Chris Smith

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This is a series of articles penned by guys like us; dead keen on their bikes and lifelong devotees of two motorised wheels for one convoluted, but individual reason... it makes their life better.

In life we meet many people. Some pass through with nods and the odd word, others may become lifelong friends, and some - very few - become teachers of note.

Chris Smith is not an immediately obvious candidate for the latter, in fact he mostly looks like he hasn't got any time to spare, but he is a committed teacher and dedicated to safety on a motorcycle. He is a mentor to many, and that's no idle statement.

Chris always looks like he just got off his bike after setting the hottest time at the track, and probably has. There's a hint of sweat and serious racing endeavour about the man. That may be the ex-stunty in him, but his aura is almost that of an addict; he's out looking for his next hit, but he's going to make enough time for you to be safe, while you go out and chase your own bike dreams. There's no mollycoddling here, but a great heart, and if you've had the good fortune to have him grant you the time, you will have been gifted with no-bullshit facts, useful and repeatable knowledge, and your bike will suddenly feel like God tuned it. Fact. Most significantly he has a unique ability to rewire you up to that real excitement we feel as bikers (but never acknowledge to non-riders) - inspiring one to get out on the road, ASAP!

 

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A WAY OF LIFE
I phoned him and asked him to send me a few facts and figures of his bike career, and immediately he's off on his adventures. "I can't tell you everything... some of it's illegal! And some if it is probably immoral...". Oh, yes, you bloody can, Chris..

"Well... when I was in the UK, shooting movies..." - Chris is a hugely talented UK-born stunt rider and rigger - " we'd have to go and shoot something on the Isle of Man, but I don't fly, so I'd get a ferry ticket, and take a decent bike with me for down times. It was great to get out and play when I could, but then they instigated a speed limit - 135 miles per hour - and it ruined everything!" laughed - part envy, part fear; you've probably seen those 10M crashes on YouTube.

Motorcycling was always uppermost in his mind. Chris tells of him and mates gathering in a Marlow pub on a Thursday night, sticking a map of Europe on the dartboard and chucking a dart at it to see where they'd go for a ride, "The plan was to try to get as many passport stamps as possible by the time we were back for Monday morning work - of course that got ruined by joining the European Union, but I imagine it's all back on again now." [Post Brexit, passport controls are back].

He also remembers a vivid experience of racing a Kawasaki ZRX1100, complete with a strapped on booster, at some French town in the early 2000s. He can't remember why, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. More on this later.

The man has experience, and history. Not to mention cojones the size of melons.

He prefaced this smattering of stories with a fairly 'tongue in cheek' proviso, "I wasn't always this clever..". I suspect he means that he's a bit more rational these days, and has had some time to reflect. Bring it on Chris, reflect away!

 

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WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Chris passed his motorcycle licence test in the UK on the second attempt in 1991. (ahem).

Eventually he graduated to the dizzy heights of owning a Honda Superdream 250. The Honda was twice as heavy, and less than half as powerful as a modern 250 today.

But it was perfect. So perfect in fact, that it got painted in three or four different guises. At one point it was neon pink with black tiger stripes, then later it was painted in Vivienne Westwood urban camo.

Incredibly, this bike is still going. It lives with one of Chris's lifetime mates in the UK, James, (known as Grimmy) and he is currently the 28th owner. This amazing piece of motorcycling memorabilia/boat anchor has endured through mateship and hardship for decades (well, it's a Honda innit?). This longevity of ownership is because every time one owner ran out of money, they would sell it back to the other.

The price was always fixed though. It was only ever £50 UK, but Chris says, "that was normally enough to take a girl out for the night, and buy a kebab on the way home."

 

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TWO BIGGEST CRASHES
Even though he can be found on most Sunday's going round and round in circles on a race track, two of Chris's biggest crashes didn't happen there. Both incidents were on the road, and were basically caused by being young, inexperienced, "and generally just a bit shit".

One was caused by not checking his blindspot before turning right into Staines Hospital, (now defunct) where he was going to visit "Grimmy" who'd previously fallen off the beloved Honda.

Chris was idling along at 20mph trying to find the right entrance for the Hospital's A&E Department. Upon spying the correct gate he turned right into the driveway without looking behind, only to get collected and totalled by an overtaking vehicle. This apparently simple turn resulted in a femur broken into seven separate pieces, a shattered heel, and he also managed to chop off the top of his right thumb. Hell of a visit.

The second notable 'off' was while travelling on the M40 into London for work. "I was riding in the middle lane, minding my own business, when a geezer in the car in the left-hand lane decided he needed the space I was occupying more than I did. So this action created a need to move into the fast right-hand lane, to avoid being hit.

"What actually happened was the traffic inevitably stopped dead, and all I can remember was travelling through the air, flying forward over the handlebars, and landing on the vehicle two cars ahead, collecting the car with the top of my AGV helmet, and creating some fairly ugly breaks in my pelvis, amongst other bits and pieces."

Chris relates that all of these crashes were avoidable, "if I hadn't been stupid, and had actually remembered all that the riding instructor had imparted when I was learning." Probably the reason he's so passionate about rider safety and road behaviours these days.

