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Adderbury 10k

Recently I’ve sort of taken up running… it all started last year when I voluntered to do a 5k run in aid of Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance.  Prior to this the furthest I would run is to the bar, or the car.    This year I upgraded it to a 10k and took part again in the Heroes Run.

It turns out it’s actually not a bad form of exercise this running lark – so I have vowed to keep it up.  My friend Matt joined me on the WNAA 10k, and vowed the same.  In order to ensure we actually did this I entered us into the Adderbury 10k run, which is organised by Adderbury Running Club; and took place on Saturday 9th July 2011.

Whoops.

I’d been out running a fair bit in preparation for this, but had totally failed to take into account the increase in difficulty posed with it being a cross country run!!  We were up and down hills, over styles and through kissing gates like nobodies business – we were only 3k in and absolutely shattered…. it felt like we’d already ran the same distance as the WNAA run.  Just look at the profile graph from my run logging app (MapMyRun):

Addebury 10k Height Profile
Addebury 10k Height Profile

We ploded on, and after a couple of spells of walking made it well past the 5k marker, but it felt further.

When 10k isn’t…

Adderbury 10km Route
Adderbury 10km Route

It turned out when we finally got to the end and I looked at my mapping app it was in fact 11.8k we’d just ran and not 10 at all.  Doesn’t sound a lot, but it’s almost a  20% increase on a course which was at least 50% harder than any other we’d attempted to date.

It turns out that some of the route markers had gone missing so our “following the crowd” plan had led to the course being longer.

That said, we had made it – despite more walking than we had wanted.  We were both sweaty and had muddy legs from the off road running.   It took us so long (1:30) that some of the half marathon runners were over taking us on the last kilometre and finishing their 13 miles across the same terrain in less time than it took us pair to do 6!

They were brilliant encouraging though… every one of them who over took us said something nice: “Well done lads, nearly there.” etc.  Was really nice.

It turns out today that we didn’t quite come last – 1 person finished the 10k after us.

As we finished the heavens opened, so we made a swift exit after collecting out t-shirts and having some water!

It was a good challenging morning though, and at least we did it.  Thanks to Adderbury Running Club for organising it – but we’ll probably just be sticking to more road-runs in future…  like perhaps the Summer Sun 10km at Moreton Morrell in August.

Paddington Bear: New Heli Expert.

One of the problems with the internet, blogging, forums and social media generally is that people think because they have the “cloak” of anonymity which is provided by the internet they can say what they like without thinking about it – often without even leaving their real name.  This is why I moderate comments on my blog – I want them to be useful to other readers.

This morning I awoke to find an email from the blog software informing me of the following comment needing moderation.

You brits and all your biotching LOL, Tea? in Bed with a cup of Tea and the Blades Magazine? lol… good thing you guys dont build helicopters, they’d be in the shop constantly like your piece of shit Jags and Range Rovers.. please! spare the world your assesments 🙂

This was left on an article where I criticised the accuracy of the running costs given by Robinson about their helicopters.  The commenters name:  Paddington Bear.  Yep, the one and only fictional cartoon character is now a self appointed expert on British Whining, Jags, Land Rovers and Helicopters.  Awesome, that bear has come on!

This comment bugged me, not because it’s inaccurate – but because whoever made it doesn’t have the courage of their convictions and won’t put their name to it.

If you’re going to comment at least engage in conversation, make your point without being rude and have the same manners you’d have in the real world.  Or don’t, but if you don’t then don’t expect people to give you the time of day…

… I trashed the comment!  (Not even the emoticon at the end could save it!)

Learning To Ride A Motor Bike.

A typically British paperwork exercise.

As some of you will know I recently (well, April) learnt to ride a motorcycle.  I’m not really too sure why it has taken me so long to make this decision, as my brother raced them for several years and has worked on them since leaving school 11 years ago.  I’ve been around them a lot, but even more so since my brother opened a workshop of his own, Full Throttle Motorcylces, and I volunteered to help him with his accounts.  Along with the fact I already drive a car and have a licence for heavy goods vehicles up to full artic (Class C+E) I really do have no idea why I haven’t.

