The Bone Breaker: 20 Things We Learned from Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea’s New Autobiography
March 13, 2019
1. Jonathan’s father very nearly died before he was born. During a race at Brand’s Hatch, near London, he collided with another rider, and smashed into a barrier, puncturing a lung and fracturing six ribs. In the ensuing operation he lost a kidney. “Mum didn’t know if he was going to make it,” Jonathan writes.
2. Jonathan was given his first ever motorbike, a tiny motocross-style Italjet 50, at the tender age of two. His father bought it for him with prize money won at the Isle of Man TT. “I rode and rode all day until the bike ran out of fuel. Not surprisingly, I had my first crash that day, but it didn’t put me off.”
3. Hospital staff spotted so many bruises on young Jonathan’s body that they suspected he was being beaten by his parents. The multiple marks across his arms and chest were in fact caused by mud and stones kicked up by the rear tyres of riders in front of him during motocross races.
4. Brought up a Protestant, Jonathan was bullied by Catholic kids at his mixed-religion school. “I was often threatened quite menacingly with the possibility of getting jumped or stabbed by some of these guys on my way to or from school.”
5. After Jonathan had one of his 125cc motorbikes stolen, his father did some private investigation work which brought him close to the culprits. “We had never had any association with those organised crime groups or paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland, but eventually he got a call,” Jonathan writes. “The mystery caller told Dad he was getting close to our stuff but that, if he knew what was good for him, he’d drop the trail and forget all about it.”
6. On his first trip abroad, Jonathan had his eyes opened wide. “I quickly learned that old Spanish hotels with flashing lights outside are not necessarily a disco or nightclub.”
7. In 2004, at Knockhill, in Scotland, Jonathan suffered his worst accident ever. Doctors told him he’d never ride again. “I was entering the gravel at full lean angle. I closed my eyes but before I had time for another thought I had hit the tyre wall. Unfortunately, I wasn’t knocked out. I was pretty aware of the pain… I heard the paramedic say, ‘He’s broken his femur’. The femur is the biggest and toughest bone in the body, stronger, they say, than concrete. I asked the paramedic later how he knew and he told me it was because my leg was bent sideways, pointing in completely the wrong direction.”
8. At the start of his career, Jonathan worked in construction for just £3.20 (US$4) an hour. Fond of lie-ins, and even fonder of speeding, he would race to work on his motorbike every morning. “So it was the backroads of Ballyboley that taught me the art of aerodynamics.”
"...my finger...was virtually hanging off.”
9. In his first Supersport World Championship race, in Qatar, Jonathan sliced open his finger in a crash. “My black and white glove was now a red glove and the end of one of the fingers had been worn away to just leave a bit of bone sticking out of the end. My finger…was virtually hanging off.”
10. Having spent his youth watching his father motorcycle racing, Jonathan remains philosophical about the staggering number of deaths in his sport. “We can watch a video of him racing back in the day and a good chunk of the grid are no longer here. He always counts himself very lucky that he got out of the game intact.”
11. When Jonathan was 21 years old, his parents divorced. “The tight family unit I’d grown up in was breaking apart.”
12. Jonathan originally employed his mother as his manager but was forced to fire her when his career bloomed. “She just carried on crying. I think she felt I was abandoning her, which upset me as well. The whole saga put a bit of pressure on our relationship for a good while.”
13. Jonathan persuaded his Australian girlfriend Tatia to move with him to the wet and windy Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea. “She had amazing memories of her life before she left Australia, a life of sunshine and sandy beaches. It was made pretty clear to me that while my life was great, she thought I’d properly messed up hers!”
Jonathan leads the pack at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in Australia
14. Before proposing to Tatia, Jonathan stashed the engagement ring in his van. “I hid the ring for ages next to the battery under the seat. I was paranoid… that if the van got stolen or caught fire I could lose this quite expensive diamond ring.”
15. In endurance motorcycle racing, the heat and humidity can be unbearable. Jonathan explains how riders jump in an ice bath the minute they come off the track; how teams have to employ people to dry out the sweaty racing leathers; how riders can lose 1.5kg (3.3lbs) an hour in body weight; how his right boot is gold-plated in order to deflect heat from the exhaust pipe.
16. While racing, Jonathan likes to imagine his wife is riding pillion with him, “pushing me to make a pass”.
17. Jonathan says his second son Tyler is “a proper tough nut”. “This lad doesn’t take any s**t, even from me, and he shows no fear in anything.”
18. The emergency airbag in Jonathan’s Alpinestars race suit has prevented injury on many of his crashes. Sensors inside the suit detect unexpected gyroscopic forces, inflating in just 25 milliseconds. “About 15 times faster than you can blink,” he explains.
19. At a 2017 race in Italy, Jonathan accidentally ran over fellow rider Chaz Davies who had crashed directly in front of him. “I had nowhere to go and rode over the top of him.”
20. If you need an indication of how dangerous motorcycle racing is, consider this list of injuries Jonathan has sustained over the years: a separated shoulder joint; a broken collarbone; two broken ribs; ligament reconstructions on both wrists; a broken right radius (that’s in the forearm); two breaks of the left femur (that’s the thigh bone); reconstruction of ligaments in both knees; broken right tibia and fibula (that’s the shinbone and calf bone); broken left ankle; several broken toes. “I’ve been told I’d never ride a motorbike again, let alone race one. I didn’t listen, though.”
Dream. Believe. Achieve. My Autobiography by Jonathan Rea is published by Harper Collins.