Phillip Island Superbikes

In all about the ride, bike, ozstraylia on March 28, 2010 at 2:19 am

It’s amazing the difference in engine noise. The flat deep almost a raspberry, almost a fart engine note of the ducati and the high pitched shriek of the yamaha’s or honda’s or Kawasaki’s flat out across the finish line. I’ve also fallen in love with the deep blap blap blap of the KTM. When I hear the commentators talking about the beauty of the noises racing bikes and cars make I’m always suspicious, but having heard them, I’m adding my name to that list. I am actually thinking of buying a KTM  just because of the sound these ones make as they boom down the home straight.

There are some big crashes in the second to last race on the Saturday, a couple of riders getting a bit too aggressive, trying to squeeze into gaps that don’t actually exist, but my lids kept dropping, been a long day and all.

Philip island on the Saturday night is odd indeed, Cowes the big town is a main street which isn’t that long and an esplanade. For this weekend they’ve set up a stage at the end of the main st before the beach and a covers band Yesterdays Heroes is kicking out a wholehearted version of living on a prayer.

All the bikers are out, bikes lined up along the kerb and the riders are standing looking at bikes they like, always wanted but could never afford, or the ones they used to own.

I’m definitely odd one out, at the track as I wheeled the bike around the stares I received was as if I had a severed head on the handlebars. Wasnt sure whether it was because I was black? A cyclist? Or both? Was also unimpressed by the reiterations of the same “you’re on the wrong bike” statement, which wasn’t funny the first time.

I’m confused by how protective and defensive the bikers seem to be about what they perceive as their place/space. Would we as cyclists feel threatened if a biker turned up in full leathers amongst spectators at the Tour de France or Rollapaluza? Would we stare and gawk and make awkward jokes or would we welcome them?

There are deep similarities between this group of men obsessed with and obsessing over their two wheeled transport and the ones that I know and am a part of. Saddened that it seems as if I can’t be part of one group because I am so obviously part of another.

As I listen to Yesterdays Heroes go through their repertoire of rock classics, sweet home Alabama, you give love a bad name, jesse’s girl, i wanna rock n roll all night, the much needed queen medley (another one bites the dust, we will rock you, bohemian rhapsody, I want to break free), sweet child o mine, angels (Robbie willliams, in the house!!!), sex on fire, etc etc etc (they also intersperse some more modern songs but I don’t know their titles). I’m wondering whether cyclists are as defined by their music as bikers are, rock is good, nothing else is worth listening to, unless of course your talking about the pop classics that were played as the band took a break, ride on time, word up, ain’t no stopping us, some wham song I can’t remember the name of, unbelievable, relax, etc etc etc. It’s a strange mash up of music.

But even as I’m trying to clear my ears of the noise, I’ve got to wonder at the bar/restaurant that closes it’s kitchen at like nine on one of the biggest Saturday the island sees all year. I thank whoever is up there that I was born and raised in London and this small town isn’t/wasn’t my experience for growing up and seeing what was possible/available. I really do think I would have gone insane if this town was all I had. If this was the sum total of my worldliness. Shit! Fuck! Holy hell! It doesn’t bear thinking about…

No wonder so many small town bods head to the big city. What divides those that want/need nothing more than the small town they’ve been raised in, and those that need to get out, for whom that place where they grew up isn’t enough? Serious question.

Another serious question, does dancing to rock consist of anything apart from stepping from side to side, swinging your hair about and pogoing intensely? Because the people (predominantly women) who are shoccking out to the tunes right down in front seem to do nothing more than this, just bigger and bigger. Or they could all just be middle aged and dancing like parents do.

I’m wondering whether everyone here would be as bemused as I am right now if they were in my position at an old school black wedding/house party? And were observing the soca business going on!

I’m waiting for a burger to arrive, it’s not yet ten thirty and you can’t conceive of how bored I am by this evening. Christ I can’t even take the piss out of it. Is this as good as it gets for the local populace, if so they are being sold short…

And yet more people come, moths to this musical flame, in twos and threes and fours and fives, walking down the main drag, necks craned, looking left and right to see what’s happening, pulled forward to the people bunched up in front of the stage.


