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.

Guy, Ken and the wall of Death.



The telly is a mixed blessing, it brings a much larger world into our homes but does so through a prism of condescending gloss and distorts the evidence of circumstance by its own importance. On occasion though there emerge personalities that break through the skin of superficiality and show themselves to be genuine people in a way that may not always meet the expectations of the egos that generally infest the media world. One such event occurred this Easter when Guy Martin, a huge talent on the motorcycle racing scene, made an attempt at the world speed record on the wall of death, a record that didn’t really exist before but he set out to establish a benchmark by which others could be measured.

I have never met Guy himself although he does appear regularly in the motorcycle press and has been cropping up more frequently on the TV of late. However, he had a team around him that had been brought together to ensure his attempt on the record was likely to be accomplished successfully and safely, for the Guinness Book of Records is now rather careful about what feats of human endeavour it associates itself with. Attention seekers parachuting into a paddling pool without a parachute are obviously not to be encouraged which is probably why we see all sorts of silliness like the number of toenail clippings crammed into a matchbox or suchlike instead. But anyway, one of those people helping Guy was a gentleman by the name of Ken Fox who runs three walls in total which he and his family take on tour throughout the UK and the continent and he is someone I have met and got to know a little, and like immensely,  when he came to Tipperary over Easter 2015.

Ken is a showman to his fingertips with a great deal to say and he says it with a conviction that broaches little argument, but when you are responsible for lads and lasses whirling round a wooden drum risking life and limb then the troupe needs a god like figure who’s word is law and is not to be countered lightly. Ken fills that role admirably and yet as he berates the general state of society or the lack of practical knowledge amongst today’s youth the realisation slowly grows that underneath it all lies one one of the most genuine fellows you are likely to meet who is fully in command of where he lies in this complex mix of business, entertainment, leadership and family commitments. His family, BTW, are very much part of the show and one of my endearing memories is of his wife cheerfully knitting away next to Ken, sagely nodding or shaking her head in tune with the dialogue, as he sat in his trailer expounding upon the frailties of humanity, yet don’t be fooled, she’s as alert to what needs to be done as any. The squad in fact is the epitome of a family team the like of which is often remarked upon but rarely encountered and their sons carry on the tradition, both being faultlessly polite and well spoken but each deeply aware of what is required and expected of them.

Interestingly enough it was this softer side that came across on the box, Ken was a little out of his place in the studio setting although very much the patriarch when instructing Guy on his own wall, yet he was still his real self, not a five minute wonder glad of the lights and fawning crew as one suspected of the presenter, a character with such strength of personality that I hadn’t a clue who he was and even less interest in knowing!  Another great unsung heroine of the affair was Sharon, Guy’s girlfriend, who was obviously new to the glitz and glamour and appeared unsure of quite how she should try to fit in, one can hardly blame her, but equally as obvious was the concern for her man to whom her attachment was so honest and certain that it left the media darlings floundering such is their assumption of superficiality in all. As a lesson in humanity and humility the programme should score top marks but there was also the main business of the day to consider and that was the setting of the record itself.

That the record was set at 79mph and all lived to tell the tale  is, in many ways, not surprising as the expense and effort would not have been made if it in any way was considered a doubtful enterprise. Yet we mustn’t take away from what is still a remarkable achievement and Guy deserves our full admiration for his continued efforts in pushing at the boundaries, he is the rough diamond in the goats backside of television and is worthy of our attention for that alone. Beyond that that there were one or two points of note that caused a slight smile to crease my jaw. The first was that in all probability the bike he tried on the first attempt was donated by the makers in the expectation of some bragging rights,  such a boast would be priceless when it came to marketing so I wouldn’t want to be in the HQ of Indian Motorcycles this morning as the they digested the news that it was in fact a bike of Guy’s own creation that set the record, and one with a triple engine at that, the most well known producer of which is Triumph, a keen rival of Indian’s in the retro and legacy stakes! Secondly, the programme used a small slice of music to accompany the action whenever Guy was on a wall, it was only a few bars long and was always cut off just when it would appear to get more interesting, I strongly suspect that it was inspired by this, perhaps the best video out there on the web –


A full account of Ken Fox’s wall of death and their visit to Tipperary can be found in the April 16 edition of Irish Vintage Scene.

