05 December, 2014

Scratching in the Dirt featuring Guy Martin

03 December, 2014

Building Steam Locomotives - 1930's Trains & Railways Educational Film -...

06 October, 2014

Flat Track School

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16 September, 2014


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September 12th

It's hard to remember just how shocking the aftermath of Sep 11th was. For a brief while people wondered if they could make 'Action' films anymore... I mean who could seriously treat that kind of thing as entertainment again? Well the human capacity for forgetting pain is as curious as it is necessary (who the hell would have a second child?) but in the immediate days and weeks after the event  people reeled and it felt as though nobody knew how or why something like this could happen and what the result might be.

Which made the analysis that Hunter Thompson wrote on September 12th (for his Sports column on ESPN) even more astounding. I read it in Hey Rube years later and it shocked me then. By 2001 Thompson was for many a spent force, a boorish drunk trading on a reputation from another time, but in the piece the cold hard glint of his political journalism shines through.

It was just after dawn in Woody Creek, Colo., when the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City on Tuesday morning, and as usual I was writing about sports. But not for long. Football suddenly seemed irrelevant, compared to the scenes of destruction and utter devastation coming out of New York on TV.

Even ESPN was broadcasting war news. It was the worst disaster in the history of the United States, including Pearl Harbor, the San Francisco earthquake and probably the Battle of Antietam in 1862, when 23,000 were slaughtered in one day.

The Battle of the World Trade Center lasted about 99 minutes and cost 20,000 lives in two hours (according to unofficial estimates as of midnight Tuesday). The final numbers, including those from the supposedly impregnable Pentagon, across the Potomac River from Washington, likely will be higher. Anything that kills 300 trained firefighters in two hours is a world-class disaster. And it was not even Bombs that caused this massive damage. No nuclear missiles were launched from any foreign soil, no enemy bombers flew over New York and Washington to rain death on innocent Americans. No. It was four commercial jetliners.

They were the first flights of the day from American and United Airlines, piloted by skilled and loyal U.S. citizens, and there was nothing suspicious about them when they took off from Newark, N.J., and Dulles in D.C. and Logan in Boston on routine cross-country flights to the West Coast with fully-loaded fuel tanks -- which would soon explode on impact and utterly destroy the world-famous Twin Towers of downtown Manhattan's World Trade Center. Boom! Boom! Just like that.

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now -- with somebody -- and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. Osama bin Laden may be a primitive "figurehead" -- or even dead, for all we know -- but whoever put those All-American jet planes loaded with All-American fuel into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did it with chilling precision and accuracy. The second one was a dead-on bullseye. Straight into the middle of the skyscraper.

Nothing -- even George Bush's $350 billion "Star Wars" missile defense system -- could have prevented Tuesday's attack, and it cost next to nothing to pull off. Fewer than 20 unarmed Suicide soldiers from some apparently primitive country somewhere on the other side of the world took out the World Trade Center and half the Pentagon with three quick and costless strikes on one day. The efficiency of it was terrifying.

We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for them.

This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed -- for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won't hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.
Good luck. He is in for a profoundly difficult job -- armed as he is with no credible Military Intelligence, no witnesses and only the ghost of Bin Laden to blame for the tragedy.

OK. It is 24 hours later now, and we are not getting much information about the Five Ws of this thing.

The numbers out of the Pentagon are baffling, as if Military Censorship has already been imposed on the media. It is ominous. The only news on TV comes from weeping victims and ignorant speculators.
The lid is on. Loose Lips Sink Ships. Don't say anything that might give aid to The Enemy.

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25 July, 2014

Dirt Quake 3

It was as ever awesome fun. Massive thanks to everybody who made it happen and sorted my race entry out when I likely didn't follow the instructions properly... 

photos by Lennard Schuurmans aka BubbleVisor

photos by Richard Higgy Pop Higgins

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09 July, 2014

Not long now...

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06 July, 2014

Ron Haslam Race School

I did the ‘Premier Course’ at the Ron Haslam Race School. Three twenty minute sessions on the  Donnington circuit  on a CBR600RR. One instructor for every two customers. It costs £295 which for the habitual trackday rider is going to seem quite dear but it's a different kind of experience.

The typical customer isn’t a trackday addict. In the initial briefing when asked what they hoped to get out of the day, 'go on be honest, do you want to get your knee down?' A forest of hands went up. It seems like quite a proportion of customers are using this as a way of dipping their toes into track-riding waters. I was paired with Adrian. He rides a ‘blade on the road has never been on a track before but a mate had done the Race School and told him he HAD to do it. Adrian wants to get his knee down. We quickly go through what the flags mean, what to expect and then off to the pitlane to be assigned to our instructors.

