Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rorty Zorst

During this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, where I was marshalling all week, I got to thinking about motor vehicle noise. It’s obvious that racing cars and bikes produce a lot more noise than normal road vehicles.

Bikes on the Desert Challenge may not exceed 115dB(A) at 2 metres when inspected at the scrutineering just prior to the event. That’s very loud indeed, and it was just as well the test that was being carried out on each competitor just a few metres from where I was working only took a couple of seconds. It’s a lot louder than normal road vehicles, for which I suspect most of us are grateful.

Quoting numbers of decibels is actually pretty meaningless without specifying the distance from the source. The further away you are, the quieter the sound. By way of example, in the United States, the Federal limit from the EPA for motorcycle noise is 80dB(A) at 50 feet. Some high-school physics tells us that this is the same as 109dB(A) at 20 inches, or 98dB(A) at 2 metres. So when New Hampshire specifies a limit of 106dB(A) at 20 inches, this is actually fairly close to the EPA limit. The whole issue of distance is deliberately obfuscated by manufacturers of after-market horns: “138dB(A),” the blurb says, “at 100mm.” That’s 112dB(A) at 2 metres. It’s still a lot louder than the comedy horns fitted by most vehicle manufacturers, but less than the noise made by Marc Coma and his buddies on the ADDC.

Here’s the thing. There are plenty of people who believe that motorcycles alone are responsible for antisocial vehicle noise. If you live in JBR in Dubai, or the Pearl in Doha and you’re not deaf as a post, you’ll have been disturbed by the late-night antics of the Inadequate Silencer Owners Club. And some of these are indeed motorcycles. I wonder how many are performance cars? One solution, the one adopted by Sharjah Police in January this year, is to ban motorcycles from Sharjah’s main roads after 10pm. This, instead of ticketing the driver of every antisocially-loud vehicle.

Typical government reaction is to legislate for ever more stringent noise limits. Manufacturers comply with larger, heavier, more complicated, and more expensive exhaust systems. This in turn encourages an increased proportion of motorcyclists to switch to after-market systems. Reasons include saving weight and cost; another is to make the machine sound like a motorcycle and not a sewing machine. I contend that if the legal limits were set at a more easily achievable level, fewer bikers would replace their stock systems.

My own machine has a manufacturer’s plate stating “95dB(A) at 4400rpm.” It doesn’t specify a distance. When I bought an after-market silencer (yes, I too dislike the gigantic 28lb bazooka dangling off my bike), one feature that I liked was that the manufacturer was extremely candid about how noisy it was. 93dB(A) at 20 inches – the EPA test. This is an identical result to the OEM system, and less than what's on the manufacturer's plate and what's engraved on the original silencer. The “race” performance full system from the same exhaust system company produces 99dB(A) at 20 inches, which is significantly louder but still below the EPA limit.

For cars, the limit set by the European Union from 2012 is 71dB(A). I’ve been unable to find the distance, nor the speed, nor even the pavement surface. All these factors are significant. You experience around 80dB(A) from traffic when you stand on the kerb 5m from a busy road. I wonder, given this 71dB(A) limit, why a Mustang, or a Lamborghini, or a Ferrari all seem to be allowed, in standard manufacturer’s trim, to be significantly louder than pretty much any stock motorcycle? I guess most cars are very quiet compared with motorbikes, and most bikes are pretty quiet. Bikes are invisible anyway, so it’s generally assumed that all bikes: the ones that Mr Joseph Public notices, are loud.

I’ve tabulated some sound pressure levels below, all sucked out of the intertubes and corrected to measurement at 2m, unless noted otherwise:-

Noise source              SPL at 2 metres
EU limit for cars         71dB(A) distance N/A
My bike at 5000rpm        81dB(A)
Inside A340 cattle class  85dB(A) distance N/A
Race exhaust for GTR      87dB(A)
Kerbside of busy road     88dB(A)
Inside London Tube train  94dB(A) distance N/A
EPA limit                 98dB(A)
Performance horn         112dB(A)
Diesel truck             114dB(A)
ADDC Moto                115dB(A)

The situation with dodgy after-market exhausts has improved over recent years. Manufacturers of many systems now dyno-develop them and get them certified as road legal. Beowulf in UK and Staintune in Australia, for example. The days of every chancer with a pipe bender and a supply of two-inch stainless steel tube are almost over.

