Over the years, I’ve been admitted to hospital more times than I can remember, and every single time it’s been after an incident involving a motorbike. I soon learnt that injuries are the true cost of bike racing. Bones-wise, I’m running out of things to break; I’ve done both feet, both legs, my hip, my pelvis, my spine in a few different places, two hands, one arm and a wrist. Consequently, half of my joints are now riddled with metal and/or osteoarthritis, and I’m only 30 years old.
And that’s just the ‘mechanical’ stuff. After years of abuse, I’ve been left with irreparable nerve damage that’s left me with vast swathes of skin without any sensation whatsoever, and constant pins and needles in my little fingers and big toes. I’ve also got nerve damage to thank for some serious issues in the water closet (both ends) which, for the last ten years, has been the biggest pain in the arse out of the lot (if you’ll pardon the pun).
In the process of smashing my body time and time again, I’ve written off more bikes than I care to remember. Even if I could remember all the bikes that I have smashed up over the years, I don’t think I’d dare add up the value of all the crash damage I’ve caused. It’d be a very big number, which is one of the reasons I’ll never be a rich man. It’s also the reason my poor old dad will never be a rich man either; sorry George.
When I was a kid, my racing was paid for exclusively by George. I think he enjoyed taking me racing almost as much as I enjoyed going. But he didn’t enjoy seeing his little boy cartwheeling himself and his race bike through the gravel every other weekend. He’d have to spend another month’s pay packet putting the bike back together. That wasn’t the worst part of it though; he’d also have to explain to my mother (don’t worry, they are happily divorced) why we were sat in A&E. Again.
Once he’d bought me a bike, all the kit, paid for entries, fuel, tyres and all them really expensive things, he didn’t have a whole lot left. “I could be driving round in a Ferrari, if it wasn’t for you, ya little bastard!” he would tell me. I don’t think he meant it, he likes his van way too much, and anyway, the silly old fucker is far too old to get in a Ferrari without putting his hip out or something. The older I got, the higher up the racing food chain I got and before I knew it, I was working my arse off all week to plough all the money I earned myself into racing – as well as some of George’s and anything I could get from my sponsors (which was sometimes a decent amount, other times a mere pittance).
I’ve had some decent jobs in my time, but I never seemed to have a penny to scratch my arse with and I know exactly why. It’s because I’ve spent it all going racing. And I’m not the only one. I know folk that have remortgaged their house for the sake of another season racing, and others that have lost everything and gone officially bankrupt off the back of it. Fortunately, bankruptcy has never befouled me because I’ve never spent cash that I don’t have. There are plenty of bike racers, or ex-bike racers, that can’t say the same.
But the best case scenario for me now is spending the rest of my life with a constant limp, eating nothing but £1-a-go frozen pizzas and anything with a yellow ‘whoops’ label on it in the supermarket. Worse case? Well that’s probably me not being able to walk at all, or afford a pizza, never mind a wheelchair, so I’ll be dragging myself around town on my arse, sleeping bag over my shoulder, looking for a vacant railway arch to get my head down in. Perhaps I’m being slightly melodramatic there, but I’m sure you catch my drift.
But has it been worth it? Well, sometimes I sit and consider the differences between my experiences and the experiences of the lads I went to school with, both growing up, and in ‘adult’ life (referring to myself as an adult still makes me cringe).
As young kids, whilst they were getting up early on Sunday mornings to visit their grandparents, I was getting up, getting the van packed and heading to the motocross track with my old man for a full day in the fresh air, learning new skills and mixing with different people all the time.
As a young teenager, whilst they were shooting zombies on their PlayStation, I was racing in the Aprilia Superteens. Now I was mixing with boys, girls and adults from all over the country, learning way more about building relationships that you’d ever learn at school (or playing the PlayStation), and racing bikes that might only be kids bikes, but were still capable of 100mph plus.
When I was 17, I started racing in the British Championship, and although it might have only been Superstock 600 at the time, I was convinced I’d made it into the big leagues. At home we’d started getting in pubs and nightclubs, we’d dance the night away and swap bodily fluids with strangers. It was great fun and I loved every minute of it, but for a lot of them boys, it was all they did. Hull night clubs were alright, but I soon learnt that there was a much more attractive stock of females in the BSB paddock to fraternize with.
Over the next ten years I swapped Stock 600 for Superstock 1000, whilst my mates swapped the Hull night life for daytime beers and football (watching other people play football on telly, I might add, not playing the fucker themselves).
I’m 30 now and, thanks to getting involved in bike racing at an early age, I feel like I’ve done more than most do given 300 years on this planet. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world and race some of the fastest and best bikes in some of the most iconic motorcycle races in the universe; the Isle of Man TT, the Le Mans 24hr, British Superbikes, Spanish Superbikes, Dutch Superbikes. I’ve grown up rubbing shoulders with lads that have gone on to be world champions and although I didn’t make it there myself, I had a bloody good go.
So in summation, I’d have to say yes, it has all been worth it. The fortune that I’ll never own, the physical fitness that I’m never likely to enjoy again and the fact that I missed quite a few of my friends and families weddings over the past 20 years all pails into insignificance when I sit and think about the stuff I’ve done, the bikes I’ve raced, the people I’ve met and the memories I’ve made. Memories that I’ll take with me to my grave. If I ever have kids of my own, there’s no doubt in my mind that, should I be able to scrape the funds together, I’ll do everything I can to give them the opportunities I’ve had, because despite there being ups and downs in any bike racers ‘career,’ the astronomical ups far outweigh anything crap the sport can throw at you.