Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Respect man!

'Respect man' is usually a pop culture term paid to, not demanded by someone! 


     I realise I haven't updated my blog for over a year but also haven't had a holiday since 2006 and that was a working holiday helping woodworking friends deck out a swimming pool in Dordogne. I was demonstrating to these considerably younger lads how to do back somersaults into the pool and capsizing each others canoes on that majestic river  Oh to be young!

      Today I received an email from a major UK woodworking magazine. The request was for some editorial content for a centrefold feature on routing and the young managing editor wrote that she was aware I was a routing pioneer. Nice to be remembered!


My very first router in 1974 - a Ryobi 

     I replied thanking her for her interest and suggested I visited (to meet her and talk about it as I have often done with editors in the past). She replied saying it suited her better to use email and after a couple of brief exchanges I brought up the issue of a fee - a reasonable arrangement as bread and water have to be paid for! I immediately received a very curt 'no and thank you for your time' reply.  In a further email she stated there was no budget for features.

     Now the truth is if you write for Horse and Hound magazine and you are a Lord or Lady Muck they will likely pay you five grand but the woodworking magazines largely rely on student, amateur and retired content that is free. I realised a centre spread would offer me some promotional value to sell my routing publications so I immediately emailed back saying okay I will do it for free but I was stunned to be dismissed so quickly. It turned out later that the feature would have been an exclusive on me. 

Digital Touchscreen Jukebox made with a router. It won 
The Woodworker Magazine Professional woodworker of the Year award.

     The problem is I had a very bad experience a few years ago over really shoddy treatment by the editor of another leading magazine when for decades I had enjoyed first rate professional relationships with major magazine editors (I was famous then!!). I eventually issued a court summons for a blatant breach of a professional writing contract. The editor thought he could get away with it because he had assumed (by email!) I was a green college graduate. The matter was settled out of court by his boss who knew me well from decades of professional writing and compensated me to the value of three times my claim. 

     I tell this story not out of any sense of glee (because who wants conflict?) but because I do believe more senior, mature, experienced practitioners (okay call them oldies if you wish) should fight for the principle that defends younger less savvy woodworkers who are prey to unprofessional practice. If you are a musician most musicians are agreed you should do it for a minimum hourly fee.

    But standing up comes at a price and a few years ago I was excluded from a major superbly illustrated book/directory of Britain's leading furniture designer makers. It was some comfort when Fred Baier told me later that he wasn't in the book and Fred is probably THE furniture designer maker that any historian of the broad Arts canvass will likely feature (apart from John Makepeace of course)! The reason I was excluded was because I had a spat with the author who was curator of Britain's largest bespoke furniture show) because of the way she treated younger makers, reducing one to tears for touching up the French polish of a piece after it was delivered. Somebody had to stick up for them but nobody does and if they do then nobody thanks you and you pay the price!

Fred Baiers's Starwars Table. Fred and I exhibited at
The Prestcote Gallery  in 1979 where this table was shown.


   Of course the older generation two thirds of whom voted for Brexit are now accused of destroying the future of the younger generation (although a third of younger votes were for Brexit) when many of us were actually thinking of the future of the younger generation who are so easily brainwashed and at the mercy of peer group pressure. 

   Returning to the plot, I am then asked to submit text and images for quality approval when I am a bloody award winning trained craft journalist plus award winning woodworking author! 


My book was voted 'Top 200 Titles' in 1993 by The UK Booksellers Association 
from 63,000 titles published that year and is translated in four languages.


    So, the opportunity to have a centrefold exclusive feature in a major magazine was blown by me nipping the whole thing in the bud via my email to the editor saying I sense there is no respect and therefore I am withdrawing, but it is a lack of respect and this mindless conformity to the instant 'mobile phone/text culture' that actually diminishes real communication and influences the way human beings are treating each other today (not to the mention the huge influence of the Soaps that nobody will own up).     

   Some comfort that my You Tube video 'What can you do with a woodworking router?' continues to enjoy top viewing globally (around 1.8 million views) and I continue to sell my routing videos first produced in the 90's.


