The Sunday Social with former Olympian Ben Challenger

Published: 18 June 2017

What better way to spend a Sunday than for MCN to sit down with a fellow biker for a chinwag about life and bikes, of course.

This week we caught up with ex-GB Olympic high jumper Ben Challenger.

What's on the menu for brekkie at the bike cafe today?

"It's got to be a full english up at the H Cafe since I live near Aylesbury and Oxford."

What are you looking for on a Sunday ride? (Nice scenery, new cafe, knee-down adrenaline?)

"Over the years it's changed. There's lots of good riders in our group and most do trackdays so if we get  to roundabouts and there's nobody around we'll go round several times with the knee down and carry on but we've slowed down a little bit now. We do fast road riding and some chilled stuff as well."

And what's in your pannier/backpack when you're out on a ride?

"Duct tape, tyre pressure gauge, maybe some bulbs and some snacks. Probably some zip ties too - there's always one of us that forgets something."

You've just finished rebuilding a Ducati 996R?

"Yea, I got it a few years back now and like with any bike from that era it needed stuff doing to it to get it back looking nice. To me a bike like that was always going to be a continuous project so I added a few bits like carbon air tubes. But the I took it to DWR in Aylesbury with a few issues and I said I wanted to keep it as it's going up in value and the guys agreed. So we decided to do a proper job on it. Over the last year and a bit she's been stripped, had the frame painted, all the nuts and bolts have been replaced and the engine has been rebuilt. Some internal parts were quite hard to find and expensive and we ended up getting a few bits from Holland but now it's all done and I'm just running her in. I've got another 500 miles to go before I can let her rip which is frustrating but it's got to be done properly."

So it's going to be ridden?

"Oh yea, I'm a massive believer in that. You've got to look after old bikes but they prefer to be ridden so I'm just going to ride it. I won't do track days or try and get my elbow down but it was built to be ridden. I rode it to work and back this week and it was just lovely. I've tried all the new stuff and I love and respect it but I'm just a bit old school now to be honest."

You're not a fan of electronic rider aids?

"I'm looking at buying an S1000RR next year for the track, which is a bit cliche, but they're so cheap and bulletproof to look after. As a track bike it'll be great. Not to sound cheesey but it's not the destination, it's the journey and on the road it's about how you feel. You can't go everywhere at 180mph on the Queen's highways anyway. The 996R just reminds me of the old days and you have to work it hard. I do appreciate the new stuff and I like the efficiency and engineering behind it all and I understand it on track when you're pushing to get the perfect line and go faster. But for the road I don't personally like it that much because I'm not going to be pushing that hard. I've become a bit of a fair weather rider in my old age with a full time job and a son now as well.

"I tried a 1299S last summer and it's a phenomenal machine, properly quick, but almost too good if that makes sense. I had an RSV4 which I really liked and was planning to convert in a track bike but I got T-boned and that was it for the bike. The new Fireblade looks good. I've never been a Honda man but I wouldn't mind the SP, I think it looks brilliant. But ultimately you need to think about fixing track bikes and how cheap plastics are going to be. It's more about how it goes."

Do you have any other bikes?

"For my 35th birthday my wife bought me a custom Harley-Davidson Sportster from Warrs. I hang out with Charlie from there as he likes sports bikes as well, so we've got that common interest and him and my wife found an old Sportster with low miles and designed something for me. It's more of an art piece but I do ride it sometimes. Everytime I ride it I wish I was on the Ducati, though. It's fun when the pegs go down and it's nice top pop round and pose around like a bit of a twat at the pub without having to wear all gear. Just an open face, jeans and jacket. Not all my mates understand it but it's nice to just chill sometimes."

What got you into bikes?

"Growing up in the early '80s my next door neighbour used to race bikes. Some of my earliest memories are the smell and sound of his two-stroke. I'd just walk over and he let me help and then I was hooked. We grew up in the country near Donington Park and he took me on the back once down a private road. That would never happen now. I used to go with him and his racer mates to watch the GPs at Donington in the era of Haslam, Gardner and Spencer - all the old school legends. That was it. I wanted to ride as soon as I could and the rest of history."

Have you always been a sportsbike fan?

"Yeah, I'm a massive fan of MotoGP, BSB, and AMA and I absolutely love road racing. I was luck enough to do a closed roads lap of the TT in 2012 on and RSV4 race bike. It had a race gear shift which was really confusing. 'Do I go down to go up?' That was really fun."

What about adventure bikes?

"My friend's stag do weekend is coming up and that's going to be a whole weekend riding adventure bikes. I started in fields on motocross bikes being chased by farmers so I appreciate that as well and I've got a friend who races motocross. He always try get me into which I would love but the amount of injuries they have is ridiculous."

And you've been to Laguna Seca?

"Yeah, me and my wife used to do quite a bit of work over there so on a couple of occasions we had the chance to go. It would have been stupid not to, really. The wife rides as well so we rode up there. Say what you want about the Americans but they really know how to put on an event, it was really good. You don't appreciate just how step the Corcksrew is until you see it. You really need balls to go down there at speed. I'd love to go to Mugello and Valencia as well. Maybe not on the Ducati though!

"So I guess adventure bikes might be the way as I get older. Ultimately the Ducati will become too uncomfortable so another bike will come into the stable. By that time it might be electric as well!"

Have you ridden electric bikes?

I haven't, but I've driven a Tesla, which is like driving an iPhone. In ludicrous mode it accelerates to 60mph in2.5 seconds and it hurts your eyeballs. It's really weird, though. Imagine getting on a fast race bike, absolutely caning it and there being nothing but total silence. Weird. I'm sure there'll still be a large group of us who appreciate the sound and everything else that comes with petrol bikes so motorcycling will never die."

"It's difficult. Do you have children?"

No, but I can't imagine it's a simple answer.

"Yeah, it's a case of 'do as I say not as I do'. I've lost friends and have friends who are now disabled because of bikes. Me and the missus have talked about this because there's one bike in the garage, one in the house, and I'm always watching racing, so inevitably he's going to be around it. We've said if he wants to get into it we'll try not to let him ride on the road but we'll let him race. I'm sure it won't quite go to plan but at least it's a compromise! My parents were cool and said 'do what you want'. I take my hat off to them, I don't know if I could do that. What were your parents like were they cool?"

Yeah, my dad has ridden since he was a teenager and my mum had a bike for a few years.

"It was your calling for sure."

I can't imagine it's a simple yes or no decision, though.

"No. I can remember when I got bug and it's interesting to think what would have happened if my parents said no. I have friends now that love bikes but they never got one as their parents said no and now they're too old and scared to try. Ultimately it depends on the kid, really.

"I tried speedway at a school with some of the lads and that's awesome, but it's really hard. Coming from road bikes your wrist automatically shuts when you feel the back end move unless you're Marquez or somebody like that. But as soon as you get into it it's amazing. I guess Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden started off in flat track so that could be a good place to start, but we won't openly encourage it."

Whats the future on two wheels for you?

"Get back into track days now my son is nearly two and I've got a little more spare time. I'll go back to the TT at some point but really I just want get back into it and enjoy it for what it is. Just guys from all walks of life with a mutual interest. Love it."

 

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