Ris­ing star Bradley Ray does not have a bike li­cence. Bike help out. Sort of…

BIKE (UK) - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy Matt How­ell

THIS IS ONE OF THOSE THINGS THAT seemed like a good idea a month or two be­fore it had to hap­pen. But, the closer it got, the more it seemed like a bad idea as the po­ten­tial for hu­mil­i­a­tion and/or in­jury seemed to grow. The idea was to send an over­weight old journo, who hasn’t rid­den a mo­tor­cy­cle on the road for years, out with a young Su­per­bike gun fresh from his Suzuka 8 Hours de­but. Ok then, you only live once… The young gun is 21-year-old Bradley Ray from Kent, the lad who shocked the Bri­tish Su­per­bike Cham­pi­onship (BSB) pad­dock by win­ning the first two races of the year and has since made his World Cham­pi­onship de­but as a wild card and rid­den for the Suzuki fac­tory at Suzuka. For­tu­nately, he is a nice bloke. Even more for­tu­nately he hasn’t com­pleted his road li­cence yet so we were con­fined to 125s. Yes, those are L-plates on Brad’s GSX-R125. To save my age­ing joints I’m on the GSX-S with its more dig­ni­fied rid­ing po­si­tion. When did 125s get ABS?! And so we come to be rid­ing through some pleas­ant coun­try­side head­ing to the Su­per Sausage café not far from Sil­ver­stone and I’m wrack­ing my brains for any­thing crit­i­cal I may have said about Bradley on air. Rac­ers never re­mem­ber the good things. For a bloke who was ham­mer­ing around Cad­well Park the pre­vi­ous day, Bradley is im­pres­sively con­trolled. The glances over the shoul­der and punc­til­ious use of in­di­ca­tors you ex­pect from a new rider are present and cor­rect. Only when we pull up at a junc­tion does the bore­dom oc­ca­sion­ally sur­face. The GSX-R’S back tyre is po­si­tioned in some road­side gravel to try and gen­er­ate some wheel­spin: ‘This ABS is **** !’ says Bradley. For­tu­nately wheel­ies are also prob­lem­at­i­cal: ‘This thing hasn’t got ANY power!’ he con­tin­ues. None of which stops Brad from mag­ick­ing up some im­prob­a­ble bursts of rel­a­tive speed when I’m not ex­pect­ing it. For a young racer wor­ry­ing about a slight slump in his BSB form while get­ting over a re­mark­able ride at the most im­por­tant race in the world (Suzuka) and won­der­ing what his next ca­reer move should be, Bradley is re­mark­ably com­posed. He ig­nores the Su­per Sausage’s ter­mi­nally tempt­ing menu of artery block­ers and or­ders an omelette, ad­mirably with­out the chips. Me? Sausage sand­wich. Both are re­as­sur­ingly over­sized. The Su­per Sausage’s bike park is as in­ter­est­ing as ever – there’s a squad of po­lice bikes, ob­vi­ously on a train­ing run of some sort, and an Aus­tralian-reg­is­tered Norvin rid­den by a tall, spare bloke in a pud­ding basin and very, very well worn black leather jacket topped by a denim cut-off with var­i­ous Vin­cent patches. Man, ma­chine and kit have ob­vi­ously all done some se­ri­ous mileage. One of the cop­pers asks if that’s re­ally Bradley Ray then so­lic­its a selfie. We all watch the ex­tra from Mad Max go though a com­plex rou­tine be­fore fir­ing the V-twin up with the first kick. It sounds su­perb. We are all suit­ably im­pressed. It’s what hap­pens at the Su­per Sausage.

‘It is im­pos­si­ble to over­state just how much Bradley must have im­pressed the fac­tory’

Ex­cept Brad, he is too young to un­der­stand. He is still buzzing over his first ex­pe­ri­ences of Ja­pan. Bradley’s de­fault look is a broad smile, but when he talks about his 8 Hour it changes to a mas­sive grin. If you didn’t fol­low the race, you need to know that he rode a fac­tory Suzuki to tenth place af­ter a fight back from a first-hour crash by team mate Syl­vain Guin­toli that put the team back to 64th. Bradley rode long stints as well as the last hour in the dark, some­thing he hadn’t been sched­uled to do, be­cause both his team mates were car­ry­ing in­juries. When he went to Ja­pan for the first test it was as­sumed that he’d be rid­ing a satel­lite bike, but he achieved his tar­get lap time, 2min 9sec, in the first ses­sion. Man­age­ment sent him out with fac­tory Mo­togp tester Takuya Tsuda for his fi­nal run. He did a 2min 7. When he went back for the sec­ond test, Brad was mildly sur­prised to find he was pen­cilled in to ride the full fac­tory bike. This, re­mem­ber, is a young rider who has won just two na­tional races and a fac­tory is putting him on their works bike for the sin­gle most im­por­tant event in their calendar along­side an-ex world Su­per­bike Cham­pion and their of­fi­cial tester. It is im­pos­si­ble to over­state just how much Bradley must have im­pressed the fac­tory, and that was be­fore the race in which he rode like a man with sev­eral decades of ex­pe­ri­ence of the event. How much does the 8 Hours mat­ter? At one point Bradley was strug­gling with his kneeslid­ers as he pre­pared for a ses­sion and was shocked to find the

