I’m half impressed, half disappointed by Yamaha’s new R1

On one hand, the R1, and its fellow 2015 ultra-bikes like the Kawasaki H2 and the new Ducati Panigale are amazing feats of engineering that we should celebrate for pushing the boundarys of what’s possible. They’re exciting, make a lot of noise and go very fast…. So what disappoints me about them?

The first issue I have is that these bikes, particularly the R1 and most likely the H2 as well, are so powerful that they would be essentially uncontrollable without the extensive electronic rider aids. Some aids I think every bike should have. ABS and Traction Control are important. When you go too far beyond those, you wonder why you can’t just make a bike with less power, that you can actually ride without relying on electronics to keep you from crashing. I think you need to find a balance between rider aids and keeping the riding experience as pure as possible.

The second and more important issue I have is that motorcycle manufacturers are overly focused on one-upping each other in speed and performance. Taking their eyes off key matters such as pushing motorcycling as a real alternative to cars as a practical commuting solution for the masses, as well as improving their environmental credentials. The fact that most bikes still put out significantly more harmful gases than cars is unacceptable in my opinion, and something should be done. Electric bikes are on the way, and some of the current ones are already very nice machines. Motorcycle regulators have done a poor job in enforcing Euro regulations which has been much more aggressively done in the car industry. They are starting to catch up now, but it’s been far too long coming.

As far as marketing goes, Yamaha and others make great scooters, but they don’t talk about them enough. The bread and butter of the car industry is in practical hatchbacks, and the sports car market piggybacks off that success. Fiat sell a huge amount more cars than Ferrari do, and the motorcycle industry needs to take note, and fast.

Sports bikes can’t come first forever, or motorcycling will risk becoming irrelevant among the general public. Motorcycles account for around 1% of UK traffic, and that is simply nowhere near enough. As electric bikes and scooters come in and the battery technology improves, a big push should be made to get that percentage up to 5-10% in the medium to long term. It’s about time that motorcycling was marketed as something other than just a leisure pursuit.

Is it better to act as if you don’t care about climate change?

It’s pretty depressing when I talk to people, and every time we get onto the subject of things like driving, people have no interest or just don’t know anything about climate change, or at worst don’t care at all. “It’s someone else’s problem right? It doesn’t effect me.”

I understand that, but I find it hard to not care. Maybe it would be better if I acted like I didn’t, or at least not talk about it as much as I do. Not everyone knows what Tesla is, they aren’t going to buy a Nissan Leaf, even the BMW i8 isn’t going to change their opinion on hybrid cars. Maybe the best way environmentalists like me can hope to make a difference, is just by letting things go bad. If we don’t do anything, and we just leave it to the scientists and car manufacturers to keep working behind the scenes, in the meantime the general public will continue to use up our fuel resources. Before long they’ll have no choice but to make an effort to change their ways.

Will it be too late by that point? Is it already too late to reverse the damage that’s been done to our atmosphere? I don’t know, but what I do know is that every day that we continue as we are, the job is getting progressively more challenging.

Perhaps the recent reduction in oil prices can be a blessing in disguise. Maybe it’ll help to deplete the oil faster and put us on the right track quicker, albeit while doing more damage in the process.

Simply put, we should probably stop ramming the facts down peoples throats and instead just quietly do our bit and hope for the best going forward. It’s like the I’m a Mac, I’m a PC ads. By annoying your potential customers, you’re probably not getting the desired effect from your advertising. You’ve got to allow people to catch up on their own terms, however painfully slow that feels to us as technology fans and environmentalists.

One Thing I Don’t Understand About Downhill MTB

2012 Norco DH, Freeride, Trail, XC and 29er mo...
2012 Norco DH mountain bike (Photo credit: BikeRumor.com)

When you watch downhill, the world cup’s in particular where the courses tend to be the most technical and hard on the bikes, you often see guys losing a chain, having it jam or even break completely. It makes you wonder why they even run gears at all and don’t just go for a single-speed set-up.

The riders could try different gear ratios in practice and settle on one for the race. There don’t tend to be many pedalling sections in most courses anyway so you probably won’t lose much time even if you slightly miscalculate your gear. Plus, who has time to change gears when you’re hurtling down a mountainside trying desperately just to keep hold of the handlebars for 3 or so minutes?

By the time you actually find the right gear on your cassette you’re likely out of the pedal section and back into the technical parts or flat out downhill where your best bet is to tuck in tight and hold on.

