Screenwriter/director Ben Younger completes the final leg of his track odyssey, turning his Suzuki GSX-R750 into a full-fledged track project project bike.
It’s fall on the East Coast and The Experiment is finally over. I’ve completed the task I set out for last May. I’ve taken a bone stock GSXR-750 and slowly turned it into a fire-breathing scalpel; honing my own skills in the process. This is the last of three articles detailing the increasingly confusing and most recently dangerous journey this has turned out to be.
We left off in Calabogie, Canada where I had made a breakthrough of sorts. You can link to that future Pulitzer here at the Ben Younger Track Experiment Part 2. I was eager to get back to NJMP and see how my new-found confidence in the bike and my ability would translate. First, I had to make the last of the modifications. This last set were focused on power and weight.
The final mods made were as follows:
“Those welds are really nice. Carbon fiber weave looks tight. Now go get me a chew toy.”
Which would you rather take to prom?
Shiny, happy headers
Bazzaz fuel injection/Z-AFM/traction control/quick shifter – $1,500 (3 different units)
Yoshimura TRC Stainless Steel Full Exhaust System – $1,149
Full Spectrum Power battery – $260
K&N racing air filter – $79
I returned from Canada to upstate New York to find a few important boxes lying on my front stoop. The kind of boxes that make a motorcycle racer’s pulse accelerate. Those above-mentioned names that we automatically associate with speed…
The exhaust went first. I knew I could manage this menial task and that it would give me the psychological momentum I would need for some of the more complicated installs. An exhaust is mechanically obvious and the Yosh did its part by fitting perfectly. At this point in the game Yoshimura is to Suzuki what AMG is to Mercedes. The build quality is so high everything feels OEM. I passed on the titanium system because the added cost didn’t seem worthwhile at the level we’re riding at. We gave up a little bit on weight but the cost savings is substantial. That being said, I do miss that intoxicating mix of blue and silver the titanium headers turn when heated. As Grandma used to say, “You’ll live.”
Next up was the air filter. That was easy. Five minutes. Done. For anyone who has never taken off an airbox before I’m happy to admit it was my first time as well. It’s nothing. Pulling the intake manifold off should theoretically take just a tiny bit more skill, yet I managed, somehow, to completely blow that (Explanation forthcoming).
The lithium-ion battery from Full Spectrum went next. I chose the Pulse P2 model which has the same terminals we’re all used to from a standard battery. What no one is used to is a battery that weighs 1.6 pounds. That’s 7 pounds less than the stock acid brick. At $260 I simply can’t think of a single mod that one can make for the money that saves as much weight. I’m filing this under “must have.” The install was as simple as turning two screws. The one issue is that it’s so small there’s a lot of extra room in the battery box. Digging back into Grandma’s archives again: “Good problem to have.” I made small cardboard buffers out of red gaffer’s tape and the box the Pulse came in to keep things locked up. It looks snazzy, if you ask me.
New air filter: “Ahhh, I can breathe!!” New battery: “I’m little but I’m strong. I’m also
severely anorexic.” All good. It’s working for me.
Last to go was the Bazzaz. Wiring makes me nervous, but when I opened the Bazzaz box I was immediately comforted by the Apple-like packaging of the ZFi-TC system. It was like removing an iPhone from its angelic, white box. I can do this. Then I lifted the unit up to gain access to the wiring harness below. “What the f*!# is this?” My dog looked up at me. It was a rat’s nest underneath that beautiful facade. What started as an Apple store ended up as a dumpster behind Radio Shack.
So there I was, standing in the driveway looking at this mess of wires. I could feel myself turning. My confidence leaking like the old air mattress in my trailer. Another 10 seconds and it was over. I turned heel and went inside. You can just bang on an exhaust pipe until it fits. Not so much on a state-of-the-art traction control system. I called my buddy Carl who has actually installed two of these systems. “How did you figure out that mess?” He told me to go back outside,
I was excited. what can I say? Did i overdo it a litte? Probably. Was a baby seal harmed in the process? No. So back off.
unfurl the wiring harness and place it over the sub-frame. “It’ll match right up. You’ll see.” I don’t like being told what to do so I told Carl to go to hell, hung up then went back outside and gave it a shot. He was right. Everything lined up. I placed the unit in the tail section and the wires just magically ended up at exactly the points they were meant to terminate. It’s all plug n’ play, too, so that means you’re not really “wiring” anything. You’re just hearing one satisfying click after another as you plug each lead in. I have to tip my hat to Suzuki for making all the plugs different sizes and shapes. This makes it virtually impossible to plug into the wrong place. To be honest, the hardest part of the entire job is getting the stock plugs off of their connectors. Unless you’ve got hydraulic fingers, prepare to use a screwdriver and some wildly inappropriate language.
