So thanks to the guys at MSV photography being super rapid, I've downloaded some of the photos from my trackday at Bedford earlier this week. As you can see, I'm riding well within myself, but still enjoying every minute.
Lets be honest, I'm struggling today. Why? You may ask, well yesterday I completed my Back to Basics trackday at Bedford Autodrome with Motorsport Vision, Trackdays.co.uk and XCP Professional and my body is protesting.
Why Back to Basics? you may ask, well being frank, it was just a matter of money. After falling at Silverstone a few years back and in affect, being stranded at the circuit, taking a bike to the trackday in a van, is by far, the most sensible choice. If the circuit is more than a few hours away, its also wise to throw a nights stay at a hotel into the mix as well. Now this all starts to add up and can, in certain circumstances, make trackdays either un-accessable or a rare treat due to these cost implications.
I've been lucky enough to share a van with mates in the past, most recently with Dean when we went to Rockingham. When I lived in London, I had easy access to several circuits, reducing the risk of being stranded as help, was a lot closer. Now living by the South Coast, a trackday requires a serious investment in both time and money and it was from here that my Back to Basics plan started to take shape.
My plan was to go old school. Wake up early and take everything I needed, from tools to water, in either a tail pack or a rucksack. Having prepped the bike in the days prior, the alarm went off at 04:00. Now, I won't lie. At that moment I seriously questioned what in the world I was doing.
Stumbling downstairs I had some breakfast with a mandatory coffee and eventually got in my kit, hi viz and all, headed to the garage and wheeled the bike out into the darkness. It was 04:55.
The route to the circuit was long, but fairly straightforward. A31, M27, M3, M25, M1, A421, A6. That is pretty much it baring a few local lanes at the start and the end and that was my plan for the next two and half hours.
Despite being a bit damp and overcast, the journey went well and with a minor stop at Fleet Services (I always seem to stop there) the only 'problem' was the remains of a accident on the slip road from the Northbound M3 to the anticlockwise M25 involving a few lorries. Riding past the massive fuel spillage, the stench of diesel, even through my Buff, was nauseating.
Making great progress and having started with a full tank of fuel, the warning light pinged on at just shy of 130miles as I was near Toddington Services. After a quick calculation I worked out I was getting nearly 10 miles a litre and with about 4 litres left, it should be just enough to get me close or if not, to the circuit or at the very worst, the nearest petrol station.
It turns out that on the route I'd planned, which utilised a series of bypass roads, the nearest petrol station was on the A421 at Marston Moretaine, about 3 miles from Bedford and about 14 miles from the Autodrome. I of course, rode straight past this theorising there would be another petrol station on the way. There wasn't.
Arriving at the circuit on fumes, I parked up and signed in. The garages were already full with proper track bikes and that 'macho' feeling that seems present at every trackday, clearly in abundance, so I was quite happy to park my bike by the little cafe instead. It was 07:50.
Taking off the mirrors and dropping the tyre pressures down, I got noise tested (93db - thank you very much) listened to the briefing and the warnings regarding the sound meters on the circuit. It turns out that two black flags for noise and you are on your way home.
Being in the intermediate group, I had enough time to ride over to the fuel stop and brim up with their expensive fuel. Its worth noting here that fuel at racetracks is notoriously expensive, but at Bedford, it was still cheaper than at the motorway services along the way. Anyway, I digress. Bedford, being an old airforce base, is as flat as a pancake, but the layout was fast and technical in places. During the sighting laps it was clearly evident that the circuit was still damp in a few places, but with the FireBlade wearing Pirelli GT Angel touring tyres, this wasn't dreadful. Still, even with the Pirellis, the circuit was clearly greasy in places and I took it nice and steady. As the day progressed and the track heated and dried, the tyres really held me back, but in no way detracted from my enjoyment of being back out on track.
As it always the way on tracks with damp patches, a few riders were caught out. This seems to happen mostly in the chicanes, but one fast rider on his BMW S1000RR lost it coming onto the straight past the pit and I watched as his beautiful bike cartwheeled into the grass. Sadly, I didn't see him on track during the rest of the day. He'd had less than 30mins track time and ruined his bike.
Throughout the morning sessions I got to learn the circuit, but as the Blade was my transport home, I was taking it steady. In one session an engine management light flicked up on the dash after about 10-15mins. There was no discernible loss of power, but I came anyway, checked the bike over for something obvious (loads of oil all over the bike for example) and hit up Google. The FireBlade, like all Honda's of this age, tell you what's wrong through a series of flashes on the dash. Here the bike was telling me I had a faulty Exhaust Gas Control Value, which isn't a terminal issue. Starting the next session the warning light stayed off, but did come back the session after and stayed on all the way home. Bit annoying, but the bike is 16 years old and had a very busy morning.
