#11 Svartpilen 401

The mighty Svartpilen has been returned to Husqvarna. There is a bike shaped hole in my heart and too much space in my garage, I’m also missing out on a lot of winter fun – the R1 is great, but it definitely lacks some capabilities. 

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In the recent months since my last blog post the Svartpilen 401 has done two off-road days. I say days, but what actually happened was all the lanes had been saturated by the non stop rain we’ve had since the end of August, and everything was slippery, so the ‘days’ turned into me riding until I lost my bottle then running back to dry land. To be perfectly fair to the bike, it was doing a great job! I haven’t ridden a bike successfully through soaked mud before and nobody told me how to do it so I was working out a method. Power seemed to be the way forward, my usual tactic of slamming my brakes on and stopping to look at an obstacle was causing problems, so instead we just powered through the puddles and over the tree roots, letting the tyres (Pirelli STRs come standard on the Svartpilen 401) do their thing. On one of these days, I’d just got my rhythm when we hit a brick buried in the mud followed by a particularly slippery bit of ground. I guess the tyres didn’t recover from the first slide before having to deal with the next, I was probably doing the wrong thing, and we were going too quickly for me to apply my old stop and think tactic; The bike went down, quite spectacularly I’d like to think, in a 180 degree spin off the back wheel and landed gently in some undergrowth. Agile like a cat because no one was around to witness this, I landed gracefully on my feet. The bike was picked up, examined, and started again as if nothing happened. We continued down the lane (VERY slowly this time) and found a nice dry, flat, gravel lane to try after that, then we went to get some tea. My awful riding aside, the little Husqvarna does very well off road for a road bike. It didn’t get stuck on anything it had the ground clearance for, powered over all the obstacles and mostly stopped when I needed it to (wet mud doesn’t count). What I learned from riding this off road has translated well to my road riding in time for winter, and my confidence riding in the wet and on gravel etc has massively improved. So if you’re nervous of bad riding conditions and you’re thinking about getting a Svartpilen – do it, and force yourself down some greenlanes.

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Another challenge I put the bike through was, as promised, a camping trip. I’m not counting it as a proper challenge – my friend joined me and she came in her car so after establishing that I could easily pack the Svartpilen with a tent and a sleeping bag and a bunch of cooking equipment if I wanted to, we put everything in her car. The camp was a great success, riding the Svartpilen through the New Forest was a lovely experience, we didn’t get stuck in a cattle grid, neither of us got eaten by wildlife and we got some pretty almost-autumn photos. I planned many more camping trips after this one, but sadly the following weekend it started raining, didn’t stop and I’m just not on that level of out-doors-y yet.

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I focus a lot on the Svartpilens off-road capabilities, we did of course ride on a lot of actual roads. A lot of the promo photos for the bike feature it zipping through cities, but I have absolutely no need (or want) to go into Portsmouth and get stuck filtering through traffic. When I first rode a 401 it was in Bristol when Bristol was mostly just road works and misery, so I can confirm that the bike is good in cities – made weaving through traffic fun even. Most of what we did on tarmac was fast country roads and tiny country lanes. We explored tiny winding hazardous back roads through woodland and deserted farmland, discovered tiny villages, farms, and creepy churches that I didn’t know existed and then had the fun challenge of getting home again. I had a few opportunities to see how good the little Svartpilen is at keeping up with strangers on bigger bikes. The report is good, we were in the middle of a BMW ride out that I joined for a bit – sure, a big muscly BMW is going to out speed me, but about 4 of them didn’t so I’m counting it. Exact quotes from some guys behind me on bigger bikes include “You were quick on that thing” and “I was thinking I could overtake but you were going to quick”. 

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The Svartpilen is able to do over 100mph; it’ll be flashing at you like mad but it’ll do it, and it’ll flick round corners and in and out of traffic. It doesn’t get wobbly like some naked bikes do over 80mph, and if you need to sit on the motorway for any length of time it’ll do that, and be comfortable. I had plenty of confidence throwing the bike round corners on roads that I’d hang back on with the R1, simply because it’s just so light and easy to ride. The brakes are good and sharp, we got into some bad filtering habits because I knew it’d stop very quickly and pick up again immediately if I had to second guess or avoid something. 

As an every day bike the Svartpilen would be ideal for a wide range of people – in my opinion. I’ve struggled this year with driving cars, and I would rather get cold and wet riding a bike. I’m working on the car thing, but the Svartpilen was a super alternative. It’s cheap to fuel, about £10 of fuel would last 200ish miles and the dash has a fuel gauge so you know what’s in there without having to muck around resetting trips. Although subjective, for me, the insurance was cheap. It’s light enough that you can pick up the back end and slide it round into tight corners so if you need to keep it in your hallway – no problem, and parking it in awkward places when out and about is nice and easy – it’s been wedged into lots of tight spots. The seat is fairly tall (835mm) so even though it appears small, it feels bigger and you can see over hedges. Despite being tall, it’s light – 150kg according to MCN, so the height isn’t so much of a problem, it’s easy to stop on one foot and the light weight makes it easy to get off and push if you need to, and if you feel like it’s starting to go over, you’re probably going to be a able to catch it. The engine is nice and quiet, but even with the standard exhaust it has a good growl when you accelerate, so it sounds cool, but you won’t fall out with your neighbours or give yourself a headache.

