If you can’t see it it’s not there.

Two MotoGP stars have ended their careers in recently years, citing invisible illnesses or injury. Casey Stoner I think I have talked about before.

 “…they demand visible proof – a plaster cast, bones protruding through flesh, something they can see. They are not prepared to accept invisible problems…” –Ben Spies on Asphalt and Rubber

I appear to be inadvertently wearing Spies’ helmet colours, partly as I liked the design, partly as the design was discounted on the HJG FG-15 I wanted. This was enough prodding to take enough interest in a the rider in case i was accosted  by a rabid fan. I have not found any in this country yet, but the helmet design gets plenty of comments and questions about who painted it.

I digress, Spies had a number of crashes landing badly on the same shoulder, which contributed to a career ending injury. He left MotoGP a shadow of his former talent, with a large proportion of both the MotoGP circus and fans of the sport unable to comprehend why he’d left because they couldn’t see the injury. I can almost hear the cries of “but you don’t look sick”.




I can’t sleep. It’s horrible o’clock in the morning. Everything that can ache is having a pretty good go at doing so. My mind is still racing. I can’t decide whether the most strenuous thing I did today was watch the MotoGP or whisk custard. I didn’t ride. And given that it’s morning, today was yesterday.

I’m not at home. The red-haired Virago is snoring contentedly, occasionally she stirs just enough to smile. I am insanely jealous of her ability to be asleep whenever the opportunity presents itself.

I am not that fortunate.

I have already scoured the usual sources if internet entertainment for novelty, poured over ebay for potential bargains on the spares list, devoured the last third of the book I have been reading for months, contemplated all the things I would do if I had just a little more energy, and resigned myself to the fact that there is likely to be a flurry of creativity until the headache I’m nursing gets in the way, followed by long hours of staring blankly into space or the back of my eyelids, able to do very little, before sleep finally takes me. I will most likely wake up about 6 hours later, feeling little better, but hungry.

When I do wake up feeling non-achey enough to do something, that something will likely be pull my kit on, and ride somewhere. Probably home, via the supermarket, and then sleep some more. Or fail to sleep some more.



Sometimes the best therapy is pottering about sorting out a minor issue, or getting several layers of road grime removed. Particularly when it hurts too much to ride and  I need to keep stopping every few minutes. I replaced some of the fuel lines yesterday with new parts, hopefully they will stand up better to the alcohol in modern fuel, and might sort out the cause of the little black granules I keep finding in the float bowls, which might be part of the fuel hoses. Of course they could be part of carb o-rings, floats or gaskets, but replacing the cheap and easy things first as she seems to be running right.

The days that aren’t so good

I’d been asleep and inactive most of the Tuesday and Wednesday. So it was Thursday and I felt OK and I needed food, so a trip to the farm shop and the supermarket was the thing to do. By the time I got to the farm shop every small feature of the road felt like bouncing over a speed hump too fast. I ordered some pork, and realising I wasn’t going to make it to the supermarket as well, grabbed some overpriced bread and eggs. I picked smoother roads on the way back, still hurt. Much agony by the time I was home. Pretty much abandoned the bike in the back yard for an hour or two before finding the energy from somewhere to lock her away for the night, quite glad the gate locks. Didn’t come out again for another few days.

Jorge Lorenzo’s collarbone.

Last Thursday at Assen, Jorge Lorenzo had an epic 148mph crash, revieving a displaced fracture of his left collarbone. Ouch. See the inconveniently unembeddable video. On the Friday he was flown to Barcelona, had the bone bodged together with some titanium, and flew back to Assen in time to take part in the warm up on the Saturday morning, and was medically cleared to race.

He started 12th and eventually finished 5th, looking uncomfortable throughout the race, and once he passed the chequered flag is was apparent from his body language that he was hurting badly.

She who is mine was not impressed at all was most vocal about this, particularly when the commentators were discussing how full of painkillers he might be. I’m fairly sure most of the really good painkillers suggest avoiding the operation of heavy machinery. Granted a MotoGP bike is pretty light, but it’s still enough to kill someone if it hits them. I share a similar disapproval of operating motor vehicles in a chemically altered state.

