Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Some time ago whilst amusing myself on t’interwebs, I came across a motorcycle rally. Unlike previous rallies I’d attended which mainly involved falling over in fields, this one seemed to mainly be based on actually riding the bikes…

In the vein of orienteering the National Road Rally is a “scatter” rally where you attempt to ride between control points, trying to keep the mileage covered and number of control points to meet certain category requirements. In essence it is one large excuse for a rideout. So having persuaded a friend to accompany me, we awaited our packs to drop through the letterbox with 2 weeks to go…

The  planning pack!

The planning pack!

The maps and information arrived promptly with 2 weekends to go so we set to planning our route. Quickly it became apparent that there was not much in the way of controls in the north east. So we would have to head south a little bit to Thirsk for our first “start” control. Thereafter you have to try an plot a route taking in enough control points and covering a mileage appropriate to your category – we decided to be bold and aim for the gold daytime category. Basically visit 12 control points, in less than 10 hours with mileages between 260 and 280 miles.
Planning the route seems simple, provided with a matrix of the points and the mileage values for the legs all you have to do is work a route out within your mileage limits and going roughly where you want. All seemed vaguely familiar to riders of a certain age…

Mind the aspidistra!

Mind the aspidistra!

So having constructed routes, prepped bikes and made some route notes, we set off…

All set for the off....

All set for the off….

Our first control and start point was Teasdale bikes in Thirsk.

Stamp me!

Stamp me!

We quickly realised that a) There were a lot of fantastic bikes of all vintages about to set off and b) most of them were heading our way!
Thirsk - Not just our start point it seemed...

Thirsk – Not just our start point it seemed…

Even more starters...

Even more starters…

2 blokes, half a head of hair...

2 blokes, half a head of hair and not on top…

A rather sedate and gentlemanly start ensued as dozens of bikes set off on their first leg. We all wound our way out of Thirsk heading west towards Harrogate. We took it steady rather than tearing off, simply enjoying being in company with some superb vintage bikes instead.

Our 2nd control was near Harrogate, kindly manned by the Ilkley and District Motor Club. Already a queue had formed awaiting stamps but we were quickly and efficiently onwards having gained our first stamp on the road.

Harrogate. Fine gents giving me my first stamp

Harrogate. Fine gents giving me my first stamp

At this point we got our first taste of some of the weather in store as we set off for Skipton. The heavens opened, my gopro mount gave up the ghost (new sticky pad up to the job my arse) and they say you should never ride frustrated and angry. Well I proved it. Having blasted past the control point I tried for a quick u-turn in a barely used layby to discover it was inches deep in glistening wet mud. Fortunately no bikers went past as I picked myself up off the deck suitably embarrassed having dropped this bike for it’s first time ever. No-one to blame but myself, and a good wake up call. Luckily no-one saw so let’s keep it between ourselves ok?

A good check over to make sure the bike was ok to continue and I headed back to the control where I collected my wits and a third stamp from the chaps from BMF north west. Then, reunited up with my buddy we headed on…

Skipton. Got there in the end...

Skipton. Got there in the end…

The rain kept on and off as we headed for out of Skipton towards our next control at Accrington, Apologies to the Amigos running the control, completely forgot to grab a quick photo!

The next control was a “virtual” control at Wigan. This is one you count towards your controls and mileage but not actually a point to visit. We logged it on out way to the next manned control at Warrington. This was probably our longest stretch on motorways and dual carriage ways as we skirted Manchester, and again the West proved to be the wet side of the country.

Warrington. More stamps and a break...

Warrington. More stamps and a break…

We reckoned this was about half way round for us, so after collecting our next stamps courtesy of the guys from the Moto Guzzi owners club we decided it was a good time for a rest break as the control which was at a full set of services. Got to keep fed and hydrated!

No idea how w stay this trim....

No idea how w stay this trim….

