Atrophy playing Santa by FJR1300AS

Delivering Christmas Presents, 17/12/2008.

Start date 12th February 2009    Last updated 9th March 2009

SWMBO was feeling unwell, got a virus that's debilitating, wasn't going anywhere . As the weather was just about tolerable, I decided to take Christmas presents to brother and sister-in-law, going by FJR (of course) .

When I say the weather was tolerable, temperature was forecast as 2 to 4C (that's about 35 to 39F), sunny and dry. Sounded good to me.

So I wrap up warm (3 sweaters under my jacket, two pairs of socks in my boots, balaclava under my helmet) and off I go.

The first 190 miles are all motorways and good 'A' roads. Progress was excellent. However, I was heading south and south-west, and the sun was low over the horizon, mostly right into my eyes. What with this and the salt spray off the roads, visibility was difficult. I do have black tape stuck to my helmet's sun visor, this helps, but I still had to clean the visor whenever I stopped.

One scary event on the motorway. There were some illuminated signs saying "50". Normally these signs are used for fog, accidents or roadworks, but they are usually left on long after they might have been useful, so most drivers ignore them. Anyway, after passing the third one of these, I noticed a high visibility jacket on the hard shoulder. Its wearer was holding something up, looking at the traffic. My immediate thought was a radar speed meter, but I subsequently realised it was a video camera. He was concentrating on the road, I was concentrating on him.

When I finally looked in front again, I saw a piece of what I took to be a vehicle loading ramp lying right in the middle of my lane. It was perhaps four or five feet long, eight inches wide, and was of a channel section, perhaps two or three inches deep.

Luckily for me it was end on, I was able to avoid it with a mere twitch of the bars, missing it by a few inches. Had the man videoing this not been there, I'd have seen it well in advance. Another lesson or two learnt.

The last 50 miles were on roads that deteriorated from dual carriageways through single carriageways, then to tiny little country roads through farmland, where the farmers believe in protecting the tarmac surface with a layer of a mixture of mud and cow dung. All blind corners, slow tractors and trailers (which they use for said layer depositing), and car drivers that don't know where they're going and don't care when they get there.

Made it safely to the bottom of the road that goes to Brother's house. This "road" is steeply uphill from the main road ("main" is a relative term), and has a sharp right-hand dogleg 15 feet up. The surface is old tarmac through which grass is growing.

So, I do the wrong thing, I try to go up in bottom gear without slipping the clutch. On the FJR1300AS (or AE if you prefer), with its electric gearchange, as the bike slows below a certain engine RPM, the clutch disengages. When this happens there is no drive. On a steep up-hill hairpin, the bike just stops its forward motion, but goes into its tipping motion. With the steep road camber conveniently on this bend, there is no possibility of holding the bike up.

A phone call to Brother saying"help" , he comes down and between us we right the bike. Damage? The right-hand pannier scratched, the mirror bent (I can't adjust it fully). The slider took a lot of the weight; I've yet to investigate the damage further, but I think the main panels escaped.

Anyway, packages delivered unscathed (even though the big one was strapped on the back seat, extending almost to the width of the panniers).

Next morning, I set out for the return journey, starting with a very careful descent of Brother's drive, luckily without incident. Temperatures ranged from a balmy 6C (43F) to a positively hot 12C (64F), weather started damp and misty, visibility limiting progress almost as much as traffic.

Made it to the motorway, proceeded at normal speed, until I saw a car's hub-cap, rolling toward me in my lane, gently crossing from one side to the other, then blowing across again. This time I saw the hazard with some time to react. Because I had no idea which way to avoid it (in any case all lanes of the road were fairly full), I braked. Hard. I hoped there was nothing immediately behind, there hadn't been the last time I looked.

In the end, I judged I could go by it on one side of my lane, and passed it safely. Curiously (or possibly as might be expected), no other vehicles seemed to react. I have to say I was very impressed by the FJR's brakes, its ABS, and the way I held the braking on the verge of the ABS operating, all on a road surface that was damp with varying levels of grip. (Well, if I don't blow my own trumpet, no-one else will blow it for me.) Very forceful retardation and no drama.

No further incidents of note. On the way down, I'd only seen a couple of motorcycles, going back I saw perhaps a dozen (one unfortunate parked on the motorway hard shoulder, its rider sitting 30 feet up the bank, watching the world go by as he waited for his rescuer).

A few statistics:
(click on any image for a larger view)
(The temperature shown on the dash has soaked from the engine, never above 12C on the road.)
I really need to scrape some of the dirt off the bike and clean out the radiator.

Did I enjoy the trip? Because I dropped it, no. Even if I hadn't dropped it, I would have said it wasn't enjoyable, but was certainly interesting. The motorway parts were pretty boring apart from the two scary moments, but those nasty 50 miles near Brother's were certainly challenging, not so much in "how fast could I go?", more things like the obvious "Can I see if traffic is coming before I overtake?" to the less obvious "Can I find enough grip on the other side of the road to accelerate past the vehicle I'm overtaking, avoiding the muddung lining the centre of the road and both traffic lanes?". The FJR behaved impeccably, the only slight slip I had was riding up Brother's drive on the grassy stuff (probably too tense after the spill).

Would I do it again? Yes. I wouldn't drop it (touches wood, I know how to cope with the situation, I just didn't practice what I preach!). But the very technical slippery roads were a challenge that I would like to repeat.

Next Christmas?