After a winter training it was good to be finally getting ready to race at the second round of Thundersport GB at Donington. With most of the country snow-covered for the week running up to the event, it was never going to be a warm weekend! As I was still waiting for some parts to arrive for the 600 I was just going to be out on the Knight Road Racing Ducati. I hadn’t ridden a race bike since the final round of Thundersport last October and hadn’t ridden a Ducati (or any big twin cylinder bike for that matter) in anger ever, so it was going to be a learning weekend.
We met up with Alan Knight in the garage for the test day on Saturday morning. I had a sit on the bike and positioned the levers etc. I’d start the weekend on the 1198R and if all went to plan then I’d move onto the 1198RS, which was a different animal altogether. First impressions of the bike were good, it took a bit of dialling my brain into the bike initially, being so used to banging a bike down through the gears and hearing it squeal! Listening to the engine at what appeared to be tick over then cracking the throttle to receive immediate surging power from the mid-corner was a shock. After a couple of sessions I moved onto the RS after the lunch break, my first session ended early with an electrical fault. Over the winter Alan had fitted some new performance bits to the bike; swing arm, shock linkage, faster motor etc etc. The meeting was about getting some decent results, some signatures for my Mountain Course licence and setting the bike up. With the boost pack attached (with such high compression the on board battery wasn’t enough to turn the engine over) the bike boomed into life. It sounded like all hell was about to break loose, the exhaust thudding away and the clutch rattling its head off, I thought I was getting onto the doomsday machine!
My initial move with the bike was to pull the forks up flush into the yokes, I was finding that the bike wanted to fall on its side a bit too easily and I was having to catch it on its way into the turn. The next session started and the bike was a clear improvement in this area although was struggling to hold a tight line when into the throttle with too much pumping from the rear shock. Overnight Alan and I set the rear sag height and put a stronger rear spring in the rear. Qualifying went ok for me, the grip from the rear was loads better at the corner exit but the mid-corner was actually worse. I pressed on and ended up 13th on the grid.
Some more changes to the rear ride height overnight were in order. I was happy with how well the bike was turning but felt that with some more weight on the rear tyre it would get some heat into it sooner and give us that grip that we were searching for. Morning “warm up” wasn’t exactly very warming, with the ambient air temperature reading 1 degree c, half way down the back straight I couldn’t really feel my fingers. Normally at this time of day I’m heading off to work on my CG125 with the heated grips flat out. One piece vented race leathers aren’t exactly designed to be warm!
Race two on Sunday morning got started and I got away much better from the start line. Alan had suggested to get the clutch out as quick as possible and use the tall first gear (and brutal power) to drive it to the first corner. I still struggled for grip in the early stages but was happier with it. We were clearly going in the right direction. I pressed on and once again set my fastest time of the race on the final lap. The rear tyre was finally starting to look like it had done some work. Up to now it’d looked like I’d polished it instead of raced on it!
The bike was still an absolute wheelie monster. Lifting the front wheel in fifth gear down the start finish straight and was to the point of flipping between McLeans and Coppice in fourth. Id never ridden a bike with the same amount of stomp. We decided to move the wheelbase back hoping to eliminate this issue and also work the tyre harder. As it happened, chain length, available sprockets etc put the idea on ice so a further change to the ride height, tyre pressures etc was in order for the last race of the weekend.
My best start of the weekend followed and we had clearly got the bike further in the right direction. The nervousness from the rear was improving at every adjustment. It was coming into its own earlier and earlier in the race. A stoppage gave me another chance to adjust the rear compression and this minor change set us even more in the right direction. My fastest time of the weekend came on the final lap. Despite another 12th place finish this lap time put me on a par with the guys in 8th place, the distance to the leaders was coming down. The weather had cooled down even more for this last race, my time improved but the leader’s had deteriorated which was encouraging.
All in all a good weekend, the Ducati was excellent and full of potential. With some decent warm weather (the air temp didn’t break 6 degrees all weekend) and some further set up it will be an absolute flying machine. It was interesting to be involved with the bike’s development, get some laps in on a big bike again and gain those all important signatures. Huge thanks to the Knight Road Racing guys/girls for their help and the use of their bikes. Once again thanks go to Kemtile Hygienic Flooring without whom racing wouldn’t be possible for me at all.
The ZX6 is now in a much better position, with another week’s worth of evenings spent putting it together. I only need suspension and fairing to complete the project. This will be all sorted for my next outing at Oulton Park for the Wirral 100 meeting at the end of April.