Our instructor Paul explains what we'll be doing over the three sessions, and how he'll be using hand signals to communicate with us and to other instructor/rider teams out on track. This way he can move our group offline allowing other teams to safely come by and then smoothly get us back onto the optimum line. Session one starts at a moderate pace with Adrian following and me bringing up the rear. The speed builds smoothly until we're motoring along nicely. Adrian might not have been on track before but he's clearly swift and confident. Paul's monitoring us both in his mirrors and he's also letting other instructors know what we're up to and we smoothly overtake a few teams. Likewise a few teams of Fireblade riders and instructors (one on one instruction on the 'Elite' course) pass us but as long as we follow Paul's lines we don't have to worry about overtaking or being overtaken - the system works really well and with a nice big racetrack and a modest number of bikes on track it all flows very well and we find lots of space to do our thing, we only really got held up for a couple of corners in one session before the instructors worked together to get us through. Mid way through the session Paul indicates that Adrian and I should swap positions and I get to follow.

It's my first time riding Donnington, and I've chosen a very good day. Hot and sunny and I'm having a ball. What a great track! We're going at a decent pace but Paul's doing that annoying Instructor thing of riding one-handed looking back over his shoulder, exchanging nods and waves with other instructors whilst keeping a smooth swift pace through the Craner Curves. Bastard. It's my first time riding a Supersport 600 of any kind but it's a modern Japanese IL4 and just does it's thing. We've been instructed to thrash the life out of it 'it's a Honda so you won't break it'. First impression is Jesus! This thing has NO engine braking whatsoever. Coming off a big twin I'm used to banging down a couple of cogs and hitting a brick wall, on this I just get a sewing machine noise and it runs on into the corner... brakes! Oh yeah must remember to thrash the tits off it. Yes. Now it perks up a bit.

We pull into pitlane and head into the garage for a debrief. Adrian is wide-eyed and beaming, he can't wait to tell us how amazingly good that was. I think we have a convert.

After tips on body positioning, corner entry speed, gear selection and all sorts of useful pointers Adrian's got a head full of things to think about before we go out again. Paul's got the measure of me... 'you live to get your knee down, you really enjoy it but you could actually get the bike back upright on the fat part of the tyre and be going a lot faster out of the corner'. Paul's a racer and for him anything that sacrifices progress is a crime. A crime against speed. Yeah... but it looks awesome...

The second session sees us circulating faster and I'm working on some tips Paul has given me for the run down through Craner Curves to the old hairpin. It works! Whould'a thunk it? Several thousand laps of this place and Paul knows a thing or two. Once more Adrian bounds off the bike brimming with superlatives. All the riders now have a final briefing to answer any questions we might have. Clearly this is a useful way for them to manage the our time whilst another cohort of riders are on track but it's all done in a very slick fashion. We drink from complimentary Ron Haslam branded bottles of water.

For our last session Paul has matched Adrian with another instructor and we're out as a pair. We lift the pace, I dig in and see what the Honda has got. It's fast. Very fast, but very wieldable. Extremely sensitive to what gear it's in though. The big twin has made me lazy, it'll drag itself out of corners in a low gear and thump away but the CBR needs to live in a very tight rev range to give it's best. As we go faster I get flustered and start to fluff some corners... wrong gear bouncing off the limiter going in or bogging down coming out... I need to relax, calm down and recalibrate. Still, we're scything past other teams out on track. I get my head together and it really starts to flow. This is superb. All to soon we're back in pitlane.

Adrian bounds over he's beaming again 'I got my knee down!' He's absolutely beside himself and already planning another visit.

From the inital greeting at Reception (the Race School seems to run on equal proportions of grizzled racers and chirpy middle-aged ladies from the midlands in branded swag) every aspect of the day is handled in a slick professional manner. You need only turn up and sign on and you'll be kitted out from head to toe in one-piece leathers, boots, gloves and an Arai lid* then directed towards a fuelled bike. Everything is taken care of. As I mentioned at the start of this ramble inveterate trackday riders might balk at the cost but to be fair when I pondered the outlay in leathers, lids, bikes, fuel, instructors, admin, et al I started to wonder how they make a profit at all. If you want to ride on track but have felt intimidated, or perhaps your bike isn't a typical trackday ride then this could be perfect for you - in the final debrief there were big grins all round and a half dozen proud knee-down neophytes certainly reckoned it a morning well spent. I worried that as a trackday regular I might find it all a bit stage-managed and slow but I enjoyed myself immensely. What a luxury to just turn up at a track, jump on a late model bike and thrash it round a track for a morning. I had so much fun I got back on my bike and thrashed it round Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire for a couple of hours. A good bike day

*you can wear your own kit if you prefer

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