Ducati Monster M900


Leica M9, Elmarit 21mm Asph, f5.6 @ 30 sec 160 ISO. (Lightroom preset ‘Nostalgialicious’)

The thing I noticed most when I first saw Ducati’s new Monster M900 was that incredibly wide back tyre. Of course I also noticed the massive twin discs and upside down forks. It even had trick little carbon side panels. Even when it was stationary it looked like it was going fast. It looked pretty bloody good back in 1995. It still looks pretty good today too.

My first impressions on riding it was that it was totally planted. It went around corners as if on rails soaking up bumps and completely ignoring irregularities in the road. Even when I opened the taps a bit I soon realised that this bike had very high limits and I wasn’t anywhere near them. I doubted I could even get close to them. This kind of realisation makes riding a Ducati special.

The power was fabulous, even though there wasn’t really that much of it. 85 hp is not very much by today’s standards and the engine doesn’t rev very high. There isn’t even a rev counter. But it’s got grunt, an immediate rush of power no matter what gear you’re in. It’s quite possible to ride a Monster very fast without even having to change gear very often.

Then there are those brakes. Awesome is the only word for it. Just the pressure from one digit will pull you up fast and true from any speed. The brakes hiss when applied. I have never heard that before.

Being a short bloke who only weighs about 60 kilos has a large bearing on the kind of motorbike I can ride. One of the good things about the Monster is the low seat height but it’s also very light at only 180 kilos so that low hp figure is somewhat misleading. My old 400/4 Honda weighed as much and had only half the hp. A mate has a Bandit 650 which has the same hp but that weighs 50 kilos more than the 900cc Ducati!

OK, so it’s not really a bike to ride long distance, with no fairing it’s just too tiring, but if you want to ride far buy a Honda Goldwing or a BMW. The Monster is about enjoying yourself. It has no redeeming practical features at all. The pillion position is terrible and neither comfy for the rider or pillion. The grunty nature of the motor and the amazing brakes means you’re constantly being nutted by your passenger. There isn’t room for a spare change of pants even.

It has a lousy turning circle, thanks to the shape of the frame and this can be annoying in town but here’s a clever way of turning the bike around. Out on the open road it’s never an issue and this is where this bike was designed to be, not in a car park. It’s quite economical and the quoted 17 kms per litre is about right. This means about 100  – 120 miles on a tank. Not a huge range but like I said if you want that kind of stuff you need a different kind of bike.

The funny thing is, I was always a Japanese bike man. I liked high revving, small multi cylinder bikes. I had ridden plenty of other bikes of course but all the big twins that I rode vibrated and made my vision blur and I didn’t like the way the engine snatched at low speeds. I didn’t even particularly like the sound they made. They were also pretty heavy and that’s no good for a little bloke so I was always happy with a 400 or 500 cc bike. Anything bigger would be too much for me in every sense.

A year with the Monster has changed this attitude completely. I never knew that a big twin could be so light and agile. I have to remind my self that I am riding a 900cc bike. That’s a big capacity engine. Bike insurance might be expensive but I’m now of an age that makes a real difference. A clean licence and plenty of no claims bonus helps too.

I really do feel at home on the Monster. It might be a 900cc bike and capable of going like one but it feels much smaller when you’re riding it. You don’t have to ride it like a nutter to get satisfaction from it unlike the Monster 696 I tried. Far better to have a quick bike that you can ride slower and still enjoy. If you want to ride fast you can, the Monster is a very capable bike in the right hands.

It’s always a treat to be able to keep up with the serious boys on their new road rockets. They always seem surprised that such an old bike can do so well against their modern high tech ones. They are even more surprised when they get overtaken coming out of a bend. That instant power delivery from the Monster’s twin means that while their motor is just winding up towards the power band, you’re already in it and it can make a big difference.

On paper the Monster M900 doesn’t appear to be any kind of threat to any of the latest bikes of a similar capacity but in the real world it does very well thank you. There are some who say that Ducatis are too expensive or unreliable. The bike I am riding is 15 years old and it has been reliable for the year I have had it. Everything still works. There is no play anywhere and the chassis and running gear still feels very tight.

The Monster is an iconic bike. It has influenced the look of many of the bikes on the road today. It has it’s faults but when it comes to smiles per miles you can’t do better. If you want a bike purely for the pleasure of riding and don’t need any practical aspects why not try an original Monster? Low mileage old ones can be bought for a fraction of what they cost new. These were very expensive bikes when they were first sold.

Recently I hired a Ducati 696 for a weekend and although it was a very competent bike, I felt it was trying to be everything to everybody and had lost some vital element. Given a choice between a brand new 696 or my 15 year old M900. There’s no contest. I would take the original without question. It’s a great bike and a true design classic.


