Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, RUBY!!
I had my first real adventure with Ruby this week. Panniers packed, BETOPS done I was ready. For those reading this, BETOPS are the various pre-ride checks that should be carried out before you ride. Brakes, Electrics, Tyres, Operations, Petrol (and other fluids) and Security…. Make sure I don’t lose a pannier on the way down the road!
An IAM Skills Day Adventure:
I set off in the sunshine and met up with Fraser at Dreghorn services outside Edinburgh. Fuel for Ruby, then off down the A68. We stopped off quite quickly at Souter View, a coffee shop that we had both previously seen and neither of us visited. Nice, clean with spectacular views. Good coffee and biker friendly, a stone floor that wouldn’t be affected by soaking wet bikers appearing. Careful though, heavy jackets and lightweight chairs don’t mix! Clatter. Be cautious, gravel car park!
Fraser was riding his Fireblade and led the way down the road. We had a marvellous run down, not much traffic, and stunning weather. We had another coffee stop, mainly to stretch our legs. We arrived outside Darlington at the back of 6, showered then went to the bar for beer / wine / food. Fish & chips fitted the bill.
In the meantime, the receptionist came to find me. Ruby’s lights were on. How odd. I went and got my keys, we checked the alarm system and did a bit of head scratching. Fraser worked it out that when the steering lock is engaged, if the key is turned all the way round, it puts on what seems to be parking lights. Not good, that could have been a drained battery by the morning. Had that been the case, I would have been devastated. Lights sorted, alarm set, disc lock in place; a wee pat of our trusty steeds and back to the bar for a nightcap and a blether. I have to say it was really good having a chance to have a ‘proper’ chat with Fraser.
Having put the world nearly to rights, it was bed time. My room was too warm, didn’t sleep well really. My blethering it seems, gave Fraser too much to think about….he didn’t sleep well either. Oops. I would just like to establish right now, we were NOT sharing a room!
Breakfast at 7am, which was very good. Quick scoff, then on the bikes (which we’d packed already) – I did at that point find out that the alarm works fine… Sorry to those I woke up. Note to self, prime the ignition after turning off alarm. I’m not really dim, however, I didn’t have a manual for the alarm system, so had to learn as I was going along!
We headed to Croft, where there was a wide array of bikes ranging from a Goldwing to GSs; sports bikes to tourers. The criteria was they had to be completely road legal. After check in, we were invited to put ourselves into groups. Those that were confident, those not so confident, and those who were quietly keeking their breeks. I went for the middle of the pack, Fraser had lots more experience than myself, so ended up in the ‘faster’ group. Shortly thereafter, our Mentors for the day arrived, found their groups and introduced themselves. Our Mentor was Mel and he had a ‘trainee’ Mentor too, Trevor. Lovely blokes, really easy to talk to, and, what a bonus, had a sense of humour! (They’ll need it!)
So, for explanation sakes, there was advanced, intermediate and beginner groups. Each large group went in for a safety and information briefing by John. He was hilarious, at the same time, educational.
Cornering was covered first; cones for entry points to bends, cones for apex, cones for exit. Simples. Maybe. Back to the garage to get kitted up, normal road gear was just fine, no full racing leathers required. Phew. Not that I even have racing leathers – oh, shudder at the thought. So, off along the pit lane, where all the intermediate grouped were lined up until the group in front was finished.
So the focus of the first session was sighting the track, looking for the cones; entry, apex and exit. We were to ride behind our Mentor to start with, however, for some reason, Mel waved me past. That’s not right, surely…. Difficult to communicate that. Anyway, off I went, did a lap, then the next team member went in front. This carried on for the 20 minute session. I did feel a bit left behind at one point, note to self, don’t feel intimidated or forced into riding at a pace you’re not comfortable with. Ride at your own speed. As it transpires, the member of our group who zipped off, ended up behind the group in front. (Should have stuck at my pace;))
It was ok though, during our group debrief, I spoke up about the pace. Luckily, Mel agreed that it was a bitty quick for the initial laps. We had to slow it down for the next one. Phew. I was about to move myself to the novice group. I’m so glad I didn’t! Just as well I have a gob and know how to use it to good effect, sometimes.