After lunch I did one final session and pushed a little harder through the turns. The FireBlade is no longer a really fast bike so I was loosing a lot of ground to the newer litre bikes out on track, but I was pleased with my speed through the corners, even with touring tyres on. I did get mugged beautifully by a rider on a Ducati Scambler which made me smile. Given a severe increase in funds, I'd have no problem running my FireBlade as a track bike. Plans for the future maybe?
Getting the bike back to road trim didn't take long and after thanking the staff for a well run and enjoyable day, I said goodbye to the riders I'd been chatting to and headed off in readiness for the long ride home. It was 15:30.
My body was already aching, but knowing that it would all be dual carriageway and motorway, I knew it would be manageable. Once on the motorway, the traffic was a whole lot worse and I my shoulders started to scream out when I had to filter down to the M25 exit. When you're tired its all too easy to make a poor judgement or a silly error that could have serious consequences. Knowing this, I planned every move really carefully and didn't take anything resembling a risk.
I broke up the journey home with my second stop of the day to Fleet Services for a coffee and a muffin. See, I told you I always stop there. My right hand had gone numb due to the vibration of the bike and following more filtering on the M25 and start of the M3, my shoulders, hands and legs were all politely requesting a little rest. It was 16:40.
In the queue at the Starbucks, a gentleman came up to me and praised me for the condition of my FireBlade, which started off a little conversation. Turns out he had a two year old BMW GS Adventure and was planning on going touring on it next year. One thing's for certain, that BMW would be a whole lot more comfortable over distance compared to my FireBlade.
So finally, 13hrs and 17minutes after leaving the house in the morning I rolling into my garage. The exhaust fault had made my bike sound much gruffer, but she performed well and kept me safe. My Back to Basics trackday had been a success and was everything I was hoping it would be. It was fun and I got both myself and the bike back in one piece. I staggered upstairs removed my kit and sat down on the sofa. I was shattered and it was 18:12.
As the rain fell outside, I was in the garage doing a little bit of maintenance today. With a long day in the saddle coming up, my original intention was mainly to just adjust the chain; a simple and easy job for any home mechanic (in my case, used here in it's loosest of loose terms).
With the bike up on the rear paddock stand I checked and found the chain to be a little slack. So, armed with my 32mm socket, wrench, Halfords torque wrench, 12mm spanners and straight edges, I was ready to go.
The job itself is really easy, and the hardest bit is usually un-doing the rear axle nut. For my straight edges I used two pieces of L shaped aluminium I picked up from my local hardware store. To ensure these remain so, I don't use them for anything else. Propping the up and resting them up against the rear wheel, with the front wheel straight, I use the gaps as my guide.
As I was there I realised just how loose my rear hugger was. The nuts were tight but the hugger itself was free to bounce around like a 5yr old, jacked up on Coke, at a fairground bouncy castle. Carlos Felipe, I'm looking at you here.
My plan was a fairly simple one. Take it off, clean up the areas underneath and using a mixture of plastic washers and rubber gromits, secure it back to the bike. Taking the hugger off, I got a good indication of what years of road salt will do in unprotected areas of soft ally swingarm. I only really have myself to blame here and thankfully its just cosmetic and not structural.
With a serious lack of funds affecting my riding at present (hence very few updates etc) its with a sense of great anticipation that I'm getting ready for a trackday next week. Last year I won a space at a day of my choice through XCP and Trackdays.co.uk. This was when XCP were building their brand reputation and looking to build their customer base. Its through this introduction that I eventually became a brand ambassador.
Anyway, having never ridden it, but wanting to for some time, I'm going to be heading up to the Bedford Autodrome. Owned and run by MSV I'm really looking forward to it as I know they run a very tight operation, taking great care to look after those in attendance. The last trackday I went to, I was less than impressed with how it was run and will take some convincing for me to return.
So with the money situation being like it is, I'm going back to basics. No van, just me, my bike and my tailpack. I haven't ridden to a trackday in years and having chucked it at the scenery at Silverstone, I know the consequences.
I'll be taking the FireBlade and the day is going to start with a few hours of A road and motorway travelling, but leaving the house early will mean less traffic, well for the first few hours at least.
So with a few days until I have to go, I've started my prep, which today was a good old fashioned clean and basic inspection. Later in the week I'll adjust the chain and make sure the bike is healthy enough for the track. She's wearing Pirelli GT Angel touring tyres, but thats fine with me. The tyres have plenty of life in them and are so versatile, they should be perfect. I have no intention of pushing too hard, but in the same vein, have no intention of being a rolling road block.
