If you read my previous post about my connection with the Oliver’s Mount race circuit, you’ll know what a special place it is for me. If you haven’t read it, then I suggest you should. In the meantime, let me explain how the place helps me sleep.
I do not suffer from insomnia, I just couldn’t think of another word to put in the title which articulated what I mean. All of us have times when we’re tired but can’t sleep straight away, or our brains are buzzing about something, which is either due to excitement, like picking up a brand new bike in the morning, or alternatively, because we are worried about something. Either way, sleep may not come easily.
I have found a way of being able to blank everything out that’s preventing me from sleeping, even if I wake up in the middle of the night, pre-occupied about something. I basically ride around Oliver’s Mount in my mind and it does send me to sleep, really quickly, and it’s not because it’s boring either. I know the track well, the camber of the corners, the change in surface under the trees when it’s a bit damp, how the corners connect with each other and importantly, the elevation changes and the occasional lump in the road which gets bikes and their riders into ‘jump mode’. I am usually asleep before I’m halfway around lap two and a lot of the time I don’t remember the second run into Mere Hairpin, which for the uninitiated, is the first sharp left hand corner after the start.
Logically, something as exciting as riding a bike around a race circuit shouldn’t relax me enough to send me to sleep, so I can’t explain why, it just works by focussing on something which actually requires a hell of a lot of focus, as if I was doing it for real. Anyway, whilst the featured picture has my old and previously sold Honda XL500R standing proudly on grid spot number 4, the bike I ride around in my pre-sleep state is my 1975 Yamaha RD250. You can’t beat a good old two-stroker for fun on a circuit like the Mount. I’ve ridden around on small bikes, Ducatis and my trusty BMW GS, but none of them evoke the senses that the Yam’ does.
So this is my thought train. I’m sitting on the grid with the Yamaha ready to go. There are no other bikes on the circuit, or people. It is just me and the bike. I decide when I go as there are no starting lights or flag waver either. I set off fast and just get into third gear before I have to break on the right side of the narrow track into Mere hairpin. The road is always dry in my pre-sleep state so it means I can charge into the sharp left hander in second gear and slip the clutch up the steep hill. If it was wet, I would be in first gear, but it isn’t, so now I’m heading up the quite steep hill fast, and just as I get to the bridge, I put the bike into third gear and continue through the trees into a slight right-left bend in the road where I hit fourth gear. I’m now out of the trees and heading into the first of the two bends which make up the Esses. It’s a nice smooth right hander and whilst I’ve shut the throttle off briefly before I entered the corner, it’s back on the gas into and around the corner. There’s a very short straight which goes under another footbridge and then, still wringing the little Yamaha’s engine in fourth, I turn into an amazing left hander with perfect camber that leads onto what is known as the back straight. This back straight isn’t straight. It kind of weaves it’s way along the tree line, but it’s still fast. The Yam’ gets put into fifth gear on exiting the corner and about halfway down the not-straight, I hit sixth gear, and the Café at the end of the not-straight comes into view. The track now feels fast because of the speed. The faster I go, the narrower the track gets. Sixth gear doesn’t last long before I go back into fifth, then fourth, brake, and tip it into the left hander past the cafe and past the big monument which looks out to sea.
There’s a short section on the exit to the corner at Memorial where I’m back on the gas again, negotiating with the bike to straighten a route through another kink in the road and then brake, hit third and turn into a completely blind, left hander. As the track is lined with either hedges or a robust wooden fence, care needs to be taken everywhere and this left hander wants to throw you at the hedge as you come around it. Once safely around the 90 degree corner it’s back into fourth gear, chin on the tank and head into Drury’s Hairpin. This bend requires braking and going down into second gear whilst hitting a line through a slight left and then a sharp right. It’s another full 180 degree corner with a good camber, and like the previous corner, it wants to throw you off the track where you exit the bend. The engine is vibrating hard now and it needs third gear fast, and then fourth and then fifth as I rocket down a long section, which cuts completely through amazing woodland, and the elevation drop is like being in a lift ‘going down’, fast. I sweep under the footbridge and then brake really hard into the daylight and approaching Mountside Hairpin. This is where the front tyre gets buried into the tarmac, I’m keeping my weight on the back wheel so that the rear brake has some effect and the gear box does a 5,4,3,2,1 (Thunderbirds are GO!) down change to be able to tip-toe around the sharp left hander.
No clutch slipping is required out of Mountside and the bike sets off along the bottom straight, which like the back straight, certainly isn’t. Second and third gears come in quick succession and just as I hit fourth gear, the bike leaps over Jefferies Jump. The big bikes take off here and leave big black lines on the track as they land and carry on accelerating. I don’t. Remember, I’m a bit sleepy, so a bit of caution is required and I don’t want to crash the Yamaha whilst I’m in bed do I.
I head down towards Farm Bends in fifth gear and then into fourth on the brow of the drop into the dip where third gear is selected prior to leaning left into the bottom of the dip, and then climbing out into another right. I’m not apologising for making this last section sound a bit complicated, because it is technical. The right hand exit to the corner has some adverse camber which needs respect, and then as I skim the grass on the left of the track, it’s back into fourth, then fifth gear across the finish line.
Most often, I’m asleep before I have to brake and go down from fifth gear to second and back into Mere Hairpin. If not, I very rarely get beyond the Esses on lap two before I’m asleep. It’s weird how it works. I’ve tried it on long haul flights and it’s quite effective in that situation too. It’s also a bit more real because of the sound of the plane and it’s not always super-smooth either. The only time it doesn’t work is with jet lag. After a few days with a 6-12 hour time difference, not a lot works unless it’s medication, but generally, it’s a technique which works for me.
I don’t know if it’s the emotional connection with the place, or the fact it is pretty real in my mind riding around the place. Sometimes I clip a kerb or get a gear shift wrong, but it is rare. The laps are always, almost perfect. I don’t get to ride around the place for real very often, but when I do, it does sharpen the images, sounds, vibrations, bumps etc in my mind for the next bed-time ride out.
I haven’t come across anyone else who uses this journey thinking to get to sleep, as most people either read, drink alcohol, watch TV, listen to music or a podcast, or do enough fitness to physically tire themselves out. For me it works.
Assuming you’re still awake after reading this, I hope that it has painted an image of riding around the most amazing circuit ever. If you have ridden or raced on it, you’ll know exactly what I mean. G’night…….
All photos and images by the Author