The Longest Kneedown

The Longest Kneedown

No, this isn’t a blog about Tulisa getting slapped in the face with a cock in her sex video – this is about the beatiful exhileration that is scraping your knee on a bike.

Normally, all you get is a split second of scraping as you take the corner, and then you’re back up again. If this was your first touchdown at this point you’ll be marvelling at just how LOUD the scraping of plastic on tarmac can be.

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Living close to a very unique section of road – The Redditch Cloverleaf – means that bikers in this part of the world get to experience this near-constant radius collection of four left hand bends, which are technically national speed limit (70mph). It’s probably thanks to this that I am far more proficiant at scraping my left knee in corners than my right. Accross the rest of the UK you’ll find most bikers prefer scraping their right knee, mainly due to practise on islands.

I thought I’d upload an example of what is probably my longest kneedown, having spoken about my slowest, fastest, and just doing it in general previously:

Is there anywhere else that can provide longer knee-scraping antics? I thought maybe Gerrards at Mallory Park – but although this corner may be longer, you go a lot faster through it, so probably get through the corner quicker overall.

What’s the longest you’ve done it for?

Did you think Tulisas pink tracksuit was sexy?

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The Real Thrill Of Riding A Sportsbike

The Real Thrill Of Riding A Sportsbike

When you tell people you own a superbike, the main thing they think is that you go really fast.

Inevitably, as a friend asked me the other day, they will ask what speed you’ve done on it.

I answered him saying I’d seen 190mph on the clocks.  The reactions from others listening in ranged from impressed to disgusted to the usual mutterings about killing yourself.

Sure – it’s impressive that I’m in the 300kmph Club, and that puts me in with a select few, but answering the question and thinking about actually doing it, I realised something.

Not only is it pretty damned easy to do 190mph (ok, so maybe it takes some balls but essentially anyone can sit there and crack the throttle open), but there wasn’t much drama involved, and other than the ability to say I’ve done it… meh!  It’s not much fun, to be honest!

The REAL thrill I get from riding bikes is from banking the bugger over to obscene lean angles through the corners, and from the colossal acceleration!

Getting your knee down is part of the cornering experience, and I am a bit of a knee-down junkie who needs a fix every so often!  What most people don’t understand is that you CAN get your knee down at slow speeds!  All you have to do is hang off the bike and tighten your line through the corner, then lean that baby over until the glorious sound of plastic on tarmac sounds over the engine!

It’s a pretty unique view of the world when you’re hanging off the side of a sportsbike.  Your body makes up a third of the total weight of you and the bike, so to do it well and safely you have to gain an intimate and instinctive understanding of body positioning, balance and how bikes go around corners.

A lot of people have heard talk of ‘countersteering’ and see it as the be-all end-all of cornering.  It’s not.  EVERY vehicle that has two inline wheels HAS to use countersteering otherwise it wouldn’t turn at anything over walking pace!  This includes bicycles and Harley Davidsons – whether you realise you’re doing it or not!

Accelerating on a bike also takes more skill than you might think.  If you open the throttle on most sportsbikes you’ll either spin up the back wheel and launch yourself to the moon in a highside, or the front wheel will come up and smack you on the back of the head.

When you get it right, it’s awesome!  I did a video to time what my bike would do from a standing start, and found I can do 0-60mph in 2.5 seconds after only a few attempts!

You simply won’t get that performance from a car. People talk about how fast their car is when it does that speed in 6 seconds – but I’d be getting bored long before then!

Combine the two, like at Rockingham International and I can vividly recall pinning the throttle open whilst scraping my knee on the floor all the way to 120mph+!

Now THAT is a buzz!

Donington Park GP First Ever Track Day

Donington Park GP First Ever Track Day

I got to the circuit, very nearly coming a cropper on the long gravel driveway near the entrance, and as I knew nobody else there, decided I’d better hope Lady Snoots Bike Hire had a van there with big letters on!

When I saw their van pull in a few minutes after I arrived, I headed over and introduced myself.

