up for a good time. And the hubbub of happy conversation bubbled around the place. 

As the advance guard, I had located a table capable of seating the eight people in our party, which was already occupied by a middle aged couple. Evidently, the man hadn’t been stroked by the happy stick, and neither had his wife, who bore an expression suggesting that she had just been engaged in sucking on a particularly obnoxious substance, such as a skunk dung.  

“Are these seats taken?” I asked.  The man stared at me vacuously, giving a shrug, so I assumed that his inability to articulate was due to him being profoundly happy for our extrovert and vociferous group to join him.

I plonked myself down, and inspected my fellow diners more closely. Both in their late forties, they had obviously embraced the West Coast Urban Designer Biker culture. He was wearing a gloss black leather peaked cap, which I imagined he borrowed, or maybe stole from one of the more flamboyant members of The Village People, and wore what looked like a Swarovski diamanté encrusted crucifix around his neck.  Large? I imagine it probably weighed in the region of about a kilo!

His red leather waistcoat was adorned with patches proclaiming his membership of an absurd number of biker clubs, but the biggest patch of all was for The Laguna Hills Motorcycle club.  He also had a patch with a screaming skull embroidered upon it.  In other respects, from his sallow complexion to his soft, pudgy hands, he hardly looked like a biker.  I expect that in reality he was a suburban architect, or ran a firm of accountants.

But then, I am a biker, and I’m a sixty year old balding flight instructor… Go figure!

Tangmere Aviation Museum, with the Triumph Tropy

His wife fared not much better and was also wearing the obligatory black leather cap, although, her’s was of a style favoured by Donny Osmond in the early 1970s.  Her waistcoat was tasselled and covered in biker patches.  

In the ten minutes or so that I sat there waiting for the rest of my group, they never said a single word to each other, and totally ignored me.

When my friends finally arrived after parking their bikes, they spotted me snd descended on the table in a happy chattering gaggle, with three or four conversations taking place simultaneously. I could hear Giuseppe’s strident voice loudly discussing something in Italian, with Francesca, his partner. 

The rest of the group were talking animatedly about motorcycles, aeroplanes, beer and women. 

The beer-stained menu was hastily passed around, and as we were all hungry, we wasted no time in placing our order at the bar. As it was fairly early, the service was relatively quick and our food order arrived quickly. 

A sudden silence descended on the table as we dived in on burgers, fries, beers, and burritos.  Our inadvertent companions, the odd couple, stonily sat there, still not talking, and looking disapprovingly at our group, who were clearly getting noisier in direct proportion to the food and beer that was consumed.

Seeing that my friend’s glasses were almost emptied, I wandered into the bar, and ordered a further two pitchers of ice cold Budweiser, and two Cadillac Margaritas. The cheerful young woman behind the bar smiled at me, saying how much she loved my accent, and then asked me which part of Australia I was from. I replied, dryly saying that I came from a suburb of Sydney called Earls Court. 

Cooks Corner Biker Bar

Taking my proffered cash, she told me she would bring the beers out to our table.

Must have been my smooth-talking antipodean charm!

We finished eating, and I must say, that for a so-called “Biker Bar” the food was superb, well cooked, and full of flavour. The servings were generous, and fantastic value for money.

What a fantastic place. Everyone I met there was friendly, (although I can’t speak for our table companions, as they didnt say a word) and we were made to feel very welcome, by both the bar staff and our fellow bikers.

Everyone was there for one reason – to share good food, cold beers, great bikes and fun memories.

The linguistically-challenged bar girl came to our table, clearing plates. She was really lovely, and simply exuded happy friendliness, exchanging banter and flirting with the customers as she glided effortlessly between the tables. We left her a very generous tip.

It’s a shame I had no Aussie Dollars though…

We all relaxed now, full of lunch and beer and happy to stay in the shade as the temperature continued to rise whilst the sun crawled up the blue fabric of the sky. More and more bikes arrived, with many of the riders wearing nothing more than shorts, tee-shirts and flip flops. Many of the girls riding pillion wore bikinis and little else.

During a quieter period – Just wait until it gets busy!

I shuddered to think of what would happen to them should they have a spill out on the highway.

I glanced at our group.

All in our fifties and sixties, we had all experienced coming off in the past and so were wearing slightly more appropriate wear, and everyone had a leather jacket, gloves, jeans and boots. Not quite what I would wear on the miserable roads of Blighty – back home I would be wearing an armoured leather jacket, armoured leather trousers, armoured boots and armoured leather gloves.

I guess that our climate, and the dreadfully congested roads mean that you have to dress like a mediaeval knight to withstand the risks.

My attention was caught by a group of pasty-faced youths in ripped jeans who were picking up guitars and obviously tuning up with a view to playing, and with unspoken agreement we all decided that now was the time to leave, whilst we still had the benefit of functional hearing.

So, having chilled for about three hours, we decided that a gentle meander through the canyons and passes in the Laguna Hills was in order, so we suited up, and rode back to Coto de Caza via the back roads,  enjoying the warm wind on our faces, as we swooped along the almost empty highways that run through the valleys of the Laguna Hills.

Returning to my friend’s house, we all peeled off our leathers, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening talking, drinking and watching the sun dip slowly in the west, drowning in the waters off Laguna Beach.

California sunset, from the terrace in Coto De Caza

A good ending to a great day out.

Go Well! 

Biker Down!

