23 Feb 2013

6,000 mile service

I had my 6,000 mile service carried out at the beginning of February at BMW Battersea. Key items during this service include oil/filter change, brake fluid change and various checks/adjustments.

I prepared a list of minor items that I wanted looked at and dropped off the bike early on a Monday morning (read about my impressions of the F700GS that I was given as a loaner).

My list included:

  • Replace rear brake pads [result: carried out]
  • Verify correct charging/stator/battery function as heated handgrips won’t switch on when ambient temperature is low [result: this is due to my commute being only 2 miles which is not enough time to recharge the battery during the cold months—computer won’t allow heated grips to switch on when battery has a lower than normal charge]
  • Check starter as there is a noise like it is sticking/not disengaging quickly enough now and then when starting the motor on cold days [result: no fault found—doing some digging it seems to be a rattle from the timing chain which occurs on many F800s but does not cause any issues]
  • Verify normal engine sound [result: no fault found—this engine simply has a lot of mechanical noise, well documented on forums]
  • Verify steering head torque due to knocking over certain types of road imperfections [result: no fault found—knocking is due to fork design, well documented on forums]
  • Slight exhaust rattle at 3,000–5,000rpm during higher engine loads such as accelerating with a pillion [result: normal—a factor of the slip-on design of the silencer]
  • Change clock to 24h format [result: This would have been carried out but the software required to do this was unavailable, I was asked to bring back the bike at another time]
  • Repair minor stone chip on RHS fairing [result: BMW don’t make touch-up paint for the blue fairings on the Trophy (?!?!)]
  • Removing light surface corrosion from brake rotor fixing points [result: resolved with nylon brillo pad]
  • Enable distance-to-empty function of the onboard computer [result: BMW permanently disabled this function a few years back]
During the afternoon I received a call from BMW Battersea asking if I wanted them to give the chain a good cleaning (about 30 minutes labour) and I told them to go ahead. At the end of the day I have better things to do than be outside cleaning my chain in the dead of winter.

My bike was ready at the agreed time and I returned to BMW Battersea to collect it that evening. The bike was freshly washed when I arrived.

The cost—which included 30 minutes of labour for the chain, plus parts and labour for new rear brake pads—came in at a nudge less than £250. Without the chain and pads I would estimate the cost to be roughly £150.

This is quite significant, as Honda used to charge me £300–350 per service for my old Hornet. Honda used to clean the chain by default but, taking this into account, BMW are still 33–43% cheaper. Brake pads on the Hornet cost the same (around £50 installed), and Honda didn't wash the bike after the service (it’s the little things).

On top, Honda requires servicing every 5,000 miles and BMW every 6,000 so servicing is slightly less frequent. Over 30,000 miles this translates to quite a bit of dosh saved.

BMW don’t have a reputation for being inexpensive for anything, so this was a pleasant surprise. And as always, BMW Battersea provided excellent customer service—they were thorough and provided written responses for each item on my list. Cannot recommend them enough.

18 Feb 2013

14 Feb 2013

11 Feb 2013

Insurance premiums—we’re all to blame

My somewhat bemused expression in this decidedly unflattering photo goes some way to convey how vexed I’m feeling right now.

My insurance renewal notice arrived today—a f**king ridiculous £707... 30% more than last year, despite having the maximum number of years of no claims bonus, no new insurance claims, and no traffic violations.

True, if I rode a 1,000cc Honda or Kawasaki sportbike my insurance would be around £1,500, but I don’t, so that is just an irrelevant number. I ride a sensible bike in a sensible manner and live in a decent neighbourhood in a good part of London. I’ve demonstrated this to my insurance company—proving that I am now a lower risk than I was last year because I have yet another year of no claims.

Doing some digging on Google, it seems the underwriters have increased premiums because, among other things, the UK has recently developed a toxic culture of rampant personal injury claims. You can’t go more than 10 minutes during daytime television without being assaulted by adverts for the sleaziest bottom-feeders of all—the no-win-no-fee lawyers. These adverts didn’t exist only a few years ago.