One of the things that set the Bazzaz unit apart from its competitors is that it has leads for both the upper and lower injectors, allowing much more control over the fueling process. To access the lower injectors, however, requires removal of the intake manifold. There are two screws which act on pipe clamps that seal the manifold to the velocity stacks. I unscrewed them…all the way. I know.
So, let’s review how a pipe clamp works: unscrew just enough so that it’s no longer clamping. Sometimes I get hyper-focused. I see a screw and just keep turning. The nut, which is small enough to be measured in millimeters (that joke will land later), falls into the darkest recesses of the engine case. Miraculously, with the help of a flashlight, I find it hiding in a corner like a scared child. I, of course, don’t have one of those magnetic retriever wands. I passed one at Sears a few weeks ago. It was pretty – bendy neck, flashlight built into the head, nice grip. I held it in my hand, lusted after it then proudly set it down, even adding a comment which the gods were certainly acting upon now – “Seriously, dude, when the hell are you ever gonna use that?”
I ended up rigging a piece of safety wire with some tape around the end to snag the little guy. And it only took an hour and a half! Once all was said and done I turned the ignition key on. Seeing the blue light illuminate on the Bazzaz unit at the end of install was like conducting nuclear fusion in Los Alamos. My back was killing me, but I had won. I made friends with electricity.
The satisfaction of installing that system was off the charts for me. I’m just not good at this kind of thing and it felt great to have some success in it. Interestingly, I don’t think I would have pushed through had I not committed to write this article. Joseph at Bazzaz swore up and down I’d be able to figure it out, but that didn’t matter when I opened the box. Only a publishing deadline and the urging of a friend I secretly think I’m smarter than could get me to budge. And that’s a problem. Overcoming this brought me to a very important realization.
Irrational fear of…
I have talked to enough riders to say that a good number of us have a fear of some part of their bike. Fear is maybe a strong word. Aversion is probably better. Last month at the track I met a group of riders who simply did not want to measure hot pressures of their tires. They prescribed to the “set ‘em and forget ‘em” mantra. It’s 30/30 before the first session and then don’t think about it again until the next time the bike comes off the trailer. It’s irrational. It has no basis. Hot pressures are inarguably a better measurement and provide both more performance and a wider safety margin. Yet, neither of those were compelling enough reasons for these guys. It doesn’t make sense. But I get it.
It took you a while to understand that street pressures were dangerously high for track day work. So you’ve finally got your cold pressures down and the idea of changing to hot pressures just seems like adding another variable. They say familiarity breeds contempt, but I would say it breeds complacency.
My aversion is for measuring ride height. I’ve read stories in magazines about how race tires have different profiles from street tires. This effectively changes the ride height and, therefore, the handling of your bike. We’re meant to compensate for it. It all seems so complicated. The weird measuring tape in millimeters (I visit Europe. I don’t live there). Where do I measure from? What inflation should the tires be at? But there are answers to these questions and they’re not that complicated. The point is that we get comfortable wherever we’re at and that isn’t helping anybody. Keep challenging your technical prowess.
Wiring was another one of those aversions for me. It’s not mechanical. I can’t see how it works so I’m gonna go ahead and be afraid of it. But I pushed past it and got the Bazzaz harness hooked up and running. Once you do the thing you have the irrational fear of your brain goes, ‘Oh, that was it…? Yeah, I’ll let you do that from now on.’
One of only two shots I got of her before we tussled.
You can almost just see the caliper bolts ready to make a break for it.
Is there a Doctor in the house?