EDIT: I’ve just noticed that Guy had always intended to use his own bike for the record and it is indeed based on a Triumph.

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For the want of a Million.

ShowwbThe theme of this years Axa Classic Car show was decidedly French.

I was at the Dublin Classic Car show this weekend when a friend asked me what sort of cars I was in to? A good question, I struggled for an answer, but then it was perhaps not the question that I could answer, for it’s not the type of car that engages my attention but how they are designed, what is their form and how did they take motoring along to the next stage that I find so fascinating. To help me explain it might be worth looking at a few before coming to any conclusion about which I would most like to take home if I had that fantasy million.

HorchwbThe 1920’s Horch, still at Home in Dublin.

The first to be considered is a Horch from the mid Twenties. To say this car is magnificent is to do it an injustice, it is a drawing room for the gentry that happens to be mobile and takes every care to ensure that those in a certain position retain both their dignity and elegance. Naturally we expect such flattery to be served up by Rolls Royce yet they were not the only company to pamper the well to do and in this vehicle we see the finesse of German engineering coming to the fore. There is something whole and complete about this car, it is not a confection of chassis and body builder but constructed as one and therein lies it’s appeal. However, it is a car of its time and the conflict and tensions of the 20th century later saw its descendant company produce, of all things, the Trabant!

BuickwbTo the staid and sober European  there is really something quite horrendous about the monsters of chrome and bad taste that infested the roads of the US during the sixties. And indeed horrendous they are, but there is also something really quite wonderful about them as well. This was a dead end for car evolution and the reasons why it was so eagerly pursued tell us much about the confidence of the country back then. A cliche I know, but one that is no less worthy of our our attention when we consider these cars because of it. Half a century later we can step back and view these manifestations in all their grossness with an enlightenment that comes with the knowledge that perhaps we don’t actually own the world after all, but are the custodians for future generations. This Buick is worth preserving for that very reason, if no other.

ImpwbAnd now for something completely different, the humble Imp. Different in size and scope to the two already viewed maybe, but it was a remarkably innovative car. It had an all alloy engine, a first for a mass produced car, the engine was at the rear, another first for this type of vehicle and it employed a novel clutch that beat its BMC Mini rival hands down. They were super little cars, I was once an owner myself, and they still retain a following despite their head gaskets blowing every second Sunday and the build quality being somewhat indifferent at times. Made by ex shipbuilders in a run down area by the Clyde the manufacturing arrangements and costs never did justice to the design. Even so, 500,000 were produced and thankfully many are kept alive. It is a car of fond memories rather than modern day use so I would linger, but pass on to another should I ever need to choose just the one.


AthenawbSo what would I be tempted to spend my million on? It needn’t be a million of course, something far more modest might suit, but the sum would remove the constraint of price to a large degree. And so we come to what I think I would most prefer to have taken home, a car that I hardly took notice all day of but walking past from behind the purposeful urge of the body caught my eye, and by degrees I fell in love with the Citroen  Athena CX. I know the  company’s hydro pneumatic suspension to be quite brilliant, the controls advanced and the ride quality exquisite, but there was something besides, there is a determination about its style, whether the driver knows his route or not, the car is taking him there with a confidence and comfort that dismisses all other considerations. A tour of France would be an exercise in impunity, of certainty and  aloofness that may well end in tears, but it would be such fun in the meanwhile!


Vive Le Magazines!

FergielinkinImage: What next? A magazine will tell you, the web won’t.

The internet is hailed as being the all conquering media channel that has the answer for everything and will wipe out the printed media in just a few years, or so we are told. In fact we have been told that ever since the web was invented but the world has not quite fallen into line with the declarations of the digital prophets and I am not entirely sure that it ever will.
Those who gleefully peddle such doom laden news tend to overlook the strengths of the printed media that the web simply does not possess and it might be worth examining just a few of them to see how they hold up.

The first issue is one of trust. If a well established and widely circulated paper or magazine publishes a story then there is a fair chance that it has undergone some sort of peer review and can be trusted as a source of worthy information. Compare that situation with the web where any fool can publish what they like in a blog or on a site, even me, as I am doing here. In other words, would you give this article greater credence if it were in a magazine or paper?

