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Frae O’er the Mount

My friend John lives in Eglinton. We let him out for the weekend to play with No Limits at Snetterton.

Eglinton is on the island of Ireland. Ireland bobs around in the Atlantic wind and rain like a stubborn sweetcorn floater, mostly cut off from the modern world. Much of Ireland is now firmly in the 19th century with all the associated mod cons such as indoor fires, but there are a few forgotten wastelands on the other side of the Limavady mountains that hark back to more neolithic times. Eglinton is one such place.

Eglinton children are born, often four to five at a time, with ears bigger than their torsos and huge hobbit feet, already armed with thick, hooked, yellowing toenails on hirsute, fat toes. (Childbirth in Eglinton really is something to behold.) From these grotesque offspring the adult community of Eglinton farm earwax and toe cheese on an industrial scale in order to feast every Sabbath on a dish not unlike omelette in appearance but with a gag-inducing pungency somewhat akin to a post-Anglesey Endurance Race arse crack.

Big John, fuelled by this unique diet, has grown into his ears and feet as he is now in his forties and stands well over six foot tall – so looks slightly less freakish than younger Eglintonians. But his presence is nonetheless unsettling for many English folk. His arrival in the obligatory rusty white Transit, belching plumes of diesel particulate, served only to amplify the concern in the paddock over the arrival of “one of them’uns”.

Big John, a classic example of ‘Eglinton man’.

John entered the Pirelli race but the elite of the paddock have no tolerance for the incomprehensible mountain folk and duly sent Joe Francis on a new BMW to run John off the track at the end of the back straight in race one. A pretty shitty welcome for our distant cousin, I thought. John’s weekend improved when Toni, having noticed his furrowed monobrow, took pity on him and found a space in the more welcoming community of clubman racers. Here he enjoyed two good races on Sunday before leaving for the last coffin ship to the homeland on Sunday night.

The thing John was most impressed with on his visit? The impressive length and girth of a Snetterton Sausage and the fact it was free food on Saturday night…

Eglinton Graphics Co.’s best work showcased on the BMW

As the No Limits paddock could do with a few more hairy trolls to fill the last few grid slots, I would recommend that NL race weekends at the likes of Croft and Anglesey are advertised in the Irish bike press if they are not already (Papyrus in now quite widely available in Ireland). Ireland is severely lacking in well organised, quality race meets – No Limits is another level for those guys and is just a ferry ride away.

The well oiled Irish racing machine in full flow.

“But what about your weekend Peter?” I hear you cry. Well..,

Let’s get endurance out of the way first. I entered the Pirelli Endurance race on Bridgestones. I’m a clown. No Limits were very good about it but it could have really ruined my team’s weekend and so I feel very bad about it. Bad de Zoo. Moving on…

The cap of shame.

Practice on Friday wasn’t great, I missed first session due to a leaking tyre valve and only worked out the right gearing in the last session – but was some way off pace based on previous races.

Race results ended up as follows:

 StartFinish 
 Overall Overall In ClassBest Time
Race 1161272.13.6
Race 213DNFDNF2.15.0
Race 3141262.13.4
Race 4131382.13.8

Race one was me finding some pace and slotting in somewhere around where I should be given the quality field of standard twin riders at Snett. It’s funny, when I am going straight to Endurance after a race I don’t take the time to process what happened in the race and by Monday can barely remember any details – it’s also the only race not on camera so I can’t remember much about it.

Race two was more eventful, I had a four lap battle to get past a supertwin and got myself to fifth in class when my bike cut out at the last corner on lap six. It had done the same thing once in testing, both times when I left my downshift uncomfortably late into the corner. The bike on both occasions was very hard to restart, so I ended up limping into pit lane and losing all points. One thing I have learned is that getting down about what could have been serves no healthy purpose so it was chin up and move on. Just need to diagnose the stalling issue and either change the way I’m riding the pizza bike or fix the fault.

Race three was great, I really enjoyed myself and was happy with my time. Good, hard race and a decent result.

Race four I pretty much lost out from the start, letting too many past in the first two corners and making life difficult for myself. If I’m honest, I think I wasn’t awake enough going to the grid – I just wasn’t feeling the race face and it told in the result. A long week at work, lots of laps in testing, solo and endurance, lots of sunshine and a few ciders had probably taken their toll. But I finished happy after some decent scraps and good clean fun.

All in all Snetterton was a great weekend. Ran smooth, no stoppages for us, good clean racing and a few points in the bag. Heidi looked after both myself and Eglinton Man very well being the wonderful wife she is and as usual it was great catching up with a lot of familiar faces in the paddock. Great to see Chris and the boys pop in too, here’s hoping Danny Shaw and the team have success at BSB Snett this weekend.

Next round is Cadwell, can’t wait!