Black ribbons of tarmac, shimmering heat,

Rolling green pastures, tall golden wheat,

The hum of the engine, the smell of warm oil,

Hot wind in my face, and I’m starting to boil,

Road curving ahead, sweeping round in a loop,

Ahead are four Harleys, all part of my group,

In my mirrors, two bikers, both riding too fast,

Engines screaming like banshees, – hurtling past,

They pass our Harleys, disappear from my view,

And I slowly catch up with the rest of my crew,

Traffic still flowing,  in fast, disciplined lanes,

Cars in the distance like passenger trains,

Tail lights now flaring, deep cherry red, glowing,

I squeeze on the brakes, traffic rapidly slowing,

Come to a stop, cars bumper to bumper,

So I don’t overheat, I turn off the old thumper,

Sitting and waiting, No longer plain sailing,

On the hard shoulder, the sirens are wailing,

For an age we just sit there, then comes the chopper,

It looks very bad, someone’s come a real cropper

Cars up ahead, now starting to drive,

Engines starting, bikers starting to ride,

Slowly passing the accident site,

Viewing the debris that once was a bike,

Ride on,…. Ride on, hide your tears with a frown,

Spare a prayer for the departed, 

The biker who’s down………

Mark Charlwood 2017©️

Ride Safe – Shiny side UP, Greasy side DOWN!

Abandoned – and on the Verge of Falling Apart…

On December the second last year, I left home to endure my pre dawn commute. Driving down the lane, I noticed a black Mini car parked on the grass verge outside my neighbours’ house. As I passed it, I could see that it wasn’t in bad condition, and assumed that it belonged to a visitor.

Thinking about this later, I realised that if it were one of Jim’s visitors, then they would have parked in his large forecourt, off the road, rather than untidily parked on the grass.

I continued to wonder what the true situation was, and made a mental note to chat with Jim at the weekend.

Happily, and by coincidence, my Brother and Sister in law (of Tread the Globe fame) visited during the week, and Chris wanted to test fly his new drone, in preparation of it being used on their epic Round the World journey. During his test flights, he captured a nice image of the car parked in the lane, and that photo, shown below, was dated 5th December 2019.

The Mini Car parked on the grass – Drone photo courtesy of Chris Fisher of Tread the Globe

On Saturday morning, I spotted Jim, my neighbour, so wandered down to have a chat to him.

I asked him about the Mini car, and he told me that it was abandoned, and that he had checked with DVLA and the vehicle was untaxed, and he therefore assumed that it had been either abandoned or stolen. He had called the local council, and had reported this so that they could organise for it to be collected and disposed of.

To date the vehicle is still sitting there on the grass, and as each week passes it is subjected to further vandalism and damage; both door mirrors smashed off, and the rear wiper ripped away. It now looks very sad, and is slowly decomposing in the wind and rain.

Abandoned and un-loved. Wing Mirrors smashed, and under threat of further vandalism

Abandoned vehicles are a much bigger problem than I had imagined.

It appears that UK Councils spent almost a million pounds to remove the 32,000 abandoned vehicles from Britain’s highways and byways in the 2016/2017 fiscal year.

It’s alarming to find that there has been a 577% increase in the dumping of cars and vans in a four year period (2012-201).

A Freedom of Information request lodged with Britain’s 436 local authorities revealed that across the nation, 31,812 vehicles were removed and disposed of.

It is a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Refuse Disposal (Amenities) Act of 1978 to abandon a vehicle, and carries a maximum penalty of £2,500 and/or three months imprisonment.

This doesn’t seem to deter people from dumping, and the revenues raised from fines levied (when the owners may be traced) amount to £115,610 – which comes nowhere near the costs.

The authorities costs may be even higher if the abandoned car needs to be scrapped, and the shortfall in funds have to be recovered from local residents from taxation.

It seems that the highest number of reported and removed vehicles are in the South East, probably because this region is densely populated with both people and cars.

Motor insurance comparison website, Confused.com conducted some research, and this seems to suggest that the high costs associated with recovering and repairing a car have become unaffordable for some, with 23% of respondents claiming that this is the reason for dumping a vehicle. 30% of respondents dumped their car because it had broken down, and they could not afford to have it towed to a garage for repair.

7% said that they could no longer afford to run a vehicle at all.

The statistics also seem to suggest that 16% of drives who abandoned their cars did so for an average of three weeks, which suggests that these drivers are basically honest, and returned to recover the car when they could afford to do so.

Naturally there are a percentage of drivers who dump their cars because they can’t afford to pay the VED, or the insurance, and a small percentage who have stolen a car to get somewhere, and dump it when they have finished using it.

Some abandoned cars may have been used to commit crimes, and these too will be dumped at tax payers expense.

But back to my situation

It is now 28th February. 88 days since Jim reported the Mini outside his house.

I wonder how long it will take the local authority come out and move it?

Answers on a postcard…

UPDATED 02 MARCH 2020

I spotted this sign during a trip to some of the local shops…

I dont know whether to laugh or cry… Or maybe cry with laughter!

A bit of an empty threat really. They havent been able to remove an untaxed, probably uninsured vandalised vehicle from the lane in which I live after more than ninety days, so signs threatening removal after 48 hours seem somewhat ambitious.

Go Well…

The BMW Myth… Busted?