We set off for Congleton and all the rain we had seen so far was as but a light bit of drizzle. At times we were reduced to a crawl in sheeting torrents and roads became rivers. Wetsuits would have been more in keep rather than waterproofs. We eventually pulled into the Anchor Inn where the local Congleton and District Motorcycle club bravely manned the awning where we got our stamps and laughed in the face of the elements…

We gave up on any hope that the weather would let up and headed back out into the storm on our way to Ashbourne. The friendly gents from the Vincent Owners Club stamped us up – Apologies again as I completely forgot to grab a quick photo mainly due to my buddy showing up with cakes he rustled up from the local bakery whilst I got fuel.

The ride on towards Tideswell should have been through some spectacular countryside and rock formations in the Derbyshire National Park. What we could mainly see was copious amounts of water however. More and more bloody water. I swear I saw the animals paring up and looking for an ark at this point. I’m pretty sure we took the scenic route as well, but as the visibility was more akin to something from the shipping forecast I can’t be sure.

Tideswell. Manned by lovely ladies

Tideswell. Manned by lovely ladies

We found the control and like sirens tempting sailors the lovely ladies from The Anchor stampers marshals tried to waylay us with pieces of fish and chips. Our resolve held though, and we managed to get away with just our stamps and maybe a few small pieces of home made millionaires shortbread…

Tideswell. He can sniff choccy cake from 2 miles....

Tideswell. He can sniff choccy cake from 2 miles….

We turned east and north once more as we began the return journey to the northeast in earnest at this point. We skirted Sheffield and crossed the M1 to the Moto Demon Speed Shop at Rotherham. As if to light our way home the weather finally cleared as well, and we began to see dry roads for the first time in hours.

Rotherham. The guys there were setting up for the night...

Rotherham. The guys there were setting up for the night…

There was a definite party atmosphere at the shop as they were gearing up to go through the night for the riders on the hardcore rally categories. As relative newbies however we had a schedule to keep, so after a short break for more food and caffeine we headed Barnsley bound…
Rotherham. He found the food again...

Rotherham. He found the food again…

Our penultimate control was courtesy of the Barnsley Bikers Club. A fleeting stop as we pushed on to make sure we could keep to our time limit.

Barnsley. End almost in sight...

Barnsley. End almost in sight…

Despite the highways agency’s best plans in closing the M1 (top tip for future rallies – check the planned road closures!) we still made our final control at Squire Biker Cafe with plenty of time to spare

Last stop. Squires Cafe.

Last stop. Squires Cafe.

Squires provided an ideal last port of call – the cafe and bar was open so we could bask in the glow of a great day and grab some more caffeine and admire our completed stamp collection..
Proud of my stamp collection

Proud of my stamp collection

The cafe allowed us a chance to talk over the day before setting off home. We both agreed on the whole a cracking day out. Some great scenery, if seen through a rain soaked visor. Definitely some great people met. The true test of the day was that we both immediately agreed it was something we would do again…

Back on the bikes to head home

Back on the bikes to head home

After a few days I’ve had the chance to consider the rally and there’s a few points for anyone considering it for a first time.
First up, just bloody do it!. The absolute worst that can happen is you don’t enjoy it and sack it early. Not much of a loss is it? The best that can happen? a fantastic ride out, meet loads of great people, see loads of great bikes and explore some of this fine land.
To help on the way –

  • Plan but be flexible. By all means have a route, but be aware of alternate fuel stops, roads etc
  • Take breaks. Drinks and food are a must. they help you stay alert and on the ball.
  • Any bike can do it! I saw scooters, classics, crutch-rockets, endurance tourers, customs and my own VN900C SE cruiser. If you can ride it on roads it’ll get round.
  • Make friends. Every person, and I mean every single person I met on the rally was friendly and happy to chat, give advice, tips, routes and laughs.
  • So hopefully I’ll you out there next year. I’ll maybe even go through the night this time!

    Finally, and the most important thing I wanted to say. The rally exists only because of the volunteers who give their time and effort so freely. Huge thanks are due to each and every one of them out there. not just those on my route, but at every control, behind the scenes, everywhere. Thank you all. See you next year!