In the midst of the early February snow, while talking to my brother I decided to bite the bullet and book in for my training with Electric Start Training, because my brother spoke very highly of the chap who runs it, Charlie Royle.  The first week in April was the first slot that was good for both of us, and I needed some time to get the theory test done in any case.

The Process.

DSA - Examiners!
DSA - Examiners!

Typically British, and very paperwork heavy.  When I came to the end of this process I had 7 pieces of paper which were needed to prove I had passed every stage of the process.  Luckily these were soon replaced with my normal 2 piece driving licence (which raises the question of why we need a paper counterpart still?!).

Before you can do anything you will need provisional Class A (motorcycle) entitlement on your driving licence.  If you have a car licence this will be included; else you need to apply to DVLA for a provisional driving licence.

Theory Test.

The first thing you will need if you intend to go straight to a bigger bike is a pass certificate for the motorcycle theory test.  This is split into two parts, the first being a multiple choice exam based on the contents of the highway code and the second being a “hazard perception test” where videos are played and you have to identify developing hazards as quickly as possible.  The first part of the test was, to an experienced driver, fairly common sense; I had done two of these tests before – one for my car (was first year it was mandatory), and one for HGV.  They alter the content a little bit so that there are questions relevant to the class of vehicle.

The Hazard Perception test is a little harder, but is still relatively straight forward if you remember the key word:  developing.  They want you to click as soon as you see a hazard developing – so a woman about to walk out in the road is developing, where as a parked car in your lane isn’t.

CBT

The CBT – Compulsory Basic Training –  is mandatory before you can ride any moped, scooter or bike on the road even with ‘L’ plates on.  This was my first experience on a bike proper, although thanks to my brother I had a good grounding in how bikes worked and knew where everything was.  This is completed at an off road site, and consists of basic riding training and a grounding in theory – it’s clearly aimed at 16/17 year olds with little road experience who want to get a scooter as their first way of getting around.  It takes a full day, I did mine on the Saturday before continuing straight onto bigger bikes on the Sunday.   Mine culminated with a short road ride on a 125cc motorcycle and then you get a pass certificate; the ‘gotcha’ here is that the pass certificate is only valid for 2 years, so within that time you need to upgrade to a full licence or come back and do another CBT.

Direct Access

Once you have a CBT you then have a choice as to what type of motorcycle licence you want, and that can be dependent on your age.

Category ‘A2’ licence training is undertaken on a 120-125cc bike, capable of 100kph (62mph) but not more powerful than 14.6bhp. An A2 licence allows you to ride any bike which is restricted to 33bhp, and reverts to a full class A licence after 2 years irrespective of your age.  Most bikes can be restricted to 33bhp by a mechanic, so it’s quite common to ride a 600cc bike on this licence, but with the power output restricted initially.  Then after two years you can remove the restriction but keep your bike.

Category ‘A1’ licence training is undertaken on a bike of 75-125cc, and a pass will allow you ride any motorcycle upto 125cc; but it never reverts to a full class A licence. I don’t understand what market this licence is trying to cater for personally, except perhaps to remove the need to renew a CBT every 2 years?

Category ‘A’, or ‘Direct Access’ is only open to people over 21 and can be completed on a combination of 125cc and larger machines (generally a 500cc); but the test must be done on a machine of at least 36.6 bhp.  A pass allows you to ride a bike of any size.  This is the option I took, it makes the most sense for me.

Training.

Having completed my CBT on the Saturday the Direct Access training started in ernest, early doors, on the Sunday morning.  It was the first time I’d been up that early on a Sunday for a while!  Luckily my brother had sorted me out very well with appropriate motorcycle attire (helmet, trousers, jacket, and gloves) – soon to be the subject of another blog post I think, so I was warm despite it being a cold day.

Training Bike - Kawasaki ER-5
Training Bike - Kawasaki ER-5

The training was to continue until Wednesday (when we had part one of the actual test booked), and consisted of a variety of practising manoeuvres such as the emergency stop, pulling off from behind parked cars and the dreaded ‘U’ turn, both on and off the road; and general riding / handling.  We did this in Banbury and the surrounding villages (which reminded me how picturesque my part of the world really is), and had a good time doing it.  The bike which Electric Start use for this is the Kawaski ER-5, which is regarded as a good solid ‘naked’ or ‘standard’ bike – although I thought it was a bit heavy!