Couldn’t find a photo of the scutineer – but he looks like Timothy Claypole…
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There is no (G)god.

Back when even more people than today were illiterate and uneducated, some of the more forward thinking cave-dwellers decided, whilst high from smoking massive dinosaur dung reefers, that it would be great sport if they could tell everyone what to do. In order to make this happen, it was concluded that either violence or authority would be effective. Assumed authority was deemed to be less effort and more scalable.

And so the concept of god was born. Convince people of the existence of an invisible but immortal, all-powerful and terrifying superior being and they will live in fear and obedience. Then convince those same people that you have been selected as that deity’s Chief of Communications and by golly, life just got fun.

Over the centuries clever men fine-tuned the story. Eternity in heaven or hell was a good foundation for driving the correct behaviours, along with apparent control over droughts, floods and pestilence. And so long as you keep the majority of the population out of the joke, you’re laughing. Also it is important to ensure that any children born of the believers are brainwashed from the day and hour they leave the amniotic sac to avoid problems further down the line. The only threats to this wonderful strategy? Education, literacy and efficient communication.

Today, we have democratic governments, we have the legal system, we have global communications and we have law enforcement bodies. We have mass education to a high standard, we have the scientific method to disprove the magic and literacy is the norm (outside of Facebook). It’s over. Science, law and education have replaced any need whatsoever for organised religion. And yet, every Sunday, legions of otherwise normal people don special outfits, drive to an ancient house of worship in their freshly cleaned cars and pretend to be good people in front of a man (or woman, but this is rare as god doesn’t like women so much) wearing ancient gowns and a dog collar. And what does the congregation gain from this weekly ritual? A sense of moral superiority. They get to believe that they have the right to decide what is morally right and what is morally wrong. And these people have arbitrarily decided that racing motorbikes at Oulton Park on a Sunday is wrong.

And the ridiculous thing? We – normal people with normal hobbies – have to obey them. This is the reason that we get a measly three practice sessions plus qualifying on Friday and two races Saturday when we visit Oulton Park. I felt it worth providing some context…

An uneventful drive (the best kind) to Oulton on Thursday evening and we were set up before it got dark in fine weather. Friday morning practice dawned bright and sunny, session one was frustrating as I was caught in traffic for most of it – it was my first outing on the little SV at Oulton and I was sure it should be fun but I just didn’t get going. Plus I snapped my DIY bracket for my GPS timer, which didn’t amuse me. Session two was great – open track and as expected the SV was a proper hoot round a circuit I always struggled with on the S1000rr. Probably my most enjoyable laps of Oulton to date but I didn’t capture a time due to the aforementioned bracket snapping. Session three and the rain came down heavy just as we headed out, I stayed out with maybe four others on dry tyres (and dark visor) just to see how it felt. As expected, it felt wet and slippery. Having said that the R11 treads being pushed by 72hp were certainly better than slicks trying to push 200hp onto the tarmac.

The rain mentioned above didn’t stop. At all. In fact at points it reached biblical proportions. Until we drove home on Saturday evening. It was relentless and the track was soaked from Friday lunch time until Saturday night. The one benefit is it does away with any deliberations on tyre choice and any last minute wheel changes, plus there are many worse tracks to ride in the rain than Oulton.

Qualifying was at 4pm and I felt confident I would do ok on the smaller bike on wets. I popped in a clear visor, slapped a Pinlock in to stop misting and headed out. Whoosh – as if some invisible hand of god had wrapped a scarf over my eyes, I couldn’t see a damn thing – my visor misted between the pinlock and the visor. The only way it can clear is of its own accord, so I wobbled round peering out of the 1cm gap at the top of my visor I could see through. There was no option to pit – with only a short qualifying and knowing it would take minutes to get degloved, lid off and hoke out the visor insert I had to just suck it up. 27th on grid for race one. Let’s just say I wasn’t great company for the next hour or two (sorry Heidi!).

Look carefully and you can see the one clear spot at the top middle. That was my view of Oulton.

A chat with Danny on the phone for some advice and after a trawl of t’internet I set about a clinical sterile reinstall of a new pinlock on a new Arai clear visor ready for Saturday. Did everything to the letter and looked forward to race one when I would carve my way through to the front like a scalpel. But someone had other ideas.

