From hospital to race track

July 31st, 2014

Regular readers will know that I crashed in practice at TT2014, and put myself in hospital.  I was extremely fortunate to not hurt myself more than (quite severe) concussion, and a 'chipped' pelvis. I was on crutches for 10 days, and then walking unaided.  But I was still quite creaky, and it was a good few weeks before I felt like I was properly ok.

Part of the plan for the 2014 season was to do all the Andreas Racing Association meetings at Jurby, and while I had to miss the one at the end of June, the July meeting was on the cards.    And so I found myself on the ferry across the Irish Sea once again.  

It was warm and dry when we arrived and set up in the paddock.  The Isle of Man had been enjoying a similarly scorching summer to the rest of the UK, but the forecast was for some rain in the afternoon
We did the usual sign-on/scrute/briefing etc, and then were out for practice.  This was my first ride on a race bike since waking up in Nobles hospital after a helicopter flight, so I did admit to being a little apprehensive.  And I was on the receiving end of a hard stare from good friend Keith McKay, and told to take it easy. But, well, it's like riding a bike, isn't it? Mind you, I was second onto the track, and for the first two laps it felt like a dozen people came past me. So maybe I was taking it easy!   But then I stopped being passed, and even caught some others, and felt ok.  A best lap of 1:15.6 is 3 seconds off my ultimate race best, but was enough for the third row (9th).  
In the second practice session there was a shower, and I went from "I'm a road rider, me, a bit of rain doesn't scare me" to "I've not idea how much grip there is, and I'm scared" in about 2 laps.  Then my good mate Fozzy came past me, and I was happy to see if I could follow him.  I couldn't, and he got a good few seconds on me, but then the shower eased, and the track dried, and I made all the time back and caught him again. Times were much slower, obviously, but I'd managed 4th on the grid.
Race 1: Singles, Twins & Triples
I got my usual cracking start from 9th on the grid, and muscled into about 5th place.  The next corner a rider on a Steeley (it's a mixed grid) muscled past, and I spent a lap behind him, while the first four cleared off.  Once I got back past there was a gap, which I set about, but didn't really close.  Then the championship leader fell off, so that was one less.  I brought it home in 4th overall and 3rd in class, with a best lap of 1:14.4 (still a good second off my regular pace...)
Race 2: 650 twins
It was raining a bit, but most of the field were on dry tyres.  I got a decent start from 4th on the grid, and we managed to get a couple of laps done before it was red flagged with the inevitable crash.   The rain got worse, so they sent us all off to change tyres while they ran the next race. Keith and I set to changing wheels, but while the front was easy, the rear wheel on the ER6 put up a fight, and I missed the race.
Having wrestled a set of wets into the bike, I was now hoping it stayed wet.  My prayers were answered!
Race 3: Singles, Twins and Triples
The track was properly wet as we formed up, and I was looking forward to my first ride on wets in bloody years.  I can still remember the disbelief I felt in how they defied the laws of physics the first time I used them.  Which all came flooding back to me on the warm up lap - how DO they do that!!! I got a cracking start straight into about 3rd place, and then just revelled in the grip and feel that good wets give you.  Although not as much as the two fellas in front of me, who cleared off several second a lap faster. Two laps from the end a steelie came past, but I rode home 4th overall and third in class.
Race 4: 650 twins
This was much more straightforward - started 4th, finished 4th (3rd in class).  Sounds dull, but it wasn't !
Overall, a good day out, and at least as much as I could have hoped for at my first meeting back.  

That was TT 2014 that was...

June 10th, 2014

The story so far...

The previous post in this blog described my last day riding at the TT, and the crash that ended it.  Here I'll cover what happened next, and my reflections on the whole thing.

Medical follow-up

I was in Nobles for four days, eventually being discharged on Monday 2nd June.  I was collected by my trusty paddock crew of Simon and Alex, and they took me to my good friend Keith McKay's in Ramsey, correctly judging that camping wasn't ideal for me.  The chip on my pelvis, by the hip joint, meant that I needed to use crutches and couldn't fully weight-bear on my left leg.  So, what did we do Monday evening?  We went to the pub! (The imfamous Trafalgar Hotel in Ramsey).

