Out of the Canyons & Onto the Track
Welcome to the fastest road in the west.
We really are here for you at MO. We review bikes and dispense advice, not just because it's fun and allows us to bask in the radiance of our own presence, but also to repay, in a small way, our karmic debt for just being able to do it in the first place. Even though we say it often and loudly, "There is simply no substitute for track time, when learning how to ride a high-performance sport motorcycle." On a race track, all of the traffic is going the same way, there isn't any gravel, diesel fuel, or dirt at the apex, and there is generally an ambulance within 1 minute of you, should something go wrong. Not only is there is a wealth of talent around to help you improve your riding ability, you'll also meet plenty of like-minded people, which is the best part of it for most of us.
"There is simply no substitute for track time, when learning how to ride a high-performance sport motorcycle."
For the first installment in this series, MO recruited two long time subscribers and message board participants, Steven Verschoor and Pete Brissette. We sent Steven to attend a Friday track day at Willow Springs International Raceway (WSIR), near Rosamond CA. We also arranged to for Pete to join Steven on Saturday and stay through the entire weekend, while attending the Willow Springs Motorcycle Club (WSMC) "New Racer's School." Pete and Steven are both extremely responsible and experienced street riders and were known to us not only through the MO message boards, but also from having lent a hand with various shootouts over the past year. They are both good hands and we think you'll enjoy their stories. Interestingly, both Pete and Steven rely on motorcycles as their sole means of motorized transportation. Neither of them even owns a car! Steven rides his BMW to work daily in LA, and Pete works as a courier on his Suzuki Bandit-S 1200. Both are hard corps, highly skilled street riders. Between them, Pete and Steven have logged well over a hundred thousand motorcycle miles, and were just the type of folks we're looking for to explain to you why it's a good idea to get yourself to a track, no matter what your street experience is.
What follows are the WSMC stories of Steven and Pete, which we wove together into a single narrative.
Perhaps the most important of the WSMC's graduation criteria, is that students must be able to post a sub-2 minute lap time during Saturday practice, before being allowed to earn their WSMC novice race license and race on Sunday. Not everyone meets this lap time requirement, which is indicative of the anti hype, no-BS, safety-first approach that WSMC takes to the sport. No amount of money, fame, prestige, or entourage gets you on the grid to race at WSMC without a sub 2:00 lap time. We are big fans of this approach. For a cost of $350 for three days, it's indisputably one of the greatest bargains in motorcycling.
Steven Verschoor: I've been riding for about two and a half years, and I have about 45,000 miles under my belt: mostly canyon and commuting miles, plus a handful of long-weekend tours. I ride a BMW R1150R "standard". It's my only vehicle, and I'm very happy with it.
I was a little nervous, yet was also thrilled with anticipation. I'd never been to Willow Springs, but I'd read about it - almost twice as many right-hand turns as lefts. That made me uneasy - I'm better at lefts. I'd also read that Willow Springs is demanding. You have to lap less than two minutes if you want to be able to race. There was a sale at Cycle Gear, and I got a nice Frank Thomas two-piece suit for a fair price, because I wanted to look sharp for this auspicious occasion.
Pete Brissette: "Motorcycle" and "Racing" are two words I didn't think I'd ever put together in the same breath, when associated with my own name, let alone as a way to describe an activity that would become my new favorite pastime. However, thanks to MO, I'm now a card-carrying member of one of the most respected race clubs in the country. Pete Brissette-WSMC Novice #618. Hard evidence of a fantasy realized.
In spite of my long-standing desire to test myself on a racetrack, I had great trepidation about this whole deal. Perhaps, it was the morphing of a vague dream into reality. Or maybe it was when I decided to use my sole means of daily transportation as my race bike. The thought of my only bike tumbling across the Mojave Desert at warp-speed, made me desirous of much safer things. Nevertheless, my bike it was, and hopefully you will be the beneficiary of my experience.
My personal bike is a 1998 Suzuki Bandit-S 1200, with approximately 56K on the clock. For many of those miles, I've used it as a messenger bike in Los Angeles -my primary means of putting rice and beans on the table for the past eight years- It's a little tricked-out, but nothing compared to most of the modified Bandits on the prowl. Most of my mods are to make the bike more livable for everyday riding. However, in addition to work, I do enjoy a sporting weekend or two in the canyons of Southern California.
Friday - New Riders Track Day
I want to stress how easy it was to prep my bike for Friday's track day. The whole job took 20 minutes, and that's counting BS-ing with the guys the whole time. I walked the bike through tech inspection, and was all set to go to the WSMC track intro school.
Race-Prepping a Street Bike
"Imagine you're coming around a corner at full tilt and there's a corner worker dramatically waving a flag at you. You'd feel pretty stupid if you didn't know what it meant."
If you're going to venture onto the safety of racetrack, whether for actual competition or a simple track day, you're going to have to make a few temporary modifications to your scoot. For casual track days; you'll just have to track prep your bike. Generally, this involves taping glass, removing mirrors and side stands. For racing however, you will have to do a much more thorough "race" prep. While "track" prepping requires few tools and may be accomplished in as little as an hour, "race" prepping is a much more difficult and involved undertaking, requires more serious tools and permanent modifications to your motorcycle. It will probably take a full day, the first time you do it.
In addition to taping glass and removing mirrors and side stands, race prepping involves finding a way to contain leaked fuel, oil or water and safety wiring anything else that twists, spins or can vibrate loose. Some race organizations will allow the use of epoxy or sealant, in place of safety wiring on difficult to drill fasteners. To "race-prep", you are going to need a drill press and a small bit (or a hand drill and several small bits -Sean), safety wire, safety wire pliers, and good deal of patience.
The following list is what is required to pass tech at WSMC. However, the requirements are similar to what is required race organizations nationwide:
Headlight lenses, brake light lenses, tail light lenses and speedometer lens must be either removed or completely taped. Lights should be disabled so that they do not work. All plugs or fittings with oil or water behind them must be securely fastened and safety wired. RTV silicone sealant or yellow 3M weather-strip may be used when it's impractical to wire or drill fasteners. All oil, fuel and water lines require positive clamping, i.e., no wire clamps or slip fitting. Clamps on pressure oil, fuel and water lines must be safety wired. A catch tank must be provided for all breather hoses venting the cam box, top end, crankcase, primary drive case, transmission, carburetor(s) and oil tank(s) Liquid cooled engines must use either plain water or water with a water wetter type compounds added, and vent into a catch tank. No antifreeze. Drum brake anchor arms and disk brake caliper mounting fasteners must be safety wired or secured with mechanical locking devices Footrests (and kick starters) may fold but must not fold accidentally. Footrests, if covered by rubber, must have rubber securely safety wired. Passenger footrests should be removed.
Drive chain master links of the clip type must have the clip pointing in the direction of chain travel and safety wired or silicone sealant applied. Most racers mark their master links with a spot of red paint to make it easily visible during tech inspection. All axle nuts must be safety wired, C-clip devices on the axle it must be safety wired, and all axle pinch bolts must be safety wired. All motorcycles must be equipped with a working engine kill switch accessible without removing hands from the handgrips Frames must be free of cracks and kinks and all frame welds must be sound. Some race organizations will require an oil catch pan. Racing bodies generally incorporate this feature but Martin made one from a paint roller tray, that he bought at Home Depot for his naked 600 cc thumper.