One motorcycle-loving Member explains his need for speed on the racetracks of Japan.
You would think that somewhere between barreling down a straightaway at 280 kilometers per hour and hugging a corner at a 45-degree tilt just inches off the asphalt, a few butterflies might creep in.
For devoted speed demons, Paul Timmons explains, it’s just the opposite.
“It’s actually very tranquil sometimes,” says Timmons, 55, of redlining his Yamaha YZF-R1 sports bike round the tracks of Japan’s speedways. “It’s this incredible feeling of freedom. The only thing you’re thinking about is the next corner.”
It might not be the most usual of after-hours hobbies, the Member admits, but once the motorcycle bug bites, it’s hard to think of anything else. Whether it’s for a weekend practice session at Shizuoka’s Fuji International Speedway or a race with fellow amateur bikers at the Tsukuba Circuit in Ibaraki Prefecture, Timmons says there’s nothing quite like feeling the 998cc engine rumbling to life at the starting line.
“I always look forward to lining up on the track on a Sunday and getting off the line,” says Timmons. “It’s an incredible feeling.”
(Photo: Paul Timmons on his Yamaha YZF-R1)
A relative latecomer to the sport, Timmons didn’t climb onto a motorcycle until the age of 38. Though he first came to Japan in 1988 for work and had loved the idea of racing ever since seeing his brother and friends cruise around the countryside on their own rides in his native Ireland, it took until 2003 for Timmons to pull the trigger on a bike of his own.
He could have taken it slow and settled for a starter ride, but Timmons headed straight for a Tokyo-area Ducati dealership.
“This Ducati 999S, it caught my eye,” recalls Timmons of falling for the Italian superbike dubbed “simply the best V-twin on the planet” by Motor Cycle News on the bike’s release. “I was, like, ‘No way, it’s too aggressive,’ but I sat on it and turned on the engine and the minute I heard the sound, I said, ‘OK!’”
Over the next few years, Timmons attended riding and racing lessons on tracks in Japan, Australia and California. Alongside mastering the basics, Timmons had to leave behind some common-sense assumptions about high-speed maneuvering.
“Riding a bike is counterintuitive sometimes,” he explains. “Your survival instinct can work against you. If you’re going around the corner and you feel like you’re going wide and you get off the throttle, you think that’s safe. But when you get off the throttle, all the weight goes to the front wheel and the bike stands up.”
Atop his bike, Timmons looks the part. Clad in protective gear and a drag-tapered helmet, complete with a tinted visor, the amateur Timmons might very well pass for a MotoGP rider. Like the pros, he has accumulated his fair share of high-speed bumps and bruises over the years (16 by his count, including a few broken bones).
“These incidents are few and far between for any races in Japan,” Timmons notes. “We try to go fast, but nothing crazy, you know. A lot of people have to go to work on Monday.”
Caution on the track isn’t the only way motorcycle lovers in Japan buck the stereotype. You can also put the assumption that it’s a young man’s sport in the rearview mirror.
“Japan is a funny place for racing,” he says. “A lot of people are in their 40s and 50s. They’re the guys who used to race when they were very young and came back to it later. Not as many young people are getting into it these days.”
Today, Timmons manages to enter a handful of amateur races every year, plus regular practice sessions at speedways dotted around Tokyo’s surrounding prefectures. Sometimes, just showing up to the track can be as enjoyable as racing on it. Before an event, fellow racers and gearheads are quick to share tools or chitchat about their preferred setups.
When the starter’s flag drops and the throttles open up, the friendly atmosphere lends itself to some heated competition.
“I’ve been on the podium a few times, but I’m usually middle of the pack,” he says.
This is fine, Timmons says. He didn’t climb on his first Ducati to set land-speed records. No matter which track he’s on or how many revolutions per minute he pushes, life in the fast lane has taught him that he’s only ever racing himself.
“You shouldn’t just go out [on the track] and say, ‘OK, I’m going to go harder, faster,’” he says. “You have to have a goal. It can even be, ‘Oh, I can’t figure out turn two.’ And as soon as you find that, you look for the next one.”
With Japan’s racing circuits now sitting silent, Timmons is eagerly waiting for his chance to pull on his helmet once again.
“The sound of the engine, the feel of the air rushing through your helmet,” he says, “it’s addictive.”
Words: Owen Ziegler
Images: Masato Eto
Top image: Paul Timmons on the track