BMW Driving Experience

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To say that I enjoyed myself would be a massive understatement. But I knew that going in :D

I was up in Joburg the other day, and took the opportunity to have some fun at Zwartkops with BMW. About 4 years ago I had the opportunity to do the Audi High Performance Driving Course. At the time they had courses which they offered around SA. So when they came down to Cape Town I was given the opportunity to join them at Killarney. This was an amazing time, and at the end of the day, my (as of yet unrealised) dream of being a rally drive was reinforced.

Last year I wanted to do a course again, and looked to Audi as they would often travel to Port Elizabeth to do a course there. Sadly their relationship with the Four Rings Academy came to an end, meaning that the only way I’d be doing a course was if I managed to get up to Joburg. Something that doesn’t happen too often in my life.

Jump to this year, and all of a sudden I had an excuse to travel to Joburg. Naturally I looked around a bit. Mercedes and BMW both offered courses in the area. Mercedes only had a full day course (roughly R4,500), but they weren’t offering it on the days I was going to be in Gauteng.

BMW offered several different courses, the most appealing being their High Performance Course (also an Advanced HP course which includes a few hours on the skidpan) and luck would have it they were offering it on the exact day I had free in Joburg. I was supposed to do the course with my girlfriend, but sadly her work decided to make her do other less exciting things, so I had to replace her with an old varsity friend for the day instead.

Helmet and race suit not provided

Helmet and race suit not provided

The course is about R2500 (extra R700 for the skidpan, regretting that now), registration at 07h30, theory from 08h00, and you’re on the track in some form from 09h00-12h00ish. This entails four sets of laps, usually three or four laps each time. Standard fare on the course is a white, M trimmed BMW 335. You can opt for an M-course as well which gives you access to the M1, M3 and M5 (costs a little bit more, but only two people per instructor). Three people per instructor/car, and you take it in turns doing your sets around the track. In between sets they give a couple of demonstrations, from braking to launch control.

The theory covered progresses from sitting position, through cornering, oversteer/understeer, some tyre info and finishes with a nice BMW promo-ad. The theory is both informative and also the basis for what they try to teach you on the track. Each session on the track they try to add a new element, requiring more focus, but improving your driving round the track each time.

In comparison to what I did with Audi, the courses are virtually the same. Theory covered was identical, with a slight variance on the brake/turning balance noticed. Time on the course; Audi separated into sessions at the different corners, which then culminated with piecing all of them together in a few laps. Whereas BMW did sessions of laps at a time. I preferred the BMW method as it felt like less stop/start and was a bit more challenging trying to remember the whole track in one go (not that Zwartkops is particularly long).

id_moduls2

“You haven’t crashed until you’ve hit something” – BMW Driving Instructor

But seriously, as much as you learn and improve during the day, trying to be as fluid as possible through the corners, it’s just a blast. Great to do with a friend and have some good laughs. While I think the experience will be slightly different from instructor to instructor, I don’t think you can go wrong.

I went in to the Audi course expecting to be able to drive like mad, and was reigned in. As such I went in to the BMW course with that expectation, but instead we were given what I felt was more freedom, and was able to give the car a good thrashing round the course. And the car takes it like a champ. These are stock 335s, straight off the shop floor, while it is a performance vehicle, it’s not specifically designed for the course, it has standard brakes and steering systems, but goes like a bomb.

If you’ve ever thought about maybe doing a course, but the cost kinda put you off, go for it. You’ll have a great time. I have no regrets for either course I did. Both times I left, and all I wanted to do was get back onto the track and do more laps. It’s kinda addictive, always trying to push and, although you’re not actually timed, do a better lap than the one before.

You even get a certificate at the end :)

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Car buying

A friend and I decided to have some fun a few weeks ago, so we went off to test drive a car two. He had just purchased a new bakkie for his work, so I was the potential customer. Although I had no intention of purchasing a new vehicle when I went in, after leaving the second dealership I was seriously considering it.

We first went to Audi, I’ve always liked their cars, and having driven one for the past 6 years, figured I should give their newer range a go. They’ve got a nice dealership up on the hill, but with a relatively limited range. Only about 5 vehicles in their ‘new vehicles’ section, and an equal amount of second hand vehicles.

When we arrived a lovely second hand S3 (2012 8P) immediately caught the eye. We anyway went to look at what new vehicles they had and were shortly joined by a salesman. After chatting for a bit we mentioned our interest in the S3, he mentioned that it had been sold already, and shifted our interest to two A3 1.8T sitting on the floor. While it was cool to see what cars were available, what we really wanted was a test drive. And this is sadly where Audi fell short this day.