    For those of a techy bent. I used an app called Glympse on an android phone whilst on the rally. It broadcasts your gps location to a web based map which you can send the link to via email, facebook, even texts. This allowed Mrs Spider to keep up to date with our progress and seemed to work really well – just remember to keep modifying the time period you are sharing for as it has a limit of 4 hours, but you can keep extending it. For a free app I was quite impressed!

    Been quiet of late I know. But here’s another one for the good stuff list.

    If you’re on Teesside and interesting in anything linked to cycling then get yourself down to GLG Cycles in Thornaby. They’ve just opened again after a brief spell shut due to a fire.

    I’m by no means a “cyclist” and recently got myself a bike again after 15, 20, a long time off of bikes. Sent there by a friends recommendation I’m glad I did. Gary who runs it provides a friendly welcoming service and by no means a hard sell (even recommending cheaper bikes than I budgeted for!) He was happy to provide friendly easy going advice, so even if you know nothing like me you don’t feel embarrassed.

    I am however a keen internet user and obviously shopped around before spending my hard earned, and the prices are easily comparable to what you find online – with better advice and the ability to pop back in if you’ve any issues.

    So if you need anything cycling related on Teesside you know where to go. Thank me later.

    Bravo Zulu.

    you can find them here

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    A change from the usual moans for a review!

    Buying a suit is one of the rites of manhood. It is not the same as picking up a pair of jeans and should not be treated so lightly. In the same vein as using a saw correctly, being able to light a fire, growing a beard and looking under a bonnet and being able to actually fix something, it is what separates the men from the boys.

    The art of tailoring, for it is an art, deserves some time spent on it. It should not be hurried at the back of M&S, it should be savoured, admired and enjoyed. To go somewhere and be properly measured, attended to and to be provided with a superior service and finally an excellent British suit that looks and feels great is one of life’s experiences.

    I can heartily recommend Charles Hobson’s of Easingwold. I visited their establishment today to purchase my third such suit from them, and it gets better every time.

    From the moment you enter you are treated as a valued customer, however many times (or not!) you have visited before. You can immediately tell it is a gentlemen’s tailors and outfitters and not a run of the mill clothes shop. Today I visited with Mrs Spider and whilst she was brought a cup of tea on a comfortable sofa I was measured and then we went through a number of samples and sizes until everything was perfect. I should add that for those that don’t know me my weekend appearance is scruffy to say the least and it matters not a jot. Even just trying a sample on that you know fits just right makes you feel great (and finding one to fit my awkward shape takes some doing!)

    The service is second to none. Previously whilst serving in HM forces they held my sizes and sent shirts overseas to me when I needed them at short notice. Whilst there today Mrs Spider was chatting to another customer who had made the trip from Cambridge just to visit them.

    But surely all this comes at a price you may think? Well certainly it is not Primark. But for a similar price to an off the peg suit from Debenhams or some such you would normally make do with you can treat yourself to the real thing. A suit that fits you and makes you feel like a gentleman.

    I may be gushing in my praise for this establishment and therefore you may wonder as to my objectivity. For regular readers you may note that in the three or four years I have been polluting the internet with my ramblings and rants there are a mere handful of reviews with this sort of recommendation. I seriously hold the experience in that high a regard.

    Craftsmen (and woman) of Couture

    Bravo Zulu.

    …and before you wonder, no, there was no discount, bribe, or incentive for the review. Just good service!

    A Finnish film about Nazis who escaped to the moon in 1945 and are planning a revenge laden return to Earth? starring Udo Kier and Julia Dietze? What’s not to like?

    You can see Mark Kermodes review and description of the innovative crowdsourced funding here

    Do your duty!

    But now they face their greatest opponent. The UK distributer has constantly delayed, obfuscated and buggered up the UK release. They now plan to hide the film away by releasing it for a single day, Wednesday 23rd May, in a limited number of cinemas.