How to turn a motorcycle around easily



Here’s a helpful trick that all Ducati Monster owners need to know. The Ducati’s have a very poor lock so turning them around so they are facing the right direction can be a right pain, especially if you only have little legs! Here’s a simple way that requires very little effort and is very quick.


Michelin Pilot Power tyre review


Leica M9, Voigtlander f4 21mm 160 ISO Michelin Pilot Power

Before buying some new tyres for my cousin’s Ducati Monster M900 he’d been kind enough to lend me, I did some research online and soon realised that there is a huge choice of rubber out there. Actually it’s just plain confusing. I tried reading reviews of tyres but everyone seemed to be happy with their choice no matter who the manufacturer was and anyway, how can one know the experience of the reviewer?

In the end I decided that since the Monster is a powerful bike and I want to live for many years to enjoy it I’d go for a high performance street tyre and sacrifice a certain amount of wear for more grip. Since tyres are what keep you planted it makes sense to me to buy sticky tyres plus I wouldn’t be touring or going long distance on the Monster because without a fairing it’s just too tiring to ride.

Not sure why I chose the Michelins over any other brand but in the end I went for the Pilot Powers, maybe it was the tread pattern which is about as minimal as you can get. It looks pretty slick. I wanted to try the dual compound version but they didn’t do one in the right size for the Monster so single compound it was. The Pilot Powers are made from synthetic rubber straight from Moto GP land so should still be pretty good.

Another thing that I like from a tyre is a nice clear end to the tread. I want the tyre walls and the tread to have a sharp angle and not be rounded off. It just looks better to my mind. The Pilot Power is a good looking tyre. Some might say that it doesn’t matter, what matters is performance, not how a tyre looks at standstill. But the designers of bikes go to a lot of trouble making their bikes look a certain way and there’s no denying that tyres can completely change the look of a bike. Don’t agree? Put some trial bike tyres on a Ducati Monster.

So choice finally made, I took the bike down to the garage to have new shoes fitted. I was glad to be rid of the Pirelli Corsas that were on the bike, especially the rear, it was too wide, a 180/55 and not the correct 170/60/17. It’s not much, but I always think that designers know what they are doing when they specify a certain size of tyre. If they had wanted to fit 180/55 they would have done. It still had plenty of tread but the tyre gave me absolutely no confidence at all. Every corner I went around filled me with terror. A Ducati Monster is a great handling bike and shouldn’t feel like that.

The Pilot powers looked much better on the bike and the back tyre better proportioned to the wheel. After a warning from the fitter to be careful until the mould release has worn off the tyres I set off and wheelspun out on to the road. I had not intended to at all but the low down grunt of the 900 cc engine was enough to spin the back wheel. Guy wasn’t kidding.

Right away the bike felt better. The ride was softer yet firmer and the steering neutral. After 100 kms or so of gradually riding faster and faster and building confidence I realised that these were bloody good tyres with excellent grip and feel.

They need warming up for about 10kms but once up to temp they just do their job. The only time they aren’t very good is when riding over white lines. That may just be because the French have a rubbish reflective paint that appears to be made with Teflon on all their roads. Someone told me it was because the high quality Patented grippy version in the UK was too expensive. Who knows, perhaps with some other tyres it might not be so bad.

On one trip with a mate following on his Hornet 900 I was told that I was leaving black lines on the road coming out of the corners! The power of that big V twin must have been pushing the back tyre to the limits but I had no inkling of any drama being played out, the bike just goes around corners like it is on rails.

The turn in is very fast with these tyres, I think I read somewhere that the front tyre has a slight V shape which aids this. The bike lays down in the corners and stays there, the angle of lean stays fairly constant. They were never tested in the wet so I can’t give any feedback about how they might have performed but in the dry they grip very well.

They lasted well too. I managed to get about 3000 miles from the rear which, considering the kind of abuse it was subjected to was quite impressive, or at least I thought so, no doubt some reading this would be horrified but from what I can tell this is about right for a high performance street tyre. The front has plenty of tread left but it is lightly deformed but that’s hardly surprising considering the awesome stopping power of those 8 pot Brembo brakes. Both tyres wore evenly but that’s mainly because I rarely ride on straight roads.

I have been warned though by someone who gets through a hell of a lot of tyres on his bikes that Michelins can become suddenly unpredictable near the end. I have recently noticed a couple of little twitches from the back end when well heeled over but I couldn’t say whether it is the tyre going off or just an irregularity in the road surface but in my mind it could be the tyre, it probably is the tyre and so it’s time to change it.

Even though the front tyre looks OK, I’ll change it as well just to have a new matching pair from the same maker. One set of new tyres every year seems fair enough and the Pilot Powers were bought and fitted for about £200 which isn’t bad really, the Monster has big wide wheels after all.

If all I could get was a new set of Michelin Pilot Powers as before I would not be disappointed at all. Marks out of ten? I’d have to say at least a 7, maybe an 8 but I really haven’t tested that many different types of tyre so this is fairly meaningless although it can act as a bench mark. Lets go from here.

