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Paris In Spring Can Mean Only One Thing.

DSC_4237At SIMA size certainly does matter. At 620 hp the Case Quadtrac was the most powerful tractor on display. It is the equivalent of 22 little grey Fergies.

Yes that’s right, SIMA, or France’s premier agricultural show. Purists might argue that the end of February isn’t quite spring or that being biennial it cannot apply to each and every year but the headline tends towards the irresistible, especially for a rather obscure blog like this.

SIMA is a huge affair with over 1,700 companies exhibiting over five days and although continental Europe is its hinterland it is interesting to note that attendance is still 50,000 short of our own wee National Ploughing Match held over here in Ireland. This year was my first at the show and I went to report on it Farm and Plant Buyers Guide, part of the worldwide Tractorhouse group.

Being there for three days meant that I took far more photos than ever would be published so I have shared a few here that didn’t make it to printed page.

DSC_4159Joskin were also out to prove their muscle. Their trailers can carry up to 26 tonnes which is about the same as a truck.


DSC_4208Three years ago I visited the Maschio Gaspardo factory in Italy. This  machine was then a prototype. Building it was a matter of faith for the market was far from certain, but here it is, their faith repaid.


DSC_4280The advance of technology is inescapable. The Claas crop sensor alters the application rate of fertiliser according to the crops requirements.


DSC_4469 - CopyWhile all eyes were on John Deere’s battery powered tractor TYM from Korea had a much smaller model on display. It’s still a prototype, but is probably more practical.


DSC_4370SaMasz staff were particularly enthusiastic about their product. Some other companies could hardly have cared less, but I shall mention no names.


DSC_4148Valtra launched their new A series tractor which shares its base with Massey Ferguson. A break from tradition which reflects the greater specialisation of the roles that a Valtra used to fill.

DSC_4196Farmers are spoiled for choice when it comes to feeder wagons, but Seko offers more compact machines which do not require the large investment of most others.


DSC_4198The Swiss army penknife of tractors. It appears to be able to do all sorts of things but verge trimming is obviously a major use, there are 8,000 miles of motorway in Germany alone.

A life less weird is hardly worth living.



This is Fidelle, a horse we kept for a while, I don’t say owned for although we paid money to bring her into our lives and took money when she left she was never really ours, we had borrowed her from time, just as we do our children.

Our first sight of her was in a darkened barn, the girls loved her then and never stopped doing so. She was bought out by the keeper and performed the jumps and tricks by which horsey people judge their mounts so well that even he was taken aback. There was no question to be asked let alone answered, she was to come home with us, the deal was done and a more than fair price extracted by the vendor.

We didn’t know it at the time but she was in foal and like all expectant mares she stopped doing anything but eat and sleep two months before the day. We called the vet, we were worried that she was sick, she would not jump and would only grudgingly be ridden at all. He gave us the happy news, it was a new and different chapter in our lives that can await another day for the telling for it was, upon reflection, a life enriching experience.

After the foal had come and gone the girls rode her everywhere and in her company they acquired a confidence and responsibility that few other devices could teach them. She was a fixture in their adolescence that will always be part of their lives as she knowledgeably  kept them from the greater dangers although they did not escape a tumble or two.

A few very short years later circumstances had changed and the time came to part with Fidelle. We placed an advert on the web as is the usual way and a small procession of potential keepers came to view her. She rejected them all. Some she bucked, others she ignored and one poor girl was near chased out of the stable with wild eyes and bared teeth. We couldn’t understand it, she had never behaved in this way before, docility being her major virtue.

As we wondered about her moods and despaired of ever finding her a new home a fellow turned up  with a jeep and trailer. At the gate he stopped, he need not have gone any further for Fidelle walked calmly down the drive to meet him and laid her head upon his shoulder. No question need to be asked or answered, she was to return with him and a deal was done with a more than fair price extracted by the buyer.