Oh, and lest we forget, these are maximum noise levels. If you don’t ride around at maximum, wide-open throttle, your machine will be a lot quieter. Everyone, surely, owes it to common decency to keep the noise down when leaving at the crack of sparrowfart or getting home after a session of midnight oiling.

And then there are Harley-Davidsons. Mysteriously,these machines are “expected to be loud” and, with the exception of residents of JBR who have to be up for work at 6am, are tolerated by everyone including the vehicle inspectors at registration time, whereas riceburners have to sound like wristwatches…

Found on a HD forum:  
Stock muffler 98dB(A)  (the EPA limit, measured at 2 metres)                          
Aftermarket 107dB(A)  Jeez…


Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Moggy Whisperer

The idea was laudable enough. Pet and feed the feral cat, get her to trust me, and then book her in for a 'spay-and-release,' which was being offered free by Al Barsha Veterinary Clinic throughout February. I made a booking, but the earliest appointment was late in the month.

By the time the appointment date was only a few days away, it had become startlingly obvious that the said cat was pregnant. We suspect that the Long-Haired Lover from Over The Road is at least partially responsible. Our stray cat ballooned. She looked as if she'd swallowed a foopball. I quipped that she looked like the moon.

"That's no moon," exclaimed Beloved Wife.

And as I'm not allowed to name her DeathStar, she's now called Luna.

It was clearly way too late for a trip to the vet, so I cancelled the appointment. If Luna decided to have her kittens in the Crumbling Villa, we'd look after them and deal with weaning, house-training, and eventually disposal of the bundles of joy that Luna was eventually going to produce.

It is now obvious that Luna is nowhere near as feral as we'd been led to believe. She's instantly litter-trained, she knows she's not allowed on the furniture or worktops, and she's extremely friendly even when she doesn't want food. We think Luna got the proverbial Sandal Up The Jacksie the moment she got buns in the oven. And she's now obviously mine - or I'm hers. I am now officially the Moggy Whisperer.

Naturally, my popularity with The Family Under The Stairs is reinforced daily by the unfortunate fact that I don't seem to be able to secure any gainful employment. I'm at home every day providing food, water, attention, and removing cat truffles from the litter box. The post of Moggy Whisperer does not pay well, or indeed at all.

LinkedIn has produced noting by way of job interviews, and applications through multiple employment agencies, company websites, direct mailing, and even personal visits with CV in hand have yielded precisely one Skype interview that went nowhere.

Even my attempts to volunteer for motorcycle marshalling work were also inexplicably ignored. So much for this year's RAK Half-Marathon, the Dubai Marathon, and the Abu Dhabi Triathlon. I know that I was passed over for the Dubai event because of my careless choice of motorcycle brand: it isn't a BMW, but my attempts to volunteer for the Triathlon, even after receiving an email request for volunteers, didn't even elicit a "No thanks, we don't like Japanese motorcycles" response.

At least I managed to do some voluntary work at Yas Marina Circuit last week, and my continuing unemployment does mean that I'm available for marshalling this years Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

If only any of these were salaried posts.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Furious driving

Blogging about motoring; it's not that there aren't other subjects, but this one really got up my nose yesterday. So here is my letter to the gentleman concerned. He'll doubtless never read it.

Dear Sir,

Thank you for alerting me of the presence of your FJ Cruiser yesterday, during the evening rush hour. Actually, I knew you were there, thanks to your daytime running lights and your car being only a metre or so behind me on my motorbike at 80km/h in heavy traffic. I didn't really need you to lean on your horn too.

Neither did I need you to squeeze between the central reservation and my bike, the instant I moved to one side of the traffic lane. There was barely enough room for us both, and obviously neither of us could change lane. Rush hour. Too much traffic.

I do hope my shoulder didn't damage your door mirror too much as you shot past me. I believe you were able to stop before rear-ending the car in front, judging by the shrieking of your tyres. My shoulder is fine, thank you for asking.