The bike was now good-to-go, down to the paint. If you live in the Tri-State area and you want your bike painted by someone who actually cares about the sport then go see Christian at C&M Autobody in Middletown. He is an avid motorcyclist himself and paints the Celtic Racing team’s bikes. They’re Irish which, I guess, explains (not really) the disgusting kale green they chose to swath the bikes in. Hey, there’s no accounting for taste (I disagree). But if you want to see what the man is capable of when given the reins look at the beauty on these pages. I always loved McQueen’s Le Mans and the GT-40’s painted in the Gulf livery. Japanese bike graphics seem stuck in 1987. We went retro and the result is stunning. Christian actually sourced the paint from Ford to get the exact colors. That’s the kind of guy you want working on your bike.
So, Labor Day weekend is just around the corner and I’m ready. The plan is to do a shakedown of the Bazzaz system before the next NJMP event to make sure everything works right. There’s an STT day at Monticello Motor Club which I sign up for. But just before the weekend Hurricane Earl comes to town and the forecast is for 15-foot surf on Friday. No reason I can’t get some tasty waves in before we go riding. Right? Wrong. I paddled out and immediately a monster set came through and rang my bell. The fin of my board hit me just above the ankle and cut me. Deep. My buddy Ilya, a fellow racer and surfer who I slapped in Part 2 of this experiment, also happens to be an E.R. doctor. Good friend to have with you. No more slapping. I asked him if I needed stitches. He looked at the gash. “I can see your tibia.” I guess that’s a yes. So now we’re in the E.R. at his hospital in Brooklyn where he’d just completed a 12-hour graveyard shift, and he’s stitching me up wearing swim trunks and a straw hat telling me to shut up and take it. Good start to the weekend. It gets better.
I rest up for a day then meet my friends at the track on Sunday morning. Monticello is a new track that, while not the safest, is quite beautiful and, more importantly, 23 miles from my house. Hard to resist. They built it for cars which explains why it’s wrapped in Armco. That being said, if you ride at 80% you’ll be alright. They are planning on making it more bike-friendly and I know many people that look forward to that. It has the potential for greatness.
She cleans up nice, I promise.
All that pumping at the lever finally brought the pads together. Too little. Too late.
We set up camp on this beautiful, clear morning. It was unusually quiet. A lone bird flew past overhead. You can just feel the devastation coming, right? I gingerly pulled my boot over my ankle after Ilya took a look at his handiwork and declared it wasn’t infected. Joy. Christian, the painter, was there as well. I set him up with my old ZX-6R for his first track day (his racing had been restricted to enduro up until this point). He took to asphalt like a fish to water. Me? Not really.
We got the bodywork fitted and people actually came over to look and ask questions. Sadly, only a few knew the origins of the paint-job. I set up the Bazzaz to auto-mapping (more on that later), fiddled with the quick-shifter and adjusted the lever on that new Brembo master cylinder. Excited, I clicked into gear and set off.
Bike feels off but….that’s what I said last time at Lightning and my times were improving exponentially to my complaining. Just ignore it. Ride through it.
Brakes feel weird. Bit of a shudder. Shut up and ride.
Third lap around I open up the throttle on the front straight. After reaching 130 mph I go for the brakes. Nothing. The lever comes right to the bar. There are irrational fears and then there are real ones.
The corner fast approaching is a 1st gear hairpin. I bomb right past the next rider who is sensibly braking for it. I’m still pumping the lever trying to bring the pressure up. I thought maybe the pads had been knocked back or maybe some air was in the line. I was like a rat in a Skinner experiment just pushing the lever waiting for the food pellet that never comes.
Woodcraft injured on the job.
GB died valiantly on the job.
A-Star looks like it had a workplace felony committed against it. So long as my foot doesn’t look like that…
That’s when I looked up and saw that I was running out of track. Beyond it was grass, a bit more asphalt that was pit-out, some more grass then an armco barrier – or cheese grater in motorcycle nomenclature. It was time to make a choice. I locked up my rear wheel and tried to bang as many downshifts as possible while weaving through riders going 80 mph less than me. My friend Dave was standing by the pit wall. When he saw me coming in, rear tire sliding, he said, “Hey, look, Younger’s backing it in.” Then I went straight off into the grass over 100 mph. “Oh, maybe he’s not.”
It was time to get off. I was controlling the rear wheel slide up until that point, but once on the grass I let the rear come around as far as I could before I let the bike go. It still wasn’t enough. It came down on my right foot. The bike dragged me by my foot until one of the pegs dug into the soft ground and flipped the Gixxer up in the air. I watched it rotate above me as I dug my hands into the grass, then the pit-out pavement, then the second patch of grass, determined not to hit the Armco. Full Flinstones moment. I stopped 20 feet from the steel barrier. The bike just angrily cart-wheeled across the grass and finally came to rest just next to the Armco.