I’m not a horsey person, preferring them under the bonnet than between my legs, but I missed Fidelle and moped about for days afterwards. Her new keeper rang to say how good she was so we knew she was happy which comforted us, but I like to think she missed us as much as she was missed here. Humans are humans and horses are horses and the bond between the two is often remarked upon but until you see it so closely it is hard to fathom how deep the connection may run. Life is weird like that and  we need to treasure these bonds to remind us that we are not mere machines or consumers, but flesh and blood with a soul, as indeed are horses.


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The Poppy Question



This is the US cemetery at St-Laurent-sur-Mer, which stands above Omaha beach on the Normandy coast and in which are buried over 9,000 servicemen. Visiting it is a sobering experience and you need to give yourself time to slow down and get in tune with the enormity of the allied invasion of the continent and, by extension, the Second World War itself. Visitors often report that it is the reading the names of the young men lost that hits the heart the hardest, for me it was the towns and places from where they came, the cities and rural communities that would never get to see how the children they had cherished would mature and take up their role in the societies in which they were raised.

The visit also ushered memories of my own youthful days, when I was not much younger than the fallen buried here. As Scouts we would parade through the village every November to commemorate the fallen of the two world wars (no mention made was made of any other) and it was considered an honour to carry the flag, one that I eventually attained in my final year in the troop. But that is not why I remember those cold and often wet days as we shivered around the the war memorial, no, it was the older men that came along and stood stiffly in the wind, their heads often bowed towards their medals as they silently cried.

We were just kids, we didn’t understand back then, maybe we do now, I hope so anyway. We had spent our early years being told not to cry, it’s only sissies that cry, grown men don’t cry, yet here they were, crying.  These were the very people we had been brought up to respect, they had been held up as examples for us to model our lives upon, and in a way we did. In fact, looking back, that respect has only grown as I think of those that attended to our upbringing in the sixties and seventies. Many of them had fought in the second conflict and had seen the horrors  close up, lost their friends and known the terror of battle. Those that had come through were wiser for it, they were slow to judge or condemn, they respected the society that they had fought to preserve and we as youngsters could only be influenced by the environment of tolerance they exuded and for many years I wore the poppy as an act of gratitude and remembrance to those that had died.

Do I wear one now? An emphatic NO. There are many reasons for this and I am glad to see the debate raised and discussed in the media and beyond with what might be termed the establishment insisting that all should do as all right thinking people should do and that is wear the symbol in every moment of the day. To me that is the sort of nationalistic pride and coercion that the old soldiers fought to defeat, it was part of their enemies character,  it had brought the pain and misery of war upon civilisation in the first place and had no position in the world which they had saved from fascism and foreign rule.

Today the poppy is, in the Royal British Legions own words, a ” brand”, a logo to be sold and pushed upon the public, tugging at their conscience with the sort of power that few other campaigns can match. Is this what earlier generations really fought for? They died for freedom and that freedom must encompass whatever the Legion choose to do, just as it must allow the rest us the liberty to remember our heroes in the way we feel most appropriate. Succumbing to the arrogance of the marketeers is not the way I wish to do so and the subliminal bullying that goes with it has no place in any sort of community that I would admire, and I doubt they would either.

This week I shall remember those who gave so much so that the following generations had so little need to know of war. My gratitude is not that as ordained by a group of well paid PR honchos round at the Legions HQ, but instead it is as deeply felt and sincere as the tears that rolled down those cheeks on the cold autumnal days of just a few short decades ago.

Images of the Ploughing.

Nearly a month after Ireland’s premier agricultural show I have at last got round to sifting through the images and reflecting upon this years event. One of the advantages of delay is that impressions which will last are emerging from the background of memories and I have selected six photos which to me represent the high points of three days I spent there and give some explanation as to why.

Michael Brogan Tractors and the way to sell machines.

dsc_2605If there is one thing that never ceases to amaze me about farm shows it is the total disinterest shown by many dealers in potential customers. Thankfully Michael Brogan is an exception to this rule and his stand was well staffed and attentive. ArmaTrac had even sent over four sales people of their own with the result that at least two ‘sold’ stickers went up on the display tractors and he has since sold more he tells me.

