If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Friday, 13 August 2010

Cancer Research UK Charity Ride

I mentioned this in a previous post, but today was the day I accompanied Russ for the Wales leg of his round-Britian charity ride.

There was a slight misunderstanding over meeting times, but eventually I tracked Russ down in a petrol station in Llanrhystud, on the coast road South of Aberystwyth at about 9:30 am. The day was cool, with a bit of rain in the air, so my choice of leather jacket and jeans wasn't too bright. We set off onto the B4337 and passed through Lampeter before stopping for a coffee and a bacon baguette (mmm) at the famous West End Café in Llandovery. We then carried on down the A40 to Brecon and Abergavenny, where we had another coffee at the Bus Station, another favourite bikers' hang-out. In the car parking area of the Bus Station, we saw this weird device:

I understand it is a BMW, although whether produced by the motorcycle or car division I am not sure. It looks wildly top-heavy, and on its tiny scooter wheels I can't imagine it is very stable. But the dapper and bearded gentleman who climbed off it (or should that be out of it?) seemed unconcerned with such matters.

I planned to ride with Russ as far as the A449 at Raglan. However, I had already run onto reserve and when I realised that I would have to join the A449 and ride it for some miles before I could turn back (and I know for a fact there are no petrol stations on that stretch), I bailed out into Raglan town to look for fuel. Russ carried on towards his goal of a campsite at Weston-Super-Mare.

Russ turned out to be a thoroughly nice guy, and his passion for the cause of cancer research was clear. He's already a long way to achieving his fund-raising goal, and I wish him well with it. I hope the bacon baguette was a suitable contribution to his well-being for the day.

I decided to make a meal of the journey home, so I hunted around the road map until I saw something suitable. By going back along the A465 Heads of the Valleys road as far as Merthyr Tydfil, I was able to pick up a tiny unclassified road that led me to the start of the Brecon Beacons Mountain Railway. I almost took a turning that would have led me to the infamous Gurnos Estate, and if I had I probably wouldn't be writing this now. The road picked its way alongside the Pontsticill Reservoir and across the top of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Strangely, I passed within a few yards of the Taff Trail, the scene of the killing of the biker with a metal bar across the trail (posted here). That wasn't deliberate, I assure you. The land there shows the evidence of years of coal mining, with strange lumps in the ground which have now grassed over and look almost natural:

The reservoir, on the other side of the road, was deserted and eerily peaceful.

Once out of the valley and on the tops, the views were stunning:

I have never been on this road before, but I know I will have to do it again sometime. The road finally descends past Tal-y-Bont Reservoir into the village of Talybont-on-Usk, where I surprised to see a swing bridge in my way, and even more surprised to find that it crossed a canal, complete with narrowboats, that was a good five metres higher than the road I was riding on:

And so back to Brecon, the A40 (and a roadside burger) and home.

I was a little anxious about the bike. I always am until any work I have done has proved itself in action. I needn't have worried. The bike went like a dream all day, coping with traffic, A-road blasts and dual-carriageway high-speed cruising as well as I could have wished. Its good manners in slow traffic haven't been compromised, but the hefty belt of mid-range that the airbox and carb mods have delieved is astonishing. Overtaking was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it affair*, and the bike seems happy to cruise a full 10 mph faster than before. Great for performance, not so great for my neck muscles. The most amazing and gratifying thing was the numbers when I finally filled the tank before returning home - a very reasonable 55 mpg average, which is almost identical to previous long runs before the mods. I did a couple of plug readings on the way home, and they were normal. I think we'll call the work complete for now.

Oh, and the 285 miles I did today has also finally killed off the rear tyre. It is now officially bald. New one should arrive in the next few days. And waiting at home for me was my latest eBay purchase, a Vango 3-man tent, bike-camping for the use of. I'll post about that shortly.

*OK, that's an exaggeration. But it was a damn sight easier and quicker, that's for sure.


