I’m not really superstitious. Ladders, the number 13 and black cats don’t scare me. But magpies do.
Ask any one who knows me and they’ll tell you about my weird routine when I spot one of these mono birds on its own.
It involves clapping and saluting in equally strange measures – and is meant to avert disaster. But, after today’s saga, I think I need a new routine – the current one clearly doesn’t work.
After five hours sleep, I was up at an ungodly hour to hit the road (bad turn of phrase) for a motorcycle media test day at Bedford Autodrome.
My love of bikes is as great, if not greater, than that for four wheels so the chance to ride the latest bikes from all the major manufacturers on the road and track was too good an opportunity to miss.
I should have realised things weren’t right and turned round and gone home when I’d spotted seven solitary magpies before leaving Gosport. It soon started to go wrong – first I spotted I’d forgotten my licence, then my sat nav led me down a path covered by the Official Secrets Act. And it all added up to a late arrival and missing the first safety briefing.
Don’t think this impressed the marshals much – but then if they thought that was bad, things were about to get a whole lot worse.
Like a kid in a sweet shop I didn’t know what bike to pick first. Deciding to be cautious, I opted for a Suzuki GSX-R750. Not mad fast. Not boring slow.
An indemnity form was thrust in my hands and I stupidly joked about how much I’d have to pay if I binned it… the PR and I had a good laugh about that before I swung my leg over the 09-registered machine and rolled out towards the track. How ironic I’d be soon eating my words.
Waiting at the start line, the flag marshal warns me the track and tyres are cold and to be careful. It doesn’t sink in.
Three laps behind the marshal at 50mph show me the lines, and before long he’s waved me past to pick up the pace. I up the speed and start to enjoy the 750, braking a little harder for corners, leaning a little more in the bends.
Fifth lap I’m feeling more confident, corners are flowing nicely then… WHACK! I’m on the deck. Sliding. Still sliding. I come to a bumpy rest in a crumpled mess on the rumble strip.
Ouch. Pain. My hand hurts. The bike’s wrecked and before I know what’s happened I’m in an ambulance heading for the medical centre. Fortunately my damage is superficial – the bike, on the other hand, is totalled. £8k Suzuki? Dead. Arse.
‘You went into that corner and the front just tucked away from you,’ explained the instructor, who had been following me. ‘There still wasn’t enough heat in the tyres, they were new too so were in need of being scrubbed in – plus the track was cold.’
It’s little comfort. I’ve been riding bikes for eight years now and have never dropped one. And talk about the most public of crashes, in front of your friends and colleagues. Doh!
My hand is pretty bruised. But I think I’m lucky not to have broken my little finger. That’s largely thanks to my Alpinestars gloves. The little and ring fingers are held together by a leather band stitched into the leather to protect them in the very event of a crash like this. It worked.
I’m given the all clear by the medical staff and walk to see the chief marshal, head bowed apologetically low. I’m scalded like a naughty schoolboy and my track riding pass is rescinded. He says I can go out on the bikes on the road, but it just didn’t feel right showing my head in the paddock after what I’d done.
It was an accident. I don’t really know what I could have done to get more heat in the tyres before the incident, but at the end of the day a crash is a crash and it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken it out.
Best stick to cars, eh? Damn those magpies…
(a slightly bruised) James