Test Ride Impressions: MV Agusta Turismo Veloce

MV Agusta Turismo Veloce

Let me start by saying that the rear wheel hugger with integrated number plate and indicators does look a bit naff.  Not completely ugly, but it does have a degree of “well, we have to do something to make it road-legal”  It is a concession to the fact that someone, somewhere dragged out some technical document which stated something about having the rear wheel covered at a  certain point and declared that if you didn’t – you weren’t on a street-legal motorcycle.  There’s no way that it will look good, so this is the best compromise the MV Agusta designers could come up with.

Now that I have stated that caveat, let me state: I think that MV Agustas have to be amongst the prettiest motorcycles ever made.  The Turismo Veloce is no exception.  Whatever angle you view it at, it is just gorgeous.  I was lucky enough to spend a bit over an hour on the bike, hooning around the local hills and backroads, plus a bit of time in regular Saturday morning traffic. So, I took off from the store, down the road – quick U Turn and back past the shop and straight into my first false neutral!  This is the first bike I’ve ever ridden with a quick-shifter. Twenty years of muscle memory argued with computer controlled fuelling and ignition – the result of which was a short, noisey and embarrassing argument as the engine shot to redline and I clunked the bike into the next gear.  After that momentary faux-pas and wondering how many people had seen/heard the commotion, I noticed how much of my jacket sleeves I was looking at in the mirrors.  Much to my amazement, despite how close the mirrors are to your hands, it is possible to get a reasonable rear-view out of them.

I try and ride bikes on a test-ride, the way I would ride them if I owned them.  This can be summarised as: “sedately – most of the time.”  It took me half an hour or more on the MV, before I discovered it could be ridden sedately!  The engine is such a hoot – it just encourages you to behave badly on it!  The acceleration is instant and the throttle response is “precise”.  Fuel injection has come along way since my model VFR…

There were a couple of little things that weren’t the way I would like them to be.  These may have been characteristics of the particular demo model I rode.  Firstly, there was a lot of rear-brake lever travel before you got any real response.  I trail-brake using the rear brake a lot – especially in slow commuting or car park manoeuvres.  It didn’t bother me at other times and it may just be that the demo required a brake bleed, but I noted it at the time.  The other thing was with the switch gear:  The mode selector has the same motion as the indicators. In both cases, you can push them left-right, or “in”.  (i.e. the “cancel” motion on the indicator, is the same as the “OK” motion for the mode selector)  These feel natural to reach with the left thumb and despite their proximity, I didn’t confuse the two.  But, neither the “OK” nor the indicator cancel gave any real haptic feedback.  The OK selection didn’t appear to work terribly well and was too distracting to really bother with on  a test ride of an unfamiliar bike.  Back in the shop, I tried the indicators on a Brutale model and was surprised by how much more feedback it gave.  (I was also surprised by the fact it had different switch gear! )   There was evidence that the demo model sat out in the rain, so maybe a quick squirt of WD40 on the switch gear would improve matters.

I have seen various discussions on the web, wondering if the seat height is too tall.  For the record, I’m 178cm (according to my driver’s licence) and have a measured in-seam of 88cm when wearing my bike boots. When stopped, I could comfortably have both feet “two-thirds” on the ground, with just the heels not touching.  If I went for *ahem* an “uncomfortably forward and upright stance in close proximity with the fuel-tank”, both feet were flat on the ground.  Given the light weight and wide bars of the bike, I didn’t once feel in danger of an embarrassing car-park style tumble…

At first, I positioned myself a long way forward on the bike.  Seated like this, I found my knees were too low, gripping the tubular frame of the bike, rather than the tank.  This was uncomfortable for me.  Once I settled down, I was seated slightly further back and the whole seating position made a lot more sense.  The tank was easy to grip with my knees, the reach to the ‘bars felt natural and the view in the mirrors was good (and not of me!)  It was superbly comfortable –

I could easily imagine riding for hours in this posture without tiring. The more I rode this bike, the more excited I was about it.  So what if it doesn’t have 150 rear-wheel horse power?  The power and torque were such that it just got on with it…  Make no mistake – it is not slow!  It would do small controlled power-wheelies out of the traffic lights and would overtake traffic with just a quick blat on the throttle.  It left me cackling like the wicked witch and my helmet was only just strong enough to contain the ludicrous grin the bike gave me.  The brakes were superb and it would change direction with just the slightest input on the bars.  The long-travel suspension dealt with the worst of crappy back-road bumps and delivered a clear indication of the grip levels you had available to you.

