We caught up with Chris Walker hot off the heels of his Hooligan Race podium today at the Carole Nash MCN Festival of Motorcycling to have a chinwag and find out what goes on behind his visor.
What did you have for breakfast today?
“Well it’s a bit sad, but because the shop’s open 7 days, I’m straight to the shop and on the menu there we’ve got a BSB breakfast and a Suzuka 8 hour. The 8 hour is the all-day breakfast, if I’ve had a big night then I’ll go for the Suzuka.”
What’s the BSB breakfast?
“The BSB is the smaller one, kind of half the other one, it gets you through the morning and if I’ve had a light Saturday evening then that’s the one I go for and that’s the one I had this morning before the ride out for the show.
“You get a hash brown, bacon, sausage and eggs; fried, poached or scrambled depending on how you’re feeling. Beans or tomato, I went for beans this morning, and a slice of brown toast.”
What do you want to find when you go out for a Sunday ride?
“Just nice twisty roads really. I enjoy going fast, but there’s a time and a place for that. So, on a Sunday ride on a day like today, we did a ride out from the shop to the MCN Festival and took the back roads from Grantham, to Bourne and then down into Stamford. There’s some real nice twisty roads, it was a bit better yesterday because there was a little less traffic on a Saturday morning than a Sunday.
“Locally they call it going out on the twisty’s, but I don’t exactly know what that means. But generally the twistier the road, the better.”
Do you have a favourite road?
“Erm, that’s tough. No.
“Not one that I just always head for, not really.”
What’s your riding essential, that thing that you won’t leave without putting in your backpack or pannier?
“I always have my number plate in my rucksack so then I can’t get done for speeding while I’m going. Should I say that?
“I only take a rucksack with me to put the number plate in.”
Brilliant! Is there anything else you’ll always take too?
“Mobile phone, my eyesight’s going so I’ve got an iPhone 7 plus that I chuck in there too. Oh, and also my wallet and a change of visor as well.”
What are your plans for the next few months?
“I’ve obviously got a bit of a break now from racing, the next one now in the sidecar is Knockhill, so I’ve still got a month to go for that, so it’s a real busy time at the shop. So I’m concentrating on the shop at the moment, it’s open for 7 days a week now, from Easter onwards. We’ve just celebrated our second year, literally just two weeks ago and had a mega turnout for that. So the big thing for me in the second quarter is just concentrating on the business.
“It’s still in its infancy at the moment and the biggest thing for us is selling the bikes. We had a fantastic first quarter and were well up on last year. This second quarter has seen stock of certain bikes from Kawasaki selling so well that pretty much everything green is out of stock! If you don’t want it in green though then you’re all right.
“So mainly focusing on that, and of course family time. I’m coming up to my tenth wedding anniversary with Rachel soon, which is really special. She’s in the mood to want to celebrate it, which means I must be doing something right. So I have to make secret plans for that.”
And how are things going in general at your dealership too, anything new happening?
“There’s always something exciting happening there. We call it ‘the Chris Walker Kawasakians’ because you could make a TV show from it because there’s always something going on.
“Normally good, normally exciting and sometimes a bit of doom, you know you get that occasionally. Like right now in the local area unfortunately bike places have been ram-raided, which is a real shame so we’ve had to also update our security.
“But the dealership in general is going from strength to strength. We’re trying to push the dyno side of things at the moment; it’s the bit we want to grow. We’ve got all the equipment there and it could be a bit busier. The lads do a really good job, both mechanics know what they’re on with, one’s spannered at the TT and the other in BSB.
“Now we’ve got the Kawasaki side of things settled and the workshop side of things is running smoothly then we now want to push the dyno.”
And how much does it cost for a dyno session?
“It’s £50 to stick your bike on there to find out what it’s doing and how it’s set up. And if you want a custom map then it’ll cost about £150, it costs about £350 for a Power Commander or the equivalent, which is Rapid Bike system.
“The new big thing is flashing your ECU, which we’ve just started doing and there are some big gains to be had by that. Of course, it’s not ideal for your warranty if you have a nearly new bike so you may need the alternatives. But generally they want a good power figure and noise, so they want a link pipe so the bike sounds good and they want a power commander so it can make some good figures.”
And how are things with the sidecars?
“It’s exciting; it’s a bit like this weekend on the flat track with the Indian. It’s both the best and worst thing you’ve ever done. It’s so exciting, but also a bit unpredictable. I’m not 100%in control of my own destiny when I’m doing either of them and that’s also what makes the sidecar so exciting, I’ve still got a lot to learn.
