Triumph let us ride their Moto2 test mule up the hill at the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed. It’s never been ridden in public before and it’s now in our hands. Scary.
The pit board leaning next to Triumph’s 765cc-powered Moto2 bike at the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed reads ‘Michael Mann, Gary Johnson, Next Hill Climb Lap At: 10:40’.
So, Gary Johnson. Yep, the crowd will have heard of him. Two-times TT winner and Triumph ambassador. Also due to ride the bike up the famous 1.16-mile Goodwood hill climb course on the following morning was multiple-World Superbike Champion and King of the Jungle, Carl Fogarty. Yep, the 200,000 or so who attending FoS 2018 will have heard of him too.
As broad as my smile was on that Friday and as high as I continued to float up there on cloud nine having been asked several months before to ride the one-off protoype at Goodwood, I couldn’t help but feel insignificant among the headliners. Not only the two who I’d be sharing the Triumph with but from those who I’d be sharing the hill with; Agostini, Rea, Hickman, Haslam, Hutchinson, McGuinness, Spencer, Parrish, Haga, Corser, Miller, Birchill, Brookes, Lowes, van der Mark, Mamola, Baker, Mees… the list goes on.
I’m surprised to still see thousands of petrol heads meandering around the glorious array of two, three and four-wheeled machinery late on the Thursday afternoon when I arrive. I trot up to the Triumph stand being shared with the National Motorcycle Museum where my Moto2 steed stands alongside four other Triumphs including a modern day Speed Triple, an ex-John McGuinness ValMoto Daytona 600 from 2003 and a 1971 ex-Mike Hailwood and Ray Pickrell 750 triple (which I later rode). It was quite a line-up but I naturally gravitated towards the all-black 2019 Grand Prix bike. Standing proudly alongside was Freddy Pett – 2014 Triumph Triple Challenge Champion and my Chief Engineer for the day. “Shall we start it up?”, he asks, rhetorically.
We drop the ‘Moto2 Chassis Mule’ (its official title) off the paddock stands, click it into third gear and push the starter against the rear wheel. With a deep yet recognisable burble the three-cylinders croak into life. What a magnificent sound, an aural treat to anyone within a 300-yard perimeter… and like moths to a flame, mutual appreciators flock. I sit astride the bike and, once warm, give it a fistful. There’s no red line on the digital race dash but I look to Freddy who nods appreciatively. A raft of camera phones are focussed on the machine in an attempt to capture its epic bellow – it’s the first time the bike has been started in public since the London Motorcycle Show in February and for me, is foreplay ahead of the next morning’s grand event.
Watch the video here:
Friday is riding day and during the hours ahead of my run, Gary Johnson is doing his best to wind me up. You see, the cold Dunlop slicks and dusty, narrow Goodwood Hill aren’t the ideal combination for a demonstration run but there wasn’t much I could too as tyre warmers weren’t going to be practical with the amount of waiting around before you get flagged away over the brick-laden start line, straight from Indianapolis I’m told.
From the assembly area, the 40-or-so bikes of all eras trundle down to the collecting area behind the start line where, one-by-one we’re waved away once those from the previous batch have made their way down the hill back to the paddock. “No wheelies or stoppies,” said Miles Perkins, Head of Brand for Triumph before I set off. He needn’t have worried, those slicks were playing on my mind so tricks were not a priority!
The course is clear and the bikes are grouped in age categories, sort of. As I paddle closer and closer to the line with each bike heading off at approximately 15-20 second intervals, I’m keeping the engine revs deliberately low as there’s no cooling on this race bike. I’m fifth in line when the red flags come out – Steve ‘Stavros’ Parrish has broken down and the course is closed. The starting marshal yells, “turn your engines off” so I obey. Anyway, who knew how long we’d be sitting there. At that stage we had no idea what had happened further up the course.
About 30-seconds it turns out. “OK, start your engines”, the same guys shouts. For those with an ignition or even a kick start that’s fine but I’m stranded. Freddy is close and sees my panic. We attempt to bump start the Triumph but to no avail so he runs to the van to grab the starter which has been packed away to follow us to the top of the hill to start the bike up there once everyone has made it – the Formula 1 cars were due to follow us. One-by-one each bike passes me to begin their run. The Ducati GP16 is fired up by its own unique starter which they knew would be required and was easily to hand; off it went leaving just me and Ian King’s ferociously noisy drag bike. Traditionally he sets off last because he can only make it up to the half way point before the climb becomes too twisty and he’s able to duck back into the paddock. As he sets off, Freddy is back with the starter and we get the bike running. I’m fretting. We’re now last, 100 yards from the start line (having tried to bump it) and I’ve still got that cold tyre thing nagging in the back of my mind.