Where I live, the authorities take such a dim view of people who dare to speed, it makes sense to have a bike that’s more capable on back-roads away from public scrutiny.  This bike definitely ticks all the boxes there. Niceties such as cruise-control and up-right seating position  meant that the unavoidable straight-line drone that riding in Australia entails would be handled with a minimum of fuss.

Speaking of such, I didn’t spend any time sitting at length on the open-road speed limit, so can’t really comment much on the wind/weather protection the adjustable screen affords – either up or down.  I can tell you, it’s beautifully easy to adjust while you’re going along. Overall, I loved this bike.  Despite being a “sports-tourer” it feels vastly different from bikes I have previously owned.  I find it difficult to express, but it would take me some time to feel truly comfortable riding it at speed.  Maybe it did everything I asked of it so easily, I felt like I was wobbling around on it?  It didn’t do anything untoward and put up with any ham-fisted gear shifts and dodgy lines in corners that I threw at it.  I’m sure with more time, or in more competent hands it would be an amazing bike.

MV Agusta Turismo Veloce
The biggest problem I would have if I owned this bike is: “Would I ever get out of the garage, or would I just get stuck admiring it?”  In the red/silver combination, it is just so gorgeous to look at… even with a naff rear hugger…

It is time…

It looks like the planets have aligned and it is time for a new motorbike.  I’ve had the Honda VFR 800 for almost ten years now – over twice as long as any other road-going bike I’ve ever owned!  Part of the problem with getting older is that somehow changing motorbikes every couple of years is harder to justify (especially to significant others)

This time around, I’m determined not to buy another Honda. – There’s nothing particularly wrong with them, but after three in a row, it’s time to try something a little different.  There’s no doubt the riding I do these days is substantially different to riding I did ten and twenty years ago.  Part of my problem is, I’m not entirely convinced I know what sort of riding I want to be doing…  I am leaning towards a slightly more “adventure” style bike (hey, I fit the demographic) but I’m not absolutely convinced…

So, in up-coming posts I’ll be writing up test-rides I have on various bikes.  You can read far more objective reviews on these sorts of bikes elsewhere – so expect a fair amount of subjective criticism.  If I don’t like something on a particular model, I’ll let you know.  Remember though, these things are only my opinion.  You shouldn’t take offence if I don’t think much of your favourite bike – I’m buying one for me, not you after all!

I also won’t discuss bike pricing.  The world is a big place, and you could be reading it anywhere.  The one thing I’ve learnt is that pricing of particular models varies wildly from country to country.  What might be competitively priced and technologically superior in your market may be way more expensive here…

So, with a couple of test-rides already done and dusted, the first review will be of an MV Agusta Turismo Veloce.  But, that is a story for another time…

 

 

Track day tribulations

I keep assuring you, my dear readers, that I am not a mechanic. It is about time I write a post that helps illustrate that point.

The last track day I did on the RGV was not the biggest success. The bike was failing to accelerate in the top gears and by the “seat of the pants dyno” was even a little weak in the lower gears. Apart from some cursory inspections and a new set of spark plugs, I hadn’t really done much on the bike since the previous track day, so it was not much of a surprise.  I can’t even say “I should have known better”, because I do know better… As they say: “Proper preparation prevents poor performance”

Anyway, both the bike and I survived the day, so back at home, it was time to work out what went wrong… It didn’t take long – the left carburettor float bowl was leaking fuel. Put simply, the top cylinder was unable to get the fuel it needed when running at full throttle.  The float bowl o-ring had a gap if about 3mm, through which the fuel was able to escape.
Where the carburetors are situated, meant the fuel leak was relatively safe.  The fuel would fall on the crank case, which was hot enough for most of it to evaporate off.

