New beginnings

Wednesday, 5th January

As with last season, I cannot afford to compete in all the bemsee rounds this year. However, unlike last season, I’m not going to put myself in loads of debt in an effort to do so. With this in mind, I’ve decided to concentrate on racing at the following:

Round Date Venue
3 1-Apr-2000 Snetterton
6 6-May-2000 Cadwell
7 7-May-2000 Cadwell
8 28-May-2000 Brands Hatch (GP)
9 29-May-2000 Brands Hatch (GP)
10 10-Jun-2000 Oulton
11 17-Jun-2000 Snetterton
15 12-Aug-2000 Cadwell
16 19-Aug-2000 Snetterton
17 2-Sep-2000 Brands Hatch

Part of the deal with Taymars is that I can get a couple of freebie rent-a-racer rides during the year, so I may well do a couple of other rounds on an LC or maybe even a TZR for fun. Mallory on 23rd July looks like a good candidate for this.

And, my first expenditure of the new season has occurred:

Cost so far:
Clean and repair of leathers: £50

I think this is an absolute bargain. They’ve seen two seasons of rain, snow(!), and extreme heat. I’ve slung them down the track a few times, and all I’ve damaged is the Crowtree logo on the right arm.

Oh, and some more good news… I’ve got myself a job at uunet as a systems engineer, so I can actually pay for all this stuff now.

Friday, 7th January

Spoke to Paul Grubb, who’s currently rebuilding my new bike, and it looks like I’ll be picking it up next weekend.

Monday, 10th January

More good news! As with last year, bemsee are running a moped race, and I’ve secured a ride on the Taymar entry. My team mates will be Charlie Blackmore and Ken Mair, both of whom I’ve enjoyed banging fairings with this year in the TZR/LC class.

Friday, 14th January

Well, I suppose I’d better actually pay for my new bike at some point, so…

Cost so far:
One lightly used TZ250: £2500

This is so cheap as to be almost criminal. For that 2.5K I get a well sorted TZ250, 3 sets tyres (worth about 450 quid) a spare set of wheels and discs (about 500) ‘some’ new bodywork, a pair of tyre warmers (about 200 quid) and a box full of spares. Oh, and the thing has just been to Maidstone Motoliner to ensure that everything is straight. Which I think is worth another £100 or so. My original plans to collect is this weekend have been scuppered, so I’ll be popping down there next weekend to pick it up.

Saturday, 22nd January

The annual hypothermia-fest generally known as the bemsee moped race kicked off this year race season at Lydden today. The weather for most of the previous week had been chilly, but clear and dry. Of course, for saturday this had deteriorated to high winds, rain, and hail at times. Not that I could tell at 5:30am as I hit the road in James’ van (ta J) as it was still dark. After the usual M11-M25-M2 tedium Lydden arrived to greet me at about 8:30, and I had a quick doze…

My team mates for the day were to be Paul Grubb (250 God) and Ken Mair (LC lunatic) and we were to be riding a bike supplied by Taymar Racing. (This is the first time I’ve ever ridden a bike provided by someone else, and I must say, it did feel nice. I played this to the full after practise, saying things like “I think the brake pads need bedding in” and such nonsense when handing the bike back to it’s owner). Anyway, the bike flew through scrooting as expected. In fact, the scroot seemed thoroughly pleased that we had two brakes that worked, and commented that this was better than about 50% of the opposition.

Ken and I tossed a coin to see who was to ride first. I lost, so got on the bike and pottered onto the sodden Lydden tarmac. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, tuck in. Zzzzzzzzzz. Oh. Here’s Pilgrims… Bang it into 4th, wibble around (at this point it felt like the bike had 18 foot forks and I was just chasing the front wheel in a vague direction) and emerge onto the straight. Back into 5th. Zzzzz. Wa-hey! Here comes the elbow. Into 4th, lob it in, bounce around, and up the hill. Luckily we were only using the short circuit, so as soon as the elbow was dealt with it was into 3rd for the hairpin, and wait for the suspension to tie itself in knots as I hauled the little bastard from left to right. Exit the hairpin, into 4th, and flat out around Paddock. Emerge onto the straight, into top, and fall asleep again…. While we weren’t the fastest thing out there, we certainly weren’t the slowest, and oddly enough, the handling seemed to be amongst the best out there, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

