Wednesday, 22 June 2016

PPIHC - Monday - Admin

Rewind to Monday...

Up early again... getting the body used to rising early. At 08h30 we were at 'Tech' - 'skrootineering' in British speak. There I met the rest of the Ducati 'Squadra Alpina' - 4 top riders who share 20 PPIHC wins between them. Sponsored by Ducati they are the riders liasion guys and coaching us Rookies. A great new initiative.

 It didn't take me long to damage the bike - I snapped the custom made screen off at the top while unloading :-(

Frankenstein repair job with some blood shed.

The bike and my kit sailed through Tech... by 09h00 we were done. Headed back to the cottage and got the wheels off the BRD - Travis took them up to his shop to fit some fresh Pirelli rubber.

Just the Tech stickers and we're done!

By 11h00 I was back at the Start line of the PPIHC course with the Squadra Alpina. We split into groups and my assigned coach, Carlin Dunne, took myself, Rob Barber (manx and TT rider form the UK - this year on an electric bike) and Bruno Marlin (Sidecar driver from France) for a giuded tour up the PPIHC course.

As with my tour with Travis the day before... there was a lot to learn. A lot of tips but mostly focussed around safety and which turns are likely to bite. I took a lot of notes. At the top we had a walk around... discussed more on the course and the same on the way back down. Feeling looked after as a Rookie in this unusual event.

Bruno Marlin and his monkey...

Kids on pogo sticks at 14 200 feet!

Back to to cottage and work on the bike a bit with Ant. Just final prep stuff and figuring out how the electronic suspension adjustments work. Pretty trick - one can adjust the pre-load, compression and rebound from buttons on the bars. No grovelling in the dirt with allen-keys... this is the future!

 On the way up to the Park entrance...

Found a good beef jerky shop on the way into the Park. They got bison, venison and alligator jerky... and they're expensive. I'm glad to be in a jerky state!

We also switched the ABS off and backed off the traction control. I've never ridden with either rider aid... I don;t want to be going somewhere unfamilliar, but felt that with a fairly slick surface where everyone struggles for grip, a little bit of traction control for 150bhp is a good thing.

Man, it was hot... like 34 degrees in the shade. We work on the bike under a little car-port... sweated buckets.

Some crazy and cool cars... I love the Yanks!

At 17h00 we headed off to mandatory Drivers/Riders briefing at the Elegante hotel in Colorado Springs. An hour and forty-five minutes of briefings, instructions (mostly around safety) and questions. An engraved comemorative Henry repeater rifle was handed around for everyone to get thier finger-prints on it (these americans are crazy!). It'll go in the PPIHC museum. This year is the 100th anniversary of the event - and it's quite a big deal.

Something for the museum...

Meanwhile Travis had gotten back from Denver and fitted n lockwired the wheels with those sticky new Supercorsas. The Big Red Duck was good to go! An early night to be up super-early for optional practice on Tuesday.

PPIHC - Shit Happens

End of the crank snapped right off!

Only 5 hours sleep in 40 hours... and we'll only get 6 hours tonight if were lucky... sorry no blog.
Ducati is outta action... but we have a plan....

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

PPIHC - Sunday - Up, up and up!

Up early on Sunday... we're trying to keep on British time to help with the killer 2a.m. starts for the next week. We headed out to the Lone Duck to meet Travis and give the Big Red Duck a few runs up the mountain.

Travis took her up the course first and we followed in the van. Oh boy...

The on-board footage doesn't show the elevation. Average gradient: 7 degrees. This place is steep! It just goes up and up and up. The start line is at 9 390 feet. The course runs 12.42 miles to the summit of Pikes Peak - 14 115 feet!

The first third is through forest. Fast sequences of lefts and rights... some tight little turn to catch you out. The next third has the famous 'Double-yous'. A sequence of tight switchbacks... up, up and up above the treeline. The top third is desolate, wind-beaten and snow drifts - some fast flowing sections and turns that look like they are at the end of the world!

It is utterly spectacular. The views from the top are immense... hundreds of miles in all directions.

We crawl back down from the summit where the air is thin, the wind cold and the sun intense. There are park Rangers all over and the 25mph speed limit is enforced. I had Travis' bike in the back of the van and despite using 1st and 2nd gear, I still managed to cook the brakes only half-way down.

My turn next on the BRD I follow Travis up. He ponts out a few things along the way. It's frustrating going so slow and behind lines of cars. Some of the drivers are really stressing on the road. I just want to twist that throttle wide open and carve some lines up the mountain!

The BRD feels good. Plush and well mannered. Loads of torque and power... she pulls from low down and keeps shunting all the way through the revs. Even up at the top section with hardly any air to breathe, she is strong. It's impossible to tell what she'll be like at speed... but she felt comfy and everything was in then right place.