So why did Jorge ride? Because he could. Cal Crutchlow resorted to lying to medical staff in order to ride at Silverstone. Becasue he thought he could ride, and ride he did. I’m not going to link to anything about Bradley Smith’s finger, because it’s really gross. But this is what athletes at the peak of their career do. Because not riding is the hard thing to to do.

I can only imagine the physical effort required to ride a race bike like you mean it. My 535 is quite a soft ride, it only made 46 horses when it was new, and currently has a bit of paper from Fi International telling me it makes less than 33bhp and has shit fuel economy and will continue to do so until December 2014. A Yamaha YZR-M1 makes more than 200 more horses. Still a 60 mile trip through the twisties, averaging no more than 40mph for me is enough to be agony when I get off. An hour of dual carriageway or motorway speed? Plan on not getting out of bed the next day. Longer than that, well for a start that’s time to get petrol (535 tank is ten litres before reserve, reserve switch is unreliable) and take break. I’ve simply not done a trip where I’ve used more than a tank of fuel yet. Occasionally I will refuel leaving and arriving as that is where the petrol stations happen to be, but this is usually on shorter trips where I want a full tank and no messing about the next day.

But the days I can, I’m riding. What else would I do?

Does it hurt?


But less than walking. Less than taking the bus. And everything is going to hurt at some time or another so avoiding it because it hurts a bit seems ridiculous. Agony means time to stop or don’t start.When it doesn’t hurt much, then it’s time to go places and get things done.

Painkillers are something of a bad joke. Aside from when I have damaged myself in a new and temporary way they are a waste of time. Anything strong enough to stop things hurting means that my judgement is probably lacking. If it hurts too much do do something, It’s only going to hurt more if I find a way of ignoring it and doing that something.

That seat is a nice big soft chunk of foam that hugs my arse. I’ve got some bars to hold onto to keep my back in a nice position and a fuel tank to wrap my thighs around. There’s not a lot of weight on my wrists as I lean forward, as my lean mostly balances out the force of the wind on my chest. The whole thing vibrates like a massage chair, the 535 mostly at a fairly low amplitude throb. It’s quite nice. The 125s used to feel a little tingly if riding like I mean it, which on a 125 means pretty much all the time.

I started getting some major wrist pain on the second Suzuki GZ I owned, as it spent a lot of it’s time at Wide Open Throttle (WOT). This used to entail my forearm being horizontal and the back of my hand being pulled back nearly vertical. Not a particularly comfortable position. I got around this by swapping the throttle tube for a Yamaha one that had a larger diameter cam, which reduced the amount of twist to WOT, needed to be a tiny bit more sensitive with it, but I only had 12 horses to play with, which was hardly a bestial amount of power.

I’ve already mentioned aches with prolonged low speed manoeuvres in a previous article. It was the major killer doing my basic training, which I split over several sessions as I knew from the start that I wasn’t up for a 7 hour training day. It was annoying again during my mod 1 training and my incessant U-turn practice. Cruiser style bikes are well adapted to me, but their long wheelbase means the allowed space for a U-turn is very close to their minimum turning radius. Now I’ve passed all the tests I’ll ever need, it’s not something I do, getting lost is a rare event, and when I do need to turn around, it’s usually somewhere where a U-turn is inappropriate. Heavy traffic is something I meet from time to time and I hate it to the point of preferring to stop, in a McDonald’s if it’s the only dry place with coffee,  rather than soldier on through it, although it is nice to be able to filter through really slow traffic.

A long journey can leave me quite stiff from being in the same position for a long time. Getting off the the bike afterwards, that can hurt. Being in a different position having gotten used to that one, that can hurt. Have been known to find a bench, sit astride it, elbows on knees, leant slightly forward and find it stops hurting.