A second point is one of breadth. Nobody can argue that the web is very good at finding a particular product, just so long as you know exactly what it is you want, it has a very narrow focus. Magazines on the other hand will have a far greater breadth of content and information to hand and I think advertisers are shooting themselves in the foot by ignoring this feature. The basic question that company’s should be asking themselves is how do customers know  what is actually available or what they need? For instance, reading a vintage tractor magazine will alert me to what’s out there and provoke ideas and generate interest as to what can be done to machines. Staring at a dumb list of basic part descriptions on the screen will have no such effect. Firms might argue that a certain amount of business comes via their website, but what took people to their website in the first place?

Time is another important factor. On the vast majority of the sites to which I have had access to the stats the number of viewers that spend less than 30 seconds on a visit is around 75 – 85% and this rises to over 90% when the window is extended to a minute. So less than 1 in 10 are actually bothering to spend a minute or more on your nice smart site which you think is wonderful because it appears cheaper than hardcopy advertising! If a customer has spent several euros on a magazine it is highly likely they’ll be  spending a good deal of time browsing it and an advertisers message will appear several times in front of them. It’s all part of engaging with the reader and magazines are particularly good at it.

The idea that the web is killing off printed editions of magazines may be just half the story, what could be happening is that it is simply killing off the newspaper and magazine format altogether. As this chart shows – Magazine Circulation, online editions may be making up a greater proportion of the total sales but overall circulation is still declining, slightly.

So what can be done about it? The first thing is that the printed media has to stop standing in the middle of the road like a bedazzled rabbit and get on with selling its virtues. The web is a competitor, not a god! Treat it as any other competitor and shout about your own advantages. This may take some cooperation but there are trade associations out there who are best placed to get the ball rolling and actually attend to their members interests, they have the message – Advertising effectiveness  but they are doing nothing about banging the drum! And that, for an industry that prides itself in communication, must be its most abysmal failing.

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The Leaving of a Lady.

Ser3webA Late Series Three in it’s natural Habitat.

Icon is a grossly overused word nowadays, anybody or anything that has suffered fifteen minutes of fame tends to lumbered with the label, but there are a few things in life that it is worth reserving for and one of those must surely be the Land Rover. When I say Land Rover I’m not talking about the jazz boxes of fancy finery which adorn the streets of the more select towns and cities nowadays. No, not those,  they are merely living off the fat of a distinguished legacy of the proper Land Rovers, those old crates of noise and discomfort upon which that legacy was built, the ladder framed hulks that played such a big part in opening up the world and provided a new form of mobility to those who’s work took them beyond the comfort of tarmac.  These are the true heroines that carried the badge with pride and as we approach the end of January we also approach the end of this particular lady’s lineage.

This month sees the last of the Defenders role off the assembly line at Solihull, production is to cease and the only hint of a replacement is an old style Discovery look alike that was trailed as a concept vehicle a while ago. It’s not difficult to understand why this particular good thing must come to an end, it was, after all, designed in the 1940’s and although it had undergone several major upgrades it was still the same old Landie underneath, a simple steel chassis with flat aluminum panels for bodywork and a driving position that was only slightly  roomier than your luggage allowance on Ryanair.  I’ve had four of them and loved and hated them in equal measure, around forty years separated the build date of the first from that of last and apart from a few extra wads of plastic around the dashboard and an extra gear you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference when driving. I later had a Discovery and although it was a different animal altogether  there was no disguising the fact that it was still a Land Rover, for it shared that chassis, alloy bodywork and the feeling of Land Roverness which is hard to define but you’ll know it when you feel it.

But it’s not all milk and honey. Anybody who knew their Landies would confide that if you wanted to get a tough job done then you needed a Land Rover, but if you wanted to do it twice, and in a bit of comfort, then best buy something Japanese, they were not the most reliable of vehicles and as for the longevity of the chassis then you may be lucky and get one that is intact but time could soon bestow a colander affect on them, especially the early Series Threes. The engines were never the most powerful or dependable either. Mind you, they were thumpers with bags or torque in reserve and would keep chugging away rather than stall, which is just what you need from a working rather than competition or leisure machine. The reliability issues were more a case of poor manufacture during the dark days of British Leyland and were hardly exclusive to the marque, so they may be forgiven for that if your heart is really sold on having one. And plenty of hearts are, for there is now a whole industry ready to take care of the aging fleet as they refuse to give up the ghost as the decades pass.