The reason there was a gap in the o-ring was no mystery: I had cut it. Of course, I hadn’t done this without a good reason. At a previous track day I had to take the carburettor apart to clean one of the jets that had become blocked. The o-ring had stretched and no amount of careful prodding, cussing and holding my mouth correctly was going to get the o-ring to fit. One truism of track side maintenance has always been “No matter what spares you have with you, you’ll need something you don’t have.” Faced with the choice of “go home” or “improvise” I chose the latter and cut a small section of the o-ring out.

Why did the o-ring swell? Truthfully, I do not know.  I am guessing it reacted to something, but I could not correlate what the Internet tells me and anything that I remember doing.   I think I may have fitted the o-ring with some rubber grease, but that is designed not to react with it!  Most likely, I got some carby-cleaner on the o-ring and it  reacted to this, although I don’t know for certain.  As I had now discovered, it eventually returned to its normal size, thus leaving me with a gap.

Whilst on the matter of mechanical confessions… That day, when I refitted the carburettor, I broke the thread of the plastic choke nut. These are hollow, allowing the choke cable to pass through them. As a result they are incredibly easy to over-tighten and snap. Without it in place a lot more air would be drawn through the carburettor, causing the engine to run dangerously lean.

Plastic choke nut assembly

There was insufficient thread left on the choke nut to hold against the spring tension, but another RGV owner came up with a clever way of using cable ties to hold the choke nut in place. It was certainly a bodge job, but it easily held up on the day.

So, what did I learn from my mistakes? Lots of things, really!

  1. Do your preparation before the track day, not at it.
  2. If the manual doesn’t suggest using sealant or other consumables, then you probably shouldn’t.
  3. A twenty-four year old bike that you thrash when you ride it needs plenty of TLC/maintenance when you aren’t riding it.
  4. A post track day inspection and service is a good idea.
  5. If you can’t have the right spares with you, at least have plenty of cable-ties!

 

Are you being Agile and should you care?

Agile Software Development is not a new thing. As an exact “thing” it has been around since 2001, making it more a surly teenager than a brilliant new idea. Just like some teenagers, it has not always turned out quite as well as the ideals its creators had for it when it was just a babe…

The agile manifesto was set out by some pretty cluey people – people who were quite competent at thinking for themselves. Unfortunately, some people look at the manifesto and think that it means “rules” rather than “policies and aims”. Sometimes people want to have rules to follow and the manifesto simply does not provide enough rigidity for their needs.

The most obvious example I can think of is when I have heard people misquote: “Working software over comprehensive documentation” as a reason not to write any documentation! (When misquoted, the word “comprehensive” goes missing) The fact that the manifesto is quoted as though it is law should be the first warning sign that you’re doing it wrong! The Agile Manifesto is not a development methodology and shouldn’t be treated as though it were one. As the scrum methodology website states:
“The Agile Manifesto doesn’t provide concrete steps.”

At the bottom of the Agile principles there is this gem:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly

I like to think of it as: “Remember the aims of the manifesto and do what works for your team”. If you claim to work in an Agile Software Development team – but you have worked the same way for as long as you can remember, then it might be time to shake things up a little.

At the heart of the problem is that not everyone is passionate about their job. Sometimes, even the passionate ones can be at a point where external events mean that they are not focusing this passion on their work. That’s okay! It happens! But when it does, expecting these people to work in an agile manner is not being realistic.

The Agile Manifesto and the Principles behind it are worthy goals to strive for in software development. Lean, hungry successful startups seem to naturally gravitate towards most of the principles outlined. For them, I imagine, spelling it out is just common sense. (Although the principles also talk about working at a sustainable pace. – That doesn’t seem to align with the stories you hear about successful startups!)

If you are working in a Software development company that claims to abide by the Agile Software Development Manifesto, it is worth going over these principles and the manifesto itself periodically. Make sure you are on the band-wagon, not just claiming to be! If you read them and decide that they do not suit your team at all, maybe it is time you claim to be something else!

