First race meeting of 2015

May 18th, 2015

It's been a long time since I last raced a motorcycle.   Last September, in fact - that's 8 months ago!   But first, some background...

A New Hope

After putting myself in hospital at the TT last year, it was clear even to me that continuing to race big fast modern bikes round the TT course was not going to end well.  Or, to be more precise, it was likely to end badly and permanently.  But I already had a plan to prepare a Kawasaki ZXR750 for the Classic TT; this would enable me to still ride my favourite road in the world, but crucially a) on something a fair bit slower than a modern ZX10R and b) under a lot less pressure to prove (to myself, to the organisers, to the spectators) that I had a right to be out there.  The Classic TT is a race, obviously enough, and the fast guys are properly fast, but part raison d'etre of the whole event is that it's "a show" - for specators to look at the bikes and say "I remember them", or "I used to have one of those".  So, when I saw the Mistral Kawasakis a couple of years ago, I knew almost immediately that this was the path I would follow.

So in late 2013, I bought myself a road-going ZXR750, and set about collecting everything needed to turn it into a decent F1 spec Classic Racing Motorycycle.  The original plan was to ride in the 2014 Classic TT, but the crash at the June TT put paid to that.  So last winter I started the build, and eventually arrived at this:

ZXR before first test ride

While there are still a number of things to be done, I was quite pleased with the appearance of the end result.  But this was a bike built to race, so how it goes is more important than how it looks.

Plans for the Season

In order to arrive at the Classic TT in August with a sorted and reliable bike, I would obviously have to ride it and develop it a bit first.  The original plan to was to get it out on track in April, at the two-day Jurby meeting, and then run it in the Pre-TT Classic on the Billown circuit in May to make sure it worked on the bumpy roads circuit.  But I'd severely under-estimated the work involved in race-preparing a 23-year-old bike; not only was I turning it into a race bike, I was also effectively doing a nut-and-bolt restoration, too.  I got my entry in for the Pre-TT Classic, and then fretted as I waited for components to arrive and work to be done.  At the beginning of May, the engine still hadn't run!  But, then everything came together, and I had a running and rolling bike.  Now, I needed a suitable club meeting to run it at and check that everything worked...

 Mallory Park, 17th May

I finished the bike on Wednesday 13th May.  Of course, a project like this is never finished.  But the bike was ready to be ridden in its first test on track.  I quickly checked what meetings were coming up, and found EMRA were running at Mallory this Sunday. Of course, it was way past the closing date, but the entry secretary at EMRA couldn't have been more helpful, and sorted everything out over the phone for me.  So, once I again I found myself loading a van at the weekend, and heading off to a race circuit on Saturday afternoon.  

I met my mate Pat, who has himself just started racing this season, at the circuit, and we quickly unloaded the van, got the awning up, and everything set up in it.  And then we went for a curry.   I slept in the van that night, and it would be fair to say that I did not get a good nights sleep.  Not helped by the fact that I was nursing a very unpleasant head cold.

Race Day...

...dawned bright and sunny!  After tea and bacon sarnie, we got in the scrutineering queue. The bike passed with a couple of advisories, but there was a problem with my crash helmet - no ACU Gold Sticker!  This  despite the fact that it had previously been passed at the TT and by ARA.  A quick trip to the race office sorted it out (apparently, because my Shark had come direct from France, the sticker hadn't been applied by the UK importer), and then we were ready for practice.  Also, long time race mechanic and former endurance racer Alex Ferrier had turned up to help too.

Practice was called, and I pulled out onto the circuit.  A circuit I last rode round at least 10 years ago, if not 15.  But still, Mallory is not especially complicated, so I wasn't worried.  However, braking and changing down for the hairpin at the end of the first lap, the bike lost power and died.  It felt like a fuel problem.  I had to sit with the marshalls until the session was done; while sat there, the bike would fire up, run for a few seconds, then die again.  Definitely fuel starvation.  I got the bike back to the paddock and Pat and Alex pulled the tank off and found that the fuel hose routing was not ideal.  Because the bike uses a race airbox, which the carbs sit inside, this makes this area all a bit complicated. The guys changed some hoses, tried a different routing, and then I went out for second practice. 

This time the bike did manage a whole lap before the fuel starvation kicked in again. I got it back to Pat and Alex, and left them to pull the bike apart again while I went to the race office to see if I could get special dispensation to get out in the last practice session.  Which I did - the EMRA officials were fanastically helpful all day.