After nearly seventy years the old girls age could no longer be hidden. The ubiquitous 4WD pick has assumed the role of farmers transport and off road utility vehicle, the world has been explored and roads made where there none before. The army, that other great customer, needed something bigger and stronger to keep up with modern warfare and so the demand has declined and the expense of her production increased in comparison to her rivals as the method of assembly is hardly amenable to automation. Maybe she’ll surface again one day, a licence to make them might be sold to India or China just as it was to Spain in the past. Perhaps, with cheaper labour she might have a future but is it really possible for any vehicle to continue for ever? It is unlikely, so now is the time to mark her passing and thank her for all those moments of wonder and frustration she provided over the years as well as salute the achievements she made possible and the service she has given around the globe since 1948. The Land Rover truly is an Icon.



On Storm Alert with the Irish Red Cross.


This winter Ireland has experienced a succession of storms which have produced new rainfall records and left thousands of homes damaged and lives wrecked as swollen rivers burst their banks and the cold silty water washed through homes and businesses throughout the country. This is the River Suir at Clonmel, Co Tipperary.  In fact, to be quite truthful it isn’t. The photo was taken from the bridge that normally crosses the river, but it now stands merely to suggest where the river should be.

DSC_6004webFlood defences can be effective and the €40m spent protecting the town of Clonmel appear to be working as the river Suir sweeps past The Quays on the southern side of the town. The local council has the responsibility of erecting them whenever a flood is forecast and they take many man hours of putting together, yet the council staff worked long into the night to ensure the town was saved; so far! The river level is around five feet above the street where the green van is parked.

DSC_5986wbThe crisis has brought the local community together with businesses offering goods and services to help the beleaguered who are caught in flooded houses or left homeless until the water subsides and they can return to what is left of their lives.  The Irish Red Cross have moved swiftly into action with the their Community Resilience programme, identifying and checking upon all those that are most vulnerable to the storms, and it is not always obvious who it may be. Here, Darren Ryan of the Clonmel branch loads sandbags into their 4X4 which are to be taken to the house of an elderly lady in the area. The bags had been filled that morning by volunteers from Cahir, a neighboring town  a few miles upstream.

DSC_6015wbThe affected house lay high in the hills near Clonmel. An unlikely place to be affected by floods but during the previous day a spring had opened up in the kitchen threatening to soak the rest of the house as it sought an exit. Grace, now in her seventies, had spent the whole of the night with a bucket and mop clearing it away before a neighbour had found some sandbags, but hardly enough to contain the flow. Darren and his colleague, Brian Lafford, had brought some more in the hope of sealing the floor above the source.

DSC_6053wbBrian arranges the bags in a tight pack around the stove where the water was entering the old building. Grace was born and raised in this house and lives happily here with close neighbours, although it is several miles to the nearest shop.  In the past she has survived a lightning strike which shocked her speechless for several days and hopes to return to breeding ponies  now that she is over an illness that laid her low for a while. A remarkable lady who retains her independence, a fact greatly respected by the Red Cross who aim to support all in the community in their own homes rather than dictate how they should live.

DSC_6040wbHaving completed the job and leaving a few sandbags spare should they be needed Grace insisted on making tea and offering cake before we left. Despite the lack of sleep and her advancing years she remained cheerful and resolute that this minor drama would not deter her from her continuing to live where she belongs. “I don’t think God wants me yet” she pointed out and her simple faith in life can be a lesson to us all.  Having ensured that she had food and milk enough for the new year Darren and Brian said farewell with strict instructions that she should call again if she needed help in any way.

DSC_6063wbKeeping a fleet of vehicles on the road is a huge expense and a having a 4X4 may seem an unnecessary luxury for a charitable organisation, yet they prove their worth and no more than during these storms when the roads and lanes are awash with debris and the surfaces are littered with potholes. Getting half a tonne of sandbags up to Grace would have been beyond most vans in such conditions and so the ‘jeeps’ earn their keep despite their cost. Clonmel are presently raising funds for a new ambulance for which they need €80,000, money they need to find from the community, but it will not be wasted.