This time I am going to try the much rated Bridgestone BT 016 (read the review here) just because I feel that the bike deserves it and can you ever have too much grip? Will the BT 016 be better? I’ll let you know in a few weeks after I have thoroughly tested them in the real world.

T Shirts

Withnail T Shirt – Here hare here…


Withnail ‘Here hare here’ T shirt from Redbubble

Leica m9

Learning all over again


Picture of a French cat sitting on a car. Leica M9, Elmarit 21 Asph, f8 @ 125 sec 160 ISO. Worked on in Lightroom. See below to see the original.


When I had my Leica M3 I used to guess the exposure and often the focus too. I used to get away with it most of the time. Imagine my surprise when many of the first pictures I took with the M9 were badly exposed, out of focus or had camera shake. What was going on? I thought I was an OK photographer but here I was making the most basic of mistakes.

All the pictures I take with the M9 are uncompressed DNGs and I work on them in Adobe Lightroom which came with the camera. It is a very powerful program which takes some learning. I was lucky that I have a mate who is a Pro who has been using it for a few years and he showed me the basics so I could at least get started.

The problem is that the images from the M9 are enormous at 18 mega pixel (4 times more than the Digilux 2 it replaced) so when you zoom in to 100% you really can see any faults. Before, these slight issues were never a problem, I never printed anything bigger than 5 x 7 and at this small size they were not noticeable.

Apparently I was not such a good photographer as I thought I was. Must do better. One of the advantages of not having a mirror behind the lens is that the camera can be held at much lower speeds. That said, one must still hold the camera steadily and not jerk it when you press the shutter. It is entirely possible to take good hand held pictures at an 1/8th of a second but only if you take great care, I had not been taking care.

My exposures were not too bad but I had been spoiled by the Digilux 2 which had three different metering options. Often when shooting into the sun, I would put the meter on ‘spot’, move the camera to the area I wanted exposed correctly, lock the exposure, then move the camera to frame the shot. This was very effective but it’s not quite the same on the M9. I can lock the exposure but I lose the soft shutter option which is a shame.

As for my focusing, well the less said about that the better. It didn’t help that the first lens I put on the M9 was a 50mm as I’d been used to a 21mm before. Again, I had become lazy. The autofocus on the Digilux worked very well and I rarely focused manually.

The great thing about the M9 is that you HAVE to use it manually and thus you regain the control like it or not. Dropping back into the M philosophy after five years  of letting the camera do everything for me was initially a bit of a shock but it didn’t take long until I was feeling more at home with the camera.

The thing is I took some fabulous pictures with the Digilux but as good as they were, I always felt they were lacking some vital ingredient. Now I know what that was. It was the photographer! It does seem strange to be going back to a completely manual system but it works. I like the way it forces you to consider everything before you take a picture.

Not only did I have to learn to use a camera properly but I also had to learn the program I needed to view the images. I used to be a bit of a purist when it came to taking pictures, I never messed about with my images or even cropped them. A true photographer does not need to correct mistakes. His pictures are perfect straight out of the camera. With the advent of digital I am beginning to change my views.


Leica M9, Elmarit 21 Asph f8 @125 sec, 160 ISO. After much work in Lightroom. See below to view the original shot.

After all, I can shoot in colour and convert to black and white if I want. DNGs are amazingly tolerant and I can easily adjust the exposure if I get it wrong. That’s not to say I am slack when I shoot but it does mean that I have often managed to rescue an image that would have been lost using film. It seems that adjusting images post camera is perfectly acceptable these days.

Now that I am losing my purism I am having a lot of fun with Lightroom. I still prefer not to mess about or crop but I cannot deny that some pictures are improved amazingly. The quality of my work has improved because of the extra care I have to take. It’s a continuous learning experience and very satisfying because of it.


Completely untouched as it came out of the camera. Picture was a little under exposed to begin with. Even after adjusting the exposure it was still only a mediocre shot so I gave it some more colour and contrast and a bit of a vignette too. I rather like it.


Here again, a perfectly ordinary shot. Nothing very interesting at all. Change to black and white and increase brightness and contrast (mainly) and you have something more interesting.


Dolphins are awesome


All photos on this page: Leica Digilux 2 100 ISO

During the last 20 years of sailing I have been very fortunate to have seen a lot of dolphins, but no matter how often I see them it’s always a treat. I always go to the bows and say hello. I’ve often wondered what they make of us in our bright waterproof clothing. They are obviously intelligent, you only have to watch them for a while to see that. It reminds me of that fabulous Douglas Adams quote:

It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.

