All Year Riding Gear

I’ve had another discussion on Reddit that went on long enough that I thought I ought to put it somewhere more concisely. It began with the question “What should I buy, and how much should I spend, on all-year riding gear?”.

 

For ‘all year’ or even ‘winter’ riding kit, I’d buy a decent set of lightweight riding gear (I’ve a mesh Dainese jacket, and mesh Rev’It trousers), some decent layers for temperature regulation (base layers, a microfleece for under the jacket and maybe something to go over it) and some cheap-but-functional waterproofs – I use army surplus trousers and an RAF jacket, you can get them for about £50 for the pair off eBay generally, sometimes cheaper at airshows.

 

All-year motorbike kit is a massive compromise, and “waterproof” motorbike kit often isn’t anyway; there’s a couple of common compromises going on:

 

Firstly, we expect a lot from multi-season bike kit – it should provide armour, waterproofing, removable thermal insulation and some abrasion resistance. The waterproofing needs to be on the outside, really, and the armour right on the inside, where it won’t move around. The normal solution to this problem, though, is to have a single outer layer with the abrasion resistance, waterproofing and armour in it, and to have the insulation as a removable inner liner. This means that the outer layer must be designed to fit on the outside of the insulation, leaving it relatively baggy and prone to flapping around – including the armour – when the lining is removed. Sometime it can be strapped down, but that creates creases that fill with water in the rain. With the insulation fitted it’s arguably worse, as that fleecy layer acts as a lubricating layer between armour and skin.

 

Secondly, these waterproof membranes tend to be designed to work (at least in part) by having water bead up and run off the surface, but with the breathable function permitting standing water to seep through. That’s a problem when the fabric is creased up as in the strapping-down of the sleeves/legs above, but it’s a more general problem when a garment to be worn every-day on a motorbike is made waterproof. The usual approach to constructing these garments is to attach a durable outer layer to the waterproof membrane in order to protect it. Normally this is something like cordura which is incredibly durable, but it’s also not waterproof and somewhat absorbent; even if the jacket happens to keep the wearer dry for a day, for example, this cordura outer will have absorbed water, and probably still be wet the next day. Often it will have become trapped between the cordura and the waterproofing, which tends to cause it to seep through the membrane. Depending on the design, water will likely have crept round the cuffs and neck, too.

This is often even worse on jackets where the waterproof layer is a removable internal liner, because there’s even more material on the outside of it, though arguably the outer shell should be easier to dry. Gore Tex’s Laminate product, and Columbia’s Outdry each are designed to be waterproof outer-layers and so obviate this problem, but are very much at the top-end of waterproof membranes and still don’t really solve the armour/insulation problem above.

 

Outside of the compromises, we like to have pockets in our jackets, and in the summer we like to have vents. Lots of “all weather” riding gear is sold to the adventure bike crowd, so it’s got to look right, too, and that means pockets and vents everywhere. There’s two approaches with a pocket on a waterproof jacket: if the pocket is itself waterproof then anything in the pocket is likely to get drowned in a downpour as the pocket fills with water, but if the pocket is not-waterproof, then any rain that gets into it soaks through to the wearer. Waterproof zips are, obviously, a thing, and so are massive flaps on pockets, but neither’s as reliable as a single sheet of waterproof fabric (especially if, like me, the rider forgets to check they’re properly closed).

 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, however nice and breathable it’s billed as, waterproof membranes are always less good than something that’s made no effort at all to be waterproof. Whatever we like to say about it, the weather’s not that bad in the UK – really it’s not-raining the huge majority of the time and it’s difficult to be genuinely surprised by rain on a one-or-two day ride. I think having waterproof riding gear and wearing that all the time is a terrible compromise, and it detracts from my riding when it’s not raining more than it’s a saviour when it is. The inconveniences the result from being completely watertight are fine when it’s actually raining, but annoying the other 340-odd days of the year.

