Between The Hedges Pt3: Alex Pickett’s Last Isle Of Man TT

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This is the final part of Stuart’s interviews with Alex and Chris Pickett. Alex went it alone for the TT and scored a ride in the Classic TT. Here’s how it went down. 2016 proved to be possibly the most challenging and the most rewarding year in Alex’s TT journey. A couple of big lows and one pretty big high.

Here’s how it went down. 2016 proved to be possibly the most challenging and the most rewarding year in Alex’s TT journey. A couple of big lows and one pretty big high.
Here’s how it went down. 2016 proved to be possibly the most challenging and the most rewarding year in Alex’s TT journey. A couple of big lows and one pretty big high.

Alex: “After the 2015 debacle I didn’t know what I wanted to do really. I had some unfinished business, but seeing I didn’t finish one race in 2015, there were hardly any teams beating my door down. I wasn’t happy at work though, so when some friends offered me a place to live in the UK I quit my job and headed over in 2015 with a plan to do the TT in 2016. I was living in rural Shropshire but had no money, and despite my trade qualifications could only get a job in a nursery for about $15 an hour. At least I was getting fit though, riding my pushbike to work, running, training and eating well.”


Check out volume two of Between The Hedges here…


Chris: “I think Alex wanted a change of scenery and wanted to prove what he was capable of. We knew he wanted to do the TT again but at that stage didn’t have the means to do so, and neither did we. He was training hard, lost a heap of weight and looked fit. He had a block of land here which he wanted to sell, and he planned to stay in the UK long term. He had a five-year visa which could be turned into permanent residency due to family ties in the UK.”

Selling everything he owned to race in the TT on his own for 2016 was a big sacrifice, but Alex had unfinished business...
Selling everything he owned to race in the TT on his own for 2016 was a big sacrifice, but Alex had unfinished business…

Alex: “I got my patents to sell everything I had, including my 1970 Dodge Dart, something I wished I hadn’t sold now, this allowed me some financial breathing space and the purchase of a competitive bike. That bike turned out to be the Kawasaki ZX6R ASBK Supersport machine of Luke Burgess. Kawasaki’s Glen Willing had built the engine and it had lots of goodies, including Mupo suspension. We got it at a good price, and dad shipped it over to the UK for me.”


Check out the first volume of Between The Hedges here if you missed it…


Chris: “It didn’t need any race preparation, other than extra lock wiring required for the TT rules, and increasing the fuel tank capacity. I’d read somewhere that you could blow the tank a bit with compressed air and cut out the inside of the filler next so fuel could go all the way to the top. Brad Woodhouse from B & C Motorcycles in Newcastle and I tried that with the tank off the bike. It blew out alright but wouldn’t fit back on the bike. A bit of judicious panel work here and there got the tank bolted back on to the bike, and we tried again. Doing this we got the capacity from 17 to 21 litres.”

Selling everything allowed Alex some financial breathing space and the purchase of a competitive bike. That bike turned out to be the Kawasaki ZX6R ASBK Supersport machine of Luke Burgess...
Selling everything allowed Alex some financial breathing space and the purchase of a competitive bike. That bike turned out to be the Kawasaki ZX6R ASBK Supersport machine of Luke Burgess…

“I crated the bike up, with riding gear, spares and a pushbike and off she went to the UK. A couple of months later I got a distraught phone call from Alex saying they wouldn’t release the bike to him. I had applied for the bike to be used as a race bike in the UK but that it would be shipped back to Australia afterwards. In other words I wasn’t trying to import the bike into the UK permanently. I’m not sure what went wrong or if we got stiffed somehow but I ended up paying another three or four grand just for them to release the bike to Alex. My credit card was smoking.”

Alex at last had a bike he could practice on in readiness for the 2016 TT
Alex: “I only had to do a couple of minor things to the bike, like a tail light, and a brake guard, things needed to pass scrutineering in the UK. I then did some No Limits racing which was good fun, and something I needed to get my races up for a TT Mountain Course Licence. No Limits in the UK is like St George club racing in Australia but it’s amazing how much money is there. I turned up with a half worn out Transit van, a caravan with an awning, thinking I’d be IT, but there were semi trailer’s with transporters by the dozen so I was just a wannabe in the paddock.”

Alex got a ride on the CFMOTO 650 Supertwin, Alan Cathcart tested this bike and you can read about it in the "Race Bikes" section...
Alex got a ride on the CFMOTO 650 Supertwin, Alan Cathcart tested this bike and you can read about it in the “Race Bikes” section of PitBoard.