Cold hands. I don’t think anything is worse as hands stop functioning if they are very cold, and it’s a sign that the rest of you is pretty cold too. It’s a generic biker issue and I don’t think I get this any worse than anyone else. It was particularly bad getting to and from the test centres in Scunthorpe (mod 1, rain) and York (mod 2, damned cold). Winter grade gloves are obviously better than summer gloves, and it helps if the rest of your kit is warm and waterproof. Mine is all pretty good now as I like staying warm and dry. Came back from my mother’s once in jeans in the rain. Had waterproof (and armoured) trousers the next time I rode. I have a heated waistcoat somewhere. Used it occasionally on my 125. The 535 has an electrical system powerful enough to run heated grips. They are awesome in winter, turned all the way up the bars are too hot to hold. A big air cooled engine doesn’t let anywhere else get that cold, the rear cylinder head is just in front of my seat, so the insides and underneath of my thighs stay warm. I had to make a small heel guard to keep my left boot on the peg so I didn’t destroy the boot on the engine casing. The 535 has one on the right but not on the left. Sat at a level crossing with the engine off, i’ll warm my gloved hands on the engine if it’s a really cold day. On a really hot day, I’ll put the sidestand down and get off the bike before I bake. Summer cooling is mostly go faster and undo more vent zips. 60mph can be quite cold on a hot day if all the vents are open.

Importantly it hurts physically long before I’m mentally tired. If I can get on the bike and get it onto a road without severe discomfort, I’m likely to be in a fit state to ride. It’s something of an expectation that one doesn’t ride unless well rested. I’m fairly sure the same is not true for driving cars. It appears to be quite accepted and often encouraged that I use roadside cafes for a rest as much as for a snack, and most of the friends I vist by bike accept that there is a chance of me overnighting. I was afraid at one point that I might have upset some friends by not staying the night because I felt like riding. I explained later that it meant more to me to know how comfortably I could day trip to theirs.

Working on the bike. That really hurts. Not so much wrenching stuff as leaning over parts of the bike fiddling. It’s ok if I can sit or lie down and work beside the bike, electrical gremlins under the seat are really annoying and a recipe for backache. I don’t do all the work on the bike myself, but small jobs that can be left halfway through and don’t require any great feats of strength will usually be done by me. Loads of electrical gremlins on the 535 that mostly require a bit of patience and logic.

I am a masochist

Don’t you have to be really strong to ride a bike?


Unless you do dangle yourself off the bike like the MotoGP rider you wish you were, or have a massively overpowered bike and no throttle control. Steering takes a really gentle push on the bars in the opposite direction to the direction of turn, and the lean of the bike does the rest. I have never had a wrestling with the bars experience on a road bike. It’s a bit different off road, particularly at low speed.  Braking requires a controlled grip, occasionally quite firm, but infrequently. I don’t think I’ve ever problems with my right hand from braking. My back brake is a drum type, and it’s fairly easy to stand on if required.

That leaves the gears, selection is foot operated and reasonably light touch is all it takes, clutch is hand operated, and not a particularly hard squeeze, but motorcycle drive trains aren’t like cars, neutral is a pain to find on a sequential box, so the bike stays in gear unless it’s being stopped or started. The clutch is (usually) a wet multi-plate designed for controlled slip, slow speed manoeuvres (like crawling along at walking pace) require the engine be kept spinning quickly (for gyroscopic stability and increased torque) and the road speed be controlled by slipping the clutch. Long periods of heavy traffic or low speed manoeuvre training will cause the muscles in my left forearm to ache something horrible. Taking breaks when required and avoiding heavy traffic can mitigate this a lot.

It helps if you have the strength to pick one up if you drop it, but picking up a bike is fairly easy if you you know how, even if it’s 350kg or more of overweight american icon. Backing a bike up a hill is an arse, and you quickly learn to not get into the kind of situations one needs to back out of. Parking wise it’s a ton easier to back down a slope and ride out, or ride up a slope and back out, or find somewhere level to park. If the bike’s broken down then the RAC exist so pushing bikes doesn’t need to happen.

Lifting my luggage onto the bike, that’s probably the biggest feat of strength I perform, followed by getting my leg over the bike. If those look like a problem, I don’t ride.

Working on the bike is a different matter. Some bits of wrenchin’ require a feat of strength to assemble or disassemble a part, or serious application of cunning. I prefer the latter, picking the right size spanner, using my weight rather then my strength (especially with bolt cutters) and improvising with the available tools. Doing the fork seals, it was apparent that neither I nor my mechanic were strong enough to compress the springs whilst the other pried out the retaining ring, so ratchet strap was used.

Of course every biker would like you to think that he or she is the toughest thing around, and Not To Be Messed With, so few will admit this, and most will suddenly find superhuman strength in order to protect their two wheeled life partner.