Stripped off and Sliding down the Laminate…
With the racing season coming to a close, the nights drawing in and cycling home from work starting to get a bit dangerous I decided to book some time at the Manchester velodrome – great for keeping my hard earned summer fitness going in a safe environment. Three evening, hour-long, sessions were arranged. At the start of the first night I decided that I might as well work towards ‘accreditation’ which is the first step on the way to obtaining a race licence. Now I have no aspirations to become the next Chris Hoy but I figured that I may as well do something rather than just ride around, I am a bit of a goals man after all, everything needs a point with me!
So to the first session; on arrival I get my bike, on hire from the velodrome, and sit around in the centre of the track. Side glancing the other attendees whilst we await the coach turning up revealed that I wasn’t looking too out of place (although my cycling gear does make me look a bit like vacuum packed giblets!) The coach eventually showed up, offered very little in the way of instruction, forgot the only one of us whose name he actually asked and set us on our first laps. “Ride on the blue line until I say change” was essentially the only coaching offered! Myself and two others started off riding about a wheel length apart, setting a pretty easy pace on the mid-track blue line. I noticed a bit of commotion in the first turn, to find out later that someone from another group had crashed within 20 yards of setting off, putting his front teeth through his bottom lip in the process, ouch!
Eventually our ‘coach’ looked up and remembered that we were still lapping. “Change over next lap” came the instruction. Being second in the group I watched as the leader pulled up the bank and I set about riding at the front for a lap. At the end of the lap it was my turn, I glanced over my shoulder and rode up to the top of the banking in turn one. Looking down I counted two riders through, for this is how many I thought were behind me, and started riding back down the banking to join at the rear of the group. Just at this point I caught a glimpse of a third rider, someone else must’ve joined our group whilst we had been going around. As I was already making my way down the banking I had to add some opposite lock to the bars to avoid a collision. This, coupled with some reasonably lazy speed, washed the front tyre out! Assuming the crash position, of which I’m fairly well versed, I came sliding down the banking. On my way I collected the last man of the group and we both came sliding to the feet of ‘teeth through his lip’ guy, and the medics who were tending to him.
I jumped to my feet and offered a hand to the unlucky guy who I’d wiped out. “Totally my fault, sorry” I said in the process, he looked like he’d just been in a plane crash. White as a sheet and panting like a German shepherd, “Just give me a minute” came the reply. Clearly not a man used to falling off two wheeled machines. The paramedics were trying to get me to sit down too as I’d obviously be ‘in shock’. I kept my gob shut that this was pretty much an occupational hazard of mine and had been for the last sixteen years. Falling off at under 20mph wasn’t really something to get too bothered about. Although as I looked at the state of my skinned forearm the thought occurred to me that I’ve launched race bikes at the scenery at 80mph+ and received fewer injuries. I’d also melted a hole in my best cycling shorts, bugger! If you’d like to try this at home then crashing on the wooden boards of the velodrome is best reconstructed by stripping naked and launching yourself down your laminate flooring as fast as possible. It looks quite smooth but skin tends to grip to it and start to burn. I’m now sporting a large pickable scab on my right forearm. These people really should wear leathers or something, maybe a Dragon’s Den idea. Protective/breathable cycle wear, hhhmmm.
So back to motorbikes and the final round of the series, the Anglesey Grand. In typical fashion the engine wasn’t in the bike five days before the meeting! Having removed it after the last event, for a refresh, it sat as an ornament in the workshop until two weeks before the Grand. At this point we figured it best to get it to RLR Motorsport where on stripping it was discovered that Suzuki were out of stock of the correct conrods! A massive job, obtaining the right bits in time, then ensued with it all coming together on the Thursday before loading the bike into the van and heading off to run it in at the trackday on Friday. Having also not ridden a race bike for three months this wasn’t the best preparation!
The meeting overall went well and the weather turned out better than expected for the venue/time of the year. I struggled with chatter from the front end, swapping springs, oil levels and many damping adjustments. Eventually a softer tyre compound made the biggest improvement. Adam Jenkinson, British championship front runner, was one of a few potential winners. Johnny Blackshaw, myself and David Jones had battled the Wirral 100 championships out all year and all fancied our chances too. I had some good rides, even briefly managing to pass and lead Adam in one of the Powerbike heats. My results on the Saturday saw me win the Powerbike Championship, which was good news. It’s been a good season with some great racing and I was pleased to come out as the winner.
Sunday’s races went well, Adam Jenkinson won both Anglesey Grand legs to take the overall win. I gambled a bit on a softer rear tyre than I’d used in the earlier races, struggling to match the pace I hoped that this would bring me closer. Which it did, for seven laps at which point the grip level dropped off and I started practicing my sideways riding whilst watching Adam and Johnny drift away. The second leg was a bit of a formality after that but with the harder rear tyre back in I hung onto the leaders for longer, setting my best time of the weekend to take a second place. The aggregate result of the two legs left me third overall but it had been a good weekend’s racing which, after everything, is what it’s all about. I lined up on the grid for the final senior open race, leading this championship too I just needed to finish to guarantee the championship win. Setting off for the warm up lap the bike spluttered at 8000 rpm and wouldn’t pull through it. The universal ‘turn it off and back on again’ fix for everything didn’t work and I was forced to pull out after the warm up lap. Later the fault was traced to a sticking throttle flap and was fairly easily sorted. I stood watching the final race, the end result of which meant that I sealed the senior open title too.
A good end to the season and probably my last one racing. I’ve been slowly winding down my racing career, only competing in three short circuit events alongside the TT this year. I decided at the TT this year that it would be my last one as a competitor. I love the place, the event and everything about it and I wouldn’t deter anyone from doing it. As we all know you never know what life is going to deal you next. You could choke on a peanut/get hit by a bus tomorrow but with a young family I just can’t taunt it any longer. I broke the 125mph barrier this year, a personal goal of mine, my sector times show that a mid-126 is on the cards but if I don’t stop now there will always be another goal to chase. I know all too well what I’m like! Nobody wants to be the guy that didn’t know when to stop. The consequences of me not coming back to my caravan at the end of the race are just unbearable. I love racing and it’s given me, and my family, so much but I just don’t live for it like I used to, so why risk everything doing it? Like any good gambler I think you need to know when to walk away, happy with what you’ve achieved. I’m also not exactly getting rich racing bikes, quite the opposite in fact, and I feel that the time has come to sort the rest of my life/finances out. I wouldn’t swap any of it, the experiences, stories and friends I’ve met along the way will stay with me forever. Although if I could wind back the clock I would certainly reconsider my entry speed into turn three at Anglesey on September 13th 2009! Which coincidentally is the last time my shoulders were symmetrical and I could feel all of the skin on my back! Would I like to live in a big house in a nice area? Yes! Would I swap that for the life that I’ve had racing bikes…never!
And talking of the TT, thanks to Barry Clay who sent me this great shot from this year:
I obviously plan to stay involved, on-track instruction is an area that I am really keen to expand on next season. Alongside helping out the rising star that is Dom Herbertson in any way that I can, which doesn’t include financially! Obviously if someone comes along with a 250GP bike and let’s me do a few races on it then I’d jump at the chance! I loved my years in the Aprilia RS250 challenge by my biggest regret is that I never raced a proper GP two stroke!
The Oset electric trials that myself and Jo have been running are going great, 32 kids rode in our last event, and it’s really satisfying to see them all enjoying themselves. The electric side of the event actually outnumbered the petrol adult event at the the last trial!
Next up on my venture to crash as many two wheeled machines as possible before 2014 is out is a speedway experience day at Scunthorpe in December.