I must be getting old

Having successfully fixed the VFR I could not help but notice how much my neck and back had not appreciated the time spent in the garage. Years ago, I would have thought nothing of it, but I decided it was time to get a garage workshop stand to put the bikes on when doing work on them.

There are plenty of commercially available solutions. Some are air, hydraulic or electric powered lifters and some are merely a “bench” that the bike must be wheeled up and onto. Cheap(er) versions of these lifters are available on eBay too. Compared with the US and European markets, Australia’s low population and large geographic distribution means that low-priced options available in a bricks-and-mortar shop are not available here. I am sure there is nothing wrong with the eBay specials, but I could not find a cheap lifter with a platform length that I felt was suitable for my needs.

So, I decided to see if I could build a bench for a fraction of the price. Price was always going to be the largest factor in the build. If it were too dear, I might as well spend extra on an eBay special and hope it suited – I could always cheer myself up by playing on the lifter if it didn’t… Second largest factor, is my lack of finesse when building things out of timber. It had to be easy to construct and require minimal precision with cutting. I will always remind people that I am not a mechanic – but I place my mechanical skills above that of my carpentry skills!

Building a workbench out of steel was never an option – I don’t have a welder (yet) so armed with a printout of a sketch-up model that I had made, I went to the local hardware and timber supplier to discuss my idea. He took on the challenge as I laid it out to him – made some alterations to my original plan (mainly to add strength), and we got the price down to an acceptable level. Buoyed by an unjustified level of self-confidence and enough power tools to make the job easier, I set to work!

Leg length cutting jig

First job was to cut the six legs to the same length. To make it easier, I made up a small jig to help me position the circular saw. A drop saw, or a table saw would have been more accurate, but as I had neither, this has to suffice.

Three pairs of legs

Once cut to length, I joined the legs in pairs. To fasten the timber together, I was using long hex-headed screws . I chose to drill pilot holes, although because I was using pine, it should have been soft enough timber to not require them (according to the man at the hardware store…)

With the three pairs of legs made, I then attached the two length pieces.

Workbench taking shape

Next were two additional braces to support the surface of the bench. Suffering from a bout of OCD, I really would have liked the middle legs to be braced on both sides, thus enabling symmetry between the front and rear half of the stand, but we had quite literally only enough timber for the single sided brace. So the additional braces were placed halfway between the end braces and the middle. This means that they are further apart on one end of the bench.

Workbench with additional bracing

With the frame now complete, I added the top of the bench (thick plywood) and used a generous number of screws to hold it all together.

A longer beam then sits on top of the bench at one end, to act as a wheel stop and provide mounting points for tie-downs. (Or possibly something to swear at when I accidentally walk into it)

Just needs painting

I also added an eyelet bolt to the end of the workbench, to allow me the option of tethering the ramp to the table.

Last but not least, I added three thick coats of polyurethane varnish to the top of the bench in order to protect it from accidental oil and water spills. Job done!

As for loading the bike, that can be done singlehandedly, aided by the fact that the RGV is light and some forethought.

I fitted the tie downs to the bench first, hanging the loose end from the roof, ensuring the hooks were at approximately the right height to attach to the bike on the stand. Next step was to put the tie down loops around each handlebar of the bike. I fitted the ramp with the safety strap and most importantly moved the other bikes out of harms way in case it all went pear-shaped.

With these preparations in place, the rest was easy!

  1. Roll the bike into the stand until the front wheel his the stop.
  2. Hold the bike with one hand and hook the two tie down hooks to the straps.
  3. Take the slack out of each tie down, so the bike can’t fall over.

I then put the bike on the paddock stand and removed the tie downs, but that largely depends on what work you are going to do on the bike.
So, what am I doing? Well that’s a story for another time…

Fitting a new stator to the VFR

Last time, we discovered the cause of the VFR’s battery eating habit. According to the workshop manual, the stator coil was no longer functioning correctly. As you may have surmised, I left out most of the charging circuit tests that passed. There is beauty in brevity and my posts are rarely that!

