Thursday, 29 September 2011

Harley Davidson Soars

A great article on Harleys...

Harley Davidson Soars

Mick Phillips on the monsters from Milwaukee…

Rain. Lots of rain. At night. Soaked through, 50-​​odd miles from my destin­ation and on a lonely road in the middle of bleak West Country moorland. My headlamp was pointing anywhere but at the road, mainly because it was off another bike and had been hastily lashed between the yokes with bungees, because three hours earlier the Harley-​​Davidson Sportster I was riding had vibrated its own bulb to pieces just as I’d left home. As road trips go, this was bad and I was proper fed up.
Then came the electric shocks…
That was over 20 years ago, but my first decent ride on a Harley-​​Davidson is still painfully fresh in my memory. It coloured the way I thought about all Harleys for more than a decade. OK, so I loved the look of some of the old models, and I still reckon that one of the most handsome engines ever made is a Knucklehead, like a motor turned inside out, all tubes and bosses and chunks of sculpted alloy. And of course having seen On Any Sunday I, like millions of others, couldn’t help being struck by the brutal beauty of a bucking, sliding XR750 flat tracker (below) in the hands of the majestic Mert Lawwill. But XR750s, even today, are rare beasts in Britain.
As for the stuff I rode though the ’90s – and I rode most of the then current models – well, it was like climbing onto a fairground ride in a provincial town. Waltzer-​​gaudy behemoths that shook the money from your pockets and wouldn’t stop when you felt sick and wanted to get off. Massive heavy things, under-​​powered and under-​​braked that made the dodgems feel like finely honed sports cars. Harley fans told me I didn’t get it. No I didn’t, and I didn’t want to either.
Then in 2002 something extraordinary happened. The Harley From Mars landed on Earth. The VRSCA V-​​Rod (above) dropped among us like a spaceship. Here was proof that the blokes in Milwaukee had not only heard of liquid cooling, overhead camshafts and effective braking, but had engin­eered it into one of their bikes. The V-​​Rod managed to mix contem­porary with custom with tradition with performance. And it does perform. I took an early one out for a blast in 2001 and when I gave it a fistful and felt 115bhp through my low-​​slung backside I laughed out loud, tickled to be so surprised.

Then 2008 finally brought something that echoed Mert Lawwill’s XR750. In the XR1200 (above), Milwaukee has given us a Harley suited to roads with those pesky things called bends. The styling reflects the dirt oval’s most successful race bike and has helped to boost an already growing interest in all things flat track. It’s a bike that combines the rorty chug of the old-​​style air-​​cooled pushrod V– twin with a feel that’s sportier than any street Harley before it.
Oh Mr Davidson, you’re spoiling us.
So do I get Harleys now? Well, I suppose I do, but then there’s more to get these days. But also, and you might call this age, I do find something comforting about, in the case of almost the whole Harley-​​Davidson range, a relat­ively basic motor­cycle shame­lessly showcasing proven old technology. Living history, you might call it. But then so is Bruce Forsyth, though I know what I’d rather be riding.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Manx Knobs

Capt. Fletcher Casement's
Fairly Famous
Humbugs of distinction - to inspire and sustain pioneers
of the commercial world, scholastic institutions and the
hard-working public generally
A gift to enhance domestic harmony and promote
excellence of temper
May be eaten day or night, in all weathers

Monday, 19 September 2011

Flattrackin - GNC Final at Rye House

The last round of the ShorttrackUK Grand National Championship was held at Rye House on Saturday night.

Things didn't start out too well when the bike refused to idle in the assembly area before practice. I got her going and out onto the track... bimbled up to and into the first turn. She revved suddenly mid turn, spinning the back around and forcing me to lay her down. WTF?

Wicked action pic from Steve Baldock - Thanks Steve!
The meeting was already running late and by the time I'd checked things back in the paddock, practice was over. Great!

