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!

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