A little about me…
I am the son of a well-known and respected motorsport journalist in South Africa, so racing has been part of my life since I could walk (although mainly go-karting and open wheel racing).
As for two wheels, I rode the odd 50cc peewee bike as a kid and some 80cc automatic dirt bikes at friends’ houses but that was some 18 years ago. I’d never owned a bike myself until a drunken BBQ in May 2016, when, pissed off with the wife who didn’t want to leave, I found and bought a cheap 125cc on Ebay. I then announced, “I’ve bought a fucking motorbike so I can go home.” I woke up the next day, realised I’d bought a fucking motorbike, and told some biker friends. They encouraged me not to sell the bike but to get a CBT instead and swap London’s stupid tube network for a bike to commute on, and that’s what I did.
Getting involved with SBF
Shortly after, a good friend added me to a motorbike group on Facebook (no, not RBN) and I settled into the group having neatly avoided the shady entrance initiation process and with no-one knowing I owned a 125cc with no real bike licence.
Through this group, I met Marc, our chief at SBF, in a Wimbledon pub. We got wankered on beer and rum on a school night and had a great chat about bikes, the Freaks website and future plans.
That was where the decision was finalised to get a real bike, but it took me 5 attempts to pass my stupid learners theory test and 3 attempts to pass my practical licence (who knew an indicator left on could be a potential death hazard?!). One failed test was due to riding too slowly, much to the amusement of the SBF team.
Having passed my big bike test, the next natural step was to get a bigger bike and so I soon acquired a 2008 fully faired Suzuki SV650S which, I’m reliably informed, I’m wrong for trying to call a sportsbike.
Deciding to do a trackday
My love of motorsport, my newly acquired licence and my new bike meant I was desperate to get out on track, thinking I was a very fast 125cc seasoned London commuter with bags of track experience (albeit on 4 wheels). Encouraged by our SBF team to just “hurry up and book a fucking trackday”, I signed up for an Oulton Park double header which Marc had already booked onto. I was as excited as a fat kid on a cupcake!
With a B&B and van sorted, I rode to Marc’s the day before, we loaded my bike into the van along with his 06 Blade, and started the 4-hour journey up to Cheshire during which I was treated (or subjected) to a musical journey from Marc’s ipod which consisted of mostly ridiculously fast dance music and really aggressive, shouty thrash metal. Despite this, my enthusiasm was sky-high and I couldn’t wait to get there!
The day arrived
We arrived at Oulton park at 7.30am and easily found somewhere to park and space in a garage. It was wet, having rained overnight, the gloomy forecast predicting more rain.
Off we went to sign on (not the dole) and register and then my first No Limits briefing was delivered in typical GSXR-slating fashion by Simon, which was one of the funniest briefings I had ever heard. Some of the guys didn’t look too impressed so I presumed they were riding Suzukis.
After the briefing, we went through noise testing and then it was the middle group out first so I had 20 minutes before I’d be out on track for the first time ever on two wheels.
The excitement was immense, but then lining up to go out, the enormity of it hit me and I started to shit myself. I was in the Novice/Lower group, whatever they’re calling it these days, and the people lining up alongside me were on fully prepped trackbikes of all sizes from 250s to 1000s. This isn’t how I imagined the Novice group would be – it was like a race meeting, and there’s me on my shitty little SV650S with its number plate still on and mirrors removed.
I didn’t have too long to dwell on it though because before long, our wristbands were checked and then the green lights at the end of pit lane came on, signifying the start of our session. This was it… dry mouth, heart thumping, engines revving, and then we were off out the pitlane and heading towards Cascades for the first time.
Sighting laps and first session
The first three laps were sighting laps, taken at a steady pace to let us all get used to the track and where it went. Despite the reduced speed, it was still an exhilarating feeling being able to go these speeds without the usual distractions of having to look for car drivers or foxes or cyclists or speed cameras, etc. etc. and then BANG! came the reality check of me getting all confident and thinking I was a fast rider and then getting passed round the outside of Druids by someone on a teeny little 250cc. Ah well, I thought, what the hell, turns out I’m slow and shit. Next thing I know, the chequered flag was out so the session was over and we all returned to the pits. I’d thoroughly enjoyed myself and now knew roughly where the track went and was gagging for my next outing.
With my confidence at an all-time high, adrenaline pumping and my raring to go like a young man about to lose his virginity, I went out on track thinking I’m Valentino Rossi (but without the broken leg). I was fully expecting to be passed but also determined to make a few passes of my own and get involved with the sessions. I did just that – I focused on finding my breaking points, my lines were steady and I was really giving it a go, not concerned about binning my commuter bike at all even with it being a month old only.
At the end of the session, I came back into the garage, still completely full of enthusiasm, and jumped off my bike gibbering, “Marc, Marc, Marc, Marc!! That session was awesome! I need to borrow your knee-sliders please, please can I use your knee sliders for the next session, can I use the new ones as I’m sure I’ll get my knee down and you’ll be able to see!” Marc and the rest of the garage are pissing themselves at my hysteria and the garage was full of comments about how “shit’s getting real now!” Marc chucked me his brand-new knee-sliders and I attached them to my 2pc Furygan suit, absolutely convinced I was going to wear them out completely in the next session.