The stator coil on the VFR is on the left hand side of the engine, mounted to the inside of the alternator cover. This means it is submerged in the engine oil. (I’m guessing that most four stroke motorcycles would be the same). So, to replace the stator, you will also need a new alternator gasket and an oil filter (as you end up doing an oil change).

As usual, you should read my disclaimer, if you feel inspired to give this work a go. As a comparison, this is probably the trickiest procedure that I have blogged about. – You have been warned!

Start by removing the two side cowlings and the connecting front piece from the bike. These require a 5mm Allen key and patience as you struggle with the plastic clips that go together easily the first time and then deteriorate, get jammed up with road grime and go brittle with time.

Once the panels are removed, warm the bike up for a minute or two. The idea is to not make the engine too hot to work on, just to raise the temperature of the oil enough to reduce its viscosity. Stop the bike, do what you need to do to stop yourself from absent mindedly starting it with no oil and remove the oil drain plug.
Draining the oil

While the oil is draining into an appropriate receptacle, unbolt the radiator overflow bottle. The workshop manual suggests removing it all together, but I found that by using a zip tie, I was able to access the alternator cover without needing to drain it or disconnect the hoses.

Moving overflow bottle away from alternator cover

The astute reader may have noticed by now that while the stator is located on the left side of the bike, its connector is plugged in on the right hand side. This means the wiring is threaded through, from one side to the other. Pulling the old cable out is always going to be easier than threading the new one through… The workshop manual instructs you to remove the fuel tank, airbox and the throttle bodies to gain access to the wires. Removing all these parts would undoubtedly make routing the new stator cable easier, at the cost of making the overall job much harder! Instead, I tied a piece of string to the stator’s plug and carefully pulled the cable through the bike, such that the whole wire ended up hanging on the left side of the bike. The string is then left in place, to guide the new stator wiring back through.

Wrong Focus!

Once the wiring is clear of the bike, the bolts holding the alternator cover in place can be removed. Even once they are removed, the alternator cover is held in position by the strong magnets that generate the current as they spin around the coils of the stator. There is a lug on the alternator cover that, with a bar and mallet, I was able to tap on the back of to break the magnetic seal.

Burnt out stator

Despite what the workshop manual suggested, I found that the stator on my bike was held in place with Allen key bolts, rather than Torx head bolts. I have no idea whether this is common or not, but it meant my purchase of the torx head keys was unnecessary… One day I will have a use for them… You will probably find that the bolts holding the stator in place are on pretty firmly, so take care not to do this :-). If I had any good suggestions on how to avoid sudden knuckle/cover contact I would not have injured myself, so good luck with that!

Carefully note the positioning of the stator so that you can correctly orientate the new one and then remove the dud piece.
While you have the stator removed, take some time to remove as much of the old gasket as possible without gouging the alternator cover. Remember that the cover holds the engine oil inside, so a good smooth surface is important to avoid leaks.

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Once you are happy with your handiwork, use the dowel pins to hold the gasket correctly aligned and refit the cover. As per the workshop manual, the cover should get some gasket sealer in certain parts. Remember that the magnets in the generator will pull the cover on with a certain amount of force, so be careful to position wiring and hoses clear of its flight path!

Reassembly wasn’t quite as straight forward as I hoped. Although the string helped, I still ended up lifting the tank and airbox, as the wiring connector fouled on various bits and pieces. Still, I managed to avoid removing the throttle bodies with my mad-cap idea… For details on removing the tank and airbox, see this post from when the bike was newer and cleaner.

Fitting the oil filter is one of those few exceptions where I used my torque wrench. I am pretty good at not striping bolt threads – working on the 24 year old RGV teaches you to be careful with such matters, but the oil filter was too critical (and fragile looking) to warrant a careless approach.

The only other point to draw to attention is with refilling the bike with oil. Once the engine turns over, oil will be dragged around all the places it had drained from, so after a quick run, let it settle and recheck the oil level. You may find it needs more to reach the desired level.