The Big Race…
The plan was for Grubbie to run the first 30 mins, me to take over, then Ken to take over from me before repeating the whole cycle to last the required 3 hours. It was to be a Le Mans start (!) and our devestating factory rider Grubbie was at least 30 yards clear by the first corner. Sadly he was 30 yds clear at the back due to complete inability to push start a moped. Paul, if you ever read this, don’t ever take a go at the singles class. Anyway, after a couple of laps he really got his head on, and started carving through the field like a blunt knife through butter. Backwards. Slowly. Such are the trials of moped racing that most passing moves have to be planned about 5 laps in advance.
Anyway, by the time we got to my go, the track was completely dry, and we were in about 10th place. I jumped on the ‘ped and shot back onto the track. Snooze my way along the straight, then noted that as it was completely dry I could just hold top flat all the way around Pilgrims and Chessons. Yee-hah! Passing people was a complete hoot, due to the widely differing speeds and rider abilities of the people out there. Most of the time it was a case of just driving past them and using the awesome 50mph top speed of the factory bike. Occasionally I’d come across a fast step thru – these were top fun. The best method appeared to be to just follow them into a corner and wait and see what happened when the tyre grip overwhelmed the crap suspension. And, on one glorious occastion I came across a quick rider on a fast AR50, and spent about 7 laps passing and re-passing each other before I made a clean break with an enthusiastic passing manoevure on 5 slower bikes at the elbow. (Looks like those years spent racing with TZRs and LCs are paying off). However, all too soon my 30 mins were over, and I had to had the bike to Ken. I had elevated us to 7th place, and we were on the same lap as 6th and 5th. This was looking good.
Ken rode in the way that only an LC rider can, and by the time his half hour had finished we were in 5th. He handed to bike to Grubbie, and instantly the heavens opened. Snow, hail, and a force 8 gale (yes, it really was… The weather was so crap I sat in the van and got the shipping forecast. A special mention was made for Dover to expect a force 8 ‘imminent’). Anyway, the squall passed, Paul got us into 4th place, and before I knew it, it was my go again.
My tactic was simple. Just ride as though it was still dry. This worked everywhere except Chessons where there was some oil (which I found strange, as there were no sidecars around) where I had to knock it off a bit. I had my race head on, and soon began hunting down the 3rd place man, passing him into the elbow, then lapping him a few laps later before my 30 mins were up.
Ken took the bike for the last session, and my advice on handing the bike over was “Just nail it. It’s still pretty grippy out there”. By the time the session was over, Ken had put another 3 laps between us and 4th. Sadly the two leaders were 9 laps clear, so unless they wiped each other out, there was no way we could elevate our position. The winners were on 203 laps, we got 194 and 4th place was 190.

2013 Postscript: I dug up this photo, which I think came from Jim Gillespie:
A rare and cherished photo of me taking a podium on a factory bike. It’s all glamour, this motorcycle racing business. Notice also the pin-sharp focus on the wheels and the way the background has been frozen. This was achieved with a 12 second shutter speed.

3rd place, and my first Trophy of the season, year, decade, century and even millenium. We also got some cash, which went straight to Martin Taylor for the abuse we’d heaped on his bike for the past three hours.


However, the days activities weren’t over yet… I’d arranged with Paul to pick up my new TZ today, so when the racing had ended we went to his van, unloaded one TZ, and an enormous load of spares into my van. Oh, and Paul also came up with a brank new pair of slicks and bag of spare footrest hangers and pegs for “about a hundred and fifty quid”. I don’t have the cash right now (I haven’t been paid yet) but as soon as I am, I’ll be writing out another large cheque.

Cost so far:
Lydden race entry: £40
Fuel for van: £40
Front stand: £45
Spare set of TZ250 wheels and discs: £500
Tyres and bits: £150

Oh. I forgot to mention the wheels. TZ250 wheels, I have been assured, are as common as rocking horse poo. So, I’ve taken this opportunity to pick up Pauls spare pair for 500 quid.

