Category: "Classic Racing"

Last outing of the season?

October 1st, 2016

So here I was again at Jurby, on the Isle of Man, in late September. What brought me here?  Well, a number of birds needed to be hit, and I only wanted to use one stone.

  1. I needed to collect all the stuff I left with the marvellous John Newell, because my van is not big enough to transport everything needed for two bikes and ten days at the Classic TT
  2. I also needed to collect my TZ250 engine, which had been rebuilt by the equally marvellous Billy Craine and Andy Broughton, with a refurbished barrel, new piston, rings and little end, and stock cylinder heads, obtained from TZ specialists Gecko Motorcycles (from where I also got a stock Yamaha ignition to replace the questionable aftermarket one fitted).
  3. Timing the trip to address these with an ARA meeting at Jurby meant I could a) get a slightly cheaper ferry crossing, and, much more importantly, ride at another race meeting - I need to do six a year to get my TT Mountain licence

So once again I found myself heading up the M6 to Heysham.  And once again, the traffic was appalling.  The motorways in this country really are broken.  But I made the ferry crossing in time without it being as stressful as the last time I made this run.   As usual I stayed at friends Keith & Rebecca in Ramsey, now with the house livened up with their darling new daughter Erin.  Saturday was very autumnal in the Island, with lots of rain, and high winds.  But I did most of the chores I needed, collecting the ZXR and associated paraphelia from John, and then the TZ250 engine from Billy and Andy.  And then I went for a pint with the lads.

Race day dawned dry, as forecast, but the wind hadn't dropped as much as expected.  This was only a concern for my awning, which has a tendency to turn into a large kite in high winds.  But we strapped it down well enough, and had no problems.  There was the usual signing-on, scrutineering activities, and then I was out for my first, and only, practice session.  I know my way round Jurby pretty well nowadays, so one session was enough.  The post-classic class, which is what my 1992 Kawasaki ZXR750 runs in, is run alongside the 'Singles, tiwns and triples' and the 'Steelframe 600s', and is hence often known as the 'Wacky Races' by many in the paddock.  The fast guys on Supertwins and Steelies are properly fast, but I managed to comfortably head my class with a 1:16:734, a good 2.5 seconds quicker than the next guy in the class, and 6th overall.

So I formed up for the first race  on the second row, with the bright autumn sunshine bathing the circuit and justifying my use of a dark visor.  I got my usual decent start, stealing a place off the line and....that was where I stayed. The fast lads in front rode away from me, a good couple of seconds a lap or more faster than me, but everyone behind was a second or more slower - so it was quite a lonely race.  But fun all the same, even when, in the last two laps, the horizon was full of ominous black clouds

Result - Race 1

  • 1st in class (5th overall)
  • Best lap: 1:16:923

And the bike looks great too

ZXR at Jurby in the autumn sun


We finished in the dry, but the rain came down just in time to cause a 10 minute delay for mate (and awning co-habitee) Andy Cowie's race, which was up next.  But wind was strong enough to dry the track quickly enough, and Andy ran his race on (treaded) dry tyres, and by the time my second race came around, the track was nearly dry.  I say nearly, but I was definitely a little careful over the damp patches on the run through Tyers Curve, and my laps times, and everybody else's, reflected this.  The rain had put a few people off, so the grid was a little thinner, but the result was similar - the fast boys rode away, and I was sufficiently quicker than those behind to again have a fairly uneventful ride

Result - Race 2

  • 1st in class (4th overall)
  • Best lap 1:19:596

And after that, it was pack up, back to Ramsey, run through the shower and down the pub.

So, that might be in the end of my 2016 race season.  Or I might do the last NGRRC meeting at Thruxton next weekend.


That's Racing...Take 2

August 31st, 2016

I'm writing this sat at home in England, after another couple of full days.

