• Tag Archives Yamaha R1
  • Donington Park revisited- finally!

    My first ever visit to a race circuit was back in 1999 after I had moved from the UK to Switzerland. I met some guys who “persuaded” me to take my brand new VFR800 to the French circuit of Ledenon. For those who don’t know Ledenon, it is renowned as being one, if not the, most technical circuits in France, and different from many others because it runs anti clockwise. The two days on track were a real baptism of fire as I decked the pegs out everywhere trying to keep up with my more experienced fellow riders. I felt I was riding flat out, but the film I had taken has a soundtrack from the camera bike, a TL1000R, which sounds like he barely got out of second gear, thereby debunking my speed theory!

    Fast forward 4 years to 2003, and I’d linked up with a friend and decided to go on the Ron Haslam school at Donington Park. First time at the school and you have to ride CBR600’s , but when I returned in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2009, I was able to ride the datalogged Blades. Being towed round by an instructor helps build confidence and learn the lines, but now in 2014 I was going on my own R1.

    Donington is less than an hour from where I live, so setting off at 6.10am saw me arriving at around 7.00am, giving plenty of time to find a space in a garage and set up.

    The event was organised with Focused Events and was a 98db day which was £40 cheaper than the same event the next day where there was no noise restriction. The briefing asked riders to be sensible, less crashes and red flags meaning more riding time, and telling everyone that riding like a nob or with noisy pipes would you excluded, 20 minutes later, it was time for the first group to get on track.

    I always ride inters, or group 2. This wasn’t a chrono day where you end up being put in groups based on your lap times, but the general level of riding was pretty good and I didn’t see any bad riding or experience any dodgy overtakes, and I don’t think our group had a red flag, although I did see a couple of riders throughout the day run off on the entry to the start finish straight, and I had my customary run-ons as I tried to find my braking marker into the Esses.

    The first session went ok as I started to relearn the track, and when I used the laptimer on the second session I wasn’t too disappointed to find I was circulating in 2.00 dead. Although this was 5 seconds off my best of 1.55 back in 2009, this was without the benefit of a tow from an instructor, so not too shabby, especially as I had been told that 1.55 was club racer type speeds.

     

    Third session in and I grabbed an instructor and had a few laps with him, and immediately times dropped to 1.58 which I was happier with, although he told me if I didn’t dive for the apex so quickly and made a shallower entry, I’d be on the edge of the tyre for less time and able to get on the gas harder and earlier.

    In the afternoon I started to enjoy myself and dropped the time to 1.57.36 which I was really happy with, as often it’s hard to get close, or even beat times you manage with an instructor.

    I think I might even have been a little quicker, but I am using an app on my Iphone for timing, and if the battery gets low it puts up a message saying battery low which interrupts the  timer, so for  now I have to make do with knowing I had a “virtual” best of  1.56.17 , just a second off  my best ever time, but I’m going back again on 4th August where hopefully I’ll be able to beat it!

     


  • My bike history

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    I wrote a post a while ago about the way that the bikes we ride shape us as riders, we may favour sports bikes rather than touring, or twins over  fours, but in any case over the years I imagine like me, people will have quite a number of bikes which have shaped  their riding and memories, so I thought I’d delve back into the sands of time and put pen to paper on the bikes I’ve owned and ridden.

     

    Puch Maxi

     

    This barely qualifies as a bike but it had an engine, all of 50cc and was my first foray into the world of two wheels. It was the single speed version (read slow!) and was bought brand new for the princely sum of £105. It had pedals which had to be turned to get it started, and returned miserly consumption of close to 120mpg, which as a teenager with little income was a real plus. I think mine was the N version which didn’t even had a speedo, probably because it was capable of speeds only marginally faster than running! I used to have to carry around a plastic bottle with two stroke oil to mix each time I filled up. As a riding experience it can be summed up easily, it wasn’t one!, but as a cost effective form of transport for a skint youth, then it was ideal and served it’s purpose admirably, till I got fed up of it and bought a proper bike!

    Honda CB125T-

     

     

    The first of many Honda’s I was to own over the years.

    I don’t remember the technical details, but Wikipedia shows it had an OHC engine and a top speed of around 65mph, which after the Puch was mega fast.  I do remember having to learn how to use previously unknown bike parts such as a clutch and gears, and mashing them badly for the first few days as I learnt how to ride. It carried me and my tent from the Midlands down to Devon for a rally so can be officially recognised as being my first touring bike.

