Whilst watching the Knockhill round of the British Superbike Championship a few weeks ago, I was reminded of a very busy weekend there, almost fifteen years ago. It was back in the day when I was racing an old CBR600RR in the British Superstock 600 Championship. It was an unusually sunny weekend (for Knockers), but rather than let my team enjoy the sun, I sent them on the wildest of wild goose chases, in search of a noise that I was convinced my bike was making. They weren’t happy when we discovered the culprit.
I first heard the mysterious sound when braking hard into the hairpin during the first qualifying session. But it wasn’t a typical squeaky break noise. It was more of a groaning sound. I remember likening it at the time to the sound of someone dragging a fridge across a rough concrete drive. And the harder I braked, the louder it got.
I’d done a good half season on the bike already and I’d never heard this particular sound before. We were flummoxed. We couldn’t see anything wrong with the brakes, or anything that might have caused the noise, but the team changed the discs and pads as a precaution and sent me back out for Q2.
And it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference. I needed to get a good time in, so I tried not to think about it and just got my head down, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a distraction. I rode for the best part of the session but came in early to give the lads time to see if they could find the issue.
We stripped the whole front end of the bike, put a different wheel in, checked every bearing, got the suspension serviced and fully checked before I went back out on the bike. Nothing seemed amiss, but we optimistically hoped the process of stripping everything down and putting it all back together would fix whatever was causing the noise.
And we thought it had because it didn’t happen once in the morning warm-up session. But warm-up was cold and a little bit damp so in retrospect, I wouldn’t have been pushing hard enough for it to make the noise anyway.
By the time we got to the race, the weather was fine and the noise was back with a vengeance. It fact with every lap of the race, the sound got louder and louder… until I realised what it was.
The reason I hadn’t heard it in warm-up was indeed because I wasn’t pushing hard enough. And the reason it was louder in the race was because I was pushing even harder into the hairpin than I had before. Partly that, anyway. And partly because I was getting more worn out with every lap.
It was about half race distance when I realised where the noise was coming from. It wasn’t the brakes, it wasn’t the suspension, it wasn’t the chassis. In fact, it wasn’t the bike at all. It was me.
The instant I realised, I felt like a right helmet. I’d had the team working all hours trying to pinpoint a problem with the bike… when there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. It was a full on CDI problem (C**t Doing It).
As I was braking harder and harder into the hairpin, squeezing the lever, holding my bodyweight up to get the thing ready to turn and using every modicum of strength to do it, I was groaning in the same way a tennis player does when he’s swinging with all his might. Except I didn’t sound like a tennis player, giving it ‘uh’. I sounded like an ill person who’s forgotten to take their Sennacot, trying to squeeze a plug out; and struggling.
That’s definitely what it was. One lap I consciously help my breath into the hairpin and the noise miraculously stopped! Except it wasn’t a miracle at all.
I can’t remember where I finished the race, but I can remember crossing the line and wondering what the hell I was going to tell the lads. Should I tell them the truth? Or should I tell them that what ever we did overnight must have cured it? It did cross my mind to bullshit my way out of any blame. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
The first thing my mechanic Ben asked me when I got to parc ferme was weather the brakes were still making that awful row. I just laughed. Thankfully, when I explained to him what was causing the noise, so did he!
So now, nearly fifteen years later, I’d like to apologise to Mike, Ben and George for leading you as far down the garden path as you’ve probably ever been. And for no other reason than that I’m really, really stupid. Sorry you put all that work in for absolutely nothing. And thanks for seeing the funny side of it!