Never knowingly classy

Friday evening and me and Missus de Zoo wandered through the paddock and had a couple of scoops before falling asleep to the purr of a thousand generators – completely forgetting to get scrutineered. At 7am I trudged to Technical Control to ask for even more time in the rain in the form of 8.45am emergency practice – something I have avoided until now but I had to sort out the visor issues. In emergency practice the visor was better, misting in one corner but being generally ok so we decided to run with it in race one. I then skulked off to scrutineering full of apologies and nodded sagely as the little beardy man delighted in his opportunity to condemn my late appearance. I’m sure passing judgement on my tardiness made his weekend so I was happy to let him play god. Come to think of it – he looked a little bit like the lord himself, only less impressive than I would expect an immortal, all-powerful deity to appear. Maybe it was the oversized boilersuit…

Overnight leather drying

I was ready to race after a delayed start on Saturday morning but before leaving the awning the new visor started to mist inside. I wasn’t prepared to risk it in a race so I ripped out the pinlock and headed out with a standard, untreated visor. During the race it would be fine one minute then I’d be blind the next, as the laps went by I realised it was parts of the track where I was holding my breath and then letting it out – so heading into the trees after the tricky Knickerbrook I was blind every lap. I tried to regulate my breathing and use the straights to try to clear the visor but it was a compromise and I couldn’t settle into a decent pace. Started 27th, finished 18th but with lap times of 2.15 I was some way off the pace. Not happy. 9th in class.

Can not see…

John, Laura, Amy, Danny, Steph, Travis and Olivia had all come to see us – it was great to catch up and very much appreciated. But a special thank you to John who at one point muttered about how old fashioned Fairy Liquid always worked for him. Remembering that this is exactly what I used to do on my road bike, I gave it a go – smearing the inside of the visor with the mild green liquid and polishing it off again. Perfect! No misting whatsoever in race two in the afternoon. Started 20th, finished 11th. I was only 8th in class, but I properly enjoyed myself. The second half of the race saw me open a 14 second gap to the man behind but with a similar gap from me to the guys I wanted to beat all I wanted was to know I was lapping something close to the guys in front. Sure enough my 2.09 laps were in line with the guys finishing 3-7th in my class, so I know I am competitive in the wet. Finally a decent run round in the rain and reassurance that it was mostly the visor issues holding me back.

Biggest frustration? That there were not two more races for me to try to redeem myself. I would have started 6th in class for the non-existent race 3 and my starts had been good. But god moves in mysterious ways and it wasn’t to be. Regardless, due to DNFs and no-shows I have moved from 6th to 4th in class despite my woes.

Special Bonus Adverse Weather Product Review Section:

GOOD:

  • Held HRD waterproof suit – bloody brilliant. Easy in/out, waterproof and you don’t know you are wearing it
  • Surf & Turf awning – rock solid when many lesser awnings were collapsing
  • Rola-Trac flooring – bone dry floor while water flows underneath
  • Mild Green Fairy Liquid – it might not be the best stuff to put on plastic visors but it did the job

POOR

  • Arai RX-7V visor with pinlock 120. It doesn’t work for the conditions we had
Held Wet Race Jacket

All in all a disappointing weekend given the results of the races before and the fact my friends had come to watch me, but these things are sent to try us. The rain didn’t ruin my weekend, it just added challenges and my kit just wasn’t up to the job.

Sunday – drying day…

If nothing else, I think what we have established is that if there is a god (there isn’t), then he clearly doesn’t like me being at Oulton Park, period.

Thanks to all those mentioned above for your support, always very much valued.

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The Anglesey Poo-Poo Train

There are certain things in life which I consider as guaranteed, taken for granted. The sky is blue, Triumphs break down, Toni is abusive and you face the crapper door when dropping the kids off at the pool.

It upsets my world when the certainties can no longer be relied upon. Such was the case on Friday when settling in for the first of my early morning donations to the Anglesey paddock log collection. Upon entering the only unoccupied trap in the row, I was confronted with a world at 90 degrees to the norm. The disconcertingly warm porcelain throne was sideways. Being a gentleman of open mind and full bowel I went with it, but in the following moments of contemplation it dawned on me that not only was I pushing yesterday’s heavily-processed Burger King in the direction of the man behind, but someone in front was also evacuating their innards towards me.

I was on the Anglesey poo-poo train and what a rollercoaster ride it was going to be!

Anglesey can be a cruel mistress if she’s in foul form. On my last visit I nearly lost my fiance over a cliff, attached to a semi-erect 3 metre square surf and turf awning in a gale, like a horror version of Mary Poppins tumbling into the Irish Sea. We survived that but I smashed myself into the corkscrew on a cold tyre the next morning fracturing my scapula and forcing Heidi to drive us the 5 hours home again. We were hoping for a better experience this time, happily it was.

This didn’t happen. But as Alex James wasn’t there I have to make shit up.