What can you do with a woodworking router? video

   Throughout much of my woodworking career I did not conform to the stereotype image of a woodworking expert who has white hair, a pencil behind his ear, is of working class background and is called Reg or Ron! But today I find myself with white hair and tediously enduring You Tube comments such as 'mad professor look' or 'quite surprised by these videos grandpa'. Such is the rampant ageism in our culture even when cloaked in humour. But I was spared that today because at least I was approached.



   But the biggest issue I have is on the reliance on emails that convey misunderstandings. What happened to the good old dog and bone where tone of voice immediately conveys meaning? It could actually save a lot of hassle. Here I am offering to visit the editor just five minutes away and it was turned down, yet not long ago the doyen of woodworking magazine editors Alan Mitchell called on me from London on spec at my house and workshop in Bath in the Camden road. I hasten to add he climbed up a steep hill to do so and was not a young thing as most of the media are today. 




  I am also aware that magazines struggle with the competition of online publishing and blogs in the same way broadcast television competes with You Tube. And the world increasingly expects something for nothing. But I did agree to offer my vast experience and skill for free! Perhaps that was a mistake, but then I would need to change my name to Lord Broun  of Camden!


'Respect man' What's that today?


Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Art of The Penknife

     Today whilst visiting a friend I noticed her front door was sticking and almost impossible for her to open. The wood had swollen in the frame so I asked her if I could use one of her sharp kitchen knives as I knew she wouldn't have a chisel at hand.

    I managed to whittle away the wood, enough to free up the door and it reminded me of my primary school days when as a bribe to stop my disruptive anti social behaviour, the headmistress gave me a little penknife with a handle cast out of aluminium and shaped like a bear. 


    I was pretty dysfunctional and quite blatantly because my life was hell at home under my father, (the disruptiveness I believe empowered me to teach woodwork to gangland kids when I taught in London and the Castlemilk area of Glasgow). But the remarkable thing was the sheer vision of this unusual headteacher. Imagine giving a disruptive child who vandalised everything in site a bloody penknife! Well it worked, I never carved up a school desk but probably this experience at the age of six was my first inspiration and encouragement to become a woodworker. 

   I cannot image a headteacher today with all the knowledge and wisdom of time that has passed since my childhood, empowering a young tearaway like that. Nor indeed do I imagine the skill of the penknife is ever taught to young children today or that they are allowed to discover it for themselves. But one day, who knows they may need to improvise in order to survive.

Friday, 30 October 2015

The Jeremy Broun Compact Toolbox

       I've got a little behind with the blog thing and partly because I have been very busy re-designing my website and separating out my furniture design activities from my woodworking publications as they are obviously aimed at two different markets. The latter now sit on an online store using a Wix website and it is called Woodomain. That is where I sell my books, DVDs, E-books and my more recent online video documentaries.  




       What spurred me to update my blog was the uplifting experience and renewal of 'faith in human nature' feeling that a design for a toolbox I gave for free on my YouTube channel I made just one request in return - that I was credited as the person behind the design concept. Not only have a few variations of my design appeared on the internet but their creators have mostly acknowledged me as requested and in an age of open source file sharing and 'everything is free on YouTube' it is an appreciated courtesy. 



The JKB Compact Toolbox


        I say this because back in 1984 I gave permission for readers of The Woodworker magazine to make my Caterpillar Rocking Chair. A year or so later my original design appeared in Design magazine under the name of a sixteen year old woodworker who claimed it was his design! In today's complex world to protect an original idea or get a manufacturer to produce it is expensive and stressful and leads to sleepless nights. There are times in life when you surrender to the universe and simply give something and amazingly the universe rewards you.



The Caterpillar Rocking Chair Copyright Jeremy Broun 1984





      Well actually a surprising reward is in seeing how a few woodworkers have interpreted my toolbox design and in some ways improved it. I have picked out a few here and put names to them as best I can:




This one is by a woodworker called Alan Price who contacted me and sent some photos of his version as well as posting it on YouTube. A nice detail is the comb or finger joint along the edge.





