Classic TT: A good day's preparation, but rain stops practice

August 25th, 2015

After last night's positive practice session, we only had a small list of things to do today.  Primary amongst these was to work out why the cooling system was expelling fluid, but we also wanted to change the gearing, and make a couple of small improvements elsewhere.

The cooling system issue was addressed with the brain power of the three of us, although I was definitely the misfiring cylinder on this particular triple.  But we eventually figured out that the modification I'd had made to the raditaor to allow the airbox scoop to fit had left a bit of the rad where air could get trapped.  This air then got hot, expanded, and pushed out the water.  So we drilled and tapped a hole at the top of the offending part of the rad, refilled it and allowed the air to escape.  Then we put a bolt in the hole, with some sealant around it to prevent any leaks.  We ran the engine up until it was properly hot, and no fluid was ejected, so job done.

After we'd changed the gearing, and fitted some R-clips to the fairing mounts, we'd run out of serious things to do, and Alex was keen to better understand the software used to configure the Ignitech programmable ignition system; one thing that wasn;t working but should have been was the gear shift indicator light (you set it to come on when you should change gear).  We plugged the laptop into the bike, which seems very odd for a 1992 bike, and started working it out.  It turned out just to require use to configure the software correctly, and we got the light working nicely.  Buoyed by this success, Alex then suggested we implement a pit-lane speed limiter, a feature also supported by the Ignitech system.  There's speed limit in the pitlane which is rigourously enforced, and if you break it you get a serious time penalty.  The limiter works by fitting a rider operated button, which when pushed prevents the ignition running above a set rpm limit.  You calculate the rpm for the speed limit, set the system to that, and then can ride through the pits confident that you won't break the speed limit.   This required a button, which was easily obtained from one of the paddock spares vendors, and then we figured out which pin on the Ignitech unit to use, and what it required (set it to ground, it turned out), and Alex wired it all together, and hey presto, I have a pitlane speed limiter!  Of course, we need to accurately calibrate it, but tomorrow we're going to take the bike to Slick Bass and his dyno to check the engine power with the new air intake and fine tune the ignition advance curves.  The rolling road will allow us to accurately derive the revs required to make sure we don't break the 60kph speed limit.

The reason we had time to do all the above was because, despite the day starting very warm and bright, the forecast was for rain in the afternoon, and so it turned out.  The organisers announced the cancellation of the practice session at about 3pm, and it was the right decision, because as I write this at 7pm (i.e. the middle of the practice period), the rain is torrential, and the cloud it right down on the mountain.  Ho hum.

On the plus side, the forecast is good for the next three days.  Let's hope it's right.


Classic TT First Practice: curtailed, but all positive

August 24th, 2015

Now *that's* why I'm here!!!   But for a while it looked like we might not get out to practice this evening.

Alex, Simon and I spent two full days working on the bike, despite thinking we were "ready to roll" on Saturday.  On Sunday, when we came to fit the modified tank on the ex-factory airbox, it didn't.  Fit, that is.   We looked at it, and felt a bit stymied - the scoop / intake for the factory airbox just stood too proud for the tank to sit correctly on the frame.  But then I remembered that my mate Pat Sefton, who is here looking after a stable of MV Agustas, and a Gilera, had introduced me to Jason, the chap who'd made all the fibreglass fairings for them.  So I called him, and begged help, and Jason and Pat came down to look, and something amazing happened - we made a new scoop!  When I say we...Simon fabricated a pattern out of cardboard and duct tape, and then Jason sat down and layed up fibreglass on it and turned it into reality.  He took it with him last night, and returned this morning with it finished and painted.  Brilliant.

The other thing we found yesterday was that the modified tank still leaked.  So this morning I was at Phil Wall's first thing, and he re-did the offending weld.  When I got back to the paddock, Alex and Simon had just about finished fitting the new airbox, and we started to fit the tank, only to find that the fixed fuel spigot (from Saturday) now fouled one of the carbs, so we applied a little force to bend it, and then put some fuel in to check that we hadn't damaged it, and...fuel leaked out. But from a different place - one of the original welds.  So, 45 mins before scrutineering was due to start, I was back over to Ramsey to see Phil.  He was a little surprised that his (usually immaculate) welding was giving problems, but eventually sussed that the weld was being contaminated by the brass from the brazing of the original fuel spigot. So he just cut the whole offending bit of metal (about 3" x 2") out of the bottom of the tank and made a new patch and welded it in.  We tested it with some petrol, and it was sound.