It was a long day at work, delivering two flight training sessions. I was in no real hurry, as the weather was a bit miserable, with wet roads, and poor visibility. It was just as well, as the A3 southbound was moving at a sedate 40 mph up the hill through the fifty limit at Guildford.

I spotted the headlights first, weaving crazily in and out of the traffic, and then rapidly accelerating up the nearside lane as I was overtaking a slower van. The white car swerved out in front of me, cutting into my lane with scant inches to spare.

I was ready for this and was already braking, my sixth sense warning me of the potential accident heading my way.

As the car rocketed past me, I sighed as I glimpsed the badge on the boot lid.

Yes, just as I thought, it was another appallingly driven BMW.

I watched the car continue to weave in and out of the traffic, crossing lanes with no apparent understanding of risk. The frequent illumination of brake lights was not accompanied by any appearance of functioning indicators.

Par for the course?

I drove home without further incident, wondering if there was any statistical evidence to support the urban legend that all BMW drivers were aggressive and inconsiderate.

So, I sat down and started researching this to see what I could find.

It didn’t take long to discover that GoCompare, the insurance comparison website had conducted an analysis of their customer database, and had some interesting results.

Un-surprisingly, the urban legend was true!

It appears that more than 17.1% of BMW 4 series drivers have at least one conviction, which is about twice the average rate for all other BMW models!  A staggering 21% of 4 series drivers have also made an at-fault claim on their insurance.

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Further checking revealed that Audi A5 drivers are also up there in the top ten for convictions and at-fault claims, along with Mercedes C220 and E220 pilots, closely followed by Jaguar and Landrover owners.

DD392844-435F-4D2F-AE1D-4D1445EEFA0Bcf7a1092-a1db-46f9-a13c-13276131e7a2.png

This all seems to tie in with my own un-scientific perceptions, honed as they are with a 450 mile  weekly commute.

Interestingly, Admiral Insurance has also analysed the data returned from their telematics systems – the Little Black Box fitted into the boot that monitors driving behaviour. It seems that drivers of Audis, Mercedes and Landrovers are again flagging up as the worst drivers in the UK.

But there is good news. Drivers of smaller, lower-powered cars such as Vauxhall Agilas, Hyundai i10s, and Nissan Micras are least likely to have been convicted of an offence, but they are also less likely to have made at-fault claims.

Maybe the lack of a big, tough metal box to sit in, a less commanding road position, and dare I say it, a low performance engine makes them less attractive to those with a more competitive and thrusting driving style?

These are facts released by insurance companies, and whilst they do seem to reinforce the image that motorists owning German-built cars are bad drivers, they don’t explain why drivers with poorer driving records seem to be attracted to such vehicles.

I guess I will have to dig for some more facts…

Until then – drive safely!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tyres – The Invisible Ecological Menace

We have all heard almost to the point of frustration about climate change, pollution and how bad cars powered by fossil fuels are.

We are all exhorted to consider using an electric vehicle, or a hybrid so as to cut our carbon footprint, and stop climate change.

Obviously, all of this is deserving of support, and climate change is a very real threat, as is the increase in health problems as a result of the toxic gases in vehicle exhausts.

However, there is a sinister, yet little-publicised threat which may prove to be even more injurious to health and the marine environment, even if it has little impact on greenhouse gases and climate change.

Tyres.

CE914D82-F424-4259-B7CE-D3E02D29218E

Yes, you did read correctly. Tyres are in the top ten of nasty pollutants that contaminate the world with micro-particles.

Tyres. Those innocuous black things attached to the wheel rims of your car, van, motorcycle, truck or bus.

We all know that tyres wear out – as we all have to buy them now and again, if we are to stay safe and legal.

So, what happens to the worn bits of tyre?  Well, they are eroded by the road surface and are released as micro-fibres, particulates that are fine enough to form as a dust on the road surface.

Subsequently, rain water washes these microfibres into the drains and sewage systems, where they ultimately make their way into the maritime environment – yes, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and oceans.

Screenshot 2020-01-20 at 18.10.01

Much publicity is generated around single use plastics in the oceans, but little publicity is around related to this almost invisible pollution.

Some of the particles are small enough and light enough to be dragged up off the road surface by the aerodynamic wake of passing vehicles, and may be suspended for periods of time, allowing them to be blown by the wind over quite large distances.

It is estimated that annually 68,000 tonnes of microplastics are generated by tyre tread erosion in the UK alone, with 7,000 to 19,000 tonnes entering the surface water system[1]. Research is currently being undertaken in the UK to deepen our understanding of the migration of tyre generated microparticles into the maritime environment.[2]

It may not be common knowledge but tyres are not constructed from pure natural rubber, but consist of 60-70% synthetic rubber – made with our old friends, the hydrocarbons, so the emitted micro-particles are not readily biodegradable.

Unfortunately, the qualities that makes tyres suitable, such as good grip, good braking qualities, and good car handling qualities rely on the tyre gripping the road surface through friction.

Friction between the road surface and the tyre tread actually causes the erosion of the rubber, and leads to the problem. The interaction also erodes the road surface, and any road marking paint on it too – but that’s another story!

Tyre particles vary in size and composition, so it would challenge even Agatha Christie’s Poirot to identify and track how these particles behave, and where they go once they have been shed.

Such particles will be dispersed widely around roads and byways, drifted by winds and the effects of vehicle aerodynamics, washed into various drains, culverts and waterways by rain.