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Everywhere I went people were fascinated with the Svartpilen, not many people had seen one before and most of these people didn’t know what it was. I’d expect people to be more interested in my bright pink R1, but no, people want to talk about the Svartpilen – what it’s for, how much it costs, if it’s ‘any good’ etc; the bike is a guaranteed conversation starter and everyone wants to sit on it. 

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Svartpilen FAQs – 

Is it quick for daily riding?

Depends how quick you want to go, but for every day riding and commuting etc it’s quick, responsive and agile. You should have a lot of fun with it.

Is it suitable for long trips?

I think so, I didn’t find it underpowered on motorways and of course it’s enjoyable on small roads. Riding position is comfortable but it does lack a screen so I suppose in awful weather that might be a drawback, the standard seat is comfortable for a few hours, then maybe you might want to wedge a cushion in there, or get the upgraded seat available for the bike, and nothing on it vibrates or rattles.

Did you find it underpowered?

No, but it did take a bit of getting used to, once well acquainted we were overtaking everyone and basically business as usual. The challenge was getting the hang of its gears and knowing I couldn’t pin it in first and get the same results as the R1. 

Is it big enough for someone over 2m?

I did hear someone tall say their knees hit the uh – sticky outy bits on the tank, so I guess just look out for that. None of my tall friends had any issues sitting on it, nor did it look ‘too small’ for anyone. 

There is a lowering kit available for the bike.

How is it different from the Vitpilen 401?

It’s way cooler. The bikes have the same engine, frame and body work. The Vitpilen has clip ons and is a much lower riding position, it has a cafe racer styled seat and road tyres. The Svartpilen has upright bars, comes with a bash plate and multi terrain tyres. The Svartpilen has a tank rack for a mounted tank bag, and removable back seat which can be switched out a luggage rack. It does look like in the 2020 update they’ve put a belly pan on the Vitpilen. I’m gonna suggest that the Vitpilen is for style and the Svartpilen in for function – could be wrong but that’s my view.

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#10 Exciting Stuff

Finally I did some things I said I was going to do but kept putting off, and it’s all worked out fairly well.

The R1 is now pink. I always wanted to do it but never really had the balls. It was a lot of money and a really big change and although it’s not going to make a difference in my life I feel like the result is kind of worth the stress of scraping together £1,000 when I’d just quit a job that provided a third of my income. The bike has been wrapped, and the wheels have been sprayed black. Out of the two changes the wheels were the biggest pain in the arse. The bike barely came apart to be wrapped, it took a day and was left to rest over the weekend before being dropped off at the spray shop. I was originally undecided about the wheels, I didn’t know if the blue wheels would go with a pink body, so the body went first and then it was obvious that the blue wheels didn’t work. It just looked unfinished so they had to be changed too. I also got some crash protection fitted to the bike because I haven’t dropped a bike in two years and that’s unusual for me. 

The wrap hasn’t been on the bike for long enough to give much feedback on it. The colour is perfect and it sparkles in the sun. So far nothing’s peeled off it but I’ve also been too nervous to wash it in case something does lift off. 

As well as finally getting the bike wrapped, I booked a track day! I wanted to do several this year but moneys been spent elsewhere, when this particular track opened up I figured it was the perfect opportunity to do at least one day, on a track I had done before. Two years ago I took my 07 R1 to Rockingham, it wasn’t an easy track for me on that bike, but logically if I was only going to get one track day it’d be better to do one I wouldn’t have to learn all over again. Also a few of my friends from Instagram had booked on and I wanted to see them too. 

Before the track day, I had a busy weekend planned. I wanted another off-road adventure with the Svartpilen. I met with some friends on their proper off-road bikes to go do some well known lanes locally. The Svartpilen managed most of the obstacles but was rescued a few times either because I was too novice to tackle something or because the bike was too low to get over something without extra help. It was a lot of fun and we didn’t break the bike. I learned a lot, there were more times than I’d like to admit where I stopped in front of something scary and had to be talked over it, but it was valuable information. Pro tip number one – don’t look down the thing you don’t want to fall down. Scary things aren’t scary if you don’t look at them. Pro tip number two – hit something quickly and it’ll probably be ok. I’m not sure if I’ll get invited out next time and I’m ok with that for a little while, we’re onto the next challenge now. 

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Sunday was Moto-GP at Silverstone so that was another early morning to beat the traffic and go watch Rossi not win. I’ve been to one other GP, that was 2014 in Catalunya. Silverstone is a nicer venue with better food and more stalls, probably a bit safer too considering the absolute carnage that was trying to exit Catalunya after the last race. The race was an edge-of-your-seat kind of spectacle, Rossi went down from second and Marquez and Rins lead the race getting closer and closer right up until the last lap where they overtook a few times, Rins almost lost it when a gap started to form after a bit of a wobble, but miracles happen and right on the finish line by possible a few millimetres, Alex Rins on the Suzuki won. We had the best seats right by the pits but I missed the exact finish because right as they crossed the line the entire stand exploded with screaming spectators, presumably ecstatic that Marquez didn’t win, it was an incredible moment.  

