Sands cuts a corner with the Tracker. Sands promised the Tracker can now be ridden even harder now that he had added a front brake to the Tracker.
During the first three decades of the 20th century, when motorcycles were in their developmental infancy, daredevil riders contested races on wooden board tracks behind the controls of what was then cutting-edge machinery. Equipped with bikes whose names would go on to great fame, like Harley-Davidson, as well as various other brands who have long since disappeared, those board-track racers could never have comprehended racing a bike which cranked out a mind-boggling 200 horsepower. Enter custom builder Rolands Sands and roadracing legend Kenny Roberts, who teamed up to create the MotoGP-powered KRV5 Tracker.
Board-track racers were the MotoGP stars of their day, risking life and limb as they railed around their wooden arenas in some cases just cresting triple-digit speeds. Sands seeks to pay tribute to that era with his KRV5 Tracker, but does so with a very contemporary spin by utilizing the V-5 motor which powered Roberts’ MotoGP bike from 2002-2005. Considering the mighty MotoGP mill generates 10 times the power of the 20-horsepower Model T car (contemporary to the original board-track racers), it’s not quite fair to call the KRV5 Tracker a true throwback to the board trackers of yesteryear, but Sands’ intent was to capture the spirit of the nostalgic era with his signature racing twist.
“I’ve been wanting to build a board-tracker for years,” said Sands. “I wanted my tracker to be built in the real essence of board-track racers of the past. The MotoGP engine let me do that.”
The story of how a MotoGP powerplant fell into Sands’ lap traces back to the 2005 USGP at Laguna Seca. Kenny Roberts, a three-time world champion, racing legend, and owner of MotoGP’s Team Roberts, and his team manager, Chuck Askland, discussed the possibility of utilizing the Team Roberts KRV5 engine in a non-MotoGP context. Sands’ media exposure and racing background pegged him as the leading candidate, and a handshake between Roberts and Sands sealed the deal, with Sands charged to come up with a radical KRV5-design by the time the USGP rolled back into town.
“They were looking to do something cool with their MotoGP engine,” said the 32-year-old designer, “they saw me on TV and Kenny had known me from racing, so it made sense.”
Of course, Sands himself is no stranger to the race track, with a racing career which stretched from 1994 to 2002. Sands hung up the professional leathers once the physical toll had become too great, but didn’t leave racing without 9 career victories in the AMA 250GP series to his credit. He also claimed the 1998 250GP championship in which his leading rival was none other than Roberts’ own son, Kurtis Roberts (one of KR’s racing offspring, the other being Kenny Roberts Junior, also a former world champion and the current Team Roberts rider).
Built as his homage to the board-track racer era, Sands’ Tracker design utilizes the might of the five-cylinder KRV5 MotoGP powerplant.
t was insane building a bike for Kenny. I was very excited,” said the former AMA champ on his getting tapped out by a legend like Roberts, which was a validation of sorts of his off-the-track success as a designer. “It said a lot about the audience I was effecting with my building style to have him take notice.”
The engineering gem at the heart of Sands’ Tracker, the KRV5’s history is itself an interesting side story. Looking for a MotoGP engine design as he made the leap from two-stroke to four, Roberts borrowed the V-5 concept in 2002 from Honda’s dominating five-cylinder RC211V. Dubbed the KRV5, Team Roberts campaigned it for three years but in 2005 changed direction by utilizing a KTM-built V-4. In a bitter split, KTM bailed out mid-season as Team Roberts’ engine supplier, but Roberts persevered by returning to his original design and the KRV5 finished out the ’05 season.
The 990cc KRV5 has yet to be dynoed by Sands, but he promises it produces at least 200 horsepower. The use of lightweight carbon fiber, titanium, and aluminum is abundant, and the KRV5 comes with modern racing goodies like a slipper clutch. As a MotoGP-spec engine, the five-piston design represents a pinnacle of motorcycle racing technology. When housed in the Tracker it makes the powerplants of its board-track predecessors look downright Paleolithic.
As might be imagined, dropping in a five-cylinder MotoGP engine presented some challenges not found on a typical build. Sands cited the biggest issue with the engine was “getting the gas tank to look right and getting all the lines to blend in together.” Another issue was the wiring, as Sands and his crew had to eliminate the motor’s complex telemetry. MotoGP-spec parts like Deutsch connectors still make up some of the electrical components on the KRV5, and the engine’s high-tech nature is best summed up by Sands on his spec sheet when he describes the ignition with one word – “complicated.”
Also complicated looking, but very trick, are the engine’s five hand-built titanium exhaust pipes. Sands’ original intent was to create an in-house titanium exhaust, but instead he opted to cut up an experimental set of KR pipes and then piece them back together until they looked right. Another piece of Team Roberts material to find a place on the Tracker is the radiator, which Sands salvaged off of the progenitor to the KRV5, Roberts’ 500cc two-stroke MotoGP machine.