London is by far and away, my least favourite place on earth. I can't say I've been everywhere, but for what I have experienced, London it is. The problem is Lords cricket ground is in London and well, I like cricket. It turns out my dad also likes cricket. Quite a lot in fact, so as you would expect, we go to Lords at least once a year and watch some good quality cricket. This leaves me with a dilemma; take the car and sit on the M3 and M25 motorways all the way to North London, or take the bike, make a road trip out of it, but have to ride up through London from the South. Yep, it was the latter.
Looking to avoid using my rucksack, I loaded up the Fireblade, managing to get everything I needed for the three day trip (one there, one for the game and one to get me back) into my two Kriega tank bags, kissed Carolina goodbye and headed East.
With everything that is going on at the moment, being able to forget it all and just ride was a great relief. All I needed to think about was positioning and the road. It was bliss. Even two unexpected sharp heavy showers around Salisbury and Winchester didn't dampen the ride, in fact the cooler air and rain were rather refreshing.
Making good progress, I cut across the countryside along the A272 until I hit the A3, which is a well surfaced, quick, two lane carriageway hooking up London with the South Coast. Pointing the bike North, I clicked off the miles heading up through the Hindhead tunnel, dropping down two gears in the process and heading up past Guildford. Stopping for a quick refresh at the Services just before the M25, I knew I was a getting low on petrol, but not looking to pay the elevated prices, my plan was to carry on and stop at one of the stations deeper in town.
Now under the dome of the capital and heading up through New Malden and Wimbledon, I spotted an Esso garage at Kingston Vale and pulled in. Now, this is where my normally cordial veneer slipped. With the pump zeroed I was all ready to go, but the team behind the desk wouldn't turn the pump on. Wearing earplugs, I half heard and message over the tannoy and when it was repeated, I finally heard clearly. They were telling me to remove my helmet and being hot and now especially bothered, I lost it. Swearing rather loudly, I clipped everything back up on the bike, put my gloves back on and rode off, making as much noise as I could as I left. As I rode away, I realised that I had been highly immature and felt a little ashamed, however I still find these rules ridiculous. Cameras had seen me pull up, recording my registration in the process and if a station is going to enforce this policy, large clear signs at the pumps need to be there.
With the exception of the Supermarket brands, UK petrol stations work as franchises so there is no governing rule issued by the brand (Shell, Esso, BP) restricting the wearing of helmets. Its all down to local choice. On this occasion I was wearing full leathers on a searing hot day, with luggage clearly strapped to the bike and I wanted fuel, so why not give it to me? Oh you thought I was going to steal it then? Don't you have insurance? Oh you do, but you want to do all you can to stop being stolen from. Okay that's not a problem, then how about providing an alternative which doesn't discriminate against a particular motoring group, you know, like Pay at Pump! You do know that with this in place, it makes your life easier right? Well, the Supermarkets do and they have a much more user friendly, successful business model. A further irony was, that if I did remove my lid, then all they would have seen would have been my eyes and the top of my head as I wearing a Buff to shield against road fumes/pollen. I wonder what they would have done then?
Living down on the South Coast, this doesn't happen (well at least it doesn't happen to me) so I guess I just boiled over, a victim to the heat and my own preconceptions of not living in fear of my fellow man on a daily basis. The irony is that after filtering through pretty horrible queues all the way along the South Circular Road in Sheen, riding over Kew Bridge and up through Chiswick, getting seriously roasted in the process, I stopped at the BP by Gunnersbury Lane and filled up without incident, leaving my lid on the whole time. I even thanked the smiling cashier for not requesting I take off the lid, which was clearly a case of my guilt dictating my actions. One thing is for sure though, chalking it down to experience, I'm never using that Esso again, in the car or on the bike.
Now a bit calmer and full of fuel I realised I would be passing by the Ace Cafe. Having not been there for many, many years and even though I was only 15mins from my folks, I stopped for an overpriced coffee and muffin. The Ace is an iconic location, but in reality its nothing special. Its a roadside cafe with a large car park and a bit of history. Having done all the hard work in the sixties and seventies, maybe that's all it needs.
After a good days cricket on the Saturday, I set on the long Sunday ride home. Cutting back through London to the South, I realised that although I'd been to the Box Hill bike meet more times than I can remember, I've never actually ridden up to the top of box hill. If you've never done it, the view is well worth carving your way past the hundreds of cyclists who own the road.