Third session – going for knee-down
Out I went, determined to get down on one knee (don’t let my girlfriend hear me say that). As I came through the last two right-handers and crossed the start finish line, I was confident my tyres were warmed up now so decided now was the time to get that knee down.
BIG. MISTAKE. Turns out getting your knee down isn’t as easy as it looks! Every attempt to get down resulted in me completely missing my braking points, messing up my gearing and ultimately screwing up my lines and laps and being THAT GUY… the rider no one wants to be, the clueless wanker all over the track.
I made it through the session without any major incidents, got back into the pits, turned the bike off and filled the garage with the sound of ripping velcro as the knee-sliders (still pristine and virginal) were pulled off. The whole garage erupted with laughter again and I was laughing too, thinking perhaps I should just relax and enjoy my time at the track and not try to be Rossi just yet.
Playing in the gravel trap
The afternoon sessions were a study in how road riders think they’re fast but get on track and discover they really are NOT. At all. Very humbling.
My biggest lesson learned was how not to absolutely shit myself when someone overtakes me unexpectedly. I was flying (so I thought!), pretty sure I was doing around 90mph heading towards Druids and then someone came hammering past me round the outside out of nowhere. I looked over at him (or maybe her) and thought “Wow!” admiring his balls (or maybe hers) and speed and lines, then I looked up again and thought, “Shit, shit, shiiiiit, I need to brake! Oh, nope, no time to brake!” and the kitty litter was coming towards me at an alarming rate. I remember my late father always saying, “If you’re going into the kitty litter, don’t do anything, let the kitty litter do the work for you.”
I looked down and I was doing 75mph as I entered the kitty litter thinking all the ways this could go horribly wrong. As it turns out, it ended up being my proudest moment of the day because I managed to keep the bike upright and running, straight through the gravel trap and got back onto the track without coming off. I was really chuffed with this and looked up at the sky and sent a thanks to my pops.
Day Two: merged groups
On the second day, Kawasaki and Suzuki had block-booked one of the groups all day for an owner’s event which meant there were only two groups available to book: Novice/Inters and Inters/Fast. Marc chose to join me in the lower group so we could get some GoPro footage of each other.
We got to the track around 7am, fresh, excited and raring to go again. We found a garage straight away and, as it happened, the Everquip Racing team with Bjorn Estment from BSB Supersport was setting up next to us. I was absolutely thrilled to be sharing a garage with a racer I only ever see on television. I’ve followed Bjorn (a fellow South African) for years – my dad knew him back in his SA days.
Trackbikes for hire
Also in the same garage with us were a few lovely looking CBR600RR trackbikes for hire. They were in orange and black Trackbike Hire livery with a flyer tucked into the screen of one explaining how you could hire one for the day.
We’d skipped breakfast at the hotel in favour of eating at the track and on the way to the restaurant, Marc saw the Trackbike Hire guy at his van and found out that there was one available and it was a very reasonable £240.00 for the day. Oh, and I’d just been paid… Mmmm… decisions, decisions. I couldn’t stop thinking about the chance to ride a proper trackbike rather than my squishy and soft commuter bike but I decided against it, thinking it was a silly idea as I was there with my very own bike.
Even though we’d done the previous day, the event was being run as two separate days so we had to sign on and attend the briefing (another Triumph & Gixxer slating) and get noise tested again. Marc and I were standing in the breakfast line discussing the pros and cons of hiring a bike (it seems there are no cons) and I quickly changed my mind after a few minutes of umming and ahhing. I turned to Marc and said, “Right, I’m going to go and hire the bike and I’m also going to get my bike noise tested so that if I write-off the hire bike and I’m ok, I can still use my SV for the remaining sessions!” Apparently I’m easily tempted.
Back to the garage I went to pay for the hire bike. Jason, from Trackbike Hire, was a pleasure to deal with and his team who spent the day with me sorting out the bike and putting the warmers on after each session were awesome. Really warm and welcoming, they all got and seemed to share my enthusiasm which surprised me as they do this week in week out all over the country.
First session on a CBR600
So now it was nearly time for our first session and my first time riding a proper sportsbike. I asked for some advice from Marc and Bjorn and both said to just get out, take it easy while I got used to the different feel of the bike, and most of all to have fun without over-thinking it too much.
Off we went down pit-lane and the excitement was continuing to rise as I was now on a proper trackbike and it felt so completely different. I’d thought my SV had a relatively sporty riding position but soon found out how wrong that was as I was properly squashed up into a much more aggressive, racier position. After just two laps, boom, the cramps started kicking in. The rear sets were so much higher and further back than my normal position would be and it was a difficult adjustment but I wobbled around the track determined to not go in early. I wanted my money’s worth so wasn’t prepared to miss a single lap.