I got back to the paddock at about 5:30 pm, and practice was due to start at 6:45.  Alex and Simon quickly fitted the tank, we fired up the bike and checked it, and then they took it up to scrutineering, which it sailed through.  And then it was into a very crowded parc ferme, where it was up on stands with tyre warmers fitted.  And then I had to get my leathers on.  It's quite a pleasing measure of my confidence and familiarity with racing that I was happy enough to do this with just 20 minutes before the practice started.  Because of our late scrutineering, I knew we were at the back of the queue to go out, and there would be plenty of time, and there was.   So once again I found myself ready to ride a racing motorcycle around the Isle of Man TT Course. And the sun was shining.

We set of in pairs for practice, and my starting partner was on a two-stroke which bogged on the line and I never saw him again.  I had said to the guys that I intended to ride the first lap like I was on a road bike, as it was important to get some miles on it.  So I was definitely being steady, and careful too, as my last lap on the TT course, in June 2014, had not ended well.  But despite this, I was catching people.  And then some more people.  Somewhere around the 11th Milestone I remember shouting to myself "This is BRILLIANT".  The bike was going well, and handling really nicely, I was riding well within myself, and I seemed to be going at a decent speed.   And even in the bumpy section between Ginger Hall and Ramsey, the bike behaved itself.  

Unfortunately, as we got to Ramsey, there were a lot of yellow flags, because someone had crashed at School House Corner.  The rider was being tended to in the road, so it had obviously only just happened.  And then the race was red-flagged, meaning we all had to stop.  There were 20 or so of us gathered in Parliament Square, and we had to wait for a good 30 minutes - our session was over, which was a real shame for me, but the chap who'd crashed had had a much worse day.  Eventually we all went back over the mountain following a travelling marshall, which was at an OK pace, but nowhere near race (or practice) speed.  

Still, I got to chat to Bruce Anstey, and get a good look at his YZR500:

Bruce Anstey's YZR500

I got back to the awning, and told the guys that the bike was brilliant, and we put it to bed and sat down to eat chili.  Really, the bike just couldn't have been better for its first outing.  Tonight, I'm in a very good mood.

Putting the ZXR to bed

Classic TT - arrival and set up

August 23rd, 2015

I'm writing this after what should have been the first night of practice for the Classic TT / Manx Grand Prix.    But no-one practiced last night, of which more later.

Racing on the TT Mountain Circuit requires a lot of preparation and planning, which doesn't make for a very interesting blog.  So I'll summarise by saying:

  • My good mates Keith and Rebecca and Andy bagged a great pitch for us in the paddock and put my awning up, which was already on the Island.
  • Alex and Simon and I arrived on the Island on the Friday, got Alex's amazing Kubla Khan style tent up, and our camping kit sorted 
  • While I signed on (requiring licences, inspection of leathers, boots, helmet, gloves, attending two briefings ,etc), they collected the bike from Slick Bass.

The bike had lived on the Island since the last Jurby race meeting, initially with master fabricator Phil Wall to modify the petrol tank (to remove the hoover air pipes) and to make a new radiator.  But the radiator core he spec'd and ordered was late arriving, so he modified one of my stock rads so that the intake for the ex-factory race-kit airbox that I had been lent (from sidecar ace Dave Molyneaux!) would fit.  This was done, and the bike then went to Slick Bass for a dyno run to check fuelling and set up.   The day before our departure I had a call from Slick saying the bike was running much too rich, was down on power, and re-jetting the carbs hadn't fixed it.  He thought maybe the ignition needed to be adjusted, which required a laptop and software and interface cable for the Ignitech programmable ignition, which he didn't have, and I did.  So we needed to get to his workshop on Saturday morning to do this, and as I had to sign-on etc, Simon and Alex went with the van. 

And they sorted the problem!  A broad change to the ignition curve, and a tweak to the airbox got the bike making a reliable 127bhp, with a fat mid-range and correct fuelling.  Happy Days!

So the boys brought the bike back to the awning, and we set-to putting all the bodywork on, to get ready for scrutineering and then practice, while rain beat down on the roof of the awning.  Then an announcement came over the paddock tannoy that the weather was too bad, and the forecast was worse, and there would be no practice that evening.  Which was disappointing, but meant the pressure was off.  So we finished a few jobs and then went to the pub - it would probably be our last chance for a night out for a week.  Next practice session is Monday evening.

