Monday, February 21, 2011

Race relations

Last year I received a phone call out of the blue from someone looking for a motorbike for the 2010 Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon. I was pleased to help, and this resulted in my piloting the Goatcycle around the route with a video cameraman perched backwards on the pillion.

I did the entire course with the world-class runners. These wiry east Africans set off at 21kph and sustained that speed for an hour. Amazing to watch them close up: the determination in their faces was tangible. If I’d crossed the finish line I’d have got 59’45”, but the motorbike wasn’t allowed. After the men finished I turned round and followed the women into their finish.

This year I volunteered again, figuring that it would be a similar arrangement. Glad to have me on board again, the organizers said this time things would be a little different.

There was the need for live television, so instead of a cameraman with his machine on his shoulder, the bike additionally had to carry a TV antenna and a pair of truck batteries to power all the electrickery.

So on Monday I went over to Navigation Films in Dubai Media City to have the Goatcycle measured for a frame to hang all this equipment from. Naturally, being a modern motorbike that’s covered in plastic, the bike has few places to bolt stuff on, and the final product was a Heath-Robinson affair of alumininium tube, cable ties and gaffer tape. We even cobbled up some footrests for the cameraman that were less uncomfortable than last year’s. The guy fabricating the frame commented that it had been easier to do the other bike, a BMW R1200GS, because that one was apparently made of scaffolding.

On Wednesday after work it was back to Media City for a final fitting, and then on Thursday I was off to RAK to have this scaffolding cage bolted on and all the electrickery plugged in.

Getting to Dubai Media City at a civilized hour after work entailed commuting by motorbike to and from Abu Dhabi. “Keeping my wits about me” doesn’t even come close to describing how careful I’ve been among the usual plethora of headbangers. The bike comes into its own when the motorway comes to a halt because of yet another crash.

On Monday, there was an amusing incident. A car had ended up all over the road after tangling head on with the safety fence. (This was not the amusing bit; this part was inconvenient, expensive, painful and scary.) I threaded my way to the front of the queue in time to see a policeman and a blue-gloved paramedic wheeling the wreckage to the roadside. I imagined that some clown would be whizzing down the breakdown lane, and might squash flat one of Abu Dhabi’s finest. So, putting the bike across the breakdown lane, I signalled to the inevitable white Mercedes, employing the universal police-esque “STOP” gesture.

Did the driver come to a gentle halt? No.

Did he ignore me and squeeze past? No.

With 50m to go, he stuck his left indicator on and tried desperately to insert his Merc into the traffic queue. All the hallmarks of “Oh, no! I’m gonna get a ticket for Dh600 and six black points for driving on the hard shoulder.”


But back to the main subject: the RAK Half Marathon. All the kit was bolted and cable-tied to the Goatcycle, and I set off on a slightly wobbly test ride, what with a pair of heavy batteries perched well astern of the back wheel. The first hazard was the starting arch. It knocked off the microwave transmitter. So both bikes were modified by chopping down the antenna poles to a mere 2.5m high.

The entire route was run a couple of times to ensure that live TV signals could be picked up everywhere. Then we made a short test run with a pillion and a TV camera. On the day, the actual cameramen turned up, so there were final checks that the technology was working, and we rode half the race route as a final dress rehearsal so the there’d be no unpleasant surprises when the runners set off at 7am.

A couple of incident-free hours later, we were back at the media cabins. All the gear was stripped off and packed away. There was a general agreement that the TV company should consider storing the ally frames. They’re customized for a BMW R1200GS and a Kawasaki 1400GTR. You never know; they might be needed again.


Monday, February 07, 2011

Sleeping policemen

I don’t go down the Hatta Road beyond Big Red very often. And by motorbike even less frequently than that. So last Friday when I found myself following a fellow biker through Madam at 120kph I began to suspect that we were both grossly exceeding the speed limit and I slowed down. But no; despite Zebra crossings and roadside shops, the posted limit is 120kph. So that’s alright then.

There’s no excuse for putting a solitary vicious speed hump a couple of hundred metres from Madam roundabout. Yes, presumably there is a need to get traffic speeds down before the roundabout, but how about some progressive signage? 100kph, then 80kph, then 60kph? How about sticking to the design standards that control the width and height of speed bumps?

No, what we get is one speed bump that briefly turned my bike into a bucking bronco rodeo ride. There were no warning signs (perhaps they’ve been stolen or demolished), and although the bump had originally been painted with cheap yellow emulsion so that it wouldn’t be invisible, that had worn off.

At least with the roundabout approaching, I had slowed from 120kph to about 80 when I actually hit the speed bump.

Anyway, why don’t I take this road very often? Because of the border controls beyond Madam. The road crosses part of Oman where the Sultanate bizarrely loops north into the UAE, so all motorists get to stop and identify themselves.

“You have Emirates ID?”


“OK, go.”

At the re-entry into Dubai near Hatta it wasn’t nearly so straightforward. I had to rummage in my pocket, remove gloves, extract ID card, replace ID card, don gloves... So I was doing about 0.2kph over the speed bump when I heard the clang from the bike’s undercarriage. I thought I’d hit the exhaust, but it turned out I’d scraped the sump. There’s a protective plate cast into the sump that protects the oil drain plug from damage, and this plate had taken the impact. Numerous scars on the concrete suggest I wasn’t the first. I think 130mm is excessively high for a speed bump. Again I say: how about sticking to the design standards?

The signage, together with uniformed guys toting machine guns ought to be enough to get drivers to slow down. There’s no real need to destroy their vehicles.

Incidentally, there are numerous little roadside shops on this stretch of road. So why is the speed limit 120kph where people wander at random across the road and motorists pull in without warning to buy terracotta horse’s heads or inflatable giraffes?

“Because it’s a limit, not a target.”

So what possible logic is there if the same emirate then imposes an 80kph limit on the dead-straight Academic City Road (for example) that is for the most part in the middle of nowhere?

Logic: yet another thing that is Not Coming In Dubai™.


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