Apparently the branch was sponsoring a golf day and all the managers were out at said golf day. Apparently the guys on the floor can’t take out any of the cars in such a situation as the keys are all locked away, and a manager is needed to access the keys. This was frustrating and sad at the same time. In any case, he said I could come back any time during the week and he’d organise a drive, even following up with several phone calls a week later.

Time was running out for our Saturday, so we had a quick look over the neighbouring VW dealership, which sadly had no Golfs on offer, only a large array of polos and a couple Amaroks. A quick drive brought us around to the BMW dealership. With a similar display of vehicles, we quickly spotted a 118 and 323 which caught our eyes. The 323 was 50 grand cheaper, but was sitting at 80k km, as opposed to the 30k km on the 118. Realistically the 118 (2012, F20) was a more likely choice, so we took it for a drive.

The car was an automatic, white leather seats and white interior. Although I’ve never been a fan of the looks of the 1 series, it has been improved with the more recent iteration, and, in my opinion, the shortening of the bonnet. Getting in it was comfortable, and there was still enough space behind me for the average passenger, although the drive shaft going to the rear wheels will make it a bit awkward putting a third person in the back seat.

I liked the interior. It was modern and neat. Minimal buttons and nicely designed. The auto gear-lever works well, as does the ‘manual’ shifter, which has a forwards/backwards action as opposed to the sideways motion of the Mercedes I have previously driven. The centre console looked a bit overly complicated, and it was awkward to navigate it and drive at the same time, this is possibly something that just comes with time. But I found it less easy to use than the Merc C-Class’s.

click for source

click for source

Driving itself was great. The 1.8t pushing out a good 120kW in a relatively small car gives it plenty of umph with a nice little turbo-boost, something that’s great to experience having previously only really driven naturally aspirated engines. The car handles the corners with minimal body roll and comes equipped with standard run-flat tyres which gave a pleasant ride around town with sufficient grip.

I had follow up calls from the saleswoman the following week, even knocking 10 grand off the price. Ultimately there is very little she could have done to get me to buy a car with that white interior. I’m off the beaten track far too often to even consider white carpets. Otherwise a very nice car, and definitely a good first experience with the 1 series and BMW in general.

So the following week the salesman from Audi gave me a call. Or four. I wasn’t good at answering my phone. But in any case, I took a trip out to see what the Audi A3 was like, and ended up taking an A3 1.8T out for a drive. As mentioned I have an affinity for Audi. Their designs have always been my favourite. Getting into the car however I was slightly disappointed. The interior was nice enough, but it was more chunky and less refined than the BMW.

click for source

click for source

It drives well enough though. This was a manual 6-speed with a similarly powerful engine to the BMW. It was easy enough to get an accidental wheel-spin at the first intersection thanks to the front-wheel drive nature of the car. But traction control was quick enough to kick in and get the car going in the right direction.

The car is great, handles equally well and I had some fun round a couple circles and up the freeway. Sufficient power to get you going and the manual gearbox works nicely. This specific car had an odd clicking noise whenever the clutch was depressed and the clip on the armrest lid was broken. Not the kind of thing you want when buying a car.

What disappointed me the most about the car was how uncomfortable I was. At 6’2 I’m not the shortest person, but I really battled to get a comfortable driving position. No matter how many different levers and buttons I pushed on the seat and the steering wheel I sadly couldn’t get comfortable. The armrest also just annoyed me.

So for me, the 1 series takes the comparison hands down. Although I prefer the look of the A3, the two cars I looked at the BMW had a better interior, it was rear wheel drive, and I was actually comfortable in the car. Also to note is that the Audi I drove was at the end of it’s model lifespan, compared to the relatively new 1 Series model. The new Audi (8V started production in 2013) would realistically offer a better competition to the BMW (F20 started production in 2011).

Things to take home. Cars are really expensive :( Car salesmen are really friendly, they laugh at your jokes, phone you at work etc. There are some really nice cars on the market. Car choices are really subjective. Also I don’t know how people decide what car to drive. Personally I’ve always been fond of a station wagon, gives you space, but still the handling of a sedan. But SUVs are better for the offroad, something useful in this country, but then they don’t necessarily drive as nicely on the road in the same price bracket. At least this is not a problem I have to deal with now.