Sunday 28th Aug

After the big crash and its aftermath in the Classic Lightweight race on Saturday, the Classic Superbike race was going to be all about getting a safe finish.  The bike had a done a practice lap on Saturday, with no problems, and really didn't need anything doing to it.  So for Sunday, the crew had a day off, and went off to be tourists, while I had a slow day just pottering round.  I had expected to be as stiff as a board, and ache all over, after my 130mph tumble yesterday,  but I felt surprisingly good, with only the slightest twinges.  My kit - Held leathers and gloves, Daytona boots, Knox back protector, Shark helmet - had really proved their worth. Here's a picture of my most significant injury, the bruise on my hip (closely cropped for decency):

Post-TZ-crash bruised hip

First item of business was to get the couple of very small holes in my leathers repaired.  My Manx racing friends had all referred me to  a lady called Christine, based in Peel, who did race leather repairs.  I'd called her Saturday evening, and she said to just to come over on Sunday morning.  I dropped them with her, she had a look, and said "Go and get a coffee, and come back in an hour".  I took myself to the lovely Peel harbour, and, it being nearly lunchtime, treated myself to a crab bap, which was as lovely as usual.  I got back to Christine's and the hole was patched, and a very small amount of money handed over for the repair.  Highly recommended.

I then drove up to Ramsey, to meet my long-LONG-standing friend Virginia, who was across to watch her beloved classic bikes.  She hopped in the van, and we both went to the 'Festival of Motorcycling" event at Jurby Racetrack, which seems to be going from strength to strength.  There were thousands of people there, and almost every bike you could think of was either on official display, or just parked in the bike-park.    I only spent an hour there, as I had a TZ to look at, so I left Ginny to it, and headed back to the paddock.

Considering it had slid up the road at 130mph or so, the TZ250 had survived amazingly well.  As a pukka race bike, it had obviously been designed to crash well!  The tail-piece/seat was trashed, but although the fairing was significantly scuffed, it could probably be fixed up and used as a 'spare'.  And the damaged to the mechanicals was limited to one handlebar, one footrest, and one exhaust.  Amazing.  But today's job was not to repair the crash damage, it was to remove to motor and take it to Billy and Andy.  Race bikes are easy to work on, and even being slow and methodical, I had the engine out in about 90 minutes; I expect that if I was in a hurry, I could do it in a third of that time, and a skilled mechanic with TZ experience much faster that that.  But I'm still learning the bike, and there was no rush.  And I had time to go shopping too, so we could eat that evening.

Alex and Simon and Simon had gone for a trip to Laxey Wheel, and then taken the electric railway to the top of Snaefell, and then the steam railway to Castletown - proper tourists!  But Simon Wilson was on a flight home that evening, so I picked them up at the station, feeling a little like Jenny Agutter, and then Wilce threw his kit together and was ready for a lift to the airport.  I took him down there and said a heartfelt thanks - he had been drafted in at short notice, and had worked like a trooper.  I then drove almost the length of the Island to Ramsey to drop the TZ motor with Billy, and then back to the paddock, where Alex had cooked up a mountain of pasta with a ragu sauce.

Monday 29th Aug

Race day.  This was the chance to turn around our frankly lousy practice week, and even worse opening race.  The first race of the day was the Classic Junior, for pre-70s 350s, and our Classic Superbike race was due to go off at 2pm.  Although down to two, the crew of Alex and Simon were old hands now, and the bike breezed through scrutineering, and was soon sat on its stands, tyre warmers warming the tyres, while they waited for pit lane to be opened so they could fill the fuelling rig.  I was so laid back that it was with something of a start when I realised that the was a little under and hour to go, and I should probably go and prepare my kit, drink some energy drink, get changed, etc.  I got back to Parc Ferme in my leathers just as the bikes were being called up onto Glencrutchery Road, but that still gave a good 10 minutes, so plenty of time.  In this race I was number 47, so even when the first rider started, I still had a good few minutes until my start; for the race, riders start individually at 10 second intervals.  But soon enough it was my turn again, and the starter gave a quick raise of the Manx flag and I wheelied down towards St Ninians Crossroads and onto Bray Hill.  It all felt very familiar - despite having done relatively few complete laps in practice, I started quite a lot, so the first part felt like second nature.  

