Motorcycling seems to have woken up after its winter hibernation and it’s buzzing again. Race seasons have kicked off, dealers are starting to sell bikes and I’ve been out testing my Fireblade. It’s hard to imagine a few weeks ago we were reaching for our snorkels!
Honda run an official test every year, so I started spring with them at Monteblanco circuit in Spain. They invite every official Honda squad, so I was there with the BSB team of Dan Linfoot, Jason O’Halloran and Jenny Tinmouth as well as the World Endurance Frenchies and my team-mates Conor Cummins, Steve Mercer and Keith Farmer. It was good to get us all together and to have a few cheeky halves afterwards. This year we have a bit of new blood in the Jackson Racing team – and he’s a southerner!
I wasn’t sure a southerner could handle a 24-hour endurance race, but I tell you what, I wouldn’t argue with Steve Mercer. Or call him soft. He’s a proper cockney geezer and is all jellied eels, but he has a good work ethic. And even if he didn’t I wouldn’t say anything to him as he is into cage fighting! I’ve had to back off on taking the piss too much as I don’t want a clip around the ear from him.
The test itself was really encouraging and I got to ride all the specs of Fireblade – BSB, World Endurance Superstock, World Endurance Superbike and my own TT bike. Some feel a bit lighter, some are a bit faster, some a bit smoother, but at the end of the day they are all 2008 Fireblades with different tunes and a bit of dyno work. I’m super encouraged by the results Nicky Hayden and Micky van der Mark have been getting in WSB. The Blade has never been a bad bike, but those guys have proved it still has plenty of life left in it.
My TT bike has also evolved this year. It’s not a massive leap forward, but I was a second a lap faster at Monteblanco than last year. Although I did have to start each day by nailing a few paracetamols as I’ve had another tumble on my motocross bike... You fall off MX bikes all the time, but this latest one was quite cheeky. I was out with Lee Johnston and a few others and I got a bit cross-rutted on the way into a jump and it all went wrong. I went over the bars and landed on my kipper with enough force to snap my neck brace in half and write my lid off. It was quite an impact, and when your age starts with a four, recovering takes a bit longer than it used to.
Speaking of off-road, David Knight joined us at the Monteblanco test. He generally turns up when I ride trails on the Isle of Man, to demonstrate the fact we are all shit on knobbly tyres. But this time the tables were turned as he was having a run out on a Superstock bike.
The Jackson team is looking for a fourth rider so we thought we’d give Knighter a shot. He may be better known for off-road, but he is bloody handy on a road bike as well. I reckon he was only about three or four seconds a lap off our pace. That said, I did take the opportunity to pass him and tap my tail unit. I made sure I lit the rear up to show off, and to get him back for all the times he has made me look like a nobber! I don’t do as much road riding as I used to, but Dunlop gave me a call and asked if I’d like to join them on the launch of their new Roadsmart III tyre in the south of France last week. There were journalists from all over the world and some were pretty handy – it was like the North West 200 on tour! I was on a Honda Crossdresser and having to concentrate to keep up.
Fair play to Dunlop, the tyre took everything I could throw at it and the conditions were absolutely terrible. I’ve not been that cold in 40 years of riding. It was 6°C, blowing a gale and sideways rain, and I was in vented leathers and a thin waterproof. I felt like crying; it made racing 24 hours at Le Mans seem a piece of piss. My bike was the only one without heated grips, so eventually I could only use the rear brake as I had no feeling in my hands! But it could have been worse. I caught a flight out to the launch with Mark Sears, who works for Dunlop, and KLM lost our bags. I banged a quick tweet out (it’s amazing how quickly they respond when you have 100,000 followers). Sadly for Mark he isn’t as lucky and while they found my bag after a day, Mark had to ride in the knackered spare kit Dunlop had kicking around and wear the kind of clothes that make you look like a sailor, as that’s all they sell in the south of France. Believe it or not, his bag ended up in Cuba! How the hell did they manage to send it to Cuba? You can almost see the south of France from Brum...