Interestingly I will also be out on a minitwin at this meeting. Howard and John Tipping (not a skip hire company, just a father and son by the way!) have kindly supplied the use of their SV650 for the meeting. I’ve never ridden a minitwin on track before and it’s been a long time (8 years to be exact) since I raced a ZXR400 which had comparable power. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve scheduled to do the test day on the Friday before to get the engine run in on the 600 and hopefully a few laps on the minitwin. The Saturday’s racing will see me out in six races in total, it’s going to be a busy day!!!
As the winter still refuses to bugger off, preparation is well underway on the new ZX6. I now have the engine back from the tuner and into the frame. Currently my evenings are being spent fitting the rest of the performance bits onto the bike and it’s progressing nicely. The suspension has still not arrived from Ohlins so my first outing on the bike at Donington over Easter has been shelved. Although this is frustrating it’s not a huge issue as previously mentioned I’ll be riding for the Knight Road Racing team on their Ducati 1198RS at Donington. This will give me some much needed track time, having not ridden a race bike since the end of October last year. Riding to work on my CG125 in the snow hasn’t really kept me race sharp!
I’ve kept on top of my cycling as much as the weather would allow throughout the winter and managed to commute the 30 mile round trip, in general, at least once a week. This has kept me in pretty good shape, being the naturally competitive guy that I am I just can’t help myself from trying to beat my personal best time etc etc. Cycling into work in some chilly but bright conditions the other Saturday was quite pleasant; the journey home wasn’t anywhere near as enjoyable! Having been dry and bright all day some really heavy rain came in much earlier than the forecasts had predicted. Hearing the rain bouncing on the roof of the building knowing that it’s barely above 2 degrees outside and you’ve got nearly 50 minutes to spend cycling in the dark ahead didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm. Several colleagues offered me a lift home but I declined “How bad can it be, what’s the worst that could happen?” was my reply, macho image firmly intact! 5 minutes into the ride I was absolutely drenched – I generally only ride in a showerproof light jacket even on the coldest days as otherwise it’s just too hot! This gear isn’t exactly designed for a storm which Noah would be impressed by! I got home and stripped off at the door, inside so as not to scare the neighbours, every item of my clothes just slapped on the floor like a pair of soaking wet swimming trunks. I spent the next half an hour soaking in the bath trying to get warm. Although I was grinning at myself for being such a double hard b@stard!
Still on the Cycling theme, I’d booked a taster session at the Velodrome (doesn’t that sound like a good title for a Mad Max remake?). Having never ridden a fixed gear bike, ie without a freewheel, or a bike without brakes, or on a banked track I had no idea what to expect. Basically you book an hour on the track, renting a bike and shoes for under £15 which can’t be bad. The downside being that it was an early morning start having to be at the track for 7.40am. The session starts with the instructor giving the two golden rules, don’t stop pedalling (as the bike won’t) and don’t try and steer when on the shiny paint on the floor. That was pretty much it from a tutorial point of view. So off I went, riding on the banked track is one of those things that you struggle with for a few minutes and then once sorted you wonder how you could ever have made it look so difficult. I found myself initially trying to ride on the bank and just slowly drifting back onto the flat surface on the inside. A few laps in and I realized that you have to ignore your instinct to turn left, as in my mind the bank is a left turn, and just ride straight. Once this is sorted it’s pretty easy to get around without wiping everyone out who’s on the inside!
Another eye opener for me was controlling the speed of the bike on a “normal” bike, ie with brakes and a freewheel capability, to slow down you either brake or stop pedalling. With these fixed gear bikes stopping pedalling ends up with the rider getting thrown out of the seat and without brakes you just keep rolling until you ram into the guy in front. I had a few “Oh sh1t” moments in the early stages where I was catching up with a rider and didn’t want to go high on the banking to overtake due to my concerns that I’d not be able to stay up there. I’d then try and slow down, which sounds easy but when you’ve ridden bikes for 28 years which all operated in pretty much the same way, suddenly trying to teach yourself something different comes as a bit of a shock. It all went well though and pretty soon I was confidently riding around the track, planning ahead so that I didn’t ram anyone, and riding right at the top of the banking. It is a bit of a shock to, someone who’d never seen a banked track before, the angle of the bank is huge. Standing at the bottom and looking up it runs at, I guess, nearly 45 degrees to a height of around 25 feet. Riding at the top is actually really hard work too, as you are constantly having to climb up to the top and hold a decent pace so you don’t slide back down.