While it was very important to get a finish, you can't just cruise round - you have to have enough of a focus to maintain your concentration and have some pace.  It's a balancing act.  I had also hoped to be faster than some of the people who started in front of me, but after catching #46 in the first few miles, I didn't see anyone else at all.  I started the second lap, and felt pretty comfortable, and the bike was working well.  But I was really paranoid that some other minor technical problem was going to rear its head, so it was difficult to actually enjoy it!  At the end of lap two, I pulled into the pits for fuel, and as Alex fuelled the bike he told me that the exhaust silencer was hanging off, and would need a repair - the clamp that retained it to the exhaust hanger had broken.  Simon set to with lockwire, as the scrutineer in attendence told us that we couldn't use a tie-wrap (which would probably have been a much better solution).  We probably lost about 60 seconds in the pits because of this, but I just drank my drink and waited to be told to head off.  As I did so, a couple of other bikes left just before me, so at least I had someone to chase now.

The third lap would be the most enjoyable, and looking at the split times after, my fastest, although the time lost in the pits doesn't make it look like it.  I chased down the two bikes ahead of me, and slowly reeled them in, catching the nearer at the end of Cronky-y-Voddy straight.  But he wasn't much slower, and his bike seemed to have good speed, so I couldn't easily get past him.  I followed him through Handleys, the top and bottom of Barregarrow, round the 13th and towards Kirkmichael.  I nearly outbraked him into Douglas Road corner, but the TT course is not somewhere that you do Hail Mary passes, so I had to follow some more, through Kirkmichael and the Bishopscourt section. My next chance would probably be the hard braking for Ballaugh Bridge, so I made sure I was right on his tail coming out of Alpine...and he seemed to slow unexpectedly just as we came out of Ballacob.  I had to quickly jink to the right to avoid running into him - just about exactly at the spot where I'd been thrown off the TZ250 on Saturday!  But at least I was now past; unfortunately, the other rider I'd been winding in was now gone, and I didn't see him again.

I headed down toBallacry, Quarry Bends, Sulby Straight and the bumpy section from Ginger Hall to Ramsey.  Previously the bike had been fairly well behaved over these bumps, but now it was moving about a bit more - I assumed this might be down to the suspension just being hot.  But it was all OK, and I was soon heading up the moutain again...only for the chap I chased down to come past me on the way out of the Gooseneck!  One of the professional photographers caught this superbly, and put them on Facebook, but can I find them now?  No, I can't, so I'll post this one instead, which is probably the most iconic photo that will ever be taken of me:

Rounding the Creg

The bike that passed me was #51, ridden by Graham Ward, and had therefore started some 40 seconds behind me.  He was well ahead on corrected time, so there was little point in trying to catch him - even if I got past, I'd be unlikely to make that 40 seconds back.  But I kept him honest, and it gave me a target to focus on, which is always good.  Unfortunately for Graham, his bike expired on the 4th lap, a little before Ramsey.  So now I just had less than half a lap to go, and now I was really paranoid!  I was talking to myself, ensuring that I stayed focussed - even though I train pretty hard for this event, and am in good condition, for my age, I'm not a youngster, and was definitely feeling tired now. And as I came out of Windy Corner, I thought I felt the bike hesitate very slightly - oh no, was I going to run out of petrol!?  It's all downhill from here, but you still need some fuel to get you home, so I properly nursed the bike down to the Creg and on to Hillberry, short-shifting all the gears, and hoping we'd just get home. But once I got to Signpost, I thought I'd probably be OK, and pulling out of Governor's Dip I knew I would be, and I crossed the line to take the chequered flag.  What a brilliant feeling!

