By James Lloyd
Matthew Rees lives a fairly normal life up in Aberdare, South Wales. By day he runs a portable toilet hiring business with his brother and lives with his girlfriend Danielle.
But come summer, those normalities are transformed and Rees becomes a different man, living a totally changed and rather unique life.
“I become an adrenaline junkie,” he says – grinning whilst sipping a flat white at a Costa Coffee, Junction 33 off the M4. That is one way of putting it, but it certainly goes beyond that.
From the cold, wet winter days of South Wales to wrestling a 1000cc motorbike at 190 mph on public roads on the Isle of Man, Rees’ life is a bit of a contrast when April arrives.
“You don’t have time to get scared,” he insists. “Everything is a blur in the hedges really. It is hard to sum it all up as I’ve never really given it much thought.
“It’s exhilarating, like an out of body experience.”
It is difficult to grasp what road racers like Rees actually go through as most mere mortals have barely made it past 70 mph in a car on the motorway.
“I wouldn’t know how fast I have been,” adds Rees. “It is close to 200 miles per hour which is amazing really.
“Having said that when you’re doing 190 mph it doesn’t really feel like you’re doing those speeds because you’ve been going so fast for so long.
“Everything just slows down in your brain, your brain adjusts to the speed you’re going, so it feels slower than what you’re doing.
“The wind tries to rip you out of the seat all the time, but the sensation of speed is weird as you’re always looking at the furthest point.”
Rees has been competing at the notorious Isle of Man TT for two years – a 37.75-mile course formed of public roads that has taken 252 lives, five of which coming last year.
Unfortunately, that is the danger of what is a fantastically compelling and exciting sport. Rees and his fellow riders know and understand that, but it is part of the game.
Rees himself admitted to a close call at last year’s TT, skimming a wall at around 140 mph whilst going over a small leap in the road.
“Sometimes you get some close shaves,” he says in a starker, more serious tone. “I had one last year at Ballacrye [TT], I went over towards the wall on the right hand side, literally shaving it.
“I couldn’t believe it, things like that don’t bother you until you get off the bike and think ‘f****** hell that was close’. At the time the adrenaline is going so it doesn’t faze you.”
No one ever taught Rees to race a motorbike, it came out of a passion for two-wheels and the desire and grit to go and race them. Being a road racer is a hobby above all, there is no pay for the privateer riders like Rees, just the gain of excitement and the thrills of the close shaves.
Top riders like 25-time TT winner John McGuinness and part-time TV presenter Guy Martin are able to make some sort of living out of it, but not Matthew – which he doesn’t mind.
“It is very expensive, but it is worth every penny for the buzz,” he insists. “I’m not complaining because I love it.”
Rees has set himself targets of reaching a Top 20 finish as well as attaining an average lap speed of 127 mph around the Mountain Course. He will mount his own Kawasaki ZX-10r for the road racing season beginning in April at Tandragree with support from Kickstart Motorcycles and Phil Morris Racing.
Attention swiftly switches back to racing on public roads and darting in between curbs, buildings, telegraph poles, brick walls, stone walls, hedges, you name it, the Isle of Man, the Ulster Grand Prix, the North West 200 has it.
“Everything gets blanked out, you have to think about the race really and not much else,” Rees adds.
“It is hard to do as there are a lot of things going on.
“Everything goes silent when the helmet goes on. I try and keep myself entertained until my helmet is on which means it is time to go.
“Danielle is by the side of me, I got my dad there too. I stay entertained, I keep my mind occupied until I am ready to go. I keep talking really, I don’t tend to get nervous or anything like that, I’m very chilled out.”
Asked to some up what it is like to be a road racer, Rees gives the perfect response which captures it with the most intricate and daring detail.
With a bit of a cheeky smirk he says: “The best way to describe it is when you are going through Kirk Michael and you see speed signs saying 30 mph, and you are anything between 150 to 170 mph through a terraced street.
“With the bikes echoing, the little bends become bigger, you are curb to curb on the yellow lines, literally inches away, it is amazing.”
Rees is clearly a man on a mission for 2017. Gruelling amounts of hours are being spent in the gym getting fitter to tackle the demands of clinging onto a motorbike on bumpy, public roads.
When April arrives, both in the body and mind there will be something a little different about Matthew – he will become more focussed, more determined, more daring.
But on the face, Rees will be the same, bubbly Welsh boy he is, grinning away in the racing paddock – doing himself, his family and his country proud.