Lydden Hill circuit, nestled in the Kent countryside between Dover and Canterbury, isn’t the kind of track you’d travel the length of the UK to ride. Less than a mile round, Lydden is small, bumpy and with so little run-off it’s not the place you’d want to crash. It’s used for rallycross, drifting and truck racing every other weekend, so it’s rough and dusty, too.
But back in my youth it was my local track. It was the place we south-east Kent petrolheads used to go to watch all kinds of racing, including the infamous Lord of Lydden motorcycle races.
So while it’s no Oulton, Cadwell, Donington or Brands GP, we put it on a pedestal all the same. I eventually raced at Lydden in the late 80s and early 90s, back before trackdays were invented. My first outings were on a GSX-R750J, then an RGV250K, followed by the original twin-piston brake FZR600, which I won my races on. The last time I came here was in 2009 on my 2007 Yamaha R1 race bike (see below).
There’s no modern bike racing at Lydden any more, just classics, but the circuit holds bike trackdays during the summer. Best of all you can either pay for the day (£120 for eight sessions) or per session (£25). That means you don’t have to get up at silly o’clock to sign-on, which is handy now I’m not so local any more.
I’ve had the urge to go back to Lydden for years, so here I am at this little track on a 190bhp MotoGP-inspired Yamaha superbike, with tall gearing, the latest, cutting-edge electronics and a fresh set of Metzeler’s superb new Racetec RR K2 tyres. Talk about using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut – will my R1 even get out of first gear?
The transformation from road bike to trackday tool doesn’t take long: drop the tyre pressures, change the electronic rider aids and add three clicks of compression damping to the forks and shock to give the R1 crisper steering and more stability on the brakes and throttle.
Lining up to go out on track, this place means so much to me that my nerves are jangling and I can feel my pulse in my throat. Without tyre warmers the Metzelers are as flat as a pancake for the first few laps, but it doesn’t take long for the heat and pressure to build. Once up to temperature the tyres are grippy, sharp and most impressively, last all day, despite Lydden’s abrasive surface doing its best to tear their semi-slick surface to shreds.
Most of the track can be taken in first and second gear, with a brief blast in third along the curved start/finish straight. But what’s most surprising is how well the R1’s electronics suit Lydden. They may have been designed for the wide-open expanses of a Grand Prix track, but the slide, traction and wheelie control makes thrashing around here a piece of cake. With all the electronics helping on corner exits, I can just hang on and enjoy the ride and the Yamaha’s hard-edged, haunting crossplane-crank soundtrack.
The rider aids also make riding on worn tyres at the end of the day much safer, so you can keep going fast until the final chequered flag. Most impressively this R1, with lights and indicators and a rider with no desire to set the world alight, are only a second a lap slower than I was on my old, full-blown race R1.
This would be a real weapon in race trim. Rumours suggest the Lord of Lydden is set to return next year with one of the major clubs, along with alterations to the circuit to make it safer, and a full programme of racing, including a parade of past winners. And if that happens, I’m there with bells on.