The bucket list: Ride with a Grand Prix legend
Feeling brave? Half-a-dozen laps with Ron Haslam will show you what bikes can really do on track
Having completed the Premier Experience course at the Ron Haslam Race School on a sun-soaked summer’s morning, I reckon I have a fair idea of how to hustle a bike around Donington Park.
Running at the top end of intermediate trackday pace and dragging sliders aboard a Honda CBR600RR, I’m feeling smug and ready to take my track riding to the next level. A quick lunch break and I jump on a school Fireblade.
After a few sighting laps, the pace increases and I’m passing fellow pupils as if they are standing still. Holding an elegant 130mph wheelie along the Wheatcroft Straight, it’s hard on the anchors for Redgate.
'I'm pin sharp all the way to Coppice'
With the rear sliding and the front end chattering, I pick my line for Craner Curves before dispatching each corner like points on a dot-to-dot puzzle. I stay pin sharp accurate all the way through to Coppice, before testing the limits of the rear Dunlop Roadsmart III driving onto Starkey’s.
I’m up to 150mph with the front end lifting as the track drops away, then it’s onto the brakes hard for the Foggy Esses. I pass another eight riders into Melbourne Hairpin then launch towards Goddards on the back wheel, snatching an extra gear as I do so.
Once through the left, I’m back onto the front straight, ready to pull another inch-perfect wheelie, making sure there’s time to look over at the photographer on pit wall.
'I have to confess I'm not doing the actual riding here'
No, I’m not dreaming but I have to confess I’m not doing the actual riding here. Instead, I’m pillion with former Grand Prix racer, TT winner and British Champion, Ron Haslam.
"We do pillions to show people how good the track is and how good the bike is," says Ron. "It’s hard for people to realise how far a bike can be pushed."
This latest wheelie doesn’t quite go to plan though and we experience a 135mph false neutral entering the braking zone into Redgate. Going wide, the ABS kicks in and the rear steps out, but rather than stress Ron simply looks down and finds his missing gear.
'I'm loving every second'
After a quick-over-the-shoulder apology we are back round for another hot lap. It’s an eye- opening insight into riding at the limit and I’m loving every second; albeit through clenched cheeks and a flurry of swear words.
Sitting on the credit card-sized passenger seat of the school’s pillion-ready Fireblade SP is an intimate affair. With your feet perched high on the pegs, you are forced into a forward position with your arms wrapped around Ron to reach a tank-mounted grab rail.
I tuck in like a two-wheeled bobsleigh brakeman, popping my head out from behind Ron’s distinctive Arai to peer over his shoulder as we drop into corners. Taking his left hand off the bars for the first few laps, he casually attempts to show me the correct lines, however as much as I try my best to take it all in, all my attention is used simply holding on.
You feel all of the braking forces
With Ron grabbing a big handful into the Foggy Esses, I am launched from my seat and onto his, feeling all of the braking forces through the backs of my hands and wrists. He simply shrugs me off on corner exit though and then we head round for another lap.
Positioned over the back wheel, I can feel every spin and movement as Ron lays down the power. Sat above the bike’s Scorpion can, I can also hear the scream of the bike’s inline-four engine and every pop up and down the gearbox.
This also places you directly over the bike’s balance point during wheelies and once I convince myself that the bike isn’t going to flip over, I begin to appreciate the throttle control required to perform an inch perfect 130mph wheelie with a passenger for lap after lap after lap. Put simply, it’s the best lesson in bike control I’ve ever had.
'Eight laps done and I am spent'
Eight laps done and I am spent. My arms hurt and my legs are cramping. Pulling into pit lane, I feel like I’ve just finished the hardest gym workout of my life, yet 62-year-old Ron hasn’t even broken a sweat.
"I’d call you a good pillion because you didn’t try to influence me and I could predict what was going to happen," he says. "I get a lot of people who are nervous and pull against you and the bike. I also get the opposite too, like lads who have never raced before but they think they know what to do and start hanging out early, which then forces you to turn in early. It becomes a bit of a fight."
Good value for money
Pillion rides at the Haslam school cost £95 as an individual experience, or £75 when combined with a race school package. Despite appearing expensive for just a handful of laps, this is the greatest demonstration of riding at the limit I have ever had and offers a thrill unsurpassed by even the biggest, fastest rollercoaster. Can I go again, please?
I did it too: Colin Wallace, aged 42
Non-biker Colin was put forward for the ride by his work colleagues. "I work for the PDSA vet charity and it’s our centenary so I decided, in my wisdom, to let my staff decide what I was going to do to fundraise for the charity this year.
"Chris Furniss, who’s here with me today, is one of my vets and he came up with this idea knowing that I was a bit scared of bikes. I lost count of how many wheelies we did and the first time it happened I didn’t actually know what it was. I was just concentrating on surviving!
"The feeling of acceleration was just amazing, especially because I’m not used to being on a bike. It almost felt like I was going to get left behind for a second as I got used to it.
"I don’t trust car drivers enough to take up riding on the road. However, I could be tempted to try something like this. It was amazing to be behind Ron, but to be under my own control would be the next level."
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