I jumped up immediately. Didn’t realize my foot was hurt. I was just so…mad. I went over to the bike and saw the right side caliper hanging off the rotor. Both caliper bolts had worked their way out. Well, that explains the shudder.
Back in the pits a long discussion as to whom last worked on the brakes was ongoing. Save to say that it was not me, but I won’t reveal the culprit because the bottom line is that I didn’t check them myself. If you let someone near your bike, then you best give it a once over yourself. After all my jokes about safety wiring, where was I when it was game time? The bolts were drilled for wiring. Why didn’t I do it? Because I had already missed the first session and my friends were all having fun out there as I was still getting the bike ready. I wanted in. I was antsy. I’m not being dramatic when I say I could have easily died had I hit that Armco. Check and double check your bike. Know it. Be one with it. Do whatever you have to do…except rush.
The good news is that I can now report back to you on the crash-worthiness of some of the products we purchased. The Alpinestars saved me. The fact that my foot did not break is amazing. The boot was utterly destroyed but that’s what it’s there for. I was bummed until I realized what my medical insurance bill would have been. The suit was barely scratched and only broke the stitching at a one-inch section. Thank you, A-Stars.
The Armourbodies bodywork fared incredibly well considering the thrashing it took. I was even able to re-use the belly pan. I replaced the main fairing and the tail section out of respect for Christian and the work that he did (and would have to do again in the coming weeks). I don’t want to think about what it was like for him when he saw the bike come off the crash truck. But the bodywork was actually usable. Had I been at a race weekend I could have just taped the cracks and gone back out.
The GB case covers worked really well. The cover took the brunt of it and was simply replaced with another. They’re relatively cheap and they weigh nothing. I like them.
The Woodcraft rear sets proved their mettle as well. One small piece broke, but because of the modular design it was easily replaced.
Let’s also give Suzuki a nod. The frame handled the crash incredibly well. Sub-frame had one of the screw inserts for the seat break off, but not any of the main spars. The fairing stay snapped but that’s common for all makes. Considering the speed and force I was impressed by the lack of damage. Still, just because it ain’t broke don’t mean it don’t need fixing. Was the frame true? Wheels? Rotors?
Pete Kapes at GMD Computrack in Boston came down to Connecticut to meet me at another of his workshops where he has a Computrack machine. If you’ve never had your bike measured with one of these it’s well worth it. Look for a full article on this in the near future. The machine can measure accurately to within 1/100 of a millimeter. Again, I’m not from France but I know that is small. Pete explained that a bike has to be severely bent to see it with your eye, but only slightly bent to feel it in the seat. Their method, therefore, is to assume everything is off and look for things that are true. The wheels checked out, but the right rotor did not. Not a surprise considering the caliper was banging on it like a pinata. Some other smaller parts (footpeg bracket, rearset) were bent as well and they brought them back right for me. Pete was happy to tell me that the frame was straight. What the visit did more than anything else was give me the confidence that my steed was not going to buck me later on. It allowed me to not wonder. That peace of mind is worth a lot on track.
I know. At first I was frightened as well. But just because someone was a Metallica roadie doesn’t mean they can’t operate a very expensive piece of equipment. Don’t judge…
This was actually more frightening because I didn’t know if I’d be tested at the end. Pete could lecture at MIT. I know this because I understood almost nothing he said to me when standing at that board. I just kept nodding and praying about there not being a test.
Measuring just how bad it got (bottom left). That’s one millimeter…and a particularly hairy index finger (bottom right).
And another build…
I had a month to think about my stupidity. October 10th was now fast approaching – the last NESBA day of the year at Lightning. This was it. Last chance. I ordered the parts I needed to get the bike up and rolling as well as a few that would shed some weight. I took the bike back to C&M for the second paint job and met up with Mark Kelly. He’s the crew chief for PJ Jacobson of Celtic racing. Everyone just calls him, Big Man. I assumed he was going to be either 6’5 or 5’6. It was the former. He’s also the first person I’ve talked to who has actually used K-Tech suspension and was able to shed some light on the shock for me. The K-Tech people back in England were less interested in explaining the workings of the shock than they were in making sure it would be returned to them. I don’t think they particularly trust or like Americans. It’s understandable that they’d be bitter. We bounced a couple of hundred years ago, lost the silly accent, dumped the monarchy and created the concept of freedom and dentistry. Still, they make a hell of a suspension system.