I drove home a very tired, but happy bunny.

Sunday, 23rd January

As can only be expected, I spent most of the day in the garage looking at the TZ, and making lists of what needs doing etc. etc. The first job was to re-mount the R/H exhaust pipe, as it was fouling the swinging arm at full suspension extension. “Easy” thought I, as I heated up the mounting bracket and mugged it with the trusty rubber mallet. Re-fitted it (in 15 seconds flat! On the TZR whipping the pipes off was a major hassle), stood back and admired my handiwork. The call to spanner for Valentino Rossi must surely be only a matter of time. In fact, I can’t understand why HRC didn’t call me when I was out of work.

It was about this time I realised that the exhaust was now clouting the rear tyre. Bollocks.

And this little episode taught me loads about TZs. Working on them is easy, as everything is designed to be stripped down quickly and easily. However, they are put together with very tight tolerances, and you can’t just hit things with mallets and expect everything to fit together nicely again. However, after a little thought as to how it all fitted together I’d calculated that the footrest hanger was bent, which was causing the exhaust about half inch out of it’s proper position. Also, one of the welds was a bit chunky, and needed grinding down slightly. Once this was sorted, everything went back together perfectly.

And so to the fairing… Oh gawd. The bikes previous rider, Lee Saunders, was reknowned for either setting the fastest lap of the race, or leaving the bike gently steaming in the gravel in the attempt. The owner before, Roger Ford is known to several hundred people as ‘Crasher Ford’. So, the fairing is basically shafted. Finances dictate that I’ll need to try and patch it up rather than buy a new one. I definately need a new screen though, as at present it doesn’t have one at all.

The steering damper has also seen far better days, so at present I’ve stuck on a lovely WP one that I borrowed from Dave Green about 6 months ago. Let’s just hope he doesn’t need it soon. To be fair, Paul mentioned this to me yesterday, and said he’d try and get hold of a new one for me.

The gear shift also needed inverting, as for the time being I’m reverting it to ‘normal’ 1 down gearing. I may try and invert the gearing on the ZXR to race pattern to get used to it, but if I can’t I’ll stick with the road pattern on both bikes. The gear lever is a little sloppy, but then so are my gearchanges, so I’m not that bothered.

I’ve also got to modify the (non standard) radiator to clear the power jet on the carb for the front cylinder. I have a feeling that this modification may once more involve the large rubber mallet, and already I’m looking forward to it…

Shopping list:
Oil filler cap

And that’s it. Yes, I could do with a new fairing, but I’ll patch up what I’ve got. I’ll concentrate instead on making sure the bike goes and stops properly before worrying about the cosmetics.

Saturday, 29th January

Another week spent in the garage has added the following items to the shopping list:

Shopping list:

I sorted the oil filler cap with an old one from an AR50 courtesy of those fine chaps at Cambridge Motorcycles. The bodywork is rather tatty, but seeing as I’ll probably only crash it anyway I’ll just give it a quick rub down and re-spray so at least the bike is presentable. The seat unit appeared to be held on with an assorted collection of old Whitworth plumbing fixings, so they’ve been replaced with some nice stainless allen bolts I had kicking around, and I also replaced all the dzus fasteners on the fairing, as they were fairly tired. I have a feeling that one of the fork seals may be weeping slightly, but after reading the workshop manual it appears that the replacement of the seals is a job for a specialist.

Cost so far:
Lydden practise: £65
Snetterton race entry: £75
Cadwell race entry: £120
Brands race entry: £180
Oulton race entry: £90
Snetterton race entry: £75
Cadwell race entry: £75
Snetterton race entry: £75
Brands race entry: £90

Friday, 4th February

Off to the road race show at Ally Pally to meet up with a few people and try and pick up the necessary bits and pieces. As always, I could have quite easily spent an absolute fortune had I not had a rather worrying conversation with my bank manager yesterday.

