27 Apr 2014

Thank you to my (quiet) readers

As we approach the end of April, Blogger’s handy little stats function shows that this was my best month ever since I launched this blog last May, moving the content from my Tumbr page.

Thank you to my readers who have made this the best month ever, with nearly 2,500 visitors! This is quite an achievement as I don’t pay for advertising, so people seem to be finding my blog by word-of-mouth, my signature on ADVrider, or friends and family via my Facebook profile (and a few by Google searches).

Like any blog, I am writing from my own, personal perspective, but I try to justify that perspective with official stats and references where appropriate. There are many blogs out there and I appreciate those who take the time to read mine.

However, I know not everyone agrees with my point of view, but despite this, the comments remain suspiciously silent for most of my posts.

I would love to hear from some of my readers—please let me know what would encourage you to interact, and what sorts of topics you’d like to see. Say a little bit about yourself, even just a hello!

Elsewhere, I also include these posts on my public Facebook page and link via my Twitter account.

Once again, thank you for your support! It makes it all worthwhile!


Some fun facts (well, fun to me anyway!)

  • 36% of my total views to date occurred in during April
  • First look at BMW’s Gear Shift Assist Pro’ is my most-read post with 422 views in 10 days
  • The top 3 referring sites are BMW GS Club Netherlands, ADVrider and Facebook.
  • The top 3 search terms in Google are ‘bmw r1200gs milka’, ‘draculas grave in kitzingen germany’ and ‘half fried chicken’ (I don’t know what to say about this!)
  • 43% of readers are from USA, 30% from the UK and 5% from the Netherlands
  • 42% of readers use Chrome, 31% use Safari and 12% use Firefox
  • 31% of readers are on Macs, 27% on Windows and 25% on Linux
  • 11% of readers use iOS (iPhone/iPad combined) and 2% use Android (phone/tablet combined)

Dying on the roads: Another look

I read about a woman in the US who died after hitting another vehicle head-on while posting on Facebook.

Whenever I read something like this it makes my blood boil. Luckily, of all the vehicles this callous woman could have hit, it was a large truck, the driver of which wasn’t hurt.

However, as she crossed that centre line, distracted because she *had* to post how much she loved a song (?!?!?!?!), think about how easily it could have been any of our friends/family on a motorbike that she hit.

When are people in the states (and Canada) going to lobby to outlaw (or enforce, where this is already outlawed) the absolute stupidity and selfishness of drivers using their phones/gadgets while driving?? This is not an infringement on people’s liberties, this is just common sense!

The real victims in this case are this selfish woman’s friends/family for the grief they are now going through—and the driver of the truck who will have her needless death on his mind for the rest of his life.

Laws have existed for several years in Europe and elsewhere about this and people are regularly fined, or, if causing bodily harm, imprisoned and banned from driving (for life in some cases) but even here you often see people fiddling with their phones/gadgets.

Please share this with everyone you know. When you’re driving/riding, focus exclusively on driving/riding. You could save someone else’s life—or you own.

The news report (amended for sensitivity):

Woman Dies in Head on Crash Seconds After Posting on Facebook

A woman is dead after slamming her car head-on into a truck while posting selfies and a Facebook update about how happy she was while listening to a song.

[name/location removed], crossed the center median of a busy road Thursday morning just after making the post, hit a recycling truck and died, police said. Further inspection of her phone revealed pictures posted online only minutes earlier.

The last words [name removed] shared with her friends? ‘The happy song makes me HAPPY.’

Photo credit: myfox8.com

Authorities said the post, visible only to her friends, was made at 8:33am, the first 911 call received about the crash was one minute later.

‘In a matter of seconds, a life was over just so she could notify some friends that she was happy,’ a police spokesperson said.

Footage from the scene showed [name removed]’s car had careened off the road into a ditch near some trees. The recycling truck was only feet away, also in the grass.

[Name removed]’s car caught on fire after running off the road. The truck hit a tree.

Authorities believe she was traveling at about 45 mph at the time of the accident. Alcohol and drugs have been ruled out as a cause, but police are still running a toxicology report to confirm, sources said.

She died instantly, cops said. The truck driver was unharmed.

Investigators also discovered a series of selfies posted by the woman while she was driving, police said.

‘As sad as it is, it is a grim reminder for everyone… you just have to pay attention while you are in the car,’ the spokesperson added.

[Name removed] was wearing a seat belt, police said, but it fastened improperly.

