Single Track Mind – Olympic Thoughts

August 1, 2012
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
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Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

The Matchless G.50 Prophet  Frank calls upon all riders to do their part proselytizing the two-wheeled creedo.
Our man Melling reflects on what the London Olympics mean to him…Good thing Frank’s beloved Matchless G.50 is always at the ready to mellow his cantakerous mind.

If you didn’t already know, London is currently hosting the 30th Olympic Games. This has both little and severe impact on us in rural England. The minor end of the scale comes from three allied factors. First, we can’t afford to travel to London from the north of England because the train prices have been jacked up to stratospheric levels and any form of vehicle use – car or bike – has been legislated into extinction. Next, we equally can’t even imagine the current hotel prices and finally, we couldn’t get a ticket even if we wanted to attend – unless, of course, we had $6000 available for a couple of the VIP seats – of which there are, unsurprisingly, a plentiful supply.

At the other end of the Olympic experience we are bombarded with media coverage, the like of which would do justice to interplanetary visitors beaming down to London. We have not yet been given the number of bathroom tissues used by the Olympic horseshoe throwing athletes but goodness me we are very near to this level.

However this non-stop, 24 hour TV coverage has provided a fascinating window on the world of athletics – and on how it compares to motorcycle racing.

Clearly, I am extremely biased because I have spent a whole lifetime around bikes but, after comparing motorcycle racing with the Olympics, I have become increasingly proud to be part of the two-wheeled community.

Let me start by saying that bike racers are not part of the heavenly host and there are vast swathes of the community who will be admitted through the Pearly Gates before motorcycle sportsmen. Probably, you wouldn’t want a bike racer to marry your daughter either. Selfish, egocentric, ruthless, single issue people are often hard work – and, believe me, bike racers at all levels display all of these traits in bulk.

Against this, motorcycle racers have nobility which brings a lump to my throat whenever I watch other sports. I think that this stems from one core factor and I would like to quote Gene Romero in this respect. Gene was AMA Grand National Champion – and one of the best flat trackers of his generation, as well as being a potential World Champion in road racing.

Additionally, he was – and is for that matter – kind and courteous off the track and possessed of a genuine charm and modesty. Note the key caveat: “off the track”.

As Gene so memorably said, “When the flag drops, the bullshit stops.” This simple statement sums up all that is good about motorcycle racing.

You can forget the time spent in the gym, the team clothing, hospitality and even the mechanics and designers. When you are hanging off the bike at 120 mph then it truly is a world utterly free of bovine excrement.

Car racers will get shaken about in a crash, football players might break a leg but racers have the very real potential to die in a bike racing crash and, ironically, this gives the sport its quintessential purity.

If you have ever watched the iconic TV show “My Name is Earl”, then you will have seen the English version of my childhood. Yet, when I began motorcycle racing I was judged not on my family background, wealth or education but solely on my ability – or, in my case, lack of ability – to ride a motorcycle quickly.

Lloyd Brothers Motorsports Brad Baker  #12  was looking sharp during practice and sticking it to the rail.
The serious, life-and-death nature of motorcycle racing ensure the track is a BS-free zone… for the most part.

The experience was quite literally life-changing for me and winning $1 for fourth place at a local grass track race – prize money was on a modest scale in the late 1960s – sent me down a new, and then unknown, path along which I have been travelling ever since. I was rewarded purely for my efforts and ability – and nothing else counted. I was the fourth-fastest rider in the 500cc final so I got a dollar. That’s all there was to it.

The $1 had a huge effect on my life and gave me the confidence to fight my way to a good education and then to make something of my life.

Contrast this to the Olympics. The British Gymnastics’ Team – absolutely against all the odds – won a Silver medal, beating the hot favorites Japan in the process. For me, that was the end of matter. The results had been declared, the underdogs had made the most of a frenetically patriotic home crowd and then whupped a team who should have left them for dead.

But in gymnastics things aren’t that simple. The Japanese World Champion stumbled as he finished his routine and his team complained that this wasn’t fair. The judges got into a huddle and downgraded the British team to third place and bumped the Japanese squad up to silver

Coming from a bike racing background, this was fascinating. Imagine the same situation in our sport. Colin Edwards, riding the junk joke Forward Racing BMW, beats Jorge Lorenzo into second place at Laguna Seca. The Yamaha team complain that his cornering style wasn’t as neat as Jorge’s so the Texas Tornado should be downgraded a place.

What would have followed? Well, for sure Edwards and his team would have been up in Race Control with a box of matches and five gallons of race fuel.

Then the spectators would have not only invaded the track but would have been heading for Race Control too.

However, neither of these things would have ever happened because Lorenzo would never, never, ever, have allowed his team to protest in this manner and Yamaha would equally have never dreamed of doing it.

