Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Back in the Saddle: Back to Le Mans...

It's May and that means two things. One is that I've got to do some birthday present shopping as both my fantastic girlfriend (such superlatives are fitting, just wait...) happened to be born in this month some years ago. Another is that the Le Mans MotoGP is coming to the Bugatti circuit, the "purpose built" section of the famous Le Mans 24 hours track. And here is where the superlative comes in. The French MotoGP takes place on the very day of my girlfriend's birthday but that's ok, here it is, she's coming with me. Could I ask for any better?!

My last blog posts of my trip to France were quite long and detailed my preparation far in advance of the trip itself but I haven't been able to do anything of that sort for this trip. One of the main reasons for that is simply because I haven't actually put in all that much preparation this time. The bike is pretty much ready to go, tyres are fine, all fluids are fine, and despite me wanting to change the spark plugs and air filter, I've decided to let them be for another while. Like an aging athlete the VFR is looked over by my own, fairly watchful, eye and constantly monitored. As it ages bits wear down, things become brittle, it demands that little bit of extra care (but only a little extra, the VFR was a fantastic bike to begin with anyway and at 17 years old it still doesn't require intensive work). But in putting in that bit of extra work in anyway the rewards are great - you get to know the machine, you know what noises to expect, what signs are troublesome, and when (and not) to replace service items. Away from the bike and on to packing, there hasn't been any done at all so far. My tool kit, wrapped up in a sock and cable tied under the seat (novel way of stopping it from rattling), is still under the seat from the last time, as are copies of the documents I am legally required to have. The only thing to squeeze back in is the spare-light-bulb box. Planning my route will be done on the ferry I imagine as it'll be useful to waste some time engaging in a bit of map reading, I find it prepares me for the journey ahead. I'm thinking that this time around I will take a different route and experience some different roads, we'll see how that plan works out when I have a map in front of me on the ferry...

Time to fit new brake pads in the new university motorcycle club workshop
Brake Prep

So have I done any preparation at all? What's the whole point of this blog post? Actually I did do some preparation after all. The bike has been washed (twice...once after this brake pad fitting as I always think if you're spraying nasty stuff like brake cleaner about along with greases, any excess is best washed off so it doesn't wreck your paint). The bike has also, as I just gave away, been fitted with new front brake pads. This was a nice job to do because I was using the new UCC Motorcycle Club workshop. Yes that is right, my university, University College Cork, has a motorbike club and a very nice new workshop which we are still kitting out. University-based motorbike clubs such as ours (we don't have a back patch and all of that stuff, we just work on bikes together, do the odd track day and ride-out etc) are rare, the closest I know of is Bath in the UK but we're the only ones I have found with our own workshop. The new workshop was two years in the making but it can rival any professional set up even at this point where we are still working on fitting it out. I was able to roll the VFR in, put it on the lift, listen to Motopod (brilliant MotoGP podcast show, listen if you never have) and Car Talk from NPR (very funny show and informative too, I get the podcast), have something to eat and a cup of tea (we've a fridge and microwave), and then get down to working. This was luxury.

Still life left in the Nissins but now that I'd the new CL pads I thought it best to go ahead and do it
Sitting in a swiveling chair and unbolting the front calipers I popped out the old pads, which were Nissin OEM pads, and proceeded to clean up the caliper. I keep them in good condition so there was no excessive dirt or dust in there really but I cleaned everything up and put fresh grease on the sliders etc. Red rubber grease is great stuff for this as any other grease that is oil based will eat the rubber boots and stop the sliders from, well, sliding. Copper grease on the pad pin, a tiny dab on the BACK of the pad, and you're done. It took a lot longer than that however as I checked everything. I had also planned on changing the spark plugs and air filter but the air filter had only been inspected a thousand miles ago and still looked new so I'm happy to have left it alone. Likewise, if I ever have the tank off, I pull a plug out and check it. I did this before the last trip to France and it was perfect. I'll do them at the next oil change in 3000 miles time by default. 

As I bolted the calipers back in place I noticed that our new workshop clock was telling me that it was almost 11pm and the gates to the complex are closed soon after that so I needed to get packing. A quick wash outside made sure no lingering greases or sprays would be left on the paint and then I headed on my way. New brake pads are always strange when first installed. They need time to shed their first layer, if that is even the right word, they need to bed in to the shape of the disc, and so, when you fit new pads, things don't always seem right. This is why there is no way I can really tell anyone how Carbone Lorraine pads feel! The Nissin OEM pads were always consistent but were, at this stage of their life, beginning to lack in feel and initial bite. They would still do the job but were a little vague and took more effort. The only reason I didn't buy them again was simply that I wanted to try out some different brands just to get experience of different manufacturers. The Carbone Lorraine pads are slightly different looking to the Nissins, the CL ones have 1 centre groove rather than 2 as the Nissins have while the back pad of the CL pads have no manufacturer on them and don't look as pretty as the Japanese ones. Still, brakes are all about friction, not looks. By the time I hit French roads I'm sure these new ones will have settled in.

Leathers or fabrics?

The last time I went across the sea, just three weeks back actually, my choice of riding gear was made for me. The weather, on both sides, was changeable, and even if the weather in France looked good, what if I was caught in monsoon rain upon my return to the rainiest island in the whole world (may not be factually true)? My usual fabric gear was the only sensible way to go but this time around the temperatures in France are higher and the weather, even here in Ireland, is, well, about the same as ever. Showery. I'm keen to bring the leathers though as I think they actually keep  me a little bit cooler than my fabrics and I'll never forget the heat underneath my fabric stuff on the car deck of the ferry the last time. I think this one will be a last minute decision...

Vee Fours?

It isn't often that my VFR has other V-fours around for any sort of company so this is a quick note to sign off on. Sharing it's engine angle, and general design philosophy with the RC214V Honda MotoGP bike, the VFR's engine will be in the company of many V-fours when the MotoGP rolls into town. I better make sure that on that same day that I have the birthday presents ready...

I'll do my best to provide updates of the trip along the way so keep checking back!

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