A Good Day in the Sun

June 29th, 2015

The last attempt at racing the ZXR 750 had been a disaster, as detailed at  This left me with two serious problems:

  1. I needed to successfully complete a race before the end of June in order to have the necessary six race meetings for my TT Mountain Course licence
  2. I needed to get the ZXR sorted

Problem #1 was going to be addressed by entering the 28th June meeting at Jurby, with the offer of a loan of a race bike by good friend, and all round good egg, Andy Cowie.  Problem #2 was going to be addressed by leaving the bike with Slick Bass.

So I duly arrived on the Island on Saturday, combining my visit with a van delivery service for my usual partner in manx-related crimes, Keith McKay.  We grabbed the bike, grabbed the new fuel pump which I'd ordered in an attempt to address fuel-supply issues, and fitted it Saturday night.

Sunday dawned wet and very windy.  But the forecast was for it to dry out, and it wasn't cold.  We arrived at the circuit and set up, and put the wets in the bike.  Which was a waste of time, because we had to change them back to drys for practice, as the rain soon let off, and the wind and the temperature dried the track in double quick time.  Andy rolled up and we organised the somewhat complex logistics of the day - I was going to ride his bike in race 1, with my transponder and number (271).  He was going to ride it in race 3, with his transponder and number (71).  I'd picked my number to match his with the minimal fuss (I'd actually asked for 171, which might have been even easier).   So we then did the signing on, scruting bikes, scruting gear, riders briefing, etc, and were eventually ready to practice.

First outing was the Open, on a near 20-year-old steelie.  I was there for the finish, not glory, which was a good thing, as glory was definitely not an option.  And, as the finish was essential, I was being very careful.  Best lap - 1:23.  Pole was 1:09.  There were 3 people behind me, mind.   I then got to fire up the ZXR, and ran that in it's class, the Post-Classic (for machines up to 1992).  And it went ok, and reminded me of why I liked riding it so much.  The bike is old, and heavy, and not breathing as well as it should, but it's still lots of fun.  But, it was still important to get a finish for the day, so I was still careful - best lap 1:22, which actually made me second of the post-classic bikes (this race is also run with the Steelies, and a class called 'singles, twins & triples').   After about 6 laps, tho, the bike felt like it was starving of fuel (again), so I brought it in.  Keith looked in the tank and ascribed this to actually running out of fuel, so I said "D'oh!" and we put some petrol in it.  More later...

Race meetings have lots of waiting, and the wait until the first race seemed interminable.  But eventually I lined up for race one, the Open with all the fast boys on their modern bikes, and me on a borrowed 1996 Yamaha ThunderCat.  A finish!  All I needed was a finish!   Which I comfortably got, althought being an 8 lap race I was also comfortably lapped by the front 4.  Best lap (not that it matters at all): 1:21.   So, pretty much the most important thing for the entire weeked had been achieved - without a finish today, I'd not be getting a TT Mountain Licence, which would mean I'd not been riding in the Classic TT.   Which was the whole point of building the ZXR in the first place.

ZXR in the sun at Jurby

Much relaxed, I lined up for the first Post-Classic race (affectionately known as the 'Wacky Races' due to the mixture of classes and bikes).  The ARA club had moved to two warm up laps for this meeting (in an attempt to minimise cold-tyre crashes, I think), and the ZXR did these at pace, and then we were away nicely in the race.  But then on lap two, the old fuel starvation issue reared it's head again, and I returned to the paddock.  Listening to the fuel pump, it wasn't shutting off, which was the same problem that ruled me out of the Pre-TT Classic.  Lifting the tank, Keith saw that just as the tank sat down, the fuel pipe was kinking a little against one of the carburettors, restricting flow.   He had some much stronger pipe in his toolbox, so he and Andy and I quickly swapped this over, and the problem seemed resolved.  But I've thought that before...

I gained permission to run the ZXR in the second open race.  The bike and I were seriously outclassed in this company, and I got lapped again, but I did do 10 laps at speed without any issues, so it looked like the problem was indeed fixed.   So I lined up for the second Post-Classic Race, and my last race of the day, in a decent mood.  By now the sun was scorching down, and it was properly warm.  I got away with the pack, and while the fast boys on twins and steelies (sniff...that used to include me!) got away at the front, I got into a decent dice with Andy Cowie on his steelie, and Richard Bregazzi on his 650 twin.   So I got my head down, and passed Andy, and then managed to get past Richard.  And he came back past me.  And I got past him again, and this time made it stick.  I was enjoying myself!   And I was 8th overall, 2nd in class, with a best lap of 1:16.1.  Which is way off the 1:12s I was doing last year on modern bikes, but still not bad, and a pace I would have been happy enough with just a few years ago, on a modern-ish 600.  The 750 showed some decent speed, and I know there's more to come when we get the airbox sorted and Slick gets it breathing properly.   