It is not clear if wearing the restraint correctly would have saved her life.


20 Apr 2014

A few days on with Gear Shift Assist Pro on the BMW R1200GS

If you’re one of the 350 people over the past few days who read my first look about BMW’s new Gear Shift Assist Pro (GSAP) on the R1200GS, you’ll already know I’m quite ecstatic about this system.

Yesterday I covered about 250 miles around South East England including about 10 miles of byways with my cousin Carol who made an unexpected arrival from abroad earlier in the week. Respect to her for tolerating such a long ride the very first time she’s ever been on a motorbike!

Carol on a byway after 6 hours on the bike—still in good spirits!

Carol at Bookham Wood (unaltered photo—it really was that vibrant!)

The GSAP system is great on the open road, particularly for thrusting out of roundabouts onto 60–70mph stretches of road, but also when approaching and following through bends. It’s so quick and effortless—throttle off approaching a bend, kick it down a few gears, throttle on through the corner and back up to speed in one seamless motion.

It does take some mental reprogramming at times, for example when powering up a slip road onto a motorway, because you have to tell yourself not to back off the throttle when changing up a gear. Doing so, even a little bit, results in some unpleasant driveline shock. Full power, half power, even a quarter power it will change as smooth as anything, as long as you maintain the throttle position. It goes against everything you learned during motorcycle training.

The system even works unexpectedly well in Enduro mode on dirt/gravel byways because it engages the next higher or lower gear so smoothly. Something with which to experiment next time I’m on the byways without carrying another soul on the back!

Today the weather took a turn for the worst with grey skies and constant showers—not the best conditions for taking video—but I managed to get out and record a few clips.

Firstly, the GSAP unit which replaces the rod connecting the shift lever to the transmission (the unit is so shiny and new compared to my rather dirty bike):

And now the system in action:

Why do I think this system is a big deal? 

It is deceptively simple and the unit weighs next to nothing, while still retaining the ‘whole experience’ of riding a motorbike whenever desired, with a regular manual transmission and clutch lever. Quick shifters have been around for years, but GSAP is the first time such a system includes downshifts. The complexity is hidden away in the software which makes everything work, but the unit itself is not much more than a sensor to tell the computer what you’re doing with the gear lever.

This differs from the approach taken by other manufacturers, such as Honda’s excellent dual clutch transmission which caters to buyers who want to do away with the clutch lever altogether. But dual clutch transmissions come at a cost—they are rather heavy and complex, and the only manual control you have is via +/- pushbuttons on the handlebars. There is no proper manual option because these are not manual transmissions.

The GSAP system takes the best from an automatic—instant gear changes and smooth acceleration—without losing what many people consider the essence of riding a motorbike—connecting with the machine at all levels, and having full control over all functions.

If you get a chance to try out GSAP, don’t pass it up—it is impossible to form a meaningful opinion about the system until you try it for yourself.

Any minuses? Well, it's not cheap at around £500 installed, or £375 when installed at the factory (on the RT—not yet listed for the GS as a factory option). But it's only money. And sometimes you need to treat yourself.

Looking ahead

We have technology at our disposal to augment the functionality of mechanical devices in ways which could not be accomplished even 10 years ago. Some of it is for safety, such as traction control, ABS etc, and others are for fun, like the GSAP system. I believe it’s only a matter of time before other manufacturers offer similar types of tech for their bikes.

Doing away with throttle cables in favour of stepper motors, and computers to control the engine may scare off those hesitant to embrace change, but it’s important to bear in mind that jet planes—generally seen as the safest type of transportation—have been using fly-by-wire systems for decades.

In 2011, BMW announced their ConnectedRide concept, their vision of the future where, among other items, bikes and cars ‘talk’ to each other to announce their presence autonomously to avoid collisions—for example, automatically applying the brakes if a driver starts a turn without noticing a motorbike, while at the same time automatically flashing the lights on the motorcycle to warn the car driver.

I welcome systems like these because there are far too many distracted drivers on the roads, and anything that gives me (and my fellow road users) a little bit more safety can only be a good thing.

19 Apr 2014

Good Friday on the Surrey byways

Four days off work for Easter Weekend with the sun shining, what could be better than a ride through the woods in Surrey?

The same trails which were mud pits just a month ago have dried out, making for an effortless, unchallenging ride, but sometimes this is just the thing for a lazy day off—and for riding 2-up off the tarmac.

