Bad day at Oliver's Mount

April 22nd, 2016

Not a bad day for me personally, but just bad karma generally. But first some background.

After the successful debut of my freshly built ZXR750 classic racer in 2015, I looked around for some eligible events in which to run it in 2016. One of these is Oliver's Mount in Scarborough, famously the "only road-race circuit in England", and moreover one that I'd never been to. They had classes for the ZXR and my newly acquired TZ250, so I entered both. Unfortunately, events at Brands Hatch ruled out the TZ. But on a Friday morning I was up and loading the van, heading across country to pick up mechanic Alex, and then heading north to a part of the world I'd never actually been to before.

Things weren't auspicious when we arrived - the paddock was apparently "full". To be fair to the organisers, they do have very limited space, but awnings, vans and motorhomes have got bigger and bigger, and the available space hasn't. We eventually teamed up with a Manx mate (more than a couple of manxies come across for this event) Mark Bamford, who took down his tent (which was a bit rubbish) and then shared my double awning. We got the kit and bike set up, but by this time we had missed evening scruitineering. And we had to camp elsewhere, in the field for 'ordinary spectators' - the ignominy! The weather was rubbish, too - very cold, and wet. There are few activities more depressing than putting a tent up in the rain. After this, Alex and I went for a pint, and then warmed up and dried out in a pizza restaurant.

The forecast for Saturday was equally bad, but the weather was ahead of schedule - the rain had already blown through, and Saturday morning dawned sunny. Still very cold though, and the dampness under the trees on the circuit was going to be slow to dry, if at all. As a newcomer to the circuit, I had an extra practice session, in a group behind an experienced rider (as they do at the TT), and we went out and did three laps before practice properly started. My initial reactions were - it's narrow, but not as narrow as the onboard videos make it seem, there's a lot of elevation changes, and a lot of hairpins. But otherwise all fine, and the bike seemed ok.

We had a first 'untimed' session (which actually was timed) scheduled for around 90 minutes later, but a recurring feature of the weekend was poor time management by the organisers, so by mid-morning the best part of an hour had already been lost. Still, we got out there eventually, and I started to learn the circuit, and even started to enjoy myself (still on dry tyres on a very patchy circuit). And it turned out I was 11th fastest, out of 19, which was pleasing. The gaps tended to be quite big, though -the fast boys are definitely fast here. Still, I was pleased to just be a seond a lap slower than fast manx youngster Jack Hunter, who's been riding at Oliver's Mount for a few years now.

However, we had a little bit of a problem - once warm, the outside edge of the front brake disks was just touching the inside of the brake caliper, making some noise and making the front end judder. About now Simon, our other mechanic, turned up, having ridden his bike all the way from the south-coast - about 5 hours. Such dedication from the people who help me go racing! Anyway, Simon and Alex looked and looked at the issue, and made some changes to try next time out.

Timed practice was more of the same, and I qualified in 13th place. Nothing spectacular, but I really needed a finish (for my TT mountain licence) and it's wise to treat new road circuits with some respect. But the brake issue was still there. Our first race of the weekend was the penultimate one of the day, so we had plenty of time to deal with it. Which, eventually, we did by, er, relieving some material from the brake calipers. The wheel now spun cleanly. The other news was that a rain shower had blown across the circuit during the afternoon, and now the circuit was properly wet, and still very cold, so full wet tyres were the order of the day.

We lined up for the race, which was only 40 minutes or so late, and set off for our warm up lap. Directly ahead of me was Ian Lougher, on a TZ250. Ian Lougher!  He's a TT winner, and properly famous. And he's 3 places ahead of me on the grid. Wow. We reformed for the start, the lights went out, and we were away. TZ is a difficult bike to launch, and I was straight past Ian Lougher, but in the braking area he came back alongside me, and I wisely let him have the line. And then, obviously, I didn't see him again. But things selttled down in the next half lap, and were going well - the bike felt good, the brakes were now sorted, the wets were doing what wets do (ie. defying the laws of physics), and I was even having fun. There was a chap on another ZXR (actually, a ZX7R) who was better than me on the brakes, but much slower through and out of the corner that leads onto the back straight (such that it is - it's not exactly straight) so we were swapping places regularly, and enjoying ourselves. And then a properly old BMW flat twin (in the F2 class) joined in, too! I wasn't having that, and got my head down and managed to stay in front of both of them where it mattered - the chequered flag. Final position was 12th out of 18 starters - I'll take that.