 

If you really want to spend all the money on bike specific gear, I’d say get the top-end Klim stuff for when it might rain:

and a selection of heated layers, so you don’t need to be able to accommodate much insulation under it. Then get something nice and vented for the summer. I don’t think that would be particularly more functional than having the nice summer gear and £50 (or even £80) of MoD surplus Gore-Tex, though.

Riding in Southern Ireland

France has some wonderful scenery but an awful lot of French people. Belgians are much happier to speak English, but have very straight roads and not many hills. Ireland, apparently, has some fantastic scenery and is full of people who speak a pretty recognisable form of English. And they use holiday money, too!

So, I planned a trip to Ireland. Right at the bottom of this post is some handy notes if you’re thinking of doing the same.

After most of the people initially coming along either got jobs or lost jobs and so pulled out, three of us made it to the pre-ferry meeting point at a cafe in Pembroke, but only two of us made it as far as the ferry:

 


And one of us had developed a crude form of active suspension:

Having got off the ferry in the early evening we headed for Cashel for the night. The next morning we wandered into town to plan our riding for the day, and stumbled across a ride-out.

We were invited on it, but then they left early (!) so we ended up chasing them and meeting at their half-way point. We rode back to Cashel with them, though, and arrived at about lunch time. We weren’t due in Cork until that evening and Tipperary was not actually a long way away, so we decided to go through it on the way. It’s not an especially pleasant town, but no Raries were being tipped.

Cork hostel was a little cosy for the bikes, perhaps, and being asked “you did lock them up, didn’t you?” wasn’t the most confidence-inspiring greeting, but being a proper town offered some time to faff about getting some fork oil, filling a topbox with lunches, and being bemused by the way the Irish advertise their crisps

The full extent of the planning I’d done in the UK was as far as staying in the An Oige hostel in Black Valley on Sunday night, and then riding the ring of Kerry on the Sunday. The Black Valley is off to the West of Killarney National Park and apparently so-called because they didn’t get a telephone line until the 21st Century.

ring-of-kerry-map

You’re supposed to do the ring anti-clockwise because of the shape of some of the corners, so I’d advise doing it clockwise so as to not get stuck behind coaches. We started in Killarney and headed South through the National Park.

The turn-off for the Black Valley is somewhere near Ladies View, apparently so named for having a view that impressed Queen Victoria’s Ladies in Waiting. We stopped to consult the map and take some photos.

The road goes down from the comparatively unremarkable Moll’s Gap. It’s also got the sort of surface that helps justify buying a road bike that thinks it’s an adventure bike. It doesn’t, apparently, make recent adoptees of sportsbikes happy. Rest stops make for some dramatic photos, though:

The road is a lot longer than I was expecting – 8 miles, and not one to do at speed – and the largely absent mains electricity in the area meant it was quite dark when we arrived. It was also hailing.

We got up the next morning to another hailstorm, but by the time we left it was a lovely day. We elected to go back up to Moll’s Gap the way we came in, partly because that was the only feasible route and partly because we both thought we ought to have a go at enjoying that road.

We stopped at Moll’s Gap when I remembered that motorbikes need petrol to operate, and recalled being warned that petrol stations in rural Ireland can be few and far between (hence the jerry can on my back seat). While I looked for a petrol station, Roni got to discover what a comfortable bike feels like.

After a false-positive we found Derreendarragh (I think that’s spelled correctly, but honestly it’s hard to tell), which was down probably the straightest road for a few hundred miles.

Puzzlingly, it’d dried out for the return journey. We followed the Ring of Kerry to Kenmare (where we’d joined it yesterday) and from there picked up the Wild Atlantic Way, another fantastic signposted route, this one all the way along the Atlantic coast.

At Sneem we came across a layby that basically forced us to stop for a break

Down a few Tracker bars and even more Hob Nobs, we decided on Dingle for lunch and rode on, looking at even more fantastic scenery, some of which we were fairly categorically not allowed in

There is supposed to be a photo of Fungie here, but we didn’t see him. We *did* have some cake, though.

Podcasts topped up (basically every building in Ireland has free Wifi), we headed for the westernmost hostel in Europe.

