The fine art of the Christmas road trip

Sometimes the best thing about Christmas is the road trip that seems to happen around about the same time. This year it’ll be a 2000-km lap from NSW through the ACT, into Victoria and then back again. The only real decisions that need to be made are what to pack, and what to drive.


A critical consideration in deciding both of those issues is the likely weather for the duration of the trip. On this front (if you’ll excuse the pun), I usually defer to The Companion. It generally takes him a bit of time to come back with an answer, so I’ve learned to time my question so we have an answer before we depart. It’s not helpful to learn three days into the trip that it’s likely to rain heavily, and to be stuck in a car known to leak and get a bit draughty in bad weather.


Three to four days, usually, is what it takes to get a long-range forecast that will cover all or most of our time away, because The Companion takes forecasting seriously and consults widely and apparently with a range of obscure and often highly confidential sources. He’s muttered things about contacts in the military but to be honest I’m not fully across it.

As we speak he’s in the middle of this forecasting process, because we’re three days from departure, but I figure the answer will be one of two things: it will be fine, or mostly fine while we’re away, in which case a convertible vehicle is an option; or it will rain or mostly rain, in which case a fixed roof is preferable. So I’m currently making tentative plans, but no commitments, involving options from both camps, and can leave the final decision until closer to departure time. Ditto clothing and footwear.


I’ll also use an online mapping service to check the intended route. Nothing wrecks a great drive quicker than hitting kilometre after kilometre of roadworks or traffic jams; map apps are pretty good at this but what I’d really value is something that will tell me exactly where I’m likely to encounter caravans or mobile homes on one-lane roads going uphill. Either that, or a device to physically remove these hazards from the road.


The Companion has offered to use a drone-based solution to check the route ahead, so we can at least be forewarned about what’s ahead, but I’ve declined because I cannot for the life of me see how he can successfully pilot a moving drone from a moving car when he can still barely pilot a drone accurately when he’s stationary and actually watching it.

Anyway, if the weather is going to be fine, or mostly fine, then I’m narrowing down the choice to one of three cars, two of which have soft tops, which are convenient to put up and down in a bit of a hurry, if need be, but not great when it’s really wet; and a hard-top convertible that is a bit more of a hassle actually to convert, but more weather-proof when the roof is up.

Alternatively, if the forecast is bad then it’ll be a fixed-roof vehicle, and I have two that I’m tossing up, one of which is all-wheel-drive and one is rear-wheel-drive, and a bit of a beast if it’s really wet – especially on the leg of the trip across the Great Dividing Range where the road gets a bit twisty and it can get a bit dark in forested areas.

It’ll all become clear in the next day or two; I’ll choose the car and pack the appropriate clothing and we’ll get going. It’s one of life’s great pleasures to start the engine and pull away from home on the start of a trip – the lure of the unknown, and all that. There will be family and friends and laughter and arguments and food and drink and good times and it will be energising and exhausting and immense fun.

But it’s also great when you reach that leg of a long trip when you know the next stop is home. Sometimes you have to go away to really appreciate what you’re coming back to.


Victoria’s Secret Not What I Imagined It To Be

range rover classic

As Enthusiastically and unexpectedly as I have taken to television streaming services recently, I still like to read as much as I can. The production values and the creativity and imagination of the best shows available on TV are very high indeed, but there is ultimately no substitute for your own imagination – and if you want some evidence of this idea I invite you to compare the book and film versions of 50 Shades of Grey (as just one example).

The thing is, imagination is wildly untrustworthy. It leads to unreliable conclusions and beliefs about things in the absence of actual facts to fill the void. And the downside with reading extensively and widely is that you’ll sometimes come across a piece of information that jars with what you think you already know, or believe.

I understand behavioral psychologists call this “cognitive dissonance” – the discomfort you feel when you’re asked to simultaneously hold two contrary or contradictory ideas or beliefs. It’s why some people can so puzzlingly dismiss any notion that human activity contributes to climate change: their belief that it does not is so strong that overwhelming scientific evidence and consensus to the contrary causes them so much discomfort that they reject the science and cling tightly to their beliefs.


Intelligent people, on the other hand, adopt the position that when the facts change, they change their mind. Or to put it another way, while you’re entitled to your own opinion (and to let your imagination run riot), you’re not entitled to your own facts – especially not to “alternative facts”.

‘One of my favourite lines about the Range Rover Evoque is that it looks like someone – I like to imagine it was Victoria Beckham – picked up the clay model from the designer’s desk and dropped it on its roof.’

And so a bad case of cognitive dissonance means it took me some time to digest something I read recently about the involvement of Victoria Beckham in designing the Range Rover Evoque being neither as extensive nor as decisive as I’d imagined.

range rover classic

She had the title of Creative Design Executive, and I had imagined her sitting in design meetings, talking to engineers, overseeing road tests and liaising with suppliers. But Victoria’s input was apparently restricted to making such vital decisions as which one of two alternative colours should be used for stitching. She was “consulted” the same way I often “consult” The Companion: give him a restricted range of decisions to make, so they happen quickly and do not radically change the way I wanted things to work out in the first place. The honour – if that’s the word – of being the car’s actual designer goes to Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s design director.

Now I’ve digested this minor bombshell, I consider this new information to be a shame, and an inconvenient truth. One of my favourite lines about the Evoque is that it looks like someone – I like to imagine it was Victoria herself – picked up the clay model from the designer’s desk and dropped it on its roof, and they put this squashed clay model into production. It’s the only reason I can think of for why it looks like it does.

But no, it’s a deliberate design and had nothing to do with Victoria, which is disappointing on both counts. She’d kept it quiet though. I suppose we could call it Victoria’s secret.