So, Big Man explained to me that the brilliance behind the shock is its simplicity. There is only a rebound and a compression setting. There is no separation of high and low speed and it works just fine, thank you. In addition, there is an allen key on the top of the shock that effectively adjusts the shim stack without having to open up the unit. These three adjustments are all you need once ride height and pre-load are set. I like simple.
He’s also well versed in all things Bazzaz and, interestingly, told me that I did not need to put the bike on a dyno to design a map for it. He claims that the auto-mapping feature is so good he uses it for PJ’s bikes. Big Man actually spent a whole day with the bike on the dyno, but when they got to the track PJ came in and said the motor felt flat. B.M. (wow, bad initials) then removed and added fuel where the Bazzaz suggested he do so using the auto-mapping feature and PJ said it was perfect. B.M. explained, “You can’t match the atmospheric pressures of the track on the dyno. The loads are different.” He also instructed me to lose the cooling fans, not so much for weight but for air flow. He further explained that the difference between the Dunlop slicks on my bike and the DOT’s that were going on had a two-millimeter difference in diameter, and the ride height would need to be adjusted accordingly. It was as good a time as any to get over an irrational aversion. His parting gift of unsolicited advice was that I needed to go faster because he was doing low 1:10’s around Lightning. Cheers, Big Man.
The final, post-crash mods to our 2008 Gixxer 750 are:
Brembo monobloc calipers
Marchesini Forged Magnesium wheels
R&R racing sub-frame, fairing stay and exhaust bracket
Fred from Yoyodyne sent me the calipers. The stock one that came off was badly damaged and it seemed like a good time for an upgrade. If you’re interested in Brembos, Fred is the man to talk to – extremely knowledgeable and loves the product he sells. The cast monoblocs have come way down in price these last few years and offer truly awesome stopping power. Combined with the master cylinder, I was excited to try the braking system out. After Monticello, I was also excited to torque the crap out of the caliper bolts.
The Marchesinis came from the west coast. TAW Performance is based in Sonoma and they sell what I thought was a luxury item, but moving forward I will forever treat it as an absolute necessity. Beg, borrow or steal the money for these things. Stockers are 10.28 and 16.80 lbs., front and rear respectively. The forged magnesium hoops are, you ready…? 6.54 and 11.12 lbs. I’m sure you all know about the importance of un-sprung weight. It’s the mass that must be moved to accelerate the rest of the bike. Saving weight here means more than anywhere else on the bike. An ounce of weight on the wheel translates to 24 pounds at 100 mph when gyroscopic forces are considered. These wheels save many, many ounces.
You know how mercurial Italians are. Couldn’t do the Brembos and not the Marchesinis. Would have been a huge scene.
Utilitarian, lightweight, well made, R&R.
Brett, from R&R, is a racer himself. He’s a great welder that comes from a long line of welders. His sub-frame, fairing stay and exhaust bracket all fit beautifully and saved a substantial amount of weight. They also crash better than stock. Along with Jason from Full Spectrum Power and Corson Piper (who makes captive axle blocks and a great caliper tool to hold the rear caliper in place during tire changes) these are guys that act as their own R&D programs. They are home-brewed and they are worth supporting.
The problem I was facing in this second build was that much of this stuff was delivered just a few days before I had to head down to NJMP. Since I have a day-job and wasn’t able to work on the bike, it was all going to come down to Saturday. That morning I was up at dawn. I hooked the trailer up to my truck and headed south. I met Christian at his shop to pick up the re-painted bodywork and gas tank. Then, I was off to the Big Man’s race-shop where I scavenged a windscreen off one of PJ’s bikes. It was strange to see his bikes just sitting there in a dark garage. They looked like sleeping predators to me. I was nervous they’d wake up as I removed the Zero Gravity screen.
Then it was off to New York City to Ryder’s Alley garage in lower Manhattan where I was meeting the proprietor, Demian, as well as two other buddies of mine who you should now know by name – Carl and Ilya. They gave me their Saturday to help get the bike together; I gave them pizza and insults in return. Ilya actually didn’t show until the afternoon. He was surfing. He said it was the only time he could go because he knew I was in a contained space where I most likely wouldn’t need medical care. Fair enough.