This last session was for the Earlystocks class - big air-cooled twin-shock bikes from the 80s.  The sort of bikes that the ZXR made obsolete.  And so it turned out on track - the ZXR ran well and with the pack for five laps, overtaking a fair few of the Earlystocks bikes.  And then it felt like it was going onto reserve again, so I pulled in sharpish.  This time I went to one of the paddock race suppliers and bought a good length (over 2m!) of replacement fuel hose, and Alex re-worked the entire fuel system.  And then we were ready for Race One.

Or were we?  The bike fired up nicely in the awning, but when I got to the holding area, it sounded sick.  A different sort of sick than fuel starvation - this time, like it was not on all four cylinders.  We got shown out to the grid, but all was not well, and as the flag was waved for the warm up lap, I paddled the bike off the grid and into the paddock.  The guys confirmed by ear that it was only running on 2 cylinders, which meant ignition.  So tank off again, and this time carbs and airbox to, which led me immediately to the smoking gun...

...I'd known previously that one of the connectors onto the stick coils (I'd converted the ignition from the two big original coils to use four stick coils from a ZX6R) had lost it's clip to hold it in place.  I knew I had to fix this, but the connector was quite a tight fit on the coil, so thought it would be ok for a run round a short circuit.  Well, it was a tight fit when cold, but now everything was hot, the plastic had expanded, and it was quite a loose fit.  And the engine vibration had completed the scenario.  So we lock-wired the connector in place, and put the bike back together.  Again.   [For anyone wondering why a single loose connector caused the bike to go onto two, not three cylinders, it's because the feed from pairs of coils to the igniter are in series, not parallel.  There.]

First Race

This should have been my second race, but see above.  But first, a word about racing classes.

Racing classes are designed so that similar spec bikes race against each other.  So, there'll be a class for, say, 125s, and another for 600s, and another for old bikes (e.g. Earlystocks, above), and so on.  Unfortunately, my 750 didn't fit any of the classes that EMRA run.  It was too new to be an Earlystock (I think their cut-off is early/mid-eighties), it was too big for the pre-injection class (which EMRA only run up to 600), so I was left with the 'Open' (anything goes) and Superbike (modern 1000s).

So I lined up at the back of a sparse grid (~10 bikes) looking at load of very modern, very fast 1000cc bikes.  Some with slicks on.  The flag dropped, and the field rode away from me.  Still, I knew very well that I wasn't really here to race, I was here to run the bike (and sort out all the sorts of problems described above), and that trying to go fast and risking crashing would have been an utter disaster.  But we (me and the the bike) were definitely out of our depth - the rest of the field had more power, less weight, better brakes and suspension, and, to be frank more skill and track experience.  Did I mention I had a cold?  And hadn't been on a track in eight months?   All this, combined with the fact that Mallory is a very short track, meant that the leader (a moderately well-know and quick chap called Lee Jackson) lapped me on lap four.  LAP FOUR!!!  OK, he was doing 51 second laps, and my best was a 1:02, but, really, that hurt.  And during the next five laps, four or five others came past, too.  I suspect I've been last in my racing career before, though definitely long enough ago for me to have forgotten about it.  But I've never been that last!  In the history of being last, few have been laster.  Ouch.

But on the plus side...the bike kept going!  And it went pretty well.  It's difficult to judge power on the track, but I'm sure it needs some dyno time to get the engine working properly, but it was a reasonable starting point. And it steered and handled as I remember ZXRs always did - very predictable, enormously trustworthy front end, and rolled beautifully into the corners.  And the brakes worked pretty well, and the bike was stable on the brakes, gently but controllable waving the rear wheel a little on the ripples on the way into the hairpin.  And, looking at the rear tyre afterwards, the rear suspension doesn't look a million miles out, either.

Race Two

Race two was more of the same, but this was the Open rather than the Superbike, or the Superbike rather than the Open.  I really can't remember which.  On the warm up lap, I was comfortably able to maintain station with the back half of the field, which encouraged me to think thoughts of doing a little better.  Unfortunately, no - obviously while I'd been riding the warm up lap at 85% effort, they'd been at 70%.  One guy was behind me after Gerrards, but the rest just gently rode away.  Slowly, but away all the same.  There was still someone behind me, on a Suzuki TL1000, I think, and he stayed there for about four laps, but inevitably he got past, and then showed that he did have more pace by making a gap fairly quickly.   So, last again, but not as last this time.   And again, the bike behaved itself and ran well for the whole race.

When I got back to the paddock, I declared that we should call it a day, and pack up the van.  Which we did.

Next steps

I head to the Pre-TT Classic in just over a week.  Before then, I need to get the ignition coil connector sorted.  And a host of other little jobs.   But the day demonstrated exactly why you need track time on a new build - none of the problems we found and fixed would have even turned up on the bench.