    Yamaha RD250C-

     

    This was my first NEW bike and made an amazing impression on me. The colour was my favourite shade of blue, and the engine howled and emitted plumes of smoke from it’s twin exhausts. It’s 247cc oil cooled twin it made a massive 30bhp, returned 50mpg and had a top speed of 95mph. If those stats weren’t enough to get you excited, then how about it’s power band, something new to me after coming from a linear four stroke. The RD was not as exciting or dramatic as the hooligan LC models which came later, but had enough oomph  to catch out the unwary, and it did catch me out, twice! I sold it soon after those two offs, but it’s always held a strong place in my formative memories, and now that I’ve got an R1 in the same shade of blue it’s like I’ve gone full circle and returned to the Yamaha fold.

     

    Honda CB250N Superdream

     

    This was a “sensible” buy. We lived on one side of a river and my wife worked on the other. Public transport wasn’t easy or convenient and we couldn’t afford two cars, so the bike was bought as a commuter tool and worked exceptionally well. I bought it off a work colleague who taught me the pleasures of oil baths for the chain, and I upgraded the worn suspension for a pair of air shocks, which although far superior in performance looked a bit naff in red on a blue bike, as you can tell on the photo above. The bike wasn’t particularly exciting and I remember being shocked at having to pay £40 for an exhaust box, which back then was a huge amount of money, BUT, it was safe, reliable, and an ideal choice to have bought to get back in to biking after a few years sabbatical.

     

    Honda CB400N Superdream

     

    As always with bikers, a bigger engine means more fun, and the 250 soon wasn’t cutting it for the things we wanted to do. The 400 was a logical step up, with the same Honda reliability and was effectively the same bike as the 250 but with a bigger engine. We took it to the channel islands touring, rode with the local bike club, going farther afield and riding harder and faster, still not a bike to get the pulse rate soaring but it started, stopped, and ran like a dream (sic) and proved a great buy.

     

    ZZR600- May 1997-May 1998 ridden 9,600 kms

     

    The birth of my two children pretty much forced the sale of the 400, but 12 years later and the bug had resurfaced, so I did some research, found a good compromise for price and performance, and bought a ZZR600. Renowned for not having the best suspension, the saving grace for this bike was it’s engine. Like many Kwaks it accelerated like the world was coming to an end and it was always a rush letting it rip. It ended up costing me way too much in parts, so using male logic to confuse my better half I “persuaded” her the best thing to do would be to offload it and upgrade!

     

    VFR800-May1998- May 2000 ridden 25,600 kms

     

     

    Officially this was my reward for passing the IAM Advanced test, but it had been ordered before I took it so I was going to have it come rain or shine! I bought it without having taken a test ride as none were available, and it had been a toss up, between the VFR and the CBR1100XX SuperBlackbird. If I’d have ridden the Bird I’d have bought it, but the VFR was a “sensible” choice ratified by the wife, so it ended up in my garage.

    The trend I notice as I am writing this is that the bikes I’ve bought have all been “sensible” choices, with perhaps the exception of the RD250 a decade previously. The VFR followed that trend. It was a wonderfully efficient machine, the noise of the V4 engine was improved tenfold with the addition of an open Remus exhaust, it was powerful enough to tour on with luggage and a passenger, and when dirty always cleaned up like new. It ran perfectly, never missed a beat, handling improved with the addition of a made to measure  Maxton shock, and looked as good the day I sold it, as the day I took it from the showroom floor.  And why did I sell it? Because I’d moved to Switzerland and found the engine a little lacking at altitude, so something bigger was required of course!

     

    CBR1100XX- March 2000- March 2004 ridden 63,111 kms

     

     

    OMG! I knew within 10 yards of leaving the dealer I had to have this bike. The smoothness of the engine, the whispering exhausts, and unbelievable acceleration had me hooked instantly. I loved the stealth black, the paint quality was exceptional, the ride superb, I put the reworked shock from the VFR on it and improved its handling, and never looked back. Sue (the wife) loved it, we toured Europe on it. It ran and ran and ran, overtook lines of cars as if they were stationary, and all I ever did to it was change the tyres, brake pads and have it serviced, often! It only failed me once at around 55,000kms when the regulator stator failed, but that’s a common Honda problem and I’ll forgive it that one off failure. As a bike it ticked every box I had, it was a dream purchase, and if I hadn’t been forced to sell it when I moved to France I would likely still be on it today, what a bike!!

     

    Laverda 750s- March 2002-June 2002 ridden 3,205 kms

     

     

    From one extreme to another. I wanted a toy to go on track with or do some more sporty riding, but unfortunately this wasn’t it! Lots of nice parts like  Marchesini wheels and  Paoli forks, but the most agricultural POS parrallel twin engine known to man. It stalled, had gutless acceleration, and when friends who rode it confirmed my assertions that it was a pile of poo, it had to go. The only upside was I had bought it heavily discounted as Laverda had just gone bust, again, and I managed to sell it for what I had paid for it!