Managed to get the bike kinda idling by running her on the choke. Not ideal, but she seemed to rev cleanly. Must be some dirt (or some garage floor garbage... ahem!) in the jets of the carb. The gear lever was bent about 2 inches out of place... of course I forgot my spares box again. Made the gear-change tricky... but maneagable. Soon it was time for my first heat of the evening in the Shorttrack class. I'm drawn on the front row... with zero laps practice... in a race... perhaps not a good scenario.

Soon to be Thunderbike Champ Anthony Brown tells how it's done
Onto the grid, revs rise, the start-tape shoots up and I get off the line. I get out of turn 2 okay and gun it down to turn 3 with Ade Collins just ahead. Lightly on the rear brake... get slide on... all going swimmingly. Hmmmm... mabe a bit too fast... shouldda mabe done a lap out here before trying to keep up with the Shorttrack National Champ... "Clunk!" I tag his back wheel. I almost go down, but save it by picking the bike up and running wide into the thick stuff towards boards.

First heat turn 1 action
Thanks Steve Baldock for the pic
I'm headed for the boards and try get the bike turned. Too late.. I lay the bike down and slide to a halt on my side. My left leg trapped between the front wheel and the engine. I scramble out from under the bike, pick it up and restart as the pack pelts me in its roost. I check over my shoulder for oncoming bikes when I see two other bikes down behind me. Alan Birtwhistle is one of them and he's stuck under the bikes, half-under the boards.
Guto Llywellan and Geoff Cain in the Co-Built garage
I kill the bike, lean it up against the fence and help the marshal and others get Alan out from under the boards. He's okay, his bike is okay. He must have been on my outside when I went straight on. Haven't even done a lap yet and I've already bitten the dust twice! What a muppet!

We go around for the restart. As I approach the grid, I'm shown to the penalty start box "You didn't think you'd get away with that one!" I'm told. Doh! Sorry guys...

Guto's Husaberg engine was having it's last race meeting

We restart. Without the first lap congestion I'm up to the man at the back within a lap and I pick off a few places as I get some practice in. Despite the offs I'm feeling fast... but I'm a bit raggedy. Shorttrack heat 1 done and not in last place :-) Into the paddock for a quick drink and I'm out one race later in the first Thunderbike heat.

I make a good start but struggle a bit to find consistency going into the corners as I explore just how fast one can go. I make some passes and get up to 3rd before going way too deep on turn 3 and losing a whole bunch of places. I make up one or two of these places before the chequered flag. I take a short rest and calm myself down before the next Shorttrack heat. I'm drawn at the back so I use it as practice to get my speed and consistency right. I still manage to not finish last.

Guy Southerland gives us his race face
Next Thunderbike heat and I'm drawn on the front row. I get to the front but soon the Italian ace (great cook and stand-up guy) Jacopi Monti blasts past me. I go to school. In the last few laps I hang onto the back of Jacopo and learn a lot. Points in the bag.

I do quite well in the next Shorttrack heat, mixing it with a few of the lads on the lighter Shorttrack bikes. In the last Thunderbike heat I make a good start and grab some places. Lap 2 and I'm behind RedMax Steve on his beautifully turned out single speed Norton. I draw level him down the back straight and slide on though at the entry of turn 3. I get my sights on the bike in 2nd place just ahead. Red flags. Darn! I was having a good run.

Rider's briefing: "We all know what we are doing..." I was too busy taking a pic!
I slow down and see three bikes and riders on the ground at turn 3... Steve is stuck under his bike and struggling. "Shit!" - thinking that I might have been the cause of the crash. I stop and prop the bike up, hoping that I can help in some way. Steve is in a lot pain. Another rider is flat on his back with a face full of dirt. Steve has hurt his left arm and ankle bady and has to leave the track in an ambulance. That sucks.

The race is restarted. I get another great start and work my way up to 4th. I think of going for 3rd, but after the 2 offs and Steve's crash I decide just to hang back and make sure of reaching the final.

