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Ducati 916 cam donald

Pitch, roll and yaw

(Travels with Guido series #317, by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen, Mar 2021)


Despite what your parents might say, riding is good for you

Let me walk you through a morning run for a light aircraft pilot. You wander out to the plane, open the cabin, drop in your headset (I can recommend the expensive but effective Bose noise-cancelling range) and get down to business.

You check the action of the flaps and ailerons, looking for weaknesses and stiff action in the hinges and rose joints. As you walk around the starboard (right) wing, you literally run your hand over the surfaces, checking for breaks or cracks.

Stop and crack open the wing-mounted fuel filler to check the level, then pop underneath and bleed the fuel drain to check for water.

Open the engine covers to look for leaks, oil level (6 quarts-plus), brake fluid level, and clean and firm connections to the dual magnetos.

Check the cold air intake for bird nests (it happens) then run your hand carefully over the propeller blades, looking for chips.

On the port side, you check the other fuel tank, stall warning horn is working and the pitot inlet is clear. The process keeps going, grabbing the stabilator (a full-wing elevator at the rear of a Piper) has no issues with its bearings – up, down, fore and aft. Oh, and you do at least look at the tyres – while important, they’re a fair way from the top of your priorities in this environment.

Then, once in the cockpit, there’s a pre-start checklist before you fire up the lazy giant 360ci (5.9lt) boxer four air-cooled Lycoming or Continental powerplant, and a series of running checks before you even think about getting a clearance from the control tower. It’s a process and thank your gods you don’t have to go through it every day you ride.

I flew regularly for 15-ish years and did it for fun. What you can’t help noticing over that time is the intimate connection between aviation and riding.

It is however a bit of a one-way street: talk to a rider and only a few of them fly; Talk to a pilot and many ride. One of my favourite examples comes from Martin Hone, a former motorcycle racer and staffer on Australian Motorcycle News. He took up flying and committed to the extent of moving to an airpark in Gatton (Qld).

An airpark, in case you were wondering, is a housing estate with its own runway and a hanger beside each home. The streets are wide to cope with a wingspan and cars or bikes are expected to give way to aircraft for reasons which become obvious any time you face a running propeller.

Soon after moving in, Martin established that all but one of his neighbors ride. And the other? They formed a little posse and went knocking. The gent opened his front door and, before they could say a word, exclaimed, “Relax, I’m just between bikes at the moment and promise to get one soon.”

What got me on to this is I was pondering having to get new cam belts for Nina the 916 Ducati. That was my favourite pre-flight ride and it’s necessary. The reason is I noticed over the years that I flew better when I rode to the airfield rather than drive. And no, I’m not making that up – there was a consistent and noticable difference.

Instructors have told me that motorcyclists generally make better students and I believe them. On a motorcycle you’re at least dealing with similar dimensional movement in an intimate way: pitch, roll and yaw. I think it’s more than that. It’s only a theory, but I suspect the fact you’re in immediate peril on a motorcycle and have to deal with that makes you sharper and more self-reliant. More aware of risk-management.

And so, if you give me a choice of two people to fly with – a motorcyclist or a non-rider – I’ll always choose the former. See, riding is good for you!

(Pic: That’s Cam Donald on the 916 for a story published some years ago in Motorcycle Trader mag. Shot by Ben Galli.)

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