     

    Honda RVF750 RC45- July 2002-Feb 2012 ridden 21,854kms

     

     

    The Laverda was gone and thankfully the MV Agusta I had wanted to buy turned out not to be such a good idea so I bought this instead.No comparison. It’s true what the bike press wrote about this bike, it’s so much better than you’ll ever be. On the road it goads you into going round corners faster. The low seating position meant your knees decked everywhere, you became a riding god. It laughed at your best efforts on the road, 100mph, hah! All of this accompanied by a wonderful V4 soundtrack which could deafen you if you used the Micron open pipe and forgot your earplugs.

    I used it on track, a lot, but it was completely outclassed by just about every other bike out there.  Sure no one else had one and people would come to see what it was and to listen to the awesome sound, but other than it’s outstanding handling and rock solid road holding in bends, it became a real disappointment to me, and after 10 years of campaigning it I eventually sold it when I decided nostalgia wasn’t a good enough reason to hang on to it. I miss it but am glad I had one, something most people won’t be able to say!

     

    CBR1100XX – March 2004-March 2010 ridden 36,597 kms

     

    The original Blackbird was replaced by another one, why try anything else? But sometimes things aren’t the same. This was a French bike, originally restricted to 100bhp then derestricted, but it never made it’s power the same way as it’s Swiss predecessor had. It didn’t have cats in the exhausts, the paint was nowhere near as deep or the same quality as the black model, and although ridiculously fast, there was always something that you couldn’t put your finger on that made it slightly less good than the old one. It too had the regulator fault, but again it ran forever and only ended up being sold after we were knocked off a GSXR1000 and Sue ended up with a hip problem which meant the seating position became uncomfortable for her whatever we did to try and fix it.

     

    Suzuki GSXR1000K2 -Oct 2005-April 2008 ridden 5,588 kms

     

     

    A monster engine in a frame and with handling that never seemed to quite be in synch. Torque everywhere, but I was always uneasy with it. A big comfortable bike with a great pillion seat, but it was destined not to stay with us for long after some German lady decided that turning across a junction was a good idea, even though we were on the road in front of her. I repaired it but it had already been replaced by the bike below.

     

    Kawasaki ZX-10R (05) Sept. 2006-Nov. 2007 ridden 4,087 kms

     

    Polar opposites. A bike that handled telepathically. I don’t know what the previous owner did to it but it worked like a dream for me, and combined with that famous top end Kwak rush I had some great times with this bike. The howling top end was insane, made even more potent with an aftermarket Shark exhaust. I found myself riding like a maniac every time the road opened up ahead just to listen to the exhaust scream and to feel that huge rush of acceleration. It looked the dogs too in black, although as a pillion bike it sucked big style.  I loved it and was gutted when after trying to take it back into France, after having bought it in Germany whilst working there, found there was no way I could import it. What a shame, great bike and worthy of the future classic status the mags tout it as having.

     

    BMW K1200GT July 2008-July 2009 ridden 23,234 kms

    2008-07-12 001 026

    Back to sensible again and the only bike Sue was able to get comfortable on. It’s built like a bus but handles ridiculously well for such a large machine. ABS, heated seats and grips, cruise control, trip computer, ESA etc etc, it’s all there and is a great bike to tour on, as luggage and pillions seem to make no difference whatsoever . BUT, it was a POS. Riddled with problems it was always at the garage, was the first bike that stranded me (due to it’s crazy electrical servo assisted brakes), and I was only too glad to do a deal with the dealer to take it back against the purchase of another BM.

    BMW K1300GT -July 2009 to date ridden 70,953 kms

    K1300GT

    You might wonder what possessed me to buy the same bike again? Well this is the 1300 which supposedly corrected all the faults of the 1200 and improved it in many areas, and I have to say by and large its been a good buy. I’ve written several posts about it here on the blog, so if you want to find out more about long term and long distance ownership, it’s all here. I’ll summarise by stating I still have it and it’s a great tourer, but I’m wary of potential big bills in the future.

     

    Yamaha R1-Feb. 2012 to date- ridden 3,314 kms

     

    Full circle and I’m back in the Yamaha fold with my favourite shade of blue and 182bhp! A long way from the 30bhp of the RD250 back in the 70’s but I’m loving it. Bought for the track I’m still learning how to get the best out of it after 10 years on the RC45, but it’s coming. I’m consistently 8 seconds a lap faster on this than I ever managed on the RC, which makes me happy, as does having it wide open in fifth at Aragon. I’m hoping for great things and a long life together with this bike!

     

     


  • Dijon revisted

    Weather and time,  two overriding aspects of trackdays.  It’s always better if  the first one  is good, whilst the second relates to how long is it going to take you to get there, and will your lap times be “acceptable”?