Wayne Drake's podium finishing thunderbike is for sale...
I got enough points Shorttrack to start 10th in one of the Shorttrack Semi-finals - only the second time I've made the semis :-) There are 4 of us Thunderbikes on the back row. It's a good, fun race and we're all pretty close at the back - I'm working on consistency and conserving my energy for the Thunderbike final.

I qualify 6th for the Thunderbike final and slot into the middle row with Steve Coles on my right and Pete Wilky on my right. For the first time that night I don't get a good start. It's okay... but not good. Steve has drawn clear and Wilky is a foot ahead by the time we get to turn 1. As I'm about to get a little slide on and turn her in, Pete vere's accross from my left... completely the opposite way I expected him to go. We touch and our handle-bars clatter together. Next thing I'm half-off the bike... and just along for the ride...

In between heat dinner at Trattoria Monti! Jacopo is a great cook!
I see night sky, lights, feel myself hitting the dirt and being hit by a bike (or two!)... not necessarily in that order. I feel my body grinding into the dirt in a mess of bikes, wheels and handle-bars... feels like a bike hits me and then something big and soft like another rider. It seems to last about ten times longer than it actually did but I eventually stop tumbling with all that hardware and there is silence.

Next thing I know I've scrambled to my feet and am on my haunches, about to stand up. Fight or flight! I see the clay moving beneath my feet and my vision is dancing with a thousand sparkles. I know if I stand up I'll just fall over again. I can't hear anymore bikes - I must be safe... so I just haunch there on one knee watching the sparkles on the clay and breathe.
Welted and skinned!
I move my toes, feet, legs, fingers, hands, arms, torso. It's all working. But there is pain. I see pairs of boots around me. A paramedic fills my vision as I look up. "Are you hurt?", "I don't think I'm hurt... but I'm fuckin' hurting!". "Where does it hurt?" I go through the movements again... "My left leg, lower and upper, my right knee, left elbow..." I raise my right hand and show him my graunched glove, "...and my pinkie". I dare not tell him about the stars... I want to get back on the bike and do this race... 

My mouth tastes of puke... I almost threw up some great pasta from Monti's Trattoria during the impact. That's a first for me. I just stay there on my haunches for a minute or two. Breathing, feeling. The body parts all seem to be working and the stars I was seeing fade. I slowly stand up, helped out by another rider. I move about. Fuck! That hurts! I look around: there is a huge puddle of petrol a few metres away and I see Dave Arnold limping, being helped to his bike... other riders trying to start it. "How's my bike?" I ask.

Plum colored Popeye!

"Gear lever is off." Shit. I couldn't really move about so wouldn't have been much good in the race anyway. They manage to get Dave's bike started and he makes the restart as I wheel my bike off the clay. Turns out Wilky was rammed into me, his bike got a hole through the tank and he couldn't restart either. He was a bit bashed up too... but okay. We watch Jacopo win the race and Anthony Brown finish 4th to take the 2011 GNC Thunderbike Championship on his Co-Built. Well done Anthony!

Another great action shot from the lens of Steve Baldock
A disappointing finish to the season, but I scraped enough points together to finish okay in the final standings. Today I feel like I've been run over by a herd of big, mean and angry Cape buffalo. But thankfully just bruises and contusions. RedMax Steve fared far worse with 4 breaks just below the shoulder joint and a broken leg just above the ankle. He was rear ended after I went past. Get well soon Steve!

Steve in the wars again having just recovered from 2 broken collarbones in the last year

Here's a great vid of the evening's racing... my silly second off is in there...

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Choking, Garbage, Soup and Rye House

The other night I prepped the flattracker for the final round of the ShorttrackUK Grand National Championship at Rye House. I struggled to start the beast up. When idling, she just choked and died with any throttle... black, fuel smelling smoke coming out the exhaust. "Shit, she's drowning." Check this, check that... troubleshoot. Next thing to check is the carb. Not too keen on taking it apart as I wouldn't know a carb's ass from it's elbow.

Air-cleaner off... "Aha!" "You little bastard."