The chassis retains lines similar to its stylistic board-track progenitors and keeps the rigid rear of its forebears. The customary boardtrack girder front end, however, was swapped out for black anodized forks sourced from a GSX-R1000. Sporting a 24-degree rake angle, the forks are locked into place with triple trees fabricated by Sands’ own company, Roland Sands Design (RSD). One component which dials in the classic spirit of the board-track style are the turned down handlebars (also RSD designed and built) as well as the vintage looking Bill Wall Leather custom seat.
The bike’s foot controls are sourced from Sands’ RSD company and his parents’ Performance Machine shop (the two companies sharing a complementary relationship, with Sands designing the PM line and PM manufacturing most of the RSD products). Also coming out of the RSD garage are the Tracker’s Contrast Cut Judge wheels, with a 23-inch front with 3.5-inch rim matching a 21-inch rear with a fat 9-inch rim. As for brakes, well, at the USGP unveiling up front there were none, with the rear wheel sporting a PM Contour bracket and radial-mount brake.
The ultra-compact KRV5 motor, which generates at least 200 hp, was developed by Kenny Roberts when Team Roberts made the jump from a 500cc two-stroke to 990cc four-stroke.
If the lone single binder out back sounds a bit crazy, consider the original board trackers had no brakes at all. Still, the solitary rear stopper combined with 200 horsepower motor would make for some interesting street riding to say the least.
“It was built as a concept for a track that doesn’t exist,” said the California native, “that being the case it sucks having no front brakes.”
The lack of a front binder was problematic, as Sands rides all his creations and expects them to live up to his high-performance racing rep. To remedy things, Sands just recently mounted a front brake. Overall, Sands is pleased with the Tracker’s performance, as is Mr. Roberts.
“I just put a front brake on it, now I can ride it hard,” said the two-time Biker Build-Off participant. “The ride is really incredible. It turns good and has a very solid feel. You can lean it over till it runs off the edge of the rear tire, which isn’t quite as far as I’d like to lean it, but super fun. Kenny dug it… he wants to ride it on the track. It’s fast as sh*@t… the front wheel will not stay on the ground out of a corner.”
Tying everything together on the Tracker is a fantastic paint job by Sands’ standby painter, Chris Wood from Airtrix. The color scheme features Army Metallic Green which encloses flat tan flake bodywork panels with an RSD pattern inlay. The paint job also includes a classy looking Team Roberts logo on the sides of the aluminum fuel tank. As is the cliche with many great paint jobs, photos just don’t do it justice.
“Kenny told me to do whatever I wanted as long as the KR logo was on the tank,” said Sands of the Tracker’s paint scheme. “I came up with all the graphics, logos and patterns, and the master Chris Wood turned it into a reality. Chris is by far the best painter I’ve ever seen.”
From frame fabrication to starting the bike took Sands and his crew about two months of hard work. Rodney Aquilar, Jason Tiedeken, and Christian Cogninni all pitched in on a hectic build to help Sands finish before the 2006 USGP deadline, where the Tracker made its pit-lane debut.
Roberts was one of the many people present for the Tracker’s 2006 USGP unveiling. (For 2006 Roberts cozied up with Honda to get his hands on the RC211V V-5 motor and then placed it in the Team Roberts-built chassis to create the new KR211V machine. The revitalized team logged its best results ever with Honda power and Roberts’ son KRJR at the controls.) It was plain to see that King Kenny approved of Sands’ labors.
Debuting at the 2006 USGP at Laguna Seca, Sands generated a lot of attention with his board-track design. From frame fabrication to starting the bike took Sands and his crew about two months of hard work.
“He was really pumped on the outcome,” said Sands on Roberts’ reaction to the finished Tracker. “He said he couldn’t believe we finished it. He was even more impressed when we started it for him – he never thought we’d get it running.”
Also on hand for the Laguna Seca debut was Sands’ buddy and sometimes Biker Build-Off competitor, Jesse Rooke, who was spending quite a bit of time crouched down and getting a closer look at his colleague’s handiwork.
“We for sure motivate each other,” said Sands on Rooke’s influence. “We are always competing at stuff weather it be girls, bikes or going fast on a track. It’s all good. I think we influence each other quite a bit; I see some of my style rubbing off on him and vice versa.”
When asked whether his racing sensibilities rub off on his projects, Sands summed up his designing style as thus: “I think it’s just natural. When I look at a bike I always try to figure out how to make it work and look better at the same time. So I think my style is just that, form following function. That’s my look with a little eclectic ’70s drag-race flavor and a touch of vintage class.”
There’s a novelty and sense of history in a concept that intertwines the old and new to create something altogether different and unique. In that regard, the KRV5 Tracker stands apart from its custom peers and is another testament to Sands’ maverick style, leaving us to wonder what new creations will creep out of the RSD garage next.
“I’ve got some stuff cooking with a few manufacturers that want concept bikes,” promised Sands. “We’ll have some sick stuff coming up for sure. I’m going to continue to grow a killer product line and really grow the bike kit side of things. It’s an area I see as wide open and I’ve got a ton of ideas about how to make stock bikes look bitchin.”
Well, we can’t wait to see how they turn out.
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