Mad Mack(er)s: Beyond Velodrome

As the winter still refuses to bugger off, preparation is well underway on the new ZX6. I now have the engine back from the tuner and into the frame. Currently my evenings are being spent fitting the rest of the performance bits onto the bike and it’s progressing nicely. The suspension has still not arrived from Ohlins so my first outing on the bike at Donington over Easter has been shelved. Although this is frustrating it’s not a huge issue as previously mentioned I’ll be riding for the Knight Road Racing team on their Ducati 1198RS at Donington. This will give me some much needed track time, having not ridden a race bike since the end of October last year. Riding to work on my CG125 in the snow hasn’t really kept me race sharp!

I’ve kept on top of my cycling as much as the weather would allow throughout the winter and managed to commute the 30 mile round trip, in general, at least once a week. This has kept me in pretty good shape, being the naturally competitive guy that I am I just can’t help myself from trying to beat my personal best time etc etc. Cycling into work in some chilly but bright conditions the other Saturday was quite pleasant; the journey home wasn’t anywhere near as enjoyable! Having been dry and bright all day some really heavy rain came in much earlier than the forecasts had predicted. Hearing the rain bouncing on the roof of the building knowing that it’s barely above 2 degrees outside and you’ve got nearly 50 minutes to spend cycling in the dark ahead didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm. Several colleagues offered me a lift home but I declined “How bad can it be, what’s the worst that could happen?” was my reply, macho image firmly intact! 5 minutes into the ride I was absolutely drenched – I generally only ride in a showerproof light jacket even on the coldest days as otherwise it’s just too hot! This gear isn’t exactly designed for a storm which Noah would be impressed by! I got home and stripped off at the door, inside so as not to scare the neighbours, every item of my clothes just slapped on the floor like a pair of soaking wet swimming trunks. I spent the next half an hour soaking in the bath trying to get warm. Although I was grinning at myself for being such a double hard b@stard!

Still on the Cycling theme, I’d booked a taster session at the Velodrome (doesn’t that sound like a good title for a Mad Max remake?). Having never ridden a fixed gear bike, ie without a freewheel, or a bike without brakes, or on a banked track I had no idea what to expect. Basically you book an hour on the track, renting a bike and shoes for under £15 which can’t be bad. The downside being that it was an early morning start having to be at the track for 7.40am. The session starts with the instructor giving the two golden rules, don’t stop pedalling (as the bike won’t) and don’t try and steer when on the shiny paint on the floor. That was pretty much it from a tutorial point of view. So off I went, riding on the banked track is one of those things that you struggle with for a few minutes and then once sorted you wonder how you could ever have made it look so difficult. I found myself initially trying to ride on the bank and just slowly drifting back onto the flat surface on the inside. A few laps in and I realized that you have to ignore your instinct to turn left, as in my mind the bank is a left turn, and just ride straight. Once this is sorted it’s pretty easy to get around without wiping everyone out who’s on the inside!

Another eye opener for me was controlling the speed of the bike on a “normal” bike, ie with brakes and a freewheel capability, to slow down you either brake or stop pedalling. With these fixed gear bikes stopping pedalling ends up with the rider getting thrown out of the seat and without brakes you just keep rolling until you ram into the guy in front. I had a few “Oh sh1t” moments in the early stages where I was catching up with a rider and didn’t want to go high on the banking to overtake due to my concerns that I’d not be able to stay up there. I’d then try and slow down, which sounds easy but when you’ve ridden bikes for 28 years which all operated in pretty much the same way, suddenly trying to teach yourself something different comes as a bit of a shock. It all went well though and pretty soon I was confidently riding around the track, planning ahead so that I didn’t ram anyone, and riding right at the top of the banking. It is a bit of a shock to, someone who’d never seen a banked track before, the angle of the bank is huge. Standing at the bottom and looking up it runs at, I guess, nearly 45 degrees to a height of around 25 feet. Riding at the top is actually really hard work too, as you are constantly having to climb up to the top and hold a decent pace so you don’t slide back down.

I rode around with Adam and James Robinson, who both raced in Thundersport GB last year. A big coincidence saw them at the track on the same session as me. They have both been working hard through the winter and have got quite into the cycling scene. I figured that I’d probably be able to learn quite a bit from them as they’d been a number of times before. It helped me no end, although the pace they were running was sometimes a bit too much like hard work for me! James and I ended up side by side for the final two laps of the session, both of us sprinting it out for the final lap. Obviously it wasn’t a race but I won by half a wheel junior!!! Although after 45 minutes of almost continuous riding then sprinting against a 16 year old for two laps I thought I was going to throw up on the slowing down lap. James was in slightly better shape than me at the finish I was gasping for breath! All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable day and good way to stay in shape over the winter. I’ll definitely go again, there is a process to go through various stages of accreditation, once I have time I’ll perhaps have a go at that. Jo, Ted and Ann came along to watch/laugh/support but after the initial shock of the size of the place it’s not really much of a spectator sport!! I guess watching a race event would be great though, it’d be a really good atmosphere inside.

So that’s my news, I’ll put a report on after Donington Park, after that my next meeting is the Wirral 100 event at Oulton Park in late April. Fingers crossed that the bike will finally be ready!

Mackers #30

Ian Mackman