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My track day was the day after Silverstone. I went on my own which I kind of like, up at 4am, out of the house as quick as possible and 150 miles as quick as you can on a bike that, as soon as you’re comfortable, needs fuel again. I was having a minor confidence crisis. Despite knowing the track from last time I did remember being the slowest in novice, and I desperately wanted to do better this time, but with no way of practicing or measuring improvement in two years of only road riding, I had no idea what to expect. The garage was, same as last time, full of people with tyre warmers – I’m not sure what it is about tyre warmers but I associate them with people who know what they’re doing and now find them a bit intimidating. At least this time I had tyres that I was confident on – my Pirellis that have never let me down, they were just not as warm as everyone elses. So, confidence crisis in full swing because of all the tyre warmers, the novice group went out for our sighting laps. 

It wasn’t as bad as I expected. We had our first red flag after 2 of the 3 sighting laps, the first of many to come, so the first session wasn’t a long one. I felt comfortable on my bike. It was so much easier to handle than the 07 R1, courtesy of it having 100% more electronic aids than the old one. Where I previously struggled with appropriate gear changes, I could easily flick up and down the gears without interrupting my speed using the quick shifter and autoblipper that came standard on my 2018 bike. After the first session I went and asked for help from an instructor, remembering how much this helped me last time. I learned that I need to start using more of the space instead of tucking over. I wanted to work on my body position but it’s an ongoing battle for me, one little bit at a time, this time I worked on my feet. I wasn’t getting my knee down, but I’m happy that with little improvements I’ll eventually get there. 

I wasn’t the slowest in novice, so I was very happy at the end of the day! I wasn’t the fastest, people overtook me, and I overtook a people. I had more confidence overtaking people than I thought I would, as overtaking is usually a problem for me on the road. The bike is easy to stop, and so I could leave the braking a tiny bit later each time and this helped when I wanted to try and get in front of someone. It didn’t always work but on a few occasions it did and I felt super pro. 

After lunch the weekend caught up with me and I feel like I started to go backwards. Speaking of red flags, someone fell off in front of me as I went round the corner, far away enough that I saw it and slowed down, but close enough that it spooked me a bit. My focus was slipping, I didn’t feel like I was progressing and then approaching a corner I got my feet mixed up and tried to downshift with my brake foot and that was a good sign that the day was over for me. I did some of the last session but was happy to finish there and mentally prepare myself for the long ride home. 

The bike was insured for all of this, my road insurance brokers offer trackway insurance at a discounted rate from a separate underwriters, so for £150 I was able to insure the bikes full value for the day. It helped, as I wasn’t as worried about crashing as I would be without it. 

I got home safely, sometimes I feel like the A34 will never end. 100 miles of nothingness. The pink bike gets a lot of looks. Had a well deserved pizza that evening.

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It’s now September. I’ve given up hope that England will get a decent summer, we had some good hot days but nothing compared to a few years ago when summer went on until October and it didn’t rain for 3 months. I hoped we’d get that again, but Autumn is definitely in the air. The next challenge is for the Svartpilen. It’s been 4 years since I camped with a bike and I want to do it with the Svartpilen just to ease back into one of my old favourite things. Camping in the countryside to see the Autumn colours with a bike and minimum stuff sounds heavenly, I’ve got some luggage on the way and today I made sure my old tent still works and dug out some sleeping gear. The plan is to book an easy camp site in the New Forest about 40 miles from home and do a few nights and spend the day looking for wildlife and maybe horse riding. I’m stupidly excited. 

Outside of the little bubble of #bikelife, the lodger has moved out of the house, and I’ve called dibs on the guest room for my home office. It feels like heaven to have my own space within the house to fill with pretty throw cushions and sit at my own desk surrounded by my own things. Keira has never been in this room and now it’s her favourite place to be, she can put her feet on the window and look out onto the gardens to spy on the neighbours. She’s also resumed her old puppy hobby of sitting under my desk and chewing my shoe laces. It’s shedding season, so she’s constantly trying to clean herself and I’m not getting a lot of sleep being woken up by her furiously licking herself. Hopefully it’ll be over soon, I’m guessing it’s pretty uncomfortable.

Hope you’re all having a nice tail-end of Summer, Halloween soon!

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#9 Six Months Later

It’s been 6 months since my last blog post. I’m failing.

Despite a fairly uneventful year so far, it’s been busy. My 3 jobs have taken up all my time leaving no room in my schedule for riding or writing or doing much except getting home at the end of the day, cooking dinner, trying desperately to keep up with my art and then going to bed. After 10 months of this, I quit my sales job in J&S last week (tough decision), now I’m spending the week in the countryside at my Dads house to catch up with my art and relax. It’s still weird to think that I have an entire weekend to do whatever I want to do once I’m done relaxing…

I really enjoyed working at J&S, learned a lot, met loads of lovely people and hopefully helped them all in some way, tried on a lot of stuff, I spent a LOT of money in the grocery store next door, and I’m going to really miss my staff discount. The plan now is to keep my flexible job in insurance, continue drawing, and put more time and effort into building my art business, while spending more time with my friends, family and bikes.  

The R1 is doing great, we still haven’t been out much but we are slowly gelling as a couple, and every time I ride it I feel more comfortable. I’m still trying to figure out what to do about making it pink, I’m getting impatient and anticipate it being pink in time for Christmas at least. I picked out the wrap that I want and have some quotes but there’s still other options that I want to explore. 

I have two new bikes in my life. 

Husqvarna UK are lending me a Svartpilen 401. I rode this bike last year by chance, and I loved it! We went through Bristol which at the time was full of roadworks and disgustingly hot. The bike made this fun – weirdly – it managed heavy traffic, lots of stopping, starting and tight squeezes while making the whole experience enjoyable. Ever since that day I’ve been desperate to get my hands on one again. I’m grateful to Husqvarna for letting me borrow theirs for the season.