I rode up the return road and Ginny was hanging over the fence to congratulate me, so I stopped for a quick hug, and then rode up to Parc Ferme where Simon was waiting with the stand.  I thankfully climbed off the bike, feeling really jolly tired!  But elated too! There is no feeling like finishing a TT.   The lockwire repair of the exhaust strap had probably lasted 5 minutes, and that might have been the cause of the hesitation I thought I felt - the exhaust was definitely at a jaunty angle at finish:

I thanked Simon and Alex, and we headed back to our awning and tent, where I climbed out of my leathers and stood in the sun and steamed gently.  And drank a lot of water - almost a whole 2 litre bottle.  But the next order of business was definitely to hit the beer tent, so I took 10 minutes to run through a hot shower, and then we went for a drink.  Followed by another, then another.  The beer tent after a TT is an extremely convivial and good-natured place to be, and Simon went to the race office and came back with the official results, showing me in 28th place (from nearly 70 starters) and with a replica too! (awarded to those who finish within 10% of the winner's time).  The presentations for all the Classic TT races was being held in a big marquee just a few yards away, so after a brief pause for some food to soak up the alcohol, we trooped across there, and collected our prize.  By now, the post-race inspections had excluded a number of people for 'technical infringements) and I was up to 24th place!  Multiple TT winner Phil McCallen handed my my replica; coincidentally he presented me with the previous rep I won in the Lightweight race at TT 2013.   Trophy collected, we went back to the beer tent.  This picture probably captures the evening:

Results + replica + beer

Tuesday 30th August

The next day had a bit of a slow start, but we had lots to do - we were on the evening ferry, and had to pack everything, stow some of it t John's place in Andreas, and get the rest in the van.  We set to, and it all happened.  While in the north of the Island, we stopped in at Billy's workshop, where Andy had just started on the TZ motor; although he had suspected a big-end seizure, it turned out to be a 'normal' piston seizure, on the left/upper cylinder.  It took some persuasion with a hammer to get the cylinder off, and it will require a professional repair (Aptec are the people, apparently), but this less dramatic (and expensive) than a failed crank.  Andy is convinced the issue is down to the ignition I was running, so next think on the shopping list is a genuine Yamaha ignition.

We then headed back to the paddock and crammed everything left into the van.  And when I say crammed...

..I think I need a bigger van.

We were on the 19:45 ferry, which arrived in Hesham at 23:15, and then we headed down the M6.   Alex drove to his house, I dozed a bit.  We unloaded all the camping kit with Alex, I drank a Red Bull, and a little after 2am Simon and I headed further south, arriving at my place around 4:30am.  Simon changed into his bike kit, we got his bike out of my garage, and he headed onwards, while I collapsed into bed.

So that was out Classic TT, 2016.  As always, it was hard work, but tremendously rewarding, and we got a finish and a replica.  And it can't be said enough that no one can even think of doing this by themselves; without the amazing hard work and attention to detail from Alex Ferrier, Simon Weller and Simon Wilson, I'd not have got to the start of practice, let alone finished a race.  So thanks to three of you so much.  And we did have a laugh too.

That's Racing...

August 28th, 2016

We've had a busy couple of days, so this update covers Friday of practice week and the first race on Saturday.

Friday 26th Aug

After Thursday evening's curtailed practice, we were hoping to get at least a couple of more laps in tonight - so far, we'd only completed four, which is a small fraction of what I'd normally expect to do in practice week.  As the Classic Lightweight race for the TZ250 is on Saturday, we definitely wanted to get some more laps on that, fundamentally for me to get used to keeping it on the knife edge where it needs to live.  Session 1 was for the older, and slower, bikes, so we were going to take the TZ out in this session, and then hopefully do a lap or two on the 750 in Session 2.  I'd bought some new PFM disks for the 750, as one of my old original sets was definitely only good for the bin, and we put in new pads and a new front tyre - a lap to bed all that in, then the bike would be set for its race on Monday.