This version was sent to me and I have mislaid the source but again it is a net variation with a multitude of uses.





A YouTube video by Dave Wirth using the JKB Compact Tooolbox idea

  Not everybody has acknowledged the toolbox is my design so a gentle reminder request was sent to Dave Wirth who has created this chipboard version!

I intend to produce an E-manual giving dimensions and constructional details of this toolbox for those who would like to build the original version.





Saturday, 14 February 2015

The freedom to busk in Bath

    The very same buskers who try to gag a fellow busker from talking to the broadcast media, claim their human right to freedom of expression on the streets! Busking is on the political agenda!

    What is fascinating listening to John Cleese reminiscing with Eric Idle (2015) is that the bizarre Terry Gilliam animations glued together the totally detached and meaningless Monty Python sketches into one brilliant seamless storyline. Ironically the Room (or was it ministry)for silly walks and the one for Arguments depicts the way our county councils and indeed many other organizations tend to work - disconnected thinking and a failure (or refusal) to deal with the bigger picture! The bigger picture about busking has not been considered. 

     I have for some time lingered in posting a blog about busking in Bath, but since it all went viral last summer about the rector of Bath Abbey having to stop a Sunday service because of a busker and the current pledge by officials to ban amplifiers, I'm going to say my piece. Suffice to say buskers wouldn't be heard above the frenzy of tourists outside the Abbey without a degree of amplification which is the lifeblood of many creative acts. 

   Here is a short video of a radio interview I was asked to do during that media frenzy. It is lighthearted (as the main political story had suddenly run its course) and I guess the slot for me to talk had already been set up so instead I gave a personal view about the freedom of playing guitar in a wide open space such as outside Bath Abbey: 





Addition November 2015: At 2 mins 29 secs in the video above I commented on the 'huge freedom we (in Britain) enjoy' in public spaces with terrorism in my mind as an inevitable occurrence and it happened in Paris where I have also enjoyed the freedom to busk.


    The second thing I'd like to say is that I was asked to speak on behalf of Bath buskers by various media because I look after The Bath Buskers website which its unwell owner asked me to take over a few years ago. The lesson I quickly learned was no good deed goes unpunished. I had previously been voted as a buskers rep and went on to design and formulate The Bath Buskers Guide. Part of my discussions with city officials was persuading them NOT to ban the selling of music CDs by buskers and I pledged my fellow buskers would sell CDs discreetly by putting two or three in a guitar case. Of course the exact opposite happened - most buskers completely negated the new guide (designed by me and 1,000 copies paid for by officials) and buskers blatantly put big signs up - CDs for sale £10, contravening street trading laws. Unbelievable stupidity based on greed 

    The point to this particular anecdote is that a year or so later, out of the blue a couple of buskers invited me to breakfast at a local hotel, handed me a bottle of wine and told me it was time for me to move on as I had been voted out of office (behind my back) as a buskers rep at a meeting. I later (in fact very recently) learned it was the same busker at the centre of the media story who had spread a rumour on the street that I had tried to get CD selling banned. No, I persuaded officials to allow buskers to carry on selling CDs and the deal was to sell them discreetly! Well, the same guy who ousted me, a few months earlier I did a favour for by fixing his guitar! In this next video (inspired by him) the lyrics for the song I composed around the very issue of freedom and noise that now three years later threatens the freedom and diversity busking in my home city!  




 I suppose it is somewhat contradictory that a guy like me - an innovator of furniture design, a person who lightheartedly mocks tradition as a British national treasure holding us back in the world and yet I defend passionately the traditional essence of busking - the travelling minstrel. I quickly realised with the dirty politics on the street that buskers are just like the super rich, it is just a more primitive form of protectionisn. And what we see today is a microcosm of society - a polarity between those who do it as artistic expression and if people give a few coins its a bonus and those professional slick buskers with glossy CDs making a business out of it. Of course they want to hog the pitches and exclude others from just turning up and playing - university students wanting to gain public performance confidence, outsiders and the homeless.

