Manannan's Cloak

May 30th, 2013

In Manx folklore, Manannan is the sea deity of the Irish Sea, who wraps the Isle of Man in mist and fog to protect it from trouble.

Clearly Manannan is a bit worried at the moment, because the cloaking has been excessive, even by Manx standards.  On Tuesday the forecast was for bad weather to arrive in the late afternoon and  early evening, which it duly did.  We put the bikes through scrutineering, stood around for quite a while, and then put them all away again - too wet, and too foggy over the mountain, for us to safely practice.

We took advantage of the earlier finish to get the Superstock ZX10R dyno'd - all the Superstock and Lightweight bikes have to have a run on the official dyno in the paddock, basically to prevent cheating.  Having made 191bhp on Slick's dyno, it came up with 187 on the paddock dydno, which considering the wet weather and the race tyre fitted is comfortably within the margin of error.

Wednesday dawned bright and sunny, as forecast, and we really thought today was the day for some good practice laps.  Following the loss of a footpeg and rearset on Monday, Barry at MotoGB ( had been as good as his word, and got replacement bits in the post first thing Tuesday for next day delivery to Keith's house in Ramsey - many thanks to Barry for such fantastic service.  And thanks to Adie for staying in and waiting for the delivery, and then bringing them over to the paddock.

With the bikes not running on Tuesday evening, there wasn't so much to do.  One thing required was to get the Lightweight bike (Kawasaki 650 twin) dyno'd; it duly made 92.5bhp on the official dyno (0.5 down on Slick's) and was pronounced "one of the strongest I've seen".  We also fitted up the spare belly pan we had for the ZX10R, put the footrest and gearchange on when Adie delivered it, and generally pottered about.  Also, one of my oldest friends, Tim Dakar arrived off the early boat.  It was Tim who first got me to the Isle of Man, in 1984, so is at least partly responsible for this odyssey.  Tim spent the day helping us, doing some fibre-glassing, carrying stuff to and from Parc Ferme, and generally seeming to forget that he'd come on holiday.

The forecast had said there was "a slight chance of a shower in the evening".  Clearly the forecaster was given to understatement. The 6:20pm start time came along with news of a sharp shower in the North of the Island around Ramsey.  The Clerk of the Course announced a delay, and then a further delay.  Eventually he announced that the roads were wet from before Ramsey to the Mountain Mile, and therefore the session would be untimed again (see Monday's post).  Practice started at 7:15pm, and I got away around 7:25 (bikes are call in number order, and I'm #77).  By this time the shower had come through Douglas, and the roads were damp but not soaked from the start.  Again the ZX10R felt great - insanely fast but not scary, just like a very enthusiastic Labrador puppy.  I was loving it, and immediately catching people who'd started in front of me.  It occurred to me that as a regular road rider, in all sorts of conditions, I was probably a lot more used to damp and variable roads than many racers who only experience short circuits, and only use full wet tyres when the track is wet.

Unfortunately, the evening's run was curtailed at the 9th Milestone, when a little bolt connecting the gear lever to the actuating rod fell out.  Alex was really annoyed when I told him, as he'd spent some time loctiting it.  I suspect my (quite old) loctite may have gone off.  So I spent the rest of the session chatting to the marshals.  In the rain.  Contrary to the forecast of 'a shower', steady persistent rain settled across most of the Island for most of the evening.  Only a couple of solos did a second lap.  Most of the sidecars did one if not two laps, but then they'd missed out completely on Monday night.

So, it's Thursday morning now, the Superbike's haven't turned a wheel in practice, and the race is on Saturday.  At least the forecast is good from now on...

Mojo found down back of sofa

May 27th, 2013

After Saturday evening's practice, part of me was wondering if I'd made a dreadful mistake, and that I really shouldn't be here.  If I couldn't enjoy riding a 90bhp 650 twin, how was I going to enjoy a 190bhp 1000cc four?  Well, I answered that question this evening, but you'll have to read on to find out.

Sunday morning started with a magificent full english breakfast, cooked and served by our friend and host Keith McKay.  It set us up well for the day.  We took the van to the workshop of Slick Performance to collect the ZX10R and ZX6R where Slick had dyno'd and set-up both bikes, and then transported them to our awning in the paddock.  We spent the afternoon understanding the suspension settings on the ZX10R, and set the static sag correctly (if you don't know what static sag is, it's very unlikely that you'll be interested in finding out).  The weather forecast for Sunday night and Monday morning was for high winds and rain so we secured our awning as best we could, and returned to Ramsey for a quiet evening.

