March 8th, 2014

Steve McQueen famously said that "Racing is life.  Everything else is just waiting".

Racers will know that there's some truth in this.  But even worse than just ordinary day-to-day waiting is waiting-to-see-if-your-TT-entry-is-successful waiting.  For some reason the TT is very popular this year, and all the classes are oversubscribed, some considerably.  While my 17th place and replica in the Lightweight last year should guarantee me an entry for that, it's the big bike classes that are way over the limit, and some people are definitely going to be unlucky.  My best time on the ZX10R last year might not be enough...

The entry committee is meeting today, and unsuccessful entrants will be emailed tomorrow.  So I'm sat with fingers and toes crossed hoping not to get an email.

STOP PRESS:  It's now Saturday, and I didn't get an email yesterday, so I'm assuming I'm in!

Apart from that, things have progressed pretty well regarding the prepartion of the Superstock ZX10R.  My Trello planning board has lots of things in the 'Done' column, and not much left in the 'To do' column.  Completed items include:

  • Maxton forks
  • HEL brake lines
  • New Bendix brake pads
  • Samco radiator hoses
  • Maxton shock
  • 520 chain and sprockets
  • ...plus lots of little detail items

The really rather expensive race kit loom and ECU had also arrived.  Might wait and see if my entry is confirmed before I open that box...

The bodywork is with Denis Motorcycle Resprays of Cirencester - I've used Denis for bike paint for the last 30 years, and he really is fantastic - recommended.  Should be back in about 10 days, and ready to be fitted for the first short circuit outing.

Here's a couple of photos of the work in progress


Maxton forks & HEL brake lines




2014 preparation

February 6th, 2014

My last update was shortly after coming out of hospital in November, having had the metal pin removed from my right femur.  Since then I have:

  • recuperated, heedng my surgeon's advice 
  • Bought a ZX10R for the 2014 season
  • Been offered a factory ride in the TT Zero event

I recovered from the operation pretty easily.  I was told to not stress my leg for 6~8 weeks, so I waited until after New Year before I started training again, but I've been back at bootcamp since the beginning of January, and I'm feeling pretty good.  The post-op / Christmas weight has come off, and I'm wondering if I can maybe get down to a racing weight of 75kg this year.

I found a 2011 ZX10R at a very good price, and collected it last weekend.  It's now up on my bench being put into Superstock spec,  Unlike last year, when I prep'd the bike in April and May and rode it for the first time down Brayhill, I plan to have this one ready for the first Jurby meeting in March.  I've also got a deposit down with Bournemouth Kawasaki for a race kit loom and ECU, which should enable Slick Bass to make it a bit less, er, physical to ride.

Perhaps the biggest news is around TT Zero.  I know Alex Aitchison of Darvill Racing on the Isle of Man, and he is setting up UK distribution for Brammo Motorcycles, one of the world's leading manufacturers of electric bikes.  Brammo have been involved with racing electric bikes since the class was invented, and were at the inaugural TT Zero in 2009.  This year Darvill racing will be running factory-supported full prototype Brammo racers in the TT Zero, and I'm going to be on one of them!

There follows a month of evenings in the garage getting the ZX10R ready, and in no time I'll be lining up for the first race of the season.  Can't wait!

2014 plans

November 27th, 2013

I can't help but look back on 2013 with a feeling of satisfaction - raced the TT for the first time, didn't disgrace myself, didn't hurt myself, and had some really enjoyable and successful outings with Andreas Racing at Jurby Airfield.

But it's November now, and I'm already thinking about 2014.  Current plans are:

  • TT - on Dave Clarke's brilliant ER6, and one (not two) other bike - probably another ZX10R
  • A full season with Andreas racing, with perhaps a chance of challenging for a championship
  • Classic TT - running a 1992 ZXR750 in the F1 class

Given all this, plus the ususal climbing, snowboarding, mountan bike & road cycling, I've taken heed of the words my surgeon impressed on me after putting a pin down the middle of my right femur in 2008.  He said it would be "very bad" if I broke the bone again with the metal in it.  So I've taken advantage of the off-season to have the pin removed.  I went into hospital last Tuesday at 11:30am, the inestimable Mr Holt removed the pin that afternoon, and I walked out of hospital the following morning (with the aid of a stick).  The leg is feeling pretty good, but I have to be careful not to shock it for the next 6~8 weeks while the holes in the bone (where the screws were) strengthen.  But yesterday I felt good enough to ride my bicycle for a couple of miles, and the stick hasn't been used much.