Malone Farm Machinery, a favourite shot.

dsc_2801Malone’s are one of Ireland’s many smaller innovative company’s and they too are keen to sell their product rather than wait for people to come along and kick the tyres.  Such businesses deserve our full support and I hope I did them justice in this photo of their stand. It was used as a header  by Farm and Plant Buyers Guide on my report of the show, it’s kinda nice to know that it’s appreciated by others.   Farm and Plant Buyers Guide.


Acres Machinery, thinking ahead.

dsc_2690This is David Doran, founder of Acres Machinery and a man on a mission to take Irish Agriculture forward to the front of grass conservation technique. His vision is of full traceability in forage crops, allowing farmers to more accurately match feeding to silage quality and his plans are well formed and forward looking. No surprise then that he was the first winner of the new Machine of the Year Award which he proudly holds here. Acres Machinery also features in Farm and Plant Buyers Gide.


Zero Grazer and a touch of trumpet blowing.

mmfc0051Innovation doesn’t stop with new equipment, constant improvement and invention has led Zero Grazer to develop economical variations of established concepts. This is one of their latest fitted with an  efficient disc rather than drum mower, a small point to many but they are the only ones able to make the arrangement work. As for the trumpet blowing then I was delighted how this tricky subject turned out in the photo. Shiny metal, a black chassis and white paintwork was always going to be a difficult proposition, but I think I’ve managed it here.


A rare beast with a history attached.

mmfc0016There are very few Volvo BM tractors in Ireland, they were never imported directly and the company transferred the tractor Business to Valmet (now Valtra)  in the early 80’s. So what have we here in  another shot I’m rather chuffed with? It’s a Volvo 650 which we know left the factory to join the Swedish army in 1974, but when it was demobbed or what happened in between is a puzzle although it’s known to have undergone some attention from a previous owner somewhere along the line, and therein lies a mystery that its owner, Tom Looman, is hoping to solve.

A family day out and all for a good cause.

dsc_2741The ploughing itself is still central to the event but it has also become a family day out with many attractions for the younger machine fanatics as well as there long  suffering families. Here we have such a group awaiting the draw for refurbished Fiat 90-110 which Grassman Videos were raffling off for charity. They raised €120,000 for the Make a Wish Foundation, a quite incredible result and a great note to end the show on.


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The Zen of Monochrome


A scene from time, it could be any time, a cafe and band are not just of today neither are friends and companions enjoying each others society on a sunny afternoon, yet there remains an air of memory about it, an aura which will summon further recollections from the past as the years progress. What is it, that special quality that induces a reaction that is more than just a record of an arrangement of objects or notification of a past occurrence ?

It is the colour, or the lack of it. Here we have the essentials laid bare and because it is incomplete it demands the mind work to fill in the void. But instead of projecting suspected hues on to the monochrome features as we might think it should it takes a different path and starts to construct a context around the image. It expands what is visible and engages our imagination in doing so. We seek a story to fit the circumstances of this moment and that is what renders it aloof from the passage of time. We empathise because we are engaged, we share the experience of being present because our minds are attempting to make sense of what we see, if the colour were there the process wouldn’t start and we would be just looking at a straight and unswerving account.

Now I happen to feel that to make the magic work then we need to catch the view on film, as we see here, rather than digital, not everyone shares that view but that can wait for another day. What is important is that by stripping away the cloak of colour we are left with an essential skeleton that we need to put flesh on ourselves and by forcing ourselves to do so we share more fully in the moment of capture.

We have then the briefest explanation of our appreciation of black and white photography, can the same be applied to the written word? I do believe it can and it was looking again at Robert Pirsig’s book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that prompted these musings. There is within it a great deal of complexity as he expounds upon his theory of quality yet there are also passages that are crystal clear and simple as he takes a journey though a small patch of America on his motorbike.

Ostensibly he has is son on the back yet we might as well be in that seat for the prose puts us right there next to him, no thanks to long and colourful descriptions but due to the brevity of his words, the absence of his interpretation, the monochromatic method of delivery in fact. Here’s an example –

We enter a low-rimmed canyon,. Before long, a roadside stop I’ve been waiting for appears. A few benches. a little building and some tiny green trees with hoses running to their bases….

