I’ve spent the last few weeks jumping between new bikes – the 2017 Fireblade and the updated Mugen – as well as different countries. In fact, I’m writing this on the Easter bank holiday having just arrived home from Japan in time to throw a few chocolate eggs down my neck with the kids. I was out in Japan testing the new Mugen Shinden. The bike amazes me every time I get on it. This new generation is narrower with a thinner tank, lower pegs and wider bodywork at the front to give me more shelter. Testing the Mugen is always odd as they want to run it as fast as possible, but that kills the battery in about 20 minutes. At first that meant you needed to get a crane to remove the battery completely from the chassis and then stick it on charge overnight, but nowadays we can do 30 laps in the morning, completely recharge it with the battery still in the bike in just three hours, and then head back out on track in the afternoon for another 30 laps. I remember when I used to fly to Japan, ride the bike for 20 minutes, spend a day waiting for it to charge, ride for 20 minutes and then go home!
When it comes to technology, the Mugen is way ahead of anything else out there, and I am a bit of a monkey on a spaceship when I ride it. I sit down with the team in November and tell them what I want changed, and that’s why the riding position has been altered. But when it comes to motor technology they do what they want. It has a new motor this year made by Mugen themselves, and they’ve been playing with the chassis, too... There’s a new suspension linkage and the trickest set of forks you’ve ever seen – Showa air forks with carbon outers that are beyond factory spec. And we now have four instead of six-piston calipers on them to save weight. Interestingly, no one had ever crashed a Mugen, until Guy joined the project. It was just a small crash but the reaction afterwards was hysterical.
As a racer, you want to pick the bike up as you have your tail between your legs after tipping off, but with an electric bike that can lead to you getting fried if any power leads have been damaged! So there was Guy at turn one with a Mugen on the floor and a bunch of Japanese designers running down the track screaming at him not to touch the bike! One of them was even carrying a kind of shepherd’s crook made of carbon-fibre, because if someone gets stuck to the bike due to them being electrocuted you need to use it to drag them off. The bike was safe, but the Japanese were worried about arriving at the scene to the smell of burnt sideburns and Guy sizzling...
I was lucky to be riding the Mugen at all as I had dislocated my thumb the week earlier testing the Blade at Castle Combe. I remember lying on the ground after the crash, awake but unable to move, with Lee Johnston laughing at me, thinking, ‘I’m done, I’m retiring, I don’t need this shit again,’ as memories of my broken wrist in 2014 came flooding back. Anyway, I went to hospital and this bruiser of a nurse said she would slot it back in again. I told her riding bikes was my job and she said, ‘do you know Guy Martin?’ I replied that he was my team-mate and she was suddenly my friend. But the pain... I’ve had a few bumps and bruises in my time but this was the worst. She injected the joint with a massive needle and then put my arm between her legs and pulled. Eventually it went in with a clunk, but I never want to go through that again. Developing the Blade is getting there, but it is slow progress.
The new electronics are taking a lot of getting used to for the team, but before the crash we were lapping faster than ever at Castle Combe, so it’s promising. We probably won’t be using the traction control or anti-wheelie at the TT as it’s better not to have it. It’s too intrusive as you often want the rear spinning if the bike is airborne after a jump, and cutting the power isn’t helpful. We will keep the autoblipper and engine management system, though. We were only seven or eight seconds off Dunlop’s lap record last year and the new Blade is lighter, faster and just as good at handling. I need to get going a bit faster, but once I’m into my rhythm I can match their times. Being number five on the grid will help; I’ve got Hutchy ahead of me and Dunlop behind me. If I can’t catch Hutchy then if Dunlop comes past he’ll drag me along. At the end of the day, the fastest guy always wins the race, irrespective of the number on the front of their bike.