Behind that tree behind the bikes is the westernmost point on Ireland. In hindsight, we could have parked a bit better.

The next morning we finally got some of the weather I was promised I’d get if I went to Ireland in March

We went back to Dingle, and then out over the Connor Pass. It’s Ireland’s highest pass, and were it not raining and foggy I’m sure we’d have had some glorious views. Were it not so crazy windy Roni might have enjoyed it, too.

Going down the other side was hugely less windy, with odd glimpses of the beautiful countryside under all that fog


This being a day of solid rain, I didn’t take a great deal of photos. We stayed that night in a hotel in Ennis. While we were having breakfast we were accosted by the owner who, as had become something of a theme of our trip, recommended us places to ride.

The Wild Atlantic Way is fantastic, but because it hugs coast it takes a long time to get anywhere. Having spent two days now following it quite rigidly, we decided to skip a bit and head for Connemara where we’d pick it up again.

Strapping what gear was still wet to the outside of our bikes and luggage, we set out into more surprisingly glorious sunshine.

Ireland’s chock full of really interesting neolithic bits and bobs, and we’d ridden past loads of it. So we stopped at Poulnabrone Dolmen, a portal tomb, which also featured what Roni continues to maintain was the best half-mile stretch of road of the entire trip, and I’m not sure he’s yet forgiven my turning off it to go and look at a pile of rocks.

That rock formation’s was built before the pyramids at Giza were even planned. It predates basically all unifications, even China‘s. Then it collapsed in 1985 and was rebuilt.

Anyway, we zipped through Galway and into Connemara. Even after all the beautiful countryside we’d spend the past few days in, this was astonishingly pretty.

So much so, in fact, that I didn’t take an awful lot of photos of it.

We ended the day in Cong, and spent the next day heading for Dublin. Ireland’s interior is pretty dull compared to the coast, unfortunately, and quite frequently does a rather good impression of the Netherlands:

Impressively, I still spotted the rarest of road users, the Lost Roni:

And, later, the SV finally had something of a problem when the indicators kept not-working. That we’d stopped for me to get some engine oil to feed the Tiger’s cravings, and we then had to push start it to leave, is something I shall gloss over.

We didn’t really have much time in Dublin, but there was a CBR250 at the ferry:

Back when I started planning this trip I realised that one lovely thing about Ireland is that to get to it you have to go through Wales, and it’s very hard to have a boring time travelling through Wales. Since our last (and, at this point, next) hostel was at Much Wenlock, in England, we were going to have a pretty good go at it.

Coming out of Holyhead on the Roman-straight A5 you can see the fun that is to come on the horizon:

Before all that fun and games, though, I have been near the station with the longest name on the UK rail network many times before, but I’ve never actually got around to going into the town. In keeping with the general trend of British geographical landmarks, it’s a bit of an anti climax:

Here we realised that we were due to get to the hostel about half an hour before it closed, and we’d yet to have any dinner, pick anything up for it or even get any petrol. Time for an uncomfortably quick crossing of Snowdonia!


… and then my camera’s battery died.

Some handy notes:

  • The Ring of Kerry and the Wild Atlantic Way are both well signposted and gorgeous. You could spend several days on them without needing to do any other planning. Away from them it’s still tricky to go far wrong.
  • WiFi is everywhere – I downloaded a map update in a petrol station.
  • Petrol stations could be more abundant in the countryside, but they’re not *that* scarce. They do often close early-evening, though.
  • Ride-outs leave on time (or early!)
  • An Oige isn’t a coherent unit like the YHA, but more a program which hostels may join. You will find all the hostels on booking.com or similar, and that might be easier than going through An Oige. If you book through An Oige’s site, what you actually do is pay a deposit and cause someone in their office to ring the hostel and book for you.
  • There’s little motorcycle parking in Dublin and what there is is quite expensive (NCP style). Considerate parking on the pavement is apparently completely tolerated, and it’s what the locals do.
  • If the (Rosslare) ferry’s not particularly busy they don’t turn the kitchen on so you can’t eat on it.
  • Speed cameras are craftily hidden. They’re also not DVLA compatible so this is not of real consequence.
  • Lots of the roads are poorly (or not-very-recently) surfaced. Apparently punctures are common, but we didn’t have any.