I have learned a valuable lesson. I now know what FJ stands for, when applied to you and your particular vehicle.

Have a nice day.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In the pink

Achieved V2...and rotate!
I've been driving past the hides at Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary for about ten years, always meaning to stop but never actually getting around to it. Then a couple of weeks go, Nanny Goat asked if she could go and see the flamingoes.

So we went, and took a couple of pictures with Nanny Goat's pocket camera. I discovered that it was possible to get a semi-reasonable shot by taking a photo through a telescope. The other five attempts at this stunt were significantly less successful.

Formation flying.
Anyway, I resolved to return with a bigger camera and a long lens. Yesterday, I stopped at Bird Hide 1 on Ras Al Khor Road, but there were no birds anywhere near the hide. My visit to Bird Hide 2 on Oud Metha Road was much more successful, if being able to photograph large numbers of pink-legged wading birds counts as success.

It's not only flamingoes. One ornithologist in Bird Hide 2 told me that he'd counted 38 different species that very morning, from marsh harriers to cormorants.

I took over 300 photographs. Thank heavens for digital! Here is a selection of the highlights.

They really do have disproportionately
long legs, don't they?
This is what flamingoes do,
when they're not playing croquet.


Friday, February 14, 2014

It's good to be polite

Genuine British Police Officer
Confession, they say, is good for the soul.  Back in the 1980s I owned a plain white Ford Cortina. I also worked for a local authority, and the job required that I made frequent trips to construction sites in all weathers. So I got into the habit of throwing my bright fluorescent yellow jacket on whenever I drove the car. This was fine, right up until the day came when I was pulled over by the Kent Constabulary for both “Driving at 29mph in a 30mph zone” and “Resembling a Police Officer.”

I confess: I was indeed driving at 29mph. What speed would you have done when being tailed by a traffic cop in a 30mph zone? As for the other allegation, there was absolutely nothing that made me look like a traffic cop in an unmarked car beyond driving a plain white Ford and wearing a bright yellow jacket.

But I had wondered why the Porsches that came up behind me on motorways at enormous speed seemed suddenly to notice that they were accidentally exceeding 70mph, slammed on their brakes, and tucked in behind my Cortina at a sensible and law-abiding 69mph. It also now occurred to me why, when my car alarm accidentally malfunctioned while I was driving through Loughborough, the traffic parted like the Red Sea in front of a multitude of Israelites. Something to do with flashing headlights and an earsplitting  Bee-Doh-Bee-Doh klaxon. I’d bought the alarm secondhand, and didn’t know about the wire that should have been connected to prevent the thing going off when the engine was running.

Moving forward in time now, and I note that over the past 35 years, precious little has improved in the Department of Motorcycle Conspicuity. I have tried the Dayglo Derek approach; my current bike has 110 watts of unswitchoffable headlights; I’ve put reflective tape on the bodywork. Yet all seems to no avail. Motorbikes, because they’re smaller than Land Cruisers, are utterly invisible.

An ordinary fluorescent jacket with retroreflective stripes isn’t effective. Actually it is. It increases conspicuity by an astonishing margin, but other motorists apparently don’t give a shit. “They look, but they don’t see,” a grizzled old motorcycling instructor once told me.

Absolutely completely different from,
and definitely unlike, a Police uniform
But now, a supplier of safety gear in the UK has come up with a genius solution. started with equestrian gear – Dayglo for horses. They’ve now branched into motorcycle safety gear. The crucial difference between this new stuff and previous is some clever text on the back: “POLITE NOTICE – THINK BIKE” 

Funny how a small word that resembles at first glance the possibility of being prosecuted for a moving traffic offence is so much more effective than acres upon acres of Dayglo. And in the UK at least, it’s legal.

Dubai motorcycle cop
It’s pointless buying one of these tabards for use in Dubai. The desired effect wouldn’t happen here because the Plod looks significantly different.

However, there remains talk of Dubai Police adopting the black Kawasaki 1400GTR as weapon of choice, and if they do I’ll accidentally have a bike that looks exactly like theirs.


