This blog has always been a space to share aspects of my life that have influenced my music, and motorcycling is a huge part of that. In a year in which I’ve been unable to tour foreign countries, I’ve taken the opportunity to explore some of Britain’s most iconic racetracks on my bike. Here’s an insight into what my time on track has given me in 2019.
Motorcycle jacket with racetrack patches; Donnington Park
Connection to History
When you ride on a British racetrack, you are traversing a piece of land that is intimately connected to British and even world history. Kirkby Hall at Mallory was passed to the Church and reclaimed during the Dissolution under Henry VIII, used by the military during World War II and destroyed by fire after the war. Donnington Park stored military vehicles during the war and Bedford Autodrome was built on Thurleigh Airfield, a base for bomber aircraft in World War II and used for aircraft development after that. Joe Louis gave demonstration boxing bouts in the Deer Leap valley at Oulton Park to boost soldiers’ morale during the war, General Patton set up camp there to plan the Normandy Landings and the remains of the Hall were bombed by the Germans. Visiting a racetrack may not be the same kind of experience as visiting a stately home or a museum, but as you get to know the track you are actively engaging with a landscape that has been sculpted by history.
With Danny Buchan at Oulton Park; at Cadwell Park and at Brands Hatch
Connection to Racing
Brands Hatch has traditionally rivalled Silverstone for the Grand Prix, before deciding to focus on Superbike racing because of its open expanses. Ayrton Senna won one of his most epic victories at Donnington in 1993 and the biggest names in car and motorcycle racing history have graced many of our racetracks. You don’t have to be a professional racer to benefit from racing technique. I took a safety car lap of Oulton Park with BSB rider Danny Buchan and learned a lot about racing lines and markers. I’ve also been taking classes this summer with the California Superbike School, where I’ve learned about all kinds of techniques, from avoiding saccadic masking to body position. I’ll definitely be doing some more courses with them next year. More than anything, though, the track is a safe place to experiment with technique and learn about what you and your bike can do. It was at Cadwell Park this year (where my Dad crashed his go-cart on the Mountain in the 70s!) that I really started to gain confidence in my own track skills.
On track at Oulton Park
Connection to People
If you go to the track with a genuine willingness to learn, everyone wants to help. Coming off track and discussing lines and technique with other riders is a part of the experience. But it’s more than just advice that connects you to other bikers: when I broke my collarbone after lowsiding at Oulton Park, I couldn’t get my (thankfully fixable) poor little bike home. One of the kind instructors at the California Superbike School took my bike back to his reindeer park before arranging to drop it off a couple of days later (so my little Hornet had a wonderful reindeer adventure on the way home). He told me he felt like he was just doing for me what had been done for him when he broke his collarbone on track years ago and another biker had made sure his bike got safely home. The same thing is true on the track as it is on the road: bikers look out for each other.
At Mallory Park; on track at Cadwell Park; my little Hornet at Oulton Park; at Bedford Autodrome
Track Days as Education
Whenever I have spare money, it goes on travel or education and I always knew that if I had a year without touring, my focus would be on improving my riding skills. I had taken an excellent course at Mallory Park with Circuit Based Training in 2011, so this year I went back there for a day’s private tuition. Any track visit can be seen as an education, not just an excuse to tear around like a lunatic. Bedford Autodrome was even designed from scratch and completely rebuilt for driving in 1999. It is a safe, technical circuit and I learned a lot there.
At Silverstone for a day watching British Superbikes
This summer may not have held the usual excitement of a US tour on a big American cruiser, but it has been a season of getting to know my own bike and my own limits, following in the tracks of some of the icons of racing history, connecting with other bikers and dreams of curving tarmac and the sound of motorcycle engines.