4 laps on the back of Ron Haslam. On a Fireblade, around the better half of Silverstone’s brilliant new F1/MotoGP/WSB track; Sound like fun? Well, I think it’s worth you realising what it feels like, just in case you ever get the chance to do it! Truth is, it gave me a restless night…
So, I’ve seen Ron do countless pillion laps from the perch on my Fireblade as I instruct at his School. What could possibly surprise me? Sure many of those laps had me chuckling to myself as I saw the poor pillion hanging onto a scolded Fireblade moving at “remarkable” speeds, but surely, with all that experience I’d be able to deal with that?
After all it’s fair to say after 2 full years of coaching there, and what must be thousands of laps, I know what a Fireblade around this half of Silverstone feels like when it’s going quickly.
Or at least that’s what I thought. Oh, how very wrong.
Fireblades; utterly brilliant Motorcycles – the smoothest and easiest way to go mentally fast. But don’t ever get the idea they had “high-speed pillion comfort” on the design checklist! Ron’s bike has a concessionary tank mounted handle for the pillion’s extra grip and security. The passenger seat is a long way up, and not very big. The pegs are high and honestly without the handles you’d really not feel much like going through what comes next!
We had a chat about what to expect, which was primarily about observing the different lines he uses and the braking forces, which I was assured would be more than I was used to.
Now, it’d be easy to get upset when it was suggested you were about to be shown how to use brakes properly by a 55 year old bloke with a pillion clinging on! Unwritten school rules mean even as an instructor, you can’t let yourself think you’re good enough to not learn from the guys you work with; Ron, Leon and a good smattering of WSB, BSB level riders will soon bring you back to earth with a bump if you get above your station about what “fast” really is.
Open-minded then, I climbed aboard and made a very conscious decision that this ride was to be conducted without fear of my own personal safety – I call it my Airliner mode; you’re a passenger in the hands of a professional who also has an interest in not crashing. I’m happy to say whatever you think of that, it was good enough to create genuine calmness in my head!
Lap 1 was allegedly a “warm up” lap. Mmmmm, not sure I was getting that feeling!
We were polite to school traffic but utterly decisive in overtaking, and we scythed through all we came across in moments. I could feel the ‘faster laps’ were going to be tough – this was already what could only be described as brutal.
Getting to the end of the 170mph Hangar Straight on Lap 1 proved to be the beginning of the lesson in braking I had been promised. I’m not exaggerating when I say we flew past my usual last-ditch braking marker with the throttle still pinned, and still pinned, and BBBRRRAAAAKKKKEEEE!!! Hmmm, I’d have to say I didn’t expect that, or what happened next.
The reason I wouldn’t choose to brake that late is because in my world it’s good to retain some semblance of a smooth line and a controlled entry speed into the corner.
Now, don’t get the idea I’m rubbish on the brakes. I’m happy calling myself a late-braker, and history proves I’m not easily passed at club racing level in a braking zone. But there is a limit set in my head here which I hadn’t realised was so far away from what true speed requires.
Following on from the super-late, super-hard braking, Ron smashes apart my desire for constant radius smooth turns and aims into a single point which he attacks flat out, straight lining towards it on the brakes. The bike drops rapidly on it’s side in the mid-corner, almost immediately getting from zero to full throttle to accelerate away at maximum possible pace.
I witnessed no desire to retain corner speed, no desire to be smooth, only maximum speed for as long as possible. Totally and utterly B R U T A L!
Even from the pillion seat it was easy enough to feel the slides out of corners, which on some of them transition quite nicely from slide into wheelie (airliner mode was really helping me at these points – I should have been screaming)
The next few laps (and at many many points I wished there were less of them) the pace just built and built. There were what I would call “recreational wheelies” thrown into the mix (that’s a wheelie you don’t need to do in pursuit of speed, it purely for fun!).
I only looked at the speedo during one of the several dozen wheelies, it was reading 136mph…and we still hadn’t landed it.
I have described it since like being strapped to a post and beaten around the head by 2 men with baseball bats – one of them you can see, the other you can’t. You’re taking a merciless beating and you only see half the shots coming!; there are some obvious points where you know it’s going to get edgy, but there are other bits you incorrectly surmise are going to be straightforward. Ron’s brutal dissection of the lap into so few points joined up with maximum braking and acceleration do mean you’re off-balance mentally and often shocked at the sequence and voracity of whats happening.
I really expected smooth, I really didn’t get that. Just an utterly un-natural way to ride. If I’d been left alone with a Fireblade and an empty racetrack for infinity, I can’t think I’d ever have put a lap together like he does.
After 4 laps we thankfully returned to the pits. I had been offered the chance of tapping his shoulder if I wanted to bale early, but really – pride and all that; I’d decided it was never going to happen! But honestly after 4 rounds I was damn well ready to tap if we’d passed the pits again, my hands were really feeling it and I felt as a “learning experience” he’d made the points he set out to quite bloody well!
Certainly braking everywhere was done so hard it was to the point where I had to take conscious action to not fly over the top of him. And I couldn’t disagree that his lines resembled nothing like I expected. I have seen him do these laps dozens of times before from on and off track, we had spoken about what would happen before, and yet I was still blown away about how it felt. I was, and in fact remain, utterly amazed!
I do recall that getting off felt really nice, but my head was spinning with the recalibration of what’s not only possible, but what makes “quick” happen. My head honestly didn’t stop all night – restless sleep ensued as it sank in. I found it inspiring and depressing all in one; Being shown the truth served as a guide to what’s actually possible and a pointed reminder you haven’t ever been doing it right. It’s like being told you’ve held a pen wrong all your life!
As an illustration of the much talked about “point to point” style adopted when racing a modern 1000, you’ll never ever beat this for an experience. I can honestly say it has changed the way I ride on racetracks, and for the better.
Would I recommend it? Well, it’s immensely brutal, fast and brilliant, but it’s really up to your desire to experience a look inside a proper racers world. It’s a dark place with sharp edges! Thankfully you’ll have someone making it just about as safe as it’s possible to make it to get you through it.
The good news!; For about £80 it’s possible for you to do this yourself.
Pillion rides don’t run every school day, and they’re not for sale on the website. But if you happen to be at the reception area at the school in the afternoon, the weather is good enough, Ron feels up for it and the schedule allows it, then a pillion ride could be yours….
So, if you think can pretend you’re on an airliner, think you’d like to really know about braking and acceleration (and wheelies) and you have the minerals to book this, then do it.
Bear in mind you only live once, and you’ll never want to do this twice!