  Well, one Saturday my busking friend Gary phoned me up and asked me if I had heard of a gypsy jazz band called the Jonny Hepbir Trio who were sitting on benches with their guitars. I most certainly had and I told Gary that Jonny Hepbir is top of the British crop of world class gypsy jazz players and get him a pitch as his band were on their way to Bristol to play at a wedding. Well this next video speaks for itself about impromtu street performance which is what I think busking is all about:





    Crumbs, I got to play guitar with a guy who had played with Jimmy Rosenberg and Birelli Lagrene, arguably the two foremost players in the world. What a thrill and unreal because I managed to hold it together!!

    So the spirit of busking is a real treasure and curious how these same guys who tried to gag me from talking to the media (the guy in the Rules to be free video) were claiming their human right to freedom of expression. What is evident is how a minority group can get a voice (in the media) and mess it up for the reasonable majority.  

   Music is a wonderful gift - to be able to play by ear allows you to concentrate on expression. I learned so much as a busker after earning 20p the first time I tried it because I was so bad. I developed a survival technique when I forgot my chords by doing a Les Dawson, smiling and then finding my way back into the song.

   Over the years I have played on the streets of Bath with some real virtuoso musicians, backing them with my guitar such as my young Slovak friends who came back to stay with me one summer as this video shows:







    And yet the past two or three years I have not been able to turn up and play on the streets because all these local buskers stole all the pitches each and every day. I am not alone, others have been excluded but the good news is the gang has largely broken up and moved on from Bath, the bad news is the problems they caused that has upset the harmony of bath busking through their greed. Strangely I am the guy invited to speak by officials on behalf of Bath buskers (because they can't get any other buskers to attend!)  later this month at a public consultation workshop. I will propose a structured permit system I have spent a few months devising (it can be viewed at www.bathbuskers.co.uk). I don't represent Bath buskers, I represent what the website I am the custodian of states - 'Busking in Bath'. We don't own the streets, but we know them and set the example.

   So, when the local council holds a public consultation to ban amplifiers in three prime tourist areas and the rector of Bath Abbey understandably is fed up with it on his own doorstep, the problem is then shifted to other streets where shopkeepers are already pretty fed up and the council licencing department who are now issuing a daily indeed yearly CD selling licence that will actually encouraging a small number of commercial buskers to hog the streets with more repeat repertoires. Amplification will be dealt with in the room of silly walks.

  The challenge (for me almost as a lone voice) is to persuade linear thinkers 
who (with the media) refer to the 'busking community' in conventional terms when no such thing actually exists, that all the issues are actually connected and that the Room of silly walks is part of a building locked in Argument in a street called Chaos! How can a sledgehammer reactionary policy that actually compounds existing problems be argued when the deaf are leading the blind! There has to be a workable solution that brings harmony back on the streets and yet a 'them and us' attitude prevails when a few buskers including myself tried a few years ago to break down those barriers. Call me traitor to buskers but the stupidity of a few buskers has put the boot in for all.  

     Well I came up with a possible solution a few months ago for a structured permit system that accounts for amplification, the selling of CDs and addresses other issues to make busking fairer for everyone and respecting the church and shopkeepers' need for peace. And it hinges around the way the pitches are booked. Would it be fair if somebody wishing to shop in Bath in the afternoon to have to book a parking place at a set time early in the morning?  The problem is it is immediately rejected by council officials.

    Busking has become a political issue, when the fundamental issue is common sense, co-existence, thinking beyond the self and respect for others. I am no church goer but I am ashamed that a fellow busker who draws his audience from a grand church on whose land he plays does not have the respect that Sunday is a day of worship and rest for some. He is too pre-occupied with his false belief system that everything is about individual rights. Interestingly there is also a human right to peaceful enjoyment. Ah the lawyers are never short of work! 

     Some say nothing will happen, that enforcing laws are not that easy and and others say the protectionism will continue and the chaos comes to a head every hot summer with buskers fighting over pitches like pigeons swooping on food. I cannot understand why the sheer performing talent on the street and generosity of spirit of the music given out does not commute with the current mindset amongst many buskers. So what is this freedom? 