  1. Sounds like you had a much nicer day than mine...

    That's a BMW C1 (possibly -E), by the way. It was supposed to be a radical step forward in scoot design, with seat belts and a rollcage that made it impossible to sustain personal injury in the event of a mishap. Unfortunately for BMW, their plans were rather scuppered by several EU member states refusing to allow helmet exemptions for riders (drivers?). The UK, of course, was one of those. As that neatly killed off the whole urban freedom aspect and left one with a faintly ridiculous (and, apparently, hellishly uncomfortable with a lid on) scoot-with-an-unhelpful-roof, sales basically tanked.

    Pleased to hear the home tuning exercise was a success. Sounds like a sensible set of mods to refine the bike without bollocksing its essential nature. Or the sneaky start of a Salt Flats project involving several turbos and a streamliner fairing...

  2. There is talk of the C1 coming back in electric guise.

    Like the Austin Allegro I believe that there is a C1 owners club and some following....

    At least BMW stick their neck out.

  3. endemoniada_88, Fistly that is not a C1-E as the electric version (which appears to be cobbled up from the chassis of a C1 and the electrics from a Vectrix) does not exist outside a prototype, presumably made to gauge public reaction, yet.

    Then there is nothing about the C1 that made it 'impossible to to sustain personal injury'. It's design does reduce the chances but people have been killed in C1's. (More detailed info about the design can be seen here - http://www.bmwc1club.com/c1artigo.pdf)

    I think that in the end the UK was the ONLY country that in the EU that utterly refused to allow the C1 to be used as it was designed, as a 'cabin motorcycle', and ridden without a helmet. It is not that uncomfortable to ride with a helmet. The only times I've ridden a C1 I've worn an open face. I have been told that without a helmet long distances can be a bit noisy (and you see people wearing helmets on them in Europe)

    I do agree the roof in unhelpful - yet it is the 'feature' that people seem to like the most about the design! Of course it is pretty useless, you still get wet, the screen (made of glass) is heavy and in rain gets spray on the inside - which does not have a wiper - so imagine what that is like at night!

    However, there are 'conspiracy theories' that BMW pulled the C1 (the sales were not bad - @30,000 in 2 years in Europe alone IIRC) because of the safety aspect.

    Because the bike did allow riders to survive incidents and the company were rumored to be worried that they might get sued by crash victims in the more litigious countries for making bikes that were knowingly 'unsafe'. While I have no idea if this is true - it would make sense to me if I were raking it in as the manufacturer of a large range of antique motorised bicycles....

  4. @Voyager -
    I didn't believe the excessive safety claims either but as it's the Internet, tongue-in-cheek doesn't always come over too well...

    I vaguely remember the E version being hyped around a while ago, but hadn't appreciated it was prototype-only. Shame (possibly) - it might give the thing slightly more purpose in life! It always seemed to me that the 125, and even the revamped 200cc version, was going to be underpowered for the shape and weight, and that it would be better off either as a full-fat superscoot or a low-expectation electric. As you've actually ridden one, was it any good?

    The UK bike press moaned about the harness-and-helmet combination as uncomfortable (hence the "apparently"), but if your experience is that it's not that bad, then fair enough.

    The conspiracy theory did sound believable, although there's an (uncited) reference on Wiki that claims only 12,600 unit sales for 2001 and 2, which isn't that good, and I've got a vague (again) memory of 20K sales being quoted at the end-of-life announcement.

  5. Interesting points, all. I hadn't seen one of these before, so any information is good. The chap riding/driving it was wearing an open-face helmet with peak, and seemed perfectly comfy with it. The roof was pretty substantial (hence the remark about stability) and the shoulder-bars and seat belt suggest that it would look after you in a simple tip-over. Impact with a lorry would be as bad as on a normal bike, I would have thought. I'm not tempted to get one, even if they have cult status these days.

    Does anyone remember the Quasar? Bike magazine, in the person of Royce Creasey, was quite evangelical about those at one time - the late 70s, from memory. It certainly looked funkier, with a bearded and scruffy helmetless rider, than the rather look-at-me-I-am-SAFE appearance of the C1.

