John Reynolds - Retirement Plans

After 20 years of racing, John Reynolds is now watching bike racing from the safe side of the fence. We ask the BSB legend about his career-ending crash, retirement, his plans for the future and what it's like not to be racing bikes for a living


TWO interviews John Reynolds

Reynolds, happier on this side of the fence

"I don't get the bad dreams anymore where I wake up with a start as I'm being thrown over the highside. They've gone."

John Reynolds is finding retirement to his taste. Apart from sleeping better, he's hopefully had his last taste of hospital food for some time. Reynolds hasn't been fully fit for more than a year since breaking his leg testing before the 2005 season. Since then, he's spent seven weeks in hospital and the best part of a year recuperating. "I was lying in hospital when I decided to quit," he admits. "I had another month in there and I'd already spent most of the year recovering from a broken leg. I was sick and tired of injuries."
Reynolds struggled with his leg for most of 2005 and thoughts of retirement - something he always told the press he never considered - became more frequent. "I'd lost my speed from being out through injury," he says. "I was struggling to make the top 15 and half-way through the season I decided it would probably be my last. I wasn't doing justice to the team or myself so I thought if I can't turn it around I'll probably retire."
But as Reynolds' leg improved, so did his results. Two podiums at Oulton Park showed he was back on the pace. "As soon as I realised I could still win I fell in love with the sport again and thought there's no way I'm packing it in. On the way to Brands for the final race of the year I agreed a deal with Rizla Suzuki to race again in 2006. I was elated. Then I had my big crash."
Reynolds has practically no memory of his career-ending crash during Friday practice at Brands. "I don't remember much really. I came out of Druids, went down the hill and ran off the track. Simple as that."The damage was severe. As well as breaking four ribs and a collarbone, Reynolds punctured his lung and broke his neck and back. "It was a big one," he admits. "It was my back which caused the biggest problem - that's why I spent so much time in hospital. All the other bones mended on their own but my back needed a big operation."

After a month in hospital, Reynolds was allowed home but the road to full fitness was long. "It took me two and a half weeks to get out of bed once I got home, and my first shower took two and a half hours. I couldn't even move my arm above my chest. I wasn't getting any better so I started working at it. I forced myself to get out of bed, even just to sit up for 20 minutes at a time and gradually increased it. It was hard work."
As well as trying to get fit, JR spent the winter of 2005-'06 getting used to the idea he didn't have a season to prepare for. Now 40, Reynolds started racing in schoolboy motocross aged eight. He took up full-time road racing in 1987 and enjoyed a hugely successful career which included three BSB titles, Supersport and ACU Star 350cc titles as well as several seasons in WSB and 500cc GPs. With over 200 race starts and 50 victories in BSB, he was by far the most experienced rider in British racing.

Now, for the first time in 19 years, he didn't have to worry about the coming season, and he's noticed the psychological changes as much as the physical ones as he learns to be a normal person again. "As a racer, you'd get over Christmas and start closing down - closing yourself away from the world, thinking about the coming season. I'd done it for so long it felt natural and I didn't notice it. But my character's changed since I stopped racing and this year I'm a full-on family man with time for that family. I'm more responsive, relaxed and much more patient than when I was racing."
But old habits die hard and JR admitted to pangs of jealousy when Rizla Suzuki signed Shane Byrne. "It was a kick in the guts to see Shakey on my bike. Like seeing your ex with a new bloke."But Reynolds has come to terms with seeing his bike with another man, and as an ambassador for Rizla Suzuki he'll still be at most BSB meets as well as tests, bike shows and other events for Suzuki. But the first meeting of 2006 at Brands was still a strange experience for one who'd spent their entire adult life racing. "It was odd not having that knot in my stomach on the Sunday morning at Brands and walking around the garage seeing the bikes prepared and knowing I wasn't riding one. But I didn't envy the lads having to ride in those appalling conditions and having to gamble on tyres. I thought, 'I'm not missing that'."

Although racing for a living looks like heaven for most ordinary bikers, only racers know the real pressures involved. Only they know what's going on inside that helmet when the visor comes down and it's an experience Reynolds has mixed feelings about. "The best side of retirement is not having to push a motorcycle to the limit every weekend. It's great fun but also incredibly stressful having a stopwatch on you every single time out."
That's every lap of every test, every free practice, every qualifying period and every lap of every race over 19 years. But all racers ultimately do it for the buzz - for the rush of barging elbow-to-elbow with 20 other race junkies. It's not a rush easily replaced in normal life and that's why Reynolds is reaching for the sky now. "I've started flying again and that's one thing that kept me going over the winter. I'm qualified in helicopters too but want to do aerobatics and you can't really do that in a helicopter, so I bought a plane."

Although his racing days are over, Reynolds will still be throwing a leg over a motorcycle now and again, as he did recently for the first time since his crash. "I tested a 600 at Bruntingthorpe and felt like I'd never been away. It felt absolutely fine. Hopefully I'll get a run round on one of the Rizla Suzukis this year - but without the pressure of a stopwatch!"
Bikes, helicopters, a job with a top BSB team... retirement doesn't sound so bad. But there must be something Reynolds misses after being a top flight rider for the best part of two decades? "There's no bad side to retirement yet apart from not having the chance to win a race again, that was such a great feeling. But I had plenty of it and had known for the last few years retirement could be coming."