Thanks for reading. 



Sunday, 4 January 2015

The myth about antiques

     I have always joked about the phenomenon of "tradition" in Britain and that some kind of writ must have been included in the Magna Carta that thou shalt bow down and unquestionably succumb to the great furniture making practice fixed in time, being like Stradivarius violins - superior in ever way to anything that could possibly be made today! Oh, by the way, we fly rockets to planet Mars and perform micro surgery and implant 4D components into the human body! I'm just saying.  

     So I have my own theory about "tradition" - a haphazard random system of practice handed down through the ages by semi-skilled, half blind craftsmen often in remote rural areas and so poorly designed they have been subsequently bodged up by farmhands using angle iron and steel pins! This is not to mention the huge trade in fake antiques "distressed" with bicycle chains, shotgun pellets, induced woodworm and then dipped in sheep's urine to get the right patina!

     In essence the rich tradition of English period furniture was largely headed by royal courtiers who were despatched to the continent for new ideas to return to impress the monarch of the time, resulting in a mishmash of design styles throughout the ages! The discipline of one craft was imposed on another such as the linenfold panel found in church stonework but transferred to the craft of furniture. Stone and wood have entirely different working properties.






The claw and ball foot is an animal form and has nothing to do with wood or furniture and makes some pieces look as though they are confused which direction to turn whilst others look as though they are about to pounce on their owner.







    In contrast Scandinavian classic modern furniture such as Alvar Aalto's timeless laminated chairs echo the bending trees in the wind. Such furniture is based on human need rather than indulgence and inspired my Nature itself! 'Less is more' or as we in Britain say 'more is more'!




    Of course I am being hugely irreverent and making sweeping generalisations about antiques but I can honestly only pick out a handful of English designs that have any real structural integrity. One is the Windsor chair, paradoxically made by the High Wycombe forest "bodgers" but it is honest in construction.






   At the turn of the last century I was commissioned to design and make a piece of furniture for one of the great halls in England (owned by a member of the royalty) and looking around I saw pieces of furniture dating back to the 13th century. My modern piece was to sit alongside furniture conceived of centuries apart - I saw 16th century pieces there. We (the proletariat!) tend to lump all antiques together as 'old' and respectable and yet making a living as a furniture maker in my youth, I was up against the prejudice that old and new cannot mix when the furniture in question was within the same century, not centuries apart! 






   More recently, and this is what inspired this blog, is that a friend asked me to repair a Chippendale chair she owns that a rather overweight guest had broken in leaning back. I'm not sure the chair is an original but immediately I am faced with the conflict that on the one hand I can repair it because I can make/do anything with wood, but will my repair (that will put back the strength in the chair that never was there in the first place!), detract from its value?!! Fortunately my friend is more concerned with getting a rather pleasing looking antique chair back into service rather than about its value. This is refreshing as England is obsessed with this 'what's it worth culture'.







   On studying the chair I could see it would be very difficult to take it apart
without the risk of breaking it further. I could see old splits and repairs where the grain is short and dowels intruded to already weak mortice and tenon joints that further destroy the wood fibres. The essential principal for a strong joint is fibre overlap - demonstrated in my late twentieth century rocking chair with its massive halving joints.







   I know that with the router I can carefully do some wood surgery by replacing inserts with the grain following the original member but like the dowels they will be detectable as long elongated inserts made smooth to follow the contours and stained etc to match the original colour. I shall likely be making a YouTube video of my repair in due course as I did with this recent chair repair.





   The problem with many of the designs of yesteryear is there was little respect for the character (strength) of wood and its behaviour (timber movement) and whereas mahogany was favoured by the great designers of the past such as Chippendale and Hepplewhite for its readiness to take ornate carving, it is actually quite a brittle wood and not ideal for chairs.

