It’s a long way from the World Superbike paddock to Pukekohe. But FIM 2016 European Women’s Champion, Avalon Biddle, was recently to be seen weaving around cones, tootling around town and being checked out on Franklin’s sweeping open roads in preparation for her Restricted licence test.
Words and Photos: Mario McMillan
It might seem surprising that one of New Zealand’s top motorcycle racers doesn’t have a motorcycle licence, but Avalon has never needed one. Starting out riding motocross as a child, Avalon switched to circuit racing by way of ‘Buckets’ at age 13. She took her car test years ago, so she was mobile, and has never really had to hold a motorcycle road licence. Except that’s all about to change. “Some circuits, especially closed road circuits, increasingly demand that you have a motorcycle licence,” says Av. “You always used to be able to get a dispensation, but they’re tightening up. So, it just made sense to get my licence.” Also, because Avalon works in a motorcycle dealership when not racing, it’s helpful to be able to ride the bikes on the road.
To prepare, Avalon turned to Chris Smith of Passmasters. Avalon and Chris got to know each other through their work for ACC’s Ride Forever initiative. Chris is one of the top instructors in the training programme, and Avalon has presented at Ride Forever’s ‘Shiny Side Up’ bike shows on the value of rider coaching, even to racers such as herself.
A tight schedule
Avalon was close to her departure for Europe to take up her new ride with the Sourz Foods Benjan Racing team in World Supersport 300. The Dutch team has plenty of experience in FIM Superstock 1000, running Aussie Superbike ace Bryan Staring, among others, last year. As WSS 300 is new for 2017, who will be the front runners is still open to question. Av is tremendously excited by the opportunity, leaving NZ on March 7, and starting the season proper on April 1. But she’s always been one to pack her schedule. “Having raced in Europe the last couple of seasons, I always come back to NZ in the off season to contest the nationals. Plus, I have the job at the bike shop. I even had to drop out of one round last year because of the job!”
And so it was that, just over a week before departure, Avalon lined up alongside three other riders for a Ride Forever Bronze course with Chris, then an assessment ride for her Restricted licence. Av was riding a LAMS-approved Kawasaki 300 Ninja, as per her race machine, borrowed from Passmasters.
Low speed control is an important skill on the road, such as being able to execute a neat U-turn without falling off. On track, not so much. So, it was with some trepidation that Avalon lined up at the gate of a tight slalom course designed to test full-lock turns at a walking pace. And, it wasn’t long before her trepidation proved well founded, failing to get around one cone and even knocking one over. With a few ‘dabs’ for good measure, Av returned to greet us with a mixture of embarrassment and hilarity: “I can’t believe how hard that was, and how bad I was at it!” Av soon got the hang of it, however, and it was time to hit the open road.
Learning your lines
The other riders on Av’s course were Hamish and Andrew, who both had off-road riding experience and worked in motorcycle dealerships, and Terri, who’d already taken a Bronze level course with Chris. Terri was back to work on her cornering lines. She was trying to iron out the common tendency to turn in too early, a habit that restricts vision around the corner and can see riders running wide on the exit.
It was a surprise, though, to see consummate racer Avalon Biddle suffer exactly the same problem. Years of racing experience had ingrained a tendency to treat what you see as the apex as the place to aim for. Of course, when you don’t know a corner there’s no guarantee that the furthest point you can see on the inside of a turn actually is the apex.
Following someone with the highest level of road skills, like Chris, is a treat for any rider, especially watching him keep a wide, wide line on corner entry until he’s seen the exit, to execute a late, tight apex. It’s a classic demonstration, but to drum the point home he uses an iPad App. It lets riders sketch their choice of line before Chris traces the ideal arc. During the late morning, Av kept lapsing into an early turn-in, but by the afternoon she was swooping into turns on a classic wide entry, firmly in Chris’s wheel tracks. “Seeing it on the iPad at lunchtime made all the difference,” she said. “Once I understood why I should be doing it, I really worked at it. Compared to track riding, that was probably the biggest difference for me and the hardest to master.”
A big season ahead
At the end of the day Avalon successfully completed her evaluation to shed her learner status. Next step, apart from getting her full Class 6 of course, is taking on some the world’s best riders on the tracks of Europe. It’s an eight-meeting season, with mostly a month between race weekends, so one of the challenges is staying sharp. “A lot of the Spanish kids ride on circuit every day. It’s tough to find those opportunities in Europe because it can be expensive.” Let’s hope she does so, and has a bit of luck along the way to becoming NZ’s next racing champ.