At the moment I’m back in the TT paddock, looking out of my motorhome window at a grey and miserable sky. It’s pissing down with rain and we are meant to be starting practice for the Classic TT tomorrow. It couldn’t be more of a contrast from this year’s glorious weather at the TT, but that’s how it goes. I never look at the long-range weather forecasts when I’m racing as there is nothing you can do about it anyway. You can change your knickers, but not the weather.
The Classic TT is a great event and you get all the top names from the TT coming over to race, which does upset a few of the old boy racers. Personally, I’m always up for a few more laps around my beloved Mountain course, so that is one draw, but I also really like the different atmosphere you get with the classic bikes.
The whole event is a lot more chilled for me than the TT, which always feels like I have 10 bags of cement on my shoulders and I can get a bit grumpy. When I come to the Classic it’s more fun and there’s less pressure, so it’s more like a family holiday. I think technically it is actually meant to be a high-speed parade, but once that flag drops you can forget any thoughts of taking it easy, you are full on the gas despite the fact the bikes are classics. I want to win a Classic as much as a TT, in some ways even more so. The one trophy missing from my cabinet is a Classic TT victory trophy, which is why I’ve taken extra steps this year to ensure one comes home with me to Morecambe.
I went down to the Fairy Bridge the other day with Maisie; we wrote a note to the fairies asking for the bike to keep going this year! For the last three years it has broken down when I’ve been leading the race, so I’m prepared to try anything to make that finish line. Talk about gutting, but it demonstrates just how hard we are riding them.
They may have Norton, AJS, MV, Paton, or whatever on their tanks, but these bikes are full-on modern racers and my Paton 500 is a beautiful bit of kit which, until I joined the team, seemed to win just about every race it entered! Roger, the bike’s owner, is a wonderful old codger who is really passionate about classic racing, and his wife Patricia also loves the racing. It’s a great family team and they turn out a sorted bike, which you need for the Classic.
People see the old bangers and imagine we are taking it easy, but I tell you, riding a classic is just as hard as a superbike. They may look like old machines, and vibrate and rattle like a classic should, but they are built with modern technology and components and they get a fair old lick on. It’s amazing really, I often look at the Paton and think,‘That’s a nice bike’, then I see the 110-section rear tyre and remember the front tyre on my superbike is wider and think, ‘I’m not so sure now.’ But while it hasn’t got any power compared to a big bike, the actual grip and chassis feel you get from a classic machine is right up there.
Power tends to make a bike want to tie itself in knots, so the fact the classics lack grunt actually makes them faster in some ways. In a 100mph corner, the Paton is as fast as my superbike and it has modern suspension and brakes so it stops well, too. Like I said, you ride them pretty hard and I’ve topped a 112mph lap, which is really fast for an air-cooled parallel twin 500 with skinny tyres and spoked wheels. But you need to have mechanical sympathy.
I ride my Paton a lot like I did my old two-stroke racebikes. You don’t thrash them to death. I grew up on strokers and you gain a kind of sixth sense for how an engine likes to be treated. It’s a balance between riding hard and ensuring the motor lasts. That said, I watched Dean Harrison last year and there wasn’t much mechanical sympathy as he came into Parliament Square! I just wish the classics were a bit quieter – I don’t ride with earplugs so I’m as deaf as a post when I get off it and my head is ringing for hours afterwards. Not that you can complain...
If you grumble at all in a classic paddock you get some old boy saying, ‘It was harder in my day, you youngsters don’t know you are born...’ Which gets me wondering whether I’d have liked to have raced in the classic era? I think I probably would have – no social media, no people watching you all the time, less pressure, a few beers after a race, more free spirit and shagging – but it was certainly more dangerous. That said, racing is dangerous in any era; the TT circuit hasn’t really changed for more than 100 years and the stone walls certainly aren’t getting any softer with age..