PoloCross? Well, yes actually.
Still contendor for most pointless vehicle of the next year so far as I'm concerned; a Polo with jacked-up suspension and plastic body cladding...great.
Who buys these things?
Picture from Newspress
A student on Coventry University's Automotive Journalism MA
I bought a carrot this morning from a supermarket. It cost 7p. I thought:
Bloody hell. That’s cheap.
You see, usually, because I’m convenience minded (read: lazy) if I’m doing anything with vegetables I’m stir-frying them. And that means buying one of those bags of pre-cut veg with exotic stuff like beansprouts and water chestnut in. Not that I’m a particularly big fan – those two really only act as a kind of filler – just that it’s easy, and it looks appealing.
But what it really is is a luxury. More than I really need, prepared and provided for me in an easier way than is strictly necessary. So far as Real Life goes, all I really need is a carrot, some mushrooms (26p), a pepper (89p for three), maybe an onion, and so on... Instead of ending up with a bag of bits that’s good for a couple of meals, you can get a whole stock of vegetables that’s probably going to be good for days. And without it costing you much more – per meal it’ll work out loads less.
But I know when I come to chop up that carrot, I’m going to regret it. All the fiddling about with cutting boards and sharpened metal implements, risking a trip to casualty for the sake of some vitamin k and whatever other nutritional value. I’m a poor student, right, so I should be relishing this economising challenge – but hell no, I’m concerned for the reduction in studying time it’s going to cause me (you know how long the queues are at a&e these days, don’t you?). I’m avoiding it, but it’s in there somewhere – my manual carrot-carving abstinence is a lifestyle choice, driven by a lack of necessity. I can get something better, so I shall – and I’m glad that I can.
I’m the same way with cars. Well, sort of. Recently, Autocar ran an article about the potential future of car taxation. They took these plans to conclude that the government was suggesting the Vauxhall Zafira was all the car you’d ever need. Oh great, a box with wheels on and some clever packaging. The problem for the government in this is similar to my problem with the vegetables – is it all the car you’ll ever want? It’s all very well looking for some kind of platonic ideal, but given the choice and the viability how many people are actually going to pick it?
How much car is enough? What do you really need in a motor vehicle, if you’re honest about it? I have been considering for several months now the possibility of getting a smaller car. I mean, there’s all this new cool stuff knocking about – the Toyota Aygo, for example – cool older stuff – the Smart Roadster – and cool even older stuff – the Ford Ka. Being a poor student, obviously it’d be something like the Ka I’d be looking for. Compact, interesting looking, wheel at each corner, reputably chuckable as a tennis ball – old enough to be affordable. Or so you’d have thought.
And…inevitably, sadly, this is where the argument collapses. I would actually really like to run one of these things, but the fact is I’ve got a perfectly serviceable BMW 520i which I bought for £800. I’ve had it nearly two years and it hasn’t gone wrong. It looks nice. It’s comfortable. It goes pretty well for something with 165,000miles on the clock. Ok, so sometimes the electronics goes a little nuts, but that I can live with. Oh, and then there’s the fuel economy. But the only time it’s ever failed to start is when I’ve left the lights on. Practically speaking, the boot’s huge. And the noise it makes is lovely.
Any Ford Ka I could get for that amount of money is going to be ruined. I mean seriously. And the engine is from the 1960s…alright so that’s pretty well known, but you get my point. I’m not exactly going to be outrunning anyone from the lights. The insurance isn’t even much cheaper (I’ve checked). The only place I’d be saving is at the petrol station, and that might not be much of a consolation if I was driving it like I stole it all the time – which I’d probably have to [err…]. Talking of which, I know how long it took the RAC to break into mine when the battery did go flat – and which one I’d rather experience an accident in. So, it’d be harder work, less rewarding, and lower my odds in a head-on with a bus.
Even taking into account the running costs – including the difference in tax – I still can’t see a serious reason for downsizing, especially when the smaller car is likely to cost me more in the first place. I’d like to be all utilitarian and such, but it just doesn’t make any sense. And like the vegetables, I want my cars with filling: it’d take some small car to fill the hole a six-cylinder five series leaves behind.
Yes, that is a carrot plush toy. The image is taken from the Hanung Toys (India) Limited website. Hopefully they won't sue as I'm giving them a free plug.
Like an idiot, I cut up and ate the carrot I bought earlier today before photographing it...despite reminding myself constantly that it had to be done. Duh.