Back down and then Travis takes me up in the van and talks me throughn the whole course. Danger areas, corners that'll catch you, late apexes, straight-lines, off-camber, gravel on the course, ruts and bumps... and where to hold her flat-out. There is so much to take in.

By the time we get back down again, we need to head to the Rookies registration. We sign-on with no worries. It seems almost too easy - there is always something... nope... that's it. All signed-on. Cool!

We get back to Manitou Springs, prep the bike for tomorrow's tech inspection then find a pub and get some good steaks down our throats. It's been a long day. We're tired... windburned, sunburned. The magnificance of Pikes Peak also burned in out minds.

Monday, 20 June 2016

PPIHC - Hello Big Red Duck

On Saturday Morning I met Ant, who had flown in the night before, at the airport. We got a taxi into Denver and picked up a U-Haul van just outside the Denver Broncos stadium. We then headed 15 minutes west to Newbold's Motorbike Shop.
Yup... we're in America...

 World Champions?!

Travis has the most fantastic bike shop.Tons of trophies, race memorabilia, cool bike stuff... an alladin's cave for a bike racer. There is just so much to look at... so much character. If ever you're in Colorado, you just have to go visit Travis.

There was the Big Red Duck - she was everything I'd hoped for. She's big... red... and beautiful. I've never really been up-close to one of the newer Ducatis. Quality. Travis had done a lot of work on her... getting her on a diet, giving her a few more horsepower and a load of lockwiring/fastening. She was looking the part with vynil graphics from Travis' neighbor. That full titanium race system sounds real good too.

We caught up, talked bollocks about bikes, did a few wee adjustments to the BRD under fairy lights with some cool mellow music in the background. We got the stuff we need for the paddock together - paddock stands, tire warmers, toolbox, spares, fuel jug - and loaded it and the big girl into the van. 36 Degrees in the shade... it's warm... the water we left in the van was like tea... the granola bar was like hot porridge. Breakfast!

Down interstate 25 towards Colorado Springs to test the big girl on the mountain. An 'auto wreck' gave us 45 minutes bumper to bumper crawling. We stopped for fast food - I had a 'sandwich' in the 'handfoods'  section of the menu - that turned out to be a massive, greasy chicken schnitzel on a burger bun. It made my stomach cramp for and hour.

Big trucks!
 Plimpsole riding boots...

... a chop!

We had fun and games at the petrol station trying to pay for gas with a foreign credit card. In the end it took us 30 minutes to get 10 gallons of gas, 4 packets of beef jerky and a couple of coffees. The beef jerky cost more than the gas!

Down to Colorado Springs and onto the I24 West. Another auto wreck. Eventually we got to the Lone Duck Campground where we met Travis who had setup camp. We also met Johnny Gold and Lisa who spannered on the Ronin for Travis last year. It was too late for us to get into the park and go for a ride up the mountain. No worries, we were knackered anyway... we got some shopping done, food down our throat and an early night.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Pike Peak International Hillclimb

I write this from 30,000 feet over Michigan en route to Dever, Colorado. Thank fuck I have been doing some running in the last few months as training for this adventure. I almost missed my flight in London yesterday evening... had to run a long way to the gate. Same thing happened this morning for my flight form Toronto... a 1km run to the plane to get there as they're closing the doors. Not the start I wanted... but... adds to the excitement I guess... and keeps me fit...

I'll get to Denver and meet Ant at the airport, we'll get a taxi downtown to pickup a u-haul van. Then head out to Newbold's Motorbike Shop to meet Travis and the Big Red Duck. If you haven't guessed by now - I'm going to do the Pikes Peak Hillclimb.

The prep for this little adventure started late last year. As with all my adventures, it started as a half-baked idea, not particularly well thought through. I had heard about this legendary event years back - on my first Manx Grand Prix campaign back in 2005. At the birth of YouTube I'd occasionally look it up and gawp at the on-board footage. Then a few years later I started racing Dirttrack and got to know of and then meet a Pikes Peak legend – Travis Newbold. The last few years I've been keenly following the event.

I'm a bad spectator – I see something... and I want to do it. I saw the online footage and some of the live streamed coverage... and I wanted to do it. Last year, I lived my TT dreams. As a competitor, I have now hung up my Isle of Man leathers - TT 2015 Lightweight will be my last race on the TT Mountain Course.

The end of an epic quest - going up the return road after the Lightweight TT race... I had tears in my eyes...

Racing on the Isle of Man is a massive undertaking and with no IOM campaign in 2016 I have space to do something else, Pike Peak International Hillclimb was on top of the list. Besides, I had the perfect bike for it, my TT Triumph Daytona 675 was the weapon of choice. Torque, power, setup – she was built for the roads.