The famous and revered French sailor Bernard Moitessier wrote about how some dolphins helped him one night when he was on course to run into an island. His book The Long Way is a fantastic read. He describes how a group of dolphins swam past and always to the right. The wind had shifted and he was off course. When he changed course one of the dolphins leapt high into the air almost as if he was saying, ‘look, we made that human understand, how cool is that?’ Even though Moitessier wrote in French the English translated version is still excellent. He was a true sailor and he not only understood but he could pass on his feelings in wonderfully descriptive stories. If you have never read Moitessier I cannot recommend him highly enough.

Dolphins have even been to my aid though sadly I cannot tell the tale as well as Bernard but I’ll do my best. We had left Sao Miguel in the Azores on route to Gibraltar on Doolittle our Dana 24. We’d spent a very happy 6 weeks in the Azores but we were both conscious of a feeling of harbour rot. Life was cheap and easy in the Azores and although we had sailed 2500 miles to get this far, we still had 1000 miles to go and were aware that we had become soft. We’d lost the rhythm of the sea.


To complicate matters, Hurricane Harvey was approaching the Azores so we wanted to get away before it arrived. There was a good chance it wouldn’t make it that far into the Atlantic but we figured putting as much distance as we could between us and it was a good idea. The window for leaving wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either. One has to cast off at some time. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether you are being a wuss or whether it’s really not a good idea to go. The longer you spend in port, the harder the decision to leave becomes.

We decided to go anyway and had a cracking sail for a few hours under the lee of the land. As we approached the end of the island we could see white water ahead. I assumed it was the current, often strong around islands. As we sailed ever closer to the whiteness it became obvious that in fact it was the sea that was white. It was white because a gale was blowing.


As soon as we came out of the protection of the land we found ourselves in ten foot waves and 30 knots of wind. We reefed the sails and carried on but it seemed a bit much to be thrown into a gale so soon out of port. It’s much better to have a few days of gentle sailing before bad weather strikes. While I was dealing with the sails the clouds overhead were growing at a very fast rate. It was a cloudless day one moment, the next there was a wide cloud that went from one horizon to the other. It did not bode well.

When you spend a lot of time at sea, you begin to be able to read the clouds. If not consciously, then at least subconsciously and they can tell you a lot. What we were seeing was new to me. It was quite possible that it was just a local phenomena or it might just look bad and mean nothing. The question of whether to carry on was broached.


If we were going to turn around, now was the time to do it. Neither of us wanted to be spending our first night at sea in those conditions, not after 6 soft weeks ashore yet we knew what to expect. The boat could easily take the weather. So could we. It wouldn’t be the first time, but we still had ten days and nights ahead of us. As we were wondering what to do a small group of about five dolphins appeared.

Usually dolphins ride the bow wave when they come to visit, they drop away and you can see them dive deep only to come up behind the boat once more. They behave in many different ways but these dolphins were swimming across the bows, back and forth. Well, that decided it for us. It was a clear sign. If we had any doubt it was all gone now. We turned the boat around and pointed in the direction of the port.


The dolphins turned with us and swam with us a little way now acting normally. Then they disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. I’ve often thought about this. I am in no doubt that the dolphins were trying to tell us something. If crossing the bows was normal behaviour, why hadn’t I seen it before? Besides, why didn’t they do it after we had turned around? I wonder what would have happened if we had carried on. I guess that’s something that I will never know.

It’s entirely possible that they were winding us up however. ‘ Look Dave, a small yacht that’s been in port a long time, bet they’re shitting bricks, lets go and have a laugh. You swim from left to right and I’ll swim from right to left’. I wouldn’t put it past them. We met a guy in the Azores who had often swum with dolphins and he assured me it was quite safe to get in the water with them. He said that sometimes they come straight at you at 20 knots and then at the very last moment, deftly swerve around you making high pitched squeaks that can only be interpreted as laughter.

Dolphins are awesome.


Ducati Monster Quat D Ex-Box exhaust


Leica M9, Summarit f2.5 50mm f2.5 @ 20th sec, 2500 ISO, Ducati with ExBox exhaust. See how clean it looks with no visible pipes. This is one clean back end.

When my cousin lent me his M900 Monster it came with the noisiest pipes you ever heard. He had the pipes made up for the bike when it was new and instead of having one pipe on each side, it had them both on the right hand side, quite forward thinking at the time. It looked excellent and the sound was awesome if you like that kind of thing which I did but I didn’t think our neighbours would.

To give you an idea of how loud it was when it fired up, windows would open and people would be wondering what the hell had happened. I tried to ride it quietly but even at very low revs it was very loud. The funny thing is, I rode it like this for a few months until I could finally afford to do something about it yet no one said a word, if anything people would say they liked the sound. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, the South of France is biker heaven!

One day I arrived at a roundabout where there were 4 bike cops all standing watching me arrive, arms folded. I would get tugged for sure… I tried to keep it quiet but wasn’t fooling anyone as I burbled, popped and rumbled towards them, I just rode confidently, turned my head to look behind me as I slowed and then powered on through the round about.

