It’s ALL About the Bikes!

It is fairly amazing, when you stop to think about it, how many services that you sort of take for granted – because you see them whizzing round day in day out – are totally dependent on the kindness of strangers dipping their hands into their pockets.

This includes bodies like the RNLI, the Air Ambulance (the friend of racers and rugby players – of which I am both – alike) and the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes that criss-cross the country providing blood and organs for transplants and surgery. All of them can be sensibly classed as emergency services.

The Prescott Bike Festival, at the Prescott Speed Hill Climb in the Cotswolds, was created to provide a fundraiser for the Severn Freewheelers. They provide the out of hours support for hospitals in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and North Wiltshire, providing transport for blood, organs, samples, human milk – everything.

Every day of every year.  Christmas, Easter, a week next Tuesday.  You name it.

However, they need to fund themselves completely. It’s bloody hard work! And that is what the bike festival is all about – helping raise funds.

Money was raised through money on the gate, selling passenger rides on racing sidecars or Morgan 3 wheelers and charging riders for the chance to take their own bikes up the sinuous bends of the hill climb. People also got to watch the amazing paddock specials, like the mono-wheels and custom bikes.

I was a veIMG_3329[1]ry welcome opportunity, when I was asked to provide commentary and comparing for the festival, not least because I was able to interview some brilliant and interesting people who had come along and given their time to support this great charity.

When one meets people from the tele, you are never sure what you will get – I mean you hear stories about celebs don’t you? The stereotype couldn’t have been further from the truth with Amanda Mealing, the enthusiastic biker best known for her roles in TV dramas Casualty and Holby City. It was Amanda’s debut event in her new role as an Ambassador for the charity, and one in which she excelled with time for everyone and anything at the event, and an obvious enthusiasm for the work that the blood bikes do – a solid gold ambassador for the charity.

In addition we got to see nuclear scientist and engineer Allan Millyard, with 7 of his fantastic creations. Whether it was the bespoke 5 cylinder Kawasaki, the Flying Millyard – which is powered by a 5 litre V-Twin (which is actually from a B-25 World War two bomber),  or the amazing Viper engined motorcycle that is basically sitting astride an 8 litre V10, with a wheel on either end, the crowd were delighted and amazed in equal measure.

Then there was Matt McKeown – who decided to fit a Jet Engine to a shopping trolley – as IMG_3335[1]you do, or Kevin Smith, with the world’s fastest mono-wheel. Both of which were challenging to get up the hill to say the least, but provided both pilots with something of a triumph over adversity!

A massive amount of motorcycle experience was added by adventure rider and author Nick Sanders, who has written 4 books on endurance motor-cycling. In 1997 he rode around the world in 31 days and 31 days and 20 hours – an exhausting odyssey that involved some days covering over 1000 miles of riding.  In 2011 he rode from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego – and back – in 49 days and 17 hours.  A brace of truly remarkable achievements, from a man whose agenda seems purely to be living life.

A final word has to go to the lads from The Bike Experience.  This amazing charity helps people with life changing injuries get back out there and ride bikes. One of their beneficiaries, Andy, who represented the charity on the hillclimb, is paralysed from the chest down. However, with a thumb gear change and rear brake added to the bike, £10 toe clips from Halfords, and Velcro to keep his knees close to the fuel tank, he now does track days once more on his Yamaha R6.  One less thing that has to change – and that’s worth a look!

The combination of a wonderful venue, great bikes, great weather and truly interesting and generous guests has meant that the festival was able to have its best event since its inception in 2011.  A pleasure to attend, a pleasure to work at, and what’s even better – the Freewheelers left with a helmet load of cash!

Learning to Walk Again

Steep learning curve this racing lark.

To think that I was the most worried about the basic minutia of the day when I started out. Wondering where I am meant to park, when I am meant to get going to get to the start line – all of that stuff.

Maybe it was arrogance, maybe it was the fact that I didn’t think it through enough – but for some reason I wasn’t worried too much about the driving side of it. On reflection maybe I am a bit dim!

The Crowd Assembles
Either way, I arrived at Prescott nice and early for the Midland B License Championship, in order to go through the normal pre event routines of applying numbers, walking the hill, getting to know my class mates and so on a so forth.  I was worried it was too early to get there and I would end up looking like a bit of a plum.

But what with signing on, sorting the car out, getting scrutineered, attending the drivers briefing and trying to have a walk up the hill – you don’t have time to stop!

The first thing I noted about Prescott was what a dynamic surface it is. You don’t get a sense from YouTube videos of the angle and gradients of the road in the first couple of corners, and you never really understand how you have to wrestle a car through Pardon’s (a tight, steep left hand hairpin) until you drive it.

As a beginner you always (or at least I do!) have these fantasies of sort of winging it up the hill, playing it by ear and relying on your natural talent to get the car up there quickly – we all like to fantasise about being a natural talent and that we could all be Gilles Villeneuve if we wanted to.

For 95% of us (me included) this is fairly quickly dispelled.  One run up the track to get my bearings and the process of figuring out what to do at each turn begins.  I have discovered that I work best when I am going through a process for driving – it’s like learning the steps of a dance, there is no flying by the seat of your pants, no improvising. You brake at a certain point, change into a certain gear, turn in, change up at the same time, its all completely timed, and once you figure out your dance, you repeat it.   Occasionally you will change the steps depending on how it all feels, but it’s certainly a re-active process, not a pro-active one.

It also highlights to you how little you know your car, when you have only the opportunity to drive it on the road. Finding out where the really useful power is, just how far you can push it before it understeers away from you (joys of FWD) is an adventure in itself.IMG_3369

For example, what would have seemed totally counter-productive to me (dropping down to first round the tight parts) actually works well, when I thought it would kill the momentum. This is a polite way of saying you are going slower than you think at first!

So these are all steps you add into your new dance. And you do that dance, step by step, and just try and make your steps cleaner and crisper and change them if you think you have a better idea. Sometimes that works, sometimes that doesn’t.

To the victor…

Either way, the voyage into the unknown was a little compromised by the loss of a practice run (the reasons for which no one will be questioning however!) – so a certain amount of going for it was involved in run 1 – and then again in run 2, where I took some learning points from run 2 – like going into first round Ettorie’s (the second turn) and not changing up to third before semi-circle (the last turn).

Despite an improvement in time from 60.95 to a 56.61 at the end of the day to secure the class, there are still steps to add. I will be down in first gear for Pardon’s hairpin for a starter! There is a lot more to come.


In the meantime…keeeeeep dancing.


I don’t believe I said that. I feel dirty.

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