WINTER'S not here yet, but autumn is definitely in the post. So I've been moving into cold-weather mode. First thing is to get up the loft and drag out some of my top-drawer warm riding gear. The current leader of the pack is my Hein Gericke Master textile suit – a properly impressive winter setup, with removable liners and vents for spring/autumn. I had a previous Master 2 suit for about ten years, and it was a cracker: warm, comfy and almost totally waterproof until a couple of years ago when it started to let some dampness in. The good folk at Hein Gericke UK (Thanks to Laura at Hein Gericke Lowestoft!) sorted me out a new Master 7 suit last year, and it kept me cosy and dry all through last winter. More info at (www.hein-gericke-outlet.com).
Next up is some boots – and I've got some new TCX winter ones to try out. The TCX X-Tour Evo GTX is a bit of a mouthful, but they look like the proper job for cold and wet riding duties. There's a proper Gore-Tex waterproof breathable membrane, D3O impact protecting armour and a cunning set of zips and velcro sections for the perfect fit. I'll be giving them a proper test over the next few months, and will report back on how they go. More TCX info at (www.nevis.uk.com)
So, I'm sorted for the poor weather. Next up was the Monster. Last time out, I was trying some of Michelin's Pilot Power RS hoops (www.moto.michelin.co.uk) , and they got a proper thumbs-up. Loads of grip was obvious enough, but I also liked the way they made the front end feel more lively and agile, compared with the worn Pirellis that were on there before. I used the RSs on a few damp days too, and while I'm not sure they'd be my first choice for really rotten winter weather, they worked really well as a normal road tyre too. I was also riding a turbocharged GSX-R1000 K5 for another job last month, and it was wearing Power RSs as well. I can confidently report that the Michelins are man enough for 300bhp of madness on the road too.
I'm trying something else out tyres-wise now though, and have fitted some Metzeler Roadtec 01s (www.metzeler.com) to the Monster. These are proper sport-touring road tyres, aimed at mileage and wet weather performance, and they certainly look the part. There are loads of deep tread cuts, and short narrow 'sipes', all of which help clear away water, and allow the tyre tread to warm up quickly. Compared with the Michelins, they instantly feel a bit steadier, the more rounded profile slowing down the steering a tad. The dry grip has been fine too, but it does feel like you've moved the performance quite a way from 'sporty' to 'touring' – as you'd probably expect.
I've only tried the Roadtecs once in the damp so far, and they felt great. I'd like to ride in some more rain before forming a definitive view, but the first indications are very good indeed.
This month, I've also fitted some R&G engine case protectors, which went on super-easily, and give the Monster a bit of race track chic, as well as an extra layer of protection in the event of a spill. I also slipped on one of the firm's fork-bottom protector kits, which keep the fancy Öhlins from getting scraped or damaged in a crash. That's quite common, and an expensive fix, so the £35 sliders are a sensible move. More info from R&G here (www.rg-racing.com).
Finally, we took the Monster back to base for a visit. I had to collect the Scrambler Café Racer used for a test last month, and while I did that, the good guys at Ducati UK gave the 1200 a once-over. Top spanner man and all-round good guy Paul 'Jinx' took charge, and I told him the front pads were a bit low. The engine check light had also come on – and he reckoned he knew what that was.
He didn't though – when I came back a week later, the engine light turned out to be a weird one. Jinx reckoned it was down to the quickshifter – apparently if you leave your foot under it, holding it out of the central position, the ECU thinks there's an error and throws a check light. My toes were innocent here though: the light was another error entirely. Turns out previous keeper of the Monster, Simon G, had scraped the exhaust powervalve motor cover while heroically hooning round a trackday. The clout on the tarmac had distorted the metal sheet cover (you can just see the scuffing on this zoomed-in photo here), and this was jamming the exhaust valve. So the ECU threw up an error light. Jinx ordered a new cover, swapped it over, reset the ECU and the light went out, bosh.
New pads went in a treat – and the stoppers are back up to their best, engine light extinguished, and Jinx also loosened the chain a little. Apparently I'd just adjusted it a little bit on the tight side, bad Al!
There you have it then. New brakes, new winter-friendly tyres, some extra crash protection and Factory-spec TLC from Ducati UK's top tech. A satisfying set of tweaks for the month ahead I think you'll agree.