Next I walked down to sign my life away, for which I got a free bacon butty and a cup of coffee!  I sold my soul for less, so found it a good deal!

A lot of waiting around followed, chatting to a few other people, getting coloured wrist bands to show which of the three groups we were in etc.  At the riders briefing I smacked a wasp backwards off my head before realising there were people stood behind me.  I kept my eyes forwards as angry leathery shuffling sounds happened behind me.  Oopsie!

The track day was being run by No Limits.  Each of the three groups were scheduled to go out for twenty minutes every hour, providing there were no major incidents.  As a Novice, my group was the last of the three to go out.

I looked very carefully over the Kawasaki ZXR636 B1H track bike.  I have NEVER ridden a 600 sportsbike before, so didn’t have much of a clue what to expect!  I also thought about riding my own bike for a session, mainly to get some photographs of it – I decided against it, as the track bike had super-sticky tyres, upgraded brakes, tuned suspension, race rearsets and tyre warmers… it just wouldn’t be worth the risk of droping my bike!

They called our group and the Father and Son team of Lady Snoots took the tyre warmers off my bike while I stretched out a bit, regulated my breathing, and tried to both clear my mind and focus at the same time.

I threw a leg over the bike (taller than I expected) and joined the other forty or so riders at the end of the pit lane holding area.  Oooh shit!

The first three laps were to be ‘sighting laps’ – following the instructors in single file and getting an idea of the track layout and the ideal racing line.

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Having played the video game over the weekend, the track was pretty true to it in real life.  What a game can’t prepare you for is the breathtaking drop downhill through the Craner Curves, then the climb back up after Old Hairpin!  What a rush coming over the crest and looking down over that!

There was another blind crest on the entrance to Coppice which was a bit nasty, but nowhere near as bad as I’d been expecting.  Then the long back straight with a couple of huge humps which I soon found brought the front wheel skyward when you were hard on the power!  The tight Esses chicane I never got right all day because I was either severely bulked by slower riders, or was too slow on the exit.  This was actually the hardest corner.

A quick blast down to the Melbourne hairpin was again over a blind crest that I thought would take serious balls to power over before the braking zone… then it was around Goddards sweeping back onto the start straight.

After a few laps I was getting the feel of the bike and also realising I wasn’t going to be the slowest, and then they let us loose…

We’d been told to keep it all in perspective.  The main problem with the Novice group is that the others will be taking lots of weird and wonderful lines, and braking in unexpected places.  We were told to give each other plenty of room and not go diving past people with inches to spare.  For the most part I followed people, and was off the power soooo early before the corners it was ridiculous.  But safe.

In this first session I found I could take a wide line into Goddards and cut back to the inside and beat most people down the start straight even on bigger bikes.

Two things from the game, too: I’d found taking a tighter line and staying on the power down to Old Hairpin I could nip through.  This worked for me all through the day!  Even better was that everyone else seemed to be braking for Starkeys, whilst I copied what I did on the game – full power and knee-down all the way up the hill!  Without playing the game I’m sure I’d have just copied everyone else!

I think it was my first or second time out that I started scraping my knee around Goddards!  Now I was racing!

My confidence grew with each session.  There were always a few who came past like I was stood still, but a lot of that was because I wasn’t willing to risk much overtaking.  I stayed glued to a few of the faster people, though.

There were a few crashes but mainly in the other groups.  We had a few waved yellows and I think two red flags where we had to come back to the pit lane while they recovered bikes.  Then, near the end of one session, banked right over going around Melbourne, I got a major misfire that tried to spit me off as the bike bucked about.  I raised my hand and headed straight to the pits, where Lady Snoots got the spare bike straight out for the next session.  I’m pleased to say it felt exactly the same, so I didn’t have to learn it all again!

The other bloke hiring their GSXR wasn’t so lucky, binning his in the gravel and getting told his day was over…

So over the 7 sessions I started braking later into the corners, scraping my knees everywhere, and was very far from the slowest!  I was definitely happy with my performance, although there’s still a lot of room for improvement!

A great day and trouble free thanks to Lady Snoots!  The only real ‘moment’ I had was braking hard for Melbourne and Goddards and getting it all sideways with the rear chattering away!