This bike does everything that the R1 can’t and, now that I’ve got my time back, I’m looking forward to lots of adventures with it. It encourages me to take roads that I’d avoid on the R1 or in the car with confidence, and I am excited to try some off roading with it and get nice and lost somewhere, the possibilities are endless. The bike gets a lot of attention, I guess a lot of people don’t recognise it and I’ve only ever seen one other Svartpilen out in the wild. Everyone wants to sit on it and ask about it and I think everyone should try one. It’s like a hipster version of the KTM 390 Duke – its overall appearance is a bit unusual, so far nobody’s hated it but a few people have had to give it a good long look before deciding they like it. It gives me a good excuse to buy new retro gear (yay me). It’s cheap to insure and doesn’t gulp fuel like the R1 does, nor does it need to be left on charge when it’s not being used…like the R1 does. I guess if you have an R1 then there’ll be a Svartpilen shaped hole in your heart. I’ll keep you updated on this…

The second bike isn’t mine but I’m going to talk about it anyway. It’s a Kawasaki ZX10R that Joes parents and I got for Joe for his 30th. The R1 is better, but it’s pretty and Joe’s had it for 5 minutes and already started taking bits off and putting bits on. Joe sold his old bike (aka – Orange Pussycat) last year as he was midway through two surgeries to correct problems he had with his legs that prevented him riding comfortably. He sold it with the promise that he’d keep the money aside for the next bike, but, life (and shiny new car parts…) gets in the way and it didn’t go to plan. The new one was a huge surprise for him and was revealed at a party (that was also a suprise, I would upload the video to YouTube but he’s begged me not to). It’s probably the nicest thing I’ve ever done for anyone and now I need to figure out how to lower the bar again because I’m still waiting for my birthday present and that was 3 months ago.

Both Simon and Keria are fine. I’ve left Keria home with Joe while I visit Dad, Simon’s here and he’s his usual chilled out self. He’s shedding and his white fur is everywhere. Keira is starting to calm down, she’s learned lots of new words and you can talk to her and she’ll pick out the words she knows and react to them. She knows what time of day it is and which meals she’s had already so if you ask her at 7pm if she wants her breakfast she’ll just look at you like you’re stupid, and if you ask her at any point in the day if she’s hungry she’ll go charging into the kitchen and wait by her bowl.

As far as my 2019 goals go, we’re halfway through the year and I haven’t ticked many yet. I did hit my drawing target already – the target was 150 and so far I’m on 160 so I’ll have smashed that by the end of 2019. The drawing business seems to be going well and the plan is to have mercy available by Christmas. I really want to produce an adult colouring book and now I have the time to do this I’m going to start making the drawings for it and get it all set up. This month someone pinched some of my cartoons and started trying to sell them on a t-shirt website promoted through Facebook and Instagram. It’s not the first time my art has been pinched but it’s the first time I’ve caught someone trying to sell it. Thankfully the website took it down pretty quickly, and after a LOT of angry feedback from my social media followers, the person removed the images from Facebook too. The whole experience has shown me that people do want T-shirts so I’ll look into that as soon as I can.

This is all I’ve got unfortunately. The end of a boring blog. To summarise – no longer working 7 days a week, can go out and have fun now, will probably write more regularly. 

#8 My Bike Journey

A blog about my bike ‘journey’ has been requested, my iPad ran out of charge so this is my window to share the little story of how R1Liz got her R1s. I’ve also got some FAQs to answer which I’ve squeezed between the paragraphs.

I remember two occasions when I was small when I decided that I liked motorbikes. The earliest one was probably cycling and thinking how convenient it would be to not have to pedal. The more prominent memory is sitting in dads car on the way home when a bike came screaming past us on the way into a roundabout; I asked why they were going so much faster than us and dad said it was because ‘they had better breaks’. 7 year old me was extremely impressed with this. I wanted to join the Tigers Motorcycle Display team, so for a few weeks I drew little stunt bikes jumping over logs until I eventually started riding horses instead. My whole family are bikers, my Mom rides and has always ridden, my dad has ridden on and off around his work, my Grand-Father was a riding instructor, my Uncles ride, and my cousin was in the White Helmets motorcycle display team. Despite this, biking wasn’t drilled into me as a child and I didn’t notice my family were so bike oriented until I already had my first bike.

FAQ – How did you pay for your first bike? – I saved all my wages from my first job until I had a decent sized pot (something like 6 months worth). My family paid half and bought me my first helmet.

When I was about 16 I had a boyfriend with a bike, and going on the back of that bike was the most exciting thing ever. My helmet was 2 sizes too big, my jacket was about as protective as a tea towel and I can’t remember if I had gloves or not, I’d sneak away to a carpark out of earshot from Moms house and we’d go for a ride somewhere. I bought a lot of bike magazines and put up posters all over my room and tried to soak up as much information as I could. Eventually I found a job, saved up as much as I could and when I turned 17 I was able to buy my first bike.  

FAQ – What was your first bike? – My first bike was a Yamaha YZF R125 and I loved it

My first bike was a 2012 Yamaha YZF-R125 in black with gold wheels, it was brand new and I rode it home from London with my boyfriend dutifully riding in front of me along the motorway at 40mph due to the running-in restrictions. I was proud as punch and thought I was too cool for school. I had no idea what I was doing with it, how to look after it or how to ride it properly, but I was on it every day to and from work and college, riding in all the conditions and slowly getting confident and comfortable with it, revving at traffic lights and carrying my helmet around everywhere like a trophy. 