Once in the water system the particles will exhibit different levels of buoyancy, and some will float onwards into estuaries and ultimately into oceans, and others will sink to the bottom and become part of the estuary sediment.

It is estimated that up to 10% of tyre wear particulate matter is released as airborne particles, which will settle over land masses, thus polluting them too.

What can we, the driving public do to minimise the effects of this?

Firstly, we can modify our driving behaviour to reduce the loads that our tyres are under.

We can make efforts to accelerate and decelerate gently and progressively, we can make sure the tyres are correctly inflated and remove un-necessary loads from the vehicle. This would help.

We could operate a smaller vehicle with a smaller engine and a lower mass.

This is a pipe dream, and we all know it. Unless governments intervene to legally force the use of smaller vehicles, we won’t trade our “Executive Urban Assault Vehicles” to sit in a minicar capable of reaching only 60 miles an hour with a following wind!

On my daily commute to work, I pass Farnborough Airport. This is the home to many ecologically-unfriendly executive private jet aircraft. The main A road that passes adjacent to it has recently had a new 50 mph speed limit imposed upon it, reduced from its previous 70 mph limit.

Screenshot 2020-01-20 at 17.52.54

It seems that the local council are keen to reduce emissions in the local area!

Regardless of this, vehicles still charge past me doing well excess of the new limit, and the police don’t seem to be enforcing the new limit.

Maybe we should drive less distances?  Maybe we should alter our fundamental mind set to become more locally focused, and adopty a new philosophy of not commuting longer distances?

I don’t think human nature is going to fix this particular problem.

It appears that the main thrust of the ecological argument is to initiate a societal shift from driving hydro-carbon powered vehicles to electrically powered cars.

However, this only addresses a part of the problem. Even if there is a global adoption of battery driven vehicles, the problems associated with the pneumatic tyre remain.

Until we have mastered an alternative to the conventional tyre we are still in trouble.

The auto industry faces a parallel challenge. What do we use as an alternative to the conventional vehicle tyre?

Answers on a postcard please…

 

[1] Friends of the Earth Report “Reducing Household Contributions to Marine Plastic Pollution 11/2018

[2] UK Government Funding for Research into Tyre Tread Erosion and Pollution

 

Elderly Drivers – Good or Bad – I Hope To End Up As One! (Or – Are They Safe?)

I parked the car, nonchalantly locking it with the keyfob, as I do every evening when I return from work.

It was a blustery, rainy late afternoon, and my journey home a relative nightmare. All of the major routes west of Heathrow Airport were in chaos. It seems that the average Brit is breathtakingly incompetent in wet conditions, despite bemoaning that its always raining here.

Either driving lunatically fast, or crawling along far too slowly, the result is multiple accidents, and long holdups. The delays were only made marginally tolerable by listening to the radio.

I decided that the solution to my grumpy mood was to pull my bicycle out of the. garage, and cycle the mile and a half to my alternate refuge, the Passfield Club.

It was only five past five when I arrived, and the place was almost deserted.

I ordered a pint of Fossil Fuel, and went at sat at a table at the far end of the room.

I was thinking about driving. Despite my journey, I knew that I was fortunate to be in a position to drive.

I have held a full licence since February 1977, almost 43 years. The car and motorcycle have become an intrinsic part of my life, and as a relatively fit man, I rarely think of the time when I too will have to hang up my car keys for the final time.

Before that time, I may have to downgrade my vehicle from the small SUV that I drive to a smaller vehicle. Maybe electric?  Who knows.

I recall hearing somewhere that many older people bought an automatic car after maybe decades of driving a manual gearbox car, and subsequently had an accident as a result of confusion over the foot pedals and their location.

 

Also, that older drivers were as dangerous as the young due to their worsening driving abilities.

I wondered if this really was an issue, so I decided to do some research, and here is what I discovered.

According to AXA Insurance’s Technical Director David Williams[1] drivers may face rises in insurance premiums as a result higher compensation claims being awarded following vehicle collisions and accidents.

The two age groups that will be affected most by this will be younger drivers in the 17-24 age group, and those over 75.

That surprised me a little.

Further digging revealed that there are an estimated 2.7 million drivers under the age of 25. Of that figure, 1.3 million are under 22. Combined, these groups make up about 7% of all UK drivers.

Drivers aged 17 -19 represent 1.5% of the driver population, yet they are involved in 9% of all fatal accidents in which they are the driver! Altogether, the under 25 age group are responsible for 85% of all serious injury accidents.

So where does this leave the older driver.

Bizarrely, a quick check of the stats[2] instantly confirms that drivers in the 17-24 category have a very high accident rate comparatively speaking, with 1,912 collisions per billion vehicle miles (CPBVM) travelled. The accident rate then progressively reduces as age increases, reaching its lowest point between the ages of 66 – 70 dropping to just 367 accidents CPBVM.

So, I am, in theory, becoming statistically less likely to have an accident, due to my relentless march into decrepitude.

The accident rate rises slightly thereafter, but peaks to its highest for the 81 – 85 age group – at a massive 2,168 CPBVM.

So, in overall terms, from age 60 to 70, not a bad record.

Some of the reduction may well be inked to the fact that older drivers travel less than other adults, with about half the average mileage covered.

 

Demographically, the older population is forecast to expand and the number of people aged over 65 in the EU is predicted to double between 2010 and 2050.

Now a quick look at the science.

