Monday, October 26, 2009

Bird dog

A feature of living in Dubai is that the interesting, twisty roads are many miles away. Sure, there are plenty of ram-rod straight highways around the town. High speeds would be achievable were it not for the Road and Traffic Authority’s overindulgence in speed cameras. Actually, that last bit should read “...are achieved despite the Road and Traffic Authority’s overindulgence...” But not normally by me. I loathe and detest forking out my cash after having my number plate snapped, and have various methods for avoiding being photographed. Sticking to the speed limit is one (duh…) and another is resisting the temptation to gas past the car that moves over at last after holding me up for ages. Hinged or obscured number plates are of course terribly illegal, and that spray-on plate-obuscating stuff apparently doesn’t work.

Last Friday afternoon I went for a little bike ride. Beloved Wife was in Muscat for the weekend and I’d done as much laundry as I felt necessary. There were no changes to Facebook and I had received no new emails other than an amazing offer from a senior Nigerian government official involving his billions and my bank account.*

One feature of sports-touring motorcycles is that they’re typically both fast and comfortable. I had intended to whiz out to Kalba and back, but instead took a more scenic route into the mountains via Dhaid and Masafi. The Sharjah-Dhaid road wasn’t too busy; being Friday there were far fewer trucks on it than is usual during the week, and I made good headway. The Friday Market on the approach to Masafi was a seething mass of Land Cruisers, all crawling along the main road at walking pace. The occupants were presumably on the lookout for inflatable animals, animal-skin-print carpets, and potted plants. Clearing the market area, I hit Masafi roundabout and turned north.

More traffic congestion. I was surprised, frankly, how many cars there were and how slowly they were being driven for no apparent reason. The GTR’s engine was beginning to express its displeasure at this low-speed stuff by pumping boiling hot air all over my legs. The 1400GTR is famous for this trick, so much so that for 2010 Mr Kawasaki has completely redesigned the fairing to direct hot air away from the rider.

Anyway, once out of Masafi I was able to open the bike up a bit. All right, a lot. The road is a very scenic single carriageway, but you’ve gotta keep your eyes peeled for random speed humps and even more random donkeys and camels and goats (oh my!). I stopped for a water break and took a photo, and everyone I’d just overtaken drove past.

Dibba was quieter than Masafi, as I looped around the coast and headed south along the coast road past Al Aqah hotel and Snoopy Island. A few bikes went past in the other direction, but no-one else was apparently heading south on two wheels. Mid-afternoon in Khor Fakkan, and it seemed the world and his wife were promenading on the corniche, cruisin’ up and down the corniche road or possibly snacking on corniche pasties. Another session of hot legs for me then. The traffic was still busy south of Khor Fakkan into Murbah. I’m not sure what the guy in the black-windowed Lexus was trying to achieve by driving not six inches from my exhaust pipe in heavy traffic, but this is not an unknown phenomenon.

I headed south through Fujairah and Kalba until, at last, I could turn right and head west into the mountains. The bendy mountain road from Kalba to Shawka, is a great motorcycling favourite, twisting and turning up the mountainside, through a tunnel, down the other side and then repeat. It’s dual carriageway too, so there’s unlikely to be oncoming traffic. Care is nevertheless required. I have already mentioned donkeys and camels and goats (oh my!), and there is the additional risk of fallen rocks on the road or gravel washed from the mountain by recent rain. That black thing that went whizzing past you in almost total silence on the approach to Wadi Muddiq tunnel may have been me. If the pilot had his arse hanging off the seat and his knee scraping the asphalt it certainly wasn’t. Riding a tourer as if it’s a sports bike looks more than faintly ridiculous.

I enjoy bend-swinging, and the weight of my motorcycle seems to disappear, despite its huge size. As revealed in previous posts, I have lost a lot of my youthful bravado so I can’t (or at least don’t) lean over until the footpegs scrape the asphalt and the tyres are on the edges of their tread. “Ride where you’re comfortable. You’re s’posed to be enjoying yourself.”

And I was surely enjoying myself. So much that instead of following the road back to Sharjah I turned left at Munaiy and headed more-or-less south towards Hatta. The southern part of that road is very interesting, plunging in and out of a wadi. As a result, it’s very twisty and there’s a rough concrete section every time the road and wadi paths cross. It’s imperative to keep control here (as indeed everywhere) because the road is particularly bouncy and uneven.

Arriving at Hatta, I realised that I’d run out of bendy roads, and I headed back towards Dubai. An obliging Chevrolet driver signalled the location of every speed camera between Hatta and Madam by hitting his brakes. It’s called bird-dogging by Beloved Wife: allowing someone else to set off all the speed traps.

It was dark by the time I got to Big Red, which was festooned with the headlights of hundreds of bikes, quads and 4x4s. By this time, my bike had done over 300km and the “Feed Me!” light was on. The petrol station halfway between Big Red and Lahbab was of course full of quads, all swarming around the petrol pumps like wasps around a jam pot. We all obediently gassed up in turn and paid the attendant. Compared with everyone else, my bike was completely silent. I really must do something about that…

I had already decided to go to the cinema before returning home, so I turned left at Lahbab roundabout and followed the new, wide and deserted highway to Jebel Ali. Thence on to the Emirates Road to Ibn Battuta mall and the multiplex cinema. To be honest, I was mildly surprised at how tired and stiff I wasn’t after more than 400km of spirited riding.