It was now about 6pm, so once I'd calmed down and got changed out of my leathers, it was definitely pub o'clock. Alex and Simon sank a few, while I sipped a half, being a) the nominated driver (a rider does really have to look after his volunteer mechanics) and b) racing the next day. And then we repaired to a curry house. The boys decided to open some wine when we got back to the tent, too.

The next morning dawned grey but dry. And still cold. We eventually made our way to the paddock, just in time for morning warm-up, which I also rode on wets because the track was still soaking wet, and very cold. We then parked the bike and prepared to wait, as the Classic F1 race was the last of the day. The feature race, the "Spring Cup", was due to go off about midday, but was red-flagged after only a lap. The field lined up for a restart and they went off again, and this time half-way round on the first lap there was a huge accident on the back straight. According to one of the riders who spoke to me when he got back to the paddock, ashen-faced, there were "bikes in trees". At least two riders were hurt enough to immediately be taken to hospital, one of them being Manx Grand Winner Billy Redmayne. With both ambulances now away from the circuit, no other racing could take place, so everyone waiited. And waited. At around 4pm, the organisers announced that the meeting was being abandoned. So we all packed up and drove home.

The next day the news came that Billy Redmayne had died in hospital. Those of us who go road racing are all very aware of the ultimate price that can be paid, but it's never anything less thana shock when it happens. And with Billy there is a real sense of potential unfulfilled - he won his Newcomers MGP race and another MGP that week, and everybody was sure he'd go on to be a very competitive TT rider. RIP Billy

Bad start to the 2016 season

March 22nd, 2016

It's been a long winter, and I've not updated my blog for six months or more.  Which I should have done, as I had some big-ish news.  

Over the winter the organisers of the Classic TT announced that they would be introducing a new class for 250 GP bikes - purpose built two stroke racers.  There's a lot of Yamaha TZ250s, Honda NS250s, and a few Aprilias too, out there and looking for somewhere to race. When I heard this news, I thought this would be an ideal second string to my Classic Racing bow, and started looking for a suitable bike.  I eventually found a TZ of the right age (1996), specification (4TW1), provenance (full history) and price (*just* affordable), and collected it last month.  And so I was itching to get out on track, so I entered the opening meeting of the season with NGRRC at Brands Hatch.

And here she is, ready to go:

 TZ250 ready for my first outing

This turned out to be my worst race meeting ever.  Well, not really - I'm not in hospital, after all, so I've definitely had worse.  But as non-crashy meetings go, it was pretty bad.

Having prep'd the TZ last Sunday with a couple of mates who previously owned TZs (thanks NeilR & Sol), I was really looking forward to getting to actually ride it.  The NGRRC meeting wa sa two day event, so I booked for the MSV ACU track day on the Friday. I got up at silly o'clock Friday morning, loaded the van and headed round the M25.  I unloaded the bike and got its warmers on, and signed on etc, and was ready to go out in the 4th session (which was preferable to the first session, as it was so cold and slick that Pat crashed his R6 on the out-lap).