Yes, he mentions green but otherwise it is colourless, but that doesn’t matter, we know the place in our minds and if we each imagine the details differently then so what, the essentials are there and the image created and isn’t that how we see a black and white photo? The shapes are present, the form delineated but the story it tells we each construct in our own particular way, and that is the magic of black and white stills photography as well as good writing such as this. The lesson we can take from photography is that less is often more, a cliche I know, but there is no loss in reminding ourselves of its worth.

The photo, by the way, features the Ulster Youth Jazz Orchestra at Redon in Brittany this summer, I came across them while on my own bike trip and more can be seen here –

Ulster Jazz Youth Orchestra.

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It’s not the Farmers Fault!

DSC_4624wbcrpCutting grass for silage in Co Tipperary.

There has been something of a running battle between rural and urban populations ever since industrialisation started to stamp its soot laden foot upon the countryside and even before then the peasant was often an object of derision by the city folk so it comes as no surprise that the fight over over  the countryside has taken a new twist in the demands by environmentalists for farmers to mend their wicked ways, yet again!

The bone of contention this time is that too much carbon is being released from the soil, or that not enough is being incorporated back into it which of course means that farmers must immediately be harangued and scolded until they see the error of theirs and start doing as they are told by bloggers up and down the internet. But is this fair? Do those who are rightfully concerned by the deterioration of this planets environment really have any idea of what they are calling for and whether it is possible at all? I doubt that many of them do, it’s more a case of the farmer being the most visible sinner in all of this so lets go kick him first and little thought is given as to why agriculture has developed as it has over the last century and why we are where are, which is a shame for therein lies the key that just might help solve the carbon problem and I believe that there are four main questions that need to be considered before making extravagant demands of agriculture.

    1. The first thing that environmentalists need to do is decide just who they mean by ‘farmers’. Are we talking about the subsistence farmer in sub Sahara Africa, the dairy farmer trying to live off what are presently very meagre margins in Ireland or the feedlot producer with his toxic lakes of waste in Texas? All three are completely different in situation and outlook and yet they are lumped together as ‘farmers’ and assumed to share a common disdain for this world and so require a universal dose of condemnation. That is hardly the most intelligent approach.

2. It would be wise to ask just how it is that we got to the present situation? The answer in the west is fairly simple, it has been large part of governments role to ensure that the population is fed and that is what they have done through various applications of carrot and stick, subsidy and legislation. The net result has been an intensification of farming and increase in yields through the appreciation of science.  There may have been shortages but these, by and large, have been manged to ensure that there have been no mass starvation events in the developed world for quite some time. The fact that these tragedies still happen elsewhere is something we need to work on as well.

3. Having reached the happy situation where the west is more or less self sufficient in food it seems that we are unhappy with how that has been achieved. So what exactly is it that we are unhappy with and what do we need to change? I am, I must point out, no great fan of pouring endless amounts of chemicals on the crops or drugs down the gullets of the stock, nor are a great many farmers for these things cost money and they are running a business after all.

4. Having decided what must be done the plan will need to be implemented. How is that to happen? Urging consumers to buy more expensive food by choice is not working, being horrible to farmers and agribusiness likewise, so its going to have to be a political move for it is politicians who are meant to issue the subsidies in a way that directs the course of farming and it must be pointed out that for all its faults the EU has made a reasonable start in this area.

At the end of the day the issue of carbon sequestration boils down to two unpalatable truths; the first is that it the fault of mankind that its needed at all and the second is that it is therefore up to mankind to pay for the clearing up! Farmers are only the middle men in all this, they didn’t dig the coal to power the industry or pump the oil to drive our cars, it was you and me and our parents and grandparents that caused that to happen so why expect farming to wave a magic wand and sort it all out?  As I have already mentioned they are just trying to run a business so if we want them to adopt practices that  return more carbon to the soil then we are going to have to somehow make it worth their while to do so, just like we made it worth their while to feed us well. It’s not impossible, but it’s not quick either.