I’ll admit it, I was struggling slightly for a post topic for this Sunday. It’s not that I haven’t got a bunch of thoughts banging about upstairs, more that none of them have really had a chance to fully form themselves yet. To prove this point, I’ll mention that I spent about an hour this evening with one particular item, hearing the echo as it bounced around the inside edge of my empty skull…
So, what to do. Well for one thing, I’m typing this the night before I go see MPH ’05 again. If the worst happens, I could always knock something out about that when I get in – but that’s risky. Something else, then.
Well, aren’t I the lucky one? All tucked up in bed at 11.30 (“Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week for me,” etc, etc – to quote one of the crummy car DVDs that resides in my collection, but which makes me smile every time) when my [insert suitable expletive here] buildingmate in the room above switches on his crappy stereo and cranks up the dance music.
Now, he – I’m pretty sure, though we’ve never met… – has a habit of doing this. I tend to amuse my ex- by texting her in complaint instead of banging on the ceiling. But it’s particularly loud tonight – while sticking to the usual god-awful selection of dance or trance or whatever the fuck. Basically bass-heavy, repetitive, shite. I’m sorry – the swearbox seems to have switched itself off this evening. Probably shocked by the vibration.
This makes me very awake. Despite several late nights writing this week, and the early start I’ve got in the morning (somewhat convoluted journey plan – explain another time) I’m obviously not going to get any downtime while my eyeballs are bouncing in their sockets. I lay in the dark for a bit, having also given up on Russell Bulgin, then figured well I might as well use the time and get the laptop out. I put this off for a few minutes on the basis that I actually needed something to say, rather than just killing the planet through battery usage. Then I got it.
[Hold on. Oh God – now he’s playing that bloody terrible recent dance version of “Days of Summer”…]
Context. That’s an interesting thing. I’m aware that I’m often on about it here, but bear with me. How is it that on occasions such as this I want to take every dj, remixer, sampling machine, and sub manufacturer and blast them to the moon – yet when they’re associated with a motor vehicle these things seem to make a certain sense? Actually, I’ll go further than that: there are practically no other circumstances when I will willingly listen to anything with such a regular reminder of its beats-per-minute. I don’t even like clubbing.
At such times I’m reminded that my closet blasterism isn’t always confined to lurking in a blindspot. Much as I physically resist the temptation, the thump of a bassline from the trunk of any passing car always tugs at me to turn round. Usually the rattle of the bootlid or some ineptly secured piece of interior trim confirms my smug superiority complex as a Fiesta full of chavs rolls passed, but sometimes, just sometimes the car impresses as much as the noise. Christ, what’s wrong with me?
This kind of music does have a kind of motive power. No doubt. Night clubs aren’t popular for no reason. That constant thump, slamming you in the back if the sounds are loud enough and the speakers are up to it – just drives you along, it sets the scene, adds atmosphere. Even gets you into the respect zone without the tricksy paint jobs and body modifications – should you care about that sort if thing.
What’s more, I’ve long held the theory that sound systems in cars has become such a big industry because they enable you to have a soundtrack to your own movie. It doesn’t quite work the same with anything else: if you’re listening to music at home you aren’t moving, and like with a personal stereo – sorry, it’s mp3 player these days, isn’t it – not many people are in on the selection. If you’re going to have a soundtrack to your life you want everyone else to hear, right? And I guess like the rest of that scene, there’s a certain something in the dedication and money involved in developing a kick ass ice installation. I remember reading once about a demo van from some company or other that had so many low-range drivers in it they reckoned that it shifted so much air you could probably suffocate anyone you locked long enough in the back.
Funny how I should be reminded of that just now. For the record (ha ha), it’s gone 1am, and he still hasn’t dropped the level.
You can figure the picture out for youself. It is helps, it was taken today!
Richard Porter. Now there’s a man whose sense of humour often eludes me.
However, his column in Evo magazine this month is exactly on the button. By using the French as a contra-example, he successfully exposes the absurdities of the bad habits of British motoring that are causing our tarmac arteries to clog up. Poor lane-discipline, idiotic speeds in the wet, slothful rural progress, the lost art of overtaking – all these things are aiming us towards some kind of automotive aneurism. My God, when you come across five cars sitting sedately in the middle lane of the M1, travelling at a whole 65mph, with nothing between them and the hard shoulder except two white lines and what passes for fresh air – doesn’t it just make you mad? What is wrong with these people? Do they not realise that the vehicles streaming passed their right-hand windows, nose-to-tail in the outside lane at 70, 80, 90mph, could travel more safely and with less chance of aggravation if they just moved over?