I rode around with Adam and James Robinson, who both raced in Thundersport GB last year. A big coincidence saw them at the track on the same session as me. They have both been working hard through the winter and have got quite into the cycling scene. I figured that I’d probably be able to learn quite a bit from them as they’d been a number of times before. It helped me no end, although the pace they were running was sometimes a bit too much like hard work for me! James and I ended up side by side for the final two laps of the session, both of us sprinting it out for the final lap. Obviously it wasn’t a race but I won by half a wheel junior!!! Although after 45 minutes of almost continuous riding then sprinting against a 16 year old for two laps I thought I was going to throw up on the slowing down lap. James was in slightly better shape than me at the finish I was gasping for breath! All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable day and good way to stay in shape over the winter. I’ll definitely go again, there is a process to go through various stages of accreditation, once I have time I’ll perhaps have a go at that. Jo, Ted and Ann came along to watch/laugh/support but after the initial shock of the size of the place it’s not really much of a spectator sport!! I guess watching a race event would be great though, it’d be a really good atmosphere inside.
So that’s my news, I’ll put a report on after Donington Park, after that my next meeting is the Wirral 100 event at Oulton Park in late April. Fingers crossed that the bike will finally be ready!
The ZX6 is well under way now and I should have the engine back at the weekend. Suspension parts and the steering damper have been a little delayed and may not arrive until the end of next week. This would only leave 4 working days to get the suspension fitted, bike finished and dyno set up before the Easter meeting at Donington. With me working full time also it means I’m a bit restricted on when I can take the bike/suspension to companies to sort these bits out. Time is running out!
With all this in mind I called on the Knight Road Racing Team. Charlotte and Alan have run immaculately turned out Ducatis since 2005. Their rider, my old mate Alex Heaton, has sustained a nasty shoulder injury in pre-season testing (get well soon Alex) so this left them at a loose end. The Knights were aware that I need some signatures on my licence to gain my Mountain Course Licence and offered the use of one of their bikes at the Donington meeting. This is great news as it will give me valuable track time before the TT on a competitive bike. It also takes the pressure off me to get the 600 sorted in a massive rush. Obviously if the bike comes together then I can get some set up time at Donington on that too but if not then I still have an entry in the Wirral 100 Meeting at Oulton Park in April.
So things are moving on, huge thanks to Knight Road Racing for their help. Please have a look at their website knightroadraceteam.co.uk. Having never ridden a Ducati in anger I’m really looking forward to getting a run out on a top bike. Apparently Ducatis are a motorcycle which only has two cylinders!!!
My second Trial of the winter was planned for early February but was cancelled due to the heavy snow which covered most of the country during the week. So we had a bit of a wait until Sunday 24th Feb and were back to Alvanley, Nr Frodsham for a Cheshire Youth Trial Club event. I dug out the trusty Beta Techo again, three kicks and it started. My slight lack of maintenance on the bike is almost embarrassing. Don’t get me wrong - I always wash and oil the bike after each event but aside from that I basically wait for something to break and then fix it! In a wave of enthusiasm I decided to check the gear oil just before the event started. This revealed a hopeless lack of lubricating fluid (oops!) so a dash to the trade van on site and a hasty oil change followed. 200cc came out and nearly 400cc went back in! Before signing on I had a walk down to check out the sections and decide which level of difficulty route I was going to tackle. 15 years ago, when I used to regularly compete, I got to the giddy heights of “intermediate” and rode in the hardest route. I’m not bad at trials but was never going to “make it”. In my come back I’ve only ever ridden in the middle route of three, but reckoned having had a few successful events that I could have a go at the hard route again.
So back to Sunday, I wandered down into the wood and walked a few of the marked sections, deciding that I was up for a challenge I was about ready to head back to the van and sign on. From the corner of my eye I spotted a couple of young (15 year old?) lads with walking gear on peering down into the valley where I was. “Oi” came a shout, to which I didn’t even raise an eyebrow, “Oi!” it came again. “Oi, what’s this?” – a final question from 30 yards away. At this point I decided that, as the adult in the situation, I needed to administer some correctional advice. “Oi?” I replied, “What the hell is that? Shall we start with Good Morning?!”. “Oh, sorry, good morning, what’s this?” came the apologetic reply. I went on to explain that there was a motorcycle trial about to start etc etc. On the walk back to the van I had to chuckle to myself what an old git I was turning into. Ten years ago it wouldn’t have bothered me that some kids addressed anyone in this fashion. Suddenly I find myself annoyed by rudeness, what’s happened to me?
