Saturday, 22nd March 2003
I suppose it’s fair to say that the season kicked off for me properly, as I threw a leg over a bike for the first time since my Supermoto debut back in December. Myself, Scotty and the chaps from Winona Racing had booked a day at the PowerSlide training school, on the grounds that
- We might learn something (unlikely)
- We could have a laugh (more likely)
- Someone would have an almighty accident (even more likely)
So, a fairly early start had me waiting in the car park at Kings Lynn speedway stadium by about 8:30am. 10 minutes later a large beaten up old Jaguar came hurtling though the car park gates, and the driver got it completely sideways on the gravel in an explosion of dust and stone chippings. “Ah” I thought “that will be Scotty arriving”. Sure enough, Scott and Ben emerged from the dust, and we went and signed in and waited for Andy and Jol to turn up.
First thing to do was getting kitted up. The boots were fairly standard issue motorcycle boots, as were the moto-X trousers. The steel slider for my left foot was a little strange though. On the top half of my body was a full set of T-pro body armour, and a moto-X shirt. I felt like an American football player with all that armour on. (It has to be said at this point that all the kit was in fabulous condition. My armour, shirt, lid and goggles were brand new. Which, as you will soon find out, is a bit of a shame really…)
So, looking like a set of extras for RoboCop, we ventured onto the track for our first bit of tuition. This looked simple enough. We were given some softly tuned 125cc moto-cross bikes with no brakes, and told to ride around a pair of cones, gradually getting on the gas harder and harder until the back started sliding away. Sounds easy? Well, actually, it was. The technique was pretty straightforward. Keep in 1st gear, approach the corner, and stamp on the back brake. Once the wheel locked, counter steer into the turn, stick a foot out, and gas it hard. The back came around, and off you went in the opposite direction. Hah. See that Garry McCoy? I could teach him a thing or two…
Part 2 was very similar to part one, only the cones were further apart, so I had the added complication of a gearchange to worry about. Still, the technique was broadly the same. Approach the cone in 2nd. At the last second stamp down into first, and counter steer as the wheel locked up. Weight forward, leg out, and hit the gas. Easy? Well, yes. So easy in fact that I got carried away and gracefully lowsided by getting on the gas a bit too early and hard. I picked the bike up, and did exactly the same thing next time around. Pillock.
And so to lesson 3. For this we were allowed out onto the short track, and told to repeat the previous exercise. Only this time the speeds would be higher, and the corners longer, so we should start to get a feel for holding onto a slide rather than just spinning the back around on the spot. The first attempt went rather well, but I wasn’t getting my weight far enough forward to really hang the back out. For the second go, I got out on track at the same time as Scotty.
With the benefit of hindsight, this could have been a bad move…
I shot out of the bottom corner in 2nd, got good grip, and lined up a pass on the inside into the top corner. I got into 3rd, and shifted my weight back to get a bit more traction. So far so good… Just as I reached the turn in point for the top corner I stamped it down a gear and threw the clutch away to get the thing to turn in. I just had time to think “bollocks” before hitting Scotty amidships. What had happened is that I’d found a false neutral, and had nowhere to go as Scotty turned in. Anyway, the next thing I really remember is thinking that now would be a very good time to hit the ejector button and dive off the back of the bike. Only I’d somehow managed to get my boot wedged under the handlebars as the bike went down. This normally wouldn’t be a major problem, but the other end of the bars hooked onto Scottys bike, and fixed resolutely there. So, Scotty went hurtling off the track (still upright to his credit) dragging my bike behind him, which was in turn dragging me along. I felt like the poor bastard in the Western films who gets dragged into the desert by a horse… I remember thinking that Scotty should really hit the brakes before my ankle snapped, but then remembered that the brakes had been taken off these bikes to make them more like speedway bikes. Excellent.
Eventually we came to a halt, I disentangled myself from the bike, and waved to the safety guys to say that I was OK. As for the lovely bike and new equipment I was wearing. Um, let’s not go into that… The bike was given to the mechanics, and we stopped for lunch. (I don’t suppose that anyone from the school will ever get to read this, but just in case, I’m really, really sorry. I’ll be more careful next time).
First lesson after lunch was the same drill, but this time on 125cc speedway bikes. This was a lot more fun that the motocrossers, as they were a lot more predictable once I’d got it sideways and spinning up. (It also has to be said here that they were powered by CG125 motors. I never thought I’d be scared to open the throttle on a CG125, but on a couple of occasions my brain was telling me to open the throttle to turn, while my instincts were telling me to close the throttle very, very quickly indeed. I once read that this process was akin to switching off your brain whilst slamming your arsehole firmly shut). Oh, did I mention that these bikes had no brakes at all? The way to get around a corner was to open the throttle hard to break traction, and throw it sideways while taking all your weight through your left leg. Acceleration was achieved by closing the throttle a bit to let the tyre hook up and drive again. To stop, you turned right and dragged the footpeg into the track.
Needless to say, I crashed. Quite a lot.
Next up, the 500cc methanol burning Jawa speedway bikes on the full oval. So, as well as having 5 times the power of the 125s, we now had a longer straight to get up to terminal velocity, and the runoff was a wall. There was 7 of us in our group sharing the bike, and we all shuffled our feet and mumbled a lot when the instructor said “Right then, who’s first?”. Discretion being the better part of valour, I pushed Ben forward while simultaneously taking a large step back myself. However, it was soon my go…
Well, I can only say that it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Yes, it was absolutely terrifying, but I guess that’s part of the thrill. A 500cc speedway bike is not a normal bike. The throttle response is instant. No delay between moving the throttle a millimetre and breaking traction at the back wheel. Conversely, coming off the corners was even more fun… Close the throttle a smidgeon, and get your weight well forward as the rear tyre hooks up and catapults you down the straight. I dunno how long the straights were (maybe 60 yds?) but the were over as soon as they began. Truly, this was one of the most impressive motorcycles I’ve ever ridden.
(I’m typing this up two days later, and still cannot walk properly, or lift my arms above my head. I’ve got bruises in places I never even knew existed. I think the fact that I’m actually able to type this up is due in no small part to the excellent T-Pro body armour that saved my bacon while I was being dragged up the track by my leg). (No, I’m not sponsored by them. But I’m happy to give the product a ringing endorsement).
On the ‘real’ racing front, Project Fast Hamster is now finished. Well, phase one is… I’ve managed to blag a set of Swarbrick pipes and a spare airbox to do a bit of development with.