More Spanish Efficiency

A couple years ago, I wrote about how efficient the Spanish blue collar workers are. But now I have an exciting new story to share. Believe me, this one is so much better!

A few weeks ago, because of the way the air flows through this flat, one of the windows literally was blown out by the wind when I accidentally left the bedroom doors open. The wooden doors on the opposite end of the house open out onto a tiny balcony. The nails in the flimsy wood pieces that held the heavy glass part of one of the doors were sucked right out by the wind tunnel that formed, and the glass smashed onto the balcony railing and shattered onto the narrow pedestrian street below. Fortunately no one was on the receiving end of the falling glass shards. But it did grab the attention of the neighbors, who then called the owner and the fire department. (I was in class, so I came home to some serious mayhem.)

The owner of the flat arranged a repair company to come out the same day. Two guys showed up to  measure for new glass. Then they told me it would be ready in one week. Now, knowing how these things typically work, I did not even bother telling them I would not be in the country for the next 9 days. So I put plastic over the window and left.

After my return, it rained. It even hailed one day, sending little ice balls smacking against the plastic taped over the window in my living room. All so very relaxing. And still I had no phone call.

Finally, 12 days after original visit, the company called on a Monday to set an appointment for two days later. It rained the day of the appointment, so evidently that means they don’t work, so no one shows (or calls). Friday a man arrives at my door. He arrives empty handed.  The guy looked at the window, asked where the missing piece of wood was (um, it’s broken? It’s with the rest of the window in the trash?) and left. The purpose of this visit still eludes me.

He is supposed to call the next day to confirm returning either in the morning  or the following day in the afternoon. He doesn’t call.

I wait four more days.

Finally, my landlord calls to ask if I will be home that Friday for the company to come out. I say Yes. I am ready for a window. They show up one hour late, but with wood and glass and silicon. And then they display the level of expertise that is unfortunately what you can normally expect here:  They fumble about and remove nails from the old wood, then put tiny dots of silicon where the nails used to be, and reuse the old wood to hold in the glass. Even I, someone who is nowhere near a carpenter, know that six blobs of silicon on balsa wood is not strong enough to hold in a 15 pound lead glass window that sits at the end of a powerful wind tunnel. Hello. I’m guessing at the very least you should at least cover the wood with silicon? I stare open mouthed and try to wrap my head around how these guys are make it through life.

Hey, I’m not complaining, it could have been worse. For example (and there are so many examples to choose from!) recently a friend caught electrical transformer and subsequently his wall on fire. He had no electricity for over a month and, having all electrical power (no gas for hot water or stove) had to shower and cook at a friends house. The day the workmen arrived (one month later, remember), they arrived an hour late, immediately left for a one hour breakfast break, then left before the work was complete because they had another appointment. I think there were three more visits before all was said and done.

So let’s sum up. It took three weeks and three men to cut a piece of glass and a 2 foot piece of balsa wood and glue gun it all in place. And that wasn’t even an extreme example of inefficiency.

I just hope I don’t have any better stories than to share with you in the future.

PS As hair pullingly frustrating as all this sounds, this level of workmanship, responsiveness and efficiency is far better than the bureaucracy should you decide to legally reside here as an American. But that is another story.

Solo Moto bike test

There are a couple of moto related things I have been meaning to write about. It wasn’t so much procrastination that stopped me, but more that I already posted some pictures on Facebook, so posting them here would seem like my life is so boring that I need to post them twice. Or maybe it would seem like I don’t have anything else to write about. Based on my sporadic posts lately, that would seem to be the case.

But it isn’t!

I am just trying to decide if I should start an entirely different blog with another theme. Or maybe choose one theme for this blog and stick with it.  Because lately my blog posting goes something like this: I sit down to write with an idea in my head. I type a paragraph or two. I start to wonder how what I am writing fits in with my current blog. I realize what I am writing doesn’t fit at all, that it would seem more out of place than half the many themes already on this blog. I save the draft and get up and do something else.

But one thing that this blog always revolved around in motorcycling and, more to the point, my experiences in Spain (and the rest of Europe) in the moto world. So, without further ado, here is some moto content.

I did a comparative test between the new BMW 1000 and the new CBR 1000 for Solo Moto magazine last November. I wrote a 600 word article that was included within the 7 page article, and, much to my surprise, my photo was on the cover. Remind me next time to wear a clear visor….

We did the comparative test at Castelloli, which you may remember was where I rode supermoto for the first time. It’s about 30 minutes outside of the city of Barcelona. I showed up at the offices of the magazine at 8:30am , the designated meeting time. This being Spain, I should have known this was merely an implied suggestion that 9am would be an acceptable time to arrive. I do believe I was the first person in the building that morning.

Around 10am, I piled into a van with the photographer and a journalist to head to the track. We would meet the test ride organizer and other rider there. Around 10:15 we stop at a roadside station for…breakfast. Which is usually quite small, as it’s normal to have two breakfasts like this per day, once before you leave home, and another at work: coffee and a brioche or tiny bocadillo (bread with  jamon or cheese or egg tortilla). The breakfast break is a regular daily work break. I have had Spanish teachers ask me how long the break for breakfast is in the US. Then they usually ask me what is so funny.

We arrive at the track. As it was November, it was cold and the track was green and damp. But not to worry, the first order of the day was the cover shoot, where we followed the van as close as possible, with its back doors held open with tie downs and the photographer strapped down so as not to topple onto the pavement as he leaned out over the track.  We had to ride close enough so that the van doors blocked any view of the track. A little uncomfortable, but we were going pretty slow so not it was nothing to pucker your butt.