Zev expands his horticultural knowledge

A walking trail off the main byway

F800GS Trophy on the byway near Old Simms Copse, Surrey UK

Couldn’t resist a pose

No need for just one pose

17 Apr 2014

First look: Gear Shift Assist Pro on the BMW R1200GS

The original Gear Shift Assist system has been available for a number of years on several BMW models of the K- and S-series, enabling clutchless upshifts by briefly cutting the fuel supply when the system senses an upshift via the foot lever.

Gear Shift Assist Pro (GSAP) is the next generation of this system, announced with the introduction of the updated R1200RT last November. The Pro version allows for both upshifts and downshifts and according to BMW this is a world first on a production motorcycle.

The R1200RT and the R1200GS are mechanically similar bikes, sharing an engine (with a couple of differences) and parts of the suspension system and frame—BMW has made available GSAP as an ex-works option for the first time on a GS. It is not compatible with the 2013 models, but only the 2014 update (models with the steering dampener)—namely those built from approximately 15 August 2013. There is no official word why this is the case, but I suspect it is simply that the 2014 spec bikes have a connector fitted in the wiring loom for the CAN-bus.

The Gear Shift Assist Pro unit

The GSAP system intrigued me greatly so I put in an order. I was informed that my bike was within the first 300 built which support the system—lucky me! BMW had some delays relating to the software which held up the order for a few weeks but the people in the service department at BMW Battersea (thanks Phil, Shanon and James!) had it installed on my bike within 24 hours of receiving the unit. Good communication and good service are what make this dealership excellent!

Below is BMW’s (rather thorough) explanation is included as part of the press kit for the new RT:

Optional Gear Shift Assistant Pro for changing gear with virtually no interruption in power flow.

The BMW Gear Shift Assistant Pro is another world first for production motorcycle manufacture. Compared to the Gear Shift Assistant already featured on the superbike models such as the BMW S 1000 RR, the system’s functionality has been extended for use on the new R 1200 RT and adapted to the specific requirements of a touring bike. The Gear Shift Assistant Pro enables upshifts and downshifts to be made without operation of the clutch or throttle valve in the load and rev speed ranges that are of relevance to riding, both increasing comfort for the rider and providing an added touch of dynamism. The majority of gear changes can be carried out with the help of the Gear Shift Assistant—starting off is one of the few exceptions to this.

When accelerating, the throttle valve no longer needs to be closed for gear changes, allowing the power to flow with barely any interruption. And when decelerating and shifting down a gear (throttle valve closed), automatic double-declutching is used to adjust the engine speed. Gears are engaged in the usual way with the footshift lever. Shift times are considerably faster compared to gear changes with operation of the clutch. The Gear Shift Assistant is not an automatic shift system, but rather just an aid for changing gear. When gear changes are carried out with the help of the Gear Shift Assistant, the cruise control is automatically deactivated for safety reasons.

The system works by employing a sensor on the gearbox output shaft to detect the rider’s shift request and trigger the assistance mechanism. By increasing or reducing engine torque by the required amount, the load on the powertrain is effectively eliminated to allow the shift dogs of the next gear wheel pair to intermesh in the same way as when the clutch is used. No gear shift assistance is provided when changing gear while operating the clutch, or when shifting up with the throttle valve closed (overrunning) or when decelerating. Neither will any assistance be given if the shift lever is not in its proper starting position when shifting up or down.

Assistance is available when downshifting with the throttle valve open, but this can provoke severe load change reactions, particularly in low gears. The same effect may be produced when changing down without operating the clutch while cruising at a constant speed. BMW Motorrad therefore recommends always using the clutch to change gear in these riding situations. Riders should also avoid using the Gear Shift Assistant at rev speeds close to the red line.


So what’s it like to ride with GSAP? 

In a word (okay, two words) bloody amazing! Being a ‘school’ night I’ve only ridden about 20 miles around London so far with the system but I can’t wipe the smile off my face.

The sound is similar to dual clutch systems used on BMW M cars, higher end Audis and Volkswagens etc—complete with a pop from the exhaust on each gear change. And it’s fast, I’d say not much more than 1/10th of a second when upshifting. Combined with the high torque of the boxer engine, this translates to turbine-like, seamless acceleration from a standstill, smoother and faster than is humanly possible using the clutch.

It does take a little practice to acclimatise to the system and learn its quirks.

At a constant speed the system is not happy to make a gear change and this can result in some not-so-nice driveline shock. When decelerating the system doesn’t operate at all for upshifts.