Perhaps this is due to the recession forcing the growing number of people desperate for funds to sue others for their misfortunes instead of sucking it up and getting on with life. Hardly anyone wants to take responsibility for their actions anymore. Increasingly, the attitude is that if someone jaywalks without looking and gets knocked to the floor by a car, it MUST be the driver’s fault for not stopping. Look where this behaviour has got the States—while I have much love and respect for my American friends, the country does have a culture that overwhelmingly reeks of paranoia, suspicion and guns. Britain is heading in the same direction.

I’m not lashing out at legitimate people making non-trivial claims, but it seems there is a growing number of people who only think about how to find yet another way to line their pockets with funds the easiest way possible instead of getting off their ever-expanding arses and finding a job to replace the one at which they were made redundant. The no-win-no-fee lawyers don’t advertise during work hours without good reason.

And the people whinging for equality certainly got theirs recently when the EU stepped in last December and forced UK insurers to raise young women’s premiums in line with young mens’ rates despite statistically being a far lower insurance risk.

I’ve never been one for equality—we are all individuals with countless differences and unique talents/skills, so equality is a concept set to fail from the start. What happened to celebrating our differences instead of the things that make us part of a herd? I am, however, one for track records and precedents—behave well and be rewarded... behave badly and suffer the consequences.

The last time I was fined for breaking the law was in 1997. While I was annoyed about being stopped for speeding in a section of highway in the back of beyond, I had no one to blame but myself.

Fast-forward 16 years and in insurance terms, I am considered a desirable candidate due to my track record—one which I have worked hard to maintain. Yet I’m still being slapped by a 30% premium increase to subsidise other people’s bad behaviour.

Something is not right with that scenario. Until people stop abusing the insurance companies via the legal system, and until the insurance companies start to REALLY take into account individual track records when calculating premiums there will be no end in sight for year-on-year premium increases.

Well, until the bubble bursts when average people can no longer afford insurance and are forced to sell their motors—that’s when the whole situation will spiral out of control with insurance companies going bust and landing everyone in a huge steaming pile of shite.

It’s late and I’ve said enough.

SPOT Connect

I've decided my summer trip this year will be an alpine adventure from France to Austria. The Alps include some of the most remote roads in Europe, with limited mobile phone coverage in parts. I will be scouring the maps for some of the lesser-travelled roads, many of which are either gravel or derelict remains of what used to be tarmac.

Photo: SPOT Connect • Source: SPOT LLC
For my own safety and peace of mind I took advantage of the after-Christmas sales and bought myself a SPOT Connect for £129. This little box (not much bigger than a deck of cards) serves several purposes, the most important of which is the SOS button that communicates via satellite to transmit the user’s current GPS coordinates and send for help (police and/or search and rescue as required).

As the name may imply, the SPOT Connect also connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth which enables features such as realtime tracking to a public or private Google map, predefined check-in messages to friends/family and satellite-based text messaging.

The services require an annual subscription at €99 for the basic SOS service plus €39 for tracking. A little bit pricey, but a good insurance policy should the worst happen while away from civilisation—anything from engine failure to a broken leg.

Not a lot of Europe is without mobile phone coverage but Sod’s law says you’ll need it when you don’t have it. And coverage is virtually worldwide should I get a sudden urge to head off to Australia via Dubai.

Once it stops snowing and generally being cold and miserable outside of London I’ll give the tracking a go, but I suspect it will quietly go about its business in the background without fuss.

The SPOT Connect is well-built and finished with a soft-touch plastic coating and seems sturdy enough to survive a bigger crash than my body would so it’s comforting to know that help can be summoned anywhere I can see the sky.

Update 6 July 2013:

During my trip I experienced numerous connectivity issues and annoyances with the SPOT. Due to the lack of buttons on the unit (only power and SOS), a smartphone app is required to start the tracking function (and access most of the other features of the unit). About 50% of the time the SPOT and my phone refused to see each other despite using a Bluetooth connection—my GPS and headset also use Bluetooth and had no issues connecting to my phone. Also, once tracking commences, the user needs to remember to briefly press the power button every hour or the unit stops tracking... why???