It was a bit lonely for me on my own, and I wish all my mates weren’t pussies, but it was still good!  I probably shouldn’t say, but it seemed like everyone there who I got chatting to had a crash and disappeared home early….

So a life-long dream has been realised and I did it well!

The photographs from the day should be available for viewing from Thursday morning, so I’ll be buying lots and putting a load up on here!  Hopefully they’ve got some good shots of me!

If you’ve never done it, you NEED to!  One more thing about how it compared to a video game – doing it for real was EASIER!

It won’t be the last time I do it…

Pirelli Angel ST Tyres On Track

Pirelli Angel ST Tyres On Track

I always used to have a (possibly unfounded) hatred of Pirelli tyres.  It was probably more from having ancient tyres on my very first Yamaha TZR125 that had all the grip of a paranoid schizophrenic watching a bad Kubrick film.

Despite this, I was impressed by their claims and marketing when they brought out their brand spanking new Angel ST tyre – I was first aware of these in early 2009.  They promised more grip in the dry and wet, better cold performance, and claimed to see over 9000 miles from a rear tyre on a Hayabusa!

Oh, and they had a funky picture in the tread of an angel, that wore down to become the image of a demon.

I’ve used many tyres on many bikes, so am fully aware of just how far tyre technology advances in the space of a few short years, and so decided to take a chance on them being fitted to my trusty Kawasaki ZX9R C2.

I very quickly found that they met all these claims of more grip, and even when running them in (personally I think more like 10 miles to run new tyres in, rather than the idiot-proof 100 miles they recommend) they were well behaved and inspired confidence.

Over the next few years I found they offered at least all of the grip of other sports-touring tyres on the market, and can also confirm that where I got 3000 miles from a rear tyre such as an Avon AV56 or Bridgestone BT021, the Angels give me at least twice that, of very hard road riding all year round.

I even tested these tyres on snow and mud and ice.  They were crap, of course, but I didn’t fall off and tear my petticoat!

Recently, I had decided to do a trackday on my ZX9R, and not having the funds to switch to track tyres, decided to try out the Angels.

I thought that they would overheat and slide, or just fall apart at track temperatures, as they warm up so quickly on the roads.

I’m no Rossi on track, but usually run at the sharp end of Intermediate groups, laying down 2min laps around Oulton Park and around 1:03 at Mallory on 600cc hire bikes.

Well I can now confirm that at a super-abrasive Rockingham International circuit, they gave absolutely no problems, and I even put in a lap in the low 1:40s – with warped brake discs meaning I was making up the time through corner speed and very heavy trail braking up to the apex of corners!

They wore extremely well, with no tearing and just a bit of balling-up at the edge of the tyres.

I heard from several people around 5 years ago that the sports-touring tyres of the time (before the Angels came out) had the equivalent grip of the best Grand Prix level race tyres of the late 1990’s.  Now, with that in mind, and considering they had a lot more to give when I tried them on track, then WHY exactly does anyone believe they need some super-sticky tyre for the road that only lasts 500 miles?

I think you could happily run in the fast group, and they would be enough for 90% of trackday riders – let alone road riders…

What Tyre Pressures Do You Run?

That’s an important question that I missed!  Everyone in the pub is an expert on tyre pressures.  Almost always these ‘experts’ will tell you to run low pressures for grip – probably because they heard it off a racer sometime.  Well, even if they are on a track, they’re probably wrong!

Generally, I’m a believer in the Universal Standard road tyre pressures of 36psi front and 42psi rear.    I may run a 40psi rear because I don’t take many pillions these days, so don’t need the extra psi.  Sort out your suspension and riding/body position first before touching your tyre pressures!  And here’s why…

I consulted a REAL tyre expert at Rockingham, and was advised to run pressures of 34 front and 32 rear on track.  The reason they’re not much lower (as I’d expected to be told) is that tyres like these aren’t designed to run lower pressures, and so by lowering them below that, you overstress their structures as they move beyond their intended limits, causing not just less grip but the potential for a total failure.  You don’t want this on a racetrack, and you definitely don’t want this on the road!

