Riding with Ian Hutchinson: Miracle man
Hutchy’s front wheel rises over the crest, he’s slightly crossed up, but perfectly in control. I spot his right foot tap another gear on his modified Honda Fireblade SP, and he’s gone. Two corners later he pulls over, nods, waits for me to catch up, and promptly hoons off into the distance again.
His injuries mean he may never win Strictly Come Dancing, but that riding ability is still unquestionable. Few top-level riders actually ride on the road, despite what their social media channels might say.
Even fewer would be riding an 189bhp Fireblade in the cold and damp in November. Hutchy has only just junked the crutches he has relied upon so heavily since being injured in a crash at the 2017 TT. And yet, here he is, flicking between damp patches as the temperature hovers in single figures.
Before he set out on this morning blast he had to cut open a new pair of race boots to accommodate his fused left ankle. Hutchy no longer has a conventional joint; his tibia is permanently fused to his heel which means he has no movement.
Of all the world-class riders, Hutchy has the most to lose from any scrapes on a winter morning outing but he’s riding with all the enthusiasm of a teenager who’s just bought his first big bike.
As we ride into the car park at Squires Café near Sherburn-in-Elmet a few heads turn. It’s not unusual to see two new Fireblades turn up at the biker’s café; there’s already two similar models in the car park. But a few fans have spotted the Hutchy lid, and the RST Hutchy gloves. You can see onlookers asking, 'it can’t be, can it?'.
Despite the cold, Hutchy has a gleam in his eye and is already babbling about the 30-mile ride he’s just completed before he’s even removed his lid.
"That car was close, that road had some mud on it... and did you see my front wheel come up over that hump back bridge?" The TT legend simply loves riding and sharing the amazing moments motorcycling serves up.
Hutchy's career highlights
The only person to win five TT races in a week (2010). He won both 600 races, the Superstock, the Superbike and the Senior, all with Padgett’s.
|16 TT Wins. He’s ranked fifth on the all-time winners’ list|
|27 TT podiums|
|Macau: four podiums, one win|
|Second in the 2016 British Superstock Championship|
As soon as Hutchy stops talking long enough to remove his Arai there’s a jostle for selfies and autographs. The Honda star happily obliges and has plenty of time for a chat with the star-struck Squires crowd.
An inquisitive BMW rider asks why he still rides on the road. "That is where I started, riding road bikes," says Hutchinson. "When I was 17 I passed my bike test and for the next four years I was out every weekend and every Wednesday night. I was always out on my road bike, visiting Sherburn, just like I am today.
"When I was racing, for years I got in my mind that there was nothing worse than going somewhere on a road bike. But a good mate who was part of the original road riding group back in the day still has a bike and kept asking me to come on a ride with him, so I thought I’d have a little run out.
"Honda had put a Blade to one side for me to get used to the right foot gearshift again and to get some miles in before I raced. I knew the bike was sitting in the workshop and my mate wanted to do a bit of a trip, so we decided to go to Assen for BSB.
"I’m so glad I did. I had a fantastic time over that weekend. We rode over to Hull and got the overnight boat. We had a good ride around at the other side. I just got the enjoyment of riding bikes for fun again."
Sat at the back of the famous Squires Café, Hutchy is relaxed and happy to chat to other bikers, but is almost incognito in plain leathers. The riding conditions aren’t perfect and he takes the opportunity to warm his hands up on the large mug of tea steaming in front of him.
If you’d have popped to Squires for lunch, you’d have probably walked past without a second glance. He’s just a biker doing biker things. Hutchy is loving his 2018 Blade, but he’s no stranger to Honda’s flagship sportsbike.
He adds: "I had the original, 1992 Blade. I rode that to the TT in 99; when DJ (David Jefferies, multiple TT winner) was on the R1/7 V&M bike. Then in 1997 I had a Yamaha TZR250, it was an RRSP model and was really trick and rare; a lovely little thing. Well it was until I wrote it off coming home on the A65!
"Then I got a Kawasaki ZXR400 for about a year, then the ’92 Blade. I was 19 when I had the Blade. I loved that bike, but it kept doing cranks! I was on the back wheel too much and starving it of oil, so I did three cranks before I realised I should probably calm myself down a bit.
"I used to ride with DJ on the road around that time too. He used to borrow a bike from the dealership (Jefferies BMW in Leeds owned by DJ’s uncle) and come out on a BMW R1150GS or something similar. He was mental, just jeans and a jacket. We’d ride here and go up to Hawes, then Ripon or to the coast."