“I did alright though and gelled pretty quickly with the ZX6R. I also got to race a CFMoto Supertwin in Northern Ireland on one of the street circuits, which was a big eye opener. I did pretty well there too, dodging hedges, cow pats and other bikes. My girlfriend, now wife, Tayla had come over and we stayed with friends in Northern Ireland, toured around the place and even went to Joey’s Bar in Balleymoney. Now that was cool.”

Chris: “Before we knew it my wife and I were on the plane to the Isle of Man. Alex had a good privateer set up, helped by our friends he’d been living in the UK with. Gaz and Jenny Cranage treated Alex like a son and their organisation really helped him prepare. Our Scottish mate Rob Wilson came over to help with the mechanics and we even had a suspension guy helping. All for free. It was great.”

“Practice week went awesome. It was the driest TT in years and I had no issues doing my six laps for qualifying." Said Alex.
“Practice week went awesome. It was the driest TT in years and I had no issues doing my six laps for qualifying.” Said Alex.

Alex: “Practice week went awesome. It was the driest TT in years and I had no issues doing my six laps for qualifying. In fact, I think I did about 10 and we decided to sit out the last nights practise session to help save the engine as we didn’t have a spare. Handling was pretty good on the bike and everything was going well. There was a bit of a clash of personalities in the team at times, but it was a bit of a pressure cooker environment.”

Chris: “There were probably too many cooks in the kitchen in the team but we all worked it out with minimum fuss really. By the time the first Supersport race came up everything seemed okay, but in hindsight I think Alex was trying to keep too many people happy, with a number of people wanting his time. His start number was 66 but he qualified in the high 30s on the start line from memory. The four laps went without any major incident and he finished 31st with an overall race speed, including pit stop, of 115.277mph.”

"The four laps went without any major incident and he finished 31st with an overall race speed, including pit stop, of 115.277mph.”
“The four laps went without any major incident and he finished 31st with an overall race speed, including pit stop, of 115.277mph.”

Alex:Even though I was happy with the handling of the bike during practice week, in the race I wasn’t that comfortable with it. I can’t tell you what went wrong, the settings were the same, but even my mate Dominic Herbertson said the bike was all over the place when he went past me. I had qualified in front of him and I was holding him up on the road, which normally would not have been the case, all things being equal.”

But things were about to get a whole lot worse on a personal level for a number of people including Alex
Alex: “I had become quite friendly with Dwight Beare from Melbourne. Dwight was a sidecar racer and had moved to the IOM to chase his dream of TT glory. We hit it off, he was great fun to go out with and was just a real nice bloke. He was killed in the first Sidecar TT in 2016 and it shook me to my core really. It all went to shit in about a two hour window. Dad and I were talking to Paul Shoesmith, my team boss from the year before, just as he was about to head out for a practice lap. He’d just done the Superbike TT and wanted to sort out his Superstock bike in a special one lap practice session they were running after the Sidecar TT. We didn’t know at that stage that Dwight had passed away as no information had been released. Within 20 minutes later, Paul was dead too. He had a similar issue with a blown out front tyre, like I had the year before, and only about 500 metres before my incident. Unfortunately, he didn’t survive it. So, I lost two good friends within a couple of hours of each other.”

Alex lost two close friends in the space of one day, after noticing poor handling on his Kawasaki, he decided it was best to pull the plug.
Alex lost two close friends in the space of one day, after noticing poor handling on his Kawasaki, he decided it was best to pull the plug.

Chris: “That really hit Alex hard. He was ready to pack it in and go home. It was his decision of course, no one can make you do it. In the end he decided to continue but you could see he wasn’t the same. He lined up for the second Supersport race but came in after the first lap, complaining of very poor handling and deciding to pull the pin. I will always believe his heart wasn’t in it that day. His mind was elsewhere and it was dangerous for him to continue. He did the right thing by retiring from that race.”

Alex: “I can’t really tell you what went wrong in the second race. The bike felt terrible but nothing had really changed. I actually asked myself during that one lap, ‘what am I doing here?’. I didn’t want to be out there so I pulled in.”

2016 and the Mountain Course weren’t finished though with Alex though. He had already agreed to ride for TC Racing again, this time in the Classic TT on the team’s Kawasaki ZXR750.
2016 and the Mountain Course weren’t finished though with Alex though. He had already agreed to ride for TC Racing again, this time in the Classic TT on the team’s Kawasaki ZXR750.

