Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 259: It's a mad world .. so buy your new bike now

The world has lost the remainder of it’s marbles and everything has been turned on it‘s head. We have a new President of Europe, Mr Herman Van Rompuy. Apparently he’s the Prime Minister of Belgium but until now, I and millions of other Europeans had never heard of him. In a game of political ‘Top Trumps‘, Van Rompuy would probably be the one crappy card that nobody wants but like it or not, we’ve all got him now. Personally I don’t really mind because his name alone will make comedy shows more interesting and if the alternative was Tony Blair, then it’s got to be much better news than it might have been. Every comedy character worthy of the sketch writers ink deserves a suitable sidekick and Herman Van Rompuy has been given Lady Cathy Ashton as his Foreign Minister. Yes, I’ve never heard of her either. Apparently a late runner for the post of EU Foreign Minister was our very own Lord Peter Mandelson, he of Hartlepool and Foy, First Secretary of State, Lord President of the Council, Secretary of State for Business Innovation & Skills, Prince of Darkness and sometime lapdog to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. We should therefore count our blessings that Lady Ashton was shoe-horned into the post because without Lord Mandelson’s selfless efforts here at home, who knows where we might have been. New Labour love league tables and ever since Gordon jumped into the metaphorical bed with Peter, we’ve rocketed to the top of all of them. Highest debt per capita #1. Highest debt as a percentage of GDP #1. Longest recession of any major economy #1. For a British performance in Europe they’re mighty impressive results in all categories, especially when you consider that we didn‘t even go to a penalty shoot-out in any of them.

In a plan to make us Brit’s feel a little better about our own fiscal furrow, Dubai World this week announced that is was delaying repayments on £36 billion of debt for a period of six months. On the face of it, a seemingly oil-rich Emirate suffering along with the rest of us shouldn’t really be any great cause for concern, but it is. Dubai is not oil-rich and the debt of Government owned Dubai World is really Sovereign Debt and not Corporate Debt. International money markets instantly lost confidence in Dubai’s ability to service it’s debts on a long term basis and a vast quantity of manure hit the Emirates air conditioning unit. Thankfully, it seems that it’s oil-rich neighbour Abu Dhabi has stepped up to the plate and quite possibly saved Dubai’s artificial bacon. The measure of Dubai’s fiscal fall from grace is quite staggering and it’s credit worthiness has dropped to below that of Iceland when it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. You’re probably still not shedding any tears, but if you consider that Dubai’s debt is a mere innocent kiss in comparison to the full blown orgy of Britain’s Sovereign debt, then there may indeed be trouble ahead for Blighty. By the time of the general election in 2010, Britain’s ‘official debt’ will exceed one trillion pounds, that’s one thousand thousand million pounds - £1,000,000,000,000.00. If the Government were honest with us and added in the hidden liabilities, then that figure can easily be doubled and I have no idea if that includes the billions of pounds that were printed during the process of quantitative easing. Assuming that as a Nation we don’t borrow any more money, and it’s unlikely that anybody has any left to lend us, then for every individual UK tax payer, the Government will be carrying approximately £35,000.00 of debt. If as in the case of Iceland and Dubai, the international money markets lose confidence in Britain’s willingness to reduce this unsustainable level of debt, then the interest that we pay will dramatically increase and the value of Stirling will crash like the proverbial lead balloon. Despite what our smiley politicians might tell us today, come June of 2010, they’ll look more closely at the books, blame somebody else for the fiscal failure and kick each and every one of us sharply in the nuts. It’s going to hurt and nobody will be immune from the fallout.

The good news is that if structured in our favour, a fall in the value of Stirling could effectively decrease the level of our debts, but the bad news is that this will lead to stagflation. A stagnant economy with hyper-inflation along a very long tunnel with precious little light at the end of it. So, if you’re going to buy a new bike, then I’d advise that you do it now. If Stirling crashes and the real price of imported goods rockets, then next year you won’t be able to afford it and your existing bike might not be exciting enough to take your mind away from the economic doom and gloom. While you’re buying your new bike, I’d also think about hanging onto your existing one. The dealer will probably only offer you a token of what it’s worth, but if the economy does take a further tumble in 2010, then the value of clean and desirable previously enjoyed models should be an awful lot stronger than they are now. I might be wrong, and I hope that I am, but if anybody needs an extra excuse to buy a new bike, then I'm happy to help.