I had forgotten the plastic garbage I had stuffed down the inlet pipe to stop water when cleaning her last. Must be this soup of post-Manx depression I've been swimming in lately. Doh! Garbage gone and she started and ran sweet! :-)

Looking forward to saturday night's racing. There are 3 of us currently tied in 6th in the Thunderbike Championship. It's pretty crowded mid-table so it's all to play for!

Looking for a good result to drag me out of this depressed state of mind...

Saturday, 3 September 2011

ManxGP 2011 - Day 14 - The Big One - Senior Race

Woke up to rain, got our shit together and headed to the garage to pick up the bike, fuel, tools etc. We were in the Day Paddock by 08h00 when it stopped raining. Candy through skrootineering, into Parc Firme, under a cover and tyres warmers on. The 10h15 start is delayed 30 mins... this flies by and pretty soon were doing final checks and warming the bike up in Parc Firme.
Lap 1 into the Cregg Ny Baa
Wet an damp roads all round the Isle... not quite what we'd hoped for... but at least it wasn't raining. We wait for the first rider on the road to scream down to St Ninians before wheeling Candy up onto Glencrutchery Road and taking our place in the start line. Focus. There is a gap in the numbers ahead of me (a few not making the start line) and I have to wait 40 seconds after the rider in front has set off. Great... a good clear road.

Parc Firme fuel top-up
I get the 10 second signal. Starters hand on my shoulder. Revs rise. The flag drops at the same time as he taps my shoulder and I get away cleanly with a little wheelie. After getting the 'flat out till the left after Ago's right in practice, I'm disappointed that I have to roll the throttle through St Ninians and down Bray Hill because of the wet. Tip-toe through Quarterbridge, Braddan Bridge and Union Mills where it's not as wet and then flat-out.

Ale, Me and the old war horse Candy... She was the oldest bike out in the Senior and in her 4th Manx GP
I take it cautiously through the wet sections and nailing it as if in the dry through the damp sections. I'd only managed 3 laps of practice on Candy and hadn't ridden her in nearly ten days. But with the great work done by Dave at Evo Moto, she pulls like she's never done before. I think part of my lack of top speed on her in previous years was the clutch slip. The run onto Sulby straight was wet and taken real easy, despite this she knocks out her fastest yet through the speed trap - 157mph.

View up pit-lane... pit crews filling the fuel bowsers

She's handling well too - the chopper/razor compromise is spot-on. She shakes her head when she weelies over the big bumps and get's air over the fast jumps. Nothing major... I make a mental note to wind the steering damper in a few clicks during the pit stop. It's wet and a bit hairy over the mountain... but we take it smooth and steady... already catching riders that started a minute ahead of us.

Lining up on Glencrutchery Road
The driest part of the track is the last section, the usually slimy Governor's Dip. Back onto Glencrutchery Road and down Bray Hill again for lap 2. Feeling comfortable in the poor conditions, I pick up the pace as dry patches and lines start appearing. Still very wet through Glen Helen... but mostly dry all the way through to Quarry Bends. We get the hammer down where we can and Candy is singing in her Vee Twin barritone "Brrraaaaaaaaaap" all the way.

Hammering past the pits and grandstand into lap 2
Onto the mountain and I catch my mate Neil Vicars who started ahead of me. He's not enjoying the conditions as I fly past on one of the fast, wet bends. I just "make a rhythm" and concentrate on being smooth. Faster as the conditions improve. Pretty soon I'm slowing up and hurrying down pit lane at 30mph (speed limit in pit-lane with time penalties for infringement) for the pit-stop. I see Graham, and stop infornt of him, hit the kill switch and sit up so he can get the fuel cap.

Defuelling and packing up while the race is still being run
"There's no fuel cap!" He exclaims. I look down at the tank and see a big hole where the fuel cap should be.  I get that sinking feeling just as my visor goes dark as the visor cleaner foam Alex has just sprayed on is doing it's work on the bug carcases. I just open my arms to show I don't have it... Graham looks around the bike but it's somewhere on the 37.7 miles of TT Moutain Course. Probably close to the pit because I couldn't smell petrol and don't have any on my leathers. By then the skrootineer is onto us and tells us "I can't let you out without one".