And there’s yet more photos here.

Keeping a ride together – The Cornerman System

The cornerman system (or ‘corner marker system’) works pretty well for larger groups, and those with some slow and some fast riders; it encourages overtaking. If there’s only three or four riders, or everyone rides at about the same pace, follow the leader is normally a better match.

Most forums try to explain the cornerman system but make it sound far more complex than it is.

In short, there is a ‘leader’ and a ‘tail’ (who might also be called a ‘tail-end Charlie’, ‘TEC’, ‘last man’ or ‘tailgunner’), and everyone should be able to identify the tail from the front and the leader from behind.

The leader goes at the front of the ride and knows where they’re going, the tail stays at the back – nobody overtakes the leader, and the tail overtakes nobody.

Whenever the ride does anything other than go straight on, the rider immediately behind the leader stops and marks the corner – they are now a ‘cornerman’ or a ‘cornermarker’. If the leader thinks a marker’s needed somewhere then they’ll point to where the marker should be, and the next rider should stop and mark whatever’s been pointed at. Marking a corner is exactly that – pulling over (often just to the side of the road, but if there’s a pavement or something that’s fine too) so as to be able to direct other riders.

Riders approaching the corner will see this rider and know to turn, or at least that they need to do something other than just carry on riding straight on. It is quite important that the cornermarker positions themselves such that they are obvious to oncoming riders (not hidden behind a sign, or already round the corner), and also such that it is obvious what the oncoming rider must do – which turning, roundabout exit or lane they should be taking.

As the tail approaches the corner, the cornermarker gets back on their bike and rejoins the ride – pulling in before the tail, but after the previous rider has taken the corner.

And that’s basically all there is to it. During the ride the faster riders will naturaly find themselves overtaking lots, and therefore at the front a lot, and so marking corners. Slower riders will sit in the middle with a steady stream of corner markers guiding them, and faster riders overtaking them to mark more corners.

Metal Mule pannier frames and a Fuel exhaust on a Tiger 800

The exhaust pipe on the Tiger is ginormous so almost all luggage options require assymetric panniers which look daft. Metal Mule, however, sell a set of their hard-bastard frames in a symmetrical form, for use with with a new narrower silencer (a rebranded Scorpion).

That silencer costs £250 and, since the only reason for it is the narrowness, I thought I’d try a cheaper one. I tend to default to Fuel for cheap exhaust pipes, and their narrower silencer for the tiger is only £150.

But neither Fuel nor Metal Mule will say for sure that the pipe will fit (Metal Mule are nice enough to not insist on my buying their Scorpion, though, and suggest that “it really should, but we can’t guarantee it”).

Turns out it does!

tiger 800 metal mule rack

The rack does actually foul the linkpipe, though, but I’ve drilled a sidestand puck to space it out a bit:

tiger 800 metal mule rack fuel exhaust gap

and the gap I was concerned about (between the frame and silencer) is fine:

metal mule rack frame fuel exhaust gap

Keeping a ride together – follow the leader

Everyone loves the cornerman system, which is explained both in great depth and with much convolution on most motorbike forums. But I quite like playing follow the leader, and much as it’s probably how you ride anyway, sometimes people ask how a ride is going to work. Here’s what I call ‘follow the leader’ and some other people call ‘the buddy system’:

  • You set off in a line, and maintain that order. No overtaking each other.
  • You pause at corners to wait for the guy behind you. At the beginning of the ride you agree on how he’ll signal that he understands where to go – I always suggest a wave since that’s really hard to accidentally do, but some people like headlight flashes.
  • As you’re going along, you keep an eye in your wing mirror for the guy behind you, if he disappears for a while you stop and wait, eventually going back if the guy in front of you comes back for you (he having waited a while).
  • If you get to a corner and you don’t know where to go you stop. Eventually the guys in front will be back.