Once I was happy that I had put everything back together properly, it was time to try the charging circuit. I didn’t have enough hands to take a photo when holding the engine at 5000 RPM, but as we can see, there was a healthy 13.80 volts at idle.

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Problem solved!!

Dealing with the Apple Push Notification Service

I have recently been working on sending Push Notifications for an iPhone app. The Ray Wenderlich web site has a (dated but still) great post to get you started with this and includes some PHP code for transmitting the messages to the Apple Push Notification Server (APNS).  I won’t rehash what Ali Hafizji went over in his post, rather just suggest you have a read yourself.

There are free and “nearly free” services that offer customers a service that communicates with APNS, but they just leave you communicating with their servers, rather than directly with Apple’s. At the risk of sounding like “not invented here syndrome” I wrote my own application.

Apple document the comms format used. It’s a binary message format. “Back in the day” I did more than my fair share of binary comms . Like a lot of my peers I had my share of writing Point of sales software. Most peripherals in those days used differing binary formats over RS232 to communicate. Apple’s format differs from how I remember binary protocols from working, so I wanted to share some potential pitfalls that I noted. (One of which I fell in, others I skilfully / luckily? avoided)

Numbers are stored big-endian.

If you are writing your application on a Windows machine, then your numbers will be stored little-endian. In my case, I was using C#. The BitConverter class provides methods to get the byte array representing the number, as well as a property that you can check to see if you need to reverse the array. I guess with Mono, there’s a chance that your C# code will end up running on an O/S that is big-endian – so it probably pays to check first, before reversing the byte array!

The frame data is not simply a in-memory version of the third table

This is the trap I fell in – and in retrospect it was a silly mistake caused by misinterpreting the sentence:

The frame data is made up of a series of items. Each item is made up of the following, in order.

Each item contains an item identifier, an item data length field, and the item data itself. Unlike previous binary comms that I have done, this means that length fields appear throughout a transmission. This is not exactly necessary, as there is only one variable length field. While I consider it “not exactly necessary” it does lend itself to forward compatibility that would otherwise not be possible.

The APNS servers only respond with errors – sometimes

When I was struggling with malformed frame data I would often not get an error message response from the APNS. I don’t know why this would be the case. In my experience, if your iDevice does not receive your notification within thirty seconds, you have probably done something wrong! My experience was most were received within three or four seconds…

Not every item-type needs to be in your frame data

Out of interest, I started experimenting with leaving out frame-data items. It appears safe to leave out the “expiration-date” if you wish. I would guess that leaving it out, is the same as specifying zero. That is, if the message cannot be delivered straight away, the APNS will not attempt any delayed delivery.

You do not have to reinvent the wheel!

Late in the piece, I came across the PushSharp open source library. Chances are, I will switch over the code I wrote to use this project instead. It supports all major mobile platforms, not just Apple.

Still, I wanted to rattle off what I learnt in building this app, in the hope that it may help someone avoid a gotcha!

Good luck and happy coding!

Taking charge of the situation

Recently, my trusty steed (the VFR) has been anything but “trusty”. After a great ride through the Victorian hills it abruptly decided not to start. The all too familiar “chugging starter motor accompanied with the dash going dim followed by the clock resetting to 1:00am” of a flat battery greeted me. Given that the battery would be approaching the five year mark, I thought nothing of it and replaced it.

Five engine restarts with the new battery later and I was left staring in disbelief as the dash again went dim and the clock went back to 1:00am. Sidenote: Why is it that Honda insists on making the clock so impossible to set without uttering profanities? When pressing two buttons at the same time means AT EXACTLY THE SAME TIME!

After coaxing the battery back in to a reasonable state with a charger it was time to whip out the multimeter and perform some testing. The simplest test from the workshop manual consists of running the engine at 5000RPM with the lights on high beam and measuring the voltage across the battery terminals. The manual rather cryptically suggests that the charging voltage should be more than the battery voltage “at rest” and less than 15.5 volts. Given that it was slightly lower than before commencing the test, it seemed a fairly safe bet that the bike was no longer charging the battery.