    Deciding to return to Dijon where historically we have had nothing but rain affected days was a gamble, but with the forecast showing 27C and sun with no rain, it looked as if we would be lucky this time.  As for time to get there,  it was a 6 1/12 hour journey for me whilst Mark and Andy had a far more palatable 3 hour trip, but incredibly we arrived just two minutes after Mark rang from the circuit entrance asking how far away we were.

    After a 30 minute wait to be allowed into the circuit, we found a pitch big enough for Mark and Andy’s tents, and next to a power outlet. Andy arrived around 40 minutes after we’d finished setting up, and once he’d rapidly erected his own tent, we all set to cooking our evening meals.

     

     

    Mark and Sev settled in for the evening

    Normally we would stop overnight in a hotel, but with ever increasing pressure on finances we had bought a tent and slept in that overnight, and despite it flapping noisily in the breeze all night had a “reasonable nights sleep. We both woke up at around 05.15, and walking to the paddock shower block was like reconstructing the scene from the TV series Flash Forward (where everyone in the world is unconscious for 2 minutes and 17 seconds), but one person is awake and moving in a football stadium.

    An hours nap later and it was time to get up, and after a quick bowl of cereal and a cup of tea, came the first drama of the day, the power supply went off once the tyre warmers were plugged in. Worried we wouldn’t be able to ride with cold slicks we reported the fault to the track office who said someone would be along in a half hour, but they never came! We had to resort to connecting to another box and trailing cables 30m or so across other peoples pitches!

    Registration passed relatively quickly, and I got a prestigious number, 46. Andy had a quick bleed through of his troublesome RR brakes with some new 5.1 fluid, then with the morning briefing over and the tyre warmers now working,  we were ready for our first session at 9.20.

    The day went well except for the bikes! Both Mark and I have 2008 R1’s and found that as the temperatures got higher they wouldn’t pull cleanly from 12,500rpm in 5th gear, which worked out at around 266kph showing on the clocks (slightly overstated due to gearing). Checks with other riders with similar bikes revealed the same, seems that 27C is too high for them to fuel cleanly, so we had to settle for quick shifting and slightly slower top speeds on the straight.

    With some good riding and great weather, the day went well overall, and we ended it with a meal in Dijon at a restaurant Sev had wanted to visit called DZ envies. http://www.dzenvies.com/Resto.html. We all enjoyed 5 excellent courses and returned to the paddock sated after a great days riding and a great evening meal.

    Day 2- What a contrast today was to prove compared to yesterday! I decided to follow Andy for the first session to see if his lines would help me, and straight away managed such good drive onto the main straight that I arrived at the end much quicker than I had previously and promptly ran on!  I managed to get Andy back in sight but lost him again soon after, and the next time I saw him was when I figured the bike I had seen in the gravel was his. The session was red flagged and we returned to the pitlane to wait for the restart. When we got back to the paddock it seemed that thankfully there was very little damage to either Andy or the bike and he went out again with us in the next session.

    Me passing pesky Ducati 848 on main straight

    Mark getting blitzed by yet another super fast BMW 1000RR

    Next session, and another stoppage, and this repeated itself EVERY single session throughout the day. Either someone in our group crashed and halted the session, or it started late clearing up from the previous group. During every 40 minute off track rest session the breakdown truck would return with one crashed bike after another! I’ve NEVER been to an event where so many people have crashed or every session has been shortened, BUT, that was just the tip of the days issues, next we have the precocious, or should I say dangerous teenager.

    It started when Sev noted that from her viewpoint at the edge of the track, she had seen a rider on a small 125/250 diving under other riders, taking strange lines and cutting people up. He did this to Mark on a couple of sessions and actually ran into me and hit me, pushing me wide on one bend, and then punting me off the track completely on the next lap. Lucky to avoid being dumped in the gravel I was furious, and set my fastest time of the morning  as I set off angrily after the second near miss. Complaints to the organiser revealed he was a 13 year old!!! but couldn’t be moved up to the fast group as his bike was too underpowered on the main straight, but we were left with the problem that he would continue to dive under us in bends but we’d blitz him on the straight. All we could do was to make sure we started way in front of him in the pitlane each session.

    Mark had been unsuccessful downloading a laptimer app for his Android phone, so asked if he could borrow my Iphone. I agreed begrudgingly but told him if it fell off or he broke it, he would have to buy me another. Solution, use Sevs, so once she had downloaded the app and all was working, we now had the chance to compare real times, top speeds, and virtual laptimes. He liked the app so much, he ended up extolling its virtues to the guy next to us in the paddock and getting him to download it for his phone!!

    In the lunch break I decided I’d try and fix the faulty trailer light, I thought I’d fixed them, but when I asked Sue to check if they were working she said no. This caused huge laughter all round when Mark spotted that they never would work as I hadn’t connected the trailer electrics to the car, doh!!!!!