Huge, HUGE thanks to Pat and Alex, without whom I'd have been a whimpering mess in the back of the van.  Thanks guys


Last race meeting of 2014

September 29th, 2014

....or: Why's Everyone Going So Fast? Oh, I'm Going Slow

This was the last regular meeting on the Andreas Racing Calendar (excepting the end-of-season 4 hour endurance). It was a two day meeting, running the track in one direction (clockwise) on the Saturday and the other direction on the Sunday. There was no real pressing reason for me to actually ride, but I'd said I was going to do the full season with ARA, and I thought I'd live up to my commitment. I was in 4th place in both the championships that I'd planned to have a run at this season, and it looked unlikely that I might improve on this. This was the meeting where last year I got seven wins from eigth starts, and I knew that I wouldn't be repeating that feat again.

Saturday 27th September

The forecast was for early drizzle, but the the day started dry, so before scrutineering I changed the wet tyres that were still in the bike from the last meeting in July. This was perhaps poor planning, as the drizzle started soon after scrutineering, and carried on for and hour or more, turning into proper rain for a while, and making the track genuinely wet. It was still a real lottery as to what tyres to use for practice, but I decided the safest option would be a wet front and a dry rear, a decision significantly informed by the fact that changing the front is easy, and changing the rear is a pain.

I rolled up to the holding area for practice, and noted that every possible combination of tyres were fitted to the bikes there - full drys, full wets, and half-and-halfs like me. So everyone was guessing. We rolled out onto the track, and within a lap I knew I'd made the right choice - the front felt really secure and safe, and being smooth with throttle ensured that the back behaved itself on the damp track. A dry line was appearing, but it was still damp enough that I wouldn't have been as confident with a dry front tyre. And the timesheet proved me right, as I qualified 3rd fastest (and therfore on the front row), for the Singles, Twins and Triples class. Pole sitter was another old stager, Derren Slous, who was back racing after the best part of a decade away, and had used wets front and rear. And had destroyed the rear wet in the process. For the second practice the track was getting even drier, but rather than rush to change the front, we decided to roll with what we had. The bike felt great again, and while I was worried that the front wet might get chewed up, it actually looked hardly worn when I came in. And another 3rd fastest time, and therefor another front row start, in the 650 Twins class. 

Race 1 : Singles, Twins and Triples
Before the lights changed, Derren jumped forward a few feet then stopped again, and then we were all away. I got a decent start, but the regular quick boys are properly fast now, and Nathan Harrison (who has just turned 16!) soon came by, looking fast and smooth. And he was followed by Derren Slous, making up for his botched start. Later on Dean Osborne barged by, and then Eddie Venn on his Steelie (no so worried, as he's in a different class). And so it finished, but the twist in the tail is that Derren was penalised 10 seconds for his jump start, so I finished 5th overall, and 3rd in class. Which is not bad, but I was a little disappointed in my lap times as my best was a 1:15, and previously (well, before my crash at the TT) I'd been able to comfortably run 1:13s.

Result : 5th / 3rd in class
Best lap: 1:15.433

Race 2 : 650 twins
Another cracking start from the front row saw me lead into the first set of corners, and down the back straight. Perhaps I should take up drag racing! But after the flat kink of Snuffies, Dean Osborne came past cleanly on the brakes into the bus stop, only to crash as he flicked it from right to left. I'm only slightly ashamed to admit that there are few more pleasing sights in racing than seeing a rival fall immediately after overtaking you (assuming he's not hurt himself, of course). But last year's class champion (and this year's champion-elect), Callum Collister soon came past cleanly and made it stick, followed by the boy wonder Nathan Harrison. Two laps from the end Derren Slous came inside me on the way into Nans, but ran wide and I tucked back underneath him, and managed to keep him behind me until the flag. Not by much though, as we crossed the line less than 3 tenths apart. On the plus side, all my laps were now in the 1:14s, with a best just a few hundreths off breaking back into the 13s.

Result: 3rd /  3rd in class
Best lap: 1:14.045

Race 3: Singles, Twins and Triples
By now the sun was properly out, enough to warrent fitting a dark visor, and conditions were pretty good, with just a medium head wind down the back straight to deal with. I got another superb start off the line, even beating John Taubman's fast 600 Steelie, and led down the back straight again. This glory was predictably brief again though, as Nathan, Dean, Derren and John soon came past and showed me what a difference of 2 seconds a lap looks like. John had a nasty crash at the bus stop on the last lap, which caused the race to be red flagged, but we'd done enough laps for the result to be called from lap five. My pace had dropped off, with most of my laps in the 15s or slower

