Ben Laurie blathering

5 May 2008

Petition Against Unfair Motorcycle Tax

Filed under: Motorbikes — Ben @ 12:37

Not much I can add to the petition’s own words! Sign up here.

Changes to the law mean cars emitting less than 100g of CO2 per kilometre travelled would be exempt from paying Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax), while motorcycles are still required to pay.

This was outlined by your Chancellor Alistair Darling in his first budget last week, under the auspices of rewarding motorists for driving ‘green’ vehicles.

Despite Darling’s aim, the rate of road tax paid by motorcyclists is set to double in 2009, with the annual charge for a typical 125cc commuter bike set to grow from £15 per year at present, to £33 in 2009.

This makes a nonsense of the revised rates of vehicle excise duty, as motorcycles tend to emit less CO2 and use less fuel than cars, with the average CO2 output from motorcycles at 110g/km.

So why do those who ride greener two wheeled vehicles, use less road space and do not contribute to congestion get penalised whilst 4 wheel motorist whose vehicles use under 100g/km are exempt from road tax

21 Sep 2007

Marketing Doublespeak From TomTom

Filed under: General,Motorbikes,Rants — Ben @ 6:15

I’m having a bit of a run-in with TomTom at the moment. The details are boring, but the short version is I bought a second device, for the car, registered it at their site, and as a result de-registered my existing GPS and associated the add-ons I’d bought for it with the new one. This would be OK except that they are now refusing to let me change it back!

If I want to escalate my complaint about this, here’s what I have to do. What you have to love about this is

TomTom wants to do the following:

  • Make it easy for you to raise your feedback

If you are not satisfied with any aspect of our service or products, tell us about your concerns by writing us a letter.

Our address is:

TomTom Sales BV
Customer Support – Customer Relations Department
Rembrandtplein 35
1017 CT Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Isn’t that awesome? We want to make it easy, so schlep down to your post office and figure out international postage – that’s so much better than this new-fangled email thing.

Of course, they don’t really want to make it easy – then they might have to investigate some minor complaints, and that would be a waste of their fine minds. They want me to be seriously pissed off before I bother them. And I am, but, thanks to the blogosphere, I can take my complaint to the people that matter: their customers.

31 Jul 2007


Filed under: Lazyweb,Motorbikes,Toys — Ben @ 9:26

I could swear I’d written before about the TomTom Rider, which I use on my bikes, and love dearly. Well, mostly. Good points:

  • Uses bluetooth to connect to my phone to get updates on traffic conditions, and routes around blockages.
  • Not intolerable user interface.
  • Cute trick (that I haven’t used yet) of tracking your buddies.
  • Talks to me in my helmet.
  • Warns me about “safety” cameras. Mostly.

Bad points

  • No tracking, very disappointing if you want to figure out where someone else took you, or you went randomly.
  • Weird slight randomness in routing (for example, Aylesbury to West London might choose to use the A355 down to Beaconsfield, or to continue down the A413, which is definitely faster).
  • Latest version of the s/w kills my Rider, but TomTom won’t fix it unless I send the Rider back in – and they won’t provide a replacement to use in the meantime.
  • Occasionally crashes.
  • Itinerary (their name for routes) handling is pathetic.
  • “Glove friendly” UI is actually pretty much impossible to use in gloves.

Anyway, all that said, I’ve been musing about using the TomTom in the car. The snag is that the only way the Rider has of talking to me is via a bluetooth headset – which is OK in a helmet, but I really don’t like their non-helmet version. For a start, it doesn’t stay in my ear. So, I’ve been considering alternatives, and I figured I’d ask the Lazyweb for suggestions. Perhaps even something I can use on both car and bike.

31 Dec 2006

Pedestrian Crossings and Strange Legal Language

Filed under: Motorbikes — Ben @ 19:51

I realised recently that I didn’t fully understand the zig-zag lines around pedestrian crossings. In particular, I wasn’t sure whether you could overtake on the zig-zags after you’d crossed the crossing. The answer is that you can, but figuring it out has been interesting.

I’ve always understood the zig-zags to mean “don’t overtake the lead vehicle”, which they do, but if that’s all they’re for, why do they appear on both sides of the crossing? It doesn’t take a huge amount of research to discover that they also mean “no parking”, which I knew but had kinda forgotten about. But if they also control overtaking, what on Earth does this mean once you’ve passed the crossing? The Highway Code is actually crap on this, it says

You MUST NOT overtake the moving vehicle nearest the crossing or the vehicle nearest the crossing which has stopped to give way to pedestrians

Like several other parts of the Highway Code, this is fantastically poorly drafted. Clearly the vehicle nearest the crossing could be beyond it, which would make it legal to overtake the lead vehicle approaching the crossing!

Luckily, the Act itself (The Zebra, Pelican and Puffin Pedestrian Crossings Regulations 1997) is a little clearer

24. – (1) Whilst any motor vehicle (in this regulation called “the approaching vehicle”) or any part of it is within the limits of a controlled area and is proceeding towards the crossing, the driver of the vehicle shall not cause it or any part of it –

    (a) to pass ahead of the foremost part of any other motor vehicle proceeding in the same direction; or(b) to pass ahead of the foremost part of a vehicle which is stationary for the purpose of complying with regulation 23, 25 or 26.

OK, so at least we know it only applies to before the crossing. But hang on, what’s this “any other motor vehicle” thing? The Highway Code (and my understanding) say only the lead vehicle! Fortunately…

(2) In paragraph (1) –

    (a) the reference to a motor vehicle in sub-paragraph (a) is, in a case where more than one motor vehicle is proceeding in the same direction as the approaching vehicle in a controlled area, a reference to the motor vehicle nearest to the crossing; and(b) the reference to a stationary vehicle is, in a case where more than one vehicle is stationary in a controlled area for the purpose of complying with regulation 23, 25 or 26, a reference to the stationary vehicle nearest the crossing.