    I think this will go down in motoring history, along with automatic gearboxes for bikes, in the category of 'answers to questions nobody was asking'.

  6. The C1 is MUCH easier to ride than the Quasar but not as much fun and Royce went on to make a much better FF.


    (Auto gearboxes are a question being asked by the designers - wondering why high end car buyers are getting into 'flappy paddle' type auto boxes and looking at ways of implementing it into bikes)

  7. Thanks for the link to Royce's site. I didn't know he had kept on with the obsession, but there's some interesting stuff there. I'm not sure the physics is 100% accurate, but the principles are excellent. Richard Ballantine (bicycle guru) made many similar points regarding safety, stability etc talking about recumbent bicycles. I'd probably have a FF if I could, but not as the only bike in the fleet.

  8. Also, I see the site was last updated in 2003. Doesn't look promising.

  9. Don't worry, he's still at it (aged 65).

    Doing a TMAX FF currently.


    (And I have one of the 5 Voyager pre-production prototypes as my only bike!)

  10. Aha! I wondered where your handle came from :))

    I noticed that he said on the site that the Tmax was probably the easiest route to FF these days. I must investigate that. Only trouble is my total lack of welding and fabrication skills. Well, in metal anyway - I can do most things with wood. Perhaps a wooden FF, as a kind of eco-friendly alternative. Someone built a wooden Land Rover once, so it must be possible.

    I like the concept of the Voyager, even if the looks are a bit of an acquired taste. Makes a radical lowrider look tame. I'd love to have a go on one.

  11. I was recently wondering about a wood/epoxy tub to hold batteries for an EV FF. Ought to be able to be made light enough and all you need to do is hold he swing arms in line.....


    Nothing to do with me - just found it.

    Know RWS though - it belonged to a mate of mine who sold it recently to buy a second-hand Ecomobile. It makes the C1's look a bit silly - they are clearly too tall or too short (or both)

  12. That's an interesting clip. I don't think I've ever seen a Quasar on the road. Looked good.

    I was willing the rider with the camera to open it up, though. Two-strokes do that to you.

    I agree about the C1s - they look like something off Dr Who. Too tall and too short. In comparison, the Quasar looks right and purposeful. The design is impressive.

    Thanks for the link.

  13. The TMAX conversion....


    There you go.

  14. Thanks for that. It looks a very professional job. I'm not too keen on all that bodywork, but then I was never very fond of plastics round a bike. But as a home-brewed conversion, it's hard to imagine better. I'm pretty sure those mirrors were off an early Pan :)

  15. I thought K series BMW?

    It's one or the other for sure.

  16. Yup, it's a K. Honda did make a fair copy of the Beemer arrangement, though.

  17. Interesting thread.

    Thought I might tack on a couple of other links - although from the posting name and the presence of Voyager's own Voyager, I guess they're not new to at least one reader...

    Fascinating stuff.

    I rather like the look of the Quasar - very Gerry Anderson and certainly distinctive. I'm not so sure about the bulkier FFs, though: they put me in mind of Honda's Pacific Coast. A bit too much fibreglass for your money.

    It does make me wonder, though. Traditional bike design these days aims for the same core things that FFs are designed around: mass centralisation to a lower CG, improved handling (although there's still a reluctance to use "funny front ends", whatever their advantages may be) and better safety. Nobody in the mainstream seems keen on producing an FF, though.

    I'd guess that part of that is because bikers are a fairly reactionary lot, on average, and have little truck with anything that looks too different. But I also suspect it's because, empirically, the traditional bike (or scoot) isn't that flawed a concept to begin with. Most riders don't spend their lives on a knife-edge of looping it every time they open the throttle, or falling over at every corner. It's simply not enough of an argument to further minimise those small risks, if the price is having to throw away the familiar and adopt something completely radical and much more expensive. Fascinating as the tech and the engineering is, I can entirely see why FF hasn't managed to create a brand-new and substantial market share for itself*.