 

Postfixadmin Installer for Wheezy

Debian Wheezy ships with Dovecot 2.x which has a different config layout to the 1.x verion in Lenny and Squeeze. In response, I’ve created a wheezy branch of postfixadmin-installer (there’s an issue for it, too) which configures Dovecot 2.x and it’s actually been a really easy switch.

In much the same way as the current version generally does away with the heavily commented documentation masquerading as a config file, this one simply moves /etc/dovecot out of the way and writes two files into it – dovecot.conf and dovecot-sql.conf (which are the same as for 1.x). This causes a pretty hilarious reduction in filesize, too:

[email protected]:~# find /etc/dovecot/ -type f -exec cat {} \; | wc -l
48
[email protected]:~# find /etc/dovecot_2013-01-29/ -type f -exec cat {} \; | wc -l
1772
[email protected]:~#

Anyway, with some incredibly limited testing, and assuming you have already installed dovecot, this seems to work. If you want to test it (please!), enable Wheezy backports in Squeeze and then:

apt-get install libwww-perl mysql-server postfix
apt-get -t squeeze-backports install dovecot-common dovecot-imapd dovecot-pop3d
wget --no-check-certificate https://raw.github.com/BigRedS/postfixadmin-installer/wheezy/postfixadmin-installer
perl ./postfixadmin-installer

And, finally, here’s that working config I’m using, in case that’s what you’re after:
/etc/dovecot/dovecot.conf

protocols = imap pop3
log_timestamp = "%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S "
mail_location = maildir:/var/vmail/%d/%n
mail_privileged_group = vmail
# This should match that of the owner of the /var/lib/vmail hierarchy, and
# be the same as the one postfix uses.
first_valid_uid = 999
# Allow people to use plaintext auth even when TLS/SSL is available (you
# might not want this but it is handy when testing):
disable_plaintext_auth = no
# Uncomment this to get nice and verbose messages about authentication
# problems:
# auth_debug=yes

ssl = no

protocol imap {
}

protocol pop3 {
  pop3_uidl_format = %08Xu%08Xv
}

# 'plain' here doesn't override the disble_plaintext_auth_default of 'yes'.
# you should add any other auth mechanisms you want
#auth_mechanisms = plain
userdb {
  driver = sql
  args = /etc/dovecot/dovecot-sql.conf
}
passdb {
  driver = sql
  args = /etc/dovecot/dovecot-sql.conf
}

service auth {
  unix_listener /var/spool/postfix/private/auth {
    mode = 0660
    # yes, 'postfix' (or the user that owns the above socket file), not vmail
    user = postfix
    group = postfix
  }
}

/etc/dovecot/dovecot-sql.conf

connect = host=localhost dbname=vmail user=vmail password=1lgI2ehK6aEqytjkeDFT4Z7Pq
driver = mysql
default_pass_scheme = MD5-CRYPT
password_query = SELECT username AS user,password FROM mailbox WHERE username = '%u' AND active='1'
user_query = SELECT maildir, 999 AS uid, 122 AS gid FROM mailbox WHERE username = '%u' AND active='1'

Tidying up postfixadmin installer

I’ve *finally* merged about a billion changes into master in postfixadmin installer, chief amongst them is that most of the boring output now goes to a logfile, the vacation plugin might work after install and it the setup password is randomised. This is all procrastination in order to avoid working out how to configure Dovecot on Wheezy.

It’s still a big pile of poor hacks rather than a ‘proper’ script, but if you just don’t look at the source you’ll be fine!

Sitecreator

I’ve just spent a few days using up spare holiday, which means I’ve been making things for work that work doesn’t want but I do. This time it’s sitecreator, a tool for configuring websites and all their dependencies (Unix users, databases, ssh keys, DNS records etc.) on servers.