The next day was spent generally recovering/recuperating; while I felt ok, my friends say now that it was pretty obvious that I'd been heavily concussed!  Simon busied himself organising a boat home for us, and got us on the teatime sailing to Heysham on Weds 4th June.  He and Alex then worked miracles tearing down our encampment and awning in the paddock, and transporting everything that was staying on the Island to the lockup, and putting everything that was coming home with me in the car, and we then found ourselves on the quayside at Douglas on Weds afternoon.  

The sailing was uneventful, as was the journey down the M6, and Simon eventually delivered me to Fiona's house in Gloucestershire at 2am.  Trouper that he is, he immediately loaded up his motorcycle and headed off home to Brighton (Hove, actually). I hit the sack and was asleep immediately.

The next day Fiona was up and off to work for the morning, leaving me asleep.  When I eventually came to, I didn't feel good - in fact I felt awful. I had the mother of all headaches, and (ahem) terrible digestive problems.  When Fi got back she found me curled up in bed, quietly whimpering to myself, and decided that I needed professional attention, so took me to the local A&E.  They read my notes from Nobles and decided to transfer me to the Great Western Hospital at Swindon, where they did a CT scan on my head and I was diagnosed with "post-concussion syndrome".

At Swindon I spent 36 hours, until Saturday morning, feeling lousy, until they decided to put me on a saline drip and sodium tablets.  This immediately perked me up, and made me feel like the problem was resolved.  On the Sunday I continued to improve, but apparently my sodium level was still low (122, against a 'normal' value of 135), so I was kept in until Monday.  On Monday I was desperate to get out, and my blood test reported a sodium count of 129, which was apparently good enough.  So home I went, and now feel properly on the mend.

Reflections on the TT

So how do I feel about the TT now?  The first thing to say is that anyone who survives a crash at the TT ought to feel lucky, and I do.  Two people died this year, Bob Price and Karl Harris, and I knew Bob from way back in the 80s, and he was a lovely bloke, and I'm very sorry he's gone.  But, and it has to be said, I'm glad he had the opportunity to do something he loved, in the full knowledge of the risk that it entailed.

My return to the TT in 2014 was basically born out of my campaign last year.  Last year I underestimated how long it would take me to re-learn the circuit, having last raced there in 2007.  Basically, I went faster in every session, clocking my fastest lap on the 650 twin and the 1000 in the last day of racing, on the Friday of race week.  My motivation for going back was to see if I could carry on where I left off, and it turns out I could (as described in 'And finally...').  And I can finally say this now, I wanted to see if I could crack a 120mph lap!  That dream is now over - I did 118.5mph the lap before I crashed, and that is as fast as I'm going to go!  Which is slightly faster than the new lap record which Joey Dunlop set during my first visit to the TT in 1984 (on a much slower bike, on a slower course, using tyres and suspension limited to 80s technology.  But still...).

The question is continually raised - why do people race at the TT?  It's something that is difficult to put into words, but I'll try to describe what I get out out of it, and why I do it.  Riding the TT course requires a level of concentration and focus which does not permit any other thoughts to intrude.  Living in the moment like this is actually quite difficult to achieve in the modern world, where we're either reflecting on the past or thinking about the future.  This experience of living in the immediate 'now' gives a clarifying effect on the mind which I find very powerful indeed.  You can get this effect in other ways (racing on short circuits, playing music, meditating), but the sheer level of commitment required at the TT makes in unique in my opinion.  In addition, I'm a road-rider at heart (been riding bikes since I was 16, and will continue to ride them as long as I'm physically able), and so riding at the TT feels somehow more 'real' than on a purpose built short circuit.  The TT remains my ultimate road ride. 

Another reason to race at the TT is - I started as a fan. Back in 1984 I visited the Island for the first time, and watched in awe as the heroes of the day (Joey Dunlop, Rob McElnea, Trevor Nation, Tony Rutter, Graeme McGregor are the names I recall) sped between the hedges.  I was gripped by two thoughts - how on earth do they do that?  And...I'd love to try it myself!  I've since visited many TTs, but the question remained - how did they do it, and could I do it too?  While I rode the Manx Grand Prix, and got something of a feel for the TT course, the TT remained the main event, and I wanted to say I'd been there.  Which I can now do.  But, having threaded through Ballagarey and Gorselee myself, as fast as I can, with my heart in my mouth, one question remains unanswered - how do they do that?  Because, try as I might, I cannot get close to the commitment that the likes of Michael Dunlop and John McGuinness bring!


May 31st, 2014

Day 9 : May 30th

Today was a bit of a downer....

