Author: James Woodroffe Posted: 19 May 2015
Guy Martin is looking fit. His t-shirt, emblazoned with “INGSOC” (the fictional political party in George Orwell’s 1984) seems tighter around the biceps. The grimy Dainese jeans that never left his legs during a two-week tour of India last year are hanging a little looser than normal. And the trademark sideburns have gone – “a change is as good as a rest” apparently – although one suspects after a recent flirtation with a full beard he’s now experimenting with the other extreme in a bid to find the optimal setting.
We’re in his kitchen. Inevitably, the kettle boils. “I’ve just done a deal on a tractor,” he gabbles excitedly, eyes bulging wildly at the prospect of his already colourful collection of machinery becoming even more eclectic. Milk is poured. “Imagine it – 28mph on a Sunday drive, dog in the cab, Radio 4 on.” A teabag is squeezed. “Beat that.”
The other new vehicle in his life undoubtedly can. This year his TAS Racing team have swapped to BMW bikes after a long association with Suzuki. Although Guy is quick to praise the rideability of his old GSX-R, the team were unsure how much room was left for development on the six year old design. The new S1000RR has a clear advantage.
“Speed. It’s fucking fast. Take the superstocker – last year my Suzuki produced 187bhp. But the BMW stocker produces 204bhp. The superbike is doing 220bhp!”
But of course you can have too much of a good thing. “The bikes are vicious. You can’t ride ‘em without the electronics – the first touch of throttle and they want to slide or wheelie. But it’s not just a case of riding round with the electronics on either. We need to tailor them to suit me. At the moment if I feel the bike let go I’ll come off the throttle a bit, but then a fraction of a second later the bike’s brain tells it to come off the throttle too, so you get a double-compensation which slows the job down. The traction control is catching it too late.”
He has no doubt the rider aids and fly-by-wire throttle can all be dialled in to perfection before the Isle of Man TT – “my boss Philip Neil’s brother in law is on the case, he works for BT normally” – ready to complement the other strengths Guy has identified on his new bikes.
“The telemetry you get, even on the stocker, is the clearest I’ve ever read. The superbike will know where it is on the TT course by GPS, so you can tweak the settings for different sections of the course if you want. The front-end feel is brilliant. And the clutch and auto-blip on the gearshift is also brilliant – I only use the clutch for the start then never look at it again.”
He starts another tea-making ceremony and the conversation momentarily pinballs around. He points out a compression ratio that has taken his eye in this month’s Race Car Engineering; discusses things he’s recently learnt about the Russian mentality and mourns the resignation of Sandi Toksvig from Radio 4’s The News Quiz. The facts are relentless. It’s like being attacked by a good-natured Gatling gun. Chewing a biscuit momentarily forces him to stop speaking, but communication still continues with a range of expressive hums and honks. Without breaking stride, chat returns to the TT.
BMW don’t make a supersport bike so Guy’s made arrangements elsewhere, organising a 675cc Triumph Daytona run by the Smiths Racing Team. “Watching Gary Johnson’s win on the bike last year it was clearly the only thing to be on, so I rang the team up and asked how much to buy one for this year. I was happy to run it myself. Anyway, a bit later they texted me back and said did I fancy riding for them? I thought ‘they’re nice people and they’ll have all the data which’ll be easier than starting from scratch’ so I said yes. Simple as that.”
Except these days, life at the Isle of Man TT is never that simple for Guy due to the clamour of attention from an ever-growing set of fans. He’s the sport’s only breakout star, with an autobiography that’s welded to the best-sellers chart and a range of Channel 4 television shows that regularly pull in two million viewers. Guymania has reached critical mass.
“What with it being new bikes this year there’s work to do in the shed with the lads, but these days I can’t get 5 minutes to myself if I go anywhere near the pits. I genuinely appreciate all the support, genuinely, genuinely. Genuinely. But it’s hard. I’m honestly a bit shy and get a bit overwhelmed by the queues or crowds banging on the van as I’m driving past. I’d never want to put anyone out, but just hope people understand it’s my most important two weeks of work a year.”
Which brings us to the most important question. Since January the man with 15 TT podiums but no wins has been making a series of cryptic statements about whether he might be ready to retire from road racing. Will 2015, his 12th year at the TT, really be his last ever?
“No.” A biscuit is dunked, as if to underline the point.
So what was all that about then?
“I just had my eye on a few other challenges outside of the bike world which I really want to do, but they’ll take big commitment to achieve and will only get harder as I get older. I didn’t want to be at the Isle of Man in 10 years’ time wishing I’d have done ‘em instead of sticking to road racing. But then I got to Cookstown at the start of this season, waited an hour for the farmer to march his cows across the roads to get to milking, then got going on the first lap of practice, flat out brushing a hedge, bike sliding on the cow shit all over the shop, and thought ‘where else do you get to live like this!?’ I absolutely love it.”
And with that he’s off. An afternoon of dirt-tracking awaits, Labrador pup Nigel the Dog obediently in tow. Guy Martin is looking forward to the Isle of Man TT, is in great shape, and is turning up with the fastest bike he's ever raced there.