I rolled out, and...there I was, riding my TZ250.  As I'd been re-assured, it's "just a motorbike", and behaved like one.  First session was definitely just about getting some laps under my belt, which I did, and all seemed fine.  Then on the last lap of the session, I missed a gear, or it jumped out.  I didn't think much about it, but the next time I select 3rd, there was a awful noise - a biscuit tin full of nuts and bolts sort of noise. I grabbed another gear, and the noise went away.  And then I was in the pits, and the bike seemed to rev cleanly.  I couldn't believe it was a gearbox issue, so I decided to try again in the next session - but as soon as I selected 3rd the noise was there, so I came straight back in. I ran it on the stand, it was definitely a problem with third gear

I phoned a friend (thanks again to NeilR), and he sent me a video on how to remove the gearbox, which is indeed very easy to get at.  But the sight meeting me sunk my heart - broken gear teeth in the bottom of the casing, and the gears for third (on both shalfts) completely mangled.  And a tooth missing from fifth on the clutch shaft too.

  

 

What I should have done at this point is packed up and gone home.

But a chap wandering round the paddock came to chat, called Mike Webster, and he said he had a TZ (a 92 4DP1), and had a spare set of gear shafts, and I could borrow them.  And he lived close, so off he went to get them.   I put my awning up, with a work bench, tools ready and read the section in the manual several times.  Mike came back with the two shafts, and they slotted into the gearbox beautifully.  I bench checked the change mechanism up and down the box, and even got one of the guys from A&R racing to check it with me, and he said it all looked good.  So I slotted the box back in and started to re-assemble everything else.  This was very fiddly, and almost certainly where I made a crucial mistake (ominous music).  I lost a lot of time here, and so didn't make the last practice session of the afternoon.  

Following multiple updates on Facebook, I got a phone call from a mate on the Isle of Man - he put one of his mates on the phone who told me not to forget to clean out the strainer in the oil pump".  Oil pump?  I didn't know there was one!  But the manual did, and the gearbox does indeed have an oil pump.   

So after cold and fitful night's sleep in the roof of mechanic Simon's camper van, we were up at 7:30am and pulled it all apart again.  The pump is inside the gearbox, so it all had to come out.  We got it on the bench, and Simon found and cleaned the filter, while I signed on.   We re-assembled, being as careful and methodical as we could, but under a little time pressure.  But still, I got out for untimed practice, and did 6 laps (on wets, cos it was *very* cold, and slightly damp) and everything "seemed ok".   

Next outing was timed practice, for 15 minutes.  Out I went, circulating ok (tho the rest of the grid seemed *much* faster), and the flag came out, so round we went on the in-lap, and on the Cooper Straight - the rear wheel locked solid.  Pulling the clutch in made no difference - the gearbox was seized. 

I was recovered back,we got it on the bench, pulled it apart, and it was carnage.  The gearbox I'd borrowed was trashed - every gear broken, I think.  Worse, a piece of broken gear had made a hole in the casing.  Tellingly, the oil pump drive was missing teeth too.  I spoke to Graham File, and he is so busy he's not taking on any work until May at the earliest.  He told me to talk to Dennis Trollope, who was in the paddock,  I went to see him and basically begged him to take the engine from me and see what he could do with it.  I think he took pity on me, and agreed.  So Simon and I took the engine out, and carried it over to Dennis with a box of clutch and gearbox bits.  Dennis sucked his teeth a lot, but on seeing the broken oil pump drive, he said this would have been down to mis-assembly - he said 15 years ago, when there was a grid of 30+ TZs, he'd sell at least one of those gears every meeting. 

I don't know what this is going to cost, but it's going to be a lot.  And of course I have to replace all the broken gears on the shafts I borrowed from Mike Webster.  So it looks like my descent into bankruptcy due to TZ ownership has started apace.  It was a bit of a stretch to buy the bike in the first place, and I so didn't need this now. 

Human beings are pattern matching engines, and we want to assume that two gearbox failures are connected. But I don't think they are.  The second one failed because we had it apart to fix it the first time, and Simon and I, who know how to use a set of spanners, were not wise in the details of re-assembly.  And the manual did not cover this potential 'gotcha' at all,  Why the first gearbox failed is a mystery, and we'll probably never know. 