    The Iron Sky team are asking for your help.. They have a 4 stage plan and need your digital support. They suggest

    If you feel as we do, that Iron Sky deserves a proper cinema release, make your voices heard. We’ve created a four-step plan for you to help us out to get a longer-lasting cinema release for Iron Sky in UK, and we’re hoping you’ll join the effort. Here’s what you need to do:

    STEP 1: CONTACT Revolver Entertainment, and tell them what you think of their plans to release Iron Sky for just one day to cinemas in UK. Please email to

    STEP 2: LET THEM KNOW what you think also on their Facebook page – – and on their Twitter feed – @ironskyuk

    STEP 3: DEMAND to see Iron Sky in your local film theaters. Go to and place your Demand.

    STEP 4: SPREAD THE WORD and machinate your friends to join the campaign also. Share this link everywhere on the Internet; let’s make sure Revolver hears your voice.

    Having said this, please remember – the best message is one that is polite, informed and intelligent. Don’t go shouting obscenities, as it won’t help anyone, but let them know very clearly why the one day cinema release is a bad idea and needs to be re-thought.

    Still not sure? check out the trailer.

    Not all teenagers are feral cenotaph swinging arses!

    Came across an article in the Grauniad regarding a 17 year old skeptic putting his reasoning and blogging skills to good use fighting quackery.

    Most impressed, well worth a read and hope he keeps up the good fight.

    Bravo Zulu

    So I’m back on 2 wheels!

    Thanks to some serious encouragement by Mrs Spider I’ve got myself another motorbike, a kawasaki VN900SE. With the advent of it’s 1000th mile this weekend I thought a quick piece on it was warranted.

    I’d seen the VN900SE a while ago and drooled over it’s matt black finish. I’d wanted a bit more grunt than my other bike – a 750 Honda magna, but not too much more weight and it needed to be low (I’m very conscious that as I was short changed in the leg department it’s always useful to be able to reach the floor when pulling up at the lights!)

    Anyway I’d seen one of these roaring it’s way around Parliament square whilst on visit to London and at first thought it was a custom job, but with a little research discovered that they were a Special edition produced by kawasaki, with little tweaks to the colour cheme each year.

    I must admit I baulked at the price a little bit to start with, and I was seriously considering selling up my Delica monster truck and getting a sensible eurobox car. But Mrs S campaigned hard for me to get a new bike and garage/workshop… I suspect just because she likes either drving over small cars in the truck, or having picnics in it regardless of the weather!

    Anyway, after seeing a second hand one with 400 miles on the clock at a good price I followed up, narrowly missing it. Which was fortunte as it turned out as the dealer then offered me a brand spanking new one at the same price! I must admit that travelling 300 miles to collect wasn’t my preferred choice so I tried every nearby network dealer and challenged them to get close to the offer price with no joy. So having paid the deposit I set off on the trains to Aldermaston to collect my new bike from Pegasus Kawasaki.

    After enduring British rail, which has not improved in the years I’ve managed to avoid it, either in ticketing (Buying 4 seperate tickets was half the price of actually getting just a ticket for the journey) or the company of passengers (loud arses and mobile users in the quiet carriage) I arrived at the dealership to immediately see my new pride and joy parked awaiting me.

    After a surprisingly easy transaction (and a good talk over with the mechanic – cheers!) I was off on a brief ride home… not sure how many bikes do 320 miles on a first run? Wth plenty of stops and sticking to the guide for running it in it took a fair while. Needless to say it pissed it down, so I can’t ever claim it’s only done dry miles. Good omen though – After a fair break from bikes I got off after 8 hours and felt great!

    The 600 mile service came round very quick. All of 6 days. So off to the local network dealer so I can maintain the warranty.