FAQ – How did you choose your first bike? – It was the prettiest one I could find and in the same family as the R1s I loved to read about and look at. As far as I knew, new 125s were all pretty similar and I wanted a sports bike shaped model, so the Yamaha was just the obvious choice.

It took me 3 attempts to pass my full test. I completed it a month before the UK rules changed which meant I was one of the last people my age that could ride any sized bike. I failed Mod 1 twice on the emergency stop. I’d had a small accident on my bike not long before, and the emergency stop freaked me out a bit. After taking a break from testing and practicing relentlessly, I finally passed the test, and the following week I bought a Ninja 300. 

FAQ – How much is your bike insurance? – Not as bad as I always expect it to be, luckily I’ve always had affordable quotes from MCE and haven’t had to make any claims.

Money was ok for me back at this point, I was a full time college student with a job and some leftover inheritance money which disappeared on my tests, my insurance and my bikes. Thinking back now, I shudder at how much I spent insuring the Ninja 300, and how much I spent on servicing I didn’t necessarily need at the time. But there’s not much point dwelling on it, things might have taken a different turn if I’d bought older cheaper bikes and despite finding it a bit underwhelming (because really I wanted something bigger) the Ninja 300 had a big impact on the direction my life took.

FAQ – Most embarrassing moment on a bike? – My first time going into a multi storey car park and not understanding how the ticket system worked. I thought it was pay and display and I didn’t have any money with me and couldn’t turn around, so I left my bike at the gate with cars queueing up behind me and went up the line of cars asking for money until someone told me I was supposed to just take a ticket. I’m sure I’ve done sillier stuff since, but this one sticks out.

Up until this point, although I was enjoying riding, it wasn’t much of my identity. I didn’t have any bike friends, my boyfriend wasn’t riding much having bought a car and concentrating on his own studies. The bike got me where I needed to go but life was pretty dull and I needed some kind of adventure. Back in 2012 when you bought a new Kawasaki you were signed up to their Kawasaki Riders Club (now known as Club Kawasaki) which gives you access to their exclusive online forums, discounted entry to events, and a lanyard. Things were very busy for me at the time, applying to university and fitting in overtime, but I found 10 minutes to sort out my access to the online forum and pop a little ‘Hello’ on one of the posts. I forgot about it, but someone noticed it. The person who noticed my little ‘Hello’ was Nigel. Nigel sent me an email asking if I wanted to meet some other members of the Kawasaki Riders Club, they get together on Thursday in a little pub up the motorway, I was welcome to go.

FAQ – Were you ever put off by the laddish culture of the biking world? – No, when I first started riding I didn’t have any bike friends so I wasn’t really involved in the culture, and I was ‘exposed’ to it gradually. I wouldn’t say it was ‘laddish’ and it’s definitely not like what you see on TV (have you ever watched ‘Torque’? Don’t.). Everyone was friendly, and there were a lot more girls than you’d expect and now I often ride with more girls than men, so maybe where I’m from is not the stereotypical male dominated community that you’d expect.

It was mid winter at this time, Thursday nights were dark and cold, I selotaped directions to my glove and rode up the motorway to this strange pub to meet these strange people. They made me welcome, bought me a mug of tea, admired my bike and included me in their Thursday meetings from that point on. I was invited to ride to Dijon in France with them later in the year, and I was included in their plans to ride to Silverstone to a Kawasaki event. I started riding with this group, the group got bigger, I learned how to ride quickly and keep up with the bigger bikes as well as I could. This group became my friends and biking became real fun. My general confidence grew, I made goals for myself, I started to really enjoy riding and being part of this huge biking community. 

FAQ – Have you ever been able to get both feet flat on the floor with any bike? – My Ninja 300 I think I was able to and the schools little 125, but none of my other bikes, I’m 5’7 so I’m a good height to ride everything but I have to tip toe.

It was around this time that my relationship with my boyfriend at the time got stale, he didn’t come with me to France, he didn’t encourage my bike related goals, and he said I couldn’t get an R1. We broke up when I returned from France, and my new boyfriend who I met on the trip helped me look for an R6 because I decided it was time to trade the bike up too. 

FAQ – Did you ever worry about other people’s perceptions? – Not really. I get on with it, it’s fun to be able to do things people tell you you shouldn’t be doing and change perceptions.

The R6 was new dream bike material, upside-down forks, two front break disks, proper sports bike riding position, big back wheel, all the things I wanted in a bike. Riding it home from the shop was initially terrifying. I’d been scared into thinking that a 600 would be a monster, that I’d immediately lose control. One thing I notice is that people LOVE telling people that something’s too much for them to handle, and that had been drilled into me, I had no idea what to expect from it. Pulling away for the first time was scary but I only had to do it once to realise it wasn’t going to spit me off, and that was a turning point for me – If I could ride this, I could ride anything. 

FAQ – Any unexpected costs? – The R6 continuously surprised me with problems, I threw a lot of money at it until I was convinced it was done for. I think the bike may have had underlying issues when I bought it which weren’t helped along by the missed valve service. I don’t regret it because I abused it and still got a lot of use out of it, but it taught me a lot about making sure I look after bikes.

