Photos & Musings: Grands Prix

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Life on the road

One aspect of life as a GP rider that people probably donít appreciate, especially a privateer, is the length of time on the road, and away from home.

There is a lot of travelling between races. We would leave a race on Sunday evening and have to drive maybe 2 or 3 days to get to the next race. En route you had to find somewhere to park up so your mechanic could work on the bikes, and we could clean all the gear, awning and so on. Sometimes we might find a launderette, but other times we would have to wash riding gear in streams or public toilet wash basins.

If you could find somewhere to park up you might be there for 3 days so your temporary home needed to be somewhere safe, where you wouldn't get thrown out, and somewhere with access to water, shops and so on. Sometimes it could be a service station (if the owner was cool), sometimes a lay-by, motorway rest stop or public car park.

If we were lucky and were racing right down the south of France we'd go to the coast. A favourite place for Claire and I was Cap díAgde. There were large, quiet car parks right on the beach, and out of season there were hardly any tourists there. One time we pulled into the car park at Cap d'Agde and found Perry Leask, Julian Rawson and a bunch of other riders all parked up with the same idea. Perry and Julian werenít doing GPs. They were just contesting French Internationals but had the same idea of parking up by the sea.

Of course, we riders still had to train. That was tricky too - not easy to go running when you're parked up in a lay-by on the Autobahn in the middle of nowhere! Iíd make makeshift gym equipment out of whatever heavy stuff was around.

We also would try to maybe locate a practice track Ė again, not easy to do when you don't know the country.

Most riders were in the same position. Only Thorpe, Geboers and Malherbe flew back home. Carlqvist, Persson, Nicoll, Van der Ven etc all travelled with their mechanics in their trucks.

Another thing to consider was tyres and fuel. Some trips could take in six or more races. Using at least five tyres a GP thatís a minimum of 30 tyres. Add to that the fact that some tracks might require different types of tyres and thatís an awful lot to cram into (and on top of) a 508 van.

Race fuel was also an issue for the factory riders. In common with pretty much all the works bikes, my factory Kawasaki KX500SR that I raced in 1986 only ran on Avgas Ė thatís aviation fuel, and not easily sourced in the middle of nowhere. My mechanic would take about 8 Jerry cans with him, but that would only do about 4 GPs so sometimes we would have to try and find a local airport and convince them to sell us some. Fully loaded up the truck was like a rolling bomb!

In 1985 journalist Neil Webster travelled with us to Finland to write a piece on the GP privateer lifestyle. You can read the full article in the 'magazine' section of my site.

A privateer's workshop can be anywhere. In this case it's a service station in downtown Helsinki. Enlarge image

Washing riding kit by hand was all part of the job. Enlarge image

Sophie, 7 months, makes the most of the shade at Cap d'Agde Enlarge image

Sophie, aged about 9 months, now 18 Enlarge image