Brought to you by the Institute of Advanced Muppetry. Not the venerable IAM itself, you understand, but a number of its members. You what? OK, let’s rewind for a moment: start with a very good idea – to organise a track day for IAM-affiliated clubs, specifically for those people who’ve been put off track days by some of the on-track behaviour and the generally testosterone-soaked atmosphere around these events. Sounds good. Then pick an experienced organiser and book Cadwell Park, one of THE great bike circuits, anywhere. Sounds very good. In fact there’s about twenty people from WVAM going, which should make it a nice sociable occasion.
Now fast-forward to the day itself. [By this device I conveniently gloss over my hurling of toys from the group pram on the ride up — sorry, but 120 miles in four hours through 30/40mph limits on a 748 is going to do in anyone’s head (and in my case, their back). The journey improved though – the second, solo, 120 miles was over clear and wonderful roads and took an hour-and-a-half. Antisocial git that I am.]
Sunday evening’s beer’n’thai led, in the usual manner of such things, to a clear, dry Monday. Also usual was the track day format: ninetyish people; three groups; half a dozen instructors and a briefing which emphasised safety and the fact that it’s a track day not a race day. What the briefing entirely failed to mention was that lobotomies were not in fact compulsory. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, is it not?
Out of ninety-something people on the track, about seventeen managed to throw selves and machines into the scenery, ranging from (and let’s be generous here, shall we Tisha?) getting onto the marbles at Mansfield, through running onto the grass to avoid a marshal who’d run onto the track (tough luck there, Frank) to full-on highsides at Charlie’s. That’s about a (short pause for removal of socks to extend calculation limit) 16% casualty rate. If we’d been an army, we’d have lost.
If these people were all IAM members, then I can only surmise that the daily strain of riding to the System and the Rules of the Road leads to a level of bottled-up psychotic hooliganism, which emerges at full force (and that’s enough of the fundamentally dodgy metaphor), when road rules are suspended. I was seeing manoeuvres more suited to the final sprint of a cycling criterium race than a (theoretically) non-competitive motorcycling event.
While one of the humbly opinionated issues I have with the IAM (and similar organisations like RoSPA) is their emphasis on road craft more than actual machine control, most of the offs at Cadwell seemed to be down to descent- by-invitation of the red mist – I don’t think that any of the Slow group binned it and most of the moments of breathtaking lunacy I witnessed were while watching the fast group.
Me, I had a great time — I managed (just) to stay out of trouble in the intermediate group and discovered that, while the fast boys and girls on the R1s and Gixxers were coming past me on the straight like my engine had fallen out, most of them were then holding me up in the corners. Just before lunch I’d started getting frustrated by this, and then using way too many gear changes and late braking frenzies to try to set up a slingshot coming out of the bends – all I was doing was locking up the back end, generally unsettling both bike and rider and, funnily enough, going slower. Deep breath and calm it, off the brakes, leave the bloody gear lever alone and, lo! – I’m catching ’em. Now there’s just the matter of that 40bhp or so deficit.
I do think I’d probably either have been slower or eating grass if I’d been on a much more powerful bike – I can’t think of a better track day bike for a novice like me than a 748 — exactly enough power to be fun while still forgiving of cack-handed use of the throttle, and completely unflappable handling.
Three of us rode back at what I hope was a good and consistent pace (ahem) – riding down the A1 in a staggered arrowhead formation with the three headlights of a Mille, the two of the Duke and that of a slightly kcufed (k-c-u-f-e- d: kcufed – see?) ZX-6 must have made motorists think they’d fallen into the remake of Close Encounters. Most got out of the way quickly enough, so we didn’t need to actually complete the filmic allusion by riding over the top of them. Tired? Of course. Sore? for sure – now I *really* realise why motorcycle racers are such fit buggers. Happy? Oh yes. But times they are a-changin…