Track Day at Rockingham International Motorbike Circuit with NoLimits Track Days

This weekend for my birthday I finally managed to get along to a track day. At the last minute I managed to find a place on a NoLimits track day at www.rockingham.co.uk on the international motorcycle track.

As this was my first ever track day I wanted to take it easy in the morning and get to know the track. I was going pretty slow and had quite a few people passing me but it was fun. I started off riding at about the same pace I ride on the road to give myself time to learn the track. The idea was to build up speed once I had learned where to turn in etc.

Right from the get go I realised just how big a difference there was between my riding and that of some of the others there. The main thing being their interpretation of 'close'. I really struggled with holding lines and focusing on my riding with so many other bikes darting around me. As I said, I was in the novice group. From the roll call in the morning it looked like I was the only track day virgin there!

After quite a few 'oh *&$%£' moments where I thought I was going to hit people who were riding where I was about to be, block passing me on the inside I started to get used to the barging. As you can see from my tyre (right) I was carrying a fair bit of speed. It should be said that I was the only person on a sports bike. Almost every other bike in the novice group was a modified race / track only machine.

Heart in mouth I continued to increase both my entry and apex speed to the point that, on the right handers, where I was more confident I was carrying the same apex speed as some of the slower in my group. After lunch I took a few training sessions from different instructors to learn the cornering lines from them. One of them, a guy called Alan, went around for a few laps as I followed him and he built up speed. Thanks to Alan and the other instructors for their help. I definitely needed it.

The video was taken on my first few laps under instruction. The first lap was slow to get everyone (including me) on line. After that Alan did a faster lap then I overtook him so that he could check out my riding. The advice and help I had from Alan and the other volunteers from NoLimits was really helpful and I felt that over the course of the day my riding really improved.

tyre wear
To show what a difference it made check out this picture of my tyres later in the day.

Overall I really enjoyed the day. It took the whole day to get used to how close some of the other riders get when they are passing you. If someone rode that close to me on the road I would likely pull them over. Given that it was my first track day I think it was just part of learning the ropes. I could see though how a novice or nervous rider would really have struggled. The main problem I found was that I was stood up a lot of the time while trying to ride on line by a block pass. I expect as I increased my speed this would happen less and less.

Although the fazer is no track machine it did really well. The tires were really amasing and well worth the money - they gripped like they were on rails and inspired me to push the bike over while slowly increasing my speed all day. I really had a chance to push the bike to it's limit - scratching the pegs quite a few times. No knee down though. I can only figure that this was due to my riding position combined with seat height as the riders I could keep mid corner pace with were all knee down while I was far from it. The main issues with the fazer were the suspension and acceleration. When, on the rare occasions I wanted to pass someone the bike really struggled for power so I had to do it under breaking which was always an interesting experience - throwing you really deep in the corner. The other thing that let the fazer down was it's general height: under heavy breaking I had the back wheel off the ground on quite a few occasions.

When I do another track day I think it would be worth removing the centre stand to reduce the risk of scratching it. I would also seriously consider renting a bike both to try out a different machine and avoid the mental challenge of not wanting to risk a crash as I needed to ride it home.

The track it's self is really surprising. the chicane at turn 1 provides a challenging and technical start to your lap with turn in point being critical. Later in the day a skid mark provided the perfect signal. After that the long sweeping left provided bags of fun, probably the fastest I have ever travelled at those lean angles. The hair pin double left with late apex was probably my favourite corner but the bump as you transition from the oval to the inner track presented a challenge for the fazer's soft suspension. This was where I caught the pegs on quite a few laps. This opened up into one of the three right hand corners, the first feels tight and the second, not long after it is compromised for the line into turn 5, a chain of four left handers. This was the area I was initially weakest. Most of the other riders took an early apex into turn 6 and connected the rest of 7, 8 and 9, riding around the outside - ignoring the apexes. This allowed them to carry a lot more speed through that section. The last left in the run became my favourite later in the day as it had such a fun flowing speed including, exaggerated by the elevation change. Turn 10 was the slowest, being a right hander, lots of people came off here, no doubt with cold right hand tire shoulders. The final chicane complex was hard to figure out at first as it was all about the positioning and late turn in to the final corner to maximise speed down the straight.

I can't wait until I get another chance to ride on a track. Hopefully next time will also be as hot and dry (and Brands Hatch).


It's Time For a Little Music: Picking Up the Alto Saxophone

prelude by conn selmer
Today I finally started to learn the Saxophone. It has been a desire to learn the Saxophone for a long time. On a recent trip to see family I managed to get my hands on one that a friend was hanging onto.

My first step was to try and find my old 'tune a day' for alto sax. Unfortunately I think it is still with the friend who had the instrument. Luckily I still have the clarinet edition so had some basic music to play. Obviously there are some things that are going to be different but I didn't want that to stop me from getting started.

One thing I am doing a lot more these days is trying to find video guides on YouTube and one in particular seemed well made and really helpful: beginner saxophone first notes. I then went and found the site which has a free fingering chart. I signed up for the course but the first free lesson didn't work. Most likely it was only design to play video on Windows :-(

saxophone mouth piece
One of the biggest differences that I noticed straight away switching to Sax from Clarinet was the mouth piece. The clarinet did a lot to help me improve embouchure, it couldn't prepare me for the vibrations that come through the mouth piece. A little research turned up a lot of recommendations to replace the premier's mouth piece so I ordered one that comes with a tooth guard on the top to help reduce tooth wear. Can't wait to try it.