Aging brings with it several inescapable changes, including sensory, psychomotor and cognitive reductions – failing eyesight and hearing, slowing reactions, and slower and impaired judgement.

The higher reported fatality rate for older drivers is due to increasing frailty leading to death in a collision that would have potentially only injured a much younger driver.

Current UK legislation requires that driving licences are renewed when an individual reaches 70, and are valid for three years before requiring to be renewed again. This is a sensible approach.

When combined with requirements placed on medical practitioners to advise the UK Driver Vehicle Licencing Agency of any medical condition which would require the revocation of a driver’s licence.

But us oldies are fighting back!

It would appear from several studies that there is an almost compensatory mechanism at work, and older drivers are good at making sensible adjustments to their driving, and adapt their driving to reduce their exposure to higher risk driving conditions.

Many will stop driving at night, or will adjust the times of day or the days of week on which they travel.

Now – back to my original thoughts.

As an individual with no formalised forensic vehicle accident training, I accepted at face value the statement that elderly drivers should not drive cars with an automatic gearbox.

road-safety-character-elderly-driver

Surprisingly, my research seems to indicate the opposite, and a number of reports actually suggest that older drivers should use an automatic car.

In fact, a Dutch study was conducted by the University of Groningen using a professional driving simulator. The research placed young and older drivers in both an automatic transmission car and a car with a manual gearbox. The subjects were then required to drive several routes, including rural roads, rural roads with random varied intersections and finally a route that necessitated joining a busy motorway, overtaking vehicles and then exiting safely at a junction.

The results were interesting, in that the older drivers performed better in an automatic gearbox car than a manual.

This is possibly because the time lag induced by the age-diminished psycho-motor skills to both brake and shift down the gearbox simultaneously impaired driver performance. This was discussed as far back as 2002[3], where research suggested that older drivers should, in fact switch to driving an automatic car.

Interestingly, even the younger drivers in the sample also performed better when driving an automatic.

I accept that there needs to be a safe transition period, so maybe when drivers get to 65, when they are statistically at their safest, they should change to an automatic car, so that they have a few years to adapt to the differences, so that they may benefit from the additional levels of safety that a car with an automatic gearbox provides.

Manual-Transmissions  0009e2bb5fd7-3095-4bef-8

So, in six years, I will get my electric car, which will not only be cleaner in terms of emissions, but may even help me to stay alive a bit longer!

Mark Charlwood© January 2020

[1] Article Click4Reg April 2017

[2] Older Car Drivers Road Safety Factsheet (2016 data) Published May 2018

 

[3] Warshawsky-Livine & Shinar (2002)

Rolling Back The Years

The sun was smiling warmly as I walked out of the relative gloom of the Chequers Inn, in the tiny rural Hampshire hamlet of Well. I carefully cradled my pint as I walked to one of the somewhat rickety tables overlooking the small car park.

Sitting down at a secluded corner table, I wrestled with my packet of cheese and onion crisps, childishly relieved when the deceptively tough bag finally submitted and dutifully opened, spilling the yellow discs onto the aged wood.

In direct contravention of my dear old Mum’s advice, I gathered them up from the slightly damp, green stained table top, munching them in indecent haste.

Leaning back against the mellow bricks, I could see my motorcycle. It too appeared to be resting, leaning against its side-stand. I smiled. Metaphorically, all she needed was a cigarette…

She was a bit of a beast. Conceived in Milwaukee, she was a diva, and a total extrovert. Dripping in chrome, she was loud, brassy and turned heads wherever she went.

I smiled to myself. 103 cubic inches of American muscle. Deep iridescent metal flake crimson. Acres of chrome. Slash cut muffler and tyres that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Range Rover 4×4.

I took a pull on my pint. Here I was, aged sixty, blatting round the backroads of leafy Hampshire on a hooligan’s machine.

Idly reminiscing, I thought back…

How did I get to be biking?

In a heartbeat it was 1977 again and I was 18, free and single. I was earning a decent wage as an apprentice communications technician, and was enjoying combining working on the tools, and attending West Kent College of Further Education.

It was there that I met my good friend DC, (you know who you are!) who lived in one of the villages south of East Grinstead, where I lived.

Every Friday evening, I would drive the seven miles to Chelwood Gate in my careworn 1969 Vauxhall Viva, and pick up DC, Chip, and our ever-faithful wingman, Elvis.

From there, we would hurtle through the byways and farm lanes at stupid-crazy speeds, playing 50s rock n roll at maximum volume on the eight track. Back then we were all into rock’n’roll, and Chip and Elvis even wore the obligatory drapes and crepes, and both had great haircuts – the Tony Curtis look. I swear that Elvis got through an entire man-sized aerosol of Cossack spray every Friday. His quiff would probably have stopped a round from a Kalashnikov assault rifle at fifty feet!

DC was more of a greaser type, with leather biker jacket and jeans, and although I had a Tony Curtis, I went for the American college-boy look, with drainpipe Levis and baseball boots.

And so it was that fateful Friday…The old country manor house set deep in the West Sussex woods reverberated to the sounds of classic rock and roll – just a normal Friday evening really.

The resident band, The Whispering Sands, were ripping it up, with a rendition of Wipeout, and the dance floor was a mass of gyrating figures, some bopping, some jiving, and others just swaying.