I got out on the TZ near the front of the session, and was starting to gel with the bike on the TT course, staying tucked in and carrying the corner speed.  There were a lot of older and slower bikes in front of me, and around Greeba Castle I came across five (5!) all together.  Overtaking one bike is usually quite straightforward, but five took a couple of goes.  But anyway, I was feeling quite good, and it was all going well, until at the Bungalow the bike slowed...I looked at the rev counter and it was showing half revs again, just like on Tuesday night.  More electrical issues.  I parked the bike, walked over the footbridge, asked around and found a very helpful German chap who was happy to give me a lift down to Sulby crossroads, at the bottom of the Tholt-y-Will Glen road (one of the more beautiful places on earth, though I wasn't looking at the view today).  I'm afraid I struggled to catch his name, but I think it was Jurgen Hoff - many many thanks for your help.  (If you read this, please let me know and correct your name if required).  I was hoping to cross quickly, but nowadays the safety protocols are quite strict, and the marshals had to wait until Race Control told them there was a safe gap.  Then one of the marshals drove me into Ramsey, where I met Alex and Simon in the van.  But the coast road from Ramsey to Douglas is slow, and we didn't get back to the paddock until 10 minutes after the session had ended.  Damn damn damn.

Once roads opened we took the van up the mountain and collected the TZ, and started to wonder what the problem could be.  Why wasn't the bike charging the battery?  We were all tired and frustrated, and for the first time in the week I was less than sanguine about stuff going wrong.  I phoned Billy Craine, and he spoke to Andy Broughton, and their proposal was that I should borrow their lithium battery, which would definitely do four laps without any charging.  So I made another trip to Ramsey, we fitted the battery and fired the bike up on the workbench (we've almost got the knack of this now) at quarter to one in the morning.  Race paddocks are tolerant of this sort of behaviour.

Saturday 27th Aug

Technically I'd not done the minimum five practice laps to qualify, but I'd done the necessary two on each bike, and significantly faster than the qualifying cut off time.  I checked at the race office and I was on the start list for the Classic Lightweight race.  This race didn't go off until 4pm; the opening race of the meeting was the Classic Senior, for 500cc fourstokes (pre-1971), and then there were a couple of practice sessions, including one for Classic Superbikes (my ZXR750) at 2pm.  So both bikes were going out today, and the Alex and Simon and Simon had plenty to do.  Although, once through 'Technical Inspection' (universally referred to as 'scrutineering'), the bikes were sat on their stands, fuelled up, with warmers on, and we could relax.

I got out on the 750 and just had an enjoyable lap round, not trying, and just hoping the bike was all sorted after it had stopped at Cronk-y-voddy on Wednesday night.  And it was - I had a fun lap, which also turned out to be faster than before, at 108mph.  All good.  And then there was an hour or so to wait until the actual race for the TZ.  The crew had to fill the refueling rigs, which meant mixing up lots of premix (100 octane avgas plus two stroke oil at a 30:1 ratio).  I felt pretty relaxed, and as the bikes were wheeled up onto Glencrutchery road, the air was filled with the shrill crackle of race two-stroke exhausts and the smell of two-stroke oil.  I paddled my way forward as we left, one at a time at 10 second intervals, until it was my turn, at number 25.  I screamed the bike off the line, and headed down Bray Hill once again.  A couple of miles in, as I headed up Ballhutchin, I realised we might have a problem, as the bike was pulling in top gear noticeably more strongly than before.   As I passed the Highlander (no longer a pub, but everyone still calls it the Highlander) the bike was showing 13,000 rpm in top - too high!