    Back on track in the afternoon, and yet more delayed sessions, but as one ended and I returned to reform the grid in the pitlane, I ended up as being the first inline, and when we restarted I managed to lead the entire field for 3 laps without being overtaken, and set my best time of the day!

    Waiting in pitlane, Mark in centre

    Me

    Mark in action

    Me following Mark

    Andy decided that he wasn’t going to ride in the afternoon so started packing, unsurprising given that he’d just returned from 3 days in Brno. He was almost packed when we heard an almighty crash, turned round and found the nose of his trailer pointing skywards and Andy hanging onto his bike as it tried to fall off the ramp. He had forgotten to put down the supporting legs at the back, and loading the bike on the trailer had put all the weight onto the rear. With Mark and Sev sitting on the nose of the trailer to keep it down, I helped Andy straighten up the bike before dropping the support arm and being able to load it safely, luckily without damage.

    Unfortunately the days dramas were not yet over. I started packing the non riding gear away, tried to start the car to move it to hitch to the trailer, and it wouldn’t start, dead battery!. The voltmeter showed I’d drained the battery by having the hatch or doors open and the interior lights on. Luckily, I have breakdown cover on my insurance policy, and was able to get a garage to come and jump start it for me, but it meant I missed a session waiting for their arrival.

    With the car now running and the battery hopefully recharged enough to get us home, we set off at around 16.30, but not before comparing laptimes with Mark again. It seems that just like at Aragon where the gap was around 0.5 seconds, here again we were practically identical again, this time only 0.25 seconds separating us, incredible!

    Loaded and on way home

    It was a long way back and we were treated to a beautiful sunset

     

    There was one more final drama of the day when we found two cows in the road as we neared home.

    Summary

    6h.35 of driving, 3 run ons on track, 385 track miles, and finally we’d broken the Dijon rain curse. The first day had been good, day 2 less so, too many near misses and shortened sessions. It’s a bit far for me to go and really it’s a track where smaller bikes would be easier to ride and  perhaps be even better suited, so it’s unlikely I’ll return. I’ll look forward to the bigger tracks, and maybe I can break the Magny Cours rain curse next time?


  • Motorland Aragon

     

    If you’ve read any of my earlier blog posts you’ll know that apart from leading tours on the roads, I ride on circuit trackdays. Over the years this has amounted to 39 days, on 11 circuits, in 4 different countries, and on 7 different bikes. You might think that with numbers like these I’m a bit keen, but for several years I had had a love hate relationship with trackdays, mostly centred around the fact my RC45 just wasn’t fast enough, but last year that all changed when I bought it’s replacement, a 2008 R1. With revitalised interest and shed loads more speed, planning for track days in 2013 was much anticipated, and as per usual, Andy was the guy pushing for decisions as to where we wanted to ride.

    Andy has been to Motorland Aragon in Spain a couple of times before and raved about it, but it’s a VERY long drive down there, and despite reservations about the distance to get there, he refused to take no for an answer, and managed to badger both me and Mark C into agreeing to go with him, “persuading” us that we would be rewarded for our suffering with great weather, a great track, and the lure of being able to max out our R1’s on the kilometre long straight.

    So it came to be that after months of planning and being cooped up indoors in the lousy cold and snow in the weeks running up to the off, we were more than ready to hit the track when the time finally came, but with a concern that the promised good weather and 18C forecast only the week before our trip, looked to now be changing to rain!

    Time to introduce our cast of characters before the story begins.

    Andy- a.k.a “Kreacher”

    Has got the track bug, big style! Three years ago he came to the Haslam Race School in the UK with me, rode their CBR600 and Fireblades, took a California Superbike School, a few Jacques Cornu schools, bought himself a Fireblade for the track, and then went out and put everything he’d learnt to good use, honing his track and riding skills . A couple of coaching sessions with Simon Crafar and his MotoVudu courses followed, and soon, not only was he faster everywhere, he was also outriding the capabilities of the Fireblade. Having served his apprenticeship on this “lesser” machine, he quickly replaced it with a BMW S1000RR, and then rode the best part of 18 track days in 2012 alone! Suffice to say we now go to the same events and ride on the track at the same time, but I can’t keep up!

     

    Mark C – a.k.a “Fast Bunny” rides motocross.