Putting A Road Bike On Track

Putting A Road Bike On Track

As funds suddenly got tight this year, I was left with the choice of either risking riding my every day road Kawasaki ZX9R C2 on track, or simply not being able to afford a hire bike and not doing a trackday at all.  So that was a no-brainer!

I am capable of riding the ZX9R quite rapidly on the roads, and am more comfortable with it than jumping on a totally unknown hire bike as I have done previously, but the disadvantages are that my road bike doesn’t have race-grade brake pads, I use Pirelli Angel ST (hard-wearing sports-touring tyres) rather than super-sticky trackday tyres, I scrape my footpegs on the roads, so on track could be a major problem with ground clearance, and of course a road fairing is VERY expensive to repair or replace.

Ideally, I’d sort all this out by using a race fairing, race rearsets to raise the footpegs, shove some race-grade brake pads in there, and fit some filthily sticky tyres for the day – but of course the reality of that is that you’re looking at close to £1000 just in preparation.  That’s the very reason I decide to hire bikes before!

So what to do?

Well, I know I can get a Chinese made fairing from Ebay for around £340.  I figure if I just use my bike as it is, and the worst happens, THEN I can buy the replacement.

The Pirelli Angels are great tyres, but I think they will overheat on a track.  What that actually means in real life terms I have no idea!  So I’m going to give it a go, and if I’m getting huge filthy great slides then I shall just call it quits or take it easy.

The brake pads I’m running are again great for the road.  They’re actually unbranded pads from www.blackshadow-uk.com that can be had for £12.99 for FOUR pads!  Compare that to the £120 that Lady Snoots use on their hire bikes, for example.  Generally, braking is my ‘safety zone’ on track just as it is on the road, so I’ll simply brake nice and early, slow-in, fast-out, and see how it goes!

Someone from www.zx-9r.net came up with an ingenious solution to the footpeg situation, by recommending I tape a 5p coin into the hinge joint of the footpeg, instantly giving vital degrees of extra clearance.  For the fit session I’ll go out as standard, and then give this a go to test it.

Aside from this, I had Stealth Motorcycles of Redditch (the only garage I still trust to lay their hands on my bikes) check my valve clearances and balance the carbs to make sure everything there is ok.

Then it was just general maintenance to prep the bike: lube and adjust chain, give it a quick clean for the photographs, and get the brake calipers off for a good clean and check all is working perfectly.

I got to test the brakes this morning as a lorry ahead on a dual carriageway slammed on it’s brakes and indicated right in front of me.  All was clear behind me and I had no idea what he was trying to get past, so hammered on the anchors from Um Plenty Big Speed and all was perfect.  Apart from my pants.

Tonight I will go through my usual trackday ritual of cleaning and treating my leathers (again, more for the sake of the photographs!), and then I’ll be off to Rockingham in the morning!

For anyone reading this who hasn’t done a trackday before, as well as the above, take loads of water, and quick-carb foods like chocolate bars.  Snickers and bottled water is my staple diet on a trackday, to keep the energy up, with maybe a burger and chips at lunchtime.

When I arrive at Rockingham I shall remove my number plate, tape over my lights, and fold my mirrors in, as removal doesn’t seem like a great option for them.  Then I’ll speak to the tyre guru’s about what psi to drop my tyres to…

Oh, and FFS buy a camera to film the day onboard the bike!

You can get an MD80 from Ebay for under £10 that will do the job, so there really is no excuse.  See my previous blog about these cams here:

I’ve been excited since the second I booked it last night!  Just pray for a nice dry day!

Getting The ZX9R On Track

Getting The ZX9R On Track

I’ve always hired bikes for trackdays.  The way I see it, although it is quite expensive, is that you’re getting the use of a dogs bollocks expertly set up and prepared race bike with super-sticky tyres, brakes that pop your eyeballs out every time you touch them, and generally an ability much better than you’ll have as the rider.