This is true of FMB riders as well. It’s a gravity based sport so even though there are some pedalling sections in some courses, generally you don’t have to do much of it if you stay on course. I get why some tracks work better for short travel full suspension bikes instead of the generally preferred hard-tails but I can’t really ever see a situation where you would benefit from running gears. One brake is also probably enough for most FMB courses, but of course, not in downhill where you need two of the best brakes money can buy.

But to summarise, I want to see single-speeds in downhill racing. The bikes would be simpler, more durable and more beautiful too. If it’s not allowed in the technical rules currently, change it UCI.

Dear British Cycling Public

No offence to these people who at least have in common with me the love of cycling, but what are you doing wearing those ugly safety vests in the middle of the day? I’m honestly baffled by this phenomenon when I see so many people doing it around town and across the whole nation.

It’s not that I don’t want people to feel safe while they’re out on their bikes on our dangerous roads. It’s just I want to see more people riding, and I think a lot will be put off if they think that they have to dress this way to ride. It’s not cool, in fact it’s completely uncool. It’s not like I would care if people wore them when they went out walking. It wouldn’t make people think twice about walking in future. Cycling is different because it’s optional. I want people to think yeah that looks cool, I want to go and buy a bike now, not be put off by things like this.

Like I’ve said, I want people to feel safe on their bikes, and there is a time and a place for hi-vis clothing. You can get sleeker cycling jackets that do the same thing, but aren’t dorky vests. The other thing to note: they’re designed for wearing at night. To be honest, even at night you don’t need these things. I have a helmet with some reflective stickers on the back of it. They’re not obtrusive in daylight but they help at night. I have lights which I can attach to my handlebars and my bag to shine behind me. My pannier has a reflective patch on it. I have reflectors on my spokes, pedals and the seatpost to help as well. Unless I’m going out into unlit country roads at night, these things combined are going to keep me safe. No one can convince me that I’ll ever need a fluorescent yellow vest.

I’m certainly not that into fashion. I like to look good and occasionally make style statements of sorts like everyone else, but that’s really as far as it goes. However, it doesn’t take a genius to think of ways to stay visible during the day while still keeping your dignity. Wear bright clothes if you feel safer that way. If you’re a girl, a yellow dress for example. If you’re a guy, a bright T-shirt or whatever. Why not just buy a brightly coloured bike to begin with. A white bike will get you noticed for sure. Having said this, even if you wore completely black clothing, a black helmet and had a black bike I still doubt any driver with half decent vision is going to miss you in broad daylight. I mean black does contrast with the background when it’s daytime.

But my despair at the great cycling public doesn’t end with those yellow vests. I think it’s fair to say that 90% or more of the bikes I see out on the roads, are cheap, nasty and ugly looking pieces of junk. The good quality bikes I see are usually very old and battered. I mean yes, I do see some nice bikes out, but they’re very few and far between. When I do see one, I love the conversations that happen when I’m waiting at the train crossing and another rider comes up to me. I say “hey nice bike” and they say the same back to me. Then we have a great conversation about our rides, and it’s fun. You would never lean out of your car and say to the driver next to you “Nice car! Where did you get it?” and them replying with anything other than “You what mate?” before pressing the up button on their driver side window.

When you’re a cyclist, a proper cyclist with a proper bike, not a rusty piece of shit, you’re instantly a part of a huge community. I’m proud to be a part of it. It’s nice when someone coming the other direction nods and smiles at you, or when they compliment you on your bike and the customisations you’ve done to it. When people say to me “£300, that’s a lot for a push bike isn’t it?” the reality of the enormity of the task of educating people about cycling is hits me once again, and you think, am I ever going to stop seeing these junk bikes everywhere I go?

People keep saying that the huge success of GB in the Tour de France, World Championships and Olympic games on both the road and track will lead to massive increases in the number of people taking up cycling. Personally I’m not sure if I believe that. I just feel like the difference between sport and commuting / leisure riding on our congested roads is just too great. A lot of drivers don’t associate them at all and will see cyclists on the road as a nuisance even if they love professional cycling. I really hope that it does make a massive difference, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

As much as it’s kind of cool that it’s an exclusive club right now, I wouldn’t mind a bit if we increased the membership dramatically in the coming years. It’s about time. There are many other subjects to touch on, like helmets and whether they should be mandatory among other things, but I’ll have to come back to those another time.