DSC_6075wbDusk was settling in when we returned to the town. Much of the organisation’s work is done in the evening when the volunteers are home from their jobs. Darren and Brian took a detour to check out the flood defences along the Quay before heading home. This is the street we see in the second photo and if it were not for the barriers then the water would be level with the vehicle’s roof rather than just a few inches up the tyres. Despite this apparent success there are many houses who remained unprotected  so when the water leaves the real job of clearing up begins. Once again the Irish Red Cross will be in the thick of it, bringing practical aid and comfort to those whose homes are damaged and belongings are lost.

Back to basics and eating an elephant in the woods.

CamshaftLinkinwbComplexity deconstructed can reveal a beautiful simplicity.

We stood with an intense air, both of us silent and both of us with our our gaze and thoughts focused totally on the object that lay on a low table in front of us. It was a wheel, a rear wheel from my bike to be exact, and it wasn’t working as it should. How can a wheel not work you may ask, if it’s round and intact and has air sufficient to keep the tyre in an appropriate shape then what could possibly go wrong?  Well, many things it transpires and in this particular case it turned out to be four small studs that transferred power from the chain to the wheel itself and from there to the ground. On this particular bike there could be around 100hp passing through on it’s way to the road  and these small pins are meant to play their part in the process.

One though, had snapped off.

This was not in itself a disaster, the bike still worked, but its progress was accompanied by clunk when either accelerating or braking and the reason was not hard to fathom, for all four had worn loose in their locating holes leaving the recesses  a blunt oval shape rather than perfectly round as should be the case. The pins were moving in their location and it was just a matter of time before they all sheared off or the wheel cracked under the constant hammering. That was the problem, but what was the solution?

My companion in studying the offending item was an engineer, we were standing in his workshop surrounded by the mills, presses and lathes that are the tools of his trade, Several ideas were suggested and if not actually dismissed they were modified and moulded until a consensus was reached as to a course of action that was most likely to prove successful. Essential to this process was close examination of the other components involved in securing the wheel to the bike; the locating collar,  the various washers and castellated nut, and of course the axle itself which, when stripped almost entirely down to its bare self, became a thing of complex beauty with each polished surface, cut spline or drilled centre representing a function that caused this inanimate object to engage with others and so produce a whole of smooth movement and purpose.

It is this ability to deconstruct and examine the elements that constitute the complete item which is the key to so much in engineering and many other human endeavors besides. Examining shapes and materials, selecting form to suit purpose and design to serve duty is the role of engineers and many others besides, in fact, all who are united by the common aim of taking the homogeneous and instilling it with character, a fact brought home to me when I was fortunate enough to share a meal with a French gentleman who had chosen a life of simple but intense experience over one of ambition and material wealth.

The food was prepared in front of us  as we sat at a small table in what could best be described as a unfinished conservatory, Grated carrot, tomatoes fresh from his plot and cheeses and pates that had been thoughtfully selected from the local market. He would handle all with a reverence, giving each a solemn weighing in his weathered hands before pronouncing as to whether the rind was over aged or the blood too generous amongst the fats, his words were attentive to the experience and his intelligence in the materials he handled beyond doubt. I think it the most splendid meal I have ever eaten.

That same mood of assessment and calculation was obvious back in storm swept Tipperary as each part of the bike’s axle was  picked up and scrutinised in a manner so reminiscent of the French gourmet.  This was the mark of the artisan, the signature of the true craftsman, and it is not something that may be bought or downloaded, it is the product of experience and many years of association with the materials to be worked upon. It also very unfashionable in the world of IT driven commerce which teaches us that rapid and accelerating rates of change are the norm and to be welcomed as something wonderful. We are not to allow ourselves the time to consider the detail but we are to  go with the flow, accept the whole as if there is no alternative and rejoice in the hollow and often unfulfilled promises of eternal happiness if we just subjugate ourselves to the featureless digital soup that surrounds us.