Falling off your bike, literally

I’ve been cycling for years. I was playing squash before I learnt how to ride a bicycle, but probably only got on a bicycle when I was 5ish. My Dad got into cycling, and the whole family kind of followed along, we did fun rides occasionally and I did my first Argus Cycle Tour when I was 14. I then proceeded to do the subsequent 10 Arguses, this year being the first one I’ve missed. And in between this I’ve kept up a bit of mountain biking too. I enjoy both disciplines for different reasons, but in general over the past 5 years I’ve tended more to offroad.

My trusty steed (aka the Giant Iguana Bomb), cantilever brakes and all

My trusty steed (aka the Giant Iguana Bomb), cantilever brakes and all

I’ve been fortunate to live in areas with great mountain biking. Living in Somerset West and Stellenbosch a mountain was only ever a 10min ride away. Whether it was the farm roads of Lourensford or the multiple dirt roads around the bases of the mountains surrounding Stellenbosch, it was quick and fun to get a cycle in. Now in East London we’re fortunate enough to have multiple mountain bike tracks in the vicinity that are open to the public and a steady supply of events as well. But it seems like the longer I’ve been riding, the more I’ve been falling off. I don’t know why.

I never really had any crashes/falls until last year. About 8 years ago I came off my bike on the road, going round a corner and hitting a patch of gravel, I lost my front wheel and went hands first into the tarmac. I wasn’t going too fast, but managed to sprain my wrists enough to keep me off a bike and the squash court for a week or two. And then there’s the odd fall in between. Usually going quite slowly, and on two occasions on other people’s bikes, being almost stationary and falling over sideways without being able to unclip my shoes in their much tighter cleats.

Giant Iguana Bomb 2

Then end of last year I had a ‘nasty’ fall. I was flying down a dirt road, dodging some washed away sections of road and not looking far enough in front of me when all of a sudden I was going in the wrong direction towards a donga. As I arrived, the bike went down and I launched myself off, landing sprawled out on the otherside of the donga chest down. My body took it surprisingly well. I hurt my shoulder a bit, and was completely winded, but was able to get up and cycle home. The bike took it slightly worse, putting a nice buckle in the front wheel, breaking one of the gear changing levers and damaging the brake lever a bit too. And it wasn’t even my bike :x

Two weeks later doing some nice downhill single track, I fell twice on my ‘sore’ shoulder, managing to cycle home but cutting my cycles short. And I’ve come off my bike another one or two times since then. This last weekend I managed to do what I consider a fairly graceful roll onto the ground as witnessed below. Youtube made it a bit blocky though.

I’ve been fairly lucky though. Although it’s happened a couple times, I’ve never had any lasting damage. And my confidence knock doesn’t seem to be as lasting either. As I write this I’m having more opportunity to think about the incidents, and it seems like it’s often because I don’t commit entirely, or commit to the wrong choice. This last incident involved my weight wanting to go in one direction, but my front tyre deciding to step down a slight ledge and altering my direction of choice

I don’t really know if there was a point to this post. I felt like writing. And I get to post a great video of me falling off my bike. But otherwise I hope that my falling doesn’t increase. I have a very old bike. Like seriously old, it may be partly to blame for my falls. But for some reason, although I have the money available, I can’t bring myself to get a new one, maybe it’s sentimental, I’ve done so much on this bike, like the Karoo2Coast. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Google Calendar Sync to end

I just received an announcement email from Google stating that their service allowing the syncing of one’s calendar to Outlook is going to be discontinued.
Although I’ve never been the greatest fan of this app, or method of syncing, it was the only option I could find and it did the job. Now I’m left with nothing, short of abandoning Outlook entirely and embracing the online world. But I like storing my emails locally, and I like being able to see my calendar in Outlook, I prefer it to Google Calendar.

The only reason I need the syncing is to match up with my phone. But alas, as we’ve seen time and time again, once Google make a decision like this, little is to change.

See below the email sent out:

Important Announcement about Google Calendar Sync
Almost two years ago, we announced that we ended support for Google Calendar Sync. Starting on August 1, 2014, this app will no longer sync events between your Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook Calendar.

You can continue to access all of your Google Calendar events at calendar.google.com or on your mobile devices. Follow these instructions to uninstall Google Calendar Sync from your computer.
- The Calendar Team

Update: From the comments below, here are some alternatives to look at:

SyncMyCal
Sync2
Outlook4Gmail

A review of these and some other products can be seen here.

Update: If you’re receiving “error code 2016″, it’s because Google have cut you off as stated above.