    (A brief aside – I emailed Kawasaki to check if as the warranty book claims you have to use a kawasaki dealer to maintain the warranty. Got an increadibly carefullly worded reply, which basically says, no you don’t but you have to have Kawasaki parts used and if you try to claim on the warranty they’ll investigate whether the work was done to their spec – Basically you don’t have to but we’ll make it a sod to claim. If you want to see it email me and I will forward it on)

    There upon the only hiccup so far as I gained a small leak from the the sump plug which has taken a couple of attempts to solve. A new plug and washer has cured it. At no extra cost obviously!

    So now with a few miles on her, what’s she like? (Like all ships, bikes are female…)

    Well, comfortable to say the least. Loves thumping along at about 60-70 but will stretch her legs if you give the grip a twist. Surprisngly agile in the bends and feels great leant over, the sacrificial metal on the bottom of the pegs already has some scrapes! Had a run out with a friend last night (600 CBR) and felt very comfortable keeping up.

    The economy is also great, and was a factor I must admit. I’m seeing between 55 and 60 mpg depending on the run. (60+ mpg on the slow ride home first day at 60 mph), and the wallet is noticing it after running the truck every day.

    Parked in Richmond Square I also noticed that a lot of the bikers milling about siddled over for a good look at her as well. Something that bit different. Now be honest, who doesn’t like that?

    I still think it’s a fantastic looking machine. Mrs S says “it’s very you”.. By that I think she means low, wide, reasonably powerful and devastatingly handsome. But I might be wrong.

    Downsides? None really. The ride to work can get a bit wayward if I’m up early and it’s nice out. What is a 9 mile journey stretches to 30 or 40 down to the beach and back. But there are worse problems in life.

    So what next? I’ve got a back rest sorted, currently being turned black by a good friend and top vehicle bodywork chap Pete (see good stuff!), enabling Mrs S to join me without being left at the lights as I pull away. And to be honest thats about it. It doesn’t need anything else!

    …Although I’ve a sneaking suspicion the next service won’t be too far off!

    Another review! It’s been a while since I’ve done one.

    Headed off to the ARC at Stockton for the now annual Wildcats Christmas party. Usually a good affair with a blend of beer and jump around Irish fiddle music. Not sure what happened this year, but it just wasn’t happening for me.

    Kicked off with the usual packed bar and expectant atmosphere, everyone piling through the doors at about 7.50pm. At which point we waited, then we waited some more. Eventually a young girl crept onto the stage as the support and did a couple of covers on her own. I couldn’t make out her name as she mumbled between songs which was a shame as she had quite a singing voice on her. Acoustic versions of slowish songs not the best support plan though when an ever more inebriated crowd awaiting some raucous fiddle music… after about 20 minutes she headed off to a pretty good reception, all things considered. Then we went back to waiting.

    Like any crowd, the audience indulged itself whilst waiting, and I’m sure plenty of beer was bought. Certainly seemed that way by the amount on the deck which now had the traction of the roads on the Yorkshire moors in the recent cold snap.

    So the band arrived on stage at gone 9.30pm. Now I’m sure big bands need plenty of time between acts to set up, change back drops etc. but this is the ARC in Stockton going from essentially a busker to an oversize pub band. How long does it take?

    So we finally launched into the music, all standard fair, although I thought lacking some of their usual verve and enthusiasm. Till just before the break we had a heartfelt anti-war, in the trenches, Siegfried Sassoon type song accompanied by a scrolling list of the war dead in Afghanistan.

    Now of course any death due to enemy fire is tragic. But to use their names in the way is a bit disingenuous. These were professional career forces personnel. I’m willing to bet they were proud of their accomplishments, their units and of their military life. Whilst I’m certain forces families, especially those that have lost loved ones wish for peace – as do most forces personnel (which incidentally is not the same as all). But to use their names in a thinly veiled anti-war piece feels wrong. We should remember and pay thanks for their sacrifice. Honour their memories. Not use them as an emotional underlining to get a sentiment across.

    So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t having a great time at this point. Enough so, that I managed to persuade those I was with to head on at the interval… never thought we’d do that at a Wildcats gig…

    Wildcats on Myspace