Sunday, 27 February 2011

Bike Choice

I’m looking for a motorbike at the moment. With a CBT under my belt the law says I can ride a bike with an engine of 125cc and (I think) 15bhp but no more. The plan is to use the bike as often as possible to build up road experience as preparation for the Part 2 of the driving test.

There is plenty of choice, even on a limited budget, in terms of the style of motorcycles available. I’m not really a fan of cruiser or off-road style bikes. The feet-forward riding position of the former feels uncomfortable and the latter type feels too tall. Every time I swing my leg over an off-road bike it feels as though my feet barely touch the ground. That effectively leaves my choice as one between commuter-style bikes and the scaled-down sports bikes.

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Commuter bikes are machines like Honda’s CG125 (above). As bikes go the CG is probably as basic as they get; one cylinder, no fairing, manual choke, simple instruments and a “sit up and beg” riding position. It also has a reputation for durability and being easy to look after – the basic design has been around for a couple of decades at least. There is always a demand for CG125s – not ideal when you’re buying but handy when it comes to sell. On the debit side, I find the ride bouncy, the engine less than smooth, I really wish a rev counter was fitted and I’m not overly keen on the riding position.

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Sports bikes like the Honda CBR 125R have what feels like a much nicer riding position. The handlebars are narrower and angled in a way that (I think) more closely fits the hands natural grip. Having looked at a CBR today I know that it also comes with a tachometer and temperature gauge to supplement the speedometer and fuel gauges. Subjectively, the CBR also seems better finished. Against those factors must be balanced the knowledge that the fairing will impede maintenance to a degree. Also, any damage to those plastic panels may render the bike a write-off. What I don’t know is how the bike feels to ride, but I hope I can arrange a test ride on one to see whether I like it.

The final decision, I suspect, will be a matter of head or heart. Head says get the CG125; it is a sound, basic bike that might not be very exciting but does the job. Heart says the CBR will be more fun. I’m not sure how this will work out.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

News Roundup 25 February 2011

Last week it was all about the Geneva Motor Show with a heavy green tint. This week, to restore some balance, it is time to celebrate the fast, powerful and (more or less) British.

First came the news of a rejuvenated AC. In the tradition of the small sports car manufacturer AC seems to alternate between periods of great activity and times of total obscurity. Cars like the ME and the modern Ace have been released with a fanfare and then nothing much happens for a decade or so. Now AC is in the news again with a new “Cobra”.

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Not that it is called Cobra, or built in Thames Ditton (or Texas or Brooklands) and it doesn’t even have a Ford V8. The substitution of a Chevrolet V8 from the Corvette is in a way appropriate. Back in the mists of time the Cobra was originally intended to have the Chevrolet motor but General Motors would not play ball. Whether purists will accept a German made, Chevrolet powered AC remains to be seen.

Although everyone seems to want the look of the 7 litre Cobra - with the wide, curvaceous wheelarches – I prefer the less bulbous look of the earlier 260/289 small block cars. Maybe the range of classic AC cars to be produced at Brooklands will revive the more subtle shape.

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Compared with the big, brash AC to the new Morgan shows just how varied the British sports car can be. The new Three Wheeler represents the Malvern Link company returning to its roots. It is a light, low, simple, three wheel design with a V-twin engine exposed to the elements at the very front, a cabin that looks snug and not much else. The only thing I don’t like is the use of a car gearbox (from Mazda). It is probably a very good gearbox but I think a motorcycle gearbox would be even nicer to use – but it wouldn’t have a reverse gear which would probably be a serious drawback. Anyway, something as low, light and exposed as the Morgan should be enormous fun. I hope, one day, I can find out for myself.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

News Roundup 18 February 2011

Unless you actively avoid motoring news stories you will probably have noticed that the Geneva Motor Show is nearly upon us. Electric and hybrid vehicles seem to be the big news with just about every manufacturer getting in on the act.

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Land Rover seems determined to confuse 4x4-hating environmentalists. The Range_e is a plug-in hybrid turbodiesel with official CO2 emissions of 89g/km – that’s better than a VW Polo Bluemotion. On a full charge there is supposed to be sufficient capacity for 20 miles. Land Rover describes the Range_e as a development vehicle but it must point to a future production model.

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Some manufacturers have had hybrid SUVs for a while, Porsche has a hybrid Cayenne and has announced a hybrid Panamera. The 159g/km CO2 figure isn’t as impressive as Land Rover’s but still represents an improvement over the standard car (218g/km for a V6 auto Panamera). The most intriguing concept of Porsche’s hybrids is the ‘Sailing’ feature, another word for coasting that switches the engine off when it is not required at speeds up to 103mph.