Post 258: KTM Adventure 990

A bike with this many faults should leave me with an overwhelming feeling of disappointment, but it doesn't. This is the KTM 990 Adventure and the first thing that you'll notice is just how fast it likes to travel. The second thing that you'll probably notice is the fact that the brakes are really quite rubbish. Saying that they're 'Quite Rubbish' is actually being kind, but I get into trouble for writing words like 'Shit' and 'Crap'.
A fast bike with rubbish brakes should be enough to make any sensible rider walk away, but before I get onto the finer points of the KTM 990 Adventure, here are a few more flies for the automotive ointment. The headlight is poor, the throttle and fuel mapping sucks, the seat is apparently hewn from solid granite and the foot of the side stand sinks straight into anything that's slightly less stable than cold tarmac. On the face of it, that sounds like more flies than ointment, but when the ointment is pure snake oil, it becomes very easy to ignore the flies.
To be honest, I can't really say 'Why' the KTM 990 Adventure is so good, it just is. The engine is overflowing with grunt and the standard exhaust system sounds like James Earl Jones gargling with treacle. On fast 'A' roads the front and rear WP suspension makes you feel like you're riding a focused sportsbike, but jump onto the rough stuff and the same bike suddenly feels like a full-on enduro. I have no idea how KTM have achieved this amazing cross-over, but I'm ever so thankful that they have. A bike that can be so good on both 'A' roads and 'No' roads, should absolutely stink on the motorways, but yet again it doesn't. The seemingly tiny screen deflects the wind away from everywhere but your shoulders and the seat that I criticised earlier, is actually quite accommodating on long hauls. If it was legal in this country, then all day three-figure cruising speeds on the KTM would be an absolute joy. On smooth paved roads it lacks the refinement of BMW's 1200 GS Adventure, but in place of that refinement KTM have given it a beautiful sprinkling of fun-dust. As a bike, the KTM insists that you become actively involved in every process while the BMW seems to delegate many of those functions to it's on-board butler. Simon 'The Locksmith' French, was kind enough to join me on his shiny new BMW 1200 GS Adventure for an afternoon of fun around Finchingfield in Essex. It was an opportunity for us to ride both 'Adventures' together and of course, there were two apposing verdicts. Neither bike was 'Better', but they are just so totally different. Personally I'd go for the fun-factor every time, but then I still haven't really grown up. The BMW is a proper bike for adults, but the KTM just keeps reminding me why I love bikes.
I'll stop there before I run out of things to write in the magazine. However, given the choice between my Triumph Tiger and the KTM to ride around the world, the experience would have been far richer and much more fun aboard the KTM.

Post 257: Romania? ... Thank you very much

I was reading through issue 143 of The Riders Digest and on page 85, came across something quite unusual. It was a full page advertisement for an accident claims management company that specialises in claims resulting from motorcycle accidents. Nothing really unusual about that you might think, and you'd be absolutely right, but this one was slightly different. The photograph used in the advertisement showed a biker entering a bend aboard a BMW K1300R along with the question .... 'HAD A MOTORBIKE ACCIDENT?'

The photograph was actually one taken of 'Me', and thankfully my answer to the question was 'No'. Ironically when it comes to motorbikes my only notable talent is for not crashing, but once I'd discovered the reason for my photograph appearing in the advertisement, I really wasn't bothered. It hadn't been used as an example of an accident waiting to happen, it was just a 'Stock Photograph' that the publisher had used in order to meet a fast approaching print deadline. I went about my life and thought nothing more about it until I received an email from TRD. Would I like to go on a two-week tour of Romania? After quickly establishing what the cost of such an adventure would be, which was thankfully nothing, I could only agree.

