Bart Hayes Interview – Powersport Grafx

July 6, 2009
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
Off-Road Editor|Articles|Articles RSS|Blog |Blog Posts |Blog RSS

Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA's Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn't matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

David Knight  XC1 Pro  - Snowshoe GNCC
David Knight showed up at the Snowshoe GNCC with a completely new ride and cleaned house on the competition. Bart Hayes was his partner in crime.

David Knight is the most dominant off-road racer in recent history. After an illustrious career with KTM motorcycles, the Isle of Man native jumped ship to the fledgling BMW off-road racing program to help develop the radical BMW G450X. That didn’t pan out and the two parties announced their separation only two weeks ago. Within a matter of days, Knight was looking to get back on two wheels and begin the climb to his regular position atop the podium. Considering he is the reigning two-time GNCC champion, heading back to the USA sounded like a pretty good place to start. Throw in the fact that the Snowshoe GNCC was offering a $50,000 purse and suddenly he was making ticket reservations. The only problem was that he had nothing to ride. That trivial detail was taken care of by calling Bart Hayes, owner of Powersport Grafx and the duo set out to build a race-winning machine.

We saw the familiar (or rather unfamiliar considering he’s been MIA over in Europe all season) Number 1 plate running up and down the backside of the pro pits. We tracked Knighter and his strange machine like a West Virginia bloodhound and found his bike under the tent. After ogling the Kawasaki KX450F, we chatted with Hayes and got the skinny on Knight’s situation.

(Ed Note: Knight went on to win the XC1 division and $21,000 in prize money. Read the Snowshoe GNCC Bike Results to see how.)

MotoUSA: Tell me a little about David Knight and how you got hooked up with him. Since then, what’s the process been like?

Bart Hayes - Snowshoe GNCC
David Knight turned to Hayes when he needed support in the States. The duo was pitted out of Hayes’ RidePG van.

Bart Hayes: David and I have been friends for a long time and we’ve always talked about doing some things together. I met him about five years ago at Last Man Standing and we became friends. He knew of my involvement with KTM. We ran the satellite team for KTM for several years and have been quite active with WP suspension testing and have been around motorcycles all our lives. Not to belay the fact that our graphics company is very involved with off-road motorcycling.

When his deal with BMW came about and he decided he wanted to come to America after they decided to part ways, we put this thing together in a span of about two days.

MotoUSA: What was the driving factor behind choosing this bike? Talk about how it came together, I see that it has WP suspension – on a Kawasaki that’s unheard of.

BH: Well, the reason for Kawi is quite simple. That was where the contingency was coming from. David was contractually obligated to BMW and wanted to stay above board with them so he couldn’t really talk to other manufacturers. In two days you can’t put together a deal to ride a bike for a race the next week and expect to have parts and everything else. So with the year David had, he kind of wanted to do his own thing for one race and we just helped facilitate that.

MotoUSA: So this is a bike that he went out and purchased and put everything on?

BH: That’s correct. I think he bought the bike Tuesday (June 23) and we started calling different people for parts that we knew we wanted. The WP thing, David has been working with WP for a long time and I’ve got experience with WP and have good ties with the factory. We knew that without a doubt WP has the best components, so we came with WP and in two days of testing we just changed clickers and fork springs a couple of times and that was it. The bike was really good but we tested in North Carolina and probably got about five real hours of bike time in and we think we’ve got the bike dialed.

Bart Hayes - Snowshoe GNCC
Neither rider or mechanic had any experience to speak of with Kawasaki motorcycles. The learning curve was steep, but the end result proved that these two work well together and know how to get the most out of minimal testing.

MotoUSA: So what are you doing here now? What are these last minute changes you guys are up to?

BH: Well, he just wanted to feel the other ignition maps, fuel-injection maps. Neither of us has a lot of experience with Kawasaki but they do have the programming available and we’ve got the tools to do it (EFI tuning) with. I’ve got experience with programming and mapping on the Husaberg side and kind of know my way around. We downloaded the software this morning and right now we’ve been adjusting fuel maps.

He wanted to see if we could get a little more torque into the power delivery and make it so the bike can be a little more rideable. David doesn’t like a whole lot of hit, he likes a real smooth, flat powerband. That’s going to be equally as important up here because there’s a lot of loose rock, uphills, downhills – you don’t want something that’s trying to rip your arms out of their sockets.

MotoUSA: The Kawi will do that!

BH: Oh yeah! So far I’m pretty impressed. I have no experience with the Kawasaki, just with KTM and WP, but I guess it’s got two wheels and it seems that in testing we worked really well together. That’s probably the most important thing, the ability to communicate.

MotoUSA: So did you approach him or did he come find you? When did he actually get back in the States?

BH: I guess he called me Wednesday (June 17) and said “I think this is going to happen.” Thursday he called and said “it is happening and I’ll be there Tuesday (June 23).” So we formulated the plan from there. We were on the phone two or three times a day – “we’ve go this or we need to try that.” It was mostly him. We (Powersports Graphics) got a truck and a trailer and a place to pit and the tools to do it with. David’s worked out of our shop before and we’ve worked together before on things here and there. It just kind of clicked.

MotoUSA: What are some of the specific things about the bike that are unique to it?

BH: Of course, we’ve talked about WP. They’ve been working on some linkage stuff for awhile now and we knew that the components were proven and knew how to work with them. WP has been a big help. Pirelli is a big player in this. They’ve given us three or four different tire compounds to try out. Renthal came through with some stuff, Acerbis came through with some stuff. Of course he has his regular sponsors like Moose, Alpinestars and Scott. Hinson really helped us because we knew that if there was a weak point with the Kawi it was the clutches. I’ve learned absolutely more about Kawasaki clutches in the last three days than I ever care to know!

Other than that it’s all about making the rider comfortable. Handlebar bend, handlebar position, proper grips… The seat, we spent two or three hours getting the profile of the seat correct. Guts was able to send us some foams and seat covers and that was a big help. Of course, adorned with those beautiful Powersports Graphics (laughs). TM Designworks, we knew we had to have their chain guide. I hope I’m not leaving anyone out but that’s the gist of it. We knew we wanted to try some different triple clamps so we bought some triple clamps with 22mm offset as opposed to the 24mm. It was a lot of things to do. We probably worked 26 hours on Wednesday!

Bart Hayes - Snowshoe GNCC
Hayes had to work overtime to get enough support and the proper aftermarket components to meet Knight’s standards.

MotoUSA: What are the plans as far as racing goes? Is this the only race or will there be more?

BH: From David’s standpoint, he’s completely up in the air. He doesn’t know what color bike he’s going to be riding, doesn’t know really what he’s going to be doing. He’s got an idea of what he’s going to do but he’d certainly be better to address that than I am. He may do the Triple Crown for EnduroCross, I know he wants to do the British Championships, I know he wants to do WEC. There’s rumor that Red Bull is going to put together a series of extreme races like Last Man Standing, Romaniacs, things like that. You know, I think what he’s looking to do is get his mojo working again and get back up on the top box.

MotoUSA: How high are his spirits going into this thing (Snowshoe GNCC)?

BH: He’s probably about as enthusiastic as I’ve ever seen him. He was very serious in his testing and, like I said, that was really refreshing even though it was hard work. We worked well together and it was really nice working with him. I learned some things and even he learned some things, and that’s what it’s all about. He’s got a really good positive attitude and I think he’s happy to be back in the US, even if you watch BBC they make fun of us over here a lot. David likes it over here. He even talked about moving to North Carolina.

MotoUSA: Nice, well good luck to you this weekend and maybe you’ll cash in on some of that money!

BH: Yeah, thanks!