  Few will take the trouble to understand a fundamental principle in woodworking that short grain should be avoided because it is weak as can be seen in the diagrams below:








   Of course antique furniture has a huge charm and I am seduced as well! One of my favourite pieces is the classic tripod table (below) and of course it would not be authentic if it did not invariably have a split across the solid wood circular top! Why? because the top is not fixed to the under rail by slot screwing which allows the timber to shrink and expand but has screws in round holes hence the wood has nowhere to go and splits! Equally there is short grain on the S bend legs because the grain has to run diagonally to achieve any kind of strength. There is often a steel re-inforcing bracket added below the legs. But it is inferior workmanship by the standards of today.











    I believe these prejudices still exist today despite the fact that I have lived through what future historians will probably refer to as a Golden Age of Furniture. My series of DVDs "Furniture Today" place the superb modern work being made today in a historical context, but unlike wines, architecture (eg Grand Designs TV programme) there is still huge public ignorance about wood and modern furniture culture. Why upset the status quo 'they don't make it like they used to'?!

We are yet to live in the Age of enlightenment!

I'm just saying.







Monday, 10 November 2014

Wardrobe for the Emperor's New clothes

Here is one of my latest pieces which may well be submitted for auction at Sotheby's:





'Freestanding Storage for the Emperor's New Clothes':



The piece expresses the interaction between man and nature - the interference of man with nature (by compromising natural wood by turning it into plywood) and Nature's revenge by letting loose the force of its elements - rain, extreme sunshine etc. In its previous life the Objet d'art was a Ulitlity style oak veneered single wardrobe, perhaps designed by Gordon Russell and made in one of many sweatshops around the UK after the Second World War. The veneers have separated, peeled and curled, exquisitely revealing the stark bland core material. The cast metal knob remains intact and firmly screwed to the decaying plywood but seems to be saying 'am I next?'. The stain varnish is blistering in its pretence of being something it isn't. 








This masterpiece emerged by accident as I removed an otherwise ordinary, functional and lack lustre piece of furniture from service and left it outdoors to be taken away. The wardrobe door still opens and closes, the piece is still standing and I believe it is both a valuable expression of our rich furniture history and the direction our craft could take. 


I think it demonstrates where I am with my craft currently, the options that are open to me having proven I can make anything in wood to the same technical standard as a robot on the day the grid crashed. The piece takes furniture forward from utilitarian, to visual, to stark reality functionalism - the ravages and revenge of nature on a humble piece of utility furniture. 

I hope you enjoy my piece of fun!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Death of the small combination machine

I am just in the process of writing another e-book and this one is called 'The Woodworker's Cave'. It evolved from a chapter in my 1991 book 'Electric Woodwork' called 'The Electric Workshop'. This book focuses on small workshops exploring priority tools and machines, limited space and budgets.






In my research in updating to the current era but also dipping into the past I recalled those wonderful little combination woodworking machines in the early 1970's by a French company called Lurem and an American company that launched the famous Emco Star woodworking combination machine. Albeit aimed at the DIY market, these machines were at the vanguard of the power tool revolution and I wonder why there are not similar machines on the market today that offer the functions of sawing, planing, drilling and routing for the small solo workshop where space is limited. 



The Emco Star combination woodworking machine - 6 functions





A fabulous lathe attachment adds to the bandsaw, circular saw, disc and linisher. Wow, what a package! Bring it back!






The Emco Star 2000 


Well I tracked an old Emco star down on Ebay and bid for it and won it and consider I got it at a very reasonable price considering its huge potential in a tiny workshop such as mine! Here it is:








For me a priority tool is a bandsaw, however small. I do of course have a massive bandsaw in my main workshop but this feature on the Emco Star is worth its weight in gold (or should I say green Hammerite paint that I am going to change). The other really useful features are the circular saw, sanders and horizontal drill bed which can be used as a router. Dust extraction needs attaching of course and no end of custom/extension jigs can be added.

There modern combination machines are much bigger, slower to chasnfe mode and probably require a concrete floor whereas for small scale work the Emco Star is a winner. Why isn't it made today?!