The bike is now fixed and the meal remains a highlight of my times in France and what they both have in common is the attention to detail, In modern life we are so often urged to step back and admire the finished facade, not to worry our silly heads about the  process or ethos which brought it into existence but simply luxuriate in the latest new thing, until the next new thing comes along that is. But does this add to the sum of human contentment? We have see the tragedy of not attending to the details as countries are bankrupted by irresponsible banking and multinational corporations have no fear of the regulation that is supposed to curtail the habits that damage our environment, and yet we continue to ignore the circumstances which brought these disasters about.

The good of the human race will, I believe, be better served if we actually start to engage with the tress again rather than admire the forest. If there is an elephant that needs eating then we must do it piece  by piece rather than just throw our hands up in horror at its enormity. We must be brave enough to question and challenge rather than accept and kowtow. It’s not impossible, nor is it a particularly tall order for details by nature are small, we can handle them well if taken singularly, and it is the mass accumulation of those details which is most likely to change the world if enough of us engage on our own terms rather than the terms of  those who would control us.

A QI marketing tale at Christmas.


It all started with a call on the Wednesday night. Michael Fahey rang to say that having seen the distress of the flood victims on the TV in the wake of Storm Desmond he had decided to auction one of the tractors from his collection  in a bid to give them some comfort over Christmas, and could I help? Michael already does an incredible amount for charity  so there was no hesitation in volunteering, it was now just a matter of sorting out the details. This was on the 9th of December, 16 days before the deadline and so time was of the essence.

As soon as the word ‘auction’ is mentioned everybody thinks of Ebay, but they do like their 10% and we didn’t have the time to convince them that it was a charity sale and so not attract their usual commission. Another call was made, this time to Paul Cooke of Paul Cooke auctions in Naas, a young company, now just a year old, they have caused quite a ripple in their circle if only because they are some of the most genuine guys in the business. Would they help? The answer was yes, now what could they do for us? On Friday Michael delivered the Ferguson TE20 to their base where it was exhibited at the weekend plant sale to generate some interest, it being deemed too short notice to sell it there although it would have been the ideal occasion otherwise. Instead, the little grey fergie would go under the hammer at their commercial goods sale on the Thursday. Now, to get the word about.

We had the venue, we had the date but we hardly the time to spread the news! Rightly or wrongly it was decided to establish a website with all the details and try and push traffic towards it. By Thursday afternoon a basic site was online using photos taken that morning – and in the evening my daughter, Hazel, popped a Facebook page up as well. Another decision was that the money raised would be channeled to the affected areas via the Irish Red Cross and they set about contacting their list of media outlets throughout the country. This resulted in a couple of local radio interviews and some attention from a handful of provincial papers but the national press ignored the story.

Meanwhile, an advert was taken out on Donedeal and our own media contacts were alerted. Farm and Plant, The Farmers Journal and Irish Vintage Scene all had it on their websites within a day as did the Massey Ferguson club and their prompt response is truly appreciated. All the magazine websites carried a live link to the tractor auction website, this was not possible with Donedeal where the link would have to be copied and pasted rather than clicked upon by potential visitors to our site.

As the weekend drew to a close the Donedeal site had over 3,000 views while the FB page was running at about a third of that. I personally posted it on Linkedin as did Paul Cooke where it received a couple of likes and was probably seen by 1,000+.  It can’t be said how many people saw the item on the other portals but we know the numbers that came to the tractor auction site and the results make sober reading for those who think social media is the only way forward. Without going into too much detail the breakdown was roughly – 25% Facebook, 25% from magazine and club links and the rest from a direct address, which would be mainly Donedeal and, later,  from the Farmers Journal article published on the day of the sale. There were no hits from search engines (hardly surprising given the short time frame) and none at all from Linkedin either, and this pattern remained more or less unchanged until the auction day itself.

Let me be the first to point out that there are a million and one ifs and buts and one can’t read too much into the figures given the short space of time and small sample size. However, from our point of view paid advertising worked as did getting the news onto sites operated by the print media. Did social media make any difference to the final bid price of €2,200? We will never know, but that’s hardly the point for the sale was successful and some relief will be given to those who are living in misery this Christmas and that is what counts at the end of the day. Oh, one more thing,  unprompted, Donedeal kindly refunded the cost of the advert.

