Words: Quentin Wilson
years now I have dreamed of road racing motorcycles. My main opposition
in achieving this dream has been the constant, large infusions of
cash that it takes to pursue such an adventure. My initial idea
was to take my existing 600cc streetbike, tart it up with all kinds
of go-fast equipment, and race it. As the years went by and the
functionality of having a solid streetbike became apparent, I lost
interest in this idea. So I went for the cheapest possible motorcycle
racing that I could find, the Yamaha YSR50. These 50cc beasts are
the best tools for learning how to use momentum to carry through
a corner, how to outbrake competitors, and basic bike set-up.
After a season of doing this, I became weary of riding the YSR. The chances of injury were eclipsing the all ready fading fun factor. I needed a machine that can catapult me to fast in less than five seconds. I needed a machine that could outbrake an F-18 making an aircraft carrier landing. I needed a machine that rivals racecar G-forces mid-corner. I needed a machine that is easy to work on. I needed a machine that was relatively easy on tires. I needed a Honda RS125R.
My youth is disappearing faster than I can say "Geritol." Being surrounded by 40-somethings desperately clinging to their childhood dreams while riding 50cc motorcycles on go-kart tracks was not helping my mindset. The next step in roadracing is the 125 class, a class that is part of the World Grand Prix championships, but not too popular in the power-hungry USA. There is enough of a following for these wee-beasties that the most Club Racing Associations have classes that cater to them. With the 125s, which are water-cooled two-stroke singles, they group 500cc and below multi-cylinder four-strokes. The 125s dominate because of their lack of weight and ability to corner faster than their four-stroke equivalents.
The same club that supported my YSR habit also happens to have a 125 class when it races at the Streets of Willow Springs. This is a tight course that is an absolute blast whether in a Dodge Viper or on a 600cc streetbike. So I decided to make my debut at this course with this organization. $40 for a license, $25 for Saturday practice and $35 for one race on Sunday nets me the most bang for the buck of any racing organization that I know of.
Getting the bike ready for the track was an adventure in and of itself. I purchased the bike used from a private party. He had not raced it, but its previous owner had beaten the crap out of it. I replaced the gearbox oil and coolant, re-safety wired all important nuts and bolts, cleaned and polished all of the easy-to-get-to aluminum, lubed all the cables, greased all the pivot points, tightened up the steering head bearings, and bead-blasted the metal clutch plates. Doing all of this routine maintenance not only insured that everything was in proper working order, it also familiarized me with the bike.
On raceday, I purchased some race-gas and mixed some castor-based pre-mix oil and set to running the motor in. Right away I noticed my jetting was not far off, and decided not to screw with it too much in order to make the day a bit simpler. Jetting any engine, especially a 14,000-rpm two-stroke is black magic. Too lean and you blow the engine up; too rich and you risk fouling plugs and poor running.
The first two laps were just insane. I had never been on anything like it. In order to get it going, you must rev the engine to over 7,000rpm and slip the clutch until you hit at least 20mph. Once moving, any blip of the throttle nets forceful acceleration anywhere above 7,000 rpm, and it positively screams when it reaches its 13,500rpm power-peak. This bike is legitimately faster than my 80hp 600. I had to pit immediately just to collect my thoughts. I immediately began to adjust the suspension. It had been set up for a 220lb racer, and I weigh 140 with leathers on.
There is no doubt about it this motorcycle turns better than anything that I have previously experienced. It goes directly where you point it, and tightening up a line in mid-corner does not upset the balance one bit, if anything the bike wants more. Getting into the throttle coming out of a corner only nets in acceleration, no slipping, just a bit of bucking and a wag of the handlebars as the front wheel skims the tarmac. A few clicks of the steering damper and a few turns of the different compression and rebound damping adjusters and those problems are alleviated.
While in the pits contemplating not only my new purchase, but also how I am going to handle it in a racing environment, I realize just what I had bought. It is not a compromised streetbike that was initially designed to tackle urban highways. It is not marked with bureaucratic red-tape inspired safety equipment. It has no room for lights, or even a charging system that could support them. It has a 415 sized chain that would not hold up 1,000 miles on a streetbike. The wheels weigh next to nothing, and a medium sized pothole could render them useless. The riding position is uncomfortable unless you are pushing 8/10ths on a racetrack. The clutch is hard to manage, the power is abrupt and all at high rpms, the shift pattern is upside-down. There is no cockpit to mention; just foam mounted 14,000rpm tachometer and a digital temp gauge. The clip-on handlebars are about a foot apart and angled back and out of the wind. The tank is long and skinny and only holds around two gallons. There is no kickstand so the bike has no way to hold itself up without a stand or a wall.
I have finally found what I have been looking for, a purpose built racebike that can take me to speeds that no other bike could for the amount of money involved. When I do crash this bike, and when riding anywhere near 10/10ths it will happen, it is not 400lbs tumbling across the earth tearing itself up in the process. It is 150lbs of made-to-crash aluminum and fiberglass that is almost made to flip and roll without major damage. This lack of weight is also a help when it comes to all out cornering speed, giving the slicks less of a load to carry.
That fading fun factor is now back in full color. I am now experiencing withdrawal symptoms by not being able to ride her, and writing this article has not helped! It has given me a good rush that will tide me over until the next raceday. One ill side effect of riding this bike; I feel that I need to give my CBR600 a tune-up!