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Troy Bayliss - Superbike Cyclist
Last year, World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss hit the headlines on Cyclingnews.com for his winning bid on a custom-made titanium bicycle built by Litespeed, but dressed in Ducati livery. This year, Bayliss has kicked off his defence of the world champion crown with six wins on the trot, a new record in superbike racing. So why did he put in the winning bid for the Litespeed? Because he's a cyclist. When he's not wringing the neck of his Ducati, Bayliss likes to relax by cycling, which includes going for a spin with Axel Merckx when he's at home in Monaco.
By Rob Arnold*
Imagine you are the Superbike world champion. You live in Monaco, do the testing duties for Ducati in exotic locations around the world and riding on two wheels means racing at speeds in excess of 300kph. Pretty cool, huh? That's exactly what Troy Bayliss does - but the real passion of this boy from Taree, Australia is the time he gets to spend on his bicycle.
Okay, this is a cycling site. It's for cyclists and we don't generally tend to call our bikes 'bicycles', but you have to allow this exception. Troy Bayliss lives - and loves - bikes, but a distinction must be made. "I've got two bikes which take pride of place in the hallway of my house," said Bayliss, the reigning Superbike world champion. "One is the Ducati I won my championship on and the other is a Litespeed built specially for Ducati which I bought at a charity auction for the victims of the September 11 madness.
"I've got a lot of bikes actually," explained the versatile 32-year-old rider. "I've probably got too many to ride. One of the nicest ones at the moment would be my new Litespeed titanium. It's really nice, but I haven't ridden it yet." With his final bid for the auction reaching USD$6,000 (approx. AUD$11,660), you can appreciate his reluctance to get it dirty. But that's destined to change. And the reason is simple: Bayliss loves to ride. He does it at every opportunity, either for his job, racing motorcycles, or for his passion, riding bicycles.
"I didn't plan to ride the Litespeed," he concludes about the auction purchase that pushed his name into cycling related news items at the end of 2001, "but every time I look at it, it's calling me. I think I'll get on it soon."
Bayliss was in Australia again recently preparing for his world title defence. A brief stay in his hometown of Taree on the NSW mid-north coast was followed by a quick visit to Sydney before flying to Phillip Island for some testing of his 2002 Ducati.
Despite the brevity of his visit to Sydney, Troy agreed to catch up for a quick interview, but there was one proviso: our first meeting had to begin with some riding - the non-motorised variety, of course. Perfect, I thought, we'll ride some technical descents, get up to speed and I'll follow his wheel to see how hard he pushes his bicycle into the corners. "Nah, you won't see any back wheel slide," confesses Troy later when I reveal my intentions, "I push myself into corners hard on the Ducati, but I'm not gonna take those risks on a Bianchi... it doesn't pay the bills."
He may not take risks on the Bianchi, but his riding prowess includes a good dose of fitness earned from years of riding his bicycle at every opportunity. What does prompt him to take risks, however, is the thrill of winning the Superbike championship.
"Racing the Superbikes last year went well," he says once our formal interview kicks off on a park bench overlooking The Gap in the Sydney suburb of Vaucluse. "We had a lot of PR work to do and now everything is a lot busier for me because I'm the world champion, and blah, blah, blah..."
His relaxed manner is immediately evident when you meet Troy. This coy mention of his success in 2001 is the only hint he offers about why he's now one of Ducati's prized racers. "We've just started out testing for this year. I spent three days in South Africa and everything went really well there except for one crash," he says in a casual manner. I ask for details of just what happened with the wheel and he explains: "I was coming out of a turn, pushed the bike into second gear and as I was about to shift to third, the back wheel disintegrated. I can't exactly remember how I fell, but I can tell you I slid a long way on the tarmac. It was actually quite good 'cause it all happened in front of the whole crew so I didn't have to explain the crash."
Oh, and the detail he omits until prompted? "Yeah, I'd say I was goin' about 140kph.
"I escaped the crash fairly unscathed except for a tiny bit of skin off my elbow, which as you know in a bicycle crash is usually worse. I've spent a few days in Sydney and now I head off to Phillip Island for another three days of testing. We're going to use that for a springboard to a good start for 2002."
Motorbike racing, like most sports, is full of larger-than-life personalities. And Troy answers my questions about one of 2001's most charismatic sportsmen, the 500cc GP champion Valentino Rossi, with a good dose of admiration but also a healthy hint of tact. "He's... ah, interesting." Arrogant? "Perhaps. He makes his own rules and I admire him." Do you think he deliberately has consistently bad starts to make the racing more interesting? "I wouldn't put it past him..." And so on.