    Ironically, I suspect the C1 largely failed for not being radical enough - since, under the lid, it's basically just a fairly weedy scooter. Might have stood more of a chance if it didn't look almost exactly like one of those electric granny-carriages into the bargain.

    * In cycling, of course, it actually proved so much more efficient a design that recumbents were banned by the UCI as long ago as the 1930s - thereby pretty much killing the concept before it could get established.

  18. Thanks for the links - interesting stuff. I think this post now holds the record for comments on this blog :)

    I agree that the problems of looping and braking are not sufficiently acute in most people's riding to be worth a whole new genre of bike design, but I like the way that some people (obsessives?) take an idea and then push it as far as they can. Some very useful stuff comes out of that and goes mainstream. I am a little unsure about Creasey's rationale behind the low CG for braking, though. My understanding was that the CG needs to be kept at a certain height to provide downforce to the front contact patch. If it's too low, the front tyre will wash out even at modest speeds because there simply isn't enough weight on it. We all know the feeling of braking hard on a conventional bike, where the whole mass of the bike seems to be mashing down on the front tyre, and very reassuring it is too.

    I take your point about the UCI banning recumbent bicycles, and its outcome in stunting development. If anything, there is a far stronger case to be made for the windcheating design of a FF pushbike, when the power available is so limited, and cost of speed in terms of fatigue so high. You do see the occasional recumbent bike about - and yet, and yet ...

    The whole idea is somehow foreign to me. You jump 'on' a bike to go somewhere, and with a recumbent it's more like climbing 'in'. I wonder how much the human psyche sees bikes (push and motor) as replacement for a horse, and feels that any riding position radically different from the upright straddle position of a horse-rider is somehow 'unnatural'. Think racehorse and jockey (sportsbike) and laid-back cowboy (cruiser) as the limits of the accepted range. No-one rides a horse with their legs parallel to the ground*, and equally riding a two-wheeler in that position feels somehow not quite right. I'm not talking about FF fans, but the general population - and perhaps why, despite their clear advantages in many areas, FF bicycles and motorbikes haven't caught the public imagination.

    Could be way wrong - just thinking aloud, really.

    * I did once, briefly, as part of the falling-off process, but don't read anything into that.

  19. Yep, I freely admit that the FF idea hasn't really gripped me, for all that I'm thoroughly impressed by people like Creasey's actual design and fabrication work. At heart, I think, it is a perception issue: they don't fit with what I would consider to be "a bike". But then, I don't feel really comfortable with scooters, either, or using the forward pegs on a cruiser. It's not just unfamiliarity: more that it's an unfamiliarity with no evidence of improvement over what I'm used to.

    I've never ridden a horse, but I'd be prepared to concede a level of atavistic memory on the subject. Possibly even a similar ingrained desire that, when the adrenaline is flowing, it's better to be higher up with a wider view. Again, I understand that FF is no worse than a low car for vision: but as I find cars quite claustrophobic anyway, that's not much help. That said, I'd still like to try one, just for the crack, and I'd hope to stay as open-minded as possible about the experience.

    As for the braking: again, I've never used hub-centre, but as I understand it the constant steering geometry works on resolving a parallelogram of forces. So any largely horizontal effort, such as braking mass with a low CG, will be translated into much more of a vertical element at the hub, mirroring the effect of putting weight directly above a conventional front wheel. That's sort of stretching back to A-level physics and vector resolution, so I could be misremembering, of course.

    NB: There definitely is a case for FF pushbikes - I believe they actually hold all the major speed and endurance records - and the racetech/racerep mindset isn't as strong as for motorcycles, so I am actually surprised there aren't more around.

  20. I've only ridden one cruiser with forward pegs, and I wasn't keen; but I'm sure that was a mixture of unfamiliarity and a lower back that likes to move around rather than sit in one position with the whole weight of my torso on it. I couldn't see me riding one for more than 10-20 miles. The FF may well be different - after all, I am fine in a car with a similar seating position.

    I'll take your word on the vector resolution! I was looking at the front end of a Honda Rune at the show yesterday, and none of us could work out what was actually going on or where the forces were going. To be honest, we couldn't even work out whether the springs were in tension or compression, there were so many pivots and parallelograms.

