In a week that included sharing Valencia circuit with Nico Terol, I thought I’d seen something pretty special in terms of riding behind super-quick racers. Until, that was, I ended up out on the mountain course at the Isle of Man with John McGuinness. He was feeling a little worse for wear – hardly surprising, considering he’d just spent the weekend racing to a fifth-place finish at the Bol d’Or 24-hour Endurance race.
All he’d done following the finish was travel straight out to the Isle of Man, had a few beers and a few hours’ sleep. Even so, when he set off on the dealer demo Honda Fireblade, I knew I was in for a treat. Through town, I could hear John short-shifting straight up to whatever the speed limit was. He doesn’t ride like other racers I’ve ridden with; indicators were being used, I saw life-savers, and his road positioning was as clean as a whistle. When the 30mph limit became a 40mph limit, nothing changed bar a gear and the extra 10mph. But when the 40 limit gave way to the national speed limit, I was blown away in more ways than one.
In the same way that in town John seemed to prefer a higher gear, on the fast section it seemed like he shifted straight up to top. No screaming engine revs to draw attention to what he was up to. What he was up to, though, was about 140mph through the first corner. Even though I felt like I was riding flat-out, on the Triumph Street Triple R, I was doing only about 90 when he disappeared out of sight.
I came off the corner on to a long, clear straight and saw nothing but clear road; the big man was gone. In one corner, John had dropped me like a toilet seat. Up on the mountain, the speed that he carried was hilarious. No over-egged body positioning or heroics, just stacks of mind-bending pace.
At one point, I was doing my very best to cling on to John, not because I thought I’d be in with a chance of proving I could keep up, but because it was so weird to see a road-going bike travelling so quickly – I wanted to see as much of it as possible. When we could see all the way along the side of the mountain, John made the most of the road, riding at around 150mph. Easily. I never once saw him try and get his knee down, nor did I see him putting in any of those wince-inducing overtakes that we’ve all had a stab at. On the brakes, his bike always seemed perfectly settled and in line.
Each time he got on the gas, it left me feeling a little bit sick. We rode together for most of the day; John showed me the lines that he takes through some of the most demanding sections of the circuit. Each time he tapped the tail-light, I put my faith in him and committed to riding as fast as I could. Every single time we did it, he was gone within a few seconds and I bottled it, not knowing what was coming. After a full day, I knew for certain that what I’d thought “fast” on the road clearly isn’t.
“Riding on the road is the best thing in the world. But if you want to go quicker, then you need to get to a track first. I’m 100 per cent behind track riding being the key to unlocking whatever talent you have for road riding. A trackday will help every biker. I know it’s hard because you just want to get out there and get your knee down, do a wheelie or a skid and impress your mates – I know because I’ve been there. I’m not just looking back with the benefit of the race experience; I’m also looking back at all of the years I’ve been a regular road rider. If you leave your normal road bike exactly how it’s set up for when you ride it on the road, with the standard tyres on it, and you can take it out on track without getting carried away with your mates, you’ll realise just how capable it is. There is so much feedback available from bikes nowadays it’s unreal.
I guarantee that, on top of all of the experience you can apply to your road riding, the confidence you come away with will be of benefit for sure. For me, looking in from the outside, I see most road bike accidents coming from people panicking and grabbing a handful of brake in the middle of a corner, or not committing to a corner, sitting bikes up and running wide, into something or someone. Give yourself a chance and lean the old girl over; you’ve a 50/50 chance, and I don’t know anyone who would rather crash not trying than crash trying. Your bike will lean over, it’s official.
A good ride on the road should always start with you feeling relaxed. There’s no use getting pumped and excited before you go out, then jumping on a bike with a cold motor and stone-cold tyres. By getting on and taking the time to relax, you’re giving the bike a chance to warm up, as well as giving yourself a chance to assess the conditions. Breathe, don’t be stiff.
Try and relax. I work as a trackday instructor, and the amount of people I see holding their breath on the way into corners is unreal. You have to be able to relax to get the most from yourself. For me, getting the most means riding as fast as I can. If you apply that to regular road riding, that means relaxing enough to be able to enjoy your ride regardless of the hazards, self-induced or otherwise. …and relax
People rip the piss out of me for being a fatty, but I know how to relax on a bike enough that I’m never tired when I race here, and I always have a bit left in the tank if I need to fight toward the end of a race.