“I’m still competitive and quite quick, but a lot of that’s down to the quality of my passenger, Ashley Hawes. He’s amazing and won the world championship with Tim Reeves, who’s renowned to be the worlds best. He was World Champion with him in 2012, so he’s making me look good really. It’s like having a living datalogger with you, telling me where I can go faster.
“There are times when I wish I could go faster but I don’t know how. I’m normally okay with the fast stuff, but finding the grip in the slow speed corners is tough I think.
“What’s so different to a solo is to find grip coming out of a corner. You can pick the bike up a bit, Dani Pedrosa style, you can get your weight a bit further back, give it a bit of back brake, there’s all sorts of things you can do.
“On a sidecar, you’re literally stuck in one position; you can’t move the lower part of your body, so all you can do is steer. You’re wedged in there! Suddenly, your rear wheel is spinning and you’ve got to find grip somehow. Your passenger can move and weight it, so it’s not just down to you.
“They’re the little bits of finesse I need. I’ve got speed, but no finesse.”
Is I like trying to learn to ride again then?
“To a degree. What’s nice, and what’s familiar is that the throttle feels just the same. The ZX-10 engine in mine feels just like a ZX-10 engine should. And although the gears and the brake are on the opposite side when you get them, mine’s been changed back to a configuration like a road bike.
“So, other than not having a front brake lever, the actual controls are just the same as a motorbike and that’s where it’s nice. That’s the familiarity; you can “jump on it and go at it and feel confident. But the bit where you’ve got to hang it out going left and right is different.
“Going right makes it feel like a motorbike with a stabiliser. Going left makes it feel like a car with a wheel missing, so it’s a different discipline left or right.”
As a dealer, what would be your ideal trade-in from a customer?
“Generally, what makes it easier is if they get a price from somewhere else. I know that sounds mad because you might have lost them to somebody else. But if somebody else has already broken the news to them about how much their part exchange is worth. It’s the worse job in the world if you have to tell them that their bike isn’t worth what they think it is, so it’s nice if they have an idea or if they’ve had a heads up which definitely helps.
“We’re quite generous on exchange prices; it’s actually like a gift really. If you get a beautiful bike that’s been properly looked after then it means that we don’t have to go out and look for the bike, which saves us time and money. So we’re actually quite generous on part-chops.
“A bike with full service history is always good and that hasn’t also done been to the moon and back mileage-wise. Also, it sounds rude, but bikes that aren’t a boat are good too. In the showroom, I’ve got a certain section that we call the moorings, so everything that’s massive gets put there.”
So, as a dealer, what’s your favourite bike from the Kawasaki range at the moment?
“The Z900, I love it and use it all the time. I’ve done more miles on that than any of the bikes they’ve got out this year.
“You can’t fault the new Z1000SX, the Versys does a great job and the Z650 and Ninja 650 are just brilliant tools but I like an inline 4. I like that smoothness, and the Z900 will pull to a hundred and fifty as long as you’ve got one arm behind your back and no rucksack, so it’s fast enough.
“I’d say out of all the Z’s they’ve made in the recent years that it’s the most all-round. It’s an everyday bike that you can still go fast on.
“I did a trip to Norfolk on it, got up the next morning, rode it to Cadwell Park, did a track day on it, rode it back to Norfolk and then rode it back to the shop again the next day. I can’t fault it; there were twisty roads, A-roads and a track day. Its just ace!”
What’s the favourite bike you’ve owned?
“I’ve owned a few, that’s a real tough one.”
Okay then, are there any you regret selling then?
“We had an RC45 at the shop and one of the biggest regrets was that I never got to ride it.
“We bought it to have it in the shop and have something for people to look at. We put a price on it that would slow it down from selling because we wanted it in the shop for a while and somebody came and bought it before I’d even had a go on it. So that’s probably my biggest biking regret with road bikes.”
What’s your best biking memory?
“My 888 Ducati and going for a ride with my dad on his ZZR. My dad’s not with us any longer, but it was that ride that I did with him that allowed me to go road racing.
“He thought at the end of it that I was safer racing than being on the road, so that’s how I got my shot.”
And how long ago was that?
“Back in 1994, maybe 93.
“My whole world has always revolved around motorbikes since I was a child. Rightly or wrongly it’s always been about bikes. I just love them; It’s what motivates me to get up everyday. And I feel lucky that I’ve got a beautiful wife and a beautiful little girl who are both into bikes as well.
“Rachel’s never missed a race in the 12 years we’ve been together, and Rosie has only missed a couple that she had to because of school, racing to her is a few days away as a family, away from the business and away from normality.”
Thanks for sitting down with us Chris. Check back next week for our next Sunday Social catch up...