    I mention this because it has instilled in him a mentality of opening the throttle wide and letting the bike do it’s thing. Two stroke engines have created a total lack of mechanical empathy, so its’ throttle wide open everywhere and enjoy the ride! He started riding on track last year with an R1 acquired at the same time as I bought mine, but track time has been limited to just one half day in the damp conditions of Dijon, and a day at Hockenheim. We have ridden on the roads together for years and many thousands of kms, but track days are different. We argued about whether my experience gives me the upper hand, but I’ve still only ridden a “really” fast bike 7 times on track, albeit compared to his two, BUT, I’m 12 years older than he is and have stronger self preservation instincts. The bikes are, to all intents and purposes identical, with the exception that Marks has Akra end cans, so which of us would prove to be quicker, read on and find out!

    Motorland Aragon is a “mere” 750kms and an 8 hour drive from my home, for Andy and Mark, it was nearer 1000kms and 11 hours. We set off at 08.30 as planned but two hours later that sinking feeling you get when you realise what you’ve forgotten to pack hit me,  I didn’t have the Carte grise for the R1! Calling Mark he recommended I turn back and fetch it, as I’d have a problem with customs if I had no paperwork, however, a call to Andy settled the nerves after he pointed out that there isn’t a manned border between France and Spain anymore, so I’d get through without issue.

    After a long drive down Sue and I arrived at the camping and booked in, collecting the keys for the others before heading for the track 3kms away.

    Andy was already there having arrived whilst we were checking in at the campsite, so we set to erecting his tent in the drizzle which soon turned into pouring rain. We were soaked through by the time Mark and Sev arrived. Impeccable timing by Mark, again!, who’d missed a turn off the motorway on the way down and had come via a slightly different route to Andy, which had turned out to be a great road, albeit not so great in a car towing a trailer and motorbike!

    After putting the bikes under cover we went to the campsite, sunk a few beers, had a a surprisingly good meal in the on-site restaurant, and then turned in early ready for the next day.

    Friday

    Morning dawned wet and overcast, and it was clear there wasn’t going to be much riding. The paddock was strangely quiet, and the queue to check in and get the on bike transponders took next to no time as so few people were there.

    The mandatory briefing looked to have only 30 people or so there, around a third of what you’d expect given the groups were all supposed to be full.

    So the day developed miserably, with little change in the poor weather and only the odd few guys with wets venturing out. As they say in cricketing parlance, rain delayed play, and it wasn’t until the afternoon that we finally managed to get in a couple of dry sessions, enough to help find our way round the track and give us a taste of what was coming the following day.

    And what a track it is! A massive 5.344 kms in length with 17 bends, lots of elevation changes, a corkscrew section not dissimilar to Laguna Secas, a massive one kilometre straight, and loads of safe run off areas.

    Times are never much to write home about when you first try and learn a track, and after our two sessions finding our way around we couldn’t have been turning in times any better than the 2.38 mark, but we were itching to get out and ride the next day and better weather was forecast, yippee!
    Saturday

    Our group of three became two today, as Andy was being coached by Simon Crafar, so Mark and I were left to our own devices.

    With a full 7 sessions during the day we had plenty of time to explore the track, and it’s run off areas too! You can’t imagine how great it is to let a 1000cc bike run flat out through each gear down a kilometre long straight, and if you got a good enough entry onto it, you could just about hit 6th gear before dropping down and into the long left hander onto the start finish straight.

    Here’s Andy being coached by Simon and turning in times of 2.16

    Late afternoon entertainment was provided by the arrival of a lorry loaded with bikes from the UK which were being unloaded next to us in readiness for the next two days

    The day was to prove frustrating with our transponder times. They never seemed to be working! We’d go and check at the end of a session, and either we were not getting any faster (unlikely) or our times weren’t registering. I think they were updated ONCE during the day despite our complaints, but when they did appear the times for Mark and I were separated literally by less than one second! I was however able to use the laptimer app I have on my IPhone to see  what progress we were making, and this threw up a best time for the day of 2.29.50.

    Today was also Marks birthday, and the previous night we had decided to go into the nearby city of Alcaniz to find a tapas bar to celebrate. This was an inspired choice, as not only is the old city of Alcaniz beautiful, the food was great, and only cost €85 for 5 of us, drinks and coffees included!

    Sunday

    Andy was back with us in the morning, and after having had a hard day riding with Simon Crafar yesterday was quite happy to run around with us, giving us valuable comments on our riding afterwards, and showing us the right lines! I’d already managed to better my previous days time and got down to 2.28.21, but with Andy leading me and following Mark, we managed to drop a massive 3 seconds off our best times, getting down to a 2.25, but Andy eclipsed this later with a 2.14!

    In the afternoon though, groups were changed around, and we missed going up to a faster group by around a second, leaving us in the slower group whilst Andy went up one.

    Tonights evening meal was traditional paella, and we were joined at the campsite restaurant by Marc F and his group, plus Simon Crafar and several of the UK trackday guys.