I'm definitely normally a glass-half-full sort of chap, but I did sink into a bit of a deep dark hole over this.  But, writing this a few days later, I've recovered my normal equilibrium.  The one saying that fits everything in this game is "That's racing".  And, as I said up there - at least I'm not in hospital.

Jurby two-day meeting: day two

September 29th, 2015

Andy and I allowed ourselves a refreshing pint after our efforts on Saturday, and but as we knew were racing today, Sunday, we limited it to just the one.  And then that evening my hosts Keef and Becca put a fantasically cooked steak in front of me too.    I do love visiting my friends on the Island!

Not only that, but on Sunday morning Keef was also up early and we all had a full english breakfast.  Becca's son James had agreed to come and be the paddock =-stand-monkey for me and Andy, which was especially useful as we were both in the same races.  You can put a bike on a paddock stand by yourself, but it can be a bit of a pain, especially when you come in hot and breathless after a race.  

We arrived at the circuit with little to do, as the awning was up, and we just had to roll the bikes out of the van.  Scrutineering was enlived by the scrute noting that I didn't have any bungs in the ends of my handlebars.  I didn't yesterday, and was pretty damn sure I hadn't throughout the classic TT, but you are meant to have them.  I made an attempt to fit some from a spare pair of bars, but the diameter was wrong; I explained this to the scrute and he was happy to let it go as an 'advisory'.   

When the ARA have a two day meeting, they run the circuit in opposite directions each day.  Yesterday was clockwise, which is my preferred direction, as it's mostly right-handers, and 'snuffies' is a real bottle corner.  So today is anti-clockwise, meaning mostly left-handers, and much less bottle required for 'snuffies'.  But it's still good fun.  After riding yesterday, I felt relaxed and happy rolling out for practice, but it seems everyone else did too, as while I was a second faster (1:18), I qualified one place lower (15th).  Andy had exactly the same experience, going faster but being one place down, so again he was one row ahead of me.  

If anything the weather today was even better than yesterday - it was properly hot!  I could have fallen asleep in the sun, which is very unlike me on a race day.  I even had some of Andy's proffered coffee to wake me up!  But eventually the schedule rolled round to our first race, and we collected in the holding area.  For this meeting the ARA had a changed start procedure - on exiting the paddock everyone does a full lap to the grid, where we form up, and then do a warm up lap, before forming up again for the start.  This effectively gives everyone two laps to get the tyres up to temperature, which seemed to work very well, as there were very few crashes over the weekend (though that might have been down to the unseasonably high temperatures).   Anyway, we did our out and warm-up laps and formed up for the start.  The lights changed and Richard Bregazzi surged across from 13th place (the left) to the middle, causing the chap in the middle (14th) to veer into my path.  I managed to avoid him, but seemed to lose a lot of time, though checking the lap chart, I was still in 11th place at the end of the 1st lap, which I guess is ok for a 'bad start' from 15th on the grid.  Being in the middle of the field obviously fired me up, as my lap times were notably faster than yesterday, and I eventually caught Rich Bregazzi and passed him.  I also passed a lad called Terry Rigaux down the straight on the last lap, only for the blighter to pass me back on the brakes at the end of it!  I wasn't having that, and rode round the outside of him in the long Castle corner, just managing to nip in front of him before I would have hit the cone placed to prevent riders cutting the next corner.  All very exhilerating!  And I was particularly pleased with my best lap, which was a second faster than yesterday.

Position: 9th (2nd in class)
Best lap:  1:15.3

Race two came round soon enough, and we all formed up again.  This time I followed Andy into the first corner, and was then comfortably able to pass him down the straight.  He hung onto my tail for the rest of the race, he said - when I asked him where I made any time, he said "down the straights".  And then I asked where he made it back, to which the answer was "everywhere else".  Hah!  I then set about chasing down fast starting Rich Bregazzi, and managed to pass him on the 5th lap, and held the position to the end.  And my best lap was a couple of tenths faster than race 1 too, which was obviously pleasing.