So in June 2010, I'll be riding around Transylvania for a couple of weeks on a BMW 650GS as a guest of the Romanian Tourist Authority. Aside form the obvious, I really don't know very much about Romania and so I'll need to do a little reading on the Internet. It's a hard old life.

Post 256: Welcome to my World

Last week I posted a message on Facebook and the conversation somehow turned to one about dyslexia. Trying to describe dyslexia to a person who isn’t dyslexic, is probably like trying to describe a rainbow to somebody who’s colour blind. Dyslexia comes in many shapes and sizes and I guess that many people, including myself when I was first diagnosed, think that dyslexia is nothing more than a posh excuse for crap spelling and general idleness. In some cases that’s possibly true, but as far as my own dyslexia’s concerned, I’ll try to explain it here.
Kemerovo ..... 324
Irkutsk .......... 1820
Chita ............ 2933
From this photograph, unless you happen to be familiar with the Cyrillic Alphabet, then you probably wouldn’t recognise the place names. I know what the Cyrillic words say, not because I’ve learned that particular alphabet, but because I’ve memorised the pattern of each word and related those patterns to a corresponding sound in my head. However, you could reverse any one of the individual letters in any of those names, and I probably wouldn’t notice the change. I’d still see the word in exactly the same form and wrongly recognise them as still being correct. It’s a little like when a child first leans to write and ’b’ & ’d’ or ’p’ and ’q’ or even ’6’ and ’9’ become confused. The good news is that over time 90% of kid’s will learn to use each one correctly, but 10% of us never do. Weclome to the world of dyslexia.
That’s a perfect accidental example. My spelling of the word ’Welcome’ above is incorrect and I only know that because as I finished typing it, a helpful red line appeared directly below it. When I read the word back in my mind, it looks to be correct and I can‘t really see what I‘ve done wrong. I honestly do know how to spell the word ’Welcome’, but clearly I’ve written it incorrectly. Whatever dyslexia is, it can’t be cured but you can at least learn how to identify and cure the mistakes.
Quickly look at the number that I’ve written below, and then ’say’ the number out loud as if it were a lottery jackpot in terms of pounds and pence:
Without the help of numeric punctuation , and . I guess that it’s not that easy to hit the correct answer on the first attempt. Any dyslexics that are reading this will probably have to physically transfer the numbers onto paper, add the punctuation marks and then work backwards to find the answer. There’s nothing wrong with our eyesight, but we seem to interpret visual information differently to normal readers. The answer is fourteen million, four thousand seven hundred pounds, and three pence, which when written as £14,004,700.03 is quite easy to recognise. As a dyslexic, I interpret ’words’ with the same difficulty that you might interpret the ’£1400470003’ without the punctuation. Eventually we’ll all reach the correct solution, but it just takes us dyslexics a little bit longer to get there.

Post 255: The Strangest Things

Earlier this week, I popped into Millers Tea Hut in Epping Forest. It was a nice bright day but there were far more cars than motorbikes in the parking bays. I was sitting on a bench chewing the fat with John Newman, publisher of The Riders Digest, and wondering if frothy coffee was indeed the hottest substance known to man. People were coming and going and an aging Honda CB250 caught my eye. For it's age, it looked to be in quite good condition and the rider and pillion sat admiring it for several minutes. A young couple whispering sweet nothings perhaps?
Sweet nothings? Possibly not. Conversation over, the rider leapt into action. From one pocket he produced a tin of Hammerite Smooth Black, and from another a 2" paint brush. No cleaning, no rubbing down. Before my eyes the little Honda turned from original Honda Aqua Marine to Hammerite Smooth Black.
The riders name was Andy Peckham. I wanted to ask him why he was painting the little Honda, and especially why he'd decided to do it in the Millers Tea Room car park. But I didn't ask him, I just took his photograph and wrote down his name. Some mysteries are much nicer when they remain as such. Mysteries.