Lane discipline is my particular abhorrence at the moment. But that’s only because the majority of the driving I’m doing is either on multilane carriageways, or around
Well, you could undertake. And thus the first pulsations of the aneurism flicker and twitch. I never undertake – unless, as the Highway Code says, I’m travelling in a queue that’s moving faster than the one outside of it. People do though, and this just frustrates the poor individuals stuck behind the slower moving traffic that refuses to budge over. Tension mounts, stupidity occurs. I very vividly remember once watching two duelling Mondeos on the M25 – they began cutting each other up at insane speeds as a direct result of this. The red mists descend and accidents…they loom in the background like visions of the undead, waiting.
Ok, so this is getting a little melodramatic. And actually it’s not the accidents that worry me – these are merely more symptoms of the disease that’s eating away at the road network that provides the lifeblood to every area of this country. What really concerns me is that as we, the motoring public, prove incapable – too lazy, apathetic – of doing anything about these issues ourselves, so someone else out there is looking for the answer, for a cure. And that someone is the ACPO – the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Richard Porter also introduced the French theory on speed camera placement in his recent column – sensible placement, good visibility, and a whacking great sign to tell you one’s coming. How’s that compare to the
But – sorry, was it obvious that was coming? – take a look at the way these cameras work. They scan the numberplate of every vehicle that passes, and process it through an enormous computer database. This has vast crime-fighting applications, yes, as it will effectively track vehicle movement throughout the
Plans to place them every 400 yards on the motorway are afoot. This is the utopian dream of Meredydd Hughes, ACPO’s head of traffic policing. As everyone else who has picked up on this comments, that’s an extremely repetitive checking regime – so it’s got to be about enforcing the speed limit.
The justification given is variability – the management of traffic flow. This is the opening gambit of a trial on the M42; even before the crime prevention part kicks in they enforce the variable speed limit. Anyone else suspect this is at least partially due to the revenue raising prospects available in catching the “ordinary” driver in a moment of mishap? These cameras have to pay for themselves, you know.
But managing the flow is important – it’s vital, because more and more of us need to get places and we’re going by car. If we can’t sort our own problems out then it’s going to be done for us. I.e.: if you’re sat pointlessly in the middle or outside “overtaking” lanes you are holding someone up.
Speeds ascend as discipline declines – the frustration of sitting behind someone in the wrong lane sends your foot further into the carpet when the road clears. Greater velocity leads to all kinds of consequences – not the least the increased possibility of a speeding ticket. Bad driving habits cause tremors, and every tremor can become a spike – an accident, a tailback, an interruption in the flow, pressure on the artery. The debate – not argument – we should be having is about the use of public money: driver training vs. increasing revenue collection. I’ve hardly scarred the paintwork so far as talking about ANPR is concerned, a topic that shall return, but it is apparent that certain people in this country see it as an elixir – even for symptoms that shouldn’t exist.
It’s up to us – the motoring public – to do something about this. Before the cameras go Big Brother on us, and our motoring life is reduced to data entries on an electronic list.
In order to avoid confusion, I’ll point out that I’m referring to the Richard Porter that scripts much of the Top Gear TV prog, is author of Crap Cars (of which there's an American version out by the way), and the originator of www.sniffpetrol.com.
For more information about ANPR follow the links:
Picture of ANPR camera from Pistonheads
It’s attention to detail that attracts me so much to the new Z06 Corvette, a car that’s so thoroughly re-engineered it’s an entirely different animal to it’s “stock” spec namesake. But it’s not the ‘Vette I’m thinking of – it’s my bike. And it doesn’t even have Ducati written on the side.
I am, as I mentioned before, a reasonable guy. I’m on an auto journalism programme, but I’m not an automobile uber alles kind of fruit loop. I believe in the right vehicle for the right journey, and while I appreciate the personal space afforded to me by my (strictly speaking, overlarge) motorcar that doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty. Especially when I’m sat in a t-j on the M1, going no-where, surrounded by dozens of other single-person-occupancy vehicles. On such occasions I often daydream the science fiction that is a viable public transport solution – you know, the stuff of a far-off distant visiscape, the environmentally friendly future of our needs. When all the trees are gone and the oil’s dried-up. Then remember how much I love being able to listen to my own mp3s – at any volume – and make my own choices about when to pull out at an intersection.
Anyway, it was this kind of beautiful idealism that prompted my decision last September.
That and the financial aspect. Although, in tuneful harmony with the wistful naivety of the above, this may have been something of a blushing fish variation. Do throw in an element of physical fitness, however – there was definitely incentive in that.
I went and bought a mountain bike – and a bloody good decision it was too.