Improving Image Layout with JQuery

Image Scale Icon

I recently decided to start pushing more of my code onto GitHub to help other people speed up. I haven't done much in the open source space for a while so it feels good to be pushing some changes.

This morning I was reviewing JQuery plugins to align pictures for in the page of my latest project. The brief was pretty straight forward but getting CSS to work in all situations was getting very frustrating. Given images of any size and aspect, fit them as best as possible into four different layout sizes. the issue was that they were four very different layouts so had very little commonality in css.

The obvious solution presented it's self of finding a jQuery plugin that does the job. I did find some but they didn't do exactly what I wanted. I found some examples and it looked like I could probably do it in about fifty lines so I created a new project on github and away I went, reinventing the wheel.

This is a quick post just to let people know about the key features of the plugin: image zoom, like css background cover, and aligning the image with centring so that you see the middle of the picture. The github project is jquery-image-scale if you are interested in using or contributing to the project. Comments are also welcome. Please raise issues in the github issue tracker.

Happy coding.


Startup Risk Management: Mitigate the Cost of Failure

slot machine gambling

I recently had a really nice chat with some old colleagues on the subject of the 'risk of running a startup'. This reminded me that I wanted to expand on a point that I mentioned in a previous posting on SiteMorph about advice from Richard Brandson on being an entrepreneur. One thing that came up was the concept of limiting risk by setting a maximum liability before you start. In the example from Brandson, this meant he negotiated a 'sale or return' type contract with the aeroplane company so he could return the planes after a year if it all went wrong.

The core principle of this approach is that you can limit your exposure to trying something out. This kid of risk limitation approach is seen in a few fields, including stocks and shares approaches like the ones used in Trade Your Way to Financial Freedom. The goal is to run with the successes and limit your exposure to the failures. Failing is a very common outcome for a startup. If you don't have any risk in your business plan then it is likely you either aren't building a startup (there are no unknowns and you are just executing a formula like a franchise) or you don't understand what they are.

Van Tharp's approach is to put a limit on how much you will loose on something that starts failing. In his examples he often uses the example of a 10%percent; drop. The trick is that you let the winners run and cut the losses fast. You also need to be ready to buy back in as soon as things turn around. The analogy doesn't translate precisely to investing your time in a startup as a founder as time is not as fluid as cash. Ten percent of your career is probably a little over three years. If you can find a way to keep yourself in food and shelter then the question becomes why wouldn't you try?

I was also asked what drives me to continue doing these ventures in light of the missed opportunity of earning cash as an employee. The answer is simple, right now, for me, working on start ups is the best way of pushing myself forward. Ultimately this comes down to my instinctual need to keep pushing myself to improve. One of the reasons SiteMorph appealed to me as a project is that it has the potential to scale into an international product helping hundreds of thousands of web site owners grow their business. There is a lot of talk in the media at the moment about 'thinking big'. This is usually along the lines of "you have to think, so you may as well think big". I believe that this is good advice when it comes to deciding which projects to invest your time in. At the end of the day, it is your most valuable commodity.

Bottom line: before you take the leap, write down what the limits of what you are willing to sacrifice are, as well as what you want to achieve and look back periodically. This way you can 'afford' to give something a go knowing that there is a limit on what you risk to loose if it doesn't work out.

Thanks to Jeff Kubina from the milky way galaxy (Slot Machine) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons available at wiki commons.


Motorbikes are The Way Forward: Yes I am Looking At You Camden Council

Camden council parking zone
This weekend while at the MotoGP with my GF, she took the chance to have a free bike training taster session provided by Get On motobike training. The advantages of riding a bike or scooter are clear. They are cheap to buy, with some new scooters costing just £600; their fuel economy is often in excess of 150MPG and they can help you cut your journey times by 30%.




Camden Full motorbike bay
Given all of that it would seem sensible that the Government and local councils, especially in London support the increasing use of scooters and motorbikes. To their credit, the Hackney council where I live does allow motorbikes to park in almost all bays and only asks that they are parked at the end. Good on you Hackney. Unfortunately not all councils are as forward thinking. One example that comes to mind is Camden council - where I was recently given a ticket after parking in a bay visible to where I was staying because the local motorbike parking bay was full. There has been a spate of motorbike theft in the Camden area and the police have attached posters to many of the motorcycle parking bays offering some useful advice on keeping your wheels.


The police advice is:

  1. Try to park yDCIM100GOPROour bike in a well lit, overlooked area.

  2. Secure your bik to a solid piece of street furniture, for example a post in a motorbike parking bay.

  3. Use a cover to deter theft.

This all makes sense and will probably make a huge difference in you avoiding an insurance claim. At the same time councils are not making it easier. A recent article reported that councils have collected £635M in parking charges. It's not clear how much of this was from parking fines. Obviously with congestion in London some kind of controls are needed but surely motorbikes are part of the solution not the problem? Let's face it, if most people rode scooters there would be less need for parking control and congestion would be greatly reduced.

Last of all, a call to Camden council and it's constituents to change your policy on motorbike parking! They are green, economical, reduce congestion and reduce parking pressure so those of you with Chelsea tractors have even more room for your house on wheels.