So the trial got underway, it was fairly dry, the sections were on the whole tight and twisty. I was happy with how I was riding and seemed to be doing reasonably well considering the step up I’d made. I struggled with a section over some rocks, always a nemesis of mine. In the area where I grew up and rode trials, sections over rocks were a rare occurrence hence my issues over this terrain. Aside from that the event went well except, since the gearbox oil was now full, the Beta was smoking like an Aston in a James Bond movie. I reckon it’s got a leaking crank seal so will have to dig in and actually carry out some maintenance on the old girl. The results came out that evening to reveal that I was 6th (out of 12 in class) and dropped 28 marks. Not a bad result for a part time off roader.
After the trial, young Ted wanted to have a ride on his Oset electric trials bike, so we took him across to a quiet bit of the ground and he was happily riding up and down in the woods. With a little aid from me downhill – he’s still not great with the brakes – he was managing to get up and over a mound taller than his head in the finish. Going great guns and really enjoying himself. A young lad, who I later found out was eight years old, appeared on a Yamaha TY80. Ted and I pulled aside as the kid looked a little unsteady, his Dad was standing by but not right alongside him. Jo and Ann were stood about 20 feet from where Ted and I had parked up. The lad came up and over the same mound that Ted had been riding over, lost control at the top and headed straight for Jo. She put her hands out and braced herself against the handlebars stopping the TY80 at her feet with the front wheel between her legs. The rider, who was slightly out of his depth, was now sat on the bike with the clutch out and rear wheel turning, Jo was holding the bike from going anywhere. All of this happened in around a second, the kid panics and hits the throttle, the bike rears up, he falls off the back and Jo still sitting astride the front wheel gets lifted off the ground and thrown head first over the rear mudguard. Initially winded and shocked she stayed down for a good ten minutes, we were all concerned with her having a history of back problems that this could have aggravated something. Once to her feet we helped her back to the van and Ann gave her a lift home. Fortunately there doesn’t seem to be any lasting damage. Some healthy bruising to her left side and pulled muscles in her shoulder but we reckon she is going to survive. A pretty traumatic end to the day really! I told her that trials was loads safer than road racing, it appears that it is as long as you’re the one on the bike!!
Aside from this action preparation is going steady for the season. I’ve got the ZX6, have taken the engine out and sent it for a superstock tune to Mark Fisher of G&S Racing. This should be back in early March. The rest of the performance bits have arrived and are ready to fit, I just haven’t done it yet!! Ohlins suspension is due to arrive very shortly too so although the bike is basically a frame on wheels at the moment I’m not panicking yet. My first outing is planned for Thundersport GB over Easter weekend, so there’s still about 5 weeks to go! As my old mate Dave Hewson would say, what could possibly go wrong?
I’ve been keeping on top of my training, some indoor turbo training and the occasional venture out on the pushbike over the winter have kept me going. The weather is now starting to improve so I’m back up to around 100 miles a week, commuting, on the push bike again. This along with a winter watching what I’m eating sees me tipping the scales at 12 stone 2lb, which was pretty much my weight at birth too!
I’ll keep you all up to date and send some pictures as the bike takes shape.
Unfortunately the Frodsham trial was cancelled due to the bad weather. There is another one in a couple of weeks, 24th Feb, so I’ll update you all after that.
In preparation for the impending season, I picked up the ZX6 last Tuesday and have stripped the engine out already. I’m getting the engine to Mark Fisher (G&S Racing) this weekend for a simple superstock tune. Bits are starting to come together for the bike and I’m planning on my first outing at the Thundersport GB round at Donington Park on 31st March.
More generous support for 2013 has been confirmed, many thanks to the following:
GB Racing - www.gbracing.eu - will once again be supplying engine covers, stand bobbins, crash bungs and chain guards for the bike.
HEL Performance – helperformance.com - are supplying braided hoses. I’ve used these for a number of seasons now and am very pleased with the product.
Speedycom Performance Ltd – www.speedycom.co.uk - have again given support by way of increased discount on Bonamici rearsets and Techspec Gripster tank pads.
Please take some time to have a look at their products.
I’m delighted to announce generous support from the following companies for 2013, their help is greatly appreciated so please take some time to have a look at their products:
Torq Fitness – www.torqfitness.co.uk – have worked with athletes and sportsmen and women to develop a range of Performance Nutrition Products and are now a major player in the Sports Nutrition market. They will be supplying me with their energy drinks, bars and gels at a greatly reduced cost.
Knox Armour – www.knox-armour.co.uk - are world leaders in innovative impact protection and have an extensive range of award winning products. They will be supplying me with their state of the art Meta-Sys Back protector, Chest protector and Dry Inside performance base layer for upper and lower body. I’m happy to have them on board, having tested their back protector as much as I’d ever want to during my Anglesey crash in 2009!!
Many thanks to both companies – here’s to a successful 2013 season!