‘How do they [Suzuki] hang on to a 21-year-old des­tined for big things? And by big things I mean a shot at a Mo­togp ride’

man help­ing him with the Vel­cro was Sa­hara-san, boss of Suzuki’s Mo­togp team. ‘He said I was do­ing a good job,’ says Bradley. An EX-HRC boss once said that the 8 Hour is an ex­am­i­na­tion you must pass if you wish to be­come a works rider. Bradley passed that test with dis­tinc­tion. And he en­joyed it. First there was shock at the size of his crew at the test. ‘There were nine of them! And there was new stuff on the bike ev­ery time I went back,’ says Bradley, with an even big­ger grin than usual. Then there were the Ja­panese fans, who quite ob­vi­ously loved him: ‘They are so en­thu­si­as­tic,’ says Bradley. ‘And so po­lite.’ Now it’s back to the day job, BSB. Af­ter the best pos­si­ble start there have been prob­lems but Bradley knows what needs to be done. ‘The fo­cus is on the Show­down then press re­set,’ he says. The Show­down ef­fec­tively puts the top six from the first ten rounds of the cham­pi­onship into their own play-off for the cham­pi­onship over the fi­nal three rounds, so un­less you’ve left the Sil­ver­stone triple-header in the top six it’s game over. To­day Brad is fifth and un­der threat from Danny Buchan and Peter Hick­man, so dam­age lim­i­ta­tion is the name of the game un­til pulling the pin again at Oul­ton in mid-septem­ber. There have been prob­lems, specif­i­cally what sounds like an elec­tron­ics glitch that seems im­per­vi­ous to the usual treat­ment, but a patch from Ja­pan should sort this one out. Now it’s up to Bradley to re­dis­cover his early sea­son form. Bradley’s perma-grin only leaves his face once, when we talk about his fu­ture. He was in the Mo­togp pad­dock for three years with the Red Bull Rook­ies and like ev­ery racer he’d like to get back there. The ques­tion is how and by what route? Would, I won­der, he con­sider a Moto2 ride now that the class is up­grad­ing to proper elec­tron­ics along­side the new-for-2019 Tri­umph mo­tors? He’s not keen. Too easy to make a mis­take and join the wrong team, some­thing that could stall a ca­reer. To his credit, and hap­pily as he does a lot of his own man­age­ment, Bradley is well aware that you could spend six-fig­ures to get a ride and never see where your money went. That pad­dock has more than its fair share of sharks. There is also the mat­ter of Suzuki’s in­ter­est in him. Clearly, the fac­tory at the high­est level re­gard Bradley as a se­ri­ous prospect. Suzuki GB peo­ple tell me there are con­stant de­mands for more info on Bradley for their web and so­cial me­dia. I can as­sure you that it is out of the or­di­nary for a Ja­panese fac­tory to act like this, but now they have to work out how to keep him. Suzuki have no pres­ence in Moto2, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, and no World Su­per­bike team. In any case, would World Su­per­bike be re­garded as a bet­ter ca­reer path than the Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship nowa­days? Not by enough for Suzuki to start a fac­tory team to pro­tect their in­vest­ment. How do they hang on to a 21-year-old so clearly des­tined for big things? And by big things I mean a shot at a Mo­togp ride. The good news is Bradley BSB again would next be sea­son happy with to be his in Build­base Suzuki team. It is a rac­ing cer­tainty that there would be a World Su­per­bike wild card, as­sum­ing there is a UK round, and a seat on the fac­tory bike at the 8 Hours. Throw in a test on the Mo­togp bike and you can see why he’d stay. I can see all of this hap­pen­ing, diplo­matic to but spec­u­late. Bradley is Also too re­mem­ber Suzuki’s Mo­togp pol­icy is to em­ploy young riders who will learn with the team. They did it with Vi­nales, they’re do­ing it with Alex Rins, and they will be do­ing it with Joan Mir. Bradley is again kind enough to wait for me as we head back. If I’ve done any­thing re­ally stupid he’s nice enough not to men­tion it. Ac­tu­ally, I’m thor­oughly en­joy­ing be­ing back on two wheels by the end of the day and even man­age to no­tice a mod­ern 125 is a very nicely put to­gether mo­tor­bike. I’d swap the ABS for self­can­celling in­di­ca­tors though. There’s a long down­hill on the way back, on which I equal the na­tional speed limit. I re­port this to Bradley at the next stop. There’s a large grin un­der the hel­met and we agree you can’t beat mess­ing about on mo­tor­cy­cles. Bradley is a young man, hope­fully with a stel­lar fu­ture in front of him. I am not. But we are able to agree on one thing – we are both very scared of hav­ing to get a real job. You re­ally can’t beat mess­ing about on mo­tor­cy­cles.

Bri­tish Su­per­bikes fi­nal round, Brands Hatch 12-14 Oc­to­ber. Race 1 on Satur­day, races two and three on Sun­day. british­su­per­bike.com

Ry­der hits the front, spurred on by the aroma of the fast ap­proach­ing Su­per Sausage cafe J Ry­der has not been on a bike for years, B Ray does not have a li­cence. O we go…

The gen­er­a­tion chasm in full e ect

PR with a PC – well it can’t hurt

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