Downshifts while decelerating with a closed throttle are accompanied by an automatic blip of the revs and the shift is slightly slower than upshifting to accommodate this—I’d say downshifts take 2/10ths of a second. It’s possible to downshift at a constant throttle, or around 10% throttle, but this can also cause a bit of driveline shock.

Gear changes using the system require dedication—no half-arsed attempts. You need to commit to the gear change in one smooth go, and the lever feels slightly heavier when using GSAP than when using the clutch normally. During one halfhearted 1st–2nd change I ended up in neutral—call it operator error.

However, learning its quirks has only taken about 20 miles of city riding (and associated frequent gear changes)—nothing in the grand scheme of things. In that short time it now almost feels agricultural to change gears with the clutch.

With Easter weekend looming—four days off (yay!)—and favourable weather in the forecast, I will have a chance to get out of the city on roads where this system will be in its element. Watch this space!

Brief update one day on

They—presumably experts—say during sleep your brain processes the things you learned that day. I guess they have a bit of a point. Riding to work and back today, everything just clicked—no herky-jerky, no missed shifts—everything as smooth as silk.

If only all things in life had such a comfortable learning curve.

Did I mention I like the GSAP system? Still smiling here!

Further information

15 Apr 2014

New look, new focus

I’ve you’ve visited before you’ve probably noticed things look a little bit different. I’ll be the first to admit—the old template had the personality of a wardrobe.

I scoured the internet for a customisable template with the basic layout to my liking and found a just-released template called ‘Superhero’ by Automattic, a company founded by one of the original developers of WordPress—so I knew I was dealing with a quality product. I spent the rest of last weekend fiddling with the CSS files to get the colour scheme and widgets as close as possible to my version of perfect.

Now, I’m not a programmer, and have no desire to be a programmer, so there was a lot of trial and error involved. However, I have more than 20 years’ experience in corporate graphic design and branding—the day job—which has given me a eye for the finer details. I need things to look just right or it bugs the hell out of me.

Colour scheme, graphics and widgets working and ticked off the list, it was time to look at that huge blank canvas that is the homepage slider. It’s all well and good to be able to get snappy with a camera, and it’s easy to take pretty pictures when you live somewhere with so many beautiful outdoor spaces nearby—but slapping a few well-exposed photos in this space didn’t do it justice.

I whipped out Adobe Illustrator and created myself a little stamp graphic to brand each image... things started to move in the right direction. I added some quotes to express a bit of feeling for each photo. But I wanted something a little bit more unique for the main image—a lucky shot of my R1200GS in a tunnel in Surrey where the camera’s flash had misfired, giving the photo a slightly gritty quality.

In the bottom of a drawer I found an old Wacom Graphire tablet of 2001 vintage and amazingly the latest software, which is more than 5 years old, worked on my computer—despite Wacom’s website hinting otherwise. 

Doodling on the photo, I realised that I was focusing on the negatives—wrong tyres for the muddy road and masonry that threatened the paintwork (and my body, had I lost control on the mud)—the same excuses you hear time and time again from people who buy these capable bikes but never take them out to get a little bit dirty now and then.

So the negatives were crossed out and the heading ‘No excuses’ added, along with a beaming happy face and hearts to represent how it makes me feel to get out there and explore.

With a new look and focus I would love to hear from readers—you—not only about your thoughts, but also your ideas for features. Don’t be shy.

9 Apr 2014

KTM’s new MSC system—a big deal?

It’s no secret that I like BMW’s motorbikes because they offer some of the most advanced tech on the market, especially the R1200GS with all of its toys—ride by wire, electronic cruise control, riding modes, electronic semi-active suspension etc. These things appeal to my geek side.

So when KTM made the rather grand claim that the 1190 Adventure with the new MSC (motorcycle stability control) system is the safest motorcycle on the market I had to see what the fuss was about. And, without a doubt, they are onto something.

At its core, MSC is simply Bosch’s motorcycle ABS Gen 9 enhanced system, Bosch’s MM5.10 lean angle sensor unit and a software update. The physical components are also used on comparable high end bikes, including the current R1200GS, and provide anti-lock braking as well as traction control functionality.

KTM’s implementation of MSC—Photo credit: KTM

The ABS system consists of a number of sensors (wheel speed, braking pressure etc) and a tennis ball sized pump/control unit weighing in at around 700g. In simplistic terms, the system measures the speed of the wheels and pumps the brakes to ensure the wheel speed differential is within specified parameters. The ‘enhanced’ version can distribute pressure between front and rear brakes, regardless of which is used—a system known as electronic combined brake system, or eCBS.