The programme was re-arranged for this evening, having lost the big bikes last night; now the first session was from 18:20 to 20:00, for big bikes only, excluding lightweights.  The ZX10R was still prep'd from last night (when it didn't go out), so there wasn't much to do.  Still, we took it up to the dyno to check the pit lane speed limiter setting - this was 53ph, against a limit of 60kph, so bang on (allowing for tyre growth, etc).  We then prep'd the 650 twin, even tho it wasn't out this evening - you need to stay on top of these things.  We also changed the gearing back (to 42 tooth rear).

This gave us not much to occupy ourselves for the afternoon.  Scruting was at 16:00, so Alex and Simon took the trolley up early to claim our spot in parc ferme, and then rode the bike up the hill to the scruting shed.  I busied myself with visor and helmet cleaning, and fitting a tear-off.  Soon enough it was time to walk up to parc ferme; it's amazing how relaxed and laid-back I feel this year, after the taut piano wire of last year.  Tonight we would be starting from the Glencrutchery Road, as if it was a race. We also had some suspension changes, from Richard at Maxton, to try out.  Time ticked away, and before I new it I was paddeling the bike through the sign which says "Riders and machines only".

I got a good start alongside my starting partner, and cleared off down Brayhill.  As I rounded Quarterbridge, I saw two other bikes approaching Bradden Bridge - I'd made time on the two people who started in front of me.  And, after attacking Ballagarey faster than any time before, on the run down to Crosby, I could see two more.  I was feeling good, and catching people told me I was going fast.  Later in the lap I caught George 'Dod' Spence (my neighbour in the paddock), who was being help up by Joe Faragher, a rider I'd had problems with the last time I was on the 1000.  I nipped past Dod, and then squeezed past Joe shortly afterwards.

I completed the lap, and started a second one.  And then my memory goes a bit blurry, and the next thing I recall is waking up in hospital.  It turns out that this had happened:

Losing the front at Greeba

I had lost the front at Greeba Castle, and this is how it left the bike: 

Crashed ZX10R

I only saw these photos later.  When I was in hospital, they took all sorts of x-rays and scans, and declared that my pelvis was chipped where my left leg joined it.  But not serious enough to operate.

It also turned out that my first lap was 19:06, which is 118.5mph.  This is 30 seconds, and 3mph faster than my best previous laps this TT (and 2mph faster than my best ever, from the Senior Race in 2013).  Clearly, I shouldn't be going this fast :-)

The next day I listened to the Superbike race on the radio, only dimly aware that I ought to be in it...


Two laps on the 650 under grey skies

May 29th, 2014

Day 8 : May 29th

We were up early and over to Phil Wall in Ramsey to get the petrol tank on the ZX10R properly fixed (see yesterday's blog). While there we had a fantastic breakfast in the Court Cafe in Parliament Street :-)

The rest of the day was pretty straightforward - a fresh tyre on the back of the 10R, and change of gearing on the 650 (one tooth less on the back to see if it would pull it), and the usual clean, check, fuel, etc jobs.  i'd also had a chat with Richard from Maxton, about the behaviour of the rear of the 650 over the very bumpy bits of the track, and he came to find us in parc ferme and tweaked the shock - the theory was that the rebound damping was a little too high, which was cauing the shock to 'jack up', so he would a little off.

Today and tomorrow the sidecars go out first, so the solos wouldn't be on the track until 7:15pm, so we had plenty of time.  The weather was still a little 'manx' with damp sections reported over the mountain, and the skies grey and overcast.  The start of the sidecars were delayed a little, and then the session was red-flagged because a spectator needed emergency medical treatment and the only access to them was on the circuit, and then there was an accident to clear up... Eventually it was decided that the track was too wet for the 1000cc bikes, and just the 600s and 650s would go out at 7:55pm.  Which became 8pm, and then 8:05pm.  Eventually we got away, and I was relatively high up the start order, setting off with Ryan Farquhar in fact!  I was surprised to keep him in sight for quite a long time, and the first lap was quite good fun, with quite a gang of bikes together for a while.  As I entered Sulby Straight a 600 came past (with about 30bhp more) and I was able to get into his slipstream, which paid dividends - we later found that we had the second fastest speed trap time, at 153.57mph!  Richard's tweak to the shock also worked very well - the bike was now perfect over the bumps, so much so that I passed the same 600 back again on the Ginger Hall to Ramsey section.