So to all those that helped, and I have a nagging feeling I have not done justice to everyone, a very big and heartfelt thank you from Michael and myself. We wish you all the very best this Christmas and a prosperous new year!





The Flying Millyard



Like all premier bike shows the this year’s event in Dublin was full of all the latest machines laid out and lit up to tempt the punters with the pennies in their pockets. Yet wandering the various stands of the manufacturers one can’t but help feel that there is nothing really new or strange about the bikes on show. Sure, you’d struggle to buy a bad bike off a major manufacturer nowadays as all the new models are very competent machines, but there is almost an air of inevitability about them, they are designed to fit a niche, moulded to appeal to a segment, fashioned to suit a focus group, pretty baubles conceived by a team rather than betraying a flair and originality of an intrepid genius. But then occasionally there comes along a machine so far out of the box that you have to readjust your ideas of normality to even begin to understand what it’s all about, and this year visitors were privileged have such a bike to appreciate on the Carole Nash stand.

The Flying Millyard is one such creation, it  goes beyond much of today’s custom builds in that not only is the frame unique but so also is the engine. There is no taking a standard Harley V Twin, dressing it up chromium finery  and then arranging a novel pattern of tubes around it to which the wheels are attached, no sirree, this is the real deal, complete originality, and all done with a flair and skill that is rarely seen elsewhere. The two cylinders mounted in the heart of the machine are from a Pratt and Whitney R-1340 radial Wasp engine. This was the first motor the company ever built back in 1925 and there is a grace about their shape that suggests they are as much influenced by the then vibrant art deco movement as they were by engineering constraints. They are enthused with the optimism of the time when form and function were seen as inseparable allies in the joyful movement towards the freedom of travel which the new technology of flight promised, just so long as you could afford it that is. What better theme could there be to inform the design and execution of that other great expression of personal liberty that was exploding in popularity after the Great War, the motorcycle.


But how does one take these two great innovations that went on to shake the world up through mass transportation and personal independence, and bring them together in a work of art that so strongly reminds us of both, as well as  including an elegance and innocence that got shot away and left behind in the era of industrialised death and nuclear finality?  The two massive cylinders of 2,240cc each are a obviously a good start. Originally they would have been supercharged and offered around 60hp apiece, but the supercharging was more a necessity to compensate for the thinner air at altitude than it would be to provide endless amounts of grunt as we tend to assume down here at sea level. Despite their capacity they are each fed with only a two inch carburetor from a Jaguar and so provide an estimated 80hp between them, although the torque can only be wondered at! The pistons and rods inside are also courtesy of Messrs Pratt and Whitney but the crank is all handcrafted by the creator, Allen Millyard, and is pressed together from the webs and pins machined on his lathe and mill. Yet all this is merely a collection of parts without another piece designed and created with no previous model or reference to go by and this is the crankcase, the essential frame for carrying all the moving components and holding them true to one another. Like the crank itself this is unique, but unlike that item this can be seen and is a prominent visual feature of the machine, it then has to be aesthetically in tune with the theme as well as perform its duties and it does both quite admirably. Its shape belies its inner workings and the finish matches the overall experience of chrome and polish. The push rods tubes emerging from its topside create an impression of arms clutching the cylinders tight to the body of the beast while the exquisite sinews of the exhaust mimics the hunger of a twin headed lamprey drawing its sustenance from the ports and excreting the fumes though the fishiest of tails.  It is a thing of life and organic purpose that sets it apart from the chiseled competence of the contemporary motorcycles, it is a fluid thoroughbred conceived by the gifted individual rather than the sleek camel of various corporate departments, and all the more glorious for it.

Magnificent although the engine is, it is but part of the whole, a major part granted. The rhythm of the inter war years is continued throughout the frame and wheels. Girder suspension at the front is obviously de-rigueur, as is the hard tail although the seat is blessed with coil springs to alleviate the acuteness of the latter. Wheels of stainless steel spokes and a front brake borrowed from a Kawasaki come as part of the package, as does a control lever quadrant fashioned from a Villiers flywheel. Upon this is mounted one lever for ignition timing, another for the fuel mix and a button for turning the ignition on or off. Intervening between the engine and rear wheel is a four speed gearbox from a 1938 Morris that has been braced with MG TF racing gears.  At 2,000 rpm this will happily bring the bike to a 100mph top speed although 1800 revs and an 80mph cruising speed is much the preferable way to travel any distance. And Travel Allen does. Understandably it’s a summer bike for the roads of England when there no salt and a much reduced risk of inclement weather. He reports that it handles well and will zip though the lighter twists  with a poise that can keep it alongside more recent and sportier bikes. The wear to the edges of the skinny Avon tyres confirms that Allen has not forgotten that bikes are ridden for a purpose and that purpose is usually the joy of riding, so despite its apparent ungainliness it appears a perfectly usable bike, although the petrol consumption of between 5-20mpg does detract somewhat from its practicality.

