October 23 2014 Latest news:
Friday, September 28, 2012
Having spent much of my childhood standing at the bottom of trees looking up at my twin sister while she climbed them, I quickly wondered why I’d arranged to do a track day.
• Speedway bikes weigh about 78kg and have 500cc engines. They have no brakes, one fixed gear, and are powered by pure methanol.
• When the tapes come up at the start of a four-lap heat, riders use the clutch as a release mechanism to fly out of the ‘gate’.
• Bikes have no speedometer but it is thought they can go from 0-60mph in about two seconds, which is faster than a Formula One car.
• Riders race anti-clockwise around oval circuits of roughly 300m which are made up of dirt and shale.
• To get around the tight corners at high speed top riders accelerate to bring the rear wheel out and initiate a ‘skid’.
• Riders wear kevlars, helmets and goggles to protect themselves. A steel shoe worn on the left foot helps with cornering. Apart from ‘laying the bike down’, or ‘shutting off’ (coming off throttle) it is also the only way to slow down safely.
Firstly, I’m not, or have never been, the bravest. And secondly I’ve lived much of my life with my own internal handbrake pulled up – a stopping mechanism I knew I wouldn’t have the luxury of once I climbed aboard a speedway bike.
However, for some reason I still had a burning desire to ride a motorbike for the first time in my life. So the only way for me to extinguish that flame was by actually doing it.
I felt less nervous than I expected when I arrived at King’s Lynn’s Norfolk Arena, a stadium where I feel incredibly comfortable writing about the brave men – who many, including I, idolise – that race around the track.
But that feeling of ease soon disappeared when I saw Mads Korneliussen, Lynn’s captain and my teacher for the day, pulling his 500cc bike out of the back of his van.
This was a machine I’d seen him ride the night before at Peterborough in a meeting where the Panthers’ Kenneth Bjerre had broken his leg. His beaming smile relaxed me somewhat, until I started signing disclaimer forms and went through a lengthy safety briefing.
He cheerily gave me a few tips. Don’t crash into the fence being the main one I remember. And told me to jump aboard. I wasn’t the only one not smiling when I told him I haven’t even ridden anything other than a push bike with two wheels.
Yet off I chugged, not on a little bike but the real deal, down the back straight as I held on for dear life.
With only a steel shoe to slow me down, or coming off the ‘gas’, I knew there was no point reaching for brakes as I came into the third turn. After all, I’ve written countless times they don’t exist.
But as I picked up more speed than I’d hoped I still went reaching for some sort of slowing mechanism, only to be greeted with a handful of fresh air. I’ll admit I panicked.
I somehow managed to get round the corner and from there my confidence started to grow – albeit slightly. Lap after lap I could feel myself getting quicker, smoother, and marginally braver.
Yet while I felt I was going at 70mph, it turned out I was probably doing half that speed as I completed a lap in the time Mads and company complete two or, probably, three.
And they’re doing that with three other riders on the track with them. In pressurised situations and dangerous ones that I certainly wasn’t encountering as I rode alone.
What surprised me most, more than anything, was the sheer awkwardness of riding such a heavy machine. And how physically demanding it actually is. If the gear doesn’t weigh you down, the way you sit – with one leg forward and the other on a peg – will soon have you feeling like you’ve been balancing 10 tonnes of brick.
After 20 to 30 laps I felt beat up. I play football, I run, and I’d like to think I’m in relatively good shape. But after about 15-20 minutes I had to hold my hands up. Or try to at least.
The top half of my body was in pieces – and would remain that way for days after. I couldn’t continue and it made me realise that these guys are not only brave and skilled, but also athletes.
I slowly climbed off the bike, wishing I had maybe been a bit braver and tried a ‘skid’ and then just stood, watched, and marvelled as Mads thrashed it around the track.
It was like watching me in fast forward times at least 100. Plus he could create a skid and pull wheelies – things he does every night of the week like it’s a piece of cake.
These men travel around Europe in punishing schedules to entertain fans. And after one morning of trying to be a rider, I was glad I’m not one of them.
But I am happy to have had the chance to have a go. I’d recommend it to anyone. And as a result I’m even happier to be part of a group of people who love a motorsport that gets less coverage than it deserves – but will always be my favourite.
• To book your place on a track day at the Norfolk Arena, call 01553 771111.
- To follow sports reporter Gavin, Stars’ captain Mads, or photographer Ian Burt on Twitter, click on the related links on the right-hand side of this page.
- For more pictures from Gavin’s track day click on the photo gallery on the top right of this story.