As forecast, Monday dawned with foul weather. When we got to the awning, it was still standing, but quite a bit of rain had got in, and we had to make a few repairs. Once done, we set about getting fresh tyres on the 600 and 1000, and finishing off some of the few little jobs which always seem to need doing.  The appalling weather made it difficult to imagine that the practice session would be run in the evening, but the forecast was for the rain to stop and the winds to drop in the afternoon.  Which was how it turned out.  However, there were still a lot of damp patches round the course, and some swirling fog over the mountain section, so the Clerk of the Course declared a reduced session which would be 'untimed' - this meant there was no reason to try hard and chase a lap-time, and should therefore discourage any risk taking in the damp.  I was actually quite glad about this - I could get used to riding the bikes (both new to me) without worrying about recording a time.

There was a slight delay (to remove a broken-down bus from the mountain), but at 6:30 I was in Parc Ferme again in leathers and helmet, standing next to a ZX10R being warmed up, and wondering what it was going to be like.  Just before 7pm my group was called up onto Glencrutchery road, and we lined up in pairs and quite quickly I had the tap on the shoulder and was away towards St Ninians Crossroads.

The ZX10R is Fast with a capital F.  How can something weighing about 180kg and making 191bhp be anything else?  And my bike was a fair bit lighter with the road-going equipment (lights, indicators, horn, mirrors, number-plate, etc) all removed. But I've always liked bikes with lots of speed and power, and by the time I'd gone through the bottom of Bray Hill and over Ago's leap, I felt that the bike was going to be ok.  And as the miles went past, it went from 'ok' to 'bloody brilliant!'.  It wheelied in all sorts of unexpected places, but in a controlled and frankly hilarious way.  The suspension did exactly what it should, and even over the bumpiest sections of the course it tracked where I wanted it to, and hardly needed me take my weight on my legs instead of through the seat (standard technique on bumpy road race sections - you don't sit, you crouch like a jockey).  The course had lots of damp patches, especially under the trees, but the marshalls did a pretty good job of flagging them, and the tyres stayed hot and I had not a single moment or slide - even when I encountered a small river running across the track at Glen Helen.  The mountain section had a few bits of serious swirling fog, where you really had no choice but to slow until it cleared, but even so I thoroughly enjoyed it, and felt I had a good pace, especially as no one came past me and I caught and passed about six or seven people.  I was looking forward to my second lap.

 Unfortunately, the second lap was not to be.  Exiting Hillberry, less than 2 miles from the Grandstand, I went to change gear and found that the gearlever was missing.  As was the footpeg.  Curses.  'Touring' (riding at less than racing speed because you have a problem) is strictly forbidden, but I was so close to the pits, and on one of the slower sections of the course, and managed to maintain a reasonable pace, despite being stuck in 6th gear, and made it back to the paddock.

Nick Knowles found a picture for me:

What's wrong with this picture?

Alex was slightly surprised to see me, but I quickly told him what had happened, so we warmed up the 600 and 5 minutes later I was out on that.  This felt like a litte gem of a bike compared to the 1000 - lighter, more precise, and with an endless appetite for revs (the red-line is over 15,000 rpm).  The bike felt like it had perfect balance and poise, and went exactly where I wanted it to, and I enjoyed this lap almost as much as the one on the 1000.  Just  before the jump at Ballaugh an Irish newcomer nipped past me.  I could tell he was Irish because he cleared about 10 feet in the air before landing the jump - the Irish lads do love to fly!  This was the first person to pass me this evening, in stark contrast to Saturday.  However, a few miles down the road at Sulby Bridge, a red flag brought 4 of us to a halt (a red flag means 'stop' - usually due to a serious incident).  This is quite unusual, but even more unusually, after less than 5 minutes we were waved on again. The 600 flew through the bumpy section from Ginger Hall to Ramsey in fine control, and up the mountain and into the fog, which was even worse this time.  When I got to the last corner (Governors Bridge) the marshalls showed the flags and board letting me know the session was over and to slow down and enter the pits.

I got back and handed the bike to Alex, and was completely buzzing, talking 19 to the dozen!  What a change from Saturday night - now I felt I had some pace, and more importantly, was enjoying myself.