One of the very few small machines available today seems to be the Spanish Stayer Combi 160. This is a circular saw, planer, thicknesser and milling machine all in one.



Stayer  Combi 160 







Minimax C30


Slightly larger and more suitable for the professional workshop is the Minimax C30 is a circular saw, planer and thicknesser, and spindle moulder at a tidy price of just over £4,000. 

Of course the trade off with these combination woodworking machines is a huge space saving advantage against the chore of changing modes and setting up for different functions. Some of the modern machines of course have separate motors. 

I must admit I wouldn't mind getting my hands on an early Emco star. It looks a lot of fun but then my workshop is already crammed full of machines that I would not have the space. A section in my new e-book will probably be on living room woodworking centred around a very efficient quiet running chippings extractor!

One of my must-do-before-I-leave-the-planet projects is to do up a small van and take guitar, dog and woodworking tools travelling - picking up work on the way. I can visualise that little Emco Star in a compact trailer. At the time (1973 to be precise) I looked down my nose at that machine and invested in the more robust looking and larger capacity Coronet Major instead. But today

My new e-book will be viewable online, downloadable, printable and including videos. 









Sunday, 12 October 2014

At last a 400cc road racer

Anyone thinking a motorcycle aimed at 20 year olds isn't going to appeal to geezers (geysers) like me, overlooks the fact that some boys never grow up (or grow old).

It was back in 1986 I last owned a 400cc sports motorcycle - a Suzuki GSXR-400 that I bought new in that year. Ever since parting with it in the mid nineties I have been waiting for a state of the art 400cc cafe racer bike to appear, so when it did suddenly appear in the UK a week or so ago in the form of the KTM RC390, I leapt at it and bought it from the Bristol showroom without even riding it. Well, I wasn't given much choice as KTM do not have a demo bike.



2014 KTM RC390 - one of the first in the UK



my 1986 limited edition Suzuki GSXR-400


The rave reviews on YouTube and in the motorcycle media made the decision to buy the KTM road racer easy and I haven't had as much excitement waiting for the machine to be prepared as when I was sixteen and owned my very first motorcycle. That was a 1944 James 125cc bike with hand gears and a top speed of about 40mph. I rode that bike from Wiltshire to my uncle's home near Loch Lomond, north of Glasgow, in the famous winter of 1962 and I literally froze on the way up - my legs had to be thawed out at a petrol station as my bike fell over on top of me into the deep snow when I tried to put my feet down.





My first bike - a 1944 James 125cc motorcycle with hand gears



So anybody claiming this new KTM road racer is uncomfortable or hard on the bum or wrists is a wimp in my book. Go buy a Harley or a BMW with heated handlebars, stereo and GSM to tell you where the tarmac is. Just don't even consider a bike that is clearly designed for the track! I don't even know what ABS is (which apparantly the RC390 has). I thought it stood for Acrynitrile Butadienne Styrene which in plain language is a common plastic! And plastic there is plenty of in the RC390 as the composite petrol tank cover won't take my magnetic tank bag! But when you buy for sheer looks you expect to make some compromises, but I reckon this bike will be so successful it won't be long before an aftermarket stylish tank bag appears.

Okay so the stunning looks of this half-Italian-and-half-Japanese-looking Austrian-bike-made-in-India grabbed me and I soon found it ticked the boxes concerning performance and economy. The bike can do over 105mph and return a fuel economy of 70mpg if ridden sensibly. Well sensibly to me is having a lot of fun on A roads at around 60mph and then using the power to overtake quickly. As I'm running the bike in and as I write have only clocked up 200 miles I am keeping the revs below 7,000 which takes me to a cruising speed of over 60mph. I haven't tested the power band yet but it promises to be really good for a single and I suspect KTM know their singles well. Certainly this one is hot running as the fan cuts in rather unexpectedly in low speed traffic so I would imagine the engine is running at full efficiency. Its not a new engine but similar to the established Duke 390 street bike.