I negotiated the Glen Helen section, revelling in having the bike leant right over with my head still under the bubble off the screen.  The bike was pulling well, too well, but I just kept on keeping on.  A more experienced two-stroke racer might have pulled in.  On the run through the Bishopscourt section the bike was still pulling like a train, and I was still worrying about it, and I rounded Alpine and headed to the kink (Ballacob) just before Ballaugh Bridge ...and the bike seized.  I wasn't quick enough to pull the clutch in, the rear tyre locked and slewed the bike sideways, and I was spat off.  This in top gear, and nearly peak revs - a good 130+mph.  I rag-dolled down the road, and when I finally came to a halt I knew to lay still and count to 10 before trying to move.  Other bikes were whizzing past me, but I was confident that the marshals would have the yellow flags out, and I'd be OK.  I got on my hands and knees and crawled to the side of the road.  The marshals were running towards me - I was a good few hundred metres from the main marshalling point at Ballaugh Bridge.  I felt a bit beaten up, obviously, but no significant pain, and not like anything was broken.  The para-med got me to my feet, and we walked down to the marshalling point, where I could sit in a comfy chair and be checked out.  And I was OK!  My left foot hurt a fair bit, so Martin the para-med and another lovely marshal, Geraldine, got my boot off and had a look.  Initially they thought the mishappen  state of my ankle meant I'd broked it, but I explained it had always been like that, since I broke it 30 years ago - I didn't even realise it looked a bit odd!  But I had no broken bones in my foot, so we iced it for 20~30 mins, and then Martin put a compression bandage round it, and after another half an hour I put my boot back on and walked around with almost no pain.  

The race finished, and then the course car came round and picked me up and took me back to the paddock, at quite some speed, it has to be said!  I met up with Alex and Simon and Simon, who were glad to see me walking around and looking well, and we started to discuss what the cause might have been.  Our best guess was that the more powerful battery was allowing the ignition system to work properly, and provide a fatter spark, and therefore more power.  

I got showered and changed, we piled into the van, collected the bike, and then headed to Ramsey for a pint with our mates there - Keith, Billy and Andy, and all my other Ramsey friends.  Despite having crashed my bike, I felt really quite positive - a side-effect of having cheated death, I would guess.  The bike will be repairable, and I was OK - for a crash on the TT course, that is a big result.

Here's what the TZ looked like when we rolled up in the van to collect it

Crashed TZ250

I will be riding my ZXR750 in the Classic Superbike on Monday.  And I will definitely be riding to complete four laps, get a safe finish, and then go for a beer in the beer tent.  If my crash had been caused by me making a mistake while riding the bike, I'd seriously be thinking about packing this in.  But in my whole time on both bikes, I'd had nothing close to "a moment", so I'm not at that stage.  Of course, I am responsible for machine prep too, and I really need to understand the TZ better than I do.

Good news and bad news

August 26th, 2016

Today we had some good and bad outcomes, but as is my style, I'm focussing on the good.

First of the day's jobs was to fix the problem that caused the ZXR to stop at Cronk-y-voddy.  The cause of this was ultimately that the right-hand switch gear (which contains the throttle twist grip) wasn't locating properly in the clip-on; it looks like when I originally built the bike, I didn't make the locating hole for the dowel in the switch unit deep enough.  And the dowel had come loose too.  So, while it's simple to describe, it was a few hours work to put right. But on completion, it was all very solid.

The TZ got a full check over, after its first lap the night before, and we found one of the supports for the front fairing/instrument support was cracked, so the team made a replacement (my race equipment always contains some sheet metal for just such things). As we'd been a little rushed when we got the TZ back from Billy and Andy, we also took the time to re-do the wiring, including putting a fuse inline with the new battery, adding a charge/test point, and removing the wired in rear light (required for poor conditions) and replacing it with a separate bicycle light (powered by its own batteries).  We then ran the TZ and checked that the main battery was getting a charge, which it was.

We also thought that the TZ was still over-geared.  The speed trap had clocked me at 137 along Sulby straight, but the bike still had revs left, and Simon Wilson and I poured over his gearing spreadsheet, and we decided to change from 16/41 to 15/40 - this is the equivalent of 1.5 teeth less teeth on the rear sprocket.  And while my first ever lap on the TZ was 98.5mph, I was actually slightly disapointed with this - it 'felt' faster, and I had hoped for 100mph at least.  But there was loads more to come, and it had been late and stressful (read all about it here), and I'd had a dark visor on, and it had been my first full lap on the bike, and....the Racer's Big Book of Excuses gave lots of options.