The elevation of a mechanical fabrication to the pedestal of art  is a frequently encountered cliché in the motoring world, especially so by the chattering classes of middle England as they drool over various four wheeled exotica, but here the accolade is truly deserved. The fact that The Flying Millyard is such a success is no accident, Allen is a fully trained Machinist, apprenticed to the Ministry of Defence and a veteran builder of outllandish bikes that many have probably dreamed of but few have ever been able to make real, let alone in such an appealing and natural way. A trained engineer he may be yet he is also an artist, one that can weigh some material in his hand and imagine possibilities that are beyond the ken of the rest of us. It’s not just a skill, but a rare gift, and we are fortunate that he expresses his vision through the medium of proper motorcycles, machines that function and please with their work, rather than messy beds or pickled sheep.

Google V. The Petrolhead.



Apparently, according to the latest hype upon the interwebby thingie, in about ten years time we are all going to be happy sitting in little boxes as Google shuffles us around the surface of the planet, I think that’s the idea anyway, or maybe we are  meant to be developing superhuman patience and delight in waiting half a day to refuel our electric cars so we can go another 100 miles down the road! It’s all so terribly confusing as to just what the future is meant to be nowadays. There was a time when it was so simple, each of us humanoids would have a hovercar resting in the garage, or at least a jetpack for popping down to the shops….. But hang on, shops were no longer going to exist either, we were  told that we would be swallowing pills of test tube protein and our new sneakers would be teleported to the door at the ‘touch of a button’. Doh!

Only a fool will pretend they know what the future will bring, so if we don’t know what’s going to happen then is best to try and shape it suit our own ends and the bigger the pot of money we have to throw at it the more likely we are to achieve some sort of power over events by which we may profit. Politics is the ultimate  example of this where  the billions wasted on electing a particular brand of morality that hardly differs from the alternative would be far better spent on actually helping the world survive. But vested interests mindful of their wallet have no interest in bettering the place for others, so they try and buy a sliver of influence in the hope that they may better it for themselves.

We are now seeing something similar with Autonomous cars, two huge IT corporations sitting on vast sums of money are wondering what to do with their mountains of cash and so they have both decided that what we all want is be chauffeured mindlessly around by their own particular brand of technology.  Note that there is no great demand for this from the public, what enthusiasm there is gives the distinct impression of being manufactured rather than organic and appears most often on social media outlets such as Linkedin rather than in the big wide world. Outside of the rarefied atmosphere of the web there is just a blank incomprehension as to why we should give up yet more of our personal autonomy to keep Apple and Google in clover.

I would not be alone in believing that technology is leading and commanding us rather than humankind being in charge of what is happening in our name. Don’t get me wrong, I am not for smashing up computers and burning hard drives in the street (except when my own PC plays up), nor am I about to retreat to the woods clothed only in a bearskin and beard, but I am not at all content with the idea that incredibly wealthy corporations should dictate to me as to how I should exist and insist on taking over all the basic functions of modern living that actually add value to my life. One of those basic functions is driving (biking really) and I am not alone. Have the proponents of automatic vehicles not recognised the tremendous amount of human activity and enterprise that is centred around the experience of owning and driving a car? All they need do is Goggle it after all, yet the appear not to have noticed, or think they are big enough to remould mankind’s desire for freedom, choice and individuality that is so strongly expressed through personal transport, such hubris normally ends in tears so bring it on. Meanwhile my personal opinion of the future is that in ten years time we’ll be doing and thinking much the same as we were ten years ago, our material surroundings may slowly evolve but human nature doesn’t change.

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