Probably the first thing which would have happened is that Edwards would have been swamped by his old Yamaha teammates congratulating him – if Jorge hadn’t beaten them to it.

Everyone would have been delighted that, against all the odds, a rider rode his heart out and got a second place – and that’s the purity and glory of bike racing.

Interestingly, racers are simultaneously good sportsmen whilst being congenitally bad losers. When the British Gymnastics’ Team were told that they had been bumped down they all managed wry smiles and then said how pleased they were with their bronze medals.

It doesn’t even bear thinking about telling a bike racer that he had just had the ride of his life – and then lost a place for no good reason.

Motorcycle racers are also both incredibly modest and, I guess, given to extremes of superstition.

Before the men’s cycling road race, the British team were already celebrating the success of Mark Cavendish. There was every reason to be confident since Mark had won 22 stages in the world’s toughest cycle race – the Tour De France – and is currently on top form. But, as any motorcycle racer will tell you, the only thing which counts is going under the checkered flag first – in the race you are in. The last race is nothing more than history.

So it turned out to be with Cavendish and Team GB. They screwed up the race strategy, got thrashed, and there were no medals for anyone.

Crutchlow was forced to start from the back of the grid after missing qualifying.
Cal Crutchlow pulled out a sixth place finish at Silverstone after starting from last place, all on a broken ankle.

Would any bike racer have been practicing his winning speech before a race, as Cavendish was reportedly doing? Not that I know of. Instead, paranoia rules and no one puts on the celebratory T-shirts until the results are confirmed by Race Control.

These Olympic athletes are also full-on whiners. I have never seen, nor heard so much whining and grumbling in my life. Cal Crutchlow broke his ankle and dislocated it, as well as tearing the ligaments. His reaction? Get back on the bike and race.

When asked about the pain in the test the medical staff made him undergo before he was allowed to start at Silverstone Cal said: “It was *##$##** sore.

“I had to run from one side of a room to the other, four times. When you can’t put weight on your foot, it’s pretty difficult.

“Then I had to do 20 rises onto toes on both feet.

“Next I had to do 10 on one foot, then 10 onto my heel – that was the worst part.

“There were a few other bits and bobs, too. It was tough but if it wasn’t for the medical staff at the track, I wouldn’t have been racing.”

Compare that to Usain Bolt who sat through his press conference complaining that stiffness in his back had caused him to lose out in the Olympic trials. If a bike racer only has a sore back then he’s probably celebrating the pleasure of being fully fit.

Another difference between bike racers and these Olympians is the amount of crying that goes on whether they win or lose. Casey Stoner clears off and slaughters everyone at Laguna Seca and post-race gives his wife and baby a kiss and then a manly slap on the arm to his team.

If you actually don’t see one of these Olympic athletes crying and sobbing it’s a miracle. They burst into tears if they win. They sob their hearts out if they lose and presumably want to cut their throats if the TV camera isn’t on them.

For my money, they ought to see themselves in perspective. As I explained to a leading motorcycle racer who was complaining about his PR workload at a motorcycle show: “Look Sunshine, be grateful that anyone wants your autograph. If you weren’t being paid to stand around talking to fans you would be a meeter and greeter on the Home Improvements’ Section of a supermarket – so stop making a fuss and smile.”

The same applies to these Olympic athletes. If you weren’t earning a ton of money for tossing a spear down a field, or running round and round in circles, what would you be doing?

How about saying thank you God for allowing me to me to be paid for something I love doing? That’s certainly what I do every time I begin writing a Single Track Mind column.

Leon Camier of FIXI Crescent Suzuki getting prepped for the race.

Finally, I want to conclude with an observation about motorcycle racing’s honesty. We look at an Umbrella Girl, or one of the promo ladies at a bike race, and smile at her good looks. That’s what she’s there for. She’s pretty and expects to be acknowledged as pretty because that’s the truth. We know why she has been hired and she knows her role in the proceedings. The relationship is straightforward and honest.

Contrast this with the utter hypocrisy which is rampant in the Olympics. Ticket applications for the Ladies Beach Volleyball – yes, that so called sport where flat chested girls wearing see through bras and micro knickers throw a ball about in the sand – was seven times oversubscribed. Spectators, allegedly, wanted to admire the athleticism of the ladies rather than ogle the jello-soft porn that is on offer. And if you believe that…

We can do much better. How about for the next Olympics motorcycle racing introduces a new sport? This will be a ladies umbrella folding competition in which scantily dressed young ladies furl, and unfurl, a heavily branded umbrella accompanied by soul stirring music. And you can guarantee that if our girls took part they would do their routine come rain or shine, with a smile on their faces and not a whiner in sight.