I’d highly recommend trying Lady Snoots for hire bikes from a great bloke, and also Smallboy and Pattracking I had no faults with whatsoever.  The Focused Events trackbikes of a few years ago were shitters.  They did the job, but they were blatantly cutting all the corners they could by using (old) sports-touring tyres and maintaining them like your average ped rider.  Things do seem to have changed, but they’re still expensive…  The biggest pisser is that you HAVE to use their own hire bikes on Focused Events days…

Anyway, my main reason for hiring was that my bike was my only transport.  This has now changed now I have a license and car, and if I dropped the ZX9R and it was off the road for a while for repairs it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

So with funding nowhere near what it was after my redundancy, it makes sense to cut the costs by getting the 9r out on track this year.

It will still be a compromise, but I want to do it for as little cost as possible.

Ideally, I’d want: Full race fairing, race compound brake pads, aftermarket rearsets (I scrape my pegs in normal road riding!), some kind of protection for my engine covers, and sticky race tyres – possibly even a spare set of wheels.

The reality is that this would cost as much as it would to hire bikes for a couple of trackdays…

So, after scouring Ebay for race fairings (£340 from China!), I’ve decided that I’m just going to go for it with the bike in standard trim.  If I do come a cropper, THEN I can buy a new fairing and replace the parts.  I’ll just have to try my best not to come a cropper!  But thinking about it I was well within my limits on the hire bikes, as I didn’t want to be liable for paying out the crash deposit!

What’s left to worry about?

Tyres.  I use Pirelli Angel ST’s on the road, because they give a combination of awesome grip from cold, massive mileage, and just do everything better than any other road tyre.  On track I’m sure they will overheat and slide around a bit – but am I capable/willing to push them that hard for them to become a problem?  I shall just have to try it and see…

Ground clearance could be an issue, as I’m not afraid of leaning the bike over even on the roads.  Someone from ZX-9R.net came up with an ingenious solution of taping a 5p coin in the hinge of the footpeg to raise them and give a few degrees more ground clearance, and so I may well try that.

Whatever – I can hear the call of the racetrack again, and I need to get back out there SOON!

Plus it would be great to have a few photographs of me on track riding my own bike!

Watch this space!

My Favourite Road – Bridgnorth To Ludlow

My Favourite Road – Bridgnorth To Ludlow

As a biker, I’m happy to just jump on the bike and ride.  It doesn’t matter where I’m going, or for how long.

Much as I hate paying almost £1.40 for a litre of Super Unleaded petrol, I WILL pay it and have fk all to show from it apart from a smile on my face and slightly less rubber on my tyres, and maybe less plastic on my toe and kneesliders.  Yeah, screw you Society!  That’s how I roll!

Of course, I do have my favourite destinations.  The Redditch Cloverleaf is almost impossible to resist anytime I have to ride past and the roads are dry.  I mean, you simply pull off the dual carriageway and scrape your knee around the four corners and then carry on in the direction you were headed as if nothing had happened.  It really is Heaven.

Except this year the road surface on the Cloverleaf is rather shocking… The tarmac is broken and very rough on EXACTLY the line you want to be taking around there!

Anyway, enough about that – what I really wanted to blog about here is one of my favourite roads.

It’s the B4364 that runs from Bridgnorth to Ludlow.  It’s over 22 miles through some of the most beautiful Shropshire countryside, and has everything from open straights and fast sweeping corners to mega-tight OFM (“Oh Fuck Me!”) twisties.

Ludlow itself is a very nice place for a stop-off, as is Bridgnorth – and the Quatt Biker Cafe just outside Bridgnorth is always a mecca for bikers of all kinds who drop in for a bacon sandwich and a coffee.

At the Ludlow end of the B4364, if you head in the opposite direction towards Kidderminster, you cross the stunning Cleehill – where you’ll see a lot of my bike photographs are taken.

This was a lovely sunny day, so I got the Veho HD10+ mounted on the bike and decided to get footage of the whole of the B4364, at legal speeds to show how it is still a lot of fun to ride without being silly.

I hope you enjoy this and don’t criticise my riding too harshly!