On Friday the staples are coming out (stitches are so 20th century); the wounds look to me like they are healing nicely.  A couple of photos follow - look away if you're squeamish.

Knee, where screw was removedHip with staples

Last meeting of the season, Day 2

September 23rd, 2013

After the brilliant highs, and really not-too-bad low of Saturday, we did it all again on Sunday.  I was obviously quite excited, as I was awake before 6am.  Fortified by a McKay bacon butty, we headed to the track.  The forecast was for "dry, sunny, and unseasonably warm", and so it turned out.

The track was run in the opposite direction to yesterday, so clockwise/right-handed.  This was the config we used in July, when I had a grand day out, so I was quite happy.  But after yesterday's winning exploits, perhaps I expected too much, or maybe wasn't forceful enough with traffic, as I only did a 1:17 and then a 1:16 in my two practice sessions.  This was ok, good enough for second row starts in both classes, but didn’t compare with the P2 start I got in the 650 twins yesterday.  Perhaps it was a reminder not to get complacent

Race 1: Steelies + singles/twins/triples + classics (aka Wacky Races)

I'd qualified p6, and one of the Martin Bullock riders, Dean Osborne was in P4.  Hmm.  If I wanted another win, I was going to have to work here.  I made a cracking start (I seem to have nailed the start technique on Dave Clarke's ER6, and it just leaps off the line), into 4th place following Ryan Kneen on the 'classic' OW01 (Bike: built 1989; Ryan: born 1989) and the two fast steelie boys (Matt Mylchreest and Mally Oates).  And then on the entry into Nan's, Dean Osborne came past; actually, he nearly came through me, clouting my arm good and hard.  This pissed me off a bit.  I chased him round for a lap, and could see that I had a bit more speed in lots of places.  I lined up a standard block past on the left hander before the pits, and showed him not just my front wheel but half the bike too.  He just turned in across me, forcing me to grab the brakes.  This pissed me off a lot.  Fortunately, the combination of my bike's pace, and (I like to think) the better drive I get onto the straight, allowed me to pass him in a straight line.  I didn't see him again. Hah. I held onto 4th, and 1st in class, with a best lap of 1:13.505.  Which just happened to be a lap record for this class on this circuit!  *Very* pleased about this!  I’m a lap record holder!

Race 2: 650 twins + 400s

After wrapping up the championship yesterday, class star Callum Colister (has won every race he started) didn't go out, leaving things a bit more open for me.  I was starting P4, but Dean Osborne was ahead again, as well as fast youngster Nathan Harrison, and 400 class champion Dave Kennington.  I got away well, but didn't make any places until I passed Dave's 400 on good old fashioned power down the straight.  But the two 650 twins in front of me were setting a good pace, and I thought I'd have to work for this one.  To save me some of the trouble, Nathan Harrison lost the front on the left-hander before the paddock, and I set my sights on Dean.  Half a lap later the red flags came out, as apparently a load of other people had also crashed.  We waited quite a while, then rode back round to the restart.  Two more warm up laps, and then a shortened 4 lap race, which I have to say wasn't very memorable - I think I got past Dean at the start, blew past Dave's 400 on the straight, and didn't see anyone else.  Another win, and a best lap of 1:13.230.  Could I get into the 12s in this direction too? [spoiler: no]

There was some intrigue in the lunchtime gap.  While I'd been focussed on trying to get into the top 3 of the 650 twins class, I'd surprised myself by jumping to second place in the singles twins & triples class (from about 12th), following yesterday's 30 points from two wins.  The class leader, Rich Waterfall, had started the day 27 points ahead, so only needed 4 points even if I won both races.  But, in the morning race he'd had a problem with his bike, and only scored 1 point...and his bike had now lost 4th gear! If I won the next race and he scored less than 3 points, I'd be champion!  I felt a bit shitty about this, as he'd been placing in the top 6 all season, and now a bike failure and some Johnny-come-lately (me) could rob him.  We had a chat about it, and he was very philosophical. He sounded like he wasn't going to start the race, but when it was called, I saw him head out to the collecting area, so he was clearly going to try and get the couple of points he needed.

