dinsdag 23 augustus 2011

So I went to pick my brother up at an airport...

The task seemed so simple at first glance, I had the evening off so I could pick my brother Tim and two grannies up from Charleroi airport as they came back from visiting his friend/grandson Joey in France. I've been to that airport before a couple of times, so I assumed it would be one and a bit hour trip and one and a bit hours back. Yet not everything went as planned, it was quite a terrible trip. By the way, hold a map of Belgium on standby, it's more fun if you see where my torture took place.

First signs did not take long to show, some unexpected roadworks before Maastricht meant a little surprise but no real problems. Yet shortly after those, the fancy-pancy built in "Multi Media System" of my dad's Audi A3 went into incompetence mode, unable to find any radio stations with any sort of listener base. I know I should have taken CDs with me. It is a known problem to me, as it can't even find national radio stations in our own street. My Fiesta works better despite having its antenna hidden under its roof for the sake of aerodynamics.
The problem progressed as I entered Belgian territory, the overpriced factory radio was in a bad mood and soon decided to let its signal be destracted by trees and vans. Eventually I was left with half the signal Studio Brussel, who play creepy techno at night, not the kind of company I look for at an empty motorway. Or Belgian Radio 2, who greeted me with a overenthusiastic and brainwashed choir singing "Good evening!", or MUST FM, who basically went on shouting "MUST FM" five times every minute, succeeded by French mumbling. Entertainmentwise I was screwed, lonely and bored.
At least I was moving in the right direction, yes I was, but not in a very comfortable way. Either my buttocks and spine went into Sensitive mode or I must have stepped in a 2 liter bouncing castle as the ride was indeed, bouncy. I attempted to go slower to overcome this, but then I realized the words of Belgian cyclist Tom Boonen, that going faster makes you feel less of the cobblestones. By sheer luck Boonen's Law is also applicable to the motorway network. Yet the road devil had some more tricks up his sleeve: more roadworks. As I was hopping along I overtook Truck number 72 of that night when I spotted roadworks ahead and a speed limit of 90. I slowly overtook the Truck when I saw it lowered again to 70, which I tried to match despite 10 tons of furious truck (driver) behind me. Indeed, mister Truck Driver did not agree with my move to stick to speed limits and decided to pull an overtake (or more accurately: attack) on me. The road swerved for a moment and narrowed when Mad Max occupied the middle of the road and most of the right lane, ignorant of where I was. With the majority of my (dad's) car on the hard shoulder fury took control of me for a brief moment. After the road works were over I experienced "a slight acceleration in speed" and decided to give Onslow over there a taste of precision overtaking at say 160+kph. In a fashion only seen in touringcars I scared the heck out of his left headlight when I passed him. Giving the finger was useless, as our superb intellect was probably watching porn in his ivory tower. If you happen to read this truckdriver in truck OK-86-KK, I hope that misery shall rain on thou, and that you receive many troubles on you forthcoming journeys, you terrible idiot.

As I made it to the airport well on time I found myself having time for some coffee, which turned out to be the best decision of the night. A long road lay ahead. The way home started by taking the wrong so-called exit out of the car park, penalizing me with two rounds of that same car park. Soon after rain started pooring down in a way which it always does as I attempt to get away from Charleroi Airport (which some idiot decided to name Brussels South Airport). As the journey home progressed everyone chatted about what they had done the past two weeks, a few Mercs flashed by, yet I was certain I'd overtake them as they lie upsidedown on the side of the road. Just before half past 11 we got near Liége, which is always tricky as the exit to Maastricht can easily be missed. I didn't do so this time, as it wasn't there. More carefully planned roadworks after the end of everyone's holiday meant I had to take a detour. I carefully counted all the signs that pointed my home: 1. And that one was pointing towards Brussels. Stupidly enough, I believed the sign for five minutes, yet after that I found out that the semi-French Belgians were pulling a joke on me, so I turned on the SM-Mistress that lives next to the incompetant radio.
She commanded me to follow the road for another 10km, driving me to the outskirts of Waremme, which is apparently 20km out of Liége. As She finally let me go off the motorway I noticed I had 50km of B-roads ahead of me. Lucky for me they were empty, twisty and had no lighting on them, so at least a little fun was thrown into the game. Via Waremme we came past (nay: through) Tongeren. A lovely town founded by the Romans with lots of culture and history, exactly what you are not looking for at midnight when you're trying to get home. But there was more to come, more roadworks! In the center of Tongeren I might have taken a few one way streets, looking more at the satnav display than on the road. Through some of the suburbs of the town (I guess, it could have been Poland) I finally found a road that led to Maastricht. Even there I managed to take a wrong exit, waking the grannies up and turning them into satnav mistresses as well. Completely exhausted, stressed out, confused, angry and relieved I found the motorway back home.

At half past 12 I finally opened the front door, what a terrible trip.

vrijdag 12 augustus 2011

Dragging a very efficient elephant – The ignorance of the eco-models

I guess you all know them, hate them, only like them in front of your boss who set you up with it – the eco model. The basic recipe is to take a regular model, add a random colour to the name and remove any form of engine from it and replace it with a coffee mill. The problem is, that the rest of the car is rarely changed. Sure the engine modification is enough to fool your accountant and pay hardly any taxes, though how would you make a heavy car go forward with a tiny diesel?

Let me explain: the two major factors that determine performance and fuel consumption are the power and weight of your car. The more powerful the car the faster, but all this is limited by the weight that needs to be moved forward. On higher speeds aerodynamics comes into the game as well.

The aero is mostly been taken care of by lowering the suspension (which actually looks good) but the engine power that is taken out of the car is not followed by an equal loss of weight. What you get is a car of regular weight with an enormous lack of power. This causes the engine to take on much more work than in a regularly engined car, something which doesn't show when you are cruising on the highway on 3.5L/100km. Yet when you need engine power (which occurs more often than you think) the engine has no power reserve to accelerate and will consume fuel like their is no tomorrow, diminishing the whole point of your iBlueGreenDynamicLineMotion-car.

Of course, the development of engines is always a way forward, where would we be without direct injection and lean-burn fuel mixtures. Yet putting your state of the art engine in a horse carriage will not make any sense. In my opinion manufacturers should focus more on weight reduction. It can't be that a modern hatchback weighs over a third more than a Mk1 Golf, even when using aluminium and s-loads of plastic. It is like despite diets and exercises you weigh a third more than 5 years ago, it's stupid. Modern engineering can do better, I hope.

Furthermore, styling is still a higher priority than aerodynamics, which is true in some respect but pointless in others. Yet the pointless Audi-like grills are one of the least aerodynamic parts on a car, if only a flat floor would be mounted under the car that could save a lot of fuel.