Arriving after ten o’clock on Thursday evening due to a delightful one hour addition to the five hour journey, we set up near the train station ready for practice day. I skipped session one in the morning in order to get properly set up and to conserve tyres – I was on wrecked rubber but wanted to avoid putting new rubber on for practice day. The weather was glorious and I had a world of fun on the little SV, gaining confidence, fine tuning gearing and finally scrubbing in a front on the last session ready for qualifying in the morning. Saturday would be a busy day with solo and endurance qualifying back to back, and a solo race immediately before our three hour endurance. The Iron Maidens ladies race team had asked for a stand-in as they had only one 600 rider, so I volunteered as track time on the twin, on a great little circuit like Anglesey Coastal, would be invaluable experience.

Qualifying went much better than anticipated, landing first in class and eleventh overall. Given my normally dire qualifying performances, I was pretty shocked happy with that. My happiness changed to frustration when I went straight back out to endurance qualifying and knocked another 1.5 seconds off my time which would have had me around seventh overall in solo, but it was good to know I had it in me.

Solo race one and my start was a weak one. The SV runs out of first gear very quickly and with no quickshifter, it isn’t what you might call elegant getting into second. But I pushed on and regained my positions ending a very enjoyable race eighth overall and first in class. Yep – first. As in – win a trophy. I didn’t have much time to think about it as we were rushing to get started for endurance, although someone coming off in the warm up lap sent us all back to the garages and shortened the race (back carriage of the Anglesey Express for you, whoever you are).

Endurance was great, my team mate has a great attitude, a slick riding style and she is definitely keen on continual improvement. Her other half has a huge depth of knowledge of bikes and riding them so was there to support Pam and I on the pit wall along with Heidi. We worked well together and in the end split the laps almost exactly 50/50. The twin wasn’t the roadblock I feared and whilst the top guys whipped past, the not so top guys couldn’t always get me off their tail despite a 100hp+ deficit. Great fun and good to get some real miles under my belt on the twin. We found a small oil leak at the end which had me a little worried for Sunday, but we had some free time Sunday morning to sort that and replace the tyres which had done over 100 laps.

100 laps later

Waking at 5am, I didn’t get the rest I had hoped for on Saturday night – the celebratory cider and American Hard Gums were not sitting pretty so I went for an early morning run around the railroad before getting to work on the SV. Oil leak sorted, tyres swapped, brakes bled, surfaces polished and breakfast consumed, we waited for racing.

Waiting. My what a lot of waiting there was on Sunday. I won’t make light of what was a very difficult day for the organisers (Saturday wasn’t plain sailing either), a series of accidents meant priority was the wellbeing of injured riders. Seeing the air ambulance make repeat visits to your circuit on one weekend is never good. I just hope they all make a full and speedy recovery.

When we finally got to track, I only went and bleeding won again?! From a nosebleed-inducing 8th on the grid, I fought back from another weak start for another big plastic first-place trophy and finished 8th overall. So the first one wasn’t a fluke?!

Race three and Richard Childs who had been keeping a lot of pressure on me in the first two races recovered well from a missed corner mid-race to make a good pass half a lap from the flag – I couldn’t find a pass back and followed him across the line. Second place for me and a weekend best Standard twin time of 1.17.2.

Race four was a disappointment. On a tight left at the end of the straight on lap one, the gap I was going for became a Ducati and grabbing a handful of brake when leant over on lap one inevitably dumped me on my head. Lucky not to be collected by everyone else (and lucky not to have taken out the Ducati), the bike and I were both well enough to ride back to pits. Another wrecked helmet, some sore ribs and a bent gear lever was the only damage. I came away pleased with myself that I was now fighting harder for track position, reviewing the footage I think it was what they call a ‘racing incident’. I also lost out on the best Standard twin lap of the weekend when Childs put in a 1.16.6, the Standard twin final race win went to Jackson in the end.

Bit close, maybe
Hiya!

Takeaways from the weekend? Apart from my lifelong understanding of regulatory cubicle layout being unceremoniously shattered, I come away thinking that my experience of racing over the last few years really helped my weekend. A cool head, a more strategic approach than ‘lunge everywhere’ and an understanding of race distance all helped me. The bike just works, I am delighted with it. I really can’t fault it at the moment. The crash was definitely just ‘one of those things’ and I don’t think there is much to be learned from it. It is great being in the paddock again with all the familiar faces, it really is a genuinely friendly place to be. One new experience was being spied on. An old fella was on his hands and knees outside my awning staring at my bike, I said hello and he barely acknowledged me. He moved around for a few different views, then off he went. It was only later I realised he was with one of my competitors. Just ask next time chap, eh?

70 points in the bag, three ornaments for the house and some bruised innards to take home, that’s what I regard as a good weekend.

My first solo win could only ever be dedicated to one person. A believer from the start and loyal to the end, a man who – on the day his Dad was waking up to do a 21 mile run – woke and immediately asked “Is Peter Pan racing today Daddy?”. First win dedicated to you Travis Shaw.