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A more light-hearted take on the electric vehicle comes from Swiss company Rinspeed. The BamBoo looks like a latter-day Citroen Mehari and comes with a computer display on the front. Some of its features sound wilfully odd, like the inflatable roof and rear seats. The use of bamboo fibres in the cloth of the seats is a nice touch and I like the use of braided plastics for the glovebox lid – it seems like a creative and original use of materials.

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If Rinspeed is frivolous Toyota has always treated hybrids seriously. The Japanese giant will showcase its various electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell technologies. There is a Prius+ which is a seven-seat version of the company’s famous hybrid; a Yaris hybrid concept that previews a production model; and the EV, an electric version of the Toyota iQ.


Coincidentally, I’ve had my own taste of hybrid motoring this week. It was time for my car to have its cam-belt replaced, a main dealer only job, and I was offered a loan car. This turned out to be a Honda Insight. It was very smooth, refined and easy to drive with very light controls. But it also felt heavy, although it isn’t, partly because it isn’t particularly quick and also because of the way it feels on twisting roads. For the type of person who buys an Insight a fun driving experience probably isn’t high on the list of priorities. The limited rear visibility, which makes reverse parking a chore, will probably annoy more people – parking sensors should be standard. My greatest annoyance was the eco driving prompt which ‘rewards’ economical driving by making leaves appear on digital plants in the instrument cluster. Now I may not be an expert on plants but I thought it was carbon dioxide that made them grow.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Follow-up to MOT: Citroen CX

The garage that looks after my car is a Citroen specialist. While my car was there they also had a 1970s Citroen CX. It looked a lot like the car pictured, right down to the model, registration year and colour.

From Fourwheelsteer: Motoring Writer

It has been a while since I last saw a CX and I had forgotten just how stunning it is. Somehow it manages to be both of its time and futuristic. Only in the 1970s could you get away with so many different shades of brown both outside and inside. But look at that interior, the sculpted curves of that dashboard still look great and owe nothing to outdated traditions of woodworking and the carriage trade.

From Fourwheelsteer: Motoring Writer

Even better, the CX comes from an age when cars could be different under the skin. Where else would you find springs of nitrogen connected to the suspension by high-pressure hydraulics that provides self levelling and height adjustment? Where else would you find brakes operated from the same high pressure system with a pedal responsive to pressure rather than movement? How about high-geared power steering with speed-dependent assistance and powered self-centring?

The CX might not be as iconic as the DS or 2CV but it still deserves to be celebrated.

Prelude update

It has been an eventful week what with one thing and another.

For some time I’ve known that one or two of the bulbs illuminating the instruments have blown. Getting to the bulbs looked challenging enough to delay the job as long as possible. Last week my hand was forced as the final bulb went out.

Driving with the speed and other information only intermittently available when street lighting permitted was a little un-nerving. Driving through an unfamiliar area, full of speed cameras is no fun at the best of times but I was even more cautious than normal.

Back home and in daylight I investigated the location of the bulbs. As is often the case with jobs inside the car – as opposed to under the bonnet – what promised to be easy turned out not to be. On the Prelude there are two screws that secure the bezel around the instrument panel. However, it turns out that this cannot be removed without taking of the steering column shrouding. Eventually I found the parts in question and, with the help of my friendly local Honda dealer, ordered replacements. As the parts weren’t in stock I spent most of the week driving round with the dashboard in pieces.

Now everything is back together, with new bulbs installed. I had forgotten how clear and crisp the Honda’s instruments are at night. Age may be catching up with the Prelude but it is nice to see one area rejuvenated.

The other thing to come up this week was the MOT; I was reasonably confident of a pass but you never know what might be lurking unseen. It would be nice to say that the Prelude passed with a clean bill of health but there was an advisory note about play in the rear suspension and the garage warned that the exhaust isn’t in the best shape. Still, all things considered it isn’t too bad for a car in its 13th year.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

In praise of the DVLA and the Post Office

If you have one of the photocard-type driving licences you will have to renew it every ten years. Recently I had to update my photograph as I no longer resemble the fresh-faced fellow pictured. You can supply your own photograph and do it by post or you can go to a main Post Office and do it there.

I chose the second option and have to say that I was impressed by the helpful service from the staff at the main Warwick office. I was told to expect my licence back in fifteen days. Depending on how you interpret that it could mean two or three weeks (if you assume 15 working days). So imagine my surprise when, having been for my photo on the Monday, the new licence arrived in Friday’s post.

The DVLA attracts a lot of criticism for losing post, long delays and a general level of un-helpfulness. The Post Office is famed for queues and not being somewhere you want to go (to be fair there was a monster queue forming as I left the branch). It is nice, however, to be able to report positive experiences of both organisations.