My first motorcycle race

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to race. The problem has never been fear, nerves or a lack of skill, but money. Racing is insanely expensive. Even running a clapped out SV650 costs a lot more than most young people (I’m 22) can afford. I found my solution last Sunday at Willow Springs with M1GP on an XR100 shod with funky street tires.

Even riding a mini-supermoto that I got for free, the cost of racing is still significant. All said and done, my first race day cost me a little more than $200. Joining M1GP is $80 for the year, the entry fee is $60, transponder rental is $20, an extra class is another $20, gas is $20, and I still had to buy apples and lunch meat. Still, all that is less than the cost of a fresh set of Dunlop slicks.

I’d gone to the pre-season time trials earlier in the month and many of the people racing are my regular riding buddies, so I knew the track and had an idea of what to expect. We arrived at the track at 6:30 am, unloaded the bikes, and walked the frozen track. The weather forecast for the day was a high of 50° and windy. Not ideal, but a week prior to that it said 90 percent chance of rain and 40°; so much for warm and sunny SoCal. Once everyone else got there, things started to move pretty fast.

After the 8:30 riders meeting was a cold and slick morning practice. I suited up, checked my tire pressures, and warmed up the bike while I waited through the first two races. After race two was over, we rolled out onto the track and did our warm-up lap. I was directed into my spot in the grid, clicked my shield down, put the bike in gear, and waited for the starter. I’ve gone pretty fast before, both on the track and on the street. Riding at the limit was nothing new for me, but waiting on the start line to drag race everyone to turn one was new, and it was pretty damn exciting.

The starter held up the 2 board and I got into launch position and brought the revs up, then the 1 board, then sideways, and finally, he dropped the board, and waved the green flag. I beat the other two guys running my class (on NSR50s) to turn one, got passed by a kid with a 100 pound weight advantage and fought hard for a few laps for 6th before an accidental downshift stopped me cold and let my friend on the number 4 bike past. My race was done. I’d been blocking him since the first lap and now that he was past, I knew my chattering front end and wheezing motor just didn’t have what it took to pass him back. A few short laps later, the race was over and I’d scored points toward a championship.

Back in the pits, I took off my gloves, helmet and back protector. Waiting on the grid, the launch and finally diving into turn one seemed to replay in slow motion, one fluid scene. It was a strange and surreal feeling that stayed with me through the race and for another hour after. It was something like having sex for the first time, but less awkward and more intense. After the intense high wore off, I thought about the race. Looking back on it, I realized that aside from the grid and starting procedure, it felt remarkably similar to riding the canyons with my buddies. The sensation of speed is actually greater in the canyons, but I think it’s because of the bike more than anything. My other four races didn’t quite match up to the excitement and anticipation of the first, but I get the feeling that it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. While I may never get quite the same rush again, I think I’ll be giving up one Sunday a month and as much money as I can to go racing.

  • David

    Good stuff. I know the feeling. One enduro, and I was hooked. I ran thirteen of them last year, and I don’t see any end in sight. Quite addictive. And I still get start line butterflies.

  • DoctorNine

    Riding fast on a slow bike is a blast.
    You oughta try a bored and stroked Honda MX5.
    I’ve seen gophers with better flat out speed.
    Here’s some bikes folks use for this stuff:

  • hdtogt

    I used to do quite a bit of enduro kart racing. To be competitive as a front runner, the effort and cost was astronomical. However, to be competitive in the middle of the pack was much more reasonable, and the same four or five guys (ok geezers, we were all 10-20 years older than the kids racing at the front) were always swapping positions. It was great fun and I realized racing at that level, at least for me, was not about winning, but about being competitive within my means. Not having time or money to tune and prep everything the way the top guys did, we still had alot of fun.

  • pinkyracer

    verrry tempting. Mike keeps trying to get me to fold myself onto one of those little things. I’m sure it is a blast. But like any addiction, it’s only cheap until the craving really kicks in…

  • Luke

    It’s a drug mate. Most people start out cheap and cheerful, then after a few meets a little voice starts saying shit like: “most of the other guys are running XYZ brand tyres. Bit more expensive, but looks to be worth it …”

    Twelve months later you will be offering the local tyre importer blowjobs in lieu of sponsorship, and cutting your top end gaskets in half to lift the cylinder compression by some poofteenth of an inch to say within production racing regulations.

    Ah, those were the good old days.

  • parkwood60

    Good read, though in my mind the most expensive thing about road racing s all the safety gear. I’ll head to work, or the store in jeans, jacket, helmet, and sneakers, but to go road racing I wouldn’t feel comfortable in the cheap off brand leathers and back protector.

