A year. 365 days. What seems like a million hours, countless headaches, immeasurable effort, a bout of severe depression, about 10 grand I never knew I had and the help of lots of lovely people, most of whom I didn’t really know at all when it began.
That’s the summary of a project that I had little idea would be so bloody consuming, expensive, difficult or rewarding.
Building this bike hasn’t been something has happened in the background of my life. Coining it “The year of the Kat” doesn’t even begin to do it justice, but it gives a clue about it’s forebearance over the gap between last July and this.
And now, on the morning of 3rd July, it was about to climax (almost perfectly) in line with it’s original intention – we were going to Spa. Ok, it wasn’t to race, but still – as dreams go, this one wasn’t so very wide of the mark. Certainly I could repurpose my original intention to say we are actually a year early for 2015!
Steve Adams from Lucky7 rocked up bang on the 10am we’d arranged and then pretended not be pissed off as he watched me faff about for an hour doing the packing I hadn’t done. Turns out the van had plenty of space for everything, so the last few bags were thrown in rather than neatly slotted home like Jenga bricks as the earlier luggage had been.
The journey to Spa through the Eurotunnel was epically easy – just £122 for a higher than 1.85m van travelling from Thursday to Sunday is a cheap, fast and flexible way to travel – they’ll (apparently) let you run up to 2 hours behind your booking without penalty too – I like the tunnel more than the ferry, it seems less grief, and you get to stay with your precious gear too.
We got asked to pull over for a customs inspection but the sight of the bike turned it into a chit chat with the young customs guy about what his bike would be when he qualified for his licence upgrade to 47bhp or something (does anyone know what licence grades mean these days?)
Anyway, Spa is about 200 miles the other side of the Channel, and takes a leisurely 4 hours in a 20 year old VW T4 that isn’t asked to do more than an indicated 75mph ever.
Signing on for the Bikers Classic last year took about 3 hours, because I queued before the admin desk was open (everybody else did, it seemed important to do the same) This year, it took 3 minutes – note to self, don’t ever bother queueing to be early again, wait until 8 at night and then go to the admin centre, walk right in and then drive straight into a great parking space in the top paddock.
I was running the Katana in the parades with Classic Bike Trackdays, I could have gone and booked solo direct with the organisers, but the craic/support/new friendships in the garage with 30 other Classic loving types is well worth going through the CBT route for. I don’t think it’s even any more expensive, just miles better (plus tea, coffee, biscuits, crisps and cake on the house – yes, I did say free cake).
The garage was right next to the parking space, we pitched Steve a tent because we didn’t want to sleep together in a small van and then put the bike to bed. The next day was slated to be one of no more than tinkering to finish up the jobs I hadn’t nailed at home in the garage, these were mainly locating things under the saddle – fuse box, starter solenoid, battery, rev limiter box.
The next morning, with it firmly embedded in my head that I’d be happy riding in just 1 session of the 8 available across the 3 days, I picked up the tools and set about mounting the various bits and bobs.
By lunchtime, hours earlier than expected, I had finished. The key to this was discovering that I had a supply of my favourite mounting medium in my tool box; Black-tack! Black-tack is no more or less than industrial strength Blu-Tak, and is widely used by photographers to stick expensive kit to things that wouldn’t normally accept things being stuck to them. I’ve used the stuff very successfuly in the past to mount transponder brackets, and the task of affixing fuseboxes and rev limiter boxes to the Katana was even lighter duty for this marvellous stuff. I even introduced it to Russell Benney of Phase One this weekend, as I think it has a great future in Endurance racing for the “post crash panic rebuild” phase of the race.
Next stop – scrutineering. I had used Steve Adams’ copious patience to do a full nut and bolt check on the Kat whilst I enjoyed my play-dough mounting of the various parts, and scrutineering revealed just one minor misdemeanour which we fixed without even leaving the scrutineering bay. By golly, even my cable tied oil cooler mounting hadn’t raised a question. Unless I was very much mistaken, we were ready to take to the track…
One last job was to work out what I was going to set the suspension to, so I took a screwdriver and a pad, and counted all the clicks available on the various clickers dotted around the suspension. Then, sensibly, I stuck them all in the middle of their range. This avoided any kind of intellectualising about suspension, which is always a total headf*ck even when you know what you are doing (which I don’t, and which nobody could claim to on the Kat either, given it’s never been run in this shape before)
So, the fuel went in, the oil got topped up, the chain was checked and the battery taken off the charger (we’re running total loss).
At 1:15 on the 4th July 2014, this Katana was ridden out of garage #19 and aimed towards the end of pitlane for only it’s second ever ride (the first was the 100 yards to scrutineering a couple of hours earlier!)
I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t emotional, I wasn’t any of the things I’d expected to be. Maybe it’s because I spend a lot of time on track at the race school, maybe it’s because for the first time ever I know a bike inside out. Maybe I was just knackered, worn out and drained of any more emotion, whatever it was, it was pretty handy because it was a nice balanced mood to do the job of the first real ride.
The lights went green, the bikes in front filtered out, and before I knew it, we were on the track…