It looked like things were going smoothly until Carl asked me for the key to check the Bazzaz system. The key? You mean the ignition key? The thing you need to start the bike and ultimately ride it with? “Yeah,” he said. “That key.” I left it at the house upstate. Two hours and change away. Whoops. I could draw this out but I’ll just give you the highlights:
Yes, I know what it looks like. No, I didn’t take this particular photo. Orders and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
I trusted the Marchesinis to Demian, who mounted a fresh set of Dunlops.
Carl installed the brakes but soon realized the lines and master cylinder were damaged in the crash. He transplanted the entire system from his Kawi onto my bike, which actually meant I was getting an upgrade to an even better Brembo master cylinder and very trick, small diameter Goodridge lines.
I finally overcame my ride-height fear and adjusted for the new tires. Once again, nothing to it. Can’t believe it took this long…
Got on a friend’s KTM Adventure to do a bomb run up to my house when Demian suggested I try the locksmith down the street first. We pulled the ignition cylinder after miraculously finding a security Torx key.
Once Christian re-painted we made damn sure it was documented first thing in the morning. There was caution tape surrounding the bike the night before. I would have used motion sensors if I remembered to bring them.
That’s not a decal. He painted that on. Sit with that for a minute.
I went back to the garage. The key opened the gas cap but wouldn’t start the engine. I put my helmet back on prepared to head north, but Ilya showed up and decided he could hot-wire the ignition into the kill switch.
He does it. It works. It’s awesome. No more keys. Demian and Carl quit. They have offspring at home.
Ilya and I drill and fit the bodywork. I needed no medical care even though power tools were used. By the time we were all set and done it was 10:00 and I hit the road, getting to Millville, NJ close to 1:00 a.m. I stayed up an extra hour and unloaded. Then, I sat on a chair for a minute and just stared at the bike. She was complete once again. I never really had this moment at Monticello as I was rushing to get on track and crash. It’s been a long road. I sat there hoping the mental breakthrough I had made in Canada would carry over the following morning. I was ready.
I woke up early and ate a granola bar, drank a bunch of water and connected my laptop to the Bazzaz system. If you told me I’d be plugging a computer into my motorcycle even three years ago I would have said you were nuts. But here we are. The Z-AFM system allows you to pick a fuel/air ratio you want for the bike and, with the self-mapping function, it will actually get you there, creating a fuel map for the bike. After reading these articles you probably have a clear understanding of my limited ability, so when I tell you this is an easy task, believe me. You just hit the self mapping tab at the top and hit start. Then go out and ride the thing. You come back in and re-connect to the computer and hit stop, retrieve, and apply all. And Bob’s your uncle. That’s it.
You can see the air/fuel boxes fill up with your target ratio as you do this (repeat process for two or three sessions and the map is complete). I topped up the bike with fuel and clicked on the warmers. I even cleaned my face-shield before the five-minute call. Not going to have a repeat of Monticello.
You can make the bike as nice as you want, add as many parts you can think of and I will still not look normal going right.
My first session out I left the lap timer off. I wanted to just get familiar with the bike – let the Bazzaz do its mapping and make sure the brakes worked. Last thing I needed was a timer. The bike felt perceptibly lighter just turning onto hot pit. Keith, the track marshal, gave me the go signal and I opened up the throttle to find the bike immediately lifting the front wheel, Yosh snarling just behind my right ear. This was now a very different bike.
Out on track the bike just fell into the turns. I made my way around amazed at how hard it pulled and how well it stopped. The brakes made a monstrous difference. Incredible stopping power with tons of feel. When I pulled the lever the feedback was such that it felt like my hands were on either side of the rotors squeezing them through my gloves. You knew exactly what was happening.
The Bazzaz quick shifter is another one of those things that I just can’t imagine having ever lived without. And that, after only two laps of using it. A racer once told me that a speed shifter doesn’t net you much time. He used the clutch on every shift. Well, maybe I’m just not very good at shifting because this thing saved me time everywhere. Coming out of the bowl I got on the gas hard down the front straight just clicking down on the shift lever without letting off the throttle one bit. 4th, 5th, 6th – snick, snick, snick. I braked late for the very fast Turn 1, then turned it in. You know what happened? I ran off the inside of the corner and onto the pit out lane. These wheels are game changing. At that speed I’m used to having to shove the bars. No more. No need. This thing was now a cruise missile. You think about it and it goes there.