Like mother, like daughter

TWICE in recent weeks I have made reference in my contributions to Madam Wheels to an incident in which The Companion took out the pool cleaner with a mis-piloted drone. Twice Madam Wheels has queried me: what incident? And on reading back through previous columns, I can find no reference to the incident at all. Which is odd, because I have a clear and vivid memory of writing about it.


It’s not only odd, it’s also somewhat disturbing. What other events in my life am I likewise misremembering? At least I know the drone incident actually happened – we have the legal and medical bills to prove it – but as for writing about the event? Never happened, apparently.

‘My mother was entertaining as a driver on occasion – we’d often detour tens of miles out of our way because she’d forgotten where we were going, or how to get there.’


I was hoping the poor memory gene might have skipped a generation. My mother was notorious for forgetting dates. I recall one memorable morning knocking on the front door of the house where my best friend lived to ask if she could come out to play, to be met by her puzzled-looking mother who informed me that no, she couldn’t come out to play because she was at school..


When I reported this back to my own mother she gasped and exclaimed, “Oh my god – school!” before hastily bundling me into the car and haring off through the mid-morning traffic to where I was supposed to be. I also recall that day I was the only child at school not wearing a uniform.

We used to worry about my mother’s memory, and dad would often fret that she was showing signs of early-onset dementia, but she was generally as sharp as a tack, no mental decline otherwise noticeable. But our familial serenity was punctuated by memory lapses that were generally highly specific and created chaos and bewilderment in the people around her – like, after dad had passed away, simply forgetting to go on holiday, leaving friends in Spain wondering where she was and forfeiting the cost of her return flights.

She was entertaining as a driver on occasion, as well – we’d often detour tens of miles out of our way because she’d forgotten where we were going, or how to get there, or been distracted by something that had just occurred to her. These traits would have been worrying except that her apparent absent-mindedness was part of a personality that also produced an absolutely first-rate artist, and some of her works were of genuinely breathtaking beauty. Perhaps I’m biased.

Anyway, none of this really explains why I keep thinking I’ve written about the Great Pool Guy Drone Incident of a few years back, but for the record, the Companion was learning the finer points of the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle, as he insists it be called, but what you and would call a drone) and in the process of showing off, he swooped at the pool cleaner and misjudged the speed and position of the drone.

There wasn’t too much blood and it soon dissipated in the pool anyway, and despite initial appearances, I was not required to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He was very good about it, and there was a claim on our household insurance policy and a few stitches required, but he’s let bygones be bygones and we’ve come to an understanding that he will continue to provide pool-cleaning services (much to my delight) as long as The Companion agrees to fly his drones elsewhere. It suits everyone.

So there – I now have the Great Pool Guy Drone Incident on record, so when I refer to it next time Madam Wheels will know what I’m talking about and there’s less of a risk of confusing readers.

You may be wondering why this column appears a few days late. After writing it and saving it on my laptop, I completely forgot to file it to MW on Thursday like I’m supposed to, and only remembered about it when I sat at the computer to finish some Christmas shopping on Sunday morning. Sometimes I think there’s more of my mother in me than I’m prepared to admit.


Tyres That Keep Your Car Firmly Planted

Tyres aren’t the sexiest part of the car equation but given the speed with which automotive technology has motored ahead, it makes sense to ensure your rubber matches your ride.

‘Tyre experts say we should be checking our car’s tyres at least weekly, which – I can tell you – I fail to do.’

After all, car manufacturers spend a lot of R&D time and money pairing the right tyres to their vehicles. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, for example, told me that they had Continental Tyres refine and perfect its offering 90 times before they allowed it on to the latest Phantom.

That’s an extreme example, but you get the point. Tyres matter, and finding a set that fits the bill while allowing your chosen chariot to achieve its peak performance was the subject of a recent track day Madam Wheels participated in with Bridgestone Tyres.

Journalists were invited to Victoria’s Phillip Island Circuit to compare and contrast a couple of Bridgestone’s new premium tyres with some from the older generation. Cycling through $2.5 million of cars as part of a BMW Driving Experience, the tyres were pushed through hot laps, forced into high-speed braking, through a slalom course as well as round and round on a skid pan to demonstrate their capabilities. That day is detailed in this video.

But while performance and safety matter, so too does wearability. Premium tyres can be expensive, after all, and no-one wants to have to swap them out too often. So it was good to get some more long-term feedback on the Potenza S007A’s durability from the manager of BMW’s Driving Experience, Doug Greenslade.

He says Bridgestone’s been supplying BMW with tyres for its Driving Experiences since 2015. And while he’s been happy with the product to date, the new Potenza “has shifted the needle in both performance and durability standards”.

“[It’s] proven to be a high-performing sports tyre providing very predictable handling for our activities, and the new compound and construction is delivering wear life that we’ve not seen before,” Greenslade says. He’s found the average S007A tyre life has almost doubled compared to previous tyres. “Our forecast is that we will use 200 less tyres in 2019 as a result of switching to S007A,” he says.

And at tyre prices ranging from $299 to $620, that could save motorists a pretty penny. Tyre experts say we should be checking our car’s tyres at least weekly, which – I can tell you – I fail to do. I fall into a band identified in research from IMRAS Consulting which found that 44 per cent of motorists go more than two months without inspecting their tyres.

Whoops! But it’s no laughing matter when you consider that those round, black things under your car may mean the difference between life and death. As Bridgestone’s head tech guy, Jon Tamblyn, points out, there’s just one hand print of tread per tyre connecting your car with the road.

“There’s no substitute for new tyres, especially in wet conditions,” Tamblyn says. “And if motorists think they should be replacing their tyres, they’re likely to be right.”