Saturday, November 28, 2009

Coromandel Loop, but which way?

We were up early and on the road - Ivan's black R6 straining at the straps to be let out, and me on the Boulevard C90 wanting to try out my new skills on one of the best motorcycling roads around - the Coromandel Loop. I mounted the camera on the handlebar and we were off for lunch in Thames - meaning Kopu - Hikuwai - Tairau - Whitianga - Coromandel - Thames. Turn left its 7KM and right its 180KM.

Ivan deciding which way to go - turn right and have lunch in Thames, or turn left and have lunch in Whitianga.

This was my first outing, besides riding to work each day, since my Level 1 California Superbike School at Hampton Downs, so I was keen to get out on a good road and see if any of the learning had sunken in. Well it took a couple of corners actually, to get the words right and to just relax and do the riders job:
The riders job is to stabilise the motorcycle with the throttle.
I soon got the feel right and started to really enjoy the road. I really like Keith Code's analogy of the $10 bill - you have only so much attention available and if you are going to use it on 'controlling fear' (probably introduced through too much rider input) then you don't have much left to explore the possibilities the corner may have, or getting to the places you want to be to drive into the next corner, for instance. As I started to relax and the learnings came back to me, the words started changing:
Once the throttle is cracked open, it is rolled on continuously throughout the remainder of the turn.
The cornering shot is a frame about 2 KM up Kopu-Hikuwai. We cruised on through to Whitianga with Ivan very responsibly leading the way, and stopped for gas and a break. The weather on the Thames side was overcast, however once over the Coromandel Ranges the sun was out and summer had arrived. We stopped for a while at the lovely beach for photo opportunities and ice-cream.

A very pleasant stop-over at Whitianga beach - Yamaha R6 and Suzuki Boulevard C90 - even the name is bigger! However the R6 has twice the number of cylinders and 3 times the revs.

Once underway again I lead the way back over the top to Coromandel and then down the Thames Coast to Thames, where we stopped for lunch at the Sola Cafe - a great place too BTW. I waved to a friendly patrol car (the biker nod actually) and noticed that Ivan had slipped back quietly into the distance a little ("Who me Officer"?). Ivan reckoned I'd get kicked out of the Cruiser Group if I kept riding like that - meaning he was having to work to keep up - I was really 'getting' that later turn-in point and the quick steer and roll-on is just magic. Of course you have to be in the right place and speed for that to come together, and that wasn't every corner by any means. It was interesting to figure out that when we were made to go around Hampton Downs with no brakes, we certainly got the idea of speed coming into the turn - it is the same speed you are trying to get when you have your brakes available... in fact I would say that I went faster into the turn without brakes than with them to start with. Of course on the track at Hampton Downs you go through those corners over and over so you can make small changes and experience what happens, whereas on the road the corners, traffic and environment is ever-changing so you get one chance per weekend :-)

It was still early... so gassed up we decided to return via another great road: Kaiaua-Kawakawa Bay-Clevedon. Mmmm oysters... $11.50 per dozen - good too. It only started to rain a little when we got to the motorway at Manurewa. Another magic motorcycle ride on some great roads just south of Auckland.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cruiser at Hampton Downs

I believe that the conversation goes something like this:
"Can you take a cruiser to the Hampton Downs race track?"
"Yep, sure can."
"Can you ride a cruiser in the California Superbike School?"
"Hell yeah!! Just ask the guys who took part in the inaugural sessions at Hampton Downs in November... there was a cruiser there! A red Suzuki Boulevard C90 - 1500cc and over 300kg of V-twin, peg-scraping goodness!"

That's right ladies, a cruiser pilot and his big red cruiser has completed day 1 of the California Superbike School at Hampton Downs.

The bike performed very well, and I earned 'cruiser' respect from the sporty riders. What an awesome day at Hampton Downs, learning the art of cornering. I am definitely going back for more when the sessions kick in again next year. 

This is no 'trackday'!!
5 x 20 minute sessions on track - so 10-12 laps per session
The first and second sessions NO BRAKES ALLOWED. The words "holy shit I'm going too fast" was uttered MANY times inside my helmet - I can tell you! Sphincter was working overtime!!!
But as the day went on, and I marked arcs at every corner where my floorboards were scraping, I gave those sporties a run for their money - although on the big 'speedy-bit' they caned me... I had the bike pinned in third, fourth and fifth... and they still zoomed by...[sigh - where is that Ducati 748 when I need it? - I wish...]

