Cold Play - Foreign track days

Winter? What winter? Harriet packs up her bike and riding kit and heads for the sunshine

Stick two fingers up at interminable winters blighted by incessant rain and freezing conditions. Scoff in the face of the season's first ride-outs when your riding's more rusty than the Titanic's hull. Now's the time to pack your bags and prep your bike in the style of a GP god whose winter is spent refining his skills on sunny foreign racetracks.

The number of motorcyclists whose track day season has become winter is er, snowballing. The Mediterranean between September and April more often than not offers perfect conditions for hooning around a circuit, with decent amounts of sunshine, temperatures ranging from high teens to mid twenties and stunning locations. For the price of a short package holiday you get several days on track, return flights, airport/hotel/trackside transfers, bike transport, a stay in a fancy hotel and the best time of your life. Believe me - I've been there, done that and will be going back for dozens more T-shirts.

I first discovered foreign track days in 1999 when I started riding to tracks like Croix-en-Ternois and Carole in northern France with Byrne-Up Bike Tours. I gradually rode further south with Byrne-Up to tracks such as Nogaro at the foot of the French Pyrenees during the summer months. Finally, in February last year I'd had enough of freezing my tits off waiting for the drizzle to clear so I took off to Nogaro once again, this time for a week-long winter thrash.

After ripping the seats out of a Mercedes Vito people carrier and shoving two bikes in the back, my friend Mitch and I drove through France amid the snow drifts. This HAD to be a bad idea. I had visions of being snowed in a hotel room with nothing to do but get drunk on French wine (hooray!). But as we approached the south the snow gradually melted away as the sun's rays became more powerful. The sun continued to shine throughout the week - chilly in the morning but by 11am it was perfect track day weather. By the Friday we were flying round the 2.26 miles of winding tarmac while the hotel bar was bled dry of Buds. I was ready to face the new season back in Blighty.

Except my appetite for foreign adventures had become insatiable. By early March Blighty's skies were still grey. Very grey. And 100% Bikes were advertising a fly-ride four-day session in Spain's Jerez. Well, it'd be rude not to.

Dropping my bike off at my local pick-up point and hopping on a plane was new to me. I worried about the fine details - like where would I put my tools? My paddock stands? My spare tyres? Turns out you not only drop off your bike but all your kit. 100% Bikes' Paul Wilson reckons one guy was using his £200 transport service to move permanently to Spain he dropped that much kit off!

A 100% Bikes coach picked us up at the airport and ferried us about throughout our Jerez stay, although a hire car for a few quid a day is a more independent option. Spending four days at one track is unbelievable and nothing like one poxy UK track day. The atmosphere is chilled - everyone's in holiday mode and with so much time on your hands to learn the track before upping the pace, crashes are few and far between. Besides, you don't want to spend valuable drinking time at the hotel bar apologising to some poor dude you knocked into the gravel trap earlier in the day. And you can take the time to focus on different aspects of your riding to come away a more polished rider. Then there's the full trackside support with tyres, spares, petrol, water, mechanical help and tuition all provided.

If you're not sure how to break to the other half that you're off on a foreign track day, bring them with you to enjoy the plush hotel, sunshine and foreign sights and food. They can prop up the lively night bars or make themselves useful by recording your decreasing lap times with the old mobile phone stopwatch.

If you love bikes, this IS the holiday of a lifetime - far, far more exciting than lazing around for a week on a beach trying to develop a tan you're better off getting from a bottle anyway. The question is not whether to go, but how to go.

Being winter you can pretty much rule out riding all the way unless you're double 'ard. Driving down's cool - it's an added adventure and prolongs the holiday. The fly-ride option is incredibly easy: pay your wedge and everything is taken care of, plus it means less time off work - leave Friday night, spend Saturday and Sunday on track and fly back Sunday night if you like.

If Valentino Rossi spends his winters riding European tracks, then so can we.

Who to contact for your winter kicks

*Byrne-Up Bike Tours

www.byrne-up.co.uk

(0871) 7174141, info@byrne-up.co.uk

Byrne-Up's Heather and Simon have booked up four days at every French club racers' favourite circuit, L'denon from 1-4 March. For plenty more events at Nogaro, Cartagena, Valencia, Jerez, Magny Cours and others give them a call.

*100% Bikes

www.100pc.co.uk

(0870) 8722532, info@100pc.co.uk

You can spend the entire month of February with Paul Wilson and the 100% Bikes girls at Nogaro if you like, with a whole week of track time for just £299. Paul's also booked sunny Cartagena from 27 February to 2 March. Other tracks include Monza, Jerez and Albacete.

*Track Sense

www.tracksense.co.uk

(08704) 450 600

info@tracksense.co.uk

Track Sense are spending three days from 4-6 February at southern Spain's Almeria, the driest track in Europe. Alernatively it's Jerez in March. You can also hire out a new Honda CBR600RR. Tony Hill's the man to speak to.

*No Limits

www.nolimitstrackdays.com

(01727) 899173 info@nolimitstrackdays.com

The guys at No Limits have booked out Jerez for a full 10 days from 27th January to 5th February so get on the blower.

*Front Row GB

www.frontrow.GB.com, (01202) 201007

These guys have booked three days at Almeria from 10 January and three days at Albacete from 22 February so call 'em.

*Other useful contacts

European SBK School, (0870) 2415159 www.europeansuperbike school.comHottrax, (01908) 330445 www.hottrax.co.uk

Stick two fingers up at interminable winters blighted by incessant rain and freezing conditions. Scoff in the face of the season's first ride-outs when your riding's more rusty than the Titanic's hull. Now's the time to pack your bags and prep your bike in the style of a GP god whose winter is spent refining his skills on sunny foreign racetracks.

The number of motorcyclists whose track day season has become winter is er, snowballing. The Mediterranean between September and April more often than not offers perfect conditions for hooning around a circuit, with decent amounts of sunshine, temperatures ranging from high teens to mid twenties and stunning locations.

For the price of a short package holiday you get several days on track, return flights, airport/ hotel/trackside transfers, bike transport, a stay in a fancy hotel and the best time of your life. Believe me - I've been there, done that and will be going back for dozens more T-shirts.

I first discovered foreign track days in 1999 when I started riding to tracks like Croix-en-Ternois and Carole in northern France with Byrne-Up Bike Tours. I gradually rode further south with Byrne-Up to tracks such as Nogaro at the foot of the French Pyrenees during thesummer months. Finally, in February last year I'd had enough of freezing my tits off waiting for the drizzle to clear so I took off to Nogaro once again, this time for a week-long winter thrash.

After ripping the seats out of a Mercedes Vito people carrier and shoving two bikes in the back, my friend Mitch and I drove through France amid the snow drifts. This HAD to be a bad idea. I had visions of being snowed in a hotel room with nothing to do but get drunk on French wine (hooray!). But as we approached the south the snow gradually melted away as the sun's rays became more powerful. The sun
continued to shine throughout the week - chilly in the morning but by 11am it was perfect track day weather. By the Friday we were flying round the 2.26 miles of winding tarmac while the hotel bar was bled dry of Buds. I was ready to face the new season back in Blighty.

Except my appetite for foreign adventures had become insatiable. By early March Blighty's skies were still grey. Very grey. And 100% Bikes were advertising a fly-ride four-day session in Spain's Jerez. Well, it'd be rude not to.

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