Wake up early well half eight, bowl of cornflakes, sugar making the milk sweet at the bottom. Four pack of cider in the bag with two tops and a waterproof jacket just in case.

The ride to the track is just like yesterday windy as I crest the rolling hills that criss cross the island, I get hit in the chest by a headwind which pushes me to a virtual standstill even though I’m exerting as much if not more force thru the pedals. The sort of headwind that slows you down as you spin downhill and takes away all of your momentum just as you start the uphill. The terrain either side of the undulating belly dancer of a road reminds me of the plains of Africa, burnt brown grassland with trees spindly foliage a dark green dotted across it. Earlier on I’d ridden through a stand of eucalyptus trees, it was like riding through a fog of vicks, but now it’s the fishy stink of decomposition and cowpats and the whiff of little penguin home, invading my nostrils, the countryside is never truly smell free and the strong breeze continues to bring them to you wherever you are.

Love the sound of the twins the KTM especially has a lovely grunting roar about it. I’m ensconced down at MG corner the Hairpin after the boys come shooting over Lukey Heights a few meters away from the track, but you see the bikes come down off the top and dive down to a sharp hairpin, then tip it left and open the throttle for the long long left onto the start finish straight.

As the superbikes race past you get a whiff of chemical cocktail that smells like nothing you’ve ever smelt, sweet, burnt and sharp and not natural. And the bikes are louder than you would believe, burping and bellowing into the corners and round my viewing point as they pull hard, front wheels lifting, traction control cutting in and changing the engine note.

James Toseland high sides at the top of lukey heights, meters away from where I’m standing, he sits in the dust and dried grass, holding his hand, slowly he rises and walks to right in front of me and sits heavily. Obviously in pain, obviously wanting to be anywhere but here. He moves slowly, cautiously, like an old man with a dodgy hip, and arthritis in his joints. The crowd step forward to take photos, cameras held high, I’m no different so I try and get shot or two.

I’m cheering on the Brits, who knew I was so patriotic, Leon Haslam who eventually wins his first superbikes race, Leon Camier last years British superbike champion who out breaks himself whilst in a six man duel for fourth place, Shaky Byrne whose pulling himself into twelfth/thirteen place.

The sun comes out for the race, heating up my back abating the wind chill somewhat it’s about 19 degrees figuring it’s 15 degrees with the wind chill. People are wrapped up against the wind, but the sun comes out and it’s warmer even with the breeze still bothering the land.

Walk round the area looking at bikes, there are some beauties out there, lots of Ducati’s, Aprilla’s, Honda’s, Yamaha’s, all the fast bikes, Gizzers, R1’s, 1098’s, 999’s, 600 Supersports, CBR’s, RR’s

Everyone’s got their cameras out, long lenses galore, leaning over the fences as the bikes flash past, engines roaring, spluttering, screaming, cutting in traction control seeking the perfect amount of power to get the bike moving as quickly as possible over the tarmac…

The second race is a proper bunfight, with Carlos Checa overtaking on the last lap, passing Leon Haslam right in front of me, the cheer that goes up from the spectators is long and loud. Jonny Rea outbrakes himself on the 2nd lap and fights back to grab eighth? James Toseland soldiers on bravely even though you can see he’s not quite as quick as the five man break away in front and is holding up the five man pack behind. But there’s position changes top to bottom, riders fighting to the last, chopping and changing, trying to squeeze the last bit of speed out of their tortured engines.

The riders are so very very brave, those bikes move so quickly, and mistakes, accidents mean you’ll hit the ground very very quickly. And it seems like there is no room for maneuver, the riders ride so close, so tightly packed, leaning on each other and trusting that they don’t make a mistake and take them out..

Going to have to go on a track day when I get back, unless I can do one in the states…

Still not sure when I’ll buy a motorbike to replace the one that I had to sell to pay for the worldwide trip ticket… Would love to have one, but experience says that if I get one whilst still cycling pretty much everyday, then it’ll just sit outside my house looking forlorn and unloved.

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