I came in and downloaded the Bazzaz info to the computer. Worked like a charm. Hit start again to finish the mapping in the next session. The shift into 6th was a tad notchy, so I simply went into the Quick Shifter page and changed the ignition cutout from 40 milliseconds to 50 to give the linkage that extra-bit of time to get settled. It worked perfectly. Are you getting this? I, Ben, actually modified the ignition cutout time on the motor. Darwin turned in his grave as I hit the save button. But that’s how intuitive this software is. (Full disclosure: the Bazzaz unit quit on me in the late afternoon but it was immediately replaced a few days later. I know another rider whose unit suffered a similar fate, but his was also immediately replaced. The people at Bazzaz are not going anywhere. They are extremely helpful and are going the distance.)
I drank some more water and just sat and smiled for 40 minutes. Next session I went out and put the timer on. One lap to get up to speed, then I put the hammer down. Once again, the lap did not feel that intense. I didn’t have a single “moment.” It was controlled and smooth. If you’ve been following this saga you remember my best time back in the summer was a 1:12.4. Today I went faster. Much, much faster. My time was 1:09.6 without even breaking a sweat. Even I didn’t expect that. That’s a serious lap time. In fact, that would have put me in the top-10 of an Expert CCS race there back in June. I felt different. The bike was rock solid and I was confident enough to start exploring my true limits. They say that when you start having fun is when you start getting fast. Well, it was Carnival in my pit.
Freddie (#11) told me I passed him too agressively. Next session I watched him stand up three people and almost hit a fourth. Ahh, to be Italian.
When you start getting as upset as I do about the body positioning just focus on the paint. It helps.
So, what did I do in the afternoon? I started chasing people. People that have never seen the back of my motorcycle had to stare at my ass. Lap after annoying lap. I even felt the traction control kick in coming out of the bowl. That’s at over 100 mph. I got on the gas a little early and the Bazzaz just brought everything back into line before it helped me destroy the upcoming straightaway. The moment of the day was me passing my on-track mentor, Greg, going into Turn 7. I blew it by going down an extra gear to 1st, and then having the back end swing out like a jack-knifing semi. It doesn’t matter. The real news is that by chasing Greg I got down to a 1:09.2
This was supposed to be a story about parts and mods. It turned into something else entirely, and I’ll address that in a moment. If you make me choose strictly based on the original thesis I would have to say that suspension/tires are the most important changes we made. The K-Tech hardware is both compliant and sharp, and took away all the real gremlins that I was able to generate in that stock Suzuki chassis. The Dunlops are consistent and sticky. Everything else we put on the bike just kept adding to the platform. I know I dropped some major time from the power mods, but it’s the confidence the tires/suspension gave me that allowed me to push. What a bike does when you’re leaned over at 90 mph and committed is what really must be mastered first. I can teach a novice to go 200 mph in a straight line on a Hayabusa. It’s just not that hard.
What sets us apart is how we turn. We use a tire with a continuously changing circumference. A suspension system that must work straight up and down as well as leaned over at 52 degrees. Nylon pucks attached to our bodies that are meant to contact the racing surface. No other motor sport deals with those challenges. We are unique in that way.
Chassis first, then power is what I’m saying. At the end of the day, though, you need both to get to the times we achieved. I started out thinking this was going to be a double blind study worthy of a scientist’s scrutiny. We would keep the variables (weather, track conditions) to a minimum and slowly add parts and see what effect they had. What was most surprising was that I ended up being the largest and most erratic variable. I
did not bring the same amount of skill and confidence to each track session. I was, at times, unsure, scared, excited, doubtful and confident. My times reflected my state of mind. So what did these parts actually do? Well, they made the bike undeniably faster and, much more importantly, enjoyable to ride. But that’s only half the story. Of paramount importance is what they did for me, not the bike. They allowed me to stop worrying if my ride was up to the task. They allowed me to put all of that attention on my own skill-set or lack thereof. The results of that focus speak for themselves.
I may have to get my name stitched across my leathers…