Race 3: Steelies + singles/twins/triples + classics (aka Wacky Races)

Having won the first running of this race, I was obviously confident for the second.  Ryan Kneen on the OW01 and Matt and Mally on steelies dashed away, but this time I was right on their tail.  Close enough to see Ryan sail way over the white line on the exit, into the really gritty, dirty part of the track and just about onto the grass.  Didn't slow him down any, and he didn't get passed on the straight.  I managed to hang on to these guys for most of the lap, but by the end of it they had a second or so on me, and I tried to just settle into my own rhythm.  Which wasn’t helped by the fact that the quick-shifter wasn't working, and even clutched up-changes weren't entirely reliable. This must have cost me time, because on the 4th lap Dean Harrison came past.  Damn! I needed to win to get the championship!  I hoped I could get him on the straight, as I'd been able to do all weekend, but the more measured gear changes meant I couldn't quite make it.  I was comfortably on his tail everywhere, but there wasn't an obvious pass anywhere else on the circuit.  We went past the last lap flag, so it was my last chance on the straight.  I focussed everything on getting good drive, but he'd obviously improved here too, and as we headed towards the flat-in-top kink of Snuffies, I wasn't close enough.  But I knew I always carried more speed than Dean through here, so just gritted my teeth and flew round the outside of him into the braking zone for the bus stop.  I threw out the anchors and got round, and then just kept my nose clean round Nan's and back towards the start.  Defensive lines on the last two corners ensured the win.  Best lap of 13.756 (on the last lap).

As it turned out, Rich Waterfall managed to get 7th in class, and 4 points, thus clinching the championship by 2 points.  I don't begrudge him that at all.

Race 4: 650 twins + 400s

Last race of the day, the weekend and the season.  The circuit was bathed in late afternoon sunshine, it was unseasonably warm, and I was looking for the perfect end to the perfect day.  Let's not f*** it up, eh?  And I didn't :-)  Despite having to change up with the clutch, and even struggling to get a clean change every time, I managed straightforward passes on Dave Kennington and Dean Osborne, and a comfortable run to the flag.  Another win and fastest lap of 1:13.614.  [Looking at the lap times, I'm also pleased to note better consistency for the race - 1.1 seconds between fastest and slowest laps, which is much better than previous races]

So there we are - what an unbelievable weekend :

  • 8 starts
  • 7 wins
  • a damage- and injury-free crash (while leading – that’s important!) 
  • a lap record.  
  • Third place in the 650 twins championship (started 9 races of the seasons’s 13) 
  • Second place in the singles, twins and triples championship (starting 6 races of the 13)

We drank quite a lot that evening, which hurts now, especially as I had to be up before 6am to get to the airport.

Special thanks to Dave Clarke for letting me ride his fabulous bike, and especially to Keith McKay, without whom I wouldn't be doing any of this.  

Of course, now I'm already making plans for the 2014 season...