Quite possibly the hardest bit of the CBT training was the U turn, in which you start off on the left hand side of a road and perform a turn in the road so as to end up facing the other direction on the other side of the road.  This has to be completed at low speed and without touching the floor with your feet.  This is suprisingly hard to do at first, and the only advice I can offer to people learning is to look where you want to be and not where you are – this makes it so much easier.  The temptation when looking at where you are now is to over control and loose balance.

Module 1 Test.

The driving test for Motorcycles changed a year ago so that it is now in two parts, the first being an off road manoeuvres based part and the second being the more traditional ride.  This was done so the UK could comply with the European Driving Licence Directive, which aims to standardise driving tests across Europe (and having driven in Europe this can only be a good thing!!); however the change to the test has come in for a lot of criticism from almost all quarters partly for its implementation and partly for its poor accident record.

Module 1 Test
Module 1 Test

Module 1 for us was booked on the Wednesday lunchtime at Silverstone race circuit where the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) have a centre.  It’s essentially a series of cones laid out to represent ‘real world’ scenarios such as a slow ride, moving a bike into a garage, and importantly an emergency stop and a hazard avoidance exercise.

The emergency stop and hazard avoidance exercise require you to ride through a speed trap at no less than 50kph (32mph) and then either stop straight ahead or ‘swerve’ into a box having gone around a ‘hazard’.  This is the bit which most people worry about – and I was no exception to this at all.  Despite having practised this a lot in the morning, I failed my first attempt by being too slow (45kph), but you are allowed a further attempt before failing the whole test.  I scraped it in, 50kph bang on!

Module 2.

The second part of the test was booked for the following week (to allow time for a Mod 1 resit if needed, as tests are booked in advance), and was a much less intimidating road ride around Banbury with the DSA examiner in radio contact.  My road ride was fairly uneventful and thanks to Charlie at Electric Start I was aware of some of the deliberate ‘pit-falls’ which the examiner uses as a way of testing your awareness.  It took about 30-45 minutes and was actually a nice ride and I wasn’t nervous.

Thankfully when we got back to the test centre I was given a pass!  Then I had a quite lengthy conversation with the examiner as it turns out he too is a pilot, and flys microlights… its a small world.  Since my last driving test some common sense has been injected and the DSA now send your licence off to DVLA for you to have the new entitlement added.  Previously you had to do this yourself, and pay, and the pass certificate was only valid for 2 years – if you forgot to send it off in this time you had to start again.  However, I whole heartedly advise anyone sending a licence to DVLA to take a photocopy or scan of it first as its not unknown for them to “loose” entitlements off it and with no proof you will have to the test for that category again!  It has happened.

Post Pass.

I’m really glad I passed first time, as before going for the test I had signed the finance agreement for my new bike and didn’t want to have to sit and look at it while I waited for a retest.  Incidentally this was the first of my 4 driving tests which I passed first time, the others were all second time and all down to silly mistakes on the first attempt.

My new GSX-R600.
My new GSX-R600.

On the Friday after my test my new bike was ready for collection from Frettons of Leamington, who are the local Suzuki dealer.  My brother knows the chaps who own it and got me a brilliant deal on a brand new Suzuki GSX-R600.  Suzuki were also offering 0% finance at the time which always helps.  Frettons really pulled out all the stops to get the bike PDI’d and delivered so quickly.  I let my brother collect it for me, so he could “scrub” the tyres for me as motorcycle tyres lack grip when new.  I didn’t want to combine that with my lack of experience so he put the first 20 miles on my bike for me.

I’ve had it six weeks now, and although my brother has ridden it more than me (he doesn’t have a road bike at the mo, so I happily lend it him in return for his TLC of it mechnically!), I really love it – its such a thrill!

Small Business Rates Relief

As some of you will know after 10 years of working for the same firm and 2 changes of owner my brother took the brave step of setting up his own motorcycle repairs / spares / MoT garage in January of this year.  Having never worked for himself before he turned to me for advice when setting up Full Throttle Motorcycles; and I pointed him in the direction of my accountant and the solicitors I use for specialist advice.