Position: 9th (2nd in class)
Best lap: 1:15.1

And then we packed up and headed home, for a quick shower and change before meeting back at the pub, and then the traditional post Jurby Sunday evening visiti to the curry house.   All in all a fantastic weekend - great weather, great racing, and great company.

Jurby two-day meeting: day one

September 26th, 2015

The end of season ARA race meeting at Jurby is a two day event across Saturday and Sunday.  I wanted to give the ZXR750 a run out before the season was over, and of course I need race meetings to get the six 'signatures' required for the "TT Mountain Course" licence.

My bike and van and all the associated paraphenalia was still on the Isle of Man since the Classic TT last month, so I flew across on the fantastic City Wing service from Gloucester.  The way flying should be.    And then it was up early-ish (for a Saturday) and off to Jurby in a van still stuffed with everything we packed it with at the end of the Classic TT.   I grabbed a good spot, set up the awning, and was joined by my partner in crime for the weekend, Andy Cowie.   The weather forecast, and reality, was superb - warm, sunny, dry, and, amazingly for Jurby, not a breath of wind.  

We did the usual sign-on, scrute, briefing thing and then went out for practice.  Since I re-invented myself as a 'classic racer', I'm much less focussed on results, and went out at the back of my practice group.  Which meant I spent 5 laps passing slower riders, and only got a clear lap in at the end of session.  At 1:19, I guess I was slightly dissappointed with this, but it put me about half way up the grid (14th, middle of the 5th row), which was ok really.  I should mention that the class ARA run these bikes in is a combined class of steelies (steel-framed 600s), post-classic (up to 31 Dec 1992) and 650 twins, mostly Kawasaki ER650s.  Andy qualified directly in front of me, in 11th place (middle of the 4th row).

And then there was the usual wait until my race, which in glorious warm sunshine was not a problem.  We rolled out for our out lap, did a warm up lap, and then the lights changed and we were away.  Andy and I both got good starts compared to the others on our rows, such that I followed him into the first corner.  For the first 3~4 laps I tried to chase him down, but he eeked out a handful of metres each lap. And then he lost focus a little (as he admitted later) and the gap closed right back to nothing.  I chased him into the chicane, and on the way out Andy was in the wrong gear, and I breezed straight past.  I should have waved!   I knew Andy would be cheesed off about this, so I got my head down to try and make sure he couldn't get back.  Which he didn't!  

Place: 10th (2nd in class)
Best Lap: 1:16.4

We both arrived back at the awning with grins on our faces.  This was what racing was about.   We then had time to have a drink (it was hot!), check the bikes over, splash some fuel in, and generally relax.  But our next race came round soon enough.

Our starts were similar to the first race, but I had to be a little more forceful through the first chicane.  I was still on Andy's tail as we exited the long fast right-hander onto the straight, and I was able to use the extra power of my 750 to draft and pass Andy's 600cc Yamaha Thundercat.  This meant I entered the kink at the end of the straight ("Snuffies") faster than I'd done all day.  I scared myself!  But I got round, threw the anchors out and braked for the fast approaching "Bus Stop" chicane ok.   I didn't see Andy again, and passed another Steelie rider, and kept my head down.  I didn't make any further places, but felt like I was lapping at a good pace.  Which, it turns out, I was!

Place: 7th (2nd in class)
Best Lap: 1:15.3

That laptime made me very happy.  I've been round Jurby much faster (low 1:12s), but to do it on the Classic bike I built myself feels more rewarding.  

Andy and I felt we'd earnt a pint, so we went to the Traff in Ramsey and damn well had one.

BSB Assen : No, I wasn't racing, but worth blogging anyway

September 25th, 2015

Generally this blog is about my racing activity.  But every so often something comes along that I want to write up which is outside that category.  There is some race content, all the same.