I was a little ginger for the first run over the mountain, as it was definitely damp in places.  By now I was mostly by myself on the road, but it was ok, and I was enjoying riding the 650 a lot.  It was a little weird being out racing (well, practicing) a bike at nearly 9pm in the evening, visibility not helped by the grey and threatening skies.

We got back and were able to check the times quite quickly, and I was 14th overall, with my two laps within 0.15 seconds of each other, at around 109.5mph.  They were the 18th and 19th fastest laps of the evening overall in the class.  I was kinda hoping for 110 or 111mph, but it takes more than hope.  Still, positive results, all the same.

Fixed just in time

May 28th, 2014

Day 7 : May 28th

We didn't think we had much to do today.  Turned out we were wrong...

The morning started as usual, with a bit of pottering around and planning the days activities. This evening's scheduled practice session excluded the Lightweights, so we planned four laps on the ZX10R.  We pulled the bellypan off and fixed the inevitable hole from going through the bottom of Barregarrow (where the suspension gets flattened) and we wanted to mount the transponder (which records your laptime) in a new place, requiring a bracket to be made.  So Simon and I went to Ramsey to get a suitable bit of aluminium from the marvellous Phil Wall.  While out, we filled the jerry cans (and the van), bought a rear bicycle light for the 650 (we've got fed up with swapping it between the two bikes), and, er, some fish and chips for lunch :-)

While checking the bike we found one of the bolts mounting the tank had gone missing, so Simon found a replacement and fitted it.  Time ticked around and Alex decided to be early for scrutineering, and headed up to the inspection bay; five mins later he was back - the bike was leaking fuel.  We quickly pulled some bodywork off and found that the new mounting bolt had punctured the tank!  Oh no! But we had a couple of hours, and we didn't panic, we worked the problem.  We made a grub screw to thread in and seal the hole, and fitted it with a whole load of silicon bathroom sealant (always useful stuff to have in your race tool kit).  We let the silicon set, re-fitted the tank and filled it with fuel, and  - no leak!  Tomorrow we will take the tank to Phil Wall to get it welded properly.

So the bike went back up to scruting, and sailed through, and time ticked around and soon we were ready to go again.  After two nights of glorious bright sunshine, this evening was much more Manx, with grey skies, blustery wind and threatening rain.  At 6:25pm the session started, and we were all paddling to the startline two by two.  I fluffed the getaway and my starting partner led me away.  It turned out he wasn't nearly as confident as me down Brayhill, and I went past him just after Ago's leap.  Rounding Quarterbridge I could see the previous two starters ahead entering Bradden, which meant I'd made time on them too.  I felt pretty good, and reeled them in, and kept finding more people visible ahead of me.  This is always wonderful for your self-confidence.  But the downside of catching other riders is sometimes they can take a while to pass, which may slow you down a little.  Still, it's fun!  I continued to catch people, passing Paul Duckett (I think) down Sulby Straight.  And then we got to the bumpy section, Ginger Hall to Ramsey, and the bike started cutting out.  Just very briefly, but I was obviously worried that the bike was going to stop.  I thought that as long as I could keep my speed up I would try and get back to the paddock (touring home is strictly forbidden, and extrmely dangerous).  It was obviously an electrical problem, and I figured something was shorting out over the bumps, so I tried to smooth things out, and shortshift.  I knew that the mountain section is mostly smooth, and so it turned out and I got the bike over the mountain.  I expected some of the guys I'd overtaken to come back past, but no one did.  It was pretty bleak up there, with spots of rain on my visor, but the road was still dry.  As I got to Govenors Bridge, planning to pull into the pits, I was actually pleased to see the yellow then the red flag which meant that the session had been curtailed.  It turned out that there had been a fairly serious accident at Barregarrow.

So we all went back into Parc Ferme to wait.  Alex and Simon pulled the seat off, and we immediately found that the battery was loose and was rattling around, and one of the terminals was loose.  The retaining strap had come off, which was easily fixed.  Then we waited for the session to restart, but the weather closed in, and it was abandoned.

It turns out that I'd done a lap 3 seconds slower than last nights best, at 115.374mph.  With the issues with the bike, I'm sure I would have been on for a mid-116mph, maybe even 117 - I need to check my split times to see exactly where I was faster and slower.  Quite pleased with the speed, tho obviously disappointed that we only got one lap in.  But everyone else is in the same boat, and the sidecars didn't even get out at all.  The weather forecast is good for the next two days, so we should be good for the rest of practice week.