As Visordown (the magazine) is now only www, this grizzled old boy must face a new digital future on the world wide web. This online-distributed column was a Niall Mackenzie production
Ten years ago from July I decided to hang up my leathers and end my days earning my living as a professional racer. I was flattered that both the Yamaha and Suzuki BSB team bosses still called to see if would change my mind however I hadn’t won any races in the previous season so I decided it would be unwise to prolong the agony. I forgot nevertheless that I wasn’t a millionaire and I had two hungry sons to feed never mind a wife with a Next mail order habit so I needed to find a job.
Two days after I officially retired from racing, T.W.O. boss at that time Grant Leonard rang me up with what sounded like an offer of work. I had no idea what was involved, but as soon as he mentioned the magic word remuneration, I became his slave. At the mag’s high profile champagne launch in Piccadilly, one BMW boss asked what style of writing would I be adopting? The only answer I could muster was ‘joined up’ which got a laugh. However I realised then my English ‘O’ level might be about to save my life as I suddenly realised I had accepted a job as a journalist.
A decade has passed and although the wages are the still the same I can honestly say I have had the time of my life.
Many of the tests over the years have turned into unplanned mini-adventures, like the camping trip in France where every exposed part of Jon Urry’s body got ravaged by mosquitoes during the night. He’s not pretty on a good day but even worse with a beetroot builders bum. On that same trip Evil Jim’s V Strom’s panniers decided to eject all of our provisions for the week down the streets of Narbonne which was heartbreaking but somehow amusing at the same time. I remember Alex Hearn joined us while riding home from the Buell Ulysses (or useless as he called it) launch in Sardinia which meant a petrol stop every seventy miles with it ridiculous fuel range.
Whit being asked to leave the lounge in the super posh Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh during our Burns supper bash was also highly amusing. Not so much because he was pissed (he was) but more because it was only us that could see the funny side of his Yorkshire loudness. Being ‘inspired to ride’ I’ve been drenched in the north of Scotland (who hasn’t?) and fried in the south of Spain. I’ve ridden to Croyde Bay in Devon on an FZ1 to try and fail at surfing, visited the Nurburgring on a VFR800 where I nearly implanted myself in a boot of VW Golf driven by a granny. I’ve hit baby Wild Boar with a 1200RT following their mother across the road in Northern Spain and I wiped out a dog near the Almeria circuit, although this time I was driving the company van.
Some of the new winter bike launches have also been quite bizarre. One Honda Varadero launch in Portugal saw us flying around in helicopters, abseiling down crumbling churches after performing a mock rescue of a maiden in distress before riding along a beach to enjoy a five course lunch. This was fine until one journo pointed out it was 3pm, the light is fading and we still haven’t taken any action pictures – which of course was the whole point of us being there.
Racing in GPs for factory teams was indeed living the dream. However being sent to destinations like Qatar, Miami and Melbourne to ride bikes before the public have even seen them in the flesh comes a very close second. I’ve earned my living for thirty years in this amazing industry now but never taken anything for granted. I only hope I can continue to wing my way through life and avoid the real job police for another three decades.
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