The real deal breaker, however, is SPOT’s requirement for batteries—specifically AA Energizer Ultimate Lithium 8x batteries (L91). The original set lasted about 16 hours in total, despite SPOT’s claims that they would last 4.5–6 days when tracking. These batteries proved impossible to source in continental Europe and I wasted a couple of hours one day trying electronics shops and larger supermarkets with no luck. I had several Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable batteries for my camera flash and tried them, thinking they might work, but need to be recharged often—but the unit wouldn’t even switch on with these.

Why a device like this can’t have a built-in battery with universal USB charging is beyond me—so 2 days’ tracking cost me £129 plus €138 subscription. What a bloody waste.

For these reasons, the unit is useless to me. If you want to buy it at a heavy discount, please get in touch—it is like brand new still.

F700GS first impressions

A week ago I brought my F800GS in for its 6,000 mile service and was given a brand new F700GS as a courtesy bike. While the 700 and 800 are mechanically similar, there are several differences including:

  • different fairings
  • lighter-duty suspension (lower, less travel and standard front forks)
  • more road-oriented alloy wheels—19" front/17" rear
  • 12% less power and 7% less torque
  • some cost-cutting bits such as steel handlebars and a tiny windscreen
My particular 700 was waiting for me dressed in a rather stealthy matte grey paint, and fully equipped with optional active stability control (ASC), electronic suspension adjustment (ESA), heated handgrips, centre stand etc.

So what was it like to ride? First impressions—it felt like a toy, and I don’t mean that in a negative way.
The combination of lower height, slightly lower weight and no heavy aluminium top box mounted up high meant I hopped on it, rather than climbed aboard. It felt slightly more chuck-able and easier to toss about while manoeuvring between cars at low speeds, mainly as I was a good 10cm closer to the ground. I could put both feet firmly on the ground when stopped (I can manage one foot flat at best on the 800 with my short-arse legs). 

However, I was somewhat surprised that the smaller wheels and lower suspension didn’t handle noticeably differently to me in bends or sharp corners.

At city speeds in stop-and-go traffic, you would be hard pressed to discern a difference in performance since the power/torque curves of the 700 match the 800 up to around 5,000rpm.

The 700’s engine is a touch more smooth, linear and refined than the 800’s due to the different cam settings and fuel management programme. That said, the 800 feels somewhat pluckier overall—a bit more characterful, rough and alive. If anything, the two models are actually in line with BMW’s own marketing fluff—the 700 indeed feels firmer and more road-oriented whereas the 800 feels softer and more all-terrain.

I had to play with the ESA which cycles through Comfort, Normal and Sport modes at anytime via a toggle switch next to the left grip. With London’s roads rivalling those of a third world country, there was actually a tangible difference when going between Sport and Comfort modes, with the former transmitting the holes and bumps through to my spine, and the latter soaking them up. Normal mode was, unsurprisingly, somewhere in between.

If I was buying my 800 in 2013, the ESA is an option I would splash out for without hesitation since I constantly switch between riding alone and with a pillion. Being able to tighten it up at the flick of a switch means it would actually get done since I only end up playing with the manual setting before and after a long (and heavy) trip.

I didn’t give the ASC a go for obvious reasons—I’m not brave (or stupid) enough to take someone else’s bike to the limit of grip.

My one hate was BMW’s decision to go back to a traditional single switch indicator control. Now that I’m used to the quirky paddle system on the models up to 2012, the single switch felt unintuitive and awkward.

There seem to be a lot of people who see the 700 an inferior product to the 800 but I think they’re missing the point. Both bikes have their good points, but for someone who only rides in the city or highway without carrying half their home with them, the 700 is probably the better choice.

It’s comparatively light, refined and fun in the city—definitely more of a toy than the 800. The naysayers who turn up their nose at the 700 or call it a ‘girl’s bike’ need to have a ride on one, and step back to evaluate their personal insecurities. I quite enjoyed my time with it and certainly didn’t feel emasculated.