Bob Barr is a qualified engineer and robotics specialist by profession. Away from work he is a biker.
As a founder and director of process automation specialist, Barr & Paatz of Totnes, he is involved in the high precision world of industrial robotics, simulating robot workstations using 3D modelling software and installing sophisticated kinematics. But afterwards he likes to get down and dirty on his powerful American-made Buell motorcycle, riding down narrow country lanes to and from work and cutting through the traffic snarl-ups that bedevil coastal Devon in summertime.
Recently, Bob and fellow members of the Buell Enthusiasts Group (BEG) made the round trip from John OGroats to Lands End, in aid of the Papworth Hospital Charity. Part of an annual fundraising initiative, the 2000 miles or so bikeathon was in memory of former BEG member, the late Emma Radford, who was cared for at Papworth, the UKs leading centre of excellence for the diagnosis and treatment of serious heart and lung conditions. She was only 26 when she died.
Barr & Paatz is an official integrator of advanced robotics and electrical drives for leading high technology names as Mitsubishi, Stubli, ABB, Elau, Bosch and Festo, so Bob appreciates the same high quality of engineering in his Buell bike. Originally developed by ex-Harley Davidson road racer and engineer, Erik Buell, these highly distinctive machines embody his Trilogy of Technology, which centres on low unsprung weight, extreme chassis rigidity and the concentration of mass as close to the centre of gravity as possible.
Compared to the blandness of many modern bikes, a Buell represents something different, with great handling and enough noise to turn a few heads, says Bob Barr. From an engineering viewpoint, I really like the fuel-in-frame technology and dual use of the swing arm as an oil tank, all in the interests of lowering the centre of gravity. The use of an inside-out front disc to reduce rotating mass and improve steering responsiveness, is another neat engineering touch.
Of course, Buell motorcycle design is quite different from modern industrial robotics, but each in its own way exemplifies purity of function, innovative thinking and the application of current technology, including the use of computerised controls, remarks Bob. And you really have to try out both types of machine, before you fully appreciate their worth.
For his recent charity bike ride, Bob started from work in Totnes, at the beginning of a typical rainy British weekend, and rode solo to John OGroats. Once in Scotland, he realised just how big the country is, when after hours of riding he saw a signpost indicating Inverness 108 miles.
Some 950 miles after leaving Barr & Paatz, he arrived at John OGroats and rendezvoused with around thirty other BEGers, all riding to raise money for Papworth Hospital. After taking group pictures next morning, they met again at the Harley Davidson dealers in Preston, enjoying welcome free refreshments and swapping lots of stories. Bob completed the last leg on his own and was first to arrive at Lands End, tired, aching, but with no breakdowns, accidents or points on his licence.
It all goes to show that, when a big bunch of bikers on Harley-engineered machines appears, under those helmets might be quite different motives, lifestyles and skills to what one imagines!