And that's the crucial difference. JR was ready to retire, unlike others forced out through injury before they were ready.
Niall Mackenzie remembers the agonies 1987 world champ Wayne Gardner went through when he was forced out of the sport. "He freely admitted he missed the buzz," says Niall, "the attention and the cash that he got from racing. It was obvious that he hadn't completely switched off from the whole racing trip."
Reynolds, on the other hand, has. And he's completely at ease with his decision. "I wouldn't like to have bowed out if I felt I still had a full tank of fuel. I'd run it pretty dry and I'm happy with my decision."
It may be too early for Reynolds to be nostalgic over his career but, having raced in BSB, WSB and Grands Prix, he has some fantastic memories - and victories - to look back on. "The best victory I ever had was my World Superbike wild card win at Brands Hatch in 2000. I enjoyed all the championships I raced in but GPs were probably the hardest. It was fantastic to get the opportunity to travel and race against the best riders in the world, but you're also racing the best bikes and tyres in the world. And it was hard work going to the line knowing you couldn't win because you didn't have the best package. But I don't have any regrets about my career. You make mistakes along the way but mistakes build character."
Reynolds' heart is still in the sport that gave so much but which took its payment in pain and disappointment. Expect to see him around the paddocks for a long time to come. "I'm going to play this year as it comes and see what happens. I'm working on a book and doing stuff for the Think! campaign, as well as my job at Rizla Suzuki. Hopefully I can carry on enjoying doing what I'm doing. I want to stay involved but never take anything for granted. This year, my mission is to help the team win the BSB title from the garage with Shakey Byrne or James Haydon. And I'm just as determined to succeed in my new role as I ever was."

JR'S 20 YEARS ON TRACK


1987 Race debut on a Velocette and first win at Cadwell Park
1988 ACU Star 350cc British Champion, 8th British Seniorstock
1989 British Supersport 600 Championship
1990 British Supersport 600 Champion, 6th 750cc British Supercup
1991 3rd 750cc British Supercup
1992 British Supercup 750 Champion, British TTF1 Champion
1993 15th 500cc GPs 1994 14th 500cc GPs
1995 10th World Superbikes
1996 12th World Superbikes

After that lot John competed in BSB from 1997 to 2005 and finished 4th, 4th, 3rd, 3rd, 1st, 6th, 2nd, 1st and 9th, in that order. He also won a World Superbike race at Brands as a wildcard in 2000. Way to go JR !

REYNOLDS RATES 'EM

Shane Byrne "Shakey's world class, a natural rider. He says he's not had enough time on the bike and I'd agree, but the team's working on that. We'll soon see the results."

James Haydon "Another class act but he needs to settle down a bit. Not as relaxed as Shakey at the moment but that will come."

Michael Rutter "Really impressed me at Brands. He could have rolled over or come out fighting after losing the HRC ride and he's definitely fighting. Very hungry."

Leon Haslam "In Lavilla's shadow last year but I think we'll see the tide turn this season. Something very special for the future and I know he could cut it at world level."

Gregorio Lavilla "The way he rode at Brands in the wet on slicks, he's something quite special. He won in 2005 but I don't know if he's got the willpower to do it again."

Karl Harris "One of my favourite riders, I've been tipping him as a champion for years. Time will only tell how far he goes on a Superbike."

"I don't get the bad dreams anymore where I wake up with a start as I'm being thrown over the highside. They've gone."

John Reynolds is finding retirement to his taste. Apart from sleeping better, he's hopefully had his last taste of hospital food for some time. Reynolds hasn't been fully fit for more than a year since breaking his leg testing before the 2005 season. Since then, he's spent seven weeks in hospital and the best part of a year recuperating. "I was lying in hospital when I decided to quit," he admits. "I had another month in there and I'd already spent most of the year recovering from a broken leg. I was sick and tired of injuries."

Reynolds struggled with his leg for most of 2005 and thoughts of retirement - something he always told the press he never considered - became more frequent. "I'd lost my speed from being out through injury," he says. "I was struggling to make the top 15 and half-way through the season I decided it would probably be my last. I wasn't doing justice to the team or myself so I thought if I can't turn it around I'll probably retire."

But as Reynolds' leg improved, so did his results. Two podiums at Oulton Park showed he was back on the pace. "As soon as I realised I could still win I fell in love with the sport again and thought there's no way I'm packing it in. On the way to Brands for the final race of the year I agreed a deal with Rizla Suzuki to race again in 2006. I was elated. Then I had my big crash."

Reynolds has practically no memory of his career-ending crash during Friday practice at Brands. "I don't remember much really. I came out of Druids, went down the hill and ran off the track. Simple as that."

The damage was severe. As well as breaking four ribs and a collarbone, Reynolds punctured his lung and broke his neck and back. "It was a big one," he admits. "It was my back which caused the biggest problem - that's why I spent so much time in hospital. All the other bones mended on their own but my back needed a big operation."

Continue John Reynolds' retirement plans 2/3

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