Come January, time to get my entry in. I then discover that the entries have been limited to only 33 for motorcycles and that only bikes with OEM flat handlebars are eligible to compete. I had 4 race bikes in my garage... all tools for the job... but none had OEM flat handlebars. Retro-fitting was not allowed. Bollocks!

Ok... no problem. I have a bike that with a bit of prep would be eligible. My old Ducati Monster. She was a bit old and certainly no race machine... but the basics were there. In the nick of time I got my many-page entry in,selling why I should be one of the 33 on my old Italian machine.

Spring training on the old Monster in the mountain passes around home in Austria
It worked... they accepted my entry and sent me an 'Invitation to Compete'. Whooohooo! We were in!

By then, I had a chance to look at it in more detail. The number to prep my Monster started to run into the thousands. As I learned with my Classic TT Ducati 888: that's Ducatis for you. Even after many wads of cashola, she would still be a comparatively low-power, low-spec machine in my class. I also got some quotes to ship her to the US and back. Getting her out wasn't so bad... but getting her back is where they sting you. I started looking at other options. I gave Travis a call.

Travis is a local Colorado Pikes Peak legend. He's been competing at the event for many years, from when half of the course was dirt. Over time they have paved (tarred) all of the course... since 2011 it is paved all the way. Travis has many podium finishes and even a class record on bikes that he puts together with very little budget in his workshop. The man is a talented rider with many other wins and championships in enduros, desert racing, dirttracking and just about anything on two wheels. He certainly knows his way around Pikes Peak and can build a bike!


 On his way to another podium in 2014.

I'd also been in touch with a Brit PPIHC competitor from last year – Neal Catling. I actually raced against Neal in years past in the Ducati Desmo Due series. The first thing Neal told me about PPIHC was that the organisation/race admin was very amateur – crap at best. Neal didn't have a good time of it – problems with his Ducati 848 eventually ending in the gearbox munching itself a mile in from the start. Neal gave me some good tips and advice... and confirmed the horrendous cost of getting a bike from the UK to Colorado and back. My Monster was at home in Austria... add another 1000 and a whole lotta ball-ache to the bill!

Travis had a fantastic PPIHC in 2015 riding a bike that he hadn't built himself for the first time. He piloted the brutally beautiful Ronin to 2nd place in the Heavyweight class. A brilliant result on an unconventional, undeveloped bike built by a few enthusiasts against a factory Honda team. Travis made a few comments on the crap organisation of the event and some prick of a reporter made it all very public. As a result, the PPIHC organisers have banned Travis form competing in 2016 - it's a bit pathetic really.
 Travis on the Ronin...


Anyway... I asked Travis if he'd be up for building a bike for me for this year's event. “Hell, yeah!” was his response. He was totally up for it! He'd got me in touch with Bryan and the guys at Imperial Sportbikes in Denver - they were on-board too! Within a week they had and found a bike for me. My first choice was a late model Aprilia Tuono V4 – a good-looking, Italian-machismo, sportsbike-killing, flat-barred weapon. But, they're quite rare in the US... especially around Colorado. However, Bryan did find me a 2012 Ducati Multistrada 1200s. Only 4 bikes have ever gone sub 10 minutes for the Hillclimb... 3 of those are Multistrada 1200s. We couldn't be too far wrong.

I set about getting my entry changed. Unfortunately... change of bike meant a complete new entry... and a nice little fee on that too. I got all the paperwork done again and paid my monies. Relieved when they accepted my entry a few days later. We were go!

I bought the bike based on Bryan's description and a few pics and set about planning the build and prep. Bryan had been brilliant and helped out with all the parts. Just remove the road gear, an exhaust, fuelling unit (to get her running sweet at altitude), bars n grips, chain n sprockets, new brake-pads, I got some foot-peg risers in my luggage, some new tyres and that's it. She's only got to do a few practice sessions and then the 12 mile run from the bottom of Pikes Peak to the top – once. No TT Mountain Course bullet-proof prep for her.

 Travis picks up the big girl...

A few weeks later all the bits arrived, Travis picked her up and started pulling things off her to lean her up. She was a bit overweight - that standard exhaust was a mahoosive lump of under-performance. The full Titanium exhaust liberates power and adds lightness. Nice! Travis has been building her around his customer bike commitments at his busiest time of the year. A few days ago Travis had her back with Bryan on the dyno to get her fuelled for the altitude. We're running an Autotune unit as well to help adjust the fuelling as we climb nearly 5000 feet in around 11 minutes.

A big can!

 Trining some weight...

Braaap! Braaap!

It's been kinda weird... a bit surreal. Not having a bike in my garage and spending endless late nights and weekends building and prepping. Is this what being a factory racer feels like? In a few hours I'll be able to touch and sit on the Big Red Duck – it will be real. Oh boy... I can't wait!