A&R Pro

Making the Jump From BSB to Ballagarey

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Peter Hickman and Josh Brookes are two riders who have proved that short circuit riders can still make the switch to the roads.

Twenty years ago the, top British short circuit riders were all racing on the roads. Whether you were an up and coming John McGuinness, or an established star like Michael Rutter, it was expected that you would join the list of short circuit racers that raced on the roads.

The practice was as old as factory contracts, and it was expected that if you wanted to have the best bikes in the British championships, you would race at the North West 200 and the Isle of Man TT.

That practice has slowly faded out, but in recent years the move has been made by some short circuit riders to return to the roads.

Josh Brookes and Peter Hickman have both shown exactly what short circuit riders can do on the roads, and with Hickman having won a series of international races, and Glenn Irwin’s recent North West 200 victory, it’s clear there are still some short circuit riders keen to test their nerves.

The reasons for riders moving to the roads can vary, for some it was an itch that needed to be scratched, for others it was a means to ensuring they had a ride, but one thing is clear: the challenge of adapting.

“It’s obviously very different because on a short circuit you’re always at the point of nearly crashing to be fast all the time,” said Hickman. “You’re always trying to find the limit of something on the bike or the track; whether it’s one corner or a whole lap.”

“Short circuits are intense because you’re trying to break them, whereas at the TT is intense because there’s so much happening. I’m a very chilled guy, normally, and that helps because you’ve got to be very relaxed on the bike at the TT.”

“I’ve got a lot of bikes to ride through the week, and it takes me a long time to get used to the Lightweight or the Supersport bike. I’ve always raced big bikes and remembering how late you can brake with those bikes takes some time!”

“I always brake and then think…’I could have gone deeper.’ The braking markers, entry points, and gear patterns are different with each bike and it takes time to remember everything.”

“You’re always ready to crash in BSB, but you can’t ride like that in the roads in general. The TT circuit you definitely can’t, but that’s because the circuit doesn’t lend itself to riding like that. You have to run through corners and focus on getting the exit right with a lot of throttle.”

“You can have a two-mile straight coming out of a certain corner so you need to make sure that you’re exiting it well and that becomes you’re focus. If you rode like that in BSB you’d lose five places at every corner!”

Understanding what’s needed is crucial and being able to do your homework is the biggest shortcut to succeeding on the roads.

When Josh Brookes rolled away from the start line for his first practice session as a roads racer, he was very confident that his work would pay off, but even so there was still a lot to learn.

“If you’ve not been riding for a few months, and then go onto a short circuit, it takes time to readjust to the speed and the sensations,” said the Australian. “It takes time to adjust, so you get to that point where the speed doesn’t affect you any more. It’s the same thing at the TT.”

“You can ride short circuit all year long, but when you get here it all happens again. On a short circuit everything is so far away that there’s nothing to really gauge your reference of speed, whereas when you come here, you’ve literally got peoples’ front doors and driveway posts and letter boxes as references.”

“Everything’s going past you, and it’s going past you fast! It’s quite clever how the mind works to change your perception of speed.”

“When you first get here things are passing you at the same speed as they are on the day you leave, but the day you get here is the fastest lap you ever do, because it’s going past so quick. Lap after lap and day after day, everything seems to slow down.”

“The track becomes easier. The corners become less. The speed at which you’re travelling appears to be less. Your body basically acclimatizes to the environment.”

While your mind and body get used to the 37-mile circuit, there are certain sections that Brookes has to take a very different approach to compared to his day job as a British Superbike rider.

The flat-out nature of short circuit racing means you are always scratching for every tenth of a second, but Brookes understands you can’t ride at the TT in the same way.

“You do go into a state of natural self-preservation at times at the TT. There are corners on this track where I know I can go quicker.”

“I know there are corners that I could get on the brakes deeper, and carry more speed, but as the track’s coming at you through your eyes, something in your brain stops you from being able to hold the throttle at full.”

“It makes you grab hold of the brakes even though you know you can go quicker. There’s something that always stops you from doing that. It always pulls you up short of where the danger lies.”

“You do get to a point where you know from the previous laps that you’ve done, gone through a section perfectly on every lap, and you start to then build up some confidence in your mind.”

“That allows you to then go closer and closer to the limit, but it’s not nearly the limit like you call on a short circuit. Both events and races and laps are intense, but for different reasons.”

Photo: © 2017 Steve English – All Rights Reserved

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