Cost so far:
Chain: £39
Screen: £20
Gloves: £30

And that’s it – I’m ready to race, once I’ve got my hands on some Avgas. I’m having major problems finding a source willing to sell me any. I know it’s a bit of a long shot, but if anyone reading this knows of a source in the Cambridge area I’d be most interested to hear from you.

Sunday, 6th February

Spent a few hours in the garage spraying the number plate on the front of the fairing. Normally this would be a reasonably easy job, but the state of the thing made the whole process a bit of a trial. However, after a couple of hours of sanding, priming, sanding again etc. etc. and a few coats of black paint it actually looks pretty good. I’m rather chuffed with myself in fact.

Tuesday, 8th February

The new ACU 2000 handbook turned up today. Careful reading revealed that the regulations have changed for the 250 class this year, and front number plates are now to be green.


Wednesday, 9th February

Cost so far:
Tyre fitting and wheel balance: £15
Primer, paint and laquer: £15

Thursday, 10th February

At last, I’ve found somewhere to sell me avgas. I’d tried calling several airfields in the area, with very little success (particularly my first effort:
“Hello. Can you tell me if you sell avgas?”
“No. Never heard of it.”
“Sometimes called 100LL.”
“Still never heard of it.”
“You are an airfield?”
“Oh yes.”
“OK. Thanks anyway. Bye.”
I pondered on the logic of an airfield that did not sell aviation fuel, until I noted that it was the Peterborough and Spalding Gliding Club that I’d called). Anyway, A small airfield near Ipswich came up trumps, and are willing to sell the stuff.

Saturday, 12th February

Resprayed the number plate green as per the new ACU regs. I must admit, I’m getting very tetchy now, and just want to get out and ride the bike. I can’t think of anything else now that needs doing, although I’m sure I’ll find something to fiddle with and break in the next couple of weeks.

Off track, things are also getting a bit hectic… I’ve just finished printing off the application forms for this years TZR Tour, so that will be taking up a fair bit of my time next year. I’ve also taken over the running of the bemsee web site and there’s loads of work to do there too. And on top of all that, I’m still desperately seeking sponsorship, and that takes more time.
I do wonder sometimes exactly what I’d do with my spare time if I wasn’t racing. One thing is certain though – I wouldn’t enjoy it half as much.

Monday, 21st February

Well, even if I’ve been rather quiet for the past couple of weeks I’ve still been busy… Firstly fitting the engine in my mate Andy’s TZR, then helping get the R6s of Team Mojo. prepared. All top fun.

Cost so far:
Towbar: £95
Snetterton practise: £80
Oulton practise: £45
Cadwell practise: £32

If you think the Oulton and Cadwell practise sessions are cheap, you’re right. Both are track days organised by friends, and I’m getting a cheap rate as I’ve agreed to do some instructing on the day to help out.

Thursday, 24th February

Drove over to James’ to load the TZ into the back of his van for transport to Lydden for Saturdays practise session. Normally we’d travel down together, but I’ve agreed to help out my old mate Scotty by giving him a lift to the circuit on Saturday morning. What should have been an easy procedure was made somewhat more challenging my the advanced state of drunkenness of James when it came to loading up the bike.

Friday, 25th February

Drove to London in the evening to meet up with Scott and kip over at his place. It’s a sure sign that we’re both taking things a little more seriously this year, as we were out of the pub by 8:15pm in order to stay sober and rested ready for tomorrows practise. I don’t mind admitting here that I was feeling very, very nervous. Tomorrow would go one of three ways:

  • End in a big bill and a possible hospital visit
  • Realise that I’m crap at riding bikes, and have just made an expensive mistake
  • One of the best days of my life

Being of a mathematical nature, it seemed to me that odds of 33.3% aren’t that good, and even if things appeared to be heading in the general direction of option 3, option 1 could still put in a late bit for the final outcome.


I slept badly.