Back to the briefing room, for our next educational chat from Nae-Front-Teeth, John. This time, it was about overtaking. Seems daft to have that so early on, however, we were going to be allowed to overtake, which I am sure for those that enjoy riding faster than the others was great news! The rules / tips on the subject were shared.
It was back to the garages, quick sip of water, back on the bikes, we’re off again. Barely time to pee. That was just as well really, considering my (dying) trousers decided to give up the ghost that very morning, damn it. Working out how to get out the knackered zip was going to take a bit of thought or brute force. (It was the latter. TA DA!! Fixed, for a short time!)
It was vital to keep hydrated. I know I drank 3 bottles of water, Fanta and an Oasis orange drink. To be honest, that wasn’t enough. It was a warm day and my tongue got stuck to the roof on numerous occasions; a combination of nerves and lack of water!
Back on track. Under the watchful eye of Trevor, (we had split our group in to 2, which meant our Mentors had 2 people each to think about) we worked on our cornering and our overtaking… Not that I did much overtaking to start with. Before we knew it, the 20 minute session was over, another debrief, another training session. Already, I had been given all sorts of good advice. I obviously haven’t been riding Ruby for very long, it was just what was needed. Bonding time.
Mel and Trevor suggested I should get the balls of my feet on to the pegs. My left knee started to whine. That was even before I gave it a try. So, using my feet to load the pegs to ‘feel’ the bike and make cornering, well, better. It all made sense. I managed it. As I write this blog, I am very surprised that I have had no problems with my knee…. in actual fact it feels better than it has for ages!
It was a hectic morning. We were on track from 9am and lunch was planned for 1pm. Now I totally understand the need to get everyone there early to book in and show your licence; deal with those whose names weren’t on the list (mine) and give the Mentor’s a briefing too. The whole day was organised with military precision. 9am briefing. 9.20am out on track. 20 minute session back into the briefing room on the hour. Rinse and repeat. Phew. If you weren’t ready, tough. You would miss your slot. We all looked after each other though! There was a lovely ‘team’ feeling.
So, cornering, overtaking, then it was a demo of body position. John put one of our bikes on a paddock stand for this, showing us how to make cornering easier by moving our heads over towards our mirrors; this automatically shifts your weight, (of course) your elbow bends, then hey presto, you automatically put positive input into your bars. Neat, huh? Training in bite sized bits, time to practice and time to reflect. Spot on.
Don’t get me wrong, as you can well imagine, all this theory shouldn’t be news to the majority of riders there. I’ve had all the same tips from my own Mentor and Master, this was the chance to put it all into practice in a safe environment. I was getting into the groove. I was shifting my weight, really starting to feel the difference in my technique. I was heading towards the Tower Bend; brake….. brake…. Gear….. WTF??? Where had my gear change disappeared to? Holy poop. Just as well, there was a run-off on the corner. I pulled over. So did Trevor (cheers) however, he was advised to keep going, it was the marshal’s job now. I got off of Ruby and inspected the damage. At that point, my guru and mentor is approaching the bend and saw me bending over the bike….. I can’t repeat what was said in his helmet, but poor Rory thought I had had an ‘off’. Sorry Rory…. it didn’t seem to put you off your cornering though! 😉
The marshal asked me to push Ruby across the grass to the wall. All of a sudden, she felt as though she weighed 10 tonnes! I successfully got her out of the way…. I didn’t want to encourage any dangerous instincts, i.e. target fixation, and have folk piling into the bike! Shortly after my ‘controlled stop’, one of the riders came off further up the track. The session was red flagged. It meant my taxi was going to arrive sooner, rather than waiting until lunchtime. It was basically a flat bed truck with a hand rail. I was told, “Honey, just hold onto the rail!” Oh, very bloody good. Round the circuit, hanging on to Ruby for dear life, whilst covering the back brake. Yet again, the bike felt about 10 tonnes in weight! We picked up the other rider, who was uninjured, however, his bike had some damage. At least I had a handrail to hang on to!