The plan for practice was: start on the TZ, as its race is on Saturday; then change for a lap on the ZXR, to check the repair from last night.  Then, in session 2, do one or two more laps on the TZ.  It didn't go to plan.  

We got out in first practice on the TZ well enough.  I immediately knew the gearing change was in the right direction, but was worried that we might have gone too far - on the run through Glen Vine, which is downhill, the bike was revving to 13,000 rpm, and a bit more, in top.  I was worried about over-revving it!  Though this reflects my four-stroke background, and two-strokes are safer to over-rev, to a degree.  But otherwise the bike was flying, and I was really enjoying riding it.  While ultimately it's not as fast as the ZXR, you have to maintain such a degree of focus, to be on the right line, in the right gear, all the time, that the rush it delivers is unique.  On the second part of the mountain there was a succession of yellow flags, just held, not waved, and the fact that they were at every marshals point told me that there'd been a incident elsewhere on the course, and the session would probably be red-flagged.  You're not allowed to overtake under yellows, but fortunately there was no one in front of me until we got nearly to Signpost, and it was only here that I lost  some time.  As it turned out...

As we got to the Start/Finish the red lights were on, and everyone returned to the pits.  Apparently there'd been a big incident at  Church Town corner, with a bike catching fire, and the road needed cleaning.  There would be a delay, and the first session was ended, but they hoped to get the second underway.  This meant we wouldn't be able to get a lap on the ZXR, but could hopefully get one or two more on the TZ.  The guys quickly changed the rear sprocked to a 39 (so now running 15/39), and we were ready.  But then there was a further announcement - the road damange was too severe, and cloud has closed in on the mountain, meaning the rescue helicopter couldn't fly, and so the rest of the evening's practice was cancelled.  There's nothing that one can do about this sort of thing, and so the only attitude is to accept it.

We then went for curry and a beer, and on return I found my time for the single lap on TZ: 103.86mph.  This was much better!  Also, looking at the split times, where we'd slowed in the last section, I'd been 13 seconds slower than my much slower first lap the previous night.  Assuming I'd would have got this 13 seconds back, plus maybe a couple more, would have put me on a 105mph lap, which is brilliant.

So, while I'd not got nearly as many laps in as usual by this part of Practice Week, things are going in the right direction.


An eventful evening

August 25th, 2016

Well...that was the TT encapsulated in a few hours.   But first the pre-amble. [This is being written on Thursday morning, about Wednesday]

Regular readers will know that the TZ250 expired on the Mountain on Tuesday evening, and I'd taken it to Manx hero Billy Craine to investigate, along with fellow Manx superhero Andy Broughton.  The expectation was that we wouldn't get it out in practice tonight...but mid-morning I got a call from Billy saying the battery was only showing 11.8V, instead of the expected 12.5V.  This would definitely explain the symptoms of the rev counter playing up when it died.  Andy also had the head and barrels off and prounced the condition of everything 'mint' - the engine was running well, and the jetting just about bang on. The bike had been very ove-rgeared, but the gearbox has is fitted with the optional high ratio top gear (20 teeth).  Billy said this was more commonly used on short circuits (typically with just one straight) and was less useful round the TT course, where you're in top for so much of the time.  Billy also said he could use this high ratio gear in the TZ he runs for his son Freddie... so Andy swapped the gears over, and my bike reverted to the standard 22 tooth 6th gear ratio - this represents a 10% change, which is significant, and we therefore left the final drive gearing the same.

The ZXR had done two good laps last night, and didn't really need much more than a nut and bolt check - essential after every outing over the many bumps of the TT course.  The crew even gave it a wash!  We also decided to replace the brake lever guard, which is not required at the TT, with a traditional bar end plug [races with mass starts on short circuits often require a guard over the brake lever, so that minor contact with the rear of another bike when fighting into the first corner doesn't apply the front brake and send you over the handlebars.  But at the TT riders start at separately timed intervals].  More on this later.

