Our Niall's teenage dreams come true when he gets to ride two ex-Barry Sheene machines - a Suzuki XR45 and a Walmsley Manx Norton
My very last conversation with Barry was at Donington in 2002 just before his first Classic practice on the Walmsley Manx Norton. His enthusiasm for Classic racing always baffled me as I thought he seemed definite that he would never race again when he quit in 1984. Aye see... never say never.
While chatting he insisted I get on board his bike and as I tried it for size he was trying hard to convince me I needed to come out of retirement and start racing Classics. In his cockney best he advised me; "Niall, you have to get your arse on one of these, you'll faaacking love it".
No racing yet but I took the first step at Donington and rode the very bike Barry plonked me astride last year.
I've actually known the owner Fred Walmsley since 1983 when I lived in Blackburn with ex 250cc racer Geoff Fowler. 'Kentucky Fred' owned a chain of the well known chicken restaurants and sponsored us with delicious Colonel Sanders. Ah, the happy finger lickin' 80's indeed!
After asking Fred if I needed to know anything before I set off he replied " Niall, just poke it hard as you can through Craner and hang on!" Confident, brave words but I chose to build up at my pace none the less.
Barry wasn't wrong, this bike was fun to ride. It has a six speed gear box with a left hand shift that felt better than most modern Ducatis. The engine was smooth and revved freely to 8500rpm but unsurprisingly there were big vibes through the handlebars at high revs. My only real concern were the brakes. It didn't have any or not very much, which I'm told is normal.
Basically you have to time things so you pull everything on as hard as you can, back shift, say a short prayer and you may make the corner. Exciting stuff but in a race there would be no room for error. It just brings it home how awesome modern race brakes really are. The rear suspension was fine but the front hopped around while trying to push it hard through slower corners. Fred was right - I could 'poke it' through Craner as hard as I liked but I had to build up to that one.
I have always wanted to know what it felt like to be Hailwood or McIntyre back in the fifties and sixties so I've now had the experience and I liked it.
Still astride the Manx in the Donington Pit Lane I took my helmet off and imagined myself in one of these black and white TT pictures where the race had just finished and the rostrum finishers are sitting having the crack. All I was missing was a Woodbine. Wonderful.
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