However, one of the reasons the TT makes you feel so alive is because death can be so close.  Just a minute or so after I went over the Ballacry jump, Yoshinari Matsushita crashed there and lost his life.  The statement from the organisers is here.  Everyone who races at the TT or the Manx Grand Prix knows that this could happen to them, but each loss is obviously a personal tragedy for those directly affected.  Commiserations to Yoshinari's friends and family.

Being There

May 26th, 2013

Here I am, in the Isle of Man, competing in the 2013 TT.

This is the realisation of a near 3o year ambition.   Seeing my name in the program is a slightly surreal experience:

In the programWe arrived on Friday evening, so with first practice on Saturday there was quite a lot to do: sign on, attend a briefing, set up our workshop area in the awning in the paddock, put the bike through 'technical inspection', etc.

Slightly fortunately, Saturday night's practice was limited to Lightweight (650 twins) and Newcomers (which I'm not; despite this being my first TT, I'm not a newcomer to the course due to having ridden in the Manx Grand Prix three times).  The 650 twin is the slowest, and notionally the easiest to ride of my three bikes, so probably the best way to reaquaint myself with the TT course.

The day ticked away, jobs got done, and by 6:30m I found myself in leathers and helmet in Parc Ferme with Dav Clarke's Kawasaki ER6 being warmed up beside me.  Eventually my set of riders were called and we formed up to set of down Glenclutchery Road.  And then I was at the front of the queue, got the tap on the shoulder, and was off.

Reality Bites

I've spent a fair bit of time doing reconnaissance laps, watching onboard videos, and revising my course notes, but nothing can really prepare you for the real thing.  And I have to say, it was a little bit of a shock.  I been talking to myself all day, making sure I took the opening practice session as a gentle re-introduction, but even so I knew I was quite slow.  Evidenced by the 8~10 bikes who came past me.

Still, I stayed focussed, did 2 laps, came in to re-fuel, changed to a clear visor (despite the very bright sunshine, it was quite dark under the trees) and went out for a third.  I had hoped to do a 105mph or more, but in fact only just managed to crack 100mph (on the 2nd lap).

Part of this is due to the slower twin needing a bit of a different style.  Lacking top speed and acceleration, you have to carry as much speed as you can through every corner, which amplifies any lack of confidence in where you're going. Hopefully, as the course knowledge returns, this will become less of a problem.  But, having thought the twin might be the most fun bike to ride, I'm now wondering if the bigger bikes might suit me a bit better.  We'll find out on Monday evening.

Practice times are here: 

As you'll see, there were only 3 people slower than me, so plenty of room for improvement.

But, as the title of this post implies, it's really all about Being There.


May 18th, 2013

A couple of days ago I wheeled the Superstock ZX10R out of the garage to take some photos, and mentally declared it as 'finished'.  And, it looks pretty good - the photos are here

While I was admiring my labours, it ocurred to me that I should probably fire it up, so I grabbed the keys and pushed the button.  The motor span over, but showed not the slightest hint of firing.  Hmm.  I figured I'd left something unplugged somewhere, and would just need to check a few connectors.  But, I didn't time there and then.

The next day I set aside a couple of hours, pulled the bodywork off and started checking all the obvious connectors (to fuel pump, etc) that I might have disturbed.  Hmm.  Nothing obvious.  So, I fired up the internet, and tried to figure out how to get a fault code out of the DFI system.  Then I downloaded a service manual.  And read some forums.  Nothing.

However, there were some references to the tip sensor (referred to in the manual as the "vehicle down sensor"), and I knew I'd disturbed that, so I went to have a look at it.  When removing the stock bodywork and fitting the race seat, I'd had to make up a different bracket to re-site as the race seat didn't allow it to be fitted in the stock position.  I'd spent some time on the bracket, a few weeks ago, and had felt quite pleased with myself when done, with  the sensor  now safely mounted well out of the way, and completely protected from the elements by the race seat.

Tip sensor

So I peered at  the sensor, and a sheepish grin spread across my face...

You see that arrow and the word 'UP' by it.  Guess which way I'd mounted it?  Yup, upside down. Everytime I turned the ignition on, the bike decided it was belly up, and shut down the fuel pump, injections and ignition systems. (But, annoyingly, let the starter motor still work).

