After a long an arduous career trying to be the next big thing in the motorcycle road racing scene, going from one BSB round to the next, with one team after the next, on one bike after the next, I finally realised I probably didn’t have what it takes to get to MotoGP. And, if I’m being brutally honest with myself, I was deficient in more than one department. Budget, contacts, talent, size (I was too tall as a kid, now I’m too fat). They were all things I tried my best to improve upon, but to little or no avail.
I think it was approximately 2015 AD when the realisation set in. The realisation that for the thousands of pounds I was throwing at BSB every year, I wasn’t ever likely to get a whole lot back from it. Other than the memories, of course (some fantastic ones, some horrendous ones). So what was I supposed to do? Carry on chasing (and throwing everything I’ve got at) an increasingly impossible dream? Or was it time to try my hand at something new?
I decided it was time I made a change in my life. I was about 25 at the time, so too old to get into video games, and too young to start playing golf. It was quite the quandary, until one day the decision was all but made for me. There I was, testing my superstock ZX-10R, when a little bald feller I was sharing a pit box with sidled up to me and started telling me how much more fun road racing is. He told me it was high time I binned BSB off and put my name down for the TT. So that’s exactly what I did. I should point out that the little bald bloke was in fact TT legend Keith Amor, so it wasn’t like he didn’t know what he was talking about.
The decision to do it was literally made there and then. I spent the rest of the 2015 BSB season pestering all the teams that I knew had an interest in (real) road racing, to see if they fancied taking a newcomer along to the TT. Eventually, I found a team with the infrastructure, experience and enthusiasm to take me to the Island. A team to take me to the Isle of Man for my first ever TT. Fan-fucking-tastic.
Once I’d signed on the imaginary line (there were no contracts involved), I was fully committed. I got myself fit(ish), and spent hours on end studying the TT course. Every night before bed I’d watch an onboard lap. In fact I’d have my phone out at any opportunity just to get another lap in. Every time I took a shit, it took 17 minutes.
And for the six months leading up to TT 2016, once a month I’d head over to the Island just to do lap after lap after lap in a hire car. You’d be surprised how quickly you can do 37.7 miles in a 1.0 litre Fiesta.
The road to my first TT with DTR wasn’t without its difficulties. There were some cash-flow issues (I think that was the problem anyway) that meant the new Kawasakis didn’t arrive so there was a last-minute change to BMW which wasn’t the end of the world. We’d also planned to race at the North West 200 too, but that never happened because the bike wasn’t ready. But we got to the TT with a fully working BMW S 1000 RR and Honda CBR600RR. I was like a dog with two dicks.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t really enjoy my first few tentative laps around the Mountain Course. I’d be getting passed left, right and centre, as though I was some sort of licker; and I didn’t like it. And what a waste of time watching all those onboards was – it looked completely different in real life. After a couple of nights, though, it all started to make a bit more sense and I started chipping away. On the third night I actually passed someone!
In the first Superbike race, I found myself following another one of the newcomers, and I was suddenly grateful of all the hours I’d spent doing my homework. It was quite clear that this other lad hadn’t. The poor fucker didn’t have a clue where he was going, never anywhere near the racing line, braking either too early or too late and having multiple attempts at turning in. Needless to say, I made light work of dispatching him and promptly leaving him behind.
In 2016 we were blessed with disgustingly good weather so every one of the TT races went off as scheduled. I went a little bit quicker each time, finishing all five races that I started. By the last race, I managed a 123mph lap and finished 29th in the Senior TT. Oh, and I won the trophy for fastest newcomer. I know it was a far cry from Hickman’s 129mph newcomer lap but we were over the proverbial moon, and thus consumed an appropriate volume of alcohol.
It took one TT for me to fall in love with road racing. I did a few BSB rounds to finish off the 2016 season and couldn’t get anything like the same kick from it. It was like having a Bacardi Breezer after doing a line of coke – I imagine… it just didn’t touch the sides. Since my inaugural road race, I’ve been back over to the Isle of Man, as well as Ireland, to race the fastest bikes I can get my hands on, on the roads. And I’ve never looked back to my Bacardi Breezer swigging BSB days.
And it’s because I go racing to enjoy myself, not because I think I’m the next big thing. I spent too long racing against a grid full of cheaters, prima donnas and arseholes. And I couldn’t even have a beer on an evening in case someone was watching. You’d struggle to eat a Twix in that paddock without some prick trying to make you feel guilty about it.
It’s not like that when you go road racing; far from it. You can have a beer without your fellow racers turning their nose up. In fact they’d probably have something to say if you didn’t have one with them. And you can have a Twix, as well. In fact, fuck it, have two. Because we’re all there to enjoy riding our bikes as fast as we can, and have a laugh whilst we’re doing it. Surely that’s what bike racing was invented for, after all.
I’m not having a go at the young kids in BSB who wear their hats back to front. They might think they’re God’s gift to racing bikes and fingering grid girls, and good luck to them, I say. But it’s not for me. I’m more than happy to hang my leathers up after a long day road racing and have a beer and a cheese burger with the lads. Chasing tits and trophies is hard work, and I’m way too old for that.