The last few years have, undeniably, been strange. Even here at the magazine we’ve all learned to work independently, but still as one collective hive mind. I haven’t seen our designers, our accounts department, or many of the other members of the team in over two years. It’s all about email, text and unfortunately Zoom when it comes to talking to each other. I met the boss for lunch a few weeks ago and that was the first time in a long time that I’d seen him. No I didn’t get the raise that I deserved.
It’s been the same for some aspects of riding bikes. Before we went into lockdown I was covering, in round numbers, somewhere in the region of 80,000 kilometres a year. This tended not to include time spent off road, on track and on overseas press trips. These days the mileage is still decent, but not nearly as arduous. This is thanks to riding an ancient, yet trustworthy, GS combined with living on the edge of the earth. While I still get to ride on the road and a few trails, I haven’t been on a race track in almost three years.
Track time means an awful lot to me. I’m not going to say when I first rode a bike in Mondello, quite simply because that would threaten the structure of the layer upon layer of denial which I’ve painstakingly built around what age I really am. Let’s just say that it was a reasonable amount of time ago. Back then there were so few people doing trackdays that the organisers frequently ran an open pitlane. Very few, if any racers were to be seen at them and the same friendly people showed up time and time again.
I learned an awful lot on track. After a few seasons of doing this a few of us made a point of visiting other tracks. A short ferry ride, where we had time enough for a decent breakfast, put us in Wales where the local track was only ten minutes away from Holyhead. Anglesey had a very different layout and took a bit of learning.
Then thanks to a pitch from a Honda dealer, a number of us ended up in Donington. Here we took part in the Ron Haslam race school. This was the first semi formal tuition that I received on track. The learnings were huge and very easy to apply to Mondello when we got back home.
When the crew from the California Superbike School came to visit everything changed. I got to spend two days with them. This was something like having a personal motorcycle trainer. Theory was dealt with in one of the hospitality suites, drills were run in the paddock and the on track stuff was exceptional. Mondello which, at this point, I knew so well became a newer, safer and faster place to ride.
Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to several European circuits. Mugello is nothing short of spectacular, on a tyre test in Portimao I was passed by a former road racer while I was pulling 285 KPH. He went by me with such speed and grace that I almost felt as if I was stopped. Later that day I had the bike leaned so far over in the last corner that I needed to swap knee sliders at lunch time.
Qatar is and was spectacular. We were rushed from the bus into the pits and advised not to go out in the sun since the place is so hot. Then, as the light dimmed, we were introduced to the track. Riding under the flood lights was an amazing experience. Catalunya felt strangely like being at home. On one trip to the Nordschleife, or Nürburgring, we were allowed onto the adjacent Grand Prix circuit. It’s still one of the fastest tracks I’ve ever ridden on.
Riding on track, however, hasn’t always gone well for me. I’ve made enough mistakes to know how to navigate the average A&E department. I’ve learned to be less arrogant than usual and grateful for what I have. I’ve also learned the value of leaving it at 90 or 95%. I’m not racing and I’ve nothing to prove. The one thing that I have learned is that riding powerful bikes at speed in a closed environment has thought me things that I would never, ever have learned on the road. Machine control, wet riding at speed, avoiding other peoples errors, understanding how the corner affects the dynamic of a bike have all been hugely effective in making me a better rider on the street. And keeping me alive.
Meanwhile the expression ‘bike fit’ has been used a few times in discussions about how we are on the road when we come back to two wheels after an absence. Perhaps, for example, this would be after a winter layup. For me I have some series doubts about my ‘track fitness’. At this point, however, it’s time to get back to it. I’m quite conscious that riding down the North Strand on a rainy Tuesday morning requires an amount of skill. It’s not, however, the same skill set as the one I’d need at 285KPH on while riding down the main straight of an international race circuit.
But that’s where I’ll be next week. The crew from Motocraft have booked Mugello for a few days and I’ll be joining them. I’ve got myself some new kit including an RST airbag one piece suit as well as a new Arai. I’ll be using a new MT 10 for the experience and I’m both looking forward to it as well as having what I regard as a healthy amount of trepidation with regards to getting my on track mojo back.
A few years ago I had cause to write a will. In itself quite a sobering experience. As I reflected on how temporary everything and everyone is, I made a choice. I’ve decided to postpone the inevitable until I’m 111. But then I had to write what are known as ‘executors instructions’. This was a very grim experience altogether. That was, until I approached it differently.
I’ve filled it full of unconventional instructions and a touch of irreverence. But I’ve done so in the knowledge that it won’t be read for a very, very long time. It was, in a strange way, an enjoyable and reflective piece to write. Now that I’m in the unusual position of feeling nervous about riding a bike on track my mortality, once again, comes to mind.
I’m pretty sure that the quality of the Motocraft teams events, the brilliant circuit that is Mugello and my hard won bit of humility means that I’ll have a great few days. I imagine that I’ll come home with my muscle memory restored and my ‘Duck Broken’.
If, for some bizarre reason, I fail to meet my target I want that list of instructions adhered to and to the letter! In the meantime wish me luck and don’t forget to pick up next months copy of the magazine to see how it went.
In the meantime ride safe, and try to be nice to each other.