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Bikers Ain’t Stoopid!

wbNewbikebgThere will always be an interest in new bikes, it’s time to work with the public when introducing them.


And there was I thinking that my next blog would not be about bikes!

Anyway, a rather minor affair in the biking world has me reaching for the keyboard with the  fingers all a tapping and the angst today is centred upon the role of the spy shot in new bike development and although it centres around Royal Enfield the comments apply equally across the range of brands available to us.

In the latest issue of Motorcycle News there appeared a series of photos of the latest Royal Enfield undergoing a road test in Spain. Despite MCN claiming them as exclusive these same photos also appeared on the web and all was presented as breaking news that would come to the biking community as some great shock and weren’t the publications concerned jolly clever sort of chaps to bring you the story! So far so good, the only fly in the ointment being that Royal Enfield themselves have long trailed their intention of producing a twin cylinder machine, in fact they were talking about it four years ago and the Indian biking press has been following progress keenly with more ‘spy’ shots of the the 750 engine squeezed into the 500cc frame being published in April 2015.

Given that the world and his dog knows all about the  new bike it is somewhat amusing to note that the company does not seem happy with the latest turn of events, which is understandable in a way, we all like to be in control after all, but when there is so much public interest in a product they can hardly be surprised that the very same world and his dog want to learn more of what they are are cooking up for us next. From a marketing point of view spy shots are a double edged sword, yes, they give the competition an inkling of what is going on but they also whet the appetite of the buying public and keep the marque in the spotlight. Unfortunately it seems that the former is of more importance than the latter to most companies who don’t believe the children in the playground can be entrusted with their secrets although they are only secrets because the company concerned chooses to pretend that they are.

This is a somewhat patronising view for there are many bikers who have evolved beyond dragging their knuckles along the tarmac and appreciate that a prototype is a prototype and will be changed before it is ready for sale or even withdrawn altogether. If a competitor is interested in what’s going on in Royal Enfield’s/Ducati’s/Triumph’s/Honda’s etc  factory or design office then I’m sure they have other ways of finding out in great detail rather than waiting for smudgy spy shots to be printed in the press. From outside of the company loop it all looks rather childish and can actually leave a negative impression, it is as if we are being talked down to rather than invited to share in the the new machine’s progress which is hardly the way to build an appreciative following, it certainly won’t help boost sales of the associated merchandise which is where the real money is made more often than not!

So what’s the answer? Simply cursing the photographer concerned is not going to solve anything, he’s probably got a family to feed just as everybody else has and in a world where our every move is followed by CCTV or our life is tracked on a myriad of databases it’s somewhat strange that companies feel they have a right to privacy when out beyond their factory gate. Indeed, Royal Enfield themselves state the following on their website –

Royal Enfield collects personally identifiable information when you register through the site and when you enter online promotions and contests. Royal Enfield may also receive personally identifiable information from business partners.

Sauce for the goose and all that.

The old model of companies trying to test their products on secret proving grounds or heavily disguised on public roads and hoping that nobody will notice is now defunct and they need to apply some of the imagination to the process of introducing new models which they do to the design of the bike itself. The first question they may wish to ask themselves is how to capitalise  on the interest shown in their machines during the development phase rather than just shunning the cameras altogether because that approach obviously does not work and cannot work with most people carrying a camera around with them nowadays. This will of course cause internal conflict between the engineers and the salesmen but it is in both sides interest to sort out a compromise so that us bikers are no longer feel as if we are being treated like kiddies waiting for the sweet shop to open, that just doesn’t invoke any sort of empathy at all!



Whither Triumph II

adjSprintwbThe latest incarnation of the Sprint, a venerable but still excellent model.

A few years ago I wrote an article for the magazine of a Triumph owners club and even a blog or two about the direction that Triumph Motorcycles were going. Even though no mountains shook or temples crumbled there was a certain degree of circumstantial evidence that the comments had not gone unnoticed over in Hinckley which in a way was flattering although hardly enriching.