    Monday

    The final day, and I started it with a dicky stomach, so much so that I decided to give the first session a miss, not a bad idea as it turned out because it was cold, and it gave me a chance to go and stand at the end of the pit straight and watch Mark. He was first out and headed the field for a few laps, but seemed to keep missing his turn in point,which was a bit of a mystery as he’d been fine the previous three days. Back in the paddock the reason became clear when he explained his visor was fogging and he couldn’t see out of the left hand side as he turned into the corner!

    I went out for the second session, but despite wearing a balaclava and having a pinlock visor, I too had fogging problems, so much so I spent a lot of time opening and closing it just to try and see where I was going!

    The transponders were now working properly, so after the second session we all went to check the times and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on the screens, Marks time had fallen by 6 seconds to a 2.19.19, holy cow! How on earth had he managed to drop that much time? Initially deflated I tried to hide my disappointment he was so much faster than me, and sportingly offered him my congratulations before trudging back to the tent to slash my wrists in despair. Once Andy and Mark  returned, all became clear. Mark had taken Andy’s transponder out and it was Andy’s time not his that was on the board. The girls were also in on the switch and they all took great pleasure in seeing the distress this had caused me, whilst I vowed to find some new friends. Apparently the look on my face when I’d seen the time appear had been a picture, but at least I’d had the good grace to congratulate him. Great prank, cheers guys, but revenge will be sweet!

    The previous day Mark and I had ridden each others bikes to see if we could tell any difference between them, other than the fact I felt he had more grip and not liking the abrupt nature of his throttle, the differences were marginal, coming down to slight variances in smoothness of the gear shift and the fact his bike seemed to take off better at lower revs but mine gained at higher rpms. Over the course of a 5km track we couldn’t find any significant differences, he was better in some places and I was better in others, and time differences of 1.007 seconds at the end of the whole weekend showed how closely matched we both are. Andy got down to an amazing 2.13.6, so because he is so quick we’re going to have to put ballast somewhere on the bike to try and slow him down!

    My last attempt to improve times came by trying Marks tyre pressure settings for the final two sessions of the afternoon, and although times didn’t change, I was amazed how much better the bike drove off the bends, shame then I waited 4 days to find that out!

    As the afternoon progressed the weather started to close in, and after a few spots of rain in the second session we decided to call it a day and dismantled the tent and packed everything before the rain came. Stopping off at the site shop on the way out we bought the obligatory t shirt and cap to prove we’d been there, and headed back to the campsite for a final time and to make a decision whether to go back into Alcaniz again to eat tonight or stay on site. Tiredness and the opportunity to drink but not drive won out, and so we had our last meal in the campsite restaurant before turning in early before the next days early start home.

    Tuesday

    Up at around 6.40, we unlocked the trailers and were packed and away just before 08.00, with Andy having departed much earlier as he’d got the longest drive home. Mark and Sev were heading for Andorra just 3 hours away for some bike shopping, and we were heading for an 8 hour journey back home.

    Overall the weekend was a great success. The track was fantastic and is now a joint favourite along with Donington Park, the bike ran well, only being beaten on the main straight by the plethora of BMW 1000RRs, we rode over 800kms and Mark and I posted times that were fractionally over a second apart after 4 days, with old age and experience winning the day on this occasion.

    THE END


  • Out with the old, in with the new

    Life and technology have moved on at a frightening pace in recent times in virtually every aspect of life, and this presents you with two very different choices; the first, stick with the tried and tested, things you know work and are comfortable with, the second; embrace change and the new, and learn how far things have moved on from what you previously thought was more than acceptable.

    Nowadays we all use PC’s, but wouldn’t accept the slow processing speed and small memories of the original machines we started with. Today we want huge processor power and terabytes of memory. Cars that once were top of the range have long been superseded by lighter, faster, and safer vehicles, with aids to cosset and support the driver, traction control, air con, GPS, Bluetooth, parking beepers, cruise control, the list is endless. The world of the motorcycle has moved on tremendously too. Bikes are now technological masterpieces, smaller, lighter, faster, and if you buy the latest sports bikes, you’ll probably get traction control, different engine maps, anti wheelie, etc. etc.

    Despite brief ownership of a GSXR1000K2 and a Kawasaki ZX-10R, I had singularly managed to resist full acceptance of the onset of technology (as far as my sports bike ownership is concerned) for almost 10 years , taking great pleasure in ownership of an HRC race/road homologated RC45.

     

    As the years wore on though, I noticed I had started to become envious of those on track days with faster bikes (in fact virtually everyone else’s bike was faster than the RC), and although I hardly ever saw another one, and it garnered a lot of admiring glances whenever or wherever I rode it, and the unique engine note turned heads ( especially through it’s open Micron pipe), it just didn’t cut it on the track.

