Archive | November, 2010

Commuting

29 Nov

My invention wouldn't stop these. But hey ho.

Over the past two and a half months, I have become a commuter. Four days a week, I hop into my Land Rover and drive an hour to university, study for the day, turn around and come back. I’ve learnt to leave my commute. I don’t want to come over like a chocolate advert, but it’s nice to have a bit of me time. I put on Radio 4, surreptitiously pick my nose, perv at nice cars, curse BMW drivers. It’s pleasant. I’ve even developed a Buddhist way of looking at traffic jams, which means even they don’t really annoy me either.

However, a commute is also a good place to get some thinking done, and sitting in my 2 tonne leather armchair of a car, the bit of thinking that comes to me most often is that about 60% of my Land Rover is totally superfluous. Now I like space as much as the next guy. But when you’ve got so much space that your sneezes echo, something’s gone wrong.

And so on my commute I’ve started designing a car that would be called The Commuter, or something catchier. It is essentially the same as Gordon Murray’s proposed city car, the T25. Its design brief is that it must:

  1. Cruise happily at 70mph, whilst returning at least 70mpg
  2. Cost about the same as a motorbike
  3. Not be so flimsy that you fear for your life every time you pass an HGV
  4. Keep you dry
  5. Seat 2 people, with enough boot space for 3 bags of shopping.
  6. Have a radio/CD player and other little luxuries.

Now, because it would be so cheap relative to other cars, your average middle-income family could afford to have one as well as your usual kid-mobile. The problem is that the kid-mobile performs does a variety of functions most of which are redundant on your solo trip to work. And in this time of job losses, austerity measures and all the rest, this is a redundancy that we can ill-afford.

 

Gordon Murray's answer, the T25

 

 

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R is for Rehabilitation

27 Nov

Shall I make myself a bit of an outsider in the car world? More so than I am already, poring over my posts on a lonely laptop, unpaid, unloved….

Oh alright then. I quite like the Mercedes R-Class. There you go, I said it. This has been gnawing away at me for a few months now. It gets nothing but stick from the car industry, who call it cynical, a needless, money-grabbing expansion of the Mercedes range. Personally, I think that particular hole is filled quite ably by the GL, thank you very much.

You know, from time to time, Carficionado is wont to ask himself  the question: if he were to, tomorrow say, knock someone up, and nine months later this person was to bring forth quintuplets, and assuming that in the intervening pregnancy period he got a fairly decent job, what car would he choose to ferry around his knock up-ee and their squirming brood. And the answer Carficionado keeps coming back to is, you guessed it, a Mercedes R-Class. Personally I can think of little else on the road that can take so many people whilst still being stylish and (R) classy. The only other car that I can think of is a Land Rover Discovery, and frankly the economy will be as good if not better on the Mercedes if you choose the base diesel model and you’ll be able to slither past the environment-types because by dint of the Merc not being a 4×4 (they’ll go after the GL drivers, and rightly so). There’s the Volvo XC90 but, having lived in Toronto and seen the earnest North American soccer mums whooshing around in them – well, it’s all just a bit Volvo-y isn’t it? I think the R-Class deserves to sit at the table of fine cars of today, a good-looking way to ferry your family around without the requisite emasculation. And if you’re really worried about emasculation, get the R63 AMG.

 

It just wants to be loved.....

 

Audi uses its Teutonic technical tools to create RS3

22 Nov

Safe

Audi have unveiled their new RS3. And it looks pretty good, in the rather staid way that all Audis these days look pretty good. But its figures are faintly staggering. I was in the pub at the weekend watching Tottenham vs Arsenal and there was a man at the bar whose scarf I would have quite willingly used to throttle him. And this man kept going on and bloody on about how he wasn’t a stat man but if you look at Peter Crouch’s scoring record for England blah blah blah. Now, I’m not a stat man, but if you look at the Audi RS3’s….well, stats, they beggar belief. To-whit…..

Price – £40,000

0-60 – 4.6 seconds

BHP – 335

OK, this is very nice. But not trouser immolating.