Back in the day, “they” used to say that Hondas were notorious for cooking regulator/rectifiers. My first Honda (the mighty Super-blackbird – the bike that was ever so briefly the fastest production model motorcycle on the planet) certainly managed to break this component and overcharge the battery in the process. It appears that Honda beefed up this component as my next Honda (a 929 Fireblade) burnt out the stator coil. It was looking like the VFR had suffered a similar fate.

The workshop manual specifies various tests – measuring resistance and testing continuity of various connections to determine the faulty part in the charging circuit. On the right hand side of the motorbike is the connector from the stator into the charging circuit. It is described as being a “3P natural connector” although “white” seems to be an equally suitable term…

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According to the manual, there should be no continuity between any of the three yellow wires (in the plug) and ground. The multimeter revealed that two of the three wires did indeed have continuity to ground and hence I had found the problem! As for what to do about it, well that is a story for another time.

Mmmm… floor pie….

I bought a Raspberry Pi. I know there are faster, more powerful “System on a chip” computers, but the wealth of knowledge and information on the pi made it an obvious choice. I bought the “Model-B”, that features an Ethernet network port and lashed out and got a clear plastic case for it. I like to think it gives it a mini-Orac look…

I’m planning on using it to write basic web services to suit my needs. The first one, is going to be as the “back-end” (or “cloud” if you will!) for an Android app I have been thinking of.

Any app-store with half a million apps or so in it, is bound to have already covered the ideas I am likely to come up with. So, it is strictly a case of “done for the fun” combined with “not-invented-here” syndrome. Ultimately, I am planning on learning something away from what I do and know from work.

Like all true home projects, it runs the risks of being abandoned half-way through. However it goes, I’ll endeavour to blog about it as I go…

Phillip Island MotoGP 2013 – as seen by a spectator

I have been lucky enough to be able to attend the last three MotoGP events at Phillip Island. This year, the added challenge was that I could claim to have started the journey to the track from New York – arriving home in Melbourne on Saturday afternoon, before completing the journey on the Sunday morning. Anyone who has been to the track spots the irony in the pit-straight banner proudly proclaiming “Melbourne!”. The track is nowhere near! It takes over an hour from my house travelling the flat plains and countryside to get to the Island, before a further fifteen minutes is spent crossing the island to reach the track.

To keep me company (and prevent serious jet lag overcoming me whilst the race went on) I went with a fellow motorcyclist and friend from work who had not been to the event. As a Formula 1 follower, it meant the spectacle of pit stops and their possibility of helping decide the race outcome was nothing new to him. To me, it seemed like the organisers had come up with the best compromise they could have. It gave us a race, reduced the danger to the competitors as much as they could and still fitted in with the global television time slots. Not ideal, but better than sending the 31,000 spectators home without seeing the main event.

One thing about the Phillip Island circuit is that it is vast! As a general admission spectator, only the outside of the 4.5km track is accessible. Devoid of grandstand, corporate or media passes means you are left walking to get from one spot to the other. On foot, it takes a huge amount of time to circumnavigate. As such, picking a spot and staying in that vicinity is realistically your best option. This year, the organisers felt it appropriate to drop the “cloak room” facilities, which meant we were left lugging our motorcycle gear around all day. For once, the weather was kind and it was warm enough to wear no more than T-shirt and shorts. So we had a lot of gear to lug around! Wasn’t happy about that…

So, limited by luggage, we went to Turn one, near the marshals’ bunker. This is an excellent spot to spectate from. You are close to the action and the bikes are very near full speed. If you pick wisely, you will also be able to see Turn 3, watch the bikes through Turn 4 and up to Siberia, meaning you will witness plenty of bravery and overtaking. It is also the position of one of the super-screens so you don’t miss the action when the bikes are travelling around the other postcode on the opposite side of the track. Have I mentioned how vast the circuit is? Sure, photography from here requires a fast auto-focus or a lot of luck, but I can go stand on any street corner and watch motorcycles go by at slow speeds… And after three weeks of holidays lugging my DSLR around, I didn’t even bother to take it this year.