At the time I noted the lack of direction and loss of identity as they seemed to chase whatever BMW were doing and forgetting that they had a core customer base who wanted a British Bike rather than than a poor copy of a German one. The policy was so obviously wrong one can only wonder just why they persuaded them to follow it in the first place and one immediately suspects the dark hand of outside consultants who merely number crunch rather than actually involve themselves in the biking world. Harley Davidson don’t make that mistake and their management teams are often out and about at bike rallies just to gauge reaction and make sure their brand is gaining maximum exposure if nothing else, being hands off is not their style, much to other manufacturers chagrin at times. It has also been whispered that having ditched the Teutonic design bias Triumph are now adopting the American hard sell system which will no doubt prove to be equally as fruitless.

There was also the question of India and also their off road utility vehicle venture the latter of which appears to have faded away and the former has now been declared dead by the Indian authorities if not by Triumph themselves. The Hindu Times* recently had this to say –

The British motorcycle brand, Triumph Motorcycles India, had not paid the full advance to the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board and had withdrawn its investment ‘on its own’, according to Minister for Industries R.V. Deshpande.

So had Triumph just left the venture to whither on the vine while looking for an excuse to drop it? The Hindu Times suggests that may have been the case –

The company now plans to move out, allegedly because of land-related issues and the Karnataka government’s apathy.

The use of the phrase “Move out” is intriguing, are Triumph seeking an alternative or they looking to keep a flame alive? Who knows, Triumph themselves did not appear to have been approached for an explanation but by coincidence just a few days before the article in the Hindu Times the British Motorcycle News was invited around for a cosy chat with the top brass (including Paul Stroud, a name not unconnected with the India venture)  at their Leicestershire base. When asked about the 250cc that was supposed to be built in India, for the Indian market, Nick Bloor, the son of the owner John, had this to say about the demise of the project –

“So, you ask if this was the right thing to do, and I think absolutely – in terms of resources within the business to deliver fantastic product (sic).”

Which I think we can take as an admission that perhaps they had overstretched themselves and had to pull in their horns. While on the subject of coincidences there has still been no public explanation as to why the capacity of the proposed Triumph factory neatly matched that of the Royal Enfield plant that was in fact built and is enjoying great success with increased sales into India during the time of a depressed market. Nor is there any comment on the fact that Royal Enfield have opened a design and development centre just down the road from Triumph and were busily recruiting engineers during April, they already have ex Triumph staff on their books. Eicher Motors, the parent company of Royal Enfield, have also bought out Harris Performance, well known racing parts suppliers and fabricators, the company obviously means business and are not short of a bob or two, will we see them buying out Triumph one day? It is not beyond the bounds of possibility, Triumph are one of the few major European bike manufacturers without a big wallet behind it. John Bloor may have made a fortune building houses but he’s no BMW or Audi (owners of Ducati) and cannot command the technical support that these two major competitors can, and he’s certainly no match for the Japanese four despite the 25m Triumph claim to spend on product development. Indeed, it’s worth noting that VW, owners of Audi, spent nearly €10bn on R&D in 2012.

Triumph admit to a “perceived wobble” but remain upbeat about their prospects and talk of new models and other ventures planned to gain them publicity. As a Triumph owner I for one certainly wish them the very best with it all, but I am not sure that they can do enough on their own to keep up and I’ve no doubt there are others in the ocean who are circling their raft as they paddle into the future


We Bikers are Generally Blessed.


RElinkwebThe smallest bike shop in Ireland?