    As time passed I enjoyed my track forays less and less, after all, what’s the fun of riding when everyone passes you on the straight and you don’t have the power to overtake anyone else? My 122bhp 750 was outclassed by pretty much every modern 600 too. At Magny Cours Club circuit, even as far back as 2004, I was at 200kph on the RC at the end of a straight, but easily managed 190kph with the wife as pillion, on a CBR600RR!

    My friends frequently badgered me to sell it, but I didn’t want to, clinging to the fact that there were only 1000 of these bikes worldwide and I had one. My wife was convinced I’d be buried with it, such was my desire to hold onto it!

    Fast forward to early 2012, and I was in a bike shop with Andy and came across a 2006 R1 in Yamaha’s yellow speed block colours.

     

    I thought back to a test ride I’d taken on one in 2006 when I was in Germany, but back then I decided to buy a ZX-10R instead as I enjoyed the engine character more, but this R1 in yellow started the questioning as to whether it might not be different, fast, and “interesting” enough to persuade me to sell the RC?

    Andy continued to pressure me and asked why I kept the RC, and when the only answer I could come up with was nostalgia, I knew the game was up and I had to move on, so two days later the RC was up for sale, and was snapped up by a Brit almost immediately, thereby giving me the funds to actively look for it’s replacement.

    I identified my purchase criteria knowing that as its primary use would be on track, it had to be fast, a relatively new model, have a slipper clutch, be low mileage, AND, had to be reliable and comfortable enough (within reason), to be used as a backup for my tours (if necessary) The biggest thing though, was that it had to be a bike I looked at and WANTED to ride, and above all, put a smile on my face every time I rode it.

    I guess I knew it was an R1 I wanted, and I quickly narrowed the search down to a 2007/8 model, the last of the truly sorted original R1’s before they switched to the new and much more expensive cross plane version. This model year had the slipper clutch I wanted, and with nothing but favourable write ups, I set off in search for a blue one, which handily would match my Arlen Ness leathers! I found the bike I was to buy almost immediately, but bad weather meant it couldn’t be test ridden, and after looking at a couple more, one which looked mint but turned out to have a dented frame, I went back to the first bike and bought it.

    A 2008 bike with only 11,000kms on the clock, it had the low mileage  I wanted, and it was clear the previous owner had maintained it fastidiously. Immaculate in blue with a double bubble screen, and with a reduction in price for new front brake pads and tyres negotiated off the price, the only remaining point was the purchase of some crash protectors to prepare it for the track. So, at the end of February I became the proud owner of an R1.

     

    Last month I posted on here the tale of its first track day at Dijon. Finally I had a bike that had a blistering top speed, handled well, and one on which I could now not only pass people, but which allowed me to run at the same pace as the others in my group. Running side by side with other bikes up the main straight at Dijon at 260kph knowing its still accelerating was fantastic, and overtaking became a new found pleasure.

     

    I changed the gearing quite quickly though as the 15 tooth front sprocket (original is 17 tooth) meant the engine was always screaming and noisy around the 4000rpm mark, and I prefer the acceleration and less noise that the 16 tooth sprocket now gives. I’m learning to get used to the steering going light under hard acceleration, something it does in each gear blasting up the Dijon main straight!. The handling from the front end is dialled in almost to perfection, but the rear still has a tweak here or there needed to be 100% right, but it’s not far off. On the road it’s actually too fast, as is virtually every litre bike these days, self-restraint is a valued commodity if I want to keep my licence!

    There is a blotch on this happy tale though. After a few rides and after changing the front sprocket, I started to notice that the ride had developed what I can only call a pogoing effect. Initially I thought this must be down to the chain having a tight spot, but it was particularly noticeable at 3000rpm and after the bike had been ridden for half an hour. I started to worry that it was a coil, spark plug lead or plug breaking down. Rides over any distance or time over 30 minutes became problematic and uncomfortable as I pogoed up the road unable to hold a constant throttle. Eventually after a ride out on my own one day, I turned back early because it had got so bad. 20kms from home the engine management warning light came on and the bike ground to a halt. Great!  The dashboard was now displaying a fault code, 15. From reading numerous forum reports, I knew this to be the throttle position sensor, so I switched the bike off, turned the throttle several times from fully closed to open and back, and was able to limp home afterwards.

    The previous owner had already had the TPS part replaced six months and 2000kms earlier, so very kindly he is contacting the fitting garage to get them to replace it again for me under warranty. Other than this small glitch I’d have to say the bike has met all the criteria I looked for. It’s good looking, is VERY fast, handles well, is surprisingly comfortable, and it makes me smile each time I ride it. I never thought that I’d sell the RC45, but having embraced new technology I’m glad I did, I’m having a blast, and hopefully will continue to have one for a long while to come!