Eight eyes followed me around. Obviously they were not after bikes, so just as a treat for them I gave the bike some gas, not too much obviously but just enough to really enjoy that big twin sound. They didn’t come after me and I got the distinct impression that they quite enjoyed seeing the bike. I would have been pulled over in the UK for sure. Then consider that the bike has no indicators and a tiny number plate, easily enough excuse for a British cop to bust your ass! Like I said, it’s biker heaven in the South of France.

Even though no one seemed to mind about the noise I was feeling rather conspicuous all the same so I decided to look into some quieter pipes. My original idea was to simply change the cans and leave the beautiful custom made stainless downpipes in place but I just couldn’t find anything that would fit properly and nothing looked as good as the Supertrapps originally fitted. I decided to try another approach.

Then I saw some pics of a monster with the entire exhaust under the engine. It was the Quat D Ex-Box. I liked it and it seemed that it was road legal but could be easily adapted to be louder by unblocking the top of the two outlet pipes in the box.


Leica M9 Elmarit 21 Asph, f8 @ 500 160 ISO. M900 with Ex-Box Oct 2009

It cost a whopping 1000€ and was interesting to fit. The downpipes are made in pieces which slot into one another and are held in place by strong springs. It’s a crazy system but it looks quite funky and does work. The box itself is very nicely made and quite heavy. In theory the weight so low down and central would help with the handling a little.

The first issue soon came to light. The tyre was touching the exhaust pipe because the chain was too short. One new chain with two extra links later, we were in business. For the first test I left the exhaust road legal as supplied and started the bike.

‘Wow’ I thought, that dry clutch really is loud. This is perfectly normal of course but I hadn’t heard it before over the noise of the old pipes. The Ex-Box in legal mode is very quiet indeed. I quite liked it though for it may have been quiet but it was still deep. A test ride was in order.

As soon as I pulled away I noticed the lack of power, I reckon it lost 20% right away. Normally the front wheel will lift in first if you accelerate hard, now no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get the wheel off the ground. The bike felt very civilized but gutless. Maybe not gutless but it had lost the immediacy of the original delivery and the power curve felt very flat.

So I turned straight around and got the allen keys out and removed the capped top hole and installed the uncapped piece that comes with the exhaust. This meant that both holes in the exhaust were now open. I started the bike. The sound was deeper and louder. Nice.

A ride soon confirmed that the power was back. I was surprised that the original pipes were so effective. Loud they might have been but they were obviously well set up. So I had achieved my goal, a Ducati that sounds like a Ducati but won’t upset the neighbours too much.

The best thing about the Ex-Box is that it makes the back end of the bike so clean and mean looking. The bike is very narrow and the Ex-box emphasizes and enhances this feature.

Everyone notices this exhaust and most people’s comments are positive. I like it because it makes a nice sound, cleans up the back end and is a little different. You don’t often see bikes with them fitted.

Conclusion: Expensive but well made, nice sounding with clean looks but you might need a slightly longer chain.

Stay Upright!


Ducati Desmosedici


All shots: Leica M9 Elmarit 21mm Asph, 160 ISO.

When Yan turned up on his Desmo I had to take some pics. The light wasn’t too bad and anyway, had it been raining I’d still have tried taking some pics. It’s not often you see a Desmosedici in the flesh after all. The colour pics are cropped slightly but otherwise untouched. I couldn’t decide which of the two pics in black and white I liked best so I posted them both. You decide.

The most amazing thing is the noise it makes, even with standard pipes. They exit at the back of the seat on top and are loud. This is at low revs, I simply cannot imagine the noise when it redlines at 14,000 revs. The engine itself fights for attention and between them the noise it makes hurts. It is quite extraordinary.


I heard Yan coming from a long way off and the kettle had nearly boiled by the time he actually arrived. If I hadn’t heard him I would surely have seen him. This bike is RED. He tells me that the power it makes is incredible and it spends much of the time pointing at the sky. That must be why the front tyre looks hardly worn compared to the rear. Mind you I have never seen a front tyre with wear marks right down to the edge of the tread before.


The bike abounds in tasty details, it’s almost a shame it’s faired so comprehensively, I’d like to spend an hour contemplating the engine. I told Yan that even if he offered me a ride on it, I’d refuse. There’s no way someone my small size and weight could use it effectively on the road. A track day would be different but the adage ‘you bend it, you mend it’ would be always be there and if I damaged it even slightly it would no doubt cost an arm and a leg.

He did say I could sit on it. This alone is a mark of trust, even dropping the bike at standstill would probably do expensive damage. It really does seem quite delicate. Even though I’m only 5’4” short it fitted me really well. I could easily touch the ground and bars, pegs and levers all fell into place naturally. ‘It suits you’ says Yan. Yeah right, I’ll just sell my home and buy one tomorrow. Oh, but wait I can’t they only made 1500 so are as rare as rocking horse shit.