Huge thanks for the scores of people who have given my wins a ‘like’ or a kind comment, it really means a lot. It wouldn’t have happened without Heidi’s support and she is now taking on pit wall duties as well as all the other things she does to enable me to race. Best wife ever.

So onwards now with a new spring in my step. I can win things. Time to start strutting the paddock in socks, sliders and shades like the winner I am.

Peter the Chicken fucking Dinner.

This didn’t happen.
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My First Trackday

I popped along to a No Limits trackday at Mallory Park on Easter Monday because I prefer internal combustion engines to the Lord Jesus Christ. I went on my own because the few friends I have all ride ‘big’ bikes and are therefore scared of corners.

My newfound love of riding wholly inappropriate small-engined v-twins has opened up the wonderful world of crappy little race tracks to me, so my tick list of UK tracks can now get longer.

Simples

Whilst there a couple of things made me smile. Firstly, my setup was ridiculously easy/simple despite not being in a garage. Paddock stands, genny, a table and a chair and off we go! Secondly a fellow rider came over and said,”You look like a very organised fellow, would you have a cable tie I could have please?” at which point I invited him into my van to choose one of four sizes of cable tie from my cable tie drawer. Oh and as I drove out, a novice rider pulled in from the track pumping the air with his fist, as I watched on his mates ran round and bowed before his newly scuffed knee slider.

The boat

These things made me smile because they just reminded me of the journey I have been on. Like everyone I started biking on a wrecked RM125 in a barley stubble field as a yoof. By the time I moved to England I was on a TL1000R but as soon as I moved, with associated increase in wealth, I wanted my dream bike – an Aprilia 2002 RSV1000R. I got one of the last ones for sale new in 2003 and promptly booked on a road trip to Folembray, France to do my first trackday with RSVR.net. We rode across, me knowing nobody, and I spent a day on track and made it home safely. Quite an experience and that was that – I came home knowing I needed more time on track.

My dream bike with its dancing shoes on

The TLR which had been gathering dust in the garage was tracked and over the coming years the Aprilia was used, then a KTM SM950, a K7 GSXR750, the BMW S1000rr and most lately an SV650. I was a cautious rider, took a while to venture out of novice and spent an eternity in inters. I didn’t crash apart from a spill in the wet at Rockingham on the TLR. To this day, as anyone who has checked out my race results will know, I am best described as ‘steady’ – although my crash tally has rocketed spectacularly.

Silly, but fun, SM950

I think back to just how big a deal a trackday was in my early days – days of planning, fretting over what critical part of the gear would be forgotten, stressing about garages and all the hassle of bike trailers and parking them outside Holiday Inns in dodgy areas. Trackdays were booked weeks in advance. The thrill of losing the chicken strips, the endless search for the first knee down, the first session on wets, the tall tales of daring-do in the pub afterwards and the unshakeable certainty that we were experts and trail blazers.

The GSXR750 – the most reassuring track bike ever

Now I look on and smile at the riders for whom this is all new. I listen as they have the same conversations, celebrate the same firsts. With the move to racing, much of the buzz of trackdays is gone, they become a romantic past life when everything was simple and you just rode round and round. No need for awnings, for flooring, for ground bars and folding tables, for caravans, for six spare wheels and a dozen tyres, for tyre changing kit, for three gerry cans of petrol and two tool boxes, for ten sprockets and two chains, for fluid transfer, for GPS timers, for Sprinter vans and sticky numbers and pit boards and disability and life insurance. The contrast provided by Mallory on Monday was all the more dramatic as I had spent Saturday and Sunday in the BSB paddock with Danny, a whole new level of complexity (and cost).

S1000rr on its first track outing at Portimao, 2010

I have to say it was nice to just rock up, set out the bike, enjoy some laps in the sun and be packed up within 15 minutes. UK trackdays have their place and it is where we all cut our teeth – yes there will be disaster days with endless red flags, rain, running out of ambulances, oil spills – but when you get a good day they are worth the effort (actually Mallory had all of those apart from rain and was still a great day). Whilst trackdays might have seemed like a big event back in my early biking days they are all the more enjoyable now for their relative simplicity and lack of pressure. The basic, nimble SV650 and a little track like Mallory just makes everything all the more straightforward. Good, clean fun and where else in this world of Elf and Safe-ity would you get to launch yourself at the scenery for £150?

For the record, my tick box so far:

UK:
Anglesey (Coastal and International)
Mallory
Pembrey
Oulton
Cadwell
Donington (Full and National)
Silverstone (National and GP)
Brands (Indy and GP)
Snetterton (Old and new)
Rockingham (Both)

Europe:
Portimao x 4
Guadix
Folembray
Hungaroring
Jerez
Aragon x 2
Almeria x 2
Andalucia
Valencia
Cartagena x 2

More organised then than I am now… my old checklist
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Race Report

Baltic Giggles

Cadwell Park, Lincolnshire.
April 2019.
Snow.