Result: 4th / 4th in class
Best lap: 1:15.484

Race 4: 650 Twins
By now it was relatively late in the afternoon, and at this time of year the sun was heading to the horizon, and shining into your eyes as you head into the flat out (on a 650 twin) kink at Snuffies. Well, it should be flat out, and I've done it flat before, but today I couldn't help but roll off and back on again just before the turn in. That's probably where a couple of tenths on my lap time were going, right there. This time I didn't make any places on the start, and while I was riding at the same sort of pace as my previous race, everyone else seemed to have got faster. Including a chap called Ian Raybon, on a GP125, who came past near the end and beat me over the line by 3 tenths. OK, it is a full-on race two stroke, with slick tyres, but still - it's only a 125 with probably 45~50 horsepower at most. All my laps were no better than 1:15s, so clearly I'd done my best for the day.

Result: 7th / 6th in class
Best lap: 1:15.197

Sunday 28th September

After feeling a sense of disappointment over my pace yesterday, I gave myself a bit of a talking to. I was out at the track primarily to enjoy myself - this was club racing, not MotoGP. And it was only my second meeting since my TT crash, so even being out racing was something of an achievement. And I was twice the age or more of some of the fast lads who were beating me (with the exception of Derren Slous, and I'm still 10 years older than him). So stop whingeing and just enjoy yourself.

Practice Conditions were mild and bone dry, and would remain so all day, so tyre choice was never something to think about. But without that lottery, grid postions more accurately reflected real pace, and so this time I qualified in 6th then 5th places for my two classes. Still, second row was not bad.

Race 1 : Singles, Twins and Triples
This race was spiced up by the addition of Paul Metcalfe on his GP250, and Ian Raybon finding even more pace on his GP125. I got away with the front runners, but Dean Osborne was on a mission and set what I think is a new class recond of 1:11.0, and a gang of others were running 11s, 12s and 13s, which I couldn't match. Near the end Matty Mylchreest (last year's steelie champion, having his first race meeting this year) came by, and we had a bit of a battle, with Matt taking the honours at the end.

Result: 8th / 6th in class 
Best lap: 1:14.428

Race 2 : 650 twins
By now, even writing this the next day, with 8 races over two days, they all start to blur together! So I can't remember that much about this one. It's notable in my mind for the fact that I set my best lap time of the weekend, dipping into the 1:13s for two laps, for the first time this weekend. But another fast youngster, Jack Hunter, had found some more pace (2 seconds a lap since his previous meeting!), and was another person to fill the places in front of me

Result: 5th / 4th in class 
Best lap: 1:13.926

Race 3 : Singles, Twins and Triples
Dean Osborne and Nathan Harrison were clearly on fire for this one, setting low 1:11s and finishing less than a tenth of a second apart over the line. Unfortunately, I was too far back to witness and enjoy this.  I got an OK start, but the guys with more pace than me pulled away, and there wasn't much I could do about it. Including Ian Raybon on his GP125, who was obviously revealing in its awesome corner speed, and had dropped his best time to a 1:12.6 - that's a as fast as I went earlier this year on my ZX10R!

Result: 6th / 5th in class 
Best lap: 1:14.486

Race 4: 650 Twins
Last race of the day, of the weekend, and of the season (probably), for me. The sun was out, and there are many worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon. I got away with the usual group, and felt like I was trying quite hard. Nathan Harrison was away at the front, looking for the limit, and found it, crashing unhurt from the lead at the bus stop. Paul Metcalfe and Ian Raybon demonstrated what GP class bikes are all about, taking first and second positions on their two strokes. Derren Slous finally broke into the 1:12s, and got third (and first in class), and I had a right ding dong battle with Jack Hunter. He passed me down the straight, and I passed him back into turn one. Next lap he passed me down the straight again, and I passed him back into turn one again - unfortunately, we'd gone under the chequered flag just before this, and he beat me by 8 hundreths of a second. Good fun though, and this is what it's all about.

Result: 5th / 3rd in class 
Best lap: 1:14.072

All in all, a great way to end a season that has had it's ups and downs, to say the least. I started to find a little of the pace that I thought I'd lost, and after telling myself to just enjoy it, I really did.  I remained in 4th place in both championships, but that wasn't important anyway.

I'll just take this opportunity to thank all the officials and marshals at Andreas Racing Association for running a season of great club meetings.  And Keith McKay, Rebecca Wallis and Andy Cowie for their help throughout the year, and especially to Dave Clarke for letting me ride his fantastic Supertwin again.  And lastly to all the other competitors in the ARA paddock, who make it the friendliest paddock I've had the pleasure to race with.

Watch this space for 2015 plans...

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...