So the day ended on a high, and we went to the pub in the sunshine.

Bad times at the Pre-TT Classic

June 2nd, 2015

The Pre-TT Classic was the meant to be the meeting where I a) rode the ZXR on a roads circuit, to see how it worked over the bumps and between the hedges, and b) got the last of the six meetings I need under my belt in order to get the TT Mountain Licence I need for this year to ride in the Classic TT. But things did not go well. I'm still cheesed off about it, so don't expect purple prose. It'll just be the facts, ma'am.

The Pre-TT Classic s a pretty big meeting, held during the opening weekend of TT Practice week. The whole island is gearing up for its annual two week party, every boat is delivering hordes of bikes and vehicles, the TT paddock is a hive of activity, with everyone setting up for some serious work or play, or sometimes both. There's a lot of energy and expectation in the air. I was on the 2:15 am boat on the Thursday. Despite having booked a cabin, I still didn't get much sleep on a boat that leaves after 2am, and arrives at 6am. After disembarking, I met Becca (partner of all round good egg, Keith McKay, who was as usual putting me up), who gave up an hour and a half before work to help me put my awning up in the Castletown Paddock, and then took the ZXR up to Slick for it's first dyno run. This gave us our first problem - it wasn't right. The bike was a good 10% down on power, and two of the cylinders (as measured with an infrared gun pointed at the exhaust headers) were running cool. Slick suspected ignition, and gave it back to me. I didn't have time to do much, as I had to go back to Castletown to sign on. But I did meet up with a Mark Bamford, who I know from Andreas Racing, who also has a ZXR and who lent me a set of original ZXR coils. I had a strong suspicion that converting my bike to use individual stick coils might be the root of the problem. But after I got back from signing on, I has just enough energy to eat then get to bed.

The next morning I was in the garage at 7:30am, jury rigging the two original coils I'd got from Mark, in the place of the four separate stick coils. I was joined shortly by Neil Davis, a friend staying with Keith, and he was an enormous help (more later). I just wanted the bike to be able to run on the dyno, so they were very much in a temporary installation. The bike started and ran, so we took it back to Slick and he gave it a run on the dyno. It made much neared the correct horsepower, and all the exhaust headers were a consistent temperature. So we thought we had fixed the problem, and went back to the workshop (Keith's garage), and set about turning my quick bodge into something that would be race ready. This took us the rest of the day - the mounts for the coils on the race ZXRs is in the fairing, meaning we had to run new long HT leads, and extend and modify the low-tension connections, and make mounting brackets, and... we had to put the bike in the van at 4pm to go to the circuit for the first practice.  We got through scrutineering with just a couple of advisories, I went to the holding area at the allotted time, and....almost as soon as I pulled out onto the circuit, the bike went onto three cylinders.  I hoped I might be abke to do a couple of slow (but not too slow - 'touring' on race circuits is very dangerous for everyone else) laps to meet the minimum requirment, but the bike stopped halfway round.  Neil and I had to wait until the end of the evening session, at around 9pm, to collect the bike and get it back to the workshop.  After a bite to eat, we started to trace the problem, and found it straight away - the 'quick release' connection for the fuel hose from the tank to the fuel pump was leaking, and the airbox (in which the carbs sit) had a decent puddle of petrol in it.  The engine was trying to breathe almost neat petrol.  We quickly replaced the connector, and thought we had it fixed.

The next morning I took the bike for an unofficial test ride, and it seemed fine.  Except, when working on it, the fuel pump didn't always stop running when the system was up to pressure.  It was like it had an airlock in it.  But we managed to make the problem 'go away', and loaded the bike in the van again, for the second and last practice session.

Another straightforward scrutineering, we waited in park ferme, my session was called, and I pulled out on the circuit again.  This time the bike pulled strongly to Balla Keighen, and all the way down the long straighto to Iron Gates.  But then it coughed, for all the world like it was running out of petrol.  I nursed it for a bit, but it came to a halt just by Great Meadow.  

There is a requirement for every rider/ machine to complete two full timed laps in practice.  I had not.  So I wouldn't get to race. So I went to the pub.   I know it's a freshly built bike, and 'teething problems' are to be expected, but I was very cheesed off indeed.

I've left the bike with Slick.  He'll get it sorted. 

And also my great friend Andy Cowie has offered me the use of his bike (a 600 steelie) so that I can get the last race meeting done before the deadline.