We hear a lot of talk about customer service, putting the custom first, the customer is king etc etc, but we experience the warmth of such platitudes less and less.  It seems there are two basic factors that influence the degree of customer service that we receive from companies and they are their size and how closely allied they are to IT. When did anyone not associated with Microsoft  last heap praise upon Windows 10 or Outlook, their abysmal email client? Indeed, so awful are these bits of software that they have taken to imposing them upon you rather than giving you a choice, not that Bill Gates gives a hoot, he’s made his money,  and then there are the many stories we hear of United Airlines and their attitude towards paying passengers! ( before I get sued)

These are just two examples of smarmy PR hiding a nest of vipers but thankfully there still are genuine businesses often run by genuine people who are genuinely anxious to provide you with a product and service that will you both bring you a warm glow and back for more.  Over the last week or so I have had the pleasure of dealing with several such companies in getting my Triumph Daytona fit for the weekend.

Like many bikers I like to fettle a little, keep on top of the minor jobs that build a relationship with a bike  which I know is nothing more than soft headed anthropomorphism at its worst but there is a lot of it about.  This week a niggle over the fuel consumption had me checking the brakes and lo and behold the rear pads were not releasing properly so it was time to whip them off for a good clean down as there was no appreciable corrosion. All well and good until a locating pin seized which, to cut a long story short, led me to needing a whole new caliper.  My first call for parts is always to Sprint Manufacturing over in Wiltshire, alas he didn’t have what I wanted (a first I think) but he suggested that the competition might have something which indeed they did. Full marks then to Trevor and he knows I’ll be back next time despite him passing on some business to his rivals. Full marks also to Total Triumph of Taunton who had a stock of calipers which the factory had decided were surplus to requirements and were now available at a very reasonable price. Just two days later I had fitted them to the bike which is when I noticed the rear tyre had developed a split.

The Daytona runs slightly larger wheels than most modern bikes and not everybody has the right sized tyres in stock so another long story ensured, the details of which we need not go into here, however, the upshot was that I found myself nipping down to Lee Honda in Cork who fitted the appropriate item first thing on Saturday morning. Now Lee Honda is probably the biggest Irish motorcycle dealership outside of Dublin but the lads there were as friendly and helpful as any I’d come across in the biking world and within half an hour I was on my way again, sadly leaving behind in the showroom a used but mint Sprint 1050 which I’d rather fallen in love with, but hey, we can’t have everything in life. Kudos then to Jason and Mattie for sorting the tyre so quickly and getting me back on the road for a visit to the new Royal Enfield dealership in Adare who were holding an official opening that afternoon.

The two agents could not be more different in size and scope. Honda is perhaps the worlds leading motorcycle manufacturer while Royal Enfield is still very much a niche product, certainly here in Ireland anyway. Yet Chris and Elaine who own and run the shop are as keen and friendly as any other in the business and had put together small street party to celebrate their new venture. They were offering free beer (0.0% proof I hasten to point out) and snacks to passing bikers as well as all their friends and customers from their present business of classic car hire and tours. The weather certainly helped the day as the sun stayed throughout the afternoon and there was no mistaking the convivial atmosphere and goodwill, present in abundance, which was neither forced or unnatural. Their was also something different about the event that took a little time to appreciate which was that for a biker do it was really quite female friendly. There was no macho posturing or lads decked out in racing leathers and a thousand yard stare, instead we had the bikes, bikers of many sorts and appearances but all of genial disposition, face painting (a crude term that hardly does justice to the body art performed), Tee shirt printing, a much admired bird of prey in the form of a magnificent owl (not sure of the species) and two ladies by the name of Lynda and Ester serving up delicious chocolate covered strawberries that were as refreshing as any beer or Ice cream you might mention. Sure, it wasn’t a big PR coordinated launch of a shiny new product with some dizzy PR person’s take on the motorcycling world, thank God, and it was all the better for its home grown charm. Chris and Elaine probably did more good for the biking world in that one afternoon than all the media and marketing agencies have done for the activity so far this year.

But the biking business scene is not all roses, there are dark stories of foreign muscle dictating how Irish bikes shows should be run and other dealerships are subject to the brainless whims of marketing departments who prescribe precisely how the sheep that enter the showroom should have their wallets thinned.  What we have now is in danger of becoming a formless soup of the unattractive American way of selling where salesmen (whatever their fanciful title) are taught to first find out how much you are worth to establish a ‘price point’. Nothing angers me more when I come across that sort of technique so let us support those companies that resist such shenanigans and look after those who serve the customer from the heart rather than the calculator!