Background

In 2014 Kawasaki announced the limited edition supercharged Ninja H2.  As an avowed Kawaski nut, I obviously wanted one, but it was ridiculously expensive.  But, I'd just been made redundant, and had a cheque of about the right size in my hand.  Well, you only live once.  So I put a hefty deposit down, and my bike turned up in April.  And everything you might have read about them is true - it's a genuinely awesome motorcycle.

Anyway, in August, I recieved an email from Kawasaki UK saying they were organising an event for UK, Dutch and German H2 owners, such that we would get free hospitality at the Assen round of the BSB championship, and a hotel for the night, and a 'parade' of the Assen circuit.  All I had to do was get myself there.  So I got my name on the list, and booked my crossings.

Gentleman's Touring Motorcycle

It would have been sensible to do the overnight Harwich-Hook of Holland crossing, but by the time I got around to organising things, those were gone.  I'm about out of holiday at work, so I booked the channel tunnel, out Saturday morning, back Sunday evening.  I squeezed some overnight things into a magnetic tank bag, protected the tank with some rubber mesh/matting, and was ready to go.  I was up early and away before 6:30am, and on the 8:50 train from Folkestone.  

H2 with luggage on chunnel

Once on the other side, it was 300  miles to Assen.  

The worse thing about the H2 is its petrol consumption.  Of course, it's not the sort of bike you buy to save money on fuel, but the combination of 30mpg and a 17 litre tank means you have to stop for fuel every 90 miles or so.  This is annoying, especially when travelling in unfamiliar territory.  The ride up to Assen was made worse by very heavy showers in Belgium, but by the time I'd crossed into Holland (my fourth country of the day), the sun came out and I could put my water proofs away.

I got to the circuit about 3pm, and found my way to the dedicated (and secure) H2 parking area - and parked my bike next to a dozen or so other H2s; this felt rather surreal

Row of H2s

I'd got to the circuit in time to watch final qualifying for the BSB round, and our hospitality suite was brilliantly situated overlooking the Gert Timmer chicane.   Unfortunately, despite being on a Kawasaki promotional event, Shakey Byrne could only manage to get 5th on the grid.

Overlooking he Gert Timmer chicane and pit lane entrance

That evening we all went to the hotel, which was about 15km away, and met in the bar, and then had dinner together.  I was pleasantly surprised by the other H2 owners, they were a pretty mixed bunch, and no one who could reasonabily be pigeon-holed as a rich kid.  Everyone was seriously into bikes, most had several, often multiple Kawasakis.  It was a good night.

The next day was going to be a full one.  Not only were we going to a big bike meeting, we were also going to get to ride around the track.  And then I (at least) would have a 400 mile ride home.  So I was up at a good time, and had a decent breakfast.

Race day was good fun.  There was morning warm-up for the main classes, and a bunch of support races too, so there was plenty going on.  Our 'parade' was due to go off at 15:15, so at 3pm we were all kitted up and down in our parking area, which was right by the pit lane.  But the weather was very threatening, and then it started to rain.  This caused the previous race (which we were waiting to finish) to be red-flagged, so the organisers (who understandabky have a tight schedule to keep to) decided to send us out then.  On a variably damp track (from almost dry to soaking wet in places), with a dutch motorcycle journalist to show us the way round.  We all did two steady/wobbly laps (delete as appropriate), and then were flagged in.  It felt pretty self-indulgent, but I hadn't organised it, I'd just taken up the offer to ride round.  And in the meantime, while we were out, the rain stopped, so the racing could resume properly.

I watched the BSB race get away, and it was obvious that Josh Brookes was on a mission, and leapt away from everyone else, so at around 4:30pm I gathered my kit together and rode away from the circuit.   I'd filled up with fuel that morning, so knew I could get a decent whack of miles under my belt before my first stop.  Traffic was relatively light, and where it wasn't I just tore along the dotted line. The net result being that I covered 300 miles in 3 hours and 45 minutes, which I moderately pleased with, as it included 3 fuel stops.

I got straight on a chunnel train, covered the tedious 100 miles up the M20 and round the M25 and was home by 10pm.  What a weekend!