Even if I was rich I just couldn’t see myself owning a Desmo, I really don’t think I’m brave enough to even try and tame it but perhaps it’s the worry that perhaps I could. Anyway it’s academic as I very much doubt I will ever be able to spend £40,000 on two wheels. You can’t take a passenger, or even a spare change of pants so it’s obviously not a very practical bike to own.

Special 16.5 inch tyres are needed. No idea how much they would cost each. Don’t suppose they last long either with nearly 200 horse power on tap. If Yan gave it to me I probably even couldn’t afford to own it let alone ride it! No one in their right mind is going to service it themselves so it needs to go back to Ducati every year although they kindly take care of this for the first three years. The bike also comes with a 3 year warranty such is Ducati’s faith in the robustness of their engine but what about insurance? I’d probably have to sell a kidney. Might be worth it though….


In many ways it’s the Leica M9 of motorcycles. They are rare and hard to get hold of. They represent the best that money can buy. A no compromise product build to a spec and not a price and not everyone would recognise it for what it is. Serious wealthy loonies only need apply.


Sailing ships are the future


Leica M9 Summarit f2.5 50mm f11 @ 250 160 ISO. Cambria and Lady Trix at Les Voiles des St Tropez classic yacht regatta, October 2009


The unbelievable and quite shocking pollution statistics associated with shipping and the need for a more environmentally sympathetic approach. And even a proposed solution.

I had a dream. I dreamed that we could live sustainably on this planet, I dreamed that our impact on it was so reduced that we no longer heard daily stories in the press about the loss of yet more habitat and another species gone forever. I even had part of the answer. However when I told people about this dream I was met with negativity and cynicism. I too could have been brought to this pitiful and rather sad level but I wanted to do something about some of the problems we as a race have created for ourselves. So I refused to listen to the doom mongers and instead have compiled this rather shocking list of facts in the hope that people will realise the full implications of taking no action. We know the problems, we have the solutions, all we need is the WILL. Or do you want to go down in history as the most vilified and stupid generation that ever lived?

I found the following in various places. This from Wikipedia:

Ship pollution is the pollution of air and water by shipping. It is a problem that has been accelerating as trade has become increasingly globalized, posing an increasing threat to the world’s oceans and waterways as globalization continues. It is expected that, …shipping traffic to and from the USA is projected to double by 2020. Because of increased traffic in ocean ports, pollution from ships also directly affects coastal areas. The pollution produced affects biodiversity, climate, food, and human health.

Exhaust emissions from ships are considered to be a significant source of air pollution. “Seagoing vessels are responsible for an estimated 14 percent of emissions of nitrogen from fossil fuels and 16 percent of the emissions of sulfur from petroleum uses into the atmosphere.”[27] In Europe ships make up a large percentage of the sulfur introduced to the air, “…as much sulfur as all the cars, lorries and factories in Europe put together.”[32] “By 2010, up to 40% of air pollution over land could come from ships.”[32] Sulfur in the air creates acid rain which damages crops and buildings. When inhaled sulfur is known to cause respiratory problems and increase the risk of a heart attack.[32]

The Kyoto Protocol, which does not require countries to measure or curb emissions from shipping. But that may change in 2009, giving a boost to the prospects of harnessing wind power beyond the value in saved fuel.

Everyone is talking about making engines more efficient or propellers or adding kites to reduce fuel consumption but what everyone fails to realise is that the wind is free and as recently as 100 years ago the sailing cargo ship had already evolved and was capable of making journeys of thousands of miles without producing so much as one gram of carbon. With the benefit of today’s technology, modern sailing ships could easily manage to deliver a huge proportion of the World’s goods with no pollution at all.

This is not new. Why not benefit from that hard earned experience? Isn’t about time we did something so obvious? What will future generations think of us, when we had the answers but failed to do anything about it? Why is it so hard to build and man a steel sailing ship? A well maintained sailing ship would far outlive any cargo ship with an engine. So in the long run any extra costs will be absorbed. A new cargo ship might cost $20 million, surely a sailing ship could be built for a similar sum, perhaps less as it needs no costly engine. Maintenance costs are massively reduced. Hello? This is a no brainer. Why am I the only person who sees an opportunity to do something so obvious and logical?

We put a man on the moon, are you telling me that building a sailing ship to deliver goods around the World is too hard? What bollocks. I can well understand why sailing ships died out because of engined ships but that was then, this is now. We NEED sailing ships now. There are winds out there in the oceans that blow steadily and with enough power to move ships at similar speeds to engined cargo ships, not with a 10 or 20 percent reduction but a 100 percent reduction. With the technology available today a sailing ship’s efficiency could be improved so much, modern weather forecasting would allow ships to keep in the best winds increasing efficiency still further.

A ship moves 3 metres on one litre of fuel. That’s ridiculous. A ship uses hundreds of tons of fuel daily. Yearly a ship will need to spend millions just to move. A sailing ship can girdle the globe with zero emissions. The fuel savings alone should be enough of a motivation to start using sailing ships again.