The rest of the ride home was thankfully really enjoyable and uneventful. With the World Cup and Wimbledon finals on the same day, the roads were certainly quieter and that made a big difference. Putting the bike away I looked back across the weekend with fondness. Dad and I grabbed some great quality time, something we struggled to do when I lived 'at home', I forgot about my troubles and even with 'the great petrol station incident of 2018' its a weekend I'll look back on fondly.
Bikes; they just have this way of tying everything together and making it all okay.
You will probably have noticed that I haven't be writing much over these last few months. There are a variety of reasons for this, chiefly amongst those, is the fact that I'm actually doing very little actual riding.
The reasons for this are varied and I won't go into too much detail, but suffice it to say, it has nothing to do with losing my licence or getting into any form of trouble. I haven't crashed or hurt myself and my personal life is very healthy. Its more a case of circumstances are preventing me from getting out there on a regular basis. Knowing this, this mornings ride was a rare treat. Taking the Ducati out for a spin I took in one of my favourite routes via Salisbury and Shaftsbury and the superb A30.
With the UK basking in a sustained heatwave, I knew the ride would be fairly warm, and pulling on my Alpinestar leathers, I was reminded of summers past riding into and out of Central London, something I don't miss at all.
Apart from the obvious heat, the one thing I really did notice was how I no longer seemed to be 'bike-fit'. By this I mean physically used to riding and holding myself on the bike. After about an hour, the palms in both my hands started to hurt as I was clearly taking too my weight through my hands and secondly, the tops of my shoulders started to ache as well. Not a good sign that's for sure, especially as I have to head up to the aforementioned Big Smoke this Friday.
With warm dry tarmac to play on, the 1098s was a dream to ride. Probably what you would call underpowered in today's market, there is plenty of power which required 100% attention to fully control.
After filling up just outside Wilton in Wiltshire, I caught up a rider on a Ducati Scrambler. They were making some good progress and were clearly familiar with the road. I was following about 30 yards behind in a staggered formation when, as we rounded a corner, we were greeted with a dustcart on the wrong side of the road as it pulled out of a junction. Quickly reducing our speed, we both avoided disaster, but it was a good reminder that no matter what time of day you're riding, or how clear the road appears to be, you have to put yourself in a position to be able to stop at a moments notice.
About 40 minutes later I pulled up in front of my garage. A tank of fuel spent, a tasty beverage consumed and with my mind filled with reminders of why I look riding my bikes so much. Hopefully, I'll be back riding more shortly and it doesn't really matter if its wet or dry, thankfully the fun is not weather dependant.
With the UK currently basking in some glorious early summer weather, yesterday Carolina and I headed down to Poole bike night. Partly due to work schedules and prior commitments, this was the first time this year we have headed down to the Quay and it turned out to be a great day to head down there.
The Poole 'Dream Machine' Bike night is a regular fixture in the biking community, drawing riders from across the South East, bringing with them a variety of machinery.
The 'gate' opens at 17:30, but in reality if attending on a bike, you need to be getting in the queue before that, especially on days where the weather is being kind, if you want to ensure a space on the quay. If not you risk being asked to park in the overflow car park and walk half a mile back to the Quay in bike kit.
On a good day you will see everything from re-purposed WW2 machinery, to classic Nortons, Yamahas, Trikes - including a regular visitor on his Tuk Tuk, to the best Superbikes of the last 20 years and a few oddities along the way.
Each night, a judge, randomly picked, chooses the Bike of the Night, which proudly gets parked in the middle of the Quay.
If you like bikes, or even good food and beautiful vistas, there are few better places than Poole Quay in the summer. Its well worth the trip.
I can honestly say, hand on heart, that my 1098s is my favourite bike. I've had it the longest and I've invested time, money, blood sweat and tears into it. But my garage is lucky enough to be the home of two bikes and having had a riding itch for a few weeks (long story), I felt it was time that I took the FireBlade out to treat her a little bit. And by treat, I mean thrash her across sun drenched South Coast tramac.
With a destination in mind, I headed out and was immediately reminded as to why the FireBlade was such a good purchase. It just feels right! There's plenty of room on-board and compared to modern machinery she's a slow bike, more inline with current middleweights rather than range toppers, but its the way it delivers the power in a controlled and systematic way that makes it such a good bike.
Carving up along my favourite local road, all I had to concentrate on was my line and it was glorious. Position the bike, pick my speed, look to the vanishing point and the bike did the rest, all the while being serenaded by that familiar high pitch scream of an inline four being blasted out of a Scorpion end can.
In my years of ownership, I've struggled to form that genuine connection of rider and machine that comes with ownership. With other bikes, such as the ZX7R and Z1000, that connection formed quickly and stayed with me all the way to the end, but with the Blade, it never came that easily. I've done a lot with the bike; trackdays, commutes, winter and summer riding. The only thing I've never done with her, is a European adventure. If the ride today was anything to go by, I just know it would be an absolute riot abroad. All day comfy and with handling and enough power to push it through the more technical sections of road the FireBlade would be all the bike I'd need.