Let’s start with a brief appraisal for those with limited time:

What was great:

  • The bike.
  • The racing.
  • Not falling off.
  • The new awning.

What was not great:

  • The weather.
  • Toddington services.

The weekend started on Thursday evening as my loyal crew chief and I tried to leave home for Cadwell. Our phones kicked off around 4pm with all sorts of issues in work and having been delayed by this, the first part of the journey was then spent taking it in turns to make more work calls. It put in the time, I suppose. Or some of it. It’s a long old haul to Cadwell after a day’s work, we landed dead on ten o’clock and starting setting up.

A sense of things to come dawned on me 30 minutes in when my fingers gave up all pretence of functioning in conjunction with my little opposable thumbs and became as useful as arm-turnips. We eventually got things together and battened down the hatches to defrost in our trusty old caravan (freshly cleaned after winter and looking as glorious as an old caravan can).

Beautiful Wobblebox what keeps us warm

Next morning and there was frost on the grass for test day. Whilst I didn’t ride at Round One (Dony), I was there as crew and witnessed the carnage of cold tyres on downhill lefts and so was in no hurry to join the trend. I sat the first session out and watched the recovery trucks kick into action, hauling back the mangled bikes from the Gooseneck – the first left-hand bend after half a circuit’s worth of rights. A number of race weekends ended prematurely that morning.

So out we went for session two. I’m on my SV650, built over the winter by me for the Standard Twins series. I hadn’t ridden it up until this point, it only having come off the dyno on Tuesday evening. I’m used to 200hp with fat-mother slick rubber and brakes that ripple tarmac. Now I’m on 72hp, with road tyres and brakes as effective as small wet sponges applied half-heartedly by a Kardashian while she waits for her nails to dry.

The first thing that struck me is how hard it is to know what gear you are in. They all sound the same (BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA), I’m not even sure how many there are and none of them appear to provide any sort of verifiable forward propulsion, so you only really know if you’re in the wrong one when your face hits the screen or the bikes starts juddering towards a stall. Oh and that screen – it finishes somewhere close to my throat, so to even see the rev counter (never mind tuck behind the screen) I need to push myself right back up the very steep seat unit, dislocate a couple of vertebrae and squeeze. And it became quite obvious that heavy braking isn’t a thing on the SV. You might do ‘heavy lever squeezing’, but that’s not the same thing.

As the day went on things became a little more familiar and I recalibrated to deal with the new types of ‘acceleration’ and ‘braking’ (apostrophes denoting me wiggling two fingers of each hand in the air in disgust). By the end of the day (one session shorter than the actual end as my toes had gone blue) things felt a bit more familiar. A change of gearing made a big difference, the suspension remained untouched as I couldn’t identify anything particularly wrong other than perhaps a slow turn in.

I should like to respectfully mention at this point that sharing test day with Newcomer 600 is not really my thing. This was most obvious when after a red flag they released us onto track in one group. There is nothing to gain and everything to lose from fairing bashing corner after corner when your pace is equal to an old man on his first outing on a motorcycle designed for shopping.

Race Day. First up, qualifying. I went out towards the front and didn’t get bothered by traffic, but with no reference I put in a very average time – 19th on grid. Blagh.

Race one, our only race on Saturday. A crappy start on a bitterly cold but dry track, I realised as I lined up I had no idea how to launch the gutless twin so I gave it my best shot. Lost a few places, gained a couple back, but the racing was close, safe, respectful but competitive. You forget what you are riding once the red light goes out and I had a proper good time. Anyway finished 19th overall (we race with super-twins, Ducatis and CB500s), 10th in class. Could do better.

Saturday afternoon we strolled round the circuit while endurance was on and had a couple of ciders, then bumped into Stocky’s better half in the bar who showed me a video of Stocky self-harming which I won’t forget for a long time – those who know, know… Then we had a quiet night and plenty of rest for Sunday. My how times have changed…

What would you like to drink sir?
Er – what have you got in yellow and black?

Up Sunday and we had a relaxed morning waiting for the next race at 10.30, it might even have been slightly less freezing than the previous two mornings – that or I was becoming acclimated to ‘the north’. Too relaxed was I, because as I stood chewing the fat with Liam who popped by I forgot to check my tyre pressures on my new rear. As I went to track I’m thinking, “I meant to take that sticker off”, then it dawned on me that it wasn’t me that changed the tyre and so it was running on whatever Mr Tyre Man had left in it. But I decided to run with it and see. 44 psi was what we measured after the race and the R11 didn’t put a foot wrong – I’m starting to realise that these things are not quite as sensitive to rubber as the big bike. Started 20th finished 14th overall, 7th in class. This was more like it.