All around the planet there are good and predictable winds that blow all year round. There will still be a need for engined ships but for many routes a sailing ship is a very viable alternative. I’m not making this up. 100 years ago, ships could carry cargoes as big as 8000 tons and deliver them from one end of the globe to the other at average speeds not far from the engined ships. With a little help from technology, this efficiency can only increase. All this with ZERO pollution.

In 1968 Sir Robin Knox Johnston took 300 days to sail around the world non stop. These days the time is less than 60 days! So how much could a sailing cargo ship be improved?

From Lloyds List Nov 08

High fuel prices call for new ship designs

Janet Porter – Wednesday 19 November 2008

NAVAL architects need to return to the drawing board and produce fundamental ship design changes in keeping with far higher fuel costs. 
That is the recommendation of Germanischer Lloyd, which said much can be done to improve operating efficiency. Even those ships already on order, but not yet under construction, should be reconfigured if shipowners assume that oil prices will remain expensive in the foreseeable future.

Again, we are missing the point. We need a whole new look at the way we do things. Of course we should always strive to reduce consumption wherever possible but we must not ignore the obvious either. And the following is from the World Shipping Council:


May 2, 2008

Shipping lines worldwide are struggling as crude oil prices topped an unprecedented US$119 per barrel this week, in turn pushing marine bunker fuel prices up past $552 per ton – a $26 per ton increase since the end of March alone. Bunker prices have risen 87% since the beginning of 2007.

Fuel costs represent as much as 50-60% of total ship operating costs, depending on the type of ship and service.

Ocean carriers are required to recover these costs to maintain levels of service, meaning the price of shipping goods will continue to face upward pressures.

To illustrate the effect of the rising fuel costs, consider the following example of a large modern container vessel used in the Trans-Pacific trade with an actual, maximum container capacity of 7,750 TEUs (twenty foot equivalents) or 3,875 FEUs (forty foot equivalents). With the cost of bunker fuel at $552 per ton, with fuel consumption at 217 tons per day, a single 28-day round trip voyage for this one vessel would produce a fuel bill of $3,353,952. This number could be greater for a number of reasons, such as if the voyage were more than 14 days, or if the vessel were smaller and less fuel efficient per container, or if schedule delays required the vessel to speed up to stay on schedule.

Recovery of fuel cost from cargo customers is a challenge when one considers that vessel capacity utilization is not 100%, that trades are not evenly balanced (e.g., U.S. Trans-Pacific exports may utilize only half of a vessel’s capacity), that different trades and commodities can handle different levels of rates, and that fuel prices continue to rise. If a cargo shipper pays less than its share of the fuel cost, it can only mean that other shippers must pay more, and/or the carrier fails to recover its operating cost, which is not a sustainable business scenario.

Fuel cost recovery cannot be done on a per-vessel/per-sailing basis. A carrier has strings of vessels operating in scheduled service and must recover its total costs. Thus, the above example scenario, if extended to a single weekly Trans-Pacific service using five vessels, would create an annual fuel bill to the carrier of $220 million. Approximately 1,500 ocean-going liner vessels, mostly containerships, make more than 26,000 U.S. port calls each year, providing American importers and exporters with efficient transportation services to and from roughly 175 countries.

Today, U.S. commerce is served by more than 125 weekly container services. The annual fuel cost for the services is tens of billions of dollars and continues to rise substantially. How carriers seek to obtain recovery of these rapidly rising fuel costs in the current market is a matter for commercial negotiations, but the significance and the magnitude and the consequences of the challenge continue to grow.

Operational Changes

Carriers have been responding to the high cost of fuel by utilizing a range of operational adjustments. Beginning in early 2007, most container lines began restructuring their operations to address fuel price trends. They have:

• redeployed ships among global trade lanes to optimize utilization

• consolidated services through multi-carrier alliances

• consolidated routes to serve more locations with fewer ships

• slowed sailing speeds to conserve fuel where possible within schedule

• improved monitoring of hull and propeller conditions to reduce resistance and improve efficiency

• adopted container transloading, street turns and other strategies to cut inland fuel costs

Considering that these steps have generally already been taken by shipping lines, there are limited additional operational measures that vessels can take to further reduce fuel consumption.

YES THERE ARE!!!! BUILD SAILING CARGO SHIPS!!!!! Why is no one thinking along these lines? It’s almost unbelievable. Yet it was the sailing ships that started trading goods around the World in the first place. We have done it before, we can do it again. With modern technology we can really do something extraordinary. Read on, it seems that Environmental initiatives are adding further costs. Is now not the time to think again? It’s all been done before. There is no risk. This is a win win win situation.