The bike went through a lot. It went through France and Spain, it went to the Isle of Man twice, it went on my first track day. I dropped it twice, once in ice, once in mud. And it went in and out of the garage more times than I could count because as it was my first second hand bike, I had no idea it needed a valve service until it was 10,000 miles too late. 

FAQ – Have you ever had an accident? – Not really, on my own bikes I’ve only had a few minor spills, none that have resulted in a claim or injury. I have had one accident that did result in a broken shoulder but this was on a loan bike when I tried off-roading.

After owning the R6 for two years it was in a local garage after making a particularly angry splutter when I started it up. At this point it had had its valve service and was at the stage where it was just giving me endless attitude, odd noises were a regular occurrence and we were running out of things to fix. I dropped it off at the garage with the expectation that it needed a new cam chain, and I got the call saying actually it needed half a new engine. I had it collected by the garage I use for valve servicing so they could find out what went wrong. By this point I was thinking about a new bike anyway, I knew the shop had an R1, so I went with Joe so he could ride the new ZX10 and I could take the R1 out. I’d ridden a few 1000cc bikes by this point (mainly Joe’s 2009 ZX10 while the R6 was being sassy) but it was my first R1. 

FAQ – How long have you been riding? – Since 2012, I had the 125 for about 9 months, my Ninja 300 for a year, and the R6 and R1 for 2 years each.

The R1 was special. I had a poster of an R1 that I pulled out of the middle of a magazine and it’s imprinted in my memory for being the picture I took to people and said ‘I want an R1’, I’ve wanted one since I bought that magazine back when I didn’t have a bike, it lives under my desk now. Usually if I said I wanted an R1 I’d get ‘you can’t handle it’, ‘it’s too big for you’, ‘you’d be utterly stupid if you get an R1’. Nothing makes me want something more than being told I can’t have it, and so, the R1 is special to me. I looked over this bike sat in the shop, not the age I wanted, not the colour I wanted, too many miles, too many stickers. But I took it out with Joe on the ZX10, through the city and out the other end into the countryside, and it was flawless. It felt so effortless and natural and I felt like a boss finally riding this bike that had been my ultimate goal since day one. When we got back to the shop they confirmed that the R6 was well and truly at the end of its life, and with tremendous effort and a lot of tears I managed to scrape together the money and I bought the R1. 

FAQ – What was the biggest challenge of changing bikes? – Learning where all the buttons are. I test ride a lot of bikes so riding one bike to another isn’t so difficult, but I never have to learn the buttons on the bikes I test ride. The R6 to the R1 was easy because it was the same generation and the dash was the same, the new R1 is completely baffling. 

This R1 is the bike you’d recognise from the cartoons, a 2007 R1 in pearl white with 50th anniversary red stickers. In the background of my bike journey at this time I’d finished my degree and was about to draw my first digital cartoon. Over the next two years I built my artwork business from the ground up, I made a name for myself, bought a house with Joe, and we built our life together. I had my R1 to 30,000 miles, with the right amount of servicing and maintenance it never put a toe out of line. I did my second track day on this R1, but over the period that I owned it we didn’t do any big European trips.

2 years later I decided it was new bike time, I got a third job, and after working and saving and working and saving, I was able to buy a new R1. And that’s where I am now.

Life has had its ups and downs, the bikes will always be a big part of my life and I feel extremely lucky that I’ve been able to own this bike that I couldn’t even dream of owning back when I first started to ride. 

FAQ – If you had to do it all again, what would the journey look like? – The same, but maybe I wouldn’t have put new tyres, chain and sprockets on a bike I was about to sell. There are things I wish I had done differently, but they could have lead to different overall results, and I’m happy with where I am now.

 

#7 New Year, New Bike

I am terrible at blog writing. One of my goals for 2019 is to be more confident and I’m starting that here because the reason I don’t write as often as I’d like is because I don’t have much confidence in my writing.

So it’s January 3rd and I have a new bike. Finally. I got to about June and decided that it was time. My R1 and I had a beautiful relationship but it wasn’t going to last forever and that R1 was never the bike I wanted. I got a 3rd job, upped my business game and drew a whole load of bikes for people. By December I was able to get a bike that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to get, the 2018 R1 from The Motorbike Shop in Farnborough.

Giving the old one away was not as hard as I prepared for, I reserved the new bike over a month before I could make the exchange, and had that time to emotionally distance myself from it. I got to a point with the old one where I was totally comfortable with it, but it was getting up to 30k miles and I wanted a new bike more than I wanted to pay for the servicing that the old one needed.

I went to collect the new one in the rain. December seemed to just rain solidly and balancing 3 jobs made finding time to ride a bit awkward, so in the end I went out on a day that looked fairly dry but got rained on anyway. So the first thing I learned about the new bike is that it’s good in the wet. The old bike had no electronics, no rider aids, no abs, nothing to help me, it had good tyres which I swapped onto the new bike, but when it came to wet weather all that confidence I had one the bike just vanished. A lot of it came down to confidence in myself and not the bike, but the new R1 had so much going on that I felt safe riding normally in the rain knowing that the bike was looking after me. It has rider modes – something I’ve never had before, so I can change the power, traction control, slide control, anti wheelie etc on and off depending on the situation, and I can change the settings within the rider modes to suit me.