Then we got to ride two laps of the track, while they chose a corner for some riding shots. Then another corner, then another. I switched between the CBR and the BMW with the other rider and journalist, Albert, back and forth a few times. Then they took some photos of me standing with both bikes.

Then the main part of the test began: the anti-lock brake system (ABS) comparison. We accelerated at speeds of 60, 120 then 180k per hour up to two cones, grabbed the front brake as hard as we could (in my case, as hard as my brain would allow) until we stopped. Finally, we did a shorter distance, lower speed similar test on concrete using both brakes to get some photos of the tire marks.

The track was only rented until 2pm, so naturally, at 2:30, we were finished. I didn’t get to ride the entire track again unfortunately, but from what I was able to ride….wow.

Here are my impressions that were published (in Spanish) as an inset article. Please try to stay awake, I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself if your face smashes into your keyboard as you fall asleep:

BMW S1000RR

The last BMW I rode must have been a GS 650 about 6 years ago, therefore climbing aboard the BMW S1000RR was a very pleasant surprise. Despite being an in line four cylinder 1000cc machine, it felt very narrow. The ridged chassis planted the bike in the corners, and while the stock fork settings were at first a bit stiff for me, after a few easy suspension adjustments I was quite comfortable on the bike. In truth, the BMW chassis geometry was so agile and quick to steer that it felt closer to a 600 than a 1000cc bike. But the engine reminded me that this was no 600 – the speed of this engine and the power at the top end of the revs was awe inspiring.

A slipper clutch enabled fifth-to-second-gear downshifts (I never did get to sixth gear) with no rear tire chatter on a cold track.

The brakes were surprisingly good, some of the best stock brakes I have felt, however, as I had never ridden an ABS-equipped motorcycle, the unique feeling of the ABS took a bit of getting used to.

Honda CBR 1000

I am far more experienced with Hondas in general and CBR’s in particular, so after a ride on the BMW, the CBR felt like a comfortable, though less exciting, old friend. Hondas are great all around bikes but I have always found them lacking in the personality department, and in comparison to the strong aggressive engine and agility of the BMW, it seemed even more mild. That is not to say that the CBR 1000 is a slow bike, because it is not, but the power delivery is so smooth and linear, its speed almost creeps up on you. In fact, everything on the Honda is delivered smoothly: the engagement of the slipper clutch, the engine braking and the power delivery. The chassis is flexible which adds to the feeling of smoothness, though it tends to feel less planted while cornering.

The Honda’s brakes provided a decent feel, but to me, lacked initial bite. This could be due to the fact that the C-ABS bikes have several more centimeters of braking lines and parts, which might cause the slightly mushy, less reactive braking sensation I felt.

Braking Comparison

Our tests consisted of a series of progressively faster approaches (60, 120, then 180kmph) to a set of cones, where I was to stop as fast and as hard as I felt my skills would allow once I passed between them. I was to let the anti-lock braking systems take over until I came to a complete stop.

Without more than a few laps to get used to not only the brakes, but new bikes and a new track, I suppose it wasn’t quite enough to fully get my brain to trust the ABS. Though I tried, I never could never quite hand over complete control to the ABS technology. I found myself automatically letting up off the brakes after the ABS kicked in, at around the point a wheel lockup would naturally occur or shortly thereafter.

Upon seeing me do this with each run through the cones, one might conclude that letting off the brakes was intentional. While I am a fairly independent person, and thus usually rely on my own abilities to get myself out of trouble, this phenomenon was entirely automatic. In fact, it was so automatic that I had a very hard time not letting off the brakes.

Part of this was due to muscle memory – with a locked wheel, any disturbance, no matter how small, can be disastrous. Most riders have learned that the correct procedure after the front wheel has locked is to release the brakes enough to get the wheels spinning again, and then re-apply them. But the other part of this was that the first hard braking with ABS is a strange sensation indeed.

After braking hard, the ABS on the BMW feels about the same as if you manually eased off the brakes and then reapplied them, only faster: The suspension unloads, bringing the front of the BMW up. Then the system is back on the brakes, compressing the suspension again and moving your weight forward, until the bike finds traction. The BMW continues this fast back and forth motion several times per second. In addition, the ABS causes the lever to pulsate back into your hand. This was distracting at first, though I can see where it could be a positive point in that it gives you direct feedback that the ABS has engaged.

The C-ABS on the Honda, when engaged, was far less obvious than the ABS system of the BMW. There was no pulsing at the lever, and it had otherwise normal feedback from both the hand brake and the foot brake. What I did notice however, was enhanced traction and handling when applying the brake in compromised traction environments. During our hard-braking trials that would have other bikes sliding back and forth, the CBR system kept the bike totally composed. With the addition of just a slight amount of rear brake, the chassis settles and it feels as though the entire bike has lowered itself 5 or 10 mm, front and rear.

For the last test, we compared how the braking systems would react when encountering a poor braking surface, such as you might find on a typical street ride. We went on to attempt to stop as quickly as possible on slippery concrete, leaving the ABS to manage the poor traction of the surface. This is where the braking systems were the most evident, and when they finally started to inspire confidence in me. And this is where the Honda’s C-ABS really shined. Instead of sliding, the Honda felt like it just sat down and slowed to a stop. While it did not stop as fast as the BMW, it felt more in control and effortlessly remained in a completely straight line when it should have been sliding all over the place.

I finished the day feeling curious as to how these brakes would function on water or gravel covered surfaces, and in fact I am looking forward to my next encounter with either of these braking systems.

********

I have a couple more moto topics to post about, though I cannot promise they will be more interesting than the above post. But they will be related to Spain, motorcycles, and my expat perspective of the whole enchilada. (I might throw in some more pictures of food too. I can’t help myself)