A diverse fleetTo credit Keith as having a hands-on approach to operations is a significant understatement. If he’s not underneath a chassis in the company’s Blucher-based workshop, then he’s performing office chores at the same time as undertaking the fundamental business of directing operations.Keith started his single minibus business in 1988, growing gradually and launching a limited company in 1999. â€œWe became a limited company in an attempt to stop customers thinking we were simply a self-hire minibus company,â€ he says. â€œWe were ready to step up to the next level.â€Today, Keith’s Coaches offers continental tours, executive coach hire, 70-seat school buses, luxury midi-coaches and wheelchair accessible minibus services, with a fleet comprising nine full-size coaches and eight mini and midibuses.The latest two 57-seat executive Irizars head-up the fleet, although Keith insists the ultimate product is yet to be built. â€œA Beulas on a DAF chassis â€“ that would be top of my shopping list,â€ he says.Other models in the fleet include three Bova Futuras, a Bova Magiq and a Volvo B7 Plaxton Prima. An Iveco Euroliner and a fully refurbished Plaxton Premier have all been converted to 70 seats for school work and other duties in what Keith describes as their second life.â€œWe’ve gone back to fully automatic gearboxes, too,â€ he says. â€œThe AS Tronic seems to ‘stop and think’ between shifts and that can be highly frustrating when approaching roundabouts. It’s only a fraction of a second, but it’s often at that crucial moment. I’m not a fan.â€œThe EcoLife gearbox is just a no-nonsense automatic â€“ quick shifting and with no frills.â€ After battling through the Austrian snow and ice shod in Continental’s new third-generation Conti Coach HA3 tyres, Keith’s Coaches in Newcastle talks to routeone about getting a grip on the ice, and why new tyres are preferred to retreads.Keith’s Coaches based in Newcastle has humble beginnings indeed. From a single, used 12-seater minibus, owner and self-confessed jack-of-all-trades Keith Grimes has built up an impressive executive coach and continental tours operation boasting nine two-axle full-size coaches and supplemented by mini and midibus services.With the second of two Irizar i6 luxury tourers now in the fleet and about to embark on an intensive European schedule â€“ or ‘silly season’ as the company puts it â€“ Keith describes how premium duty vehicles ‘demand premium duty equipment’ for long-distance work.â€œOf course, premium-spec touring vehicles are a prerequisite on the continent, so why compromise on tyre specification?â€ he says. â€œWe suffered a nightmare time with some remanufactured tyres from another tyre maker â€“ eight, in fact â€“ and six of them blew-out within 18 months.â€œThe vehicles demand premium duty equipment. We switched to Continental and haven’t looked back.â€ No-brainerFive of Keith’s Coaches’ vehicles are now fitted with Conti Coach HA3s â€“ with three coaches running regularly on Austrian ski tours. Continental’s dedicated coach tyre Conti Coach HA3 replaces an HSR2 and, thanks to its M+S marking, also the HSW2 winter combination for Keith’s Coaches. The company regards the opportunity to select a single tyre product for year-round use as a ‘no brainer’.Keith’s no-nonsense approach to specifying vehicles is mirrored in his view on tyre selection. He says, â€œWe just want a tyre that can stay on the vehicle all year round, regardless of road conditions â€“ I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.â€œWe’ve fitted Continental’s Conti Coach HA3 295/80 22.5s and I have to say they’ve been excellent thus far, and a far better solution to mixing tread patterns for winter operations. It’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.â€Although the Conti Coach HA3 boasts regroove and retread credentials, Keith’s Coaches chooses to ‘demote’ the tyre to fleet use before buying new products for the high-mileage European tourers. â€œThe new Contis get down to 6mm,â€ he points out, â€œand then we turn them over onto our fleet vehicles where we expect extended service for the life of the tyre. I know we could regroove them, and the Conti rep recommends we do so, but it’s simply my personal choice to replace with new on the touring coaches.â€Although not employed by Keith’s Coaches, ContiLifeCycle is Continental’s answer to extended tyre life. The tyre maker says its regrooving and retreading technology can extract a further 25% extra use from its tyres. One for the ice-roadMore praise for Continental comes from behind the wheel of one of the new Irizar i6s in the shape of long-serving driver, Raymond Angus.â€œThey don’t look like winter tyres,â€ he says about the Conti Coach HA3s, â€œbut they performed brilliantly on the ice and snow in Austria. We had our coach on the new Contis, and another in the same car park were on HDR 2 M+S with chunky winter patterns â€“ and the difference was plain to see.â€œOn a tight shunting manoeuvre the HDR 2 had the coach sliding and spinning out, but my coach coped on the slippery surface no problem. The conditions were treacherous admittedly, but the new Conti Coach HA3 were clearly better.â€œThey’re quieter on a dry road at cruising speed, too,â€ he adds, â€œand noticeably so.â€Keith’s Coaches’ local tyre supplier, ATS Euromaster in Hexham, also gets a pat on the back from Keith. â€œATS have been very helpful,â€ he says. â€œThey offer sound advice and the technical support is very good; and they take on board our feedback.â€For Keith’s Coaches, it’s new tyres every time, but Continental can at least be confident of supplying them â€“ and selling new tyres is no bad thing for any tyre manufacturer.