Since there’s so many possible things for the site to rely upon, and I’m not *that* fond of reinventing the wheel, all it really does is generate passwords and call scripts. There’s a configuration file that tells it how many passwords to generate, how to work out what the username should be and perhaps to generate a couple of other things (like database names) if needed. Another bit of the config then explains which scripts to call and with which arguments (including these recently-generated passwords and usernames), and at the end it tells you what it thinks it did. I’ve written a few scripts for it already (mirroring what I want to do with it).

For example, here‘s a relatively simple config file with some explanation of what’s going on, and some output with that configuration:

[email protected]:~$ sitecreator example.com
MySQL:
        username: example
        password: [email protected]$Y7}Y{yg
        database: example

SSH:
        username: example
        password: r;x6kEgO!

MySQL dev:
        username: example_dev
        password: vA!)9WIMo&by}'
        database: example

[email protected]:~$

And there’s at least another example config file in etc/config/. Anyway, hopefully this’ll be useful to somebody else who isn’t quite into automation enough to have already done this (or to have started using puppet or similar), but does have enough users or systems to configure that some automation would be good.

Oh, it’s not very tested yet, and I’ve still not come up with a sane thing to do with the output from the scripts :)

Network Manager disabling Virt-manager’s bridge

This doesn’t work, and it’s filed as bug 1099949 in Ubuntu. So we’ll see how that goes.

As of about six hours ago, I’ve had this regularly popping up in my syslog:

Jan 13 20:13:54 amazing NetworkManager[1347]:  (virbr0): device state change: unavailable -> disconnected (reason 'none') [20 30 0]

virbr0 is the bridge created by virt-manager for its VMs to communicate on and, franky, NetworkManager has no business doing anything to it, let alone disconnecting it (especially when it doesn’t know why it’s doing it).

Fortunately, NetworkManager has an unmanaged-devices option that you can put in the irritatingly-capitalised file at /etc/NetworkManager/NetworkManager.conf. It belongs in the keyfile section (so you need to make sure keyfile is listed under plugins:

[main]
plugins=ifupdown,keyfile
dns=dnsmasq

[ifupdown]
managed=false

[keyfile]
unmanaged-devices=mac:2e:e7:1f:7c:ef:76

Annoyingly, there doesn’t appear to be a ‘managed-devices’ configuration, and virbr0’s mac address changes from time to time. So far, sticking this at the end of /etc/rc.local to get the mac address of virbr0 and replace the old one in that file seems to be working:

#! /bin/bash

echo -n "Before  : "
egrep '^unmanaged-devices' /etc/NetworkManager/NetworkManager.conf
mac=$(ifconfig virbr0 | grep HWaddr | awk '{print $NF}');
echo "New mac : $mac";
perl -pi -e "s/^unmanaged-devices.+/unmanaged-devices=mac:$mac/" /etc/NetworkManager/NetworkManager.conf
echo -n "After   : "
egrep '^unmanaged-devices' /etc/NetworkManager/NetworkManager.conf

Half an hour in, I’ve still got network connectivity on my VMs! :)

Converting from Apache1-style to (Debian-style) Apache2-style vhosts

Yeah, some of us are still doing that migration.

Anyway, historically Apache vhosts are all in one file at /etc/apache/httpd.conf or if you’re really lucky something like /etc/apache/vhosts.conf.

Apache2 in Debian uses two directories – /etc/apache2/sites-available and /etc/apache2/sites-enabled. sites-available contains one file for each vhost and in order to enable them they’re linked to from sites-enabled. This is all fairly nice an elegant and human friendly, but tedious to migrate to from Apache1.

Since this one’s coincided with a feeling that I should know more awk here’s how I just did this one:

cp /etc/apache/vhosts.conf /etc/apache2/sites-available
awk '/^"vhost" n }' vhosts.conf
for i in $(ls vhost*); do name=$(grep -i ^ServerName $i | awk '{print $2}'); mv $i $name ; done
rm /etc/apache2/sites-available/vhosts.conf

Yeah, the name should be doable in the initial awk, but by that point I sort-of just needed to get it done.