As I engage first on the race-shift gearbox I can see two marshals gesticulating that the course was now closed and that I wouldn’t get to demonstrate the bike. Gutted. This couldn’t be happening. I felt sorry, embarrassed and cheated. Until my knight in a Triumph t-shirt, Freddy, sprinted up and whispered something potentially incriminating or perhaps offered money to the start marshals, whatever, it worked and I was waved through. The Goodwood Hill Climb was mine. The drag bike had disappeared and the cameras were still broadcasting for the live feed. I didn’t even stop on the start line, the marshals waved me straight through. This was it. Even though I was rolling it took plenty of revs to get the bike going and the clutch fully released – it had been fitted with the safety measure of a standard road clutch for its six runs over the Goodwood weekend. Now dressed in its fully developed Moto2 fairing with enhanced airflow and with the most recently developed ECU kit from Magneti Marelli, the Triumph was in its most complete state yet. A couple of journalists had ridden the bike much earlier in the year but in a much different condition than now. In fact, the only person to have ridden this incarnation was official test rider Julian Simon, the ex-125 GP World Champion and Moto2 runner-up.
Into second gear, gently opening the throttle up toward the first two off-camber right turns. The road has quite a pronounced crown which is another threat to my confidence on such a unique machine but I tip-toe around those rights and onto the semi-straight section directly outside Goodwood House. The grandstands are full, the crowd must be three or four deep on either side and I notice the huge screen that’s showing me. I try and resemble a motorcycle racer and open the throttle to let the audience hear the 765 triple through the bespoke Arrow exhaust system.
Molecomb is further past the crest after the bridge than you think so I’m off the gas too early. Gently does it around the left and there’s another straight do I dip the clutch in front of the next grandstand and give the throttle three or four big handfuls, like a conductor instructing his orchestra to roar. I’m a little more confident with the bike now, after all this is the first 0.5 miles it’s covered in the UK in public and the first 0.5 miles I’ve spent on a Grand Prix bike. Into the tree-covered part of the course, around the flint wall and into the last left before the sprint to the straight. It’s all up hill obviously and while that makes it trickier to see the apexes, remember the bikes are only on demonstration runs and not being timed. Ride too quickly and nobody can see you, ride too slowly and nobody gets to hear you. Find the right balance and everyone is happy.
The power delivery is sublime, so smooth and sweet in stark contrast to the noise howling from beneath. Open the throttle brings epic reward but the Goodwood Hill climb isn’t the place for third gear or anything north of 80mph. It’s a hard ride, like a race bike should be. The gearbox is sharp, fast, consistent with the briefest of touches from my left boot against the lever. Ergonomically, and because I must weight twice as much as a Moto2 world championship contender as well as stand twice as tall, I didn’t feel cramped at all. All things considered I thought the bike was spacious yet deft. As you’d expect there’s minimal steering lock yet it’s the engine that I was here to effectively demonstrate as Triumph will not be entering their own chassis in Moto2 in 2019. It’s a piece of art and I speak on behalf of every Goodwood attendee who listed to it sing, I cannot wait until 35 of them bundle towards turn 1 at Qatar in March of next year.
Once over the finish line and it’s still a fair old way to the collecting area at the top of the hill; the tarmac sweeps around like a roundabout with a grass area complete with a dozen wooden stakes to lean the bikes against and plenty of straw bales acting as a boundary.
I’m beaming and relieved as the F1 cars start to appear behind me. Grand Prix world champions talk to TT winners, Dakar competitors swap tales with Dirt Track stars. Journalists snuggle up to anyone that’ll listen. It only happens at Goodwood.
Gary Johnson’s first impressions: “My God, it’s loud! The exhaust system really snaps and cracks back. When you’re riding you take a look at the Magneti Marelli dash and you can see it’s fuelling well. As you shut off the power it bangs and crackles – you know it’s in a racing mode and would work well on the track. We’re having a bit of a laugh, pulling a few wheelies. It’s a real pleasure to ride it.”
“Wheelies”? He’d disobeyed orders. Not that anyone in a Triumph shirt minded.
Photos: Jamie Morris & Miles Perkins