Justin Roberts

Available for for writing and photography commissions.

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Biking, Brands and the Business of Buying.


Enfld-LinkLegacy alone is not enough.

Motorcycle News is a magazine I love to hate, or hate to love anyway, but I still buy it every week, almost as a ritual rather than in the hope of being enlightened or entertained if only because they are always pushing something or repeating a formula that worked for a short while and then they forgot to fish around for some new cliches. However, there has been some improvement of late and you get the impression that the writers aren’t under the pressure they were and the fresh faces recentlybrought in do make it less predictable, which is  a good thing, but this isn’t about the paper itself but the dreams it sells.

There is not one issue allowed to be published which doesn’t hype up BMW and the all conquering GS in particular. For those not familiar with the BMW range the GS models are the chart toppers in the adventure bike category of motorcycle types, that is to say they have knobbly(ish) tyres and can be ridden on surfaces that  need not be tarmac. However, they are sold as machines that can take the adventurous anywhere in the world, the dream is of setting off over unknown terrain, exploring far lands, encountering gibberish tongues, stray beasts and funny food along the dusty way, The Land Rover was sold on the same promise until it got just too posh for the pretence to be maintained with a straight face but as yet BMW don’t appear to be fazed by such considerations although they can cost as much as a medium sized car. Naturally you’d expect such a rugged sort of go anywhere vehicle to be easily serviceable and mendable in the field, y’know, a local lad with a hammer and braising torch could knock it back into shape and get you going again but it appears that the dream only goes so far, for as MCN revealed recently it can take a dealer several hours to bleed the front brakes! Just to put that into context it is normally a job that ranks alongside changing the oil and adjusting the chain as essential mechanical skills for any rider carrying out their own basic maintenance and takes around five minutes on my Triumph.

I am not knocking BMW here, they make a good bike and are immensely popular, but I think it’s about time we took a step back and started to think again about why we buy a bike and just how suited it is to our needs, but more importantly, our aspirations. The GS is a classic example of how a buyer might harbour fond ambitions of great journeys that are never realised, likewise the various 180hp sports bikes flatter the rider with hints at their racing greatness but are totally impossible to ride in public at anywhere near their full potential. Both types are lifestyle statements as much as they are practical biking propositions and neither really fulfill their intended purpose. So which bikes do? A question that is most easily answered by looking at the other end of the scale. Cheap Chinese runabouts are just that, you know where you stand with them and nobody is fooling anyone about either their longevity or capabilities. Unfortunately they are usually sub 250cc and so if you are looking for brutal honesty then it tends to come with a lack of performance that will stall anyone with a serious interest in biking as an activity in addition to its role as  transport.

So there you have the two extremes. Glossy and expensive that are hardly practicable or cheap’n’cheerful which will leave you wanting more.  Thankfully the greater number of bikes on offer fall between these two stools and the choice is there to be made. There is little point in listing the makes and models as the newstands are full of magazines that will help you find some pattern in the jungle but there is a third side to the equation that is slowly emerging and that is the upgraded budget bike, by this I mean the those from the east which have been rendered more suitable for western tastes or made in far off countries but to European design and it is here that the tables are far more level. All the major manufacturers have plants abroad so the ‘Made in China/Brazil/India/Thailand’ label can hardly be considered the stigma that it was and yet few will boast of their products origins although it will not be denied when MCN coyly points to where they are produced. Brand, it appears, is everything and building that brand is not an easy task and relies on a lot more than legacy and fond memories of ancient days as John Bloor of Triumph understood and  one particular company is beginning to realise. The product has to be right as well and although boutique brands may find favour with the wealthy due to their exclusivity, such as the resurrected (in France) Brough, more everyday names such as Royal Enfield need practicality instead. Presently they haven’t got the engine power for developed countries but as a bike that will actually cope with monsoons and mystics, cows and collisions I’d put it way above the GS  any day, despite what Motorcycle News might say.