 

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MOTORCYCLING AS A PASSPORT
Chris' adventures have taken him all round the globe... "to over 20 different countries, and l've crashed in every single one of them." To be honest that's actually his line of work, as a stunty he gets paid to crash and fall off, as spectacularly as possible. But Chris freely admits that at other times it was his "own experimentation with various techniques that suddenly discovered didn't work".

Although Chris is a safety conscious instructor and a stickler for learning properly, so that these painful incidents are lessened for other folk, I managed to convince him to tell me one of his 'why the hell not' moments: as alluded to at the beginning.

"One of my better adventures was when I decided to take a Kawasaki ZRX1100 to a small, quiet, peaceful, town in France, where they held a classic car/bike rally/road race day."

Chris duly turned up at this rather staid and formal meet where, after spending a half an hour with his pidgin French, he managed to convince the French organisers that he was legit, and they finally allowed Chris to enter the mad Kawasaki. Further to this, Chris 'forgot' to mention to the beret wearers that the Kawasaki was also fitted with a one hundred horsepower booster-shot of nitrous oxide. This would have been fine, perhaps, but the organisers also had a certain fact of their own that could have been imparted a little sooner. 

We will leave it to the imagination as to what happens when 'crazy racer' on shrieking modern rocketship encounters 'ye olde worlde' roading. What they had failed to mention was that the old town, on top of the hill, was still paved with 16th century cobblestones.

 

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CLUB LIFE
Way back in 1993 (yes, that's thirty years ago now) Chris joined a certain 'MC'. He relates that these were some of the best days he ever had. We had a lot of fun getting up to not a lot of good...", as Chris himself reminds me, he "hasn't always been clever".

"The club met in a pub by the River Thames in Buckinghamshire on a Thursday evening.

There used to be a general loop. We'd meet at a burger van at the end of the High St, and would ride to Henley, about 13km, over the bridge and back to Maidenhead via a roundabout, which was perfectly suited for knee downs, then get on the A4 and down the Marlow Bypass Road, finishing back at the burger van. Last one there had to buy the burgers."

"We were young, we were keen, we went to rallies, we drank beer, we made memories and we became lifelong mates. Once we all took chainsaws and nails to a rally called Stormin' the Castle in the North, so we could make our own furniture. We made this massive picnic table, sat at it, and set fire to one end so it would keep us warm as we drank." Now in its 33rd year, Stormin' the Castle is one of the largest bike meets held annually in the UK, at Witton Castle in County Durham. Obviously, the behaviour was not outrageous enough to cause any comment. The event is run by the Motorcycle Action Group and runs for three days and is a major fundraiser for bikers' rights. It hosts many bands on two stages, with additional fairground attractions, caterers and the usual gypsy-style alternative traders. It's famed for being extremely loud.

 

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IT'S A PASSION...
Most of Chris Smith's history centres around this astonishing passion for Motorcycles, and as a professional stunt-rider he has an enormous wealth of experience, knowledge and understanding, all of which means he is a gifted trainer and instructor. He's been teaching since he was 19 and arrived here in Aotearoa in 2008.

He rides between sixty and eighty thousand kilometres every year, throughout the length of country, sharing the wisdom.

One of Chris' key phrases is "every day is school day" and he means it. You can learn from every single ride, and his teaching helps riders understand that. He confesses that he himself is probably the world's biggest student, and he says he's "constantly striving to learn new stuff and to pass it on". His aim is to make everybody else's riding day one hundred times safer than his own ever were.

But at his heart, Chris is a total enthusiast, and if we ask him what makes his heart beat when he gets up in the morning it's this:

Chris likes motorcycles. Through bikes he has forged friendships and developed lifelong mates, and he has become a mentor to many. On another level he "loves the sheer stupidity of motorbikes" and it's easy to see what he means. Frankly, few are so honest.

So here in no particular order are things that really excite the man. 

Superchargers. (Well, what can you say...). Chris loves fixing and tweaking Suspension set ups, (yep, capital s). More than that, however he knows that with suspension working as it should, with rider weight, tyre choice, surface, speed and balance all acknowledged, he can make brakes and traction work as they should, and get you round corners like one cannot believe possible - in safety.

Wheelies. Yes he does them everywhere, whenever he can, like a pro. He is a pro.

And he loves the fact that motorcycle technology is constantly changing and getting better. Exploring those edges where science makes things better (or worse) is Chris' secret world, and only someone with insane mileages, experience, skills and passions should be doing that. But when you get him to teach you, there's no-one better.

We could go on for thousands of words, but we have to stop somewhere. Last word for Chris?

"If it wasn't for Motorcycles I would never have ended up in New Zealand! It's a weird and wonderful web they weave, eh?" Couldn't put it better myself.

Chris is Pass Masters. They run all sorts of classes and instructions - learner, restricted and full, scooter, and Bronze, Silver, and Gold Ride Forever courses. Check them out at www.passmasters.nz then give them a call on 09 947 9409 or email [email protected]

 

Article kindly provided by Kiwi Rider Magazine
Visit: kiwirider.co.nz

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