The crowd parted for a moment – just long enough for me to spot her. Tall, willowy, and with a mane of copper auburn curls. Sensing my stare, she grinned, and waved me to come over and join her.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. I was not renowned as a dancer of any kind. More of a self-propelled clothes horse – that was my style. Still, it was too good an offer to decline, so I made my way over.

Thankfully, the band ran out of steam at that point, so I avoided having to dance, and we found a quieter table and sat down.

After an awkward introduction, we settled down to chat amiably, and all too soon it was time to leave. I did however, manage to get her phone number, which I hastily scrawled onto a damp beer mat.

In a blink she disappeared into the night, leaving me wanting to see her again.

Two days later, I called her, and she seemed pleased to hear from me. I asked if she wanted to go for a drink. She immediately agreed, and suggested a small pub in one of the nearby villages.

“When should I pick you up?” I asked, hoping to find her address.

“Meet you there at seven o’clock. Public Bar”

I was about to respond, when I realised that she had hung up.

Later that evening, I parked up in the small car park at the Punchbowl Inn in Turners Hill. I checked out the public bar, but she wasn’t there, so I ordered a pint of Harveys and went out to sit in the beer garden, which sat adjacent to the car park.

The mid-May sun was low in the clear cloudless sky, and was painting the local roofs gold.

I could hear my car clicking softly as it cooled down. The outside of my beer glass soon had a sheen of condensation.

I was checking my watch for the fiftieth time since arriving, when a light blue motorcycle swooped into the car park, it exhausts crackling and popping. The rider got off, and pulled the bike onto its stand, and then removed the blue crash helmet – revealing a shock of copper curls.

Turning, she saw me, waved, and walked over.

“Nice bike” I ventured.

“Its new. I only got it three weeks ago.” She grinned. “It’s already run in!”

I walked over to get a better look at it. Iridescent blue, with gold pinstripes, gleaming chromework, and a gloss black frame.

Suzuki GT185 proclaimed the badge on the side panel.

I then realised that there was an open face helmet with WW2 Fighter pilot goggles strapped to the small rack behind the seat.

“Drink up” she said. “Leave your car here. We can go to the White Hart at Ardingly”

“On that?” I asked.

Looking at me levelly, she said “Call it a rite of passage.” “That’s assuming you would like to see me again.”

I hastily pulled the helmet on, feeling my stomach start to knot. I eventually managed to fasten the strap, and pulled the goggles down over my eyes.

She was already rigged, with helmet scarf and gloves on. Leaning over, she popped the small pillion footpegs down, and got astride. I awkwardly climbed aboard, and held onto the chrome rack with a vice like grip.

The bike suddenly started, and she yelled at me to lean with her, and relax. With that she swung the bike back onto the main road, and we sped off, with fantastic acceleration.

It was a truly visceral experience, the joy of speed, the sensory overload of seeing hedgerows and houses pass in a blur of colour. The smell of two stroke exhaust, and the smooth roller coaster swings of the bike as we rounded bends. The weird feeling of the footpegs dancing up and down as they followed the wheels trajectory – I could not only see the road, I could feel every ripple, every bump.

All too soon, we stopped at the White Hart, where we stayed for the rest of the evening.

Driving my car back home was very much an anti-climax, and at that point I decided to get a motorcycle.

Within three weeks, I was the proud owner of a second-hand Suzuki GT250, in iridescent blue, with gold pinstripes, gleaming chrome and glossy black paintwork.

I then owned a variety of bikes of differing sizes, including a TS250, RD 200, TD175, RD250, XS250, KH250, and then, having passed my test, Suzuki T350, GT380, GT550, GT750, Triumph Bonneville, Yamaha XS550, XS750, Kawasaki Z900, and then more latterly, after a gap of some twenty years, Suzuki GS550, Triumph Bonneville, Suzuki V-Strom, Harley Davidson Switchback, and now my Triumph Trophy 1215 SE.

And not to forget a Honda Silverwing 400cc scooter, which is very different and was a good commuter for an 80-mile daily round trip.

I’m now sixty. Still riding. And all because of a girlfriend in 1977 who owned a bright blue Suzuki GT185.

I Feel The Need….. The Need for Speed!

The sun streamed through the slightly dusty windows of the Alton branch of Costa Coffee, as I sat enjoying my coffee, catching up with the news, both digital and conventional.

 

An article caught my eye about road safety, so, having had my curiosity piqued, I conducted some research which I found very interesting, and in the spirit of friendship and understanding, I offer my thought to you, gentle reader.

 

Speed Cameras. Love them or loathe them, they do serve their purpose, which is reducing speed, and increasing safety. However, adherence to the speed limit isn’t the sole factor that a driver is monitoring, particularly when driving in heavy traffic, or demanding road conditions. Distraction management is not a skill that is taught during driving lessons, and maybe it should be.

 

It would appear that most Police Authorities are aware of this weakness, and allow for a tolerance in speed keeping, to ensure that motorists are not penalised unfairly for a momentary breach of the speed limit.

 

Most police forces in the UK have confirmed that they allow for a 10% error plus a 2 mph additional tolerance to account for minor lapses in driver speed control. This is an agreed standard set by the National Police Chief’s Council.

 

As far as I am aware, this margin was originally put in place to account for the inaccuracies of early speedometers, which were cable driven from either a gearbox on a road wheel, or from the vehicle transmission gearbox. I have also heard anecdotally, that the additional 2 mph was to account for what we could call distraction error.

