After retiring from Superbikes in 2008 Troy Bayliss tells Richard Whitehead that he is finding it hard not to get back on the bike.
'I guess they're right when they say you never forget how to ride a bike'
So close. Certainly not words often used to describe Troy Bayliss's glittering career, with his 52 wins from 152 World Superbike races. Instead, they connote the future as the lifelong Ducati rider goes within an inch of admitting outright that he is looking for a return to the saddle. Retired since winning the 2008 Superbikes title, Bayliss seems closer than ever to rejoining the sport after spending some quality time with his former team for two days of track testing in Italy.
"I've got a lot of thinking to do before I get on the back of a competitive bike again but it's just too hard to walk away," said the 41-year-old as he attended the opening of a new Ducati showroom in Dubai. "I've just come back from Monza, which was my old stomping ground, and I've been doing some testing for Ducati." "It was nice to be in the paddock and see everyone. It's one of the most special places in my career. When you win there on a Ducati, you leave like a god. It's got a special place in my heart, that's for sure."
Bayliss had spent a weekend with the Ducati development team circuit testing an 1198 in the bike manufacturer's north Italian homeland. "I had my old engineer, Ernesto, and my old computer girl, as well as the test team. We went to Mugello and I jumped back onto the bike after a year and a half away. The first day was really wet ? but by the following day, it had really dried out. It was quite funny - I left there a second faster than I had ever done before. I guess they're right when they say you never forget how to ride a bike.
"There was a bit of rust there, but you brush it off, and I found I could still go fast. If I wanted to get serious ? you know ?" and then the Australian trails off, his eyes glazing over for a quick moment. For Bayliss, the win has always been his motivation, as is riding a bike he loves. He says that after 10 years of racing at the top level, by the end of the 2008 Superbikes season he had had enough and he wanted to finish on top. However, by the end of that year, he was over retirement and left Europe for his native Australia to live the quiet life.
"But when I came back in Mugello, after 18 months away, I felt young again and just wanted to ?" Again, he leaves the sentence unfinished. "When we went back to Australia, the first three or four months were terrible, just really hard," Bayliss continues. "We'd lived in Europe since 1998, so the move was a big thing. Our kids had grown up there. We went back home and I'm sure the whole family was really lost at first. For me, I missed the world of racing. It did get better but when I went to Phillip Island [in Australia] for the first time to see the [Superbikes] race - to watch it from the other side of the track - I could hardly do it. But now I get by better, although I still do go through patches when I want to be on the bike again, like I did in Mugello."
So is he enduring the same pangs as Michael Schumacher before his return to Formula One? "Yeah," is his guarded reply. And like the German, who now races for Mercedes GP at the top tier of four-wheeled motorsport, Bayliss has also been playing with cars, albeit with Australian V8 Supercars for official driver evaluations. "It was fun for me. The first car I tested was the TeamVodafone, which was the best car for the best team in the championship. So straight away the best times I did were good. But you can't jump straight into the best car on the grid - it just doesn't happen like that. So I did a few drives in a satellite car and it was okay.
"I nearly got a deal with one of the top drives for this year but it fell through. It went to Greg Murphy, which was fair enough. He's been there a long time and he's a good driver. But after that I wasn't going to chase a second-class ride because it would have taken years to go somewhere with that." For Bayliss, the greatest thrill is on the back of a bike, surrounded by risk and drama. "You do think about the danger - it's always on your mind apart from when the light goes green. But then sometimes I would feel like I was riding outside myself, on special days. I would be watching myself and sometimes I knew I was riding over the top and couldn't stop myself from doing that. Sometimes you can do it and get away with it."
For many sportsmen - especially those of the high-octane persuasion, memories of those thrills provide the necessary fuel to bring them back into the fold. Bayliss admits he has been very lucky - "it's one of the main reasons for me staying in one piece after a brilliant career" - but the chance that he might once again put his life on the line for Ducati seems to be growing by the day.