    That’s the main reason I have been racing off road for years, for the price of just the safety gear for a road race I got an old dirt bike and the gear.

    • Sean Smith

      I’ve had all the gear for a few years now. I won’t ride a bike hard without all the gear. Hell, I even wear a chest protector in the canyons now. If I’m going to ride irresponsibly fast, I want to do everything I can to reduce my chances of injury or death.

      • parkwood60

        When I was your age…

        No really, when I was your age all the irresponsible riding I did in L.A. consisted of 10 hours a day of messenger hack work. Yeah, if I owned something new and rode canyons I most likely would have bought leathers by now.

        The other point I was trying to make, knowing that you live in the L.A. area, you ought to take up MX. You can get the same rush several times a month for minimal investment. CALVMX is a vintage club, but has races for every level of rider and bikes all the way up to modern. Riding with a vintage club means learning to handle low traction cornering without having do or die double and triple jumps.

    • Barry

      Safety gear is expensive, but it’s a one time expense(or close to it assuming you don’t crash a lot and you buy quality kit). Race anything semi-exotic for a full season, and the recurring maintenance costs(yeah, I’m looking at you yon temptress 748 that got me started) will cripple your bank account. Even racing a big motard, which is desperately simple unless you bought an SXV, is frightfully pricey just in tires and engine maintenance.

  • mugget

    Haha cool stuff. Damn they are small bikes though! :P

    I was at track day a couple of years ago, it was a Friday before a weekend of racing and alot of racers were there using it as practice time. Saw some of them at the pub later that night and one of them just said to me “you should race – it’s just like a track day but everyone goes at the same time.” I thought, yeah – he’s right. I did look into it, but yeah that ain’t cheap and you get even less track time than if you’re riding a track day. So I stuck with track days for now.

    Here is a question for ya Sean – compared to riding a sportsbike (600 or 1000cc) on a regular track day and racing a small capacity bike like you did – which do you prefer?

    • Sean Smith

      It’s apples to oranges man. The sensation of speed and feeling of control over a powerful motorcycle is probably 3 times greater on a weekend ride up highway 33 or the canyons in malibu. I’ve been plenty aggressive and fast on my GSXR 600 at track days, but the motivation to really get into it with someone and do everything you can to get past them just isn’t there. Besides, if you start to approach that level of fun, you usually get black flagged and course control has a talk with you.

      The competition aspect and the start line butterflies are unique to racing; no matter how fast you ride on the street or at a track day, you’re not going to get that. Unique to little bikes is the lack of fear. If you crash, you’re probably not going to get hurt and it’s not going to cost you a lot of money (if any). My XR100 has been down 6 times and I’ve yet to actually replace a part. I’ve crashed it twice on the track, and I was laughing in my helmet while sliding to a stop. My leathers have a few scuffs, but that’s kind of what leathers are for.

      If I had a lot more money, I’d be racing a 600 or a 1000, but just the tire bill to run at the front on a bike like that would break the bank.

      • mugget

        Hmmm.. interesting. Thanks for the reply. I had thought that racing just has that ‘something extra’ to make you push your limits. I’ve been wondering what I need to go faster, it seems that racing just gives you that reason. Last track day I went out first bike on track for the last session of the day. I’m sure it was my fastest as well, because I kept thinking that I’ve gotta go fast so I don’t hold up anyone behind me. No one ended up passing me. That was good enough reason for me to go fast then, seems like you just need a reason to go fast and stay focussed rather than circulating with no goal. Food for thought!

  • Barry

    There’s a lot of people that don’t consider “mini’s” real racing. They look comical with adult riders on them, and a lot of times, yeah, you’re racing against kids, but in terms of bang for the buck and just as much fun, they really are where it’s at. With an XR100, you can go all year on one set of race slicks, maybe two if you do the big endurance races. And a well-prepped CRF150 and a good rider can embarrass a mediocre rider on a 600 around a tight course. The other nice thing: they aren’t so hard to load into your truck after a full day of racing when you’re too tired to really drive home. Good for skills practice too. Any bad habits you have on a big bike will get quadrupled on a tiny bike. You’ll never be smooth on a big bike if you can’t do it on a little bike.

  • Restless Lip Syndrome

    I was a part of a team that did the 24-Hour race at that same kart track at Willow Springs last year. The bike was an XR100 with clubman bars. Racing in September meant that the daytime temps were in the 100′s and the night temps were in the 40′s. That was a challenge!