Third race was similar, great racing with the same few names – started 15th finished 13th and 7th overall again. Fourth race, same few that I was dicing with but we got stuck behind a Ducati and I came off worst of four bikes squabbling over 7th-10th places. A 10th in class to finish, 15th overall from a 15th place start.

I have to say that by the end of Sunday I was properly loving racing the wee twin. It’s really close racing, the bikes are all much of a muchness (at least the ones I was riding close to) and the competition is great – bit of shoulder rubbing here and there but nobody is trying to kill anyone and the bikes are not hand grenades ready to launch you into oblivion at the slightest provocation. The bike is actually pretty effective when you use it right (and I am only starting to explore the potential), it can carry some serious corner speed and just loves being kept on full gas everywhere – I just have to overcome my tendency to throttle off. I am really looking forward to Anglesey now to get back on, I think it’ll be a great track for the little bike too. And the main thing is – I’m having fun racing bikes again!

Whether it be bikes or gennys, proud to be in the Quiet Club

Given that this was my first race bike build and I did most of it myself, I was pretty pleased that it passed scrutineering, worked all weekend and indeed proved fairly effective despite inexperienced handling. No dramas, it just worked fine. Chuffed. Apart, that is, from when the noise tester asked me to start the already running engine and then proceeded to declare my bike the first electric Suzuki they had tested. The shame.

Big thanks go to Dynotech as ever for getting it race ready and to Larry at Illusion Race Paint for a last minute paint job to get me looking respectable. And as always, biggest thanks to my long-suffering wife who travelled with me, cooked for me, kept me company, did my paddock stands and froze together with me on that Lincolnshire hillside.

Great to see Dave & Izzy G and Liam N pop by to say ‘Hello’ and I hope the news on Geordie is good after his spill.

PS – one thing did dawn on me at Cadwell. Quite inadvertently, I seem to have colour co-ordinated much of my biking gear. Isn’t that extraordinary? I mean, who knew??

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Here goes nothing…

Here we are just a few hours away from the SV650’s first laps of a circuit.

I bought the bike at some point last year and had intended to do the race conversion over Christmas. I wasn’t well, got distracted building a home brewery and then couldn’t be arsed, a lethal combination, so everything has ended up being last minute. In fact worse than last minute because I missed round one at Dony, but having seen the carnage I’m not too bothered about that.

Cadwell this weekend and the bike is mechanically fully fit save for the absence of a steering damper. I’m relying on it being tame enough not to need one but there is one on order anyways. She has been dynoed with the addition of a Power Commander sorting out some terrible fuelling and I am now happy to report a healthy standard lump.

Aesthetically, well it’s together but missing some paint and some graphics, but I’m less tarty these days than I once was. She’ll do for now.

On Friday we will find out what isn’t fastened properly, if/how the thing works and just how weird it will feel to try to make a slow thing go fast – but I’m looking forward to the challenge. It is my bike and apart from Dynotech doing the tuning, making up custom hoses and fitting the chain, it’s all my own work – that makes it feel a bit more personal. While the BMW was all specified and paid for by me, it’s a more complicated and sensitive beast so I’ve had to defer much of the build to much cleverer people than me. With the SV, well it’s old fashioned wiring and basic engineering – all the more satisfying.

Main bolt-ons are K-Tech boingy bits front and rear, M4 exhaust, BB Racing battery box and subframes, Power Commander, eBay rearsets, Goodrich hoses and some bling sticky-outy-bits from Woodcraft US. Brembo discs and pads should help us stop a little faster too. HyperPro steering damper arrives next week.

As for the experience of riding it? I’ll let you know on Monday. One thing is for sure…

It will be different.

I must take this opportunity to say a huge thanks to Illusion Race Paint who did me a real favour to save me the shame of riding with unpainted fairings. Great job as always despite being run off his feet – thanks a million Larry.

Also a big shout out to Dynotech who as ever work to completely unreasonable notice periods and deadlines to deliver engineering perfection on every occasion. It is no exaggeration to say that I probably wouldn’t be bothered with racing if I didn’t have them – their expertise and approach to their work takes away so much stress from trying to maintain a bike.

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It’s been a while…

Hasn’t it just?!

The last time I flopped my flabby torso on a decent sized bike, discounting riding a Ducati round a paddock, was in February 2018 in Jerez. To put that into context, that is the longest I have gone without riding on track since probably 2005. Ouch.

Thankfully the drought is over. Originally the plan was to travel to Almeria with both the BMW S1krr and the newly built SV650 stocker. Except it isn’t newly built. It simply isn’t built. It is unbuilt.