Environmental Measures to Add to Cost Increases

Environmental initiatives to address vessel air emissions will add to these growing costs. The World Shipping Council has fully supported the efforts of the U.S. and other governments to establish new environmental standards for vessel air emissions, and supports the new standards that the International Maritime Organization has recently agreed to for new engine standards and new fuel standards. However, the cost of low sulfur fuels to be used in Emission Control Areas will be roughly double the cost of bunker fuel, thus creating even more upward operating cost pressures going forward.

While the liner shipping industry fully understand its responsibility to implement and adhere to these new environmental standards, it is essential that the environmental community and regulators also understand that fuel prices are already causing ships to minimize fuel consumption and minimize emissions. Ships cannot afford to waste fuel and do not emit more CO2 than is necessary for the conduct of commerce. Further taxes or charges on fuel consumption will not cause fewer green house gas emissions; it would only raise costs, and further add to inflation. And encourage the building of sailing ships instead

It is also important to recognize that ocean shipping is the most energy efficient form on freight transportation. For example, recent estimates show that moving goods by ocean container can be 17 times more fuel efficient than transporting the same goods by air and 10 times more efficient than transporting the goods by road. Environmentally, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by shipping goods by sea.


Every sector of the economy is being affected by rising fuel costs.

The transportation industry is being particularly hard hit.

While ocean carriers may provide the most fuel efficient form of transportation, they face an unavoidable imperative of recovering these rising costs if current service levels are to be maintained.

# # #

So as you can see, no one has even thought to suggest going back to the old ways. Were they so bad? It was mainly economics that caused the demise of sailing ships of old, but now with environmental pressures ever increasing I feel there is a place for sailing ships to deliver cargo.

Yes, I know there will be objections and resistance, but do we want to do something about our chronic abuse of our home, or do we not give a shit? We as a race can do the most incredible things. Humans are amazing. Lets show just how great we can be. It just takes the will. Do we have the will? I sincerely hope so.

Humans changed their destiny when they began to adapt their environment to suit them. Ultimately it will be our downfall. All other species on this planet adapt to their environment and have survived for hundreds of millions of years like that. A sailing ship is perfectly adapted to the environment and in harmony with nature. It’s a no brainer.

The wind is FREE.


Ducati Monster 696 review


Leica M9, Elmarit 21 asph, f8 @ 500 sec 160 ISO. Collobriere, France, October 2009

Last October my brother visited and we hired a new Ducati Monster 696 with the intention of blasting around the French countryside. Although I am very happy with a M900 Monster I was keen to see what 15 years worth of evolution had done for the beast.

First impressions are of a tight, well engineered nimble bike with quick steering but with harsh suspension. It would have been nice to be able to adjust the set up for my light 60 kilos. The new Monster is aimed at everyone so I wasn’t surprised that the suspension was firm. But I suppose better too firm than too soft.

The engine was smooth and the bike quite comfy, all things like switch gear and mirrors worked well. The engine certainly revs but it lacks the bottom end grunt of the M900. Brakes worked well as you would expect from a Ducati. The noise was disappointingly quiet but that could easily be turned up with some aftermarket Termis, no doubt it would also liberate some power as well as some decibels. The engine feels restricted to me with a very flat power curve though it revs freely and now and then the rev limiter would kick in.

To be honest I didn’t like it. That’s an awful thing to say I know. I really wanted to but after riding it I just don’t. What got me most of all was the harshness of the ride. The M900 soaks up bumps with ease and is surprisingly comfy to ride even on rough roads but the 696 jars and crashes over the smallest irregularities in the road which makes riding it very tiring. I also found the throttle very snatchy and hard to use smoothly, maybe this could be adjusted by a remap or maybe freer pipes.

You can see the family resemblance easy enough but I don’t like the plastic feel that it has or the LCD display. I mean, plastic tank covers which are really flimsy too. I know you can change it’s colour easy enough but that’s not reason enough to have so much plastic everywhere. I know that plastic is lighter too but it’s just so nasty. The headlight is a split screen affair that most people seem to like though it looks too plasticy to me.

At one point I took it out on my own to see what I could do with it down a favourite winding road. Suddenly it all made sense, the stiff suspension is needed when you’re sweeping at high speed around the bends but who wants to ride like that all the time? Plus, I had to shift my feet on the pegs as my feet kept touching the road which was really annoying. The pegs are far too low.

It seems to me that Ducati have tried to create a bike that can do everything for everyone but it certainly didn’t work for me. Taking the bike back to Columbus (Excellent Ducati Rental) should have been a great trip along the sea front all the way to Cannes. This is an awesome bike road but by the time I arrived I couldn’t wait to give it back, it was so uncomfortable and my wrists were sore from the jarring ride. I have heard that the Monster 1100 is a completely different beast. Maybe I should hire one of them next time! That or the Street Fighter.


Leica M9, Elmarit 21 Asph, 80 ISO f11 @ 125 sec Ducati 696 Nr St Tropez, France. October 2009