Last meeting of the season, Day 1

September 22nd, 2013
I didn't need to do this meeting, and wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Mephistopheles (aka Keith McKay) pointing out that I was 5th in the 650 twin championship (after doing 3 of 5 rounds), and could maybe get inthe top 3.  Dave Clarke  agreed that I could ride his wonderful ER6 again for the weekend, so I signed up, booked flights, etc
The weather forecast was mostly good, with the odd chance of a little dampness, and so it turned out.  A bit of drizzly nothingness in practice (made your visor wet, but not the track), and dry for all the races.
This is a 2 day meeting and today (Saturday) is the anti-clockwise / left-handed circuit.  Which I've not ridden since April.  Still, first practice in the 'Wacky Races' (3 classes in one race: steelies, singles, twins and triples, post-classics) went well, and I put it on the 3rd row with a 1:16.7.  Importantly, no-one in my class qualified ahead of me.  For second practice, for the 650 twins (the class I was more interested in), I managed to find a bit more, and got P2 (front row!) with a 1:14.3.  Callum Colister (2013 MGP Newcomer winner), who had won every race this year in this class, did a 1:12.6, so I was looking at a 2nd place at best.
Time rolled round and we lined up for the wacky races.  I got away ok, made a place or two, and followed half-a-dozen quick steelies round for a lap (all being led by Ryan Kneen, in the classic class, on an OW01!).  On the 2nd lap, one of the guys in front highsided, and we all threaded past (it's a measure of how unpleasant a person I am when competing that when someone crashes in front of me, I smile).  One lap later, the race was red-flagged.  Damn. 
We lined up again, with a gap in front of me from Mr Highsider, and got away again for a shortened 4 lap race.  A better start, and I think I was into 5th, and made a place up a lap later.  From then on, Ryan rode away on his OW01 (best lap 1:11.0 !!!), two steelies ran a second or so slower, and I got 4th, and 1st in class, with a best lap of 1:13.1 - a whole second faster than my then unbelievable best lap in July.  What is going on...?
Not much later, we lined up for the 650 twins (also run with the 400s).  I was P2, but there was a gap where pole position was - the unbeatable Callum Collister hadn't joined the grid.  So I knew I was on for the win, and that's what I did, by a margin of 5 seconds by the end. Best lap of 1:13.9, so still in the 13s, but (as I promised Keith, see more below...) not trying *too* hard.  Even better, the guys I was trying to catch, for 3rd (or maybe even 2nd...) in the championship only managed 6th and 7th places.
The second wacky race was also red-flagged, after one lap this time, but when we eventually got away I again got myself into 4th place, 1st in class, with a best lap of 1:13.7
So, three starts, three wins....it could only go downhill from here.
Last race of the day was the second 650 twins race.  Callum Collister joined this one on a different Kawasaki ER6 (turns out his had blown up).  He and I left the line absolutely neck and neck, but he had the inside line to the corner, and took the lead.  Over the next lap he stretched out a second or so (not helped by 400 class leader Dave Kennington trying to force through - I rebuffed him "firmly").  On the second lap I was thinking 2nd was ok, when...Callum started coming back towards me.  By the bus-stop chicane I was nearly on him, and chased him through the fastest corner of the track (Snuffies) and settled into his slipstream on the back straight. And it was here that Callum had the mother of all tank-slappers.  I thought we were both going to be off, if not dead.  I *just* managed to flick to the side, and flew past him as he fought his bike, both feet off the pegs like an Ewok on a speeder.  Now I was leading!  I knew Callum would come back at me, so tried to keep focussed and fast.  On lap 4 I allowed myself a glance behind on the straight, and saw another bike, not too close, but not too far away either.  On the penultimate lap I was still leading, and quickly catching a back-marker.  I really didn't want to be held up, and started to think where I was going to get past - when, as I was about 5m behind him, the front tucked on the bumps into Nans, and I was sliding along on my arse. Loss of focus, rolling the throttle slightly - I don't know the cause, but I know it was 100% my fault.
When I came to a halt I quickly found I was completely unhurt, and the bike had only lost half a clutch level.  Andreas has a 'no restart' policy, so my race was done.  Zero points.  Shit.
Still when we got back to the paddock and assessed the damage properly, the bike needed the following:
- replacement clutch level
- replacement gear change toe-thingy (iyswim)
- that was it.
I'm not going to get pissed off with a crash like that.  Especially as I was leading the race, and set a best lap of 1:12.9.  Into the 12s!
Looking at the championship tables, I'm into 4th place in the 650 twins, with a chance of getting 3rd tomorrow (2nd is now beyond reach).  Interestingly, 2 wins in the singles, twins and triples has put me in 2nd place in that championship!  1st place is mathematically possible, but requires the leader to not show up.  Today he got a 3rd and a 4th, so this is a tall order.
This is quite possibly the best mood I've even been in after crashing a motorbike.  3 wins! Three!  And crashing while leading ahead of the class champion - rock and roll!!!
Apologies if this is all bit too enthusiastic and full of myself.  It'll pass soon, I'm sure.