Alex: “I thought long and hard about actually doing the Classic TT but decided to. I spent some time staying with friends on the IOM and helped get the bike ready. Mum and Dad weren’t going to come over to the Classic TT seeing they had spent a month in the UK a few months earlier. At the last minute though, dad jumped on a plane and flew over which was a great relief for me. He had only missed a handful of my races ever since I started so it was very important for me, for him to be there.”

Chris: “My wife didn’t want me to go, we’d already spent a bomb earlier in the year but how could I not go. My credit card was smoking again but I was going and that was that. You (Stuart) were coming over as well, but your funds dried up with a speeding ticket, didn’t they! My wife understood. There was less stress on me with the Classic TT because I wasn’t working on the bike, just enjoying the sunshine and the atmosphere. Of course, I was stressed whenever Alex was on the bike.”

“I was given number 41 which was a bit off a slap in the face I thought."
“I was given number 41 which was a bit off a slap in the face I thought.” said Alex.

Alex: “Practice week went great, the bike felt great, and I was in the top 10 every time I went out. We had a small issue with the standard hydraulic cam chain tensioner which threatened to derail us but John Taubman built a fantastic engine and had it sorted. I was given number 41 which was a bit off a slap in the face I thought. There were most of the top TT runners at the Classic TT, riding all sorts of machines. Michael Dunlop was on a Suzuki XR69 ‘Replica’ with a GSX-R1100/Bandit 1200 engine. Dean Harrison and Horst Saiger were on ZXR750s like me, but the lineup of bikes was pretty special, and so were the riders.”

Chris: “There were plenty of slower riders in front of Alex on the start line, which we knew would prove to be a problem for him as they would no doubt hold him up. One of the riders who qualified behind Alex got permission to start further up the field, as he should of, but when the team asked the same for Alex they were denied. So, in effect you had about 25 riders slower than Alex who were allowed to start in front of him. Everyone was pissed off but that’s life I guess.”

Finally! The Isle Of Man win Alex had been dreaming of for years!
Finally! The Isle Of Man win Alex had been dreaming of for years! 11th, pushed up to 7th after some teams were found cheating, outright but first in his class.

Alex: “There were a few classes in the Classic Superbike TT. I was in P2 which meant I was a privateer racing a 750cc production-based machine. I was the fastest qualifier in the class but I was also faster than plenty of other bigger capacity bikes. I started 41st on the road, as per my number, and I blasted through lots of bikes in front of me. Some would hold me up, some not so much, but when I came into the pits for fuel I was sitting in around 15th spot. The bike was running great but as always, the gears were sometimes hard to select. On the last lap I just went for it, basically throwing caution to the wind, even through Ballegary corner where I held it flat in top and the bike threatened to throw me into the scenery but I stayed on. I knew I would have finished in a good spot but when I rode up the slip road after I finished, Paul Phillips, the boss of the TT, guided me into the winners enclosure with a big smile on his face. Paul was always very good to me and my dad and it was nice to see him happy with my result. It was a good result for him seeing he had paid the team for my ride. I later learned that Mick Charnock from TC Racing had told Paul I would win the P2 class when they were negotiating the deal. Well, I did and everyone was happy.”

Chris: “It was a bit of an anti-climax to be honest. It had been a hard slog along the way. Alex finished 11th outright but first in his class. After the race there were some rumblings about illegal bikes. Four bikes were found to be oversize and were excluded from the results. They were all big name riders too. This pushed Alex up to 7th outright in the standings but it never altered his first in class result. To see him up on the podium with TT greats was very special. I later bought the Classic TT DVD which never once showed Alex or even mentioned him. Typically, the film makers concentrate on the top four or five riders. They even deleted the podium shot because two of the four riders on the podium were disqualified. That really pissed me off.”

It was time for Alex to call it a day after the Classic TT. Six years on and he has kept his promise of not heading back, but we will never know if the flame will ignite in him again..."
It was time for Alex to call it a day after the Classic TT. Six years on and he has kept his promise of not heading back, but we will never know if the flame will ignite in him again…”

Alex: “I decided that would be me and the TT done and dusted after the Classic TT. It had dominated much of my life for five years but I knew the realities of the danger. It holds a special place in my heart, as do the Bronze and Silver trophies but life moves on. I would love one day to take my two boys over to the TT to show them what their dad used to do. I’d love to go back and help someone as a mechanic but I can never see myself riding the TT again. Not enough money and too many responsibilities. You never say never”  

Words: Stuart Woodberry 

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