When we arrived back, I wasn’t allowed to get off the trailer until Fraser took photos. Then the slagging started, “Oh, well, you will buy a Ducati…” Luckily I have broad shoulders. In many respects I was encouraging the banter! Another comment was, “Aye, it’s a FIAT; Fix It Again Tomorrow.” Ouch.
We asked to be allowed to go back out on track to see if we could find the missing bolt. The all-clear was given and I went pillion on Rory’s KTM (it’ll never recover) to get round to the corner. This was a huge highlight of my day, a sighting lap with the Master! I just sat there, nice and relaxed, my hands resting on my legs…. paying attention. It was amazing and hugely educational. He didn’t hang around.
When we got to the offending corner, we (Fraser and Alan joined in the game too) started looking for the bolt. I knew where I had braked. There it was, winking at me from the grass. Fabulous. We did find all sorts of bolts and stuff that had fallen off various vehicles. So, feeling relieved, I got back on Rory’s bike… he did offer to go pillion with me riding… NOT! The second half of the track was even more fun. It was just what I needed to underpin all the learning from the morning sessions. The only moment where I ‘held on’ was approaching the Complex, I knew there would be a fair amount of braking involved. Thanks, Rory. That was an unexpected highlight of my day. You are nuts. Love it. Even Fraser was aghast at the amount of lean Rory was getting with me on the back!
Bolt re-attached. Sorted. Borrowed some allen keys for the rest of the day so I could make sure it wasn’t going to fall off again.
I threw a quick snack down my throat, off to the afternoon workshops. This included Positive Steering and then Throttle Control, following the same strict format as the morning. So, with that, Cornering, Overtaking, Body Position as the topics, you can’t help but learn.
I had a third Mentor that was also giving me tips, Kevin. He helped me ‘crack’ the complex bends at the end of the session. I have to say, I was going to opt out of the last session as I was shattered. I’m glad I didn’t. Thank you to Mel, Trevor and Kevin for your input on the day, it was fabulous, positive and enlightening.
Don’t get me wrong, as I said earlier, all the theory we should know. It’s having the perfect conditions to practice, try out things, ask questions, try out different techniques, the lot. All on a good surface, traffic going the same way with few hazards… except to occasional bolt or two. The skills you pick up are completely transferable to the road; with the exception of opening the throttle and giving it yeehah on the straights. It was just what I needed to bond with Ruby and to realise just a little bitty of her potential. She’s a marvellous bike. I am firmly in lust. Now I need to practice, practice and just for good measure, practice!
So, the day (without accommodation) was pretty much the same as paying for a Skill for Life. That was seriously good value. Fraser reckoned that we covered about 120 miles on track. I didn’t even have to skip out at lunchtime for fuel, not that I would have been able to!
No matter what your ability, there’s something in a day like this for everyone. To be mentored by some top blokes was an honour. They were all a credit to the IAM and what it’s all about.
Next year, I’m going back. If there’s two of the days planned, I’ll be going to both of them. What I will definitely do next year though, is get accommodation for the night before and the night after. The run up to Fraser’s house was all of 2 hours, however, it was verging on too much after what was a mentally and physically tiring day. We were both speechless when we dragged ourselves off our very trusty, lovely steeds!
So, my job it seems is to encourage as many Scottish IAM members to come on a full Skills Day next year. It doesn’t matter if it’s not your thing…(Yvonne 😉 It’s about learning about cornering. It does make a difference when you have had a day like this, and it can’t fail to be both enjoyable and educational. Just do it. It was one of the best days on a bike I have ever had – not counting holidays, of course… 😉
On the way home, I made sure I went via Ducati Glasgow just to make sure that all was well and to have the bolt removed, checked and made even more secure. The service is great, the team are a fantastic laugh… as I have well and truly found out. Thank you very much guys and girls, your service is great. I even picked Martin’s brains whilst I was there… it seemed rude not to.
Right. I’m off out on my bike. To practice!!