 

A recent Freedom of Information request made by Auto Express© (www.autoexpress.co.uk) to UK police forces confirmed that 22 constabularies adhere to the guidelines, and cameras are calibrated to trigger at the posted speed limit plus 10% + 2 mph (i.e. in a 30 mph limit, a camera will trigger at 35 mph, in a 40 zone at 46 mph etc)

 

The remaining eight constabularies declined to offer full details of the trigger tolerances, which is a shame, but understandable.

 

According to a study conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, [1] speed enforcement cameras reduced accidents by between 17 to 39 per cent, and reduced fatalities by between 58 to 68 per cent[2], so they are definitely an effective measure in improving safety.

 

Interestingly, speeding accounted for 60 per cent of all fatal accidents in the UK in 2015.

 

However, whilst the cameras reduced accidents within 500 metres of the site, accidents outside the camera zone increased, as drivers either braked suddenly to ensure they were in compliance with the limit, or accelerated heavily once outside the camera’s operational range.

 

As a result of this behaviour, more and more speed limits are now enforced with average speed cameras, which ensure compliance over a greater distance, and without the related dangers of braking and accelerating in the locality of the speed camera site. This works very well, as I can testify to.

 

One of my regular routes takes me up the A3 towards London. Just south of Guildford, the national 70 mph limit drops to 50 mph, in the area known locally as Wooden Bridge. Up until recently, it was almost impossible to maintain 50 mph in safety due to aggressive tailgaters, dangerous filtering and regular high speed lane changes and sudden lane changes.

 

A few weeks ago, Average Speed Enforcement was activated, and as a result, most drivers now comply with the 50 mph limit, and aggressive tailgating is negated by the need to maintain 50 mph.

 

Human behaviour, being what it is, means that wherever it appears safe to breach the rules, then a driver will consciously break the limit. I admit that on an empty motorway, I often take a calculated risk and drive at 80 or 90. I have done so on a number of occasions, when my experience and perception indicates to me that it is safe to do so. I say that with the benefit of 42 years of driving experience, both on motorcycles and in cars.

 

It often appears that the authorities are willing to reduce speeds when appropriate, but not to increase speeds when the conditions warrant it.

 

Across the EU, they take a sensible and pragmatic approach. In France for example, I have seen a limit of 130 kph (81mph) with a further sign reducing the limit to 110 kph (68 mph) in rain.  Across the Netherlands, the Autoroute limit is 130 kph as well, so 10 mph faster than the maximum speed limit in the UK. So much for EU unity!

 

As it appears that drivers are incapable or unwilling to abide by speed limits, which to be fair, are generally there for the safety of all road users, the EU is now is now mandating that all vehicles manufactured after 2022 will be fitted with Intelligent Speed Adaption (ISA).

 

There is currently a lot of mis-information about what is perceived as external speed control. ISA is designed to complement the driver’s speed keeping discipline, and will intervene should the speed limit be exceeded.

 

ISA is an onboard system that tracks the vehicle’s position by GPS, and compares the co-ordinates with a speed limit database. The system then continuously monitors the vehicles speed.

 

ISA will be designed to offer three modes of operation.

 

At the most basic level, should ISA detect a breach of the posted limit, an audio/visual warning will be generated to alert the driver. This is referred to as an “Open” system. This is an advisory system only, and the driver may choose to ignore the system-generated warnings.

 

Should the authorities decide that the system should be more robust in its levels of intervention, then either a “Half Open” or “Closed” system will be mandated.

 

The Half Open system will be designed to provide force-feedback through the accelerator pedal should the posted limit be exceeded, thus giving the driver not only an audio/visual warning, but a sensory input that actively resists the foot pressure delivered to the accelerator. The driver would then have to consciously make an effort to overcome the feedback pressure. This enables a driver to breach a posted limit in the event that an emergency condition dictates it.

 

Lastly, is the “Closed” system, which actively prevents the speed limit being exceeded, and gives the driver no means of intervention

 

There are obviously drawbacks to the ISA as a system.

 

Firstly, there is a risk that further automation of the driver’s interactive functions will reduce the level of awareness and involvement, potentially leading to a reduction in attention to road and traffic conditions. Loss of awareness is highly dangerous, and could in itself lead to further accidents.

 

Secondly, once a driver has accepted the use of such a system, there may be a tendency to become over confident, with a perception of invulnerability as the system effectively manages maximum speed. However, as the system only monitors compliance with the maximum speed, the driver needs to remain involved and “in the loop” as conditions may dictate a much lower speed for safety.

 

Some drivers may also become frustrated at the system holding them at what they consider to be a speed that is too low for safety, especially where speed limits have been set arbitrarily rather than as a result of evidence based decisions. This may result in risk based behaviour.

 

 

 

So, vehicles are becoming much more automated, and much work needs to be done on developing that man-machine interface.

 

I am so glad that I enjoyed driving as a young man during the years when there were no speed cameras. As a country teenager, I took my chances with getting caught by the police whilst rocketing around the lanes of Sussex at lunatic speeds. I was lucky that I enjoyed this without sustaining a crash, injuring or killing anyone else, and without receiving any driving bans.

 

This is a privilege that is denied younger drivers now.

 

Brave new world?

 

 

You decide.

 

 

Mark Charlwood© May 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Figures from 1992 – 2016 Cheng Keat Tang PhD

[2] Within 500 metres from the camera site

Vehicle Security – Brave New World?