Lap 2 into the Cregg... Neil behind me
I think. I'm sure I saw a gas cap of the same fitting in one of the race shops. Vaughan who is helping out to heads off to the paddock to try find one. One after another of the riders I have passed start coming in to pit... get refuelled, visor and screen cleaned, a drink and are off down to St Ninians. That sinking feeling gets deeper. We try bargain with the skrootineer and come up with McGuyver solutions. He's not having any of it. I just want to finish the race...
Candy into Signpost Corner during practice week
A few minutes laterVaughan appears with a few gas caps complete with fittings from the race shop... but none of them will fit a 12 year old Italian bike. We run out of time. Our race is over. I push the bike out the pit area to Parc Firme... it's no way to finish a race.

Suzy V from the inside of the Cregg Ny Baa on Wednesday

Suzy V around Cronk Na Mona on Wednesday

Thursday, 1 September 2011

ManxGP 2011 - Day 13 - Prep and Some Thoughts

Spent the day prepping Candy for the Senior race tomorrow morning... and swallowing the bitter pill of yesterday's disappointment.

In yesterday's Supertwin race: After lap 1 I was lying in 12th place and did a 102mph lap... from a standing start, traffic and rain on the mountain. The rain got worse at the race went on - I fancied my chances. 4 of the riders ahead of me on lap 1 failed to finish... despite this, a top ten finish was still on the cards... on probably the oldest bike in the Supertwins race. Couldda, shouldda, wouldda.

Perhaps the gods were saving me from something that could have happened later in the race. At least the bike didn't blow up... it won't cost me anything to have her racing again.

Candy's paint  is now a mess. I ran out of brake cleaner... so went to the race shop. The guy didn't have any so sold me some carb cleaner, telling me it's the same stuff. No it ain't. It took Candy's paint off! But at least it's run over some of the stone damage... 
Anyway... the big bike is ready to race now. I've only done 3 laps on her... the last one 105mph more than a week ago. Would have been nice to get more practice in on her... but, that's the Manx! All we have to do is hurry up and wait... and hope the great weather we've had today holds. But the forecast isn't good.

The view out the garage. Camera is just about level... check out the angle of Bray Hill...

Looking forward to tomorrow... also looking forward to picking up Alex from the airport later... haven't seen her for more than 2 weeks now! In the pits tomorrow I'll have Ian on the fuel hose, Alex on the visor and screen and Graham (a local that does the pit stop for Ian Lougher at the TT) on the kill switch and fuel cap. It's gonna be a hum-dinger!

Bring it on!

ManxGP 2011 - Day 12 - Supertwins Race

My pit crew, Ian's ferry only got in at 1 a.m so I didn't get as much sleep as hoped. But, we were still up early to get our shit together and get to the Day Paddock before the roads closed. The Classic 500 race went of first after an hour delay. It was overcast and cold with showers expected.

This is my friend Mark Herbertson's sixteenth Manx GP on classic machinery. After not even getting down Glencrutchery Road on Monday's Classic 350 race, Mark started the Senior Classic 6th on the road. He chipped away for the four laps and eventually knicked 3rd from Steve Linsdel on the last lap when coming over the mountain. A fantastic result! Well done Mark on a brilliant ride and Alan for the immaculately prepared Matchless G50!

Classic 500
Winner: Ryan Farquar (centre), Second: Chris Palmer (left), Third: Mark Herbertson (right)
At 14:30 we line up on Glencrutchery road for the start. We start the bike and while it warms up we plug in the charger to top up the battery and make sure we have enough juice for the 4 lap race. Relaxed, I focus on the race... get my mind in the right gear to go fast and do well. Learning from John McGuinness, you got to go out hard and fast from the off... it sets the precedence for the rest of the race. I'm ready for it.