Its taken a good few years now to fully bond with the bike and if my garage no longer had the space, I'd certainly miss her little yellow face greeting me when I opened the garage door.
How could you not love motorbikes? They are the perfect vehicle for exploring your surroundings as they let you traverse an area as fast or as comprehensively as you want, while still maintaining a tactile connection with everything you find.
Today was one of those days where, having spent far too long wondering what was down a particular route, I took the opportunity to find out for myself.
Rising early and out with some of the Monday morning commuter traffic, my route of exploration took me deep in the rural heart of the county I live in. Once away from the larger towns, traffic levels dissolved leaving practically empty, twisty tarmac. Riding the perfect bike for the journey, I was doing my level best to get the very most out of the final miles of the Pirelli Rosso 3 tyre that has been holding me on the road.
The Pirelli's have been really great; offering a nice stable platform in both wet and dry conditions. To say that they're a three season tyre is a bit of a stretch, with their performance in colder conditions a little behind that of the Angel GT, also by Pirelli. When hot however, they are absolutely on it. They have worn fairly quickly, but evenly, with my rear being toasted in about 6 months of riding during the end of last season and the start of this one. I'm interested to see how good the new Rosso Corsa 2 tyres, recently released, stand up to the performance of the Rosso 3's and reading through the spec sheets it appears they are placed between the Rosso 3 and the Supercorsa, which is a much softer tyre more suited to the track than the dual carriageway.
Finding a lovely local coffee store, I sat down and had my breakfast and looking like a Power Ranger, struck up a conversation with a local, who was also enjoying his spare time on this sunny Monday morning.
Now, well past 09:00, I headed back home, taking in a slightly amended route. The ride, only interrupted by the all too familiar orange fuel light, was swift and precise as I cut my way through corners, some of which still presenting a challenge as recent rainfall and traffic had pulled stones and debris into the centre of the lane.
Days like this are sometimes few and far between. The pressures of work or other responsibilities often take priority, but having the time and the opportunity to act of the question 'I wonder what's down there?' is at the heart of what biking is to me and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Ahhh, as a biker, there is a definite reason to take advantage of a Bank Holiday Monday. If you manage to get out early enough, like pre 08:00 early, there is some good riding to be found on nearly deserted roads.
With Carolina off to work early and with the sun already shining outside, I suited up and wheeled the Ducati out of the garage. After a good few goes, she finally started and this hesitation is starting to concern me as I'd hoped the stronger battery would cure these issues. Clearly not.
As regular readers will know, there is some great riding to be found in my neck of the woods and I headed out with the intention of getting out and back before any resemblance of tourist traffic turned up. What's that they say about best laid plans?
Getting up beyond Blandford, the glorious sunshine near the coast gave way to misty conditions. Not enough to ruin the ride, but certainly enough to affect its pace. Enjoying the A30 I eventually pulled up to one of my favourite coffee spots in Salisbury and sat down to have some breakfast.
Thinking about it, I probably stayed there a little longer than I should, but after leaving, most traces of the mist had gone, leaving beautiful riding weather and a little more traffic behind.
As I was enjoying myself, rather than heading straight home, I decided to loop back around to Shaftesbury and then head onto Sherborne and Dorchester before picking up my old commuting route for the final stretch.
When I got back on the A30 to Yeovil, that delay in the coffee shop started to take its toll as traffic levels really started to increase. To make matters a little worse, Sherborne Castle was hosting a country fair, with cars forming long queues into the car parks. Looking at the faces of the poor people stuck in their cars, I'm really rather glad I was going the other way.
Again out in the countryside, I was still able to make my way past drivers and when getting to Dorchester, I found myself in tourist traffic heading back home after spending the weekend in either Dorset or Devon.
I haven't had a good four hour ride, just for the sake of riding, in a long time and getting back on the Ducati after taking out two of the latest sportsbikes on the market last week, I found the Ducati not wanting at all. With no electronic aids, the 1098s is still a very pure motorcycle. Its fast, still looks amazing and is a dream to ride. Now, if I can source the starting problem, she'll be perfect.
My name is Matt Brown and I'm a UK journalist formerly based in London, but now calling the South of England home. I've been riding bikes since 2007, but got hooked straight away. Nothing gives me the feeling of freedom, even when stuck in a city. In 2010 I became a RoSPA gold rider, but when it comes down to it, I'm Just a normal man, riding his bikes as often as he can.