This makes it faster than a BMW M3, itself a very fast car. It puts the little Audi in amongst supercar territory. But I can’t help thinking that I’d rather have something with a bit more joie de vivre. I mean, we’re talking £40,000 for a start, not to mention high insurance. Have a look on pistonheads.com and see what you can get for £40,000 – a most enjoyable, saliva-inducing game by the way. A £39,000 blue Ferrari 355 with 40,000 miles on the clock, which leaves you a grand to spend on a Ferrari bicycle, or skis or whatever crap they’re pedaling (arf) to their customers these days. A 45,000 mile Aston Martin DB9. Why not buy a brace (brace mind) of Volkswagen Phaetons? What about a 1959 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud? Now of course, all this is a bit silly. For a start, those cars aren’t new, and thus miss out on warranties and all the appeals that having a new car brings. And frankly, people in the market for an Audi RS3 probably aren’t in the market for Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. But even its competitors seem more interesting than it. I walked passed a Focus RS on the South Bank the other day, and I felt a tremor of vaguely homo-erotic excitement at its muscular haunches and implied potency. And even I, basher of Bimmers, fancy the similarly priced, similarly powered 1 Series M Coupe more than this. But, at the end of the day, there’s little doubt that the Audi will be very good. I just hope that a bit of Lamborghini spirit has drifted through the Volkswagen-Audi group and seeped into it.

Neat and tidy.

Motorcycling: An Ode

8 Nov

I passed my motorcycling test in July 2008. I did it down at Exeter after finishing my degree, spending a harrowing five days cocking up, dropping Kawasaki ER-5s, snapping off brake levers, braking too much when the lever was attached and generally just…..well, cocking up. All under the watchful stare of my masochistic instructor, who was a former Canadian mountie. And yet somehow, on the fifth and final day, it all came together and I passed, and very elation-inspiring it was too. I still remember being told I could ride back on my own to the training centre, and getting that 500cc Kawasaki onto the road and opening it up solo for the first time. As any biker will attest, that moment of freedom is pretty unique. A car wafts you along, with you sat down in an armchair with the radio on. You could have your slippers on and a cat on the passenger seat if you so desired. But a motorbike is just a machine designed specifically so that everything falls to your necessary extremities and then propels just you (unless you have a passenger, but essentially just you) along. It is a motorised horse in the true sense, and its openness and the visceral aspect of riding the bike arouses some definite Neanderthalic impulses in me.

Another thing rarely mentioned is the way in which a biker experiences the landscape. Smells waft in through your helmet; if I go past a road side stand selling bacon sandwiches, I smell the bacon strongly. I smell women’s perfumes as I ride down a high street. I even smell the cow shit as I ride past a farm. In some sense, being a biker is like being a very low-flying bird: you waft along at incredible rates interacting with the world around you, and you feel fully exposed to that world.

Now every person to whom I’ve mentioned that I ride a bike to has trotted out a horror story to me about biking. This got amputated, that got broken, life escaped thusly from his body blah blah blah. No need. My cousin experienced the landscape so strongly whilst once on the back of a motorbike that he flew over a hedge. My uncle, who now lives in Douglas on the large race circuit they call the Isle of Man, crashed his bike so badly that he had to have that horrible metal scaffolding through his leg. My own dad went under a bus in Trafalgar Square whilst working as a motorcycle messenger in the 1970s. So I know it’s dangerous. The other day I had a stark reminder of this. Cutting through traffic during rush hour I slipped to the front of a queue at a big two-laned roundabout, only for the van in the right hand lane to then pull past me and begin turning into me, whereupon I gesticulated wildly at the driver and suggested through the medium of mime that he might do well to look in his left-side wing-mirror occasionally.

It is strange, as you stand there with the bike ticking over, wrapping your scarf, pulling on your helmet, fastening your gloves, thinking “This could be the last ride I ever make” – it tends to make a philosopher out of you, having an existentialist conundrum every time you go down to the shops. You don’t get that in a Vauxhall Insignia. And I think it’s why most bikers you meet feel such a camaraderie with each other. I make the comparison between being a biker and being on a rugby team. A rugby team has a camaraderie because it knows that individual players could take a massive hit at any time in a match and that it could be any one of them who gets it. Without getting too macabre, I think you understand the comparison. Hence why as a mark of respect bikers will often doff their helmet as they ride past one another. And so it may be dangerous, but until you’ve been alone on a B-road at 6 o’clock in the evening on one of the the last days of summer, with a motorbike to play with and no traffic to slow your progress, you won’t quite know what I mean.