And so off I went to Almeria with just me and ole faithful primed with the same full tank of Spanish blue petrol, engine oil and grubby filter as it came back from Jerez with in 2018 (oh the shame). We went with Track Sense, a favourite Euro TDO who take a small group and piggy back on Bike Promotion trackdays, a huge German outfit. TS are very relaxed but at the same time very professional with the best documentation and communication of any TDO. And they treat you like grown ups.

The obligatory stillage shot…

Now it is fair to say that my last foray round Almeria probably wasn’t my finest hour. It was seven years ago and the Beemer was still a bit overwhelming for me. The technical nature of Almeria left me scratching my head last time and with me using silly road gearing I don’t think I really found my rhythm at all – so I have always wanted to come back and learn to enjoy the circuit. So this was it – rusty rider with an unkempt bike at a bogey circuit. What could go wrong?

I should at this point explain that our trip to Almeria was a little more than the typical jaunt. Apart from the sheer luxury of having a second stillage to carry ‘stuff’ in given that the SV race bike was vapourware, we also paid a little extra to have unfettered access to Andalucia as well. Until recently this was a circuit well worth ignoring but it has been re-imagined and is a wonderful track in its own right. Add to that the benefit of essentially sharing the paddock with Almeria and you have a whole new concept – two tracks in one holiday without moving garages. But it gets better – because opening up a link which cuts out one corner on each circuit, you combine two circuits into one 9 kilometer rollercoaster! So for day one and the first sessions on day two and three we had our choice of circuits on each session and the last two sessions on days two and three were on the combined circuit.

Bumblebee and associated Bumblebee-coloured items.

So how was Mr Rustyarse? Well not too terrible actually. After a lap the bike felt familiar and I was happy to just get on with learning Andalucia. Which is a bugger of a track to learn your way round. It has seemingly endless blind crests and hidden apexes and it wasn’t until third session that I had any confidence to commit to most of the corners. But the more I put into it the more I enjoyed it and I found myself wanting to ignore Almeria. I knew I had to get out on it, because it is half of the combined circuit and that would be ruined if I only knew half of it. So at the end of day one I ventured out on Almeria. Hated it. Bits of it felt vaguely familiar but only in so much as ‘oh yes I remember hating this bit’.

Day two and I was loving Andalucia, but decided I needed help on Almeria. Danny Webb offered his services but couldn’t take me until day three, so I had another crack myself and it wasn’t so bad. When they had the two combined sessions, things started to come together and well, what a lap! It has everything and having over four minutes between seeing the same thing again just keeps the mind totally engaged. Amazing.

I was getting mildly frustrated at this point because while I was loving the circuit, I was stuck at a certain pace and I knew I could do a lot more. My old sparring partner Blue is usually a good reference – he gets to pace quicker than I do but I can usually get up to his speed or thereabouts so seeing him leave me for dust told me I wasn’t back to my old self. Then I spent a session with Wee Danny Webb (what a gent!) and apart from really helping my lines round Almeria, he also described something to me in a whole new way which I had not considered before. The next session I went back to Andalucia and dropped eight seconds off my PB. Bingo Bango!

Briefing Danny…

So all that was left was two sessions on the full circuit and I absolutely loved it. New riding style, new confidence, new pace. Incredible circuit with very little traffic and blazing sunshine. The day ended with everyone very, very happy. I was well pleased that the muscles that ached at the end of day one no longer ached and I felt strong if a bit exhausted due to the heat. The bike performed as she always did, no spills, no red flags… We got to watch Danny Webb and Scott Redding do their stuff in between session which is always inspiring.

FInal session, Day 3. If you get bored, skip right to the end to watch Phil’s reaction to me nearly crashing into his bike…

One thing I learned on this trip is the importance of garage location selection. Let me demonstrate:

On one side, we have one end of the spectrum, Mr Blue – a downright shambles on a good day:

And on the other, we have our Phil – Mary Poppins reincarnated:

This was our group, mostly miscreants from Northern Ireland. Couple of fast boys at that table…

We even managed to sneak in a wee bit of culture…

The only complaints I heard were from people who had only booked one circuit. Both circuits are so technical that you can’t ride them at any sort of pace until you know them so the combined laps were not enjoyed by those who only knew one half. The moral of this is pay the extra £130 and get access to both for three days – it is daft not to.

We elected to stay in town instead of with the great unwashed who stayed at a golf resort – which is apparently great but we like to get out of an evening. Very glad we did, we were right in the middle of town and surrounded by proper tapas bars. We enjoyed great food and beer every evening and all within 5 minutes of our hotel so once anyone hit the wall, they could limp back and collapse into their pit.

Great company with Phil, Blue and the crowd from Norn Iron, great organisation by Track Sense, amazing circuits, no crashes, one red flagged session – everyone got something significant out of it.

One of the best Euros I have been on and I’ve done a few!

TAPAS!
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