Hutchy can’t help but smile as he recollects stories of old, when he was young and fearless. DJ was a great friend and helped start Hutchy’s racing career. And while Hutchy obviously loves road riding, he doesn’t do it to help sharpen his racing style.
"There isn’t anything that crosses over really, as you’re going so much faster in a race. But when I was getting back to fitness I’d ride for two hours on the road to see what hurt or ached.
"I guess it helps a bit with muscle memory, feeling the wind on your lid, pushing your neck for a few hours. But now I’m nearly fit I’m just riding on the road for enjoyment, which is something I lost for a while.
"My mechanic says the Honda Africa Twin is nice and it’s automatic so I don’t have to switch the gear lever over. I might get one for weekend rides. I’ve got a new trials bikes coming and I’d like to get back into motocross, but that’s a bit risky."
Hutchy’s enthusiasm is overwhelming. He’s twice come back from near-death crashes and lost years of competitive racing due to injury. But he is still smiling, positive and in love with motorcycling.
When he had the horrible high-speed crash in the 2017 Senior TT, everyone feared the worst. Not Hutchy. He smiles and almost laughs as he recalls the moment he realised he was about to hit the deck.
"My first thought was, I’m not getting ridden over again! I’d just passed Davo (Johnson) but I couldn’t remember where. I knew there would be a bike coming quick. When you’ve been ridden over once in your life you definitely don’t want to be ridden over again.
"So I tried to move out of the way, but when I went to put my arms down to shuffle it felt like my left arm was broken. I must have hit it hard, as it wasn’t working. I just thought ‘that’s broke’. That’s why you see me shuffle with one arm and one leg.
"I knew my leg was broken, because it was twisted around and wasn’t facing the right way. It was smashed. My ankle was pointing down so I knew that was busted, too. But, I still just did my best to get out of the way as I knew other riders were coming. One side of my body was broken, so I just edged backwards with one arm.
"The only good thing was I had a drinks camel pack in my leathers and my mouth was so dry. I was drinking at the side of the road, smashed up, but I was also thinking I’d best not drink too much as I’ll have to go to theatre soon.
"I couldn’t hear or see the riders coming but when Davo came past it seemed so fast and so close. I’m unsure who was next or how many came past. Once I’d shuffled out of the way I was in pain, I took my lid off and laid down. But I couldn’t put my head back because of the hump in my leathers.
"I felt like I was sat on my own forever. Eventually someone, an air-medic or a travelling marshal, gave me some Ketamine. Then it all went, black. I don’t remember the helicopter ride or getting into hospital. I came back around in Noble’s hospital on the Isle of Man, then they flew me to Aintree.
"I was just gutted that it had happened again as I’d had a really good TT. Half of me was like: 'Well at least I’ve won a few this week'."
One moment Hutchy was fighting for the win, the next he’s fighting for survival with a foot pointing in the wrong direction. Not many would come back from that... again. Hutchy says with barely a touch of emotion: "It was never a question. I knew I’d race again."
And race he did, although his 2018 TT failed to produce the results he’d dreamt of. Now he’s doing all he can to get himself in good shape for 2019 and is determined to fight for more TT wins. You’d be a fool to doubt someone so utterly determined.
Ian Hutchinson’s injuries
In 2010 Hutchy suffered a badly broken tibia and fibula on his left leg after being hit by other riders during a start-line pile up in horrendous conditions at Silverstone BSB. After multiple operations and skin grafts he returned to racing at the end of 2011, finishing third at Macau.
Hutchy then broke the same leg again during rehearsals for the Carole Nash MCN London Show at the start of 2012. His leg had become infected and was weak. An external cage was fitted once again and he competed on the roads but was still injured.
More operations followed at the end of the year and into 2013. Hutchy had his final operation in September 2013 (his 30th) and was declared fit to race at Macau. The sensational story was capped with pole position and a win.
Now riding with a right foot shift Hutchy remained injury-free up until his crash at the TT in 2017. The crash smashed his ankle again and broke his fibula. But the doctors also had to break his tibia, at the top so they could lengthen it and fuse it to his foot, removing the talus bone which connects the tibia to heal.
All that might make ordinary racers retire, but Hutchy is no run-of- the-mill rider. “I’m testing throughout winter with Honda, going to France shortly with Dunlop tyres,” he says. “I’ll be with Honda next year and I want to do Superstock in BSB. I’ve done it before and enjoyed it.
"I’m trying to get it sorted with Honda UK and Honda Europe. I’ll be at the North West and the TT and should be as fit as I was before the 2017 crash."