Before giving my commentary on the race, I feel I should divulge my allegiances that normally only the television gets to hear. I have been a Marc Márquez fan since his days on the 125s battling with Pol Espargaró. It was obvious he is a new crowd favourite. Unlike many riders, Rossi still gets the cheers he deserves, but so does the new kid. It is funny that two years ago, Márquez was the villain to most of the crowd, after the appalling crash into Ratthapark Wilairot at the end of free practice. I witnessed that crash and have meant to blog about the circumstances leading up to it. Unfortunately, Marco Simoncelli’s fatal crash happened a week later and that reduced my enthusiasm for blogging about motorcycle racing and partial justification of accidents.

About that race…
Even in such short “sprints” the racing appears to settle down as a pattern is established. Initially, it appeared that Jorge Lorenzo was capable of holding the two Respol Honda riders at bay. The Hondas are stronger under brakes, and would close a little into Turn 4, but by the time they were next at that point on the track, Lorenzo would have clawed back the ground he lost. Just prior to the pit-window, it appeared that the titanic struggle was slowly tipping in Márquez’s favour. The crowd could sense he was closing. Whether the stop watches would agree with us, or whether it was just wishful thinking from the spectators, I do not know – but, that is how it appeared.

Then the pit-stops unfolded. First Dani Pedrosa came through. We watched the super-screen replay of Pedrosa demonstrating how quickly you could stop the Honda, unaware of any dramas surrounding the new point at which the speed-limit took effect. The next lap Lorenzo came in. Some – including myself, were slightly mystified that Márquez stayed out. Wasn’t there only a two lap window in which you could pit? There was a feeling of “they know what they are doing”. Mercifully, we could not hear the track-side announcers over the noise of the bikes. No matter what you think of Gavin Emmett and Nick Harris, they are infinitely better than guys who get to cover one race a year when the MotoGP circus comes to town. Spoken commentary is not a skill that I have, but neither do they…

As Márquez reappeared from the pits, down the infinitely long pit-exit lane we all held our breath in anticipation. We could see it would be close… Lorenzo and Pedrosa closing, Márquez anxiously looking over his shoulder… I was willing him not to turn off the speed limiter early… Don’t spoil what will be an exciting finish! And out he exited. Perfect timing, in what if it were scripted would appear corny, melodramatic and unrealistic. Except it wasn’t! The first corner clash between Lorenzo and Márquez happened less than 100 metres from our vantage point. The way I saw it, neither party was innocent. Lorenzo was clearly wider than normal and Márquez came across further than he needed to. They both looked like they were trying to jockey for position in a bluffing game – in a schoolboy-macho type of way. Neither party was particularly guilty either and that matter should be put to rest.

After the pit-stops, racing resumed with Lorenzo leading Pedrosa and Márquez coming up to speed in third. In this second part of the race, Márquez looked to be clearly faster. He passed Pedrosa under brakes into Turn 4. It did not appear that Pedrosa had conceded the position and we were unaware of any penalty Pedrosa was apparently serving by dropping the position. He pushed on and there was a genuine sense that we were going to watch a classic race unfold. He looked to be catching Lorenzo and we were going to witness an epic battle! And then we weren’t… Márquez was slowing, he was coasting into the pits. No hurry, no excitement. The crowd was notably quiet – voices speculating as to what had just happened. MotoGP went back to its recent worst… Just a high speed procession for a few laps until the end.

As I stated earlier, I am a Márquez fan. But for the record, I think:

  • Intentionally or otherwise – he broke the rules.
  • He was disqualified for doing so.
  • The punishment fit the crime.

Quite simply, the rule he broke was for the safety of everyone: riders, marshals and spectators. Considering the safety of others is a lesson Márquez has yet to learn. It has been two years since the incident with Wilairot, but I cannot see any signs of him maturing in that respect.

In the end I was left with a sense of being robbed of a great race. Had Márquez not got himself disqualified, I think we would have seen one of the races that would have been remembered as a classic to rival Laguna Seca, 2008. But, as a race fan, every dull race makes the next exciting one, one closer.