I woke up bright and enthusiastic to a sunny day – Castle Combe Skills day…. yippee! I’d opted to stay overnight in a hotel nearby as I was concerned I would be too tired to get the best of the day otherwise. It proved to be a good decision.
It was a short jaunt to the circuit although I, along with many others, missed the unobtrusive entrance first time past. So much for rider observation skills. The excitement hit me as soon as I arrived… lots of amazing bikes and people milling around. After registering it was off to get the decibels of my bike checked. I couldn’t believe my little Honda NC750X would break the noise limit but I slipped it into rain mode as someone said that reduced the noise. I needn’t have worried… passed with no problems and the sticker on my bike meant I was good to go.
Up until this moment I’d been fairly relaxed about the day. That started to change after the safety briefing as I understood what was ahead and I began to get a little nervous. I was in the novice group – first time on a track. A chat with our group leader then it was time for our first 15 minutes on the 1.9 mile track. We took the seven bends fairly easily including a couple of chicanes. It was fun although it felt a little slow. I was ready for more! My silent wish was granted when the leader decided to break the group up into other groups so he could concentrate on a particular rider. The new group I joined was faster and still only 6 riders. The flexibility of the organisers throughout the day was much appreciated.
Time for a coffee in the circuit cafe then the second session was upon us. This went really well…we used the markers for braking, turning and accelerating from the apex. Our group leader professed himself really pleased with us all and we went off for another coffee to celebrate. Our third session was before lunch and did not go quite as well. From heroes to zeroes in a 15 minute ride! As a group we went too fast, didn’t look up and our accuracy was pitiful. We shamefacedly went back to the cafe for lunch and to prepare for the afternoon sessions.
During the break I was able to enjoy the site and visit the memorial stone for the RAF pilots that trained there between 1941 and 1948. This was where my father had trained and we had previously had a very happy day visiting the village and re-living sites and some of the exploits that young trainee pilots with short life expectancy indulged in. It was poignant to be training at the same place albeit with less of a death wish.
Refreshed, our group salvaged some respect. Smoother, more accurate and actually faster laps. We even managed to spot the traffic lights on the circuit for the first time… the reward for raising our eyes from the track. From then on it just got better. We had three more sessions with quality feedback from the observers. This was when I reaped the rewards of not travelling to the circuit on the day and was able to hang in for all seven sets. The last session was a free ride and a chance to put everything together.
All in all, a fantastic and well organised day. I progressed my cornering skills enormously and the feedback from the observers was, as ever, outstanding. I learned to use my front brakes much more than the back which was a particular weakness of mine. Above all, I developed a ‘feeling’ for cornering that serves me well on the road. I also learned that track riding is addictive and that I will be back!
First published in Slipstream September 2022