Rossi might be the flamboyant motorcyclist of this generation, but he rides a Honda. Bayliss, on the other hand, won his title aboard one of the most famed names in motorsport, Ducati. That in itself makes his life the envy of millions around the world. "My life is like a rollercoaster ride, but it's hard work," he explains when I suggest he has The Best Job In The World. "I started racing because I love it and it was good fun. I never planned on becoming world champion - I just thought I was good enough to make a living out of it. Now things have changed quite a bit. Now it's a lot more like a job, but it's a job I love doing.
"The Ducati bikes I ride are just incredible: they are a work of art. I feel privileged to ride them. But I have to go out there and ride them as hard as I can! I have to go out and thrash these pieces of art. It's a good feeling. So many people just want to look at a Ducati; but I'm paid to thrash them."
Given a moment of Bayliss' time, it's obvious to talk about motorcycling. But Troy consistently seemed more willing to discuss our common link: cycling. How did this passion begin? "It all started when I was in Taree and Nick Gates started working with us," says Troy about his pre-motorcycling days.
"Nick got me into the bikes and since then it's become a passion for me. It's like a drug: once you're into it, you never lose it - you always want more. Cycling is just a part of me now and hopefully I can keep doing it for the rest of my life. Now, whenever I've got time to ride, I'll be ridin'.
"Cycling is definitely good for my fitness and I love riding the bike. But I'm also much more of a pleasurable person when I've been cycling. It takes my mind away from everything and it's just really relaxing. It's a lot slower than what I'm used to, but I really enjoy the scenery and everything that's associated with cycling."
Bayliss may admit to the fact that cycling offers some relaxation, but he is a professional athlete - and they're never prone to doing things by halves. When he rides, even if he claims he's enjoying the view, he rides hard and fast. And obviously, that goes for cycling as well as motorcycling. This habit of haste helped him end his world championship winning season in a slightly less than glamorous manner. "At my last race, when we had the championship sown up," he explains of his final race of last year. "I really wanted to win. I had a lot of family over there for the last round and I crashed, took another guy (Regis Laconi) out on the last lap, and I broke my collarbone.
"It was a bit of a bummer for the end of the year... and I was devasted because I was off the bike (bicycle) for three weeks! I tried to get back on too early and I ended up upsetting my shoulder again. You've got to relax when you do something like that; just let it get better by itself."
Yeah, he enjoys racing and he enjoys his cycling, but we're talking to the converted here, so what about the downfalls of Troy's other two wheel passion? Other than the much publicised crash in Imola, Troy has copped a fair deal of body damage. But, he assures me, there was nothing serious. I ask for details of his broken bones and he all but scoffed, and let loose a little giggle. "No, not too many," he says before listing those he remembers without much thought. "I've had a few broken fingers and toes and wrists... not badly, just niggling little things. I broke the other collarbone years ago; a vertebrae a few years back... but nothing really bad. Honestly, I've had no bad crashes."
Okay, add 'unbreakable' to his resumÄ. What about fear? He confirms that he's raced at over 315kph at the Hockenheim circuit in Germany - and he says this in a matter-of-fact tone. So, I ask, what scares you?
"Nothing really. Never the speed, because normally the fastest you're going is on the straight, so it feels like you're not going that fast anyway. Tracks where you do notice it is where you have fast corners. In South Africa they have a few fifth-gear corners and that's where you really notice the speed - when you're leaning on the limit and you're going that fast."
Bayliss' love of cycling has never waned since his introduction, but he's now finds himself living a life which allows him to expand on the cycling passion. He lives in Monaco with his wife, Kim, and their two young children Mitchell and Abbey. "We live near the south of France so I meet a lot of cyclists. I actually do quite a lot of riding with Axel Merckx," he says of the rare moments he finds himself without Ducati commitments.
"Axel lives just up the road, so we've become quite good friends and I do some good rides with him when he's on his easier days. I certainly don't want to interrupt his training program too much because it's quite hard. He sacrifices his life to ride - it's incredible how much training [pro cyclists] do."
He may be a world champion on two motorised wheels, but Bayliss' love of cycling is obvious. "My shortest ride would be about two hours; four hours is about my longest ride because I don't want to wear myself down too much. Sometimes I'm off the bike for a week or a week and a half - and that disheartens me. I don't like missing out on my riding." How does he explain his addictiuon? "It could just be the two-wheel connection," he says. "It's in the blood to ride on two wheels and that could be my problem with the bicycle as well."
At 32 years of age, it might be a little too late to consider a career change, but the notion has crossed Troy's mind. "I think that if I wasn't doing the Superbikes, I would somehow be chasing a contract in cycling! I really think that's what I'd be doing; I don't know if it could happen, but I certainly would have given it a try if I wasn't racing motorbikes.
"I don't know how to explain my cycling, but I know I always want to win - so I'm always trying hard and I train hard... and hopefully it pays off with my bike riding." I'm sure it does. But which bike are we talking about here?
*Rob Arnold is the Editor of Ride Cycling Review. This article is one of the features inside the latest issue.