Forty-two years ago, I learnt to drive a car, a spotty-faced 17-year-old, lurching along the leafy lanes of West Sussex, my Father patiently instructing me, his face impassive as he hid his grimaces as I crashed the gears. He did relax a little once I had mastered the co-ordination of gear lever and clutch pedal, and he seemed to enjoy getting me through my driving test.  He must have been reasonably good, (or maybe I was) because I passed my test first time.

My first car was an Austin 1100, built at the BMC Longbridge plant in 1965, so by the time I bought it in 1977 it was 12 years old, and had about 55,000 miles on the clock. Fantastically easy to drive, I enjoyed owning it for a year or so after my test, finally replacing it with a 1969 Vauxhall Viva SL90 – which to be fair wasn’t nearly as good mechanically, but looked flashier to my 19-year-old eyes.

These two vehicles did have something in common – and that was their complete lack of anything except the most rudimentary security. There were only two barriers to stop a would-be thief from stealing my cars – the simple key locks on the doors, and the simple ignition key.

This was state of the art at the time the cars were built. A thief could quite easily force the door lock, and by reaching under the unsealed dashboard and bypass the ignition switch, thus activating the car systems and enabling the vehicle to be started. The car could then be driven away.

Statistics show that from 1968 thefts of vehicles soared, primarily as a result of “Joy Riding” (also known as Twocking, – Taking Without Owners Consent), and theft to obtain parts for resale.

To combat this, UK legislation was introduced in January 1971 to compel manufacturers to fit steering column locks to all new vehicles. Most manufacturers incorporated these into ignition switches making it much more difficult to steal a car. Once this requirement filtered into the market, thefts of vehicles began to slow a little, but thefts from vehicles continued.

During the early years of my car ownership, alloy wheels were extremely popular, and as such, opportunistic thieves would simply jack a car up, remove the wheel nuts, and steal the wheel, leaving the car propped up on bricks.

Industry quickly countered this with locking wheel nuts, so the criminal community moved on to stealing car audio systems. Again, industry reacted by building the radios into the car dashboard in such a way as to make them virtually permanent.

Modern cars are extensively fitted with high technology systems, many of which are controlled by buttons built into the steering wheel. Additionally, the steering wheel also contains an airbag, and is an expensive item – a quick check on E-Bay will show second hand steering wheels, complete with airbags and column fetching in the region of £600!

So, have we come through a complete circle? In the 1970s the introduction of Steering locks, and later immobiliser chips built into ignition keys cut theft. This was reinforced by central door locking, and on-board security alarms.

As vehicles developed, we saw the introduction of remote locking, remote starting, and GPS tracking systems for cars.

The downside is that as we have become more reliant on high technology, the bad guys have become equally adept at hacking into systems.

We are just starting to hear about cloning devices that capture the digital signature of your remote key fob. Once this digital code has been hijacked, it may be used to unlock and then drive your pride and joy away.

So – what’s next?

My car has an integrated radio, locking wheel nuts, an immobiliser, a steering lock, and an alarm. But the bad guys can still target my car.

Thinking about this, there are a few simple precautions that may be taken.

If locking or unlocking your car in a public place, you may be better off by using the mechanical lock fitted into the door handle to unlock the car, thus denying any opportunistic thief the ability to skim your codes.

Secondly, Maybe invest in a steering wheel lock immobiliser such as the Disklok® which will prevent the theft of your steering wheel, and coincidentally makes the electronic capture of your unlock codes meaningless.

So, there are some areas where the current levels of electronic and computer aided vehicle security fail, and then it’s back to good old-fashioned mechanical protection.

Welcome to Brave New World.

 

 

Mark Charlwood© 2019

Note: I am not sponsored by Disklok topromote their product(s). Other Steering Wheel Immobiliser Locks are available:

Stoplock

Maypole Ltd

 

 

 

 

 

 

He Rides a Different Road

He’s in his fifties, yet leather-clad, his grey hair proves his years,

His tattoos long since faded, and his belly fat, from beers,

With chains, and studs and heavy boots, his presence here is awesome,

The patch upon his back is clear, he is an iron horseman,

 

Iron Horseman, iron Horseman, on your two wheeled steed,

In search of lost horizons, a wistful, restless breed,

Always riding to the future, in search of some deep truth,

Or chasing down the tattered fragments of your youth.

 

You’ll see him up the Ace Cafe, or at a bikers boozer,

He spends less on food and clothes, than he does upon his cruiser,

In his mind he’s easy rider, he’s Brando on the run,

Mad Max on the Highway, Terminator with a gun,

 

Iron Horseman, iron Horseman, on your two wheeled steed,

In search of lost horizons, a wistful, restless breed,

Always riding to the future, in search of some deep truth,

Or chasing down the tattered fragments of your youth.

His summers packed with ride-outs, just cruising with the HOG,

In a roaring stream of metal, they look a fearsome mob,

But behind the beard, and denims, the leather and the chrome,

Is a bloke who’s’ taking Christmas toys, to the local children’s home.

So when you sit in judgement, from your shiny, ivory tower,

On your dull commute to office land, where you wield such puny power,

Of the old bloke on his noisy bike, In his jacket, jeans and scarf,

Remember that he’s just chosen, to ride a different path

 

acecafe20th-2013-03

Mark Charlwood 2019©