Former 250 and 350cc British champion, seven times 500cc GP podium finisher and three-times British Superbike champion (1996-1998.)
BIKES OWNED INCLUDE: Yamaha FS1-E, Yamaha RD400, Yamaha RD350LC, Honda TL125S, Yamaha YZF-R1
NEIL HODGSON Neil was 1992 125cc British champion, former 125cc GP rider (1993- 1994), 500cc GP rider (1995), 2000 British Superbike champion and 2003 World Superbike champion.
BIKES OWNED INCLUDE: Ducati 999 FILA replica, Ducati Desmosediciwww.classicmechanics.com / 37
Every day should be a school day, right? That’s what my old boss once told me and I still stick to it…
Every time I do anything, be it in the office or throwing a leg over a bike, I’m prepared to learn something new. It’s the best way… Car drivers may be blinkered, think they know it all and not want to move forward from passing their very basic test, but the stats show that bikers young and old (yes, like us) often want to engage in advanced riding, or track instruction to get the best out of our bikes, be they old or new.
Many of us have been riding for many years; the fact that we are still here says we’ve been doing something right. But old dogs can learn new tricks, and what better ‘old dogs’ to give us some tips and tricks than Niall Mackenzie and Neil Hodgson.
Now, I’ve been lucky enough to have ridden with Niall, a former 500cc grand prix rider and three-time British Superbike champ, on track and road and I can honestly say I’ve learnt a lot from the Old Trout. Whether it was in the fast group at a Donington Park track-day or a wet, nasty ride to Barry Island 20 years back on a Yamaha YZF750 and a Suzuki TL1000S, watching a racer’s smooth skills out on the road can help big time…
So, in an ironic ‘Barry Island’ twist, CMM’s own Andy Bolas supplied a YZF and TL for Niall and Neil to ride as they talked me through some pointers and thankfully the weather was brilliant. So, let’s see if we can learn something from these multiple British and world champs…
Preparation, preparation, preparation…
Yes, the three Ps are what you need here, according to Niall and Neil… So where do we start?
Niall Mack says the ride starts before you even kit up, saddle up or start up. “For me, there’s a reason why I’ve invested in a good jet-washer and cleaning products, chain lube and the like – you really do get to know your bike better when you’re ‘up close and personal’ when you’re cleaning it. It’s then that you can examine the tyres, check the brake pads for how much meat they have on them, see if the fork seals are leaking, and whether the chain is the right tension.”
The same goes for your kit, eh Niall? “Of course. I always give the visor a clean inside and out as vision’s vital when riding a motorcycle – peripheral vision too. I always ‘layer up’ properly and wear the right (comfy) kit for the weather conditions, too. On the fabled Barry Island ride with editor Bertie, I didn’t tuck my gloves in properly and… you guessed it, rain came into the gloves and over my hands, which consequently froze. A simple mistake, but I was still more of a racer back then. So, keep your kit tip-top and make sure it’s comfortable otherwise it will annoy during the ride and take your concentration away.”
Neil Hodgson has another pre-ride tip: “When I was racing I would train so hard in the off-season and yet as soon as I threw a leg over the bike, various muscles would ache. You can be as fit as you like, but there’s no substitute for riding a bike to get those muscles working. That said, even geriatrics like Niall understand the benefit of warming up and stretching… Valentino Rossi does it at 41 before getting on his M1. So, give it a go. If you exercise you’ll know the need to warm up those muscles. It’s the same riding a bike. We all know how uncomfortable cramp can be. Oh, and do remember to hydrate before you ride. In the high summer, you’ll need some water on board. Also, it goes without saying that you should only ride when you’re in the right frame of mind – leave plenty of time to prepare and kit up, and never be in a rush to get anywhere – only racers know how to rush… and even they can crash!”
Niall adds: “Another thing is this: so many people don’t realise how much adjustability there is in a bike. OK, so not as much as a race bike, but you can obviously adjust the levers on many modern classic bikes – but some people don’t! And don’t forget that you can adjust the angle of the bars with some basic tools. Adding to that is the fact that you can buy double-bubble screens, higher bars, cushioned/ air-seats and different foot-pegs to really customise the fit of your motorcycle. Do it, it’s yours, so make it comfy.”
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