I’ve not written much recently but there’s plenty been going on.
My racer is still on the stand, although I now have a new front aluminium mudguard to replace the one damaged in the lowside crash at Anglesey earlier in the year. I also set about the paintwork on the headstock to try and find trace of a frame number, which would help me to register it for the road if I so desired. I found it in the end (but not before I’d removed a decent amount of perfectly decent paint) and amusingly it confirmed that the frame was never a Super Squirrel frame, but a 1932 Flying Squirrel. I have actually called it a Flying Squirrel in the past (and a Sprint Special when I was very young and simply wanted it to be one…) but the idea that it was a Super Squirrel stuck for some reason and I can’t even remember why. It’s not even that the engine type was the same.
So from this moment on I shall call my noble steed by its rightful title: My Flying Squirrel racer.
Although Anglesey was a while ago now, one of the other things that happened at the time was that my dad’s bike was due to be tested the following Tuesday for Classic racer magazine by Steve Plater, a former motorcycle racer and TT winner. I made the journey to Cadwell the day after getting back from Anglesey and we were very interested to see how he got on and what he made of the bike. He’s used to modern machines and I don’t think he’d ever ridden anything like it before. My dad advised caution through Charlies because of it’s tendency to get out of shape on the exit, but apart from that let him work it out himself.
We changed the bars to give him a different position and he seemed to be gaining confidence quite quickly through hall bends, where we were watching. He was certainly moving. However, maybe the confidence was a little premature as he lost it out of Charlies as a result of a tank-slapper that he couldn’t control.
Noticing that he hadn’t come round for another lap, I feared the worst and ran up to the van just in time to intercept the recovery vehicle. I took a deep breath when they opened the back door as the steel Vincent straight handlebars were bent vertically both sides, like bulls horns. I could see the top fork links had bent significantly before I even got it on the stand, and by the time Steve told me that it had gone over a couple of times I already had a mental picture of what, in all honesty, was the worst racing incident it had ever endured in over thirty years.
Of course, we were all relieved that Steve was ok. It could have been very nasty for him. On reflection, I think we were naive to think that even a highly successful professional modern rider might just sit on something with as lowly relative performance as my dad’s Scott and be able to work it out easily. Riding a rigid bike, or more to the point, racing a rigid bike requires a whole skill-set of its own. The feedback to the rider from a rigid chassis with girder (almost rigid) forks has little comparable in the modern motorcycling world. Racing with modern tyre compounds winds up the chassis and causes some instability that you get used to and some you know you can’t. Even though you ride a different line to avoid the ripples or the sudden dip in track surface etc, arse off the saddle.. damping with your knees like a jockey… there are some corners where you don’t want to try to push the line, and the exit of Charlies always has been one.
At the end of last year, Bill Swallow had a ride on my Dad’s bike in one of my races and he got into a tank-slapper coming out of Charlies which certainly caused him to wind it back it little. He knew he couldn’t push any further.
Maybe Steve felt a little under pressure to perform? Possibly, although he is obviously a great rider with a lot of experience of real racing pressure so it’s difficult to believe. I think the truth is, that he just didn’t know what the bike would do and assumed that he’d be able to tame it. It was a sad end to a day which promised some exposure for the British Historic Racing Club, plus a wonderful chance to see what a well respected modern champion might achieve with the bike in the way Paul Dobbs did with such style, ten years ago. Rest in peace, Paul.
In the end, it was a mistake, just unfortunately one which will take a while to sort out. Now stripped, his racer needs to have to frame checked for straightness, the bearings, the wheels etc. The fork blades are bent and most likely other parts of the assembly too.
Of course it will be done, but at 74 Roger has a lot of engine work for customers and it’s just difficult to find the time for minor developments, let alone complete re-alignment and rebuilding work. It won’t be done until next year, for certain. We have to remind ourselves that beyond the feelings of sadness and regret over the incident there must remain one clear point:
This is what racing is.