    Reasons for recumbent bikes not being more popular, apart from 'oddness'? Well, height off the ground, for one. Many of the ones I have seen have sported a large flag on a pole just so they can be seen amidst the traffic. And expense, too - they ain't cheap.

    I've ridden a horse twice (and fallen off), and I can tell you that the riding position feels completely natural. But whether that is an atavistic race-memory of many centuries of my forebears, or whether it works the other way (I feel comfy on a horse because it reminds me of a bike) I can't say.

  21. Oh,and I love the way those things go round corners (FFs, not horses). That looks way cool. I loved the 'ride' with Clarkson with the designer's wife driving. She looked to be giving it some.

  22. Honda Rune - wasn't that trailing-link suspension with pretend telescopic stanchions? If so, I think the fake teles just handle steering, while the thinner tubes behind connect to gas shocks under the yoke. A fancy version of the old Indian design, although I have an idea early BMWs did something similar too. I may even look it up later, to refresh my aging memory. Not many firms experimented with t-l, iirc: leading-link was more popular, but I've no idea whether it was any better a system.

    I have watched quite a lot of FF footage in recent days and, overall, they certainly vindicate the low-CG approach as far as handling is concerned. Even that massive EcoMobile (with a very young Clarkson) - but £50k, back then...? Ouch.

    I will definitely take your word for it on horses. To borrow a phrase: "No way you're getting me on of those things!"

  23. And very wise too. My first ride (mainly to satisfy the demands of daughters who wanted to see Dad making a twat of himself) was uneventful and actually quite enjoyable. The second, I was told I was good enough to try some mild jumps (like 12" bars, not the HOTYS stuff) and the girl kitting me up forgot to tighten the girth strap. Half-way round, the saddle made a graceful semicircle and there I was, under the horse. Falling off was the obvious solution. I haven't been near one since. Motorbikes are much safer.

    The Rune suspension was a puzzle, but now you say that the teles were fake, it makes more sense. It's a simple trailing-link arrangement with the shocks up under the headlight, but complicated by pivots and parallelograms that make you wonder where all the forces are going. Too much metal, anyway - it looks over-engineered and clumsy to my eyes (and the rest of the bike looked like a stylist's wet dream as well). Not one for my wish-list.

    I know that Indian used the t/l arrangement, and some early BMWs as well. And wasn't the Ariel Leader/Arrow t/l?

    It's not really a great Hall of Fame, is it?

  24. And I thought that sort of thing only happened in the movies, although they don't usually fall off as a result!

    Never thought much of the Rune, either. I'm not really sold on big, brash supercruisers (supertankers?) of any flavour, but one designed by Honda America by a bloke who mainly did Ford Cobras was never going to be my cup of tea. Fair play for making a two-wheeled muscle car, if that was the idea, but no surprise that the export market remained pretty indifferent to it all.

    T/l hasn't ever been in very common or illustrious usage (I looked up Ariels, and you're right about the Leader and Arrow, but they were obviously embarrassed enough to put those fork shrouds on!). There again, the trailing arm equivalent on cars tends to be on the rear, with something like MacPherson struts up front, so maybe it's just not that good a solution for the steering end...

    A case of Indian deliberately choosing the opposite to Harley for branding purposes, perhaps?

  25. Yep, true movie style, but without the six-gun fired between the horse's legs at the varmints escaping with the mayor's purty daughter.

    The Ariel Arrow was the first motorbike I ever made an as Airfix kit. I therefore know its construction well! Yes, those fork shrouds were pretty horrible, but at least they matched the rest of the bike in that matter. I didn't ask for an Ariel Arrow, by the way. I asked for a motorbike kit, and the Arrow was what was in the shop when Mum went looking. She wasn't to know. I can still see those stubby little cylinders poking out under the beam frame now ...


Comment is free, according to C P Scott, so go for it. Word verification is turned off for the time being. Play nicely.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...