Ian (taking pic), Mark and his son Dominic helped out on the start and were in the pits for me
We used to set off in pairs, this year for the first time we set off one at a time as in the TT. The rider ahead of me sets off. I hook 1st gear and pull up to the start line. The starter puts his hand on my shoulder, I bring the revvs up, tunnel vision down the road. He taps my shoulder, I ease the clutch out. I get off the line but can feel the bike bogging down... need more revs to get away with this long gearing. Before she bogs, I nail the throttle. The front wheel lifts and I tear off down Glencrutchery road like a scalded cat.

1000 yard stare down Glencrutchery Road - Focus
Flat out through St. Ninians, down Bray Hill and for the first time I don't roll the throttle through the dip. The G-Force flattens me against the tank and smacks my helmet on the pads I've fitted to teh tank and steering damper. "Whump!". We're through and Ago's leap opens up in front. Flat out and for the first time the wee bike gets some air over the crest. Full tank of gas and cool tyres - we take it easy through Quarterbridge and Braddan Bridge and then it's full steam ahead.

Approaching Guthries on the run up the mountain

I catch the first rider through Greeba Bridge, hussle my way past and push on. It's damp under the trees around Glen Helen where I catch another rider. I back it off a little. Up the steep hill to Sarah's Cottage. In late, square it off and on the gas as soon as possible... as I'm cranked over I hear a sickening grinding sound and the rear of the bike slides around. I dig my knee into the tar and pick the bike up, back on the throttle in an instant so we don't lose drive up the hill onto Cronk Y Voddy. There's not time to be gained through Sarah's... I say to myself: "Whooooah boy! Take it easy. That would be a fuckin stoopid place to go flying through the hedges!"

Up, up the hill, through Lambfell where I later learned that seasoned campaigner Adam Easton lost his life in the earlier race. Adam had only missed one ManxGP since 1983.

Gettin' through traffic...
It's difficult to get into a rhythm as I'm catching a rider every few miles. At Ballaugh Bridge I catch a slower rider... I'm 20 yards behind him by the time we're hard on the brakes, slowing from about 130mph to 40mph. Near the end of the braking zone I get off the brakes early and squeeze through the 2 foot gap between him and the curb, drawing alongside as he turns in. I turn in later, and give Suzy gas over the hump-backed bridge. It's probably the best air I've got over there as I fly past him over the crest. What a pic that would have made! We land and I'm straight back on the gas, turning it tight against the wall of the pub, under the dangling feet of the spectators.  My most memorable passing move ever... awesome!

Pushing hard and grinding out the belly-pan - risky!
I take Ballacrye flat out and get good speed through Quarry Bends and down Sulby. I get held up through the long, bumpy Kerrow Moar section but eventually get past the slower rider into Parliament Square. Up to Ramsay Hairpin - I get past another few riders where it's damp all the way up to Guthrie's. At Guthrie's raindrops start beading across my visor... halfway down the Mountain Mile and the rain is streaking across my visor and screen. I push on, carefully, but confident knowing that the other racers dislike wet conditions more than I do.
Pit crew Ian catching some Zzzzzzs
Rain all the way over the mountain - not fun at all. At Kate's Cottage it's dry and I'm back on it. Through the Cregg and Suzy splutters. "Fuck!" - it feels like it did last week. "Not now baby... not now..." Down through  Brandish and my untested gearing is spot-on. Suzy feels good so I hammer on. Tip-toe through a wet Governor's dip and it's flat out down Gleancrutchery Road to complete lap one. In thinking: "Another 3 laps just like that one and we'll be in the money...".

As I fly past my waiting pit crew, Suzy half-dies. Running on one cylinder all the way down Bray Hill. "Fuck, no!". Tootling through the bottom of Bray and she clears and pulls up Ago's. "C'mon baby..." Down to Quarterbridge and she starts missing again... we limp up to Braddan Bridge and I pull off the course. I know my race is run. In denial, I try find a lose wire or something... but I know it's the battery and it's over.

Shit, fuck and bollocks!