Anyway, I flipped the sensor the right way up, and the bike fired the instant I pushed the button.  So, I took a photo to remind me of my stupidity.

Last meeting before the TT

May 7th, 2013

Because the last 2-day meeting at Jurby turned out to be a 1-day meeting due to bad weather, I needed to do one more race day this year to get my TT Mountain Licence.  This was all getting a bit tense, as the next Jurby meeting was on the last qualifying weekend.  

 Sunday we were up  early set up in the paddock by 8am.  Tho we didn't beat the dozen camper vans that were there the night before.  The weather was grey, not warm, and very windy, but at least it was dry.  The usual signing on, drinking coffee, scruting etc was done without incident, and soon enough we were out for first practice.

The plan was to just race the ER6 based 650 twin, but I did one practice session on my 'old' 600 as a reserve so that qualified to race it if there was a problem with the twin.  I then lent to the bike for the rest of the day to good mate Andy Cowie .   Anyway, I took the practice session fairly quietly, and recorded a 1:20, which is about what I did 3 weeks ago, and definitely nothing to write home about.

Next session was on the  twin and it was every bit as lovely as I remembered, and now changed gear more reliably too with a correct length turnbuckle fitted to the gearchange mechanism.  I got 2 sessions, for the 2 different events, and gridded it 7th for the "Steelies + singles/twins/triples) and 6th for the "650 twins + 400 fours".  I know I was meant to be taking it easy, but the twin is just soooo easy to ride hard, without ever feeling near the edge (I know, I know), so I was pleased to put in some good times.

And then the sun came out, and the wind dropped a bit, and it warmed up.

First race out was the "Steelies + Odds'n'Sods".   I was starting from the 3rd row, and got a cracking start (the twin launches brilliantly) and was in around 5th place on the first lap.  The 4 guys ahead of me were definitely on a hotter pace and went away, but I settled in, slowly dropping a few places to some quick steelies (and boy are some of them quick!), finishing (I think) in 8th or 9th place (Mylaps appears to be properly borked this morning).  I was 3rd in class tho, with only 2 twins ahead of me.

Then a brief respite and then it was out for the 650 twins + 400 fours.  Second row for this one, and my bike ate the revvy little fours for breakfast off the line, putting me in 3rd into the first corner.  Callum Collister had pole by a country mile, and proceeded to demonstrate why as he rode away at 3 seconds a lap to take an easy win.  In the meantime, I was busy with a lad called Dave Kennington on a beautiful (and quick) ZXR400.  I felt kinda guilty as I rode past him down the straight, because while he had a very healthy 78bhp, I had 93bhp.  The first time I did it he got me back on the brakes into the hairpin, but the second time I made it stick, and thought it was settled.  But then, on the last lap, I had to slow for a backmarker, and the little blighter came right past me again.  But now he was stuck too, and there was just enough of a gap, and enough grunt from the twin, to get past them both and onto the next straight, where I thought I ought to be safe.  And so it turned out - I'd finished 2nd.  This is possibly my best ever result for a short-circuit six lap dash (I have had a win before, but that was a B final).  Best of all, I did a 1:17, only 3 seconds a lap slower than Callister's 1:14, which was itself a new class record.  Callister was 2nd (behind Ryan Kneen) in the four big bike races, and I would have expected to be more like 7~8 seconds slower than him in them, at best, so I'm very pleased with "only" being 3 seconds slower.

After that the sensible thing to do would have been to put the bike in the van.  I knew there was everything to lose, nothing to gain, etc etc, but hell, I was there to race - that was the name of the game. I had a fairly uneventful 2nd ride in the Steelies + Odd'n'Sods, finishing, I think, a couple of places lower overall, and 4th in class.

Unknown to both me and Keef, there was no 2nd sidecar race, meaning we were straight back out again.  Keef nearly missed the start, and I should definitely have, riding straight through the wrong lane to join the back of the grid.  I had a bit of fun overtaking people, but this time I really was being careful, and the result was nothing to report.

And then we were done, nothing (bike or rider) was broken and both Keith and I had had a *brilliant* time.  We loaded the van, drove home, ran through the shower, and went to the pub.  I think we were that at 6:15pm, and Keith drank his first pint in 2 gulps.  I had my results sheet in my back pocket, and waved it at everyone who came in, and offered to buy them beer.

Next stop, Bray Hill!