You haven’t fallen off until you’ve actually hit something. By that, I mean if you do ride into a hazard, you need to be able to react positively. That will come if your riding is relaxed enough to be able to process everything that is going on. If you find yourself struggling to cope with the rate at which you’re feeding yourself information, then that’s a sure sign you’re riding too fast. By slowing down and working at a more comfortable level, the speed will come.
I don’t think there’s any need to weave along trying to get heat into your tyres; let them come to you. If you think you need to weave to heat them up, then chances are they’re not going to be ready to deal with what you’re about to ask of them. Ride your ride and be smooth. Respect the bike you have and the power it has. Confidence is the key to riding well on the road. Knowing what to do and when, and knowing what your bike is capable of. I mean absolutely no disrespect when I say that a modern sportsbike is way above the average rider’s ability. Once you can accept that it’s capable of much more than you’ll ask of it, you’ll realise that most of the mistakes that happen when you’re riding are caused by you making bad decisions or making the wrong inputs, rather than the bike responding in a bad way.”
On slow corners
“You might have heard racers say, “On fast corners go fast, and in slow corners go slow”. That’s largely good advice, but you can take a few more risks in slow corners
Should you go as fast as you can around slow corners? It depends what you’re out riding for. If you’re out for a casual ride, then applying the standard technique to a corner will always work: get the gear right, get your braking done cleanly, avoiding the temptation to hang on to them too long; make as much use of the road as possible and look at the exit. By doing these things, you can guarantee a good line through a slow-speed corner. If you’re on a bit of a mad one, the way to look at slow-speed corners is that any mistake you make will probably hurt less than a mistake made in a fast corner. It’s a slightly twisted theory and it only applies when nothing else matters other than being faster than everyone else. How important that [beating others] is to you when you’re out on a road ride is up to you. I bring my vision back in slow corners; I think more about adhesion, about dirt and rubbish that always seems to collect on slower, tighter corners. You can have a dry surface that has no grip. You could be tootling along thinking all is well, but if matey boy from the farm up the road has been tracking dust and crap through all week long, there could be no grip, you have to be ready for that. For me here during the TT, it’s busy campsite entrances that can catch me out. On the race bike, I also take the chance in slower corners to take a peek at what my dials are telling me. When I’m riding on the road bike, I do the same, but also feel myself looking around a lot more in general. Lifting your vision to the exit will help the bike go where you want it to, at the same time it’ll give you the best chance possible of spotting a hazard between you and where you want to be.”
On fast corners
“It’s really difficult to?get across what I feel?road riders need? to know, without?sounding like a cocky racer, but for the most part, regular road riders, even the quick ones, are not going as fast as possible on the road
If road riders actually rode as fast as possible, they’d all be locked up within a week. You could be the fastest guy you know down your local A-road but you can always improve on what you’re doing. Are you being inch-perfect? Are you making the most of what you have? If you’re honest, you’re probably not. Use the road,
if you can. If it’s clear and you can see that it’s clear for the full amount of the road that you need to use, then use what you need to, when you need to. I’m not saying ignore the white lines or purposely spend your whole ride sitting over?the other side, but when it counts, making the most of the space available will reduce the chances of you having to upset the balance of your bike with extra inputs to turn it or slow it down. You can apply the same technique I use when I’m racing the TT to your favourite ride. I have to visualise every single apex here before I’m anywhere near it. Partly because I can’t see half of them until they’re under my nose and partly because it means I don’t get any surprises when I do hit them. You can adapt that to suit you by thinking about what’s next. Bearing?in mind you can only ride to the distance you can see, so I’m not saying use this technique to barrel around blind corners just because you know where you’re going. But think about what’s coming up next and make sure you get the best possible position on the road before you need to, rather than when you’re on top of a corner. Know your limit and don’t be drawn into something you can’t control. If it does get messy, try and understand that you haven’t fallen off until you’ve actually hit something. By that, I mean if you do ride into a hazard, you need to be able to react positively. That will come if your riding is relaxed enough to be able to process everything that is going on. If you find yourself struggling to cope with the rate at which you’re feeding yourself information, you’re riding too fast. By slowing down and working at a more comfortable level, the speed will come.”
Words: @Johnatsuperbike Pics: Dave Collister