This year’s off-season has been a strange one for six-time British Superbike champion Shane Byrne, who continues to recover from injuries he sustained in a frightening crash during testing at Snetterton last May.
After missing all but three rounds last year, Byrne was hoping to be back on the grid come the Silverstone 2019 season-opener in April, but it’s not going to be as he plays the waiting game while his broken back and neck heal.
"If I’m honest I was hoping for some slightly better news last November," Byrne told MCN at his home on the Isle of Sheppey. "The problem is that the injuries are compression injuries, it’s not a case of being a straight-forward snap or break.
"It doesn’t take a genius to work out that when you’ve got loads of bits of bone floating about where your spinal cord leaves your brain and goes to your back, overdoing anything can obviously cause problems."
Trying to push myself
"In November, the doctor told me the neck was stable enough to start to live a bit more of a normal life. I could turn my head and even start doing a bit of exercise. However, that to me is 'right, let’s go and get back on it,' so after a few, steady cycle rides I started to push myself a bit harder and you find yourself in a situation where you can’t do it.
"That’s not to sound soft, and I’m not complaining, I just can’t do it at the moment and that’s really hard to take. It’s not like any injury I’ve had before. We’re talking about a broken neck and spinal cord injuries, so what the surgeon says carries a bit of weight.
"If it was a broken wrist or something like that I’d be telling you I’d be back in a few weeks, but you can’t muck about with this kind of injury."
Towards the end of last season, Byrne made no secret of speaking to numerous teams about potential rides for 2019 should he be fit as he doesn’t want to end his career through injury.
"I think the racer in me is always chasing the fastest lap, the next win, another championship or six! I want to come back, I want to get on a bike and see how I feel.
"It might be that I jump on a bike and realise that, like trying to ride a bicycle right now, I just can’t physically do it, I might get back on and realise straightaway that I simply don’t enjoy it anymore but equally, I might jump back on and realise what I’ve been missing for the last nine months. I have to find out which one it is, all I’ve ever wanted to be is what I was: a bike racer!
"Time is a great healer and hopefully time is going to heal me, but there is no point in rushing a decision. I don’t want to make a rash decision and say I’m coming back only to find it doesn’t work. I’d rather wait and do it wholeheartedly than just doing it for the sake of it because the season is about to start.
"If we get to August/September time and things are a little bit better for me and I’m feeling like it’s time to get back, I don’t think it would be overly difficult to get a run out from someone. Just the other day I had an email from someone offering to close a track should I ever want a run out to see how it feels."
Life is upside down
While not rushing into a racing return may well be the sensible approach, Byrne admits that only makes things harder for him. It’s so tough for a natural-born racer to sit about through the winter unable to fulfil most of his usual winter routine.
"It didn’t really strike me until three or four weeks ago just how different things are in my life at the moment. At this point of the year, for the last 22 years or so I have been focused on nothing other than training, dieting and preparing for the upcoming season. That’s all I know and all I was interested in.
"My life is upside down right now. I feel like I’m fundamentally wasting life at the minute, I’m not able to ride a motorbike, I can’t ride my bicycle right now; literally all I’m doing is waiting for the next hospital appointment and that’s a pretty boring life!
"At the same time, I’m still here. I can still take my kids to school and spend time with them. In the greater scheme of things, I cannot say life is all bad, but it’s not the life I know. I’d say the best way of describing it is that I’m not Shakey Byrne at the minute, I’m Shane Byrne, and Shane is sick of waiting for hospital appointments."
Hoping for good news
Byrne is back at the hospital this month and is hoping for good news from the surgeon, but even then there’s still a long road ahead.
"I’ve got some hospital appointments coming up and I’m really hoping we get some clear direction. I don’t like standing still and at the minute that’s pretty much all I can do."
While it’s uncertain when, or if, Byrne will be able to make a racing return, one thing is for sure: he won’t be disappearing from the race paddock any time soon.
"I know nothing other than racing motorbikes," he said. "I dare say I could turn my hand to something else, but I love racing motorbikes. I love being part of the paddock.
"It’s funny, I actually enjoyed the paddock a bit more after my injury than I ever had before. Don’t get me wrong, being friendly in the paddock and talking to lots of different teams is nothing like rocking up and winning, but the second I had that accident and people realised I wasn’t a competitor, a rival, that guy they had to try to beat and in a lot of cases couldn’t week in week out, it was like the paddock just opened their arms and embraced me.
Teams, team bosses, mechanics and other riders who I never really had the need to talk to were all of a sudden happy to talk. In fact, it was probably harder to walk through the paddock without being stopped after the crash than it was before.
"As things stand I’m going to try to sort out the Eurosport TV thing again this year, I enjoy doing that anyway and it buys me some time and gives me something to focus on, a chance to make the right call rather than rushing things.
The thought of not being on the grid this year is a bitter pill to swallow, I have beaten everybody lining up for 2019, with the exception of Scott Redding, so in theory it should have been a more straightforward season than previous ones. I have no doubt whatsoever that I would have been up there!"