The new bike has a quick shifter and an auto blipper. More things I’ve never had before, although I’ve ridden bikes with a quick shifter, I’ve never bothered to learn how to use one. The auto blipper so far only comes on the 18+ models of R1 but this wasn’t a factor in buying the newer bike, however, I’ve figured out how to use it and now I’m happy I’ve got one. Both the quick shifter and the auto blipper can make riding quickly so much easier. My fear was they’d make me lazy but that’s a problem I can deal with if I ever get on a bike that doesn’t have them again (probably. I’ll let you know.), similar to my worry that driving automatic cars is going to ruin my ability to drive manual cars.

The riding position of the new bike is a bit more extreme than the old one, the old one was comfortable and I felt securely wedged into it. The new one has a higher seat and lower bars, so I feel more like I’m perched on top of it delicately than sitting on it. I’ll be ordering stomp grips to stop me sliding forwards every time I brake. So far my wrists haven’t suffered so I’m sure I’ll just get used to it.

When I bought the bike it was completely standard, it is an ex demo with very few miles on it, the last miles being mine before I bought it. I have now fitted an exhaust supplied by Performance Parts UK, it is a Yoshimura R11. I’m fussy when it comes to exhausts, and I wanted the Yoshi because I liked the way they looked on the GSXRs. I don’t like exhausts that look like baked bean tins no matter how pretty the bolts or the logo look. The Akra is nice but everyone’s got it and I like being awkward and different. I haven’t decatted the bike, and I’m not sure I will. I want to do track days without having to worry about changing the exhaust over, and the Yoshi with the cat is nice and quiet. Honestly it’s not changed much about the bikes sound except that the noise is smoother and it sounds more growl-y in higher revs. It’s tough to describe sound in writing. It sounds better, but it’s a subtle change, which is what I wanted. I’m still getting messages from strangers going ‘Hey Liz you should decat your bike it’ll make it sound better’. The bike is insanely loud without a cat and I value my good relationship with the neighbours.

I’ve got lots of R&G goodies waiting to go on the bike, and plans for some pink bits. People keep pointing out that I need a tail tidy and I have one! The standard number plate mount sticks out further than the rear wheel and I KNOW it looks awful. I haven’t decided if I want to do anything dramatic to the bikes colour. The original plan was to get the bike in black, paint the wheels pink and put some subtle pink details on the body work, but the bike was blue and I didn’t want to wait for a black one to show up. The blue is lovely and I’m a bit conflicted over if I want to change it. I’m ‘hmming’ and ‘aaahing’ about just wrapping the whole thing barbie pink. I’ve bought some pink headlight wrap because someone told me the lights are prone to damage from stones, so I’ll put some protective pink film on them, why not…

I found out the hard way that the tank is made out of stuff that magnets don’t stick to (science.), my beloved miniature tank bag had to be left behind when I took the bike home. Now I have to wear a bum bag if I want to carry more than my phone and an eyebrow pencil anywhere I go. It’s a big adjustment. I went from enough storage on my bike for two beanie hats to a bike with no beanie hat carrying capabilities. It was important, but I’ll adjust. 

So far since I’ve had the new one I’ve been out a few times but not for any serious rides. I’m looking forward to the longer evenings so I can ride after work as at the moment I don’t have many days off, and in the summer I’ll hopefully book some track days. The bike makes me laugh, if you ever spot me riding along giggling behind my visor like an idiot it’s because I’ve done something stupid and the bike’s told me off. It’s got an attitude and that’s a large factor in why I bought it. I like bikes with personality and sass and this bike has bundles of that. 

I can’t remember if, in the last blog, I mentioned that I got a new dog. Simon (the white fluffy one) went back to live with my dad, and after a few days of bursting into tears when there wasn’t a dog in the house, we got a puppy. It was a few days before my birthday so that worked out nicely. The puppy is called Keira, she’s a german shepherd, she’s now 11 months old and she’s a very good girl. She’s been in a lot of cartoons and is a nice addition to my little family. She comes to work with me and takes up the space under my desk where my feet are supposed to go. 

Anyway that’s the bike, I’m super excited to ride it as much as I can. All going well this bike will be with me for longer than the previous ones and I’m not afraid to rack up the miles on it. Here’s to a great new year :).

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#6 Complaining because it’s cold

The first ride of 2018 was a test ride! Way to welcome in the new year. It wasn’t planned, I wobbled to the local Triumph dealer to meet two friends for coffee and to get a bike serviced. The roads were patchy and horrible and it had been a few weeks since I’d ridden so I was embarrassingly slow and my confidence was ebbing away with every mile.

In the Triumph store I was, as usual, complaining about something. The topic of this complaint was insurance prices for young people. My friends are both a good 5 years older than me and don’t struggle with insurance premiums. Anyone who’s policy costs less than £500 that thinks they can complain about that will get an earful from me. My insurance is so expensive I have to pay for it monthly. So I was describing my dream of how when I turn 25 my insurance will be cheap enough for me to have a new R1. A nice man pointed out how that wasn’t how insurance worked – he was older than 25 and still couldn’t insure a new litre bike, but a new 600 would be do-able. Maybe I should try a 600?

That’s how I ended up on a new 675 Daytona for an hour. I’m not going to review it or anything because it was only an hour and we just went up the A32 and back, so not long enough to really get to know it. I wouldn’t trade the R1 for it, it was great fun and gave me my confidence back on the patchy roads, it was light and easy to flick round corners which the R1 isn’t. It was physically a lot smaller than the R1 which felt extremely weird, I couldn’t just duck behind the screen, I had to shift my whole body back and squish myself up to get behind it, I could get used to that, but I like big bikes that make me look dainty. When I got back to my R1 I felt a lot better, no more wobbling. So I can thank the 675 for helping me get over my little confidence crisis.