Saturday, 26th February

The day started well, with an early drive to Lydden to get there for 8am and meet up with everyone from last year, and a few new faces around the paddock. After the normal breakfast of tea and bacon rolls I sauntered over to ‘camp TZ’, home of Roger Ford and Rik Ballerini and installed myself there for the day. The wisdom of this decision became immediately obvious when Rogers mechanic, Dunc, promptly started poking bits of my bit and saying things like “oooh. I wouldn’t go out with that like that” etc. etc. Once we were reasonably confident that things were OK, it was time to start the bike for the first time… Surprisingly, seeing as it had stood for the best part of two months, it started and ran pretty quickly. Very quickly in fact, as for some reason it was ticking over at 4000 rpm. This is a Very Bad Thing for a bike which is designed not to have a tickover at all. Whilst I faffed around getting in the way and wondering about gearing and stuff, Dunc stripped the bike to its component parts, re-routed the throttle cables, checked the carb synchronisation, re-routed the powervalve cables, tidied up the electrics and even had time to drink tea. In doing all this we missed the first couple of sessions.
I clambered into my leathers, and started getting ready to ride the bike for the first time. I was about to fulfil a long-held ambition, to ride a GP bike. Was I nervous? Is the pope a catholic?
The tyre warmers were removed, and I climbed onto the bike, hooked second, and whipped the clutch in. Dunc pushed me off (well, I suppose it’s preferable to being pulled off) and with a whiff of throttle the bike fired up, and I sat in the collecting area, visibly shaking. The marshal waved us out onto the circuit, and I embarked on possibly my slowest ever lap of Lydden, just feeling my way around the bike. One thing was immediately obvious – the brakes were massively strong. I pottered round for three laps, short shifting, just trying to feel how the bike would react to my input. Eventually I came out of paddock in third, and nailed it. What happened next is still a bit of a blur, but the tacho flew round unfeasibly quickly, I hooked fourth, and held on… Arriving at Pilgrims some 20mph faster than I’ve ever done before presented my overwhelmed brain with another dilemma. How to lose that much speed before crashing? The answer was obvious, and I grabbed the brake for all I was worth. This time it was my bodys turn to be overwhelmed as my arms buckled under the strain. I stopped so quickly that despite the unexpectedly high entry speed, I ended up having to drop 2 gears and accelerate into the corner.
Another teething trouble soon raised its head though – the already vicious powerband was being exacerbated by an inability to take full throttle from 8-10000 revs, so I had to try and juggle the throttle in the middle of the powerband. Eventually I realised that this would end in a painful experience, so I pulled into the paddock. For once, I diagnosed the problem correctly first time – The choke cables were fouling, and holding the chokes on. Dunc disconnected them, and we went out again.

This time, the throttle response was a pure, perfect, unadulterated two- stroke rasp. Third gear wheelies? Off the throttle? Unless I had my weight well forward these were not optional. The exit of the hairpin was just so much fun. Hook second, nail it, and pick the front up while still well cranked over. Lap, after lap, after lap. With perfect predictability. I was still only scratching at the surface of the handling abilities, but was already comfortably quicker than the majority of other bikes out there. At which point I was rapidly brought back down to earth by Roger and Rik lapping me in close succession.
Point noted: The bike was flattering me into thinking I was quick.
In fact, I’d guess that I was only running at about 75% of the bikes capability.
After 15 mins the chequered flag came out, and I headed back to the paddock for lunch. While I was stuffing myself on bacon sarnies, Dunc came to the rescue yet again, and re-routed the choke cables properly, lockwired everything perfectly, mixed up some more fuel, and filled the tank.

After lunch, we went out again for another three sessions. More of the same ensued, with my complete astonishment everytime I rode the thing. I’m honestly finding it difficult to describe just how capable the bike is, and how exhiliarating it is to ride. Midway through the third session though and I had to call it a day. My arms had been battered so much by the ferocity of the braking that I could no longer feel my fingers, and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. I’d rather take the bike home in one big piece.

I cannot think of a way to sum up the day. Superlatives have failed me. I’ll just say that buying the TZ is probably the best decision I’ve ever made (unless Faye reads this, in which case it comes a close second to getting married).

Cost so far:
Oulton practise: £80
Race fuel: £55
Tyres & spares: £150 (Sorry it was late Paul)