Thankfully I survived, the chequered flag ending my discomfort not a moment too soon. I rode back into the garage, climbed off the bike and started stretching straight away, wolfing down a banana to minimise the cramping. This got everyone laughing again and the day was in full swing.
For the next session, Marc and I decided to get the GoPros out to get some footage. The plan was the Marc would follow me for a bit and then guide me around and check my lines, aiming to get some quality footage today. Marc followed me for a bit and then started to lead but I got stuck behind a group of bikes he overtook with apparently no effort so then he disappeared.
In the next session, I followed Marc out with a camera on the front of my hire bike (they come with GoPro mounts) and the plan was for me to get a shot of him coming past me in between the chicanes. There’s me winding it around Cascades and Shell Oils, thinking to myself, “Oh yeah, this is fast!”. I looked up to see Marc going round the corner one-handed on his Blade looking back at me while I was fighting the bike around the corner to stay on line. I just laughed and realised I need to hand in my man point.
We come out of Britten’s Chicane and onto the Hilltop Straight, I’m pinning it, literally flat out, and Marc flies past me on his back wheel for the full length of the straight. It was brilliant and made me think for the millionth time how awesome bikes are. I was in awe and struggling to catch him while he was just pottering around. Ah well. I was happy with that though as I had the GoPro on to capture that cool shot… or so I thought. As it happens, I’d turned the camera on in photo mode not video, so instead of cool video footage, all we have is a picture of my face as I bent down and pressed record. Ooops. What an idiot.
Trackbike Hire – what a great bunch!
I can’t praise these guys enough. Every time I came back in from a session, the tyre warmers went straight on, then they’d ask me a few questions such as how my session was, how the bike was, anything else to report, etc. It was the ultimate track experience for me really; the petrol was always topped up, the tyre warmers taken off just before heading out and put back on as soon as the session was over. It was fantastic and completely hassle-free, like a racing experience without actually racing. Pit crew, mechanic, tyre guy and all the bike management was taken care of; all I had to do was rock up and ride.
More trips into the gravel
Sooooo, I ended up in the kitty litter again on the hire bike, and again I was extremely proud of not binning it. It was after the chequered flag had come out too which is hilarious. I basically changed down one too many times and put it straight into neutral heading towards Cascades so the bike went silent and just coasted along without all the engine braking I was expecting. I didn’t know what had happened at first; I looked down and saw the green neutral light on, realised what I’d done and then sat up and went into the gravel again. I kept the bike running, got myself out and headed round the rest of the lap to the pits.
I parked up and the guy went to put on the tyre warmers. Just before they went on, I heard (in a tone of voice you would use on a naughty little boy), “Oh, and where have we been, young man?” as you could see from the dust on the tyres the evidence of my off-track excursion. I laughed sheepishly and explained what happened and immediately I was asked if it was an issue with the bike having slipped into neutral. Their immediate concern was for my safety on the bike and not the welfare of their bike. I explained that the bike was perfect and it was down to my mistake that took us into the gravel.
Overall, the second day was great. I improved immensely and overtook a lot of people so I feel I held my own out there on the CBR. I kept up with a fair few riders and had a bit of fun passing each other as the sessions went on.
The most frustrating thing I found on track was the “straight-line wankers”, you know, the ones who fly past you on their 1000cc bikes on the straight and then virtually stop on the racing line to tiptoe around the corners. On the approach to a bend I’d be wondering why they were braking so early and it would slow me down as then they’re in my way. They’d trickle round the corner with me swearing at them under my helmet and then on the straight they fly off again.
Same thing next corner, I’d overtake them on the outside of Shell Oils Bend and then they’d come past me just before the Britten’s Chicane, slow down, stand me up, and disappear again. It was the most frustrating thing, a bit like being stuck behind a granny in the supermarket with an occasional turbo boost so I couldn’t get by.
My event in numbers:
- 414 miles driven to get there
- 2 days on track
- 14 sessions in total
- 7 on my Suzuki SV650S
- 7 on the hired CBR60RR
- 3 trips to the kitty litter (ahem)
I even advised this one guy on the best way to get home because he’d ridden to the track on his brand new GSX-R750 and written it off by the 4th session (novice group) coming off on the last right-hander and causing the session to be red-flagged. He was rumoured to be at the gate waiting for a taxi home at lunchtime.
As for the rest of the facilities, the garages were decent; I was really impressed with the canteen (the food was actually very good); and the marshals were very approachable and always willing to chat.
All in all, it was an amazing couple of days and I can’t wait for my next one! I can see a European event happening in 2018…
- No Limits Trackdays – you guys are awesome. Great and friendly bunch of guys who will welcome you and help you with anything. Thank you for kick-starting my trackday addiction.
- Trackbike Hire UK – for an amazing experience, I absolutely loved the service you offered and the bike was fantastic.
- Everquip Racing (BSB Supersport) – for all your advice, help and your willingness to offer your professional guidance and answer all our questions.