He’s doing really well and hopefully will become a VOSA approved MoT station in the next few weeks (the process for becoming one is unsurprisingly torturous)… I know this because I have been doing his book keeping for him every week – he doesn’t know how and has thankfully had too much work to do to learn.  I’ve been using the really rather good web based accounting tool Clear Books for it, which presents critical information in a way which my brother can understand easily when I am not about!

Dealing with some parts of the government (local and national) have been long winded though and there is no way they can be described as efficient.  Warwick District Council took an age to sort out planning permission, and finally got around to sending my brother a National Non Domestic Rates (essentially Council Tax for businesses) demand about a fortnight ago (he moved in on 19th Dec).  However, they did include with it some information and a form for claiming Small Business Rates Relief.

The Relief

The SBRR was introduced as part of the The Local Government Act 2003, although it apparently did not come in to force until the 2005 revaluation.  As of the 2010 revaluation you received 50% off your tax if the rateable value of your property (how much rent it can generate) is less than £6,000 per year.  If it is more than £6,000 p.a. but less than £12,000 the deduction reduces by 1% for every £120.  So at £6,000 you get a 50% reduction; and at £12,000 you get £0.

You have to meet some eligibility criteria too, essentially that you only have one property (although there is an exemption if you have multiple small properties).  The criteria and the £12,000 rent cap mean this measure is squarely aimed at small businesses – like my brothers.  SBRR reduced my brothers rates by nearly 50%.  Always nice.

It Gets Better.

Warwick District Council then duly issued a new demand with the reduced amount.  I went in yesterday to do my brothers books to find a letter from The Department Of Communities & Local Government about the SBRR and the March 2010 budget.  It turns out as a one off measure to help small business through the recession the Chancellor announced that from October 2010 to September 2011 the rate of reduction would increase to 100% for properties with a value of £6,000 or under.  IE: FREE.  My brother is very slightly over the £6,000 threshold, but essentially he will get almost entirely free rates for 1 year.

What a really sensible and targeted way to help small businesses – its puts about £200 a month back in my brothers pocket which he will undoubtedly spend in the economy elsewhere (there is talk of a new tyre balancer).  The best bit though is that you don’t have to do anything to get the reduction.  If you’re already claiming the SBRR it will increase automatically.

Its not often you get something for nothing, so I thought I would share it – especially as I read today when researching SBRR that according to Business Link some 48% of eligible businesses don’t claim it.  If you are one, or know someone who is – make sure its being claimed!

More complicated than you’d think…

Well, I am a few days into my blog now and have  spent a great deal of time setting the site up; certainly more than I imagined I would.  Despite WordPress’s famed “5 minute install,” I have found myself spending my spare time over the last few days adding tweaks, plugins, themes and debugging the same to try and get the blog nearer to where I would like it to be.

I’ve read multiple websites and other blogs which contain advice for new bloggers and (see interesting links) and most of the advice seems pretty sensible.  In the hope it might help other new bloggers, here’s what I have added to the base WordPress 2.9.2 installation so far, and why.

  • Awsom News Announcement.  My theme doesn’t allow for a static message on the home page, and I wanted a little introduction.  Having used this plugin before elsewhere, it was a must.
  • Contact Form 7.  Not wanting to fill my inbox with spam by putting my email address on the internet, I wanted a contact form, and this was highly recommended.  I did have some problems with using it and permalinks on my server (I use an IIS server and a 404 error handler to handle permalinks) – but found a solution on the WordPress forums.
  • Postalicious.  This required me to sign up for a Delicious.com account too, but came highly recommended as a good way of automatically posting the links which interest me on a daily basis.
  • WP-Cumulus.  Rather than a normal tag  cloud which just lists your tags as plain text, this takes them and turns them into a small flash “movie” which is more interactive, and I think better looking.
  • WP to Twitter. Pretty much as the name suggests, this plug in tweets an announcement of new blog posts on my twitter account.

And there is still more to do!  I need to improve the prominence of my RSS feeds, put more useful information in the right hand column, improve the SEO, and do some layout tweaks at the least…  but this could just be my being a perfectionist.  All / any suggestions greatly appreciated – leave a comment!