373cc single cylinder engine. 12.6:1 compression ratio. 44bhp





Well here is my initial YouTube review going on very first impressions as I drove it the first twenty miles:


   
My first ride YouTube video


Isn't it funny how after the very first few "honeymoon" rides you begin to notice things that you thought you had already looked for and hear sounds that maybe were there all along! It drizzled the morning I filmed the bike so I cleaned it and wiped it down with a soft cloth only to discover minor scratches on the digital dash a few days later. The sun catches the scratches on what I expected to be a glass but what is a plastic instrument cover. Okay I can live wit that but one thing I don't know is how durable these KTMs are. The build quality seems really good on close inspection and I am told that the bikes are quality checked by KTM guys in the Indian Bajaj factory. But do they last?



The digital dashboard of the KTM RC390 I'm still trying to figure out how to configure it

The bike is fantastic to ride and is so agile that you almost want to drop it right down on a corner even when running it in at low speed! I do notice (not just with this bike) how I have to lift my right foot onto the brake pedal rather than just pivot my boot on the footrest. Is it just me? I'm five foot ten and interestingly fairly short riders will struggle with this bike as in the showroom a girl of about five four couldn't reach the floor. My mate's girlfriend is five foot six and when we went on a trip with two bikes yesterday and she sat astride my bike she could just touch down with both feet on the tarmac. I told her high heels aren't ideal and I always leave mine at home.

There are one or two really nice touches to this bike - the short side exhaust which I first saw on a Suzuki GSXR-600 a few years ago - I just love it. The front headlight design is like looking in your rear mirror and catching a glimpse of Alien. The fairing is minimal and purposeful. There is no spare fat on this bike and I read somewhere else that the airflow is excellent at high speed.




The wing mirrors are just about my only grip because they relate to safety


It really is 'form follows function' with this bike and this is echoed in the narrow section mirror arms except the mirrors don't work very well - your forearms are in the way. After 200 miles I have now learned how to flex my arms so I can see behind by looking under my arms and then quickly tucking my arms in to check the blindspot - but then who is going to overtake you? Just a much bigger bike! This bike will probably take on a lot of six hundreds.



The KTM RC390 race version with Akrapovic exhaust and race seat

KTM use the same frame for a 125 and 200cc version of this bike. The rear tyre is a chunky 150mm wide giving it a big bike look. Well, its a small bike really that looks bigger.





11 October 2014 - one of the first bikes in the UK 


I almost forgot; the KTM RC390 comes out of the box with a pair of superior grip Metzeler tyres. Unlike buying a new guitar you usually have to bin the strings supplied and buy a decent set. I normally get a good two thousand miles out of my tyres so it will be interesting to see how long these sticky tyres last once the bike is run in.

I feel a very lucky guy to be an early adopter of this exciting new bike and I'm not joking when I say it makes me feel like I am sixteen again! I watched a TV documentary about Guy martin helping re-build a Spitfire that he got to fly. What a great and engaging guy he is - I would love to know what he thinks of this little bike!

Well, please look out for my second more in-depth review when the bike is fully run in and I can test that power band and get a better feel of the economy. Suffice to say, after a 60 mile country ride yesterday, the bike was fantastic, a little wrist ache that practice will deal with and great for stopping to stretch legs every twenty miles - after all you have to pull into a layby frequently to get off and admire the look of this bike. I reckon Wiltshire to Scotland no problem for me - but summer only!

Sorry to those woodworkers who expected me to be reviewing secret mitred dovetails! All dovetails makes Jack a dull boy. Well, okay which of my furniture designs can I dig up to relate this road racing motorcycle to? Probably my Kangaroo rocker:






The Kangaroo Rocker designed by Jeremy Broun in 2010

This chair is minimal in structure with no spare fat, relying on four main components and made largely with the router. Its made of ash (so treasure this wood as it is currently hit by a species threatening disease) and the main joints are massive halving joints, familiar in carpentry but unusual in chair making. Like the KTM RC390 it is great on the bends especially for not-so-young rockers like me. But unlike the Austrian KTM made in india it is designed and made in Britain and by one mind and a pair of hands.