My Life in bikes: Ian Simpson

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‘Doing two classes was great for prize money!’

Five-times British champion, three-times TT winner and five-times NW200 winner 

Have you always been into bikes?
Yes, my whole life. My dad had a bike shop and also raced (Bill Simpson – 1976 Production TT winner) so I went to all the tracks with him and even at school when the teacher asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I’d always say: “I want to be a motorbike racer.” That didn’t go down too well.

What was the first bike you owned?
I had a Kawasaki KM90 as a field bike when I was eight. I got a Fizzy (Yamaha FS1-E) when I was 16 and that was the last road bike I had for decades because as soon as I started racing – on a Yamaha 250LC at 16 – I wasn’t interested in riding on the road.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in racing?
Winning both the British Superbike and British Supersport championships in the same year – 1994. That was really difficult. You tended to ride the smaller bike better because it’s much easier after the Superbike but it probably slows you down on the big bike. You need both bikes to be set up well and good crews around you too. My dad looked after the 600 Yamaha and I was with the Duckhams Norton team in the Superbike races. It was good for winning more prize money though! I think the only reason that no-one’s done it since is because the prize money isn’t there any more.

Why did you retire from racing?
I broke my right leg early in 1999 and came back in 2000 and broke it again and really messed it up. It was all twisted and shortened so I couldn’t even ride a moped, never mind a race bike. Toby Branfoot, the BSB doctor, told me he thought he could fix it and, over a few operations he did and that really changed my life, so I owe him a lot. I’d broken both legs four times.

What about team management?
I did it for a few years with Dienza Ducati, the ETI team, and Robbie Burns’ team in BSB but it was nothing like riding. The thing I liked was doing the racing so as soon as Toby Branfoot fixed my leg I decided to do more riding instead of team management. It was only playing about on classics but I just really, really enjoy riding.

What have you been up to since you retired from racing professionally?
I’ve got a few houses and shops that I’ve either bought or built – I built my own house when I was just 23.

And you’re still doing some racing?
I won the European Classic Endurance Championship for Phase One this year. And I still do some ICGP (International Classic Grand Prix) rounds on a Yamaha TZ350 that my dad built and I have the odd outing on my 750cc Yamaha OW01.

What’s the best bike you ever rode?
Robbie Burns’ Yamaha TZ250 – I think it was a 2010 model. It was miles better even than the factory Honda RC45 I raced in the late ’90s. Anyone who’s raced two-strokes will always pick one over a four-stroke as their favourite bike. Rossi, McGuinness… they all say the same. They’re proper race bikes.

Do you still ride road bikes?
I ride off-road quite a lot and have a Montesa 4RT trials bike and a KTM EXC 200 enduro bike. I’ve also got a properly trick FS1-E, with inverted fork, Renthal bars, Öhlins shocks, braced swingarm, rearsets, a steering damper and Micron spannies. My main road bike is a BMW R1200GS and I often tour Scotland or Ireland with a bunch of old racing pals like Ian Duffus, Brian Morrison, and Iain MacPherson. When I was racing I never had any interest in riding on the road – but I love it now. 

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