After the film, ‘District 9* since you ask, I headed back to the Crumbling Villa along Al Khail Road. For the first time all day someone actually attempted to run me off the road with his SUV before heading off towards Business Bay bridge. I tailed him as he put his foot down. I was bird-dogging from several hundred metres back when the SUV was snapped at probably 180kph, significantly faster than me, and he stamped on his brakes. As I closed the distance, astonishingly he hit the loud pedal again. And got flashed at some ludicrous velocity. Again. An expensive evening out for someone.

Home again, home again, and after a good night’s kip it was time to clean the collection of dead bugs off the bike. As usual, they exacted their posthumous revenge by being almost impossible to shift.
    * Incidentally, I understand that the Nigerian government has complained to the makers of ‘District 9’ about the way in which Nigerians are portrayed in the film. In an official communication, all references to Nigeria are to be removed before the film is allowed to be released in that country. I suspect that, like me, Mr Peter Jackson knows better than to pay attention to emails from Nigerian government officials.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Jack in the greenwash

How much of an environmental footprint does a mobile phone leave? It’s huge, apparently. Apart from the packaging and the manual that weighs in at a pound or so, the handset is made of a miscellany of plastics, there’s a liquid-crystal screen, various bits of rare and precious metals, and a rechargeable battery.

Sony-Eriksson reckon that they can apply a 15% greenwash by using recycled plastics, reducing the packaging, and supplying the C901 phone manual electronically, in the handset itself. So if you can’t figure out how to install the battery or switch it on you’re gonna be royally shafted. I had a giggle at the idea of saving the Earth’s finite resources by using a 30 milliwatt charger instead of 100mW, and then, as is not mentioned, sitting around under the air conditioning for an additional hour at three kilowatts or more waiting for the battery to charge.

Lithium-ion batteries don’t last for ever. I’ve just discovered a fading battery which results in a super short standby time and my Nokia reporting a full battery when it obviously isn’t. So it’s time to replace the battery or buy a new phone. Surely extending the effective life of an otherwise serviceable handset by a couple of years is environmentally preferable to lashing out for a whole new one? By not changing the entire phone I also neatly avoid yet another new mains charger and replacing the car charger.

How much for an appropriate Nokia battery? In “Not Coming In” Dubai it’d be an astonishing and ridiculous Dh145. £25. Twenty-five quid. As the shop assistant pointed out, for only a little more cash I might as well buy a complete new handset. And charger. And manual. And carrying case. It’s the electronic version of flogging the car ‘cos the ashtrays are full, the only obvious beneficiary being the phonemonger.

In any case, the point is moot because nobody I asked had a BL-5B. They do exist on the interwebs though. They’re offered at between £5 and £15, plus whatever shipping charges are deemed appropriate. The problem here is that the on-line suppliers I contacted couldn’t ship beyond the impenetrable English Channel (Fog in Channel: Universe cut off) and were similarly incapable of accepting a credit card payment when the registered address isn’t in the United Kingdom. Only non-expatriate Brits ever use credit cards, obviously. promised to contact me with details for taking my order by email but they didn’t. So I’ll not be buying an iPhone or BlackBerry or N98 from them, will I?

I have now found a solution to the original battery problem at £6.95 that involves Nanny Goat, Eid Al Adha and Boeing. She’s coming anyway, so the carbon footprint incurred by schlepping a phone battery doesn’t count.

In related greenwash news, I have just learned that it is impossible for my UK-based credit card company to switch to paperless statements. The company needs a UK-based mobile phone number to SMS so that I’m reminded to check the balance and cough up the moolah. International numbers ‘aren’t acceptable’, and alerting me by email is ‘impossible’. So I shall have to continue receiving the dead tree version every month, air-freighted to my PO Box at enormous environmental expense.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Are you not entertained?

There is a lot more to the institution that is the Gulf News Fun Drive than simply showing up on the day and having a jolly time in the desert. Just some of the various odds and ends that need organising come to mind:- Welcome packs, Goody bags, Permissions from the police and local authorities, Sponsors, Start venue, Finish venue, Catering, Breakdown recovery, Marshalling, and of course a Route.

Route selection starts several months prior to the event, and to this end, the Goat and his Goatmobile joined a small band of intrepid marshals last Friday to drive part of a prospective GNFD route. Clearly it has to be entertaining to drive, yet not too difficult for Fun Drivers who might not have a lot of – or indeed any – previous offroad experience. Picking a route by squinting at Google Earth tends not to reveal new fences, locked gates and in extreme cases, mile upon mile of new motorway. It would be a bit pointless if an off-road drive involved long sections on asphalt. Having dropped the tyre pressures to 15psi or even lower for sand use, protracted asphalt bashing beats hell out of the rubber.

Anyway, the seven of us in five cars representing Japan, Britain and the United States spent eight hours last Friday sweeping across great sandy swathes of the UAE. The Goat is of course sworn to absolute secrecy as to the route, notwithstanding that it is surely going to change repeatedly up to a final drive-through to erect the temporary signs. We found some interesting rocky bits and a lot of seif dunes that might become decidedly unseif after the ridges have been driven along by several hundred Fun Drivers. And we also discovered a magnificently dusty bowl that got a Nissan Patrol cross-axled and mired to above the axles. It took two winches to extricate the vehicle. Of course, photos had to be taken before anyone could render assistance: that’s in the rules.

There is a limit to how much entertainment is permitted in one day. It would probably be better, on reflection, if that particular area of quicksand is avoided. Fear not: there are many others yet to be discovered.


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