Late breaking news: Black Ducati 916 Mono purchased!

I recommend it to all riders.
California Superbike School Hampton Downs.
It's happening again in January 2010.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hampton Downs Superbike School

The California Superbike School has run its first set of sessions at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park. Thank you to Dave who alerted me to this, and further to Patricia who alerted him...

I was there for the Level 1 day - I so wish I had known how totally awesome this would be and prepaid the whole damn program!

I booked this motorcycle rider training day way ahead, and the months, weeks, days, minutes, seconds counted down very slowly... but then suddenly its tomorrow, and you have to try and sleep - I woke at 11:30, 12:30, 2:00AM, 4:00AM... and then the alarm went at a quarter to 5:00 and I was UP, SHOWER, DRESSED, BREAKFAST, PACKED, and on the road - grin already spreading.

Off to Dave's place and then meeting up with Ivan and a fill up with high octane gas at Mercer (well 97.5), before heading to the Hampton Downs track.

Windingroad: Red Suzuki VL1500 (C90)
Dave: Red Ducati 998S
Ivan: Black Yamaha R6

The ride down was good, the day looking like overcast but not raining. We ran into a few familiar faces... there were 6 current or ex-Datacom staff there (Ivan and I the current ones).

Arriving at 7:00AM for the registration we geared up and began the day with a counter-steering drill. On the cruiser you have to use countersteering and with the wide bars you get good leverage - it is a basic skill that underlies the physical drills in the courses.

Then into the classroom for a discussion of our Survival Reactions (SR's) - you come to the conclusion that our basic survival instincts are actually extremely dangerous when it comes to operating a motorcycle.
The riders job is to stabilise the motorcycle with the throttle.
The simplicity belies the difficulty of unlearning some very dangerous practices that we didn't really understand were so ingrained.

What an education, what a blast, what fun - but serious fun... no seriously...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I love the Coromandel Loop

I love the Coromandel Loop - there I said it again... keyword stuffing?
Coromandel Loop, Coromandel, Corormandel, Coromandel, motorcycling, NZ, winding roads, windingroad, heaven... poetic license!

Colemans Cruiser Club Ride

Colemans Ride time, and this one was on a perfect day... starting off overcast but clearing up nicely; roads dry and fairly clear of 4-wheelers; bonus: the tide was in.

View Larger Map
This is doing the Coromandel Loop in the counter-clockwise direction, commonly known as 'doing it backwards' to those in the know its one of those roads that really is a different ride going the other way.

It was an early start, well, I got to Coleman's at 8:15AM - early enough for a Sunday - but no would-be lie-in would get in the way of a great ride opportunity. About 35 bikes, down on past rides, but a good selection of cruisers, sports bikes, tourers and adventure bikes - and a couple of 250's on their first group ride. We got an early visit from the constabulary - (I saw 7 cars and 2 stationary camera vans on the ride) - I think senior Plod was jealous that we were off and he was working... I didn't speak to any of the others BTW. !innocent.

WORKN was out with the camera, having organised lunch at the Whitianga Golf Club - but not riding, in the van - which van-ished... maybe too excited about getting the editing done, or racing home to get the bike after watching us all beaming as we waved by him.

The pace was a bit stifled going over the Kopu-Hikuwai, but not icy this time, with too much braking to avoid the guy in front. So after the stop in Tairua I held back to free up the road a bit - good idea too. Lunch was mussel-fritters in bread and salad... very nice too!

Just over the Hill

Over the hill is Coromandel township, and the smoked mussel shop... mmmm smoked mussels. They are cheaper direct from the shop loose from the display cabinets, but you can get them from foodie places in Auckland in vacuum packed form. Places in Auckland. Once mussels safely in saddle-bags it was off for Thames along the a great piece of motorcycling road - shared with a few other bikes, campervans, cars with trailer-boats... but being on the bike is such a great advantage on this kind of road. I found the same in the South Island tour, where cars and buses would be 'seen-to' quickly, and the road was all yours again.

Keith Code

I have been reading Keith Code "Twist of the Wrist II" and kept repeating to myself:
  • Once the throttle is cracked on, it is rolled on evenly,
    smoothly, and constantly throughout the remainder of the turn.
  • One steering change per turn
And later in this month I am going to have a day at Hampton Downs with the California Superbike School learning and being drilled on these very things, but without the distraction of wondering which side of the road the next campervan will be on!! Bring it on.