Why do this? Why say “any vehicle” and then say “actually we only meant the front one”? I don’t get it.

29 Dec 2006

Triumph Daytona 675

Filed under: Motorbikes — Ben @ 18:34

I told myself I’d wait at least a year before upgrading my bike (which, if you recall, is a Suzuki SV650). I nearly managed to wait out the year – filling in the last few months with test rides of various bikes. Until about a month ago my favourite was another Suzuki, the GSX-R750. Then I tried the Triumph Daytona 675. I don’t know what to say about it, other than I totally love it. Its also the only bike I’ve ridden that has made my SV seem unstable in comparison (and SVs are renowned for being a solid ride) – but despite feeling absolutely rock solid, its also incredibly responsive and confidence inspiring. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I bought one, delivered a week before my year was up…

Not just any Triumph Daytona 675: mine

Boy am I having fun!

10 Sep 2006

Look, Lean and Roll

Filed under: Motorbikes — Ben @ 17:21

I’m in the process of becoming a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, with the Thames Vale Advanced Motorcyclists, who are a fantastic bunch. This is mostly about getting from A to B quickly, whilst being as safe as possible (and legal, of course). Whilst much of the training is done on the road, one-on-one with an IAM qualified observer, there are also many opportunities to do other stuff.

One of those is “Look, Lean and Roll”, which is a half day aimed at improving cornering. I did it this morning, and it was a lot of fun. Somehow, I think I may have had a little too much fun. Here’s my brake pedal afterwards…

Brake Pedal

And no, I didn’t drop the bike. I did lose some rubber off my shoes, though (valuable lesson, keep your feet higher on the pegs!).

Despite the fun, it was very educational. Well worth the fee. Oh, and did I mention it was fun?

18 Jul 2006

Yamaha R6 and Ducati 996

Filed under: Motorbikes — Ben @ 10:52

I just spent a week in Montreal, and rode there and back from Toronto with a friend. I was on an ’02 R6, the friend on a 996. The R6 was surprisingly comfortable for a sports bike, responsive and not twitchy (my friend said it was boringly easy to ride). I still can’t love the way fours behave, though – no power ’til about 7,500 rpm, then a rather sharp increase from there on up. Having to drop three gears to overtake is just annoying.

The 996 (which I rode for around 20 miles) was a totally different experience – loads of low-end torque, very solid feeling, a far less comfortable riding position (but now I know why they cut the tank out like that, the only support you get is from your knees!), a little strange at low speeds (I was, however, carrying a large amount of luggage at the time) and an astonishing amount of heat pumping out around your legs. Great for the winter, not so nice at 35C and high humidity!

Canada has some lovely roads if you have the time to find them. 18 down from Montreal was fun, in a lazy kind of way, and once we got up into cottage country (northeast of Toronto), the roads were fun and the views beautiful.

I’m definitely up for doing that again!

27 Apr 2006

GSX-R600 and FZ6

Filed under: Motorbikes — Ben @ 22:39

I’m trying to make it a feature of every journey that I take a bike ride somewhere. In order to do that, I have to rent, which gives a great opportunity to try out different bikes. So, in Dallas, I rented an FZ6. I didn’t really like it. The handling was OK, but not stellar, it sounded terrible (at least compared to my SV650) and it didn’t really feel like it was nearly 50% more powerful than the SV650.

On the other hand, last weekend I had an ’06 GSX-R600. That bike was awesome. It felt as light as a feather, was instantly responsive, both on the throttle and steering, you could lie it down practically flat and it still felt as solid as when it was vertical, and it sounded good. I think I’m in love. On the other hand, it gave me one hell of a sore arse after a couple of hours of riding.

It may help that there’s some seriously fun riding in California, of course. If you don’t know about Mad Maps it’s time to find out!

20 Apr 2006

Funky Maps

Filed under: General,Motorbikes — Ben @ 16:02

My friend, Ben Hyde, blogs about map porn. They’re all fun, but here’s one showing motorcycles.

17 Mar 2006


Filed under: Motorbikes — Ben @ 20:28

As most of my friends know by now, I recently rejoined the motorbiking fraternity (here’s my baby after a few days away, luggage still attached).

Now, as we all know, motorbikes are dangerous, so I’m quite keen on learning to be safer. To that end, I spent yesterday with Bikesafe, a scheme run by traffic police for bike riders of all ages and skills. Despite the cold and drizzle it was a very satisfying day – about three hours of observed riding, mostly on interesting country roads. Its less hard than you might think, taking directions by watching indicators in your mirrors, but still takes a lot of concentration. It certainly keeps you focussed on knowing what’s going on around you. Of course, when you’re on the right line, the police bike is often exactly behind you, which made me really lust after mirrors like theirs – mounted below the bars so they can see under their elbows. Its also very interesting following the police bike (I did rather less of this than is usual, since I had my very own traffic cop – usually its 2 to 1 – but I still did some) – those guys definitely know how to minimise the workload.

The other attendees were a very mixed bag – one of them with 45 years experience! There was even an American traffic cop who’d come to learn about the programme.

I didn’t think I’d learnt all that much by the end of the day (other than I should be less “progressive” when filtering and overtaking) – but rather to my surprise my head is buzzing with information today. Definitely worth the thirty quid. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Next step, the IAM.

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