Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Mon 26th Jul, 2010

Riding on and off the road

After several weeks of indecision I registered this week for a racing day at Wakefield Park on a motorbike riding day. My hesitation was due to a couple of factors: I had an unfaired Suzuki GS500, which only the true optimist could consider a race bike; much as I enjoy the speed of the straight and the skill of cornering, I also enjoy not crashing and injuring my bike and myself; I hadn't done a ride outside Canberra before and was unsure how I would go; I had to ride the bike from Canberra to Goulburn, do the track day, and then ride back home; the certainty of there being lots of other people dressed in their full-on racing gear with high performance sports bikes sneering down their noses at this poor fool on an unfaired road bike with standard narrow tyres, while not worrying me overmuch, still didn't appeal.

Thankfully, various people I talked to told me, basically, to quit looking at the negatives and think of the positives. So I headed off at 7AM on a chilly Sunday morning for a day of fun and adventure.

I stopped just before the end of Lake George to stretch my legs, thaw my hands out and remove the mask which, though keeping my face from freezing, was directing all my breath up into my glasses to fog them up. I was glad I had had the break - I hit heavy fog just north of Lake George and discovered the fun of trying to keep your visor clear of mist with one hand at 100km/hr (I'd slowed down a bit to take a bit of extra care). Thankfully my remembered directions of how to get from the Goulburn turn-off to Wakefield Park came back perfectly and, after letting one peleton of traffic past me on the single lane road, I arrived.

I immediately started asking around for Canberra Riders people, particularly Heidi as she had said she was going to be there, she had a recognisable name, and her gender reduced my search set considerably. During the day I must have asked most of the women there if they were or knew her, but all to no avail. I hope those people can forgive such an odd question or questioner :-)

Soon enough we were meeting for the rider's briefing, where we were introduced to the signals that would tell us if there was a rider off the course but upright (one single yellow flashing light), a rider down off the course (two yellow flashing lights), a rider down on the course (one red flashing light) and the end of the session (one yellow flashing light and a chequered flag at the starting line). I signed up, paid my money, and took the bike up to the marshalling area - for I was in the novices group and we were first.

By this time the fog had mostly burnt off and the sun was coming through. The first two laps were done in single file with no overtaking, following a pace bike and learning the course. Then the jockeying for position began. I had met up with another Suzuki GS-500 rider and we spent most of the lap with me following him. We talked afterward and he said he felt a little less like an outsider with someone else riding the same thing - a feeling I shared. A friend had turned up at this point who had driven around the course at other times in a Porsche, and we talked about lines and apexes and cambers and stuff like that.

The second time out we were still led but it became obvious that the one fundamental problem that race tracks face when booking different categories is they really need four 'advanced / race' divisions, one 'intermediate' and one 'novice'. Given the choice between going in novice class and missing out on the day altogether, many of the faster people end up in the same group that I and other people new to Wakefield Park were in. By the fourth session there was no doubt I was amongst the slowest on the field - I was regularly getting overtaken at virtually every corner. People with racing slicks and 900cc tuned bikes were in this class - there's no way these people can claim to be novices.

And yet it really didn't matter. There weren't enough people in each group to make it dangerous or crowded, they all realise that they have to get around you rather than you making way for them, and the best I could do was just to keep to a good line, make my intentions plain and not do anything suddenly. I kept my rear view mirrors - I doubt they would make me go very much faster if removed - and it was useful to see people coming up and plan for them. And I had a lot of fun, gradually improving my lines, feeling how much I could rely on the tyres when they were cold and warm, finding and refining that line that leads from one corner to the next to the next... I think I improved, but I had a lot of fun and that's what mattered the most to me.

I finally met up with a bunch of Canberra Riders people at the end of the day, and two of them said they wouldn't mind if I rode home with them. I wasn't really keen to ride back alone anyway, and they were going to much more scenic route through Tarrago and Bungendore. The highlight of my day was seeing the guy I'd been following tapping on the window of the Renault that had been tailgating me up to the lights and telling him off for tailgating in the rain. I'd only known these people for two hours or so and they were looking out for me - that's a community worth being a part of!

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