For the two-time world champion and MotoGP pundit, motorcycles have been part of the fabric of James Toseland’s life in both the ups and downs. He also gives his take on the season so far.
After a crash at Donington Park in 2011, he was forced to retire from racing due to injury. “I went cold turkey,” James says.”It was very hard for me to just stop. Racing was everything. When I was asked to ride the Triumph Moto2 bike, it was the first time I’d ridden in all that time.”
It wasn’t until 2018 that he eventually faced his fears and rode the Triumph Moto2 prototype around a very wet Silverstone.
Bitten by the bug
Taking a look back at James’s career, even when cut short (he’s now only 38), it’s impressive. Two world championships with two different manufacturers and he had a pretty quick rise to the top. A true natural talent – by the age of 18 he was racing for Honda. At WSB level he racked up 61 podiums and 16 wins over 201 races.
I was just a kid when the motorcycle bug bit: “My mum and dad divorced when I was three. A new boyfriend of my mum’s had a motorcycle – I was eight at the time. In my immediate family we didn’t have any motorcycles, so this bike sparked my interest.
“He didn’t race, but it was my first introduction to bikes. Then he bought me my first motorcycle – a trials bike – when I was nine. I did about four years of trials riding and loved that.”
From mud to road
“I moved into motocross when I was about 12. However, I wasn’t that tall and the bikes at the time were really high. I felt the bike was riding me more than I was riding the bike.
“You didn’t need the height to do road racing. That’s when I found what I really loved doing as a discipline on a motorcycle: racing on tarmac.”
I didn’t have to clean the bike as much!
It wasn’t just the riding he preferred though: “It was great, I didn’t have to clean the bike as much!” he laughs. His first year on the roads was in 1995, as part of the junior road racing championship. James then progressed on to SuperTeams in 1996 and had his big break in 1997 with Cogiva Racing. He then spent a couple of years with Castrol Honda before coming back to British Superbikes.
Superbikes and GP
“It was an incredible few years and I’d done well up to that point and got a place doing the World Superbikes in 2001-2003 with the Ducati team.” Putting in a championship winning performance with the factory Ducati team, then in 2007 winning another championship with Honda, he’d made his mark as an incredibly talented racer.
He moved on to MotoGP in 2008 with the Tech3 Yamaha team: “My final couple of years were with Yamaha superbikes in 2010 and on the BMW in 2011 when I got the injury.”
Life after racing
“It’s been really difficult since I stopped riding. I was being forced to stop doing what I loved 10 years prematurely. I’ve had a few bleak years trying to readjust, re-evaluate and try and find purpose in life. In many ways, as any person dedicated to their sport, once that element is removed, it does distort what life’s all about.
“When you’re in it, the goal is to be world champion. The higher you go the further it is down to get used to normal life. It’s not just motorcycle racers, but you hear about many sportsmen and women struggling to adapt to life after sport.”
Back in the saddle
Triumph offered James a ride on the 2019 Moto2 prototype: “They approached me and I was a little tentative. I faced my demons and took to the track in the rain.”
The rain hammered down enough to call off the 2018 Silverstone MotoGP, but James still took the Triumph out for a parade lap when the weather let up briefly.
“Getting back on and going for a ride, even when limited by my wrist, was great. It didn’t bring the frustration I thought it would. The weather wasn’t good at all, so I didn’t have anything to prove: an easy way back in.”
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— TOSELAND (@JamesMToseland) August 29, 2018
“It was really emotional. I’d forgotten how much I loved riding.”
The Silverstone outing wasn’t a one-off and now James is riding a Triumph Tiger 1200 and a Bonneville, and looking to do some more riding in Italy this summer.
“My hand still bothers me, so I can’t ride for too long. However, the cruise control helps a lot on the Tiger. The missus is keen to tour on a bike, so I’m trying out the two options to see what suits us best.
“Riding on the roads gives a different sort of thrill – you have to be alert. Honestly, it’s just brilliant to be back riding.”
Looking at this year and the impact Triumph’s machines are making, James says: “The engine is so strong. Nine guys were under the lap record at Qatar – a track with one of the highest speed traps. The gearbox is much more advanced than previous years and there’s more torque in the midrange. What this does is allow the riders to do more of what they can do as individuals rather than being forced to ride in a specific way, especially mid-corner. There’s a larger window of optimal performance. Riders can ride in different ways and still put in a good lap time.”
Read more from his race-by-race blog covering Moto2 2019.