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The customer service in Destination Triumph was brilliant; I still struggle to get test rides on bikes and they were completely happy for me to take their bike out, were genuinely interested in my feedback, didn’t try to sell me anything, and were understanding of my concerns.

Following that cold day in January, the bike hasn’t been out much, I’ve been weekend riding when the weather is acceptable, not going too far and not causing problems. The R1 is due some TLC, I try to get it serviced properly twice a year with a few mini services and valets in between. I have never bothered to learn how to service my own bike, I keep telling myself I’ll do it, but my experiences maintaining my own bike have always ended badly (they are in cartoons, called ‘why I don’t DIY’). This year it needs new tyres, a new chain and sprockets, and as it’s spring it’s time for an oil and filter change and filter and brake clean and thorough once over. I’ve also got some shiny new carbon fibre bits to put on it. I have been telling myself that when I turn 25 I will get a new bike, but if I get new stuff put on it, maybe that will be delayed. Maybe I’ll end up with two bikes.

Last weekend the weather looked nice enough to break out my new gloves. I emphasise that the weather LOOKED nice. It was freezing, we’ve had the ‘beast from the east’ (who thought of that name, seriously?) this week and last weekend was like the introduction, deceivingly sunny, stupidly cold. I bought the new gloves – Knox Handroids, at the Motorcycle Live show in November but hadn’t used them properly since then. A lot of people asked me to let them know what the gloves are like so I wrote a short review.

“These are the current full length Handroids in white.
I bought them because when I first saw them I thought they were seriously cool looking, I did ask, and Knox are not going to make a pink version (☹️) but assured me that white is very pretty, so I went with that. They were very comfortable when I tried them on in the shop, I have size S, they fit beautifully. Actually riding though I find they take a while to get comfortable in, there are a lot of seams inside that press against my finger tips and rub against my wrist where the strap is, but I’m sure these will wear thin in time. Once they’re on they’re not coming off no matter how hard I pull and twist – the strap will go tight round your wrist unlike a lot of glove straps where the Velcro doesn’t go round all the way which prevents you from securing your glove when you have tiny wrists, this is a major bonus on these gloves. The locking mechanism secures the glove further up although I have had trouble with it – at one point it got loose and stopped working – it did get fixed and I assume I just did something wrong when trying to do it up. I’ve also lost the button cover on one of them but I think that’s just a badge and doesn’t effect it. The gloves are quite stiff at the moment, I can fully flex everything, and I’m sure they’ll loosen up with use. Practicality wise I think they’re excellent, there’s no excess Velcro everywhere so they don’t get stuck to things and end up scruffy, aside from the minor issue with the locking mechanism I haven’t broken them yet (and I am extremely careless as a person), and they have already been dropped, thrown, sat on and stuffed forcefully inside a helmet (they do not fit inside a helmet). An unexpected plus is that they kept my hands fairly warm; yesterday was ‘freezing’ and they kept me as warm as my budget winter gloves, which is fantastic – I can use them all year.” *

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After that weekend, we had snow, as usual when it snows, England grinds to a halt. I wish I had rolled the bike out for some snow photos but I’m not risking dropping it and not being able to get it back in the garage…

That pretty much sums up my riding in January and February. Work has been busy, as usual. One day I’d love an assistant. Or just someone to kick me off the wifi so I’m forced to work.

Hope you all have a lovely spring, stay off the frozen white stuff.

*Knox glove review was self motivated and not connected to Knox.

Destination Triumph Solent http://www.destinationtriumph.co.uk

#5 Hel Brake Lines Mini Review

Hel have sent me a brake line kit so that I can try them out and report back to you all.
Today I went for a fairly decent ride despite the ice so I could properly use them.
I noticed immediately after fitting Hel that my braking response was smoother, particularly under heavy braking which I have struggled with in the past. The R1 is a big chunky bike and confidence in stopping quickly is something I have to work on regularly.
Improved braking feedback has helped me to be less snatchy with my front brake. Braking is evenly distributed helping you ride smoothly. It’s also given me more trust in my rear brake – having more consistency in the brake helps me a lot, as I know that when I use it I’ll feel it working, and not accidentally use it too much and cause an accident. If you have bought a new bike or your bike is relatively standard, you will probably find that your brake lines are rubber. Obviously rubber works, but they don’t last as long; under heavy use they will expand and twist out of shape, your brakes will feel spongey and your braking won’t be consistent or as responsive. They’re also dull and boring. Of course I chose pink, they are very bright and very beautiful, but you can have pretty much any colour you want as Hel make them all. Colourful brake lines are an important visual upgrade to any bike, so even if you don’t feel like you need them for better braking, there’s still a good reason to get yourself some.
Hel’s customer service is outstanding, they are on the end of the phone to help you if you’re unsure of anything, on Facebook if you just want a bit of advice, and they will help you out with all your questions. As well as brake lines they have a range of other performance upgrades including callipers, suspension, and glittery stickers.
I hope this review has covered everything, if you have any specific questions feel free to ask or give Hel a shout if you want to discuss anything with them.

https://www.helperformance.com

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