The lean angle sensor provides information about inertia, roll rate, yaw rate, longitudinal acceleration, transverse acceleration, vertical acceleration, and calculated values for lean and pitch angles. These values are used for anti-wheelie and anti-stoppie control, as well as for traction control (preventing spinning the rear wheel), anti-skid control (preventing too much application of power in corners), chassis regulation via the semi-active suspension and fall detection. These features are already in use on the R1200GS. Additionally, the K1600GT/L utilises this data to control the pivoting Xenon headlamp in corners, the S1000RR for its launch control feature, and the new R1200RT for its hill hold control system.

So how is MSC different? The key is in a software update which enables the ABS system to factor in more data from the lean angle sensor to regulate the ABS functionality while the bike is banked (leaning in a corner). This extra data enables the system to ensure the maximum braking power is applied to the correct wheels to ensure the bike remains neutrally banked, without highsiding or lowsiding, and without forcing the bike upright. Online reports of this new functionality are universally positive.

The software update can be purchased and installed at a KTM dealership for about £335 which upgrades the ABS Gen 9 system to ABS Gen 9M—a bit steep in my opinion because it is simply a software update, but I suppose Bosch needs to recover their development costs.

As the R1200GS has the necessary hardware, I would not be surprised if this feature becomes available before long for this bike as well—and rolled across the range for BMW’s other bikes which also use the same Bosch ABS/ASC components. For the minute, however, it seems the KTM is Bosch’s exclusive launch customer.

If/when this becomes available for the R1200GS, I would be tempted to have it retrofitted, as I believe you can’t have enough safety nets when on two wheels. Or, perhaps when my lease is up, this will already be a standard feature.

Would you pay £300+ to add this to your bike?

See the system in action:

Addendum (10 April):

Thanks to an eagle-eyed contributor on ADVrider for pointing out that the R1200GS doesn't have a discrete Bosch MM5.10 lean angle sensor unit. On further research, and although speculative, it seems the functionality is integrated into the chassis control module as the ASC and ESA systems both utilitise parameters and functionality consistent to what Bosch list for the lean angle sensor.

As BMW don't advertise directly that they use Bosch components it's possible Bosch make a bespoke item for the 1200 which integrates the functionality of the lean angle sensor into BMW's own control module. This is not particularly far fetched (the Nav V GPS is a bespoke Garmin unit built for BMW), and it would mean it should still be possible for MSC to be retrofitted via a software update.

Speculation aside, the values required to make MSC work are collected already by the bike's systems, so it's a matter of wait-and-see!

6 Apr 2014

R1200GS Adventure test ride

Thanks to BMW Park Lane for letting me have a go on the rather lovely (and very large) Adventure version of the R1200GS today (mine is the standard version). Love the transformers style, nothing pretty about this beast but that is its charm!

Main differences are the *huge* fuel tank which makes it quite a bit wider between the legs, an extra inch of suspension travel, black wheels/engine/frame (instead of silver), and a heavier flywheel (more inertia in the engine) which makes it slightly smoother on/off throttle at very low speeds.

Felt a little bit more compliant over rough patches than mine, and ever so slightly less energetic on acceleration, no doubt due to the extra 20kg of weight. It is also less prone to lifting the front wheel on hard acceleration.

The handling (in traffic and on the open road) is virtually indistinguishable from the standard version, you can throw it around just as easily as some 600cc/180kg bikes I've ridden—this is some amazing engineering.

At 70mph with the windscreen in the high position, the wind flow is similar to being in a car with the side window open. I think in the rain you would stay quite dry while moving.

As for the reach to the ground—on the standard model my feet are almost flat on the floor, on this I am on my toes which is the same as on my F800GS and I didn't find this an issue. For reference I am 5'9"/175cm.

Once mine is in positive equity in its lease, this is definitely a contender! In the olive mat paint scheme please 

If it's not obvious, I liked it (a lot).

R1200GS Adventure front 3/4 view

R1200GS Adventure front 3/4 view with DRL

R1200GS Adventure front view with DRL

R1200GS Adventure rear view

R1200GS Adventure rear 3/4 view

R1200GS Adventure pillion view

R1200GS Adventure rider view

R1200GS Adventure beak detail