I took the van over to Ramsey to collect the TZ, while the crew took the ZXR through scrutineering.  When I got back to the awning, we put the new battery on (purchased from Dennis Trollope and a surprisingly reasonable £25, which is unheard of for a pukka race bike), refitted the body work, fuelled it up and took it to scrut'ing too.  And then fitted the second set of wheels, shod with Continental slicks.

By now I was relatively laid back about preparing for practice - 30 minutes beforehand, I wandered down to the tent, put the dark visor (with a fresh tear off) on my helmet, had an energy drink and a banana, climbed into my leathers and walked back up to Parc Ferme, arriving with 5 minutes to spare.  We get called up to the start within groups (1~15, 16~30, etc) within class, so it was a few minutes before my bike (#47) was up on Glencrutchery Road and I was paddling towards the start official.  As usual, I beat my starting partner off the line and headed down Bray Hill once again.  The Kawasaki felt as good as ever, but despite the very bright sunshine, which had persuaded me to use dark visor, it was too dark under the trees.  But otherwise everything was good...until I crested Creg Willeys Hill and rode onto the Cronk-y-Voddy straight, and the engine just died.  I pulled in at a marshalling point, looked down, and saw that the throttle twist grip and switchgear, which includes the kill switch, had moved along the handle bar by a couple of inches - perhaps a factor of changing the bar end?  This movement had pulled the electical cable from the kill switch to the loom tight...further investigation revealed that the wires had indeed become disconnected from the loom, where they met under the tank.  Damn.

My main concern was that I really need to get out on the TZ in the second practice session, and that session ended at 8:05pm.  And it was already nearly 7pm, and I was 10 miles round the course with the roads closed for racing.  I called Alex, and he and Simon leapt in the van to navigate the back roads to come and get me back to the pits.  In the mean time, I wondered if I could fix the bike - the problem was I would need a few tools to take the tank off to reconnect the kill switch.  The single marshal at the flag point where I'd stopped didn't have any, so I set off across a field, a few hundred yards, to get to the next (and main) marshalling point, and when I got there found a couple of bikers who came back with me, with some tools.  We lifted the tank a little...but I couldn't find the errant connector.  We struggled for 5 mins, but it wasn't going to happen.  I sighed, got a drink from the marshals, and then thought I might as well walk towards where I expected the van to come (from the Peel to Kirkmichael coast road, for those who know their Manx geography).  But I thought it unlikely we could pull this off...until I heard a car behind me, driven by a local with a visiting mate.  I stuck my thumb out, and they let me in, and as I explained the situation, they said they'd take me to Peel, where we met Simon and Alex in the van there.  I didn't get these Samaritans names, but on the off-chance they see this - thank you so much!   Simon then drove the van in a spirited fashion back to Douglas, along tiny little back roads, and we got back to the paddock with minutes to spare.  In fact, I think I went out on track 2 minutes before the session was due to end (i.e. no new bikes can start a lap, but those already out can complete it).  Phew!

I still had the dark visor on my helmet, and it was now gone 8pm.  Lighting up time is about was pretty bloody dim under the trees!  But there was no choice, and the main thing was to get the TZ round, and it was immediately obvious that the gearing was now much better, with top gear being just about right - the bike would pull to 12,000rpm or more in top whenever the road was flat.  The bike just felt so right, and the noise, and the feel - wow.  This was without doubt the purest, most concentrated hit of adrenaline I'd ever had.  I can see why people are so passionate about TZs and purebred racing two-strokes.   I got back to the paddock and just babbled to the guys.  But then I had to get out of my leathers, have a drink, and Si Wilson and I took the van back round the course, now roads were open, to pick up the ZXR.  And we got some fish and chips on the way back, and met Alex and the other Simon in the beer tent.  

Wow...what an evening.  And people wonder why I do it...