I say mountain bike: F1 racing cars have more knobbly bits sticking out of their rubber than the tires on my Dawes Ombra. And I say good decision – everyone I knew thought I was mad. You have seen the way people drive in
But I figured if anyone else can do it, why can’t I? So what if everywhere is uphill from my house? I’m reasonably fit; if that old duffer in the day-glo overcoat is coping with the gradient, I’m sure I’ll be fine. Who cares if dad refers to our locale as God’s waiting room, and claims the Honda dealers offer a bifocal windscreen option? The thing was I’d be saving the environment. And some money – all the better to afford this course with, when the time came.
So I trotted along to my nearest stick-ontm auto-accessory and pedal-power convenience store, and thought wow, I can buy a full-suspension garish paint job for only £70! Then I looked at the build quality. And without even touching it, the rear brake-lever fell off. Hmmm. Bearable I suppose; I’m ok with an allen key.
But in the name of proper product research I decided to also stick my head round the door of a nearby independent specialist. I left with two hundred quid’s worth of shiny-shiny dark grey and black, street-fighting mean machine: an urban mountain bike, self-motivational transport for the city-dwelling masses.
Urban does not mean it comes free with a hooded-sweatshirt and an ASBO. Ha ha. It means a hard-tail aluminium mountain bike frame with slick tires and a gear-set more accustomed to finding its home on a racer; it means straight front forks with no bump-absorption, gunmetal handlebars and super-sticky grips. Oh, and cool looking black rims with chrome spokes. Plus a total absence of any reflectors at all – though I quickly fitted some tiny led lights as an alternative, and ran with these switched on whatever the time. Note that I never used the flashing setting – the general consensus amongst my car-driving friends being that this was more annoying than visibility enhancing. I also added genuinely carbon-fibre bar-ends – just because I could.
My dad helpfully pointed out that the amount of money the bike cost would have bought ten weeks of petrol. I ignored him and got on with it.
By the third or forth day of riding to work and back I was going everywhere in top gear – including uphill. A journey that started off being a 50-minute round trip soon took less than 20-minutes each way. Speed bumps on the stretch home not only meant air, it meant I could overtake cars – particularly fun if this was a modified hatch: lowered suspension leading to incredulous looks as I sprinted by. The bike meant consistency in journey times, and was often quicker than sitting in traffic at nine in the morning. I was overtaken by another rider on only a couple of occasions (racers and lycra both times), otherwise anyone else under their own power was my target, my emphasis for pushing just that little bit harder in the effort to catch them down the road. I’d arrive at work on time, awake, grinning with the burn. And hey, by this point I was also well on the way to buns of steel. Which was a bonus.
However, no plan is flawless. Riding a bike to work has a whole ballpark full of problems. First off, the weather. Rain actually isn’t too bad – crash-hat with a peak helps with that. As mine weighs practically nothing, riding with a lid on was never a chore. Any kind of breeze at all though and your effort is doubled – which is no fun when everywhere’s upwards.
Then there’s other road users… Hmmm. Tolerant they are not. I full-on stacked it a couple of times all by myself, but getting run off the road by a pair of dicks in a white van really pisses you off. People beep at you for no reason, cut you up, leave no room to pass. And all pedestrians hate you. For all the good that it does, no-one ever seems to appreciate you when you’re on a bike. The guy in the car who actually hit me looked mad rather than sorry, even though he ran into me when he rolled through a give-way line as I was crossing a junction. You have to understand that the populace are dumb and they will pay you no mind in their actions. But your observation improves as a result – which sticks with you next time you’re behind a steering wheel
Biggest problem was with the bike itself. The urban mb is a relatively new genre, and I got the impression that Dawes hadn’t thought it through properly. I had repeated issues with the gear-set; riding as hard as I was, the high, road gearing caused the frame to flex. This lead to the chain rubbing where it shouldn’t, and the resulting squawk with every pedal revolution was seriously annoying – making it sound like I wasn’t looking after the thing. The only solution offered was a mechanism set up so biased it made the “granny ring” – the lowest gear – physically unusable, the bike was no longer able to select it; doesn’t matter I never did, such a forced compromise should never be necessary. The supplier proved wholly unable to remedy this, and Dawes simply weren’t interested. This alone means I’d never buy again from either of them. I’ve also had a new rear wheel, as the joining weld was so poor it was causing a destabilising vibration under heavy braking – the last thing you want if you have to stand on the anchors on a bicycle. And the fittings are rusting – even though the bike lives inside. The issue of riding hard-tail over our scarred asphalt, however, was entirely of my own making – but if you think
Of course, now I’m in
Ombra picture is a Dawes publicity shot, though God knows why I'm advertising them here! And, ps: I've gone from nought-to-some html in the last few days - you've no idea how pleased I am to have managed to make this appear at the bottom of the page - even if it was incredibly simple. ;-)
Z06 picture from www.wallpaper.net.au (looks like a press shot)