Friday, February 07, 2014

Tour of the UAE

Picture: Gulf News
Nanny Goat is in town this week. The Goat’s sister came up with a brilliant plan that Nanny Goat should visit her favourite first-born male child because he’d quite obviously be unable to cope for the two weeks that Beloved Wife would be away. Because, of course, several years of domestic wedded bliss have cause the Goat to forget everything he ever knew about shopping and cooking and cleaning. Oh my.

Beloved Wife is now back in Dubai, and Nanny Goat is still here. For entertainment, the Goat has taken his mother to the top of Jebel Al Jais in Beloved Wife’s newly-repaired car, he’s taken her around the Dubai Gold Souq and the Spice Souq, they’ve been to Sharjah Central Souq, and been out to dinner. The 2014 Entertainer book – full of BOGOF vouchers – has already paid for itself, and we’re only just into February.

The Goat did suggest that, if Nanny Goat fancied a ride on the Goat’s motorcycle, she should bring appropriate footwear. Jackets, gloves and helmets would be easily handled in Dubai, but not boots. And as she was game, this Friday the Goats rode over to Hatta Fort Hotel to avail themselves of the splendid Biker Breakfast. In order to allow this to happen, the Goat had to promise that he would keep his right wrist under a very tight rein, and would also undertake to practise none of that footrest-scraping, knee-dragging behaviour more suited to the Dubai Autodrome, but quite common on the mountain roads near Hatta and Kalba. And, as it turns out, the Goat has discovered that he does indeed have sufficient self-discipline.

Nanny Goat said afterwards that she really did enjoy the ride, the view, and the breakfast. The only problem was getting on and off the pillion seat of a Kawasaki 1400 GTR, which is up in the stratosphere. Beloved Wife says Nanny Goat is very brave.

The route chosen was coincidentally be very similar to Day 3 of the Tour of Dubai bicycle race. During the cycle racing, the roads would be shut to general traffic, but the Goats planned to be out of Hatta and back in Dubai probably before the pelaton left the start line. It was a bit disconcerting to see the ‘50km to finish’, ‘20km to finish’, ‘Hill Climb Ahead’ signs set up for the cycle race. Jeez, the Goat has trouble maintaining more than 20km/h on a bicycle around the gentle grades of Mirdif! Those world-class cyclists must be unbelievably fit.    

“Unbelievably fit” is not how the Goat would now describe himself, especially following a Hatta Fort Hotel Biker Breakfast followed by Second Breakfast. And there’s a pizza party tonight; Beloved Wife wishes to fire up the outdoor oven. Sic Transit Gloria Diet.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blinkin' winkers

Hey, if I had indicators like this
I'd use them as much as possible!
Dubai Police have recently announced a week-long campaign to encourage indicator use. According to the front page of last Monday’s 7DAYS newspaper, the majority of motorists do not use indicators when changing lanes, which resulted in one in four of the deaths on Dubai’s roads last year. According to the head of Dubai Traffic Police, indicators are perceived by the yoof as only for old people. Western drivers, however, do use their indicators; this is part of their culture. 

Er, no. Culture is related to art, music, dance, literature. How people behave when they get behind the wheel isn’t cultural. It’s all down to education and enforcement. Although, as the roads resemble a battle zone at times, it seems only appropriate that so many motorists appear to be cultured enough to have read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War:
  •  “All warfare is based on deception.”
  •  “Mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy.”
  •  “The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.”
And the idea that we are at war on the highway seems to be the prevailing attitude. Just try to indicate before changing lanes, and inevitably that gap you were planning to move into will vanish. We give away our tactical advantage if we show anyone else what we’re planning to do.

For crying out loud, people, this is not Death Race 2000.

However, getting everyone to indicate isn’t going to solve the original road safety problem. “He changed lanes without signalling” becomes “He signalled and then changed lanes, heedless of the fact that someone was in the way.” Wednesday’s 7DAYS ran a story of a fatal crash, in which the victim was hit “by a driver who changed lanes without looking or indicating.” How would the outcome have changed if the driver had indicated, yet moved anyway? Not by very much, I suspect.

Indicators, the current road safety panacea du jour, actually do not provide a divine right to change lanes or turn. Irrespective of flashing lights or any other signals, we can only move into an empty space.

Sun Tzu again: “Be where your enemy is not.”


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