Friday, September 4, 2009

Buell Test & Training Days 2009

May 11, 2009 - Monday

It's Monday morning at the office and I have that heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach that comes after the good times, adrenaline and euphory ends. Even though they're only over for a few days, because I'm already planning my next extended weekends.

Friday morning shortly before 1000 hours, Alex arrived on his S1, and we took off over the Buchenegg. His TomTom - the more I drive after people with GPS devices, the less I like the machines - took us through a lot of wrong turns and boring roads, but we got in some curves, did 400 kilometers and only got rained on the last couple hours. We reached the Ibis Hotel in Nancy-Brabois, Lorraine, around six p.m., I think, and found half a dozen other Buells standing outside. We'd made it.

We checked in; I got a double room to myself. After replacing my leathers with jeans, I took my motorcycle magazine downstairs, installed myself in a corner and watched the folks come in.

When I checked on Monday, meaning to sign up Florian, the HD Events website said the function was fully booked. It turns out that "only" 45 people turned up, but that's probably all the better anyway because that was already a lot. There were more females present this time than at Lignières, but the only two drivers were myself and the German twit from last year on her orange Ulysses. The others filled organizational functions.

Around 7 p.m. we all registered with Christian Moser, the HD rep, and got a T-Shirt. The guys' shirts were steel blue with a scratchy Pegasus logo across the chest; the ladies' are made of a nice light stretchy material, tan, with an actual winged horse on front. I'm starting to lose track of how many bike-themed clothes I've got, which is cool.

I'd retrieved my shirt and sat back down to my magazine when Craig Jones suddenly appeared and greeted me. As luck would have it, I sat at the same table as he for supper, and the evening was an immensely enjoyable affair. Craig is so down to earth and does his best to fit in with people, rather than riding his fame above his spectators. Great guy.

Saturday left me with a lot of fond memories I'll be pulling up again and again for while.

Alex, Heiko - a German who learned Bernese German in order to fit in better in Switzerland, just about the only German living and working in Switzerland I've met so far that isn't arrogant- and I reached the circuit in Chenevières about 0830 hours. The weather couldn't seem to make up its mind, and sun and drizzling alternated for a couple hours.

Each bike was supposed to get a number and have its dB level tested. I got the number 3 - good, because most folks had two digit numbers and "3" didn't cover too much of my airbrush - and of course the rusty original exhaust wasn't too loud. I received the "proof of conformity" sticker and brought the Beastie back to the pits.

Alex was rather concerned that his exhaust, which was too loud, but I had the brilliant notion of putting my sticker on his S1. The testers obviously remembered my bike, so I wasn't surprised to find another sticker on the flyscreen, and Alex was able to participate without a fuss over decibel excess.

I can't remember the exact programm from Saturday; I had so much information at the end of the day my head felt twice its size. Most of the time was spent on the track, practicing proper gearing down and the ideal driving line in a particularly convoluted curve series. Then there were free driving sessions, but I really didn't like those much. For one thing, I'm uncomfortable driving speeds above 120 km/h on anything that's not straight Autobahn. Another thing is that I get bored rather quickly, and after driving a series of corners two or three times I either get lazy or distracted and don't bother with proper hanging-off. Consequently I'm pretty slow.

What I was most looking forward to were the sessions with Craig; his duty on Saturday consisted of a pylon course where we practiced, essentially, treating our Buells like supermotos. It was all done in first gear, and in order to get good time you had to get really tight circles around three pylons that were placed at points that included distractions like the corners of trailers that could knock your helmet if you weren't careful.

Jürg, a guy on a XB12S, got the best time with 29 seconds; afterwards Craig and the resident track expert Dénis raced each other and got times around 25 seconds. After three matches Craig came away with a 0.01 second advantage, a fact he wasn't abashed to announce that evening over supper.
The Beastie was frequently complimented and declared the prettiest bike present, and Craig did a round on it, wheelie, stoppie and obstacle course. Yes, my ego is purring...

The day passed, and everyone went back to the hotel rather tuckered. That evening Craig invited me to sit at his table again. Alex did as well, but he went to bed around 2130 hours because at six the next morning he needed to leave. He had a work function in Verona Sunday afternoon. I got an SMS from him when arrived, and wrote back to tell him what all he was missing. He returned two words: "Plain Envy!"

I stayed on with Craig, his passenger Wing, Heiko, Jürg and an annoying salesman with a crude sense of humor. We sat around until two in morning, drinking beers and chattering in our various accents of English, roaring with laughter at Heiko's renditions of Buell driving on the circuit and his Indian blather. Everyone took a turn buying another round of beer. I downed two and half glasses, more than I'd ever had before, steadfastly refusing the fourth one Craig set before me. So he drank it himself.

As a result, most of our circle looked pretty bleary-eyed in the morning, and Craig was showing signs of fatigue by ten o'clock. I was able to sleep mine off.

On Sunday, the program was for free driving on the circuit, braking practice and ideal driving lines, with instructor-guided driving in similar-skill groups in the afternoon. I didn't set tire on the track all day, though. Craig taught stoppies as the first course, and after that I ignored the other half-hour lessons and went outside the pits to where Craig's obstacle course was still set up. There I practiced stoppies until the Beastie's brakes squealed in protest, left imprints on my gloves from the heat, and bruises formed on my thighs. And I actually stoppied. Never thought I'd learn to stoppie before I got the concept of wheelies.
In the afternoon, after Craig had served us another stunt show and grabbed a bite to eat, he was kind enough to give me another half hour of his time and got me started on proper wheelies. I've still got a mental block from last June when I smashed up Silver's back, but I've got the principles now and have pulled the wheel up. From here on it's just a question of practice.
Things were winding down from mid-afternoon onwards; I latched onto Heiko and a Firebolt driver to get back to Switzerland and the roads I knew.
It was about 1800 hours when I said goodbye to Wing and Craig. Craig told me to take care of the Beastie and keep her intact - I guess that makes it female - and said I should try to attend one of his upcoming Italy shows.
I might just do that.
Heiko, the Firebolt driver and I refueled once and made it back to familiar ground in record time. Just before the border Heiko pointed out his dangling gear adjuster. The screw had vibrated loose and flown away, just like it happened to me on Silver in the French Alps last year. And it turns out another Buell driver we caught up with had the same thing happen to him once, too. Ah ja, the character of a V-Twin...
Heiko drove home in third or fourth gear, I guess.
I left them after we said goodbyes at the Pratteln rest stop, and reached home around 2130 hours, richer in experience, friends, and phone numbers to call for company on an evening drive.

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