Single Track Mind: Go Racing in 2013

April 15, 2013
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

Budget racers like this H-D Aermacchi are great fun.
Budget racers like this H-D Aermacchi are great fun.

There’s a worrying trait apparent in British, grass roots’ level, motorcycle sport: it’s this. Some parts of the paddock are looking increasingly like “Away Days” for senior citizens – with the elderly outweighing youngsters by a considerable margin.

The positive view of this phenomenon is that it must be good for society to have fat, bald, old wrinklies, like me, still squeezing themselves into race leathers and getting out on the track rather than sitting on their couches all day, eating pizzas and watching re-runs of “On Any Sunday”.

On the other hand, this trend has to be worrying for the future of motorcycle sport. If there are more over 60s racing than under 20s, it’s not good for the long-term future of motorcycling.

Here at MCUSA, Byron Wilson, our newest member of the family, is just starting his motorcycle riding career. This is a source of celebration as great as the arrival of a new baby, since we do need novice converts to the Church of the Blessed Two Wheelers. So, great news but tinged by a hint of sadness because Byron is undertaking formal training aimed at making him a safer and more law abiding rider.

Will it make our tyro two-wheeler a happier biker too? No doubt Byron will let us know. For an aging hippie like me, the best training came from spending a zillion hours riding off road, before I ever got near a highway and a license.

My fear is that now, everything we do has to be undertaken in a controlled way following “best practice.” The Authorities, in all their manifold forms, tell us that training, Risk Assessments, safety programs et al are for our own good.

In fact, the situation is far worse than this in Britain where obtaining a full motorcycle license is roughly equivalent to earning Top Gun wings and flying a Super Hornet off the deck of the USS George Washington.

Riding on the road is great - racing is sublime.
Riding on the road is great – racing is sublime.
Vintage motocross is affordable and is definitely not slow or dull.
Any type of racing is better than none. A vintage motocrosser is an affordable option that will provide plenty of joy.

This obsession with doing everything the right way permeates absolutely everything we do. You can see this clearly demonstrated if you read the top riders’ bios and look at their Twitter interests – “interests” in this case being as fine an example of an oxymoron as you will ever read. “Training”, “Gym Work”, “Mountain Biking,” and “Running” are not interests – they’re activities which get in the way of riding and having fun!

In the 1970s, I had the great pleasure of working with a top, second tier, motocross GP racer – a fine rider who was running in the first 10, and sometimes even on the podium, every weekend. He, and his dad, who was also his mechanic, van driver, team manager, dietitian, cook and race strategist, managed to get sponsored by a supermarket which had suffered from a catastrophic flood. The deluge had swept through the food aisles and caused thousands of tins of food to lose their labels.

For a privately funded GP team, this was sponsorship from heaven because they got several tons of label-less tins, each one containing something edible, for free. Just throw 1000 tins of assorted and unknown food into the back of the van and they could eat three meals a day for a month – and not spend a cent.

This policy did lead to a somewhat eclectic diet because they never knew what was in the next tin. Cold spaghetti bolognese and pineapple chunks was, perhaps, not the most appetizing combination before a GP – but still better than when the pet food section of the supermarket appeared from the tin mountain.

However, even the cat food turned out to be good thing. At the Russian round of that year’s world championship, the pet food went down like a storm with the local sausage factory. And so the happy team staggered west again loaded down with 50 cases of very pleasant, fake, Russian champagne, which they had bartered for the moggie dinners. Truly, a win/win situation.

The truth is that you don’t need a special diet, a physical fitness routine or expert help to take part in any form of racing. Yes, all these things are important if you aspire to join Nicky Hayden in MotoGP, or be AMA Grand National Champion, but for 99.99% of us these are only dreams. For us, merely the act of participation is enough.

Now for a few truths. The first one is that any form of racing is vastly, humongously, better than any type of road riding. Riding on the road is fantastic – racing is sublime.

Secondly, all racing is good. It doesn’t matter whether you are riding in a local enduro or at Daytona: motorcycle sport is good. No other legal, or illegal for that matter, activity gets near it.

Racing doesn’t require all the bells and whistles of a GP
garage; a solid bike, a few articles of riding gear and some
willing competitors are all you need for a fantastic time.

Another truth is that you absolutely do not have to be a talented motorcycle rider to enjoy racing. I have spent my lifetime being an archetypal amateur racer and have had a wonderful time competing in every motorcycle discipline except ice speedway – and I only just missed out on this!

Now on to costs. Forget fancy riding gear and posh accessories. Budget racing is the way to go. I am somewhat biased towards Motorcycle Superstore, since they are our sister company, but I have just had a look at their prices and I’ve been amazed at how affordable racing gear now is.

A whole kit of race clothing, for motocross or enduros, is available for under $300. And remember, I was paying almost that amount just for boots in the 1970s.

For those of you with a longing to go track racing, Motorcycle Superstore has a lovely Rev’It race suit, brand new and in the original box, for $499.99. I happen to know this suit and it’s a top quality piece of kit which I would race in.

What you don’t need are mechanics’ gloves, team t-shirts or any of the other bovine excrement. The bald truth of the matter is that for club racers like us, only your wife and dog has any interest in your race results – and your wife is probably not that bothered!

Chinese-made awnings, of truly appalling quality and breathtakingly unfashionable design – yes, this is the one we have – are on the market for under $100. You don’t need a high tech, brightly colored piece of equipment covered with premium brand logos. You need cheap!

Now to the tricky subject of bikes. We would all like the best, cleverest, fastest – and therefore inevitably most expensive race bike available. However, because we inhabit the primordial sludge of the racing world, along with all the other single-celled competitors, we can’t have what our hearts desire.

So how about this? I had a look on the AHRMA website to see how little it would cost to go vintage racing and there was a race ready XR200 enduro bike on sale for $1200 – or offers. That’s only $1200 more than free!

On the WERA website, which specializes in road racing, there are lots of ads for racebikes under $5000 including some really trick machinery. A KTM Single in a Honda race chassis must be cheap at $3999 and there’s a full-spec R1 for $8000, complete with a ton of spares.

Yes, going AMA Superbike racing is eye-wateringly expensive – but our level of racing isn’t.

Modern classics are cheap to buy and provide superb racing.
Modern classics are cheap to buy and provide superb racing.

The AMA produce a very useful guide to getting started in racing on its website. Don’t be put off by all the apparent rules. In practice, they won’t affect your fun.

Finally, and most importantly of all, ask other racers for help. Bear in mind that we all have an addiction which makes crack cocaine look a mild interest in chocolate chip cookies, so we will be keen to bring another junkie into the racing crack house. Except when they are on the track, and will want to run over you in the battle for 21st position, racers are kind, courteous and willing to help – so ask.

Now you know what you have to do, here’s what you ought to do – and what to avoid.

1) Do not join a gym and/or do any form of physical training. You will need two jobs to pay for your racing addiction, so the mere thought of wasting energy on anything for which you’re not earning money is stupid.

2) Do not take any form of coaching, training or guidance – unless it is compulsory to obtain your race license. All that coaching will do is make you feel inadequate and give you completely false ideas about your potential to improve. Remember, there is, and was, only one Casey Stoner.

3) Do not watch self-improvement films. If you want be a Shaolin Monk, and leap off buildings with a sword in your teeth, then study the inner way – but note that it points in the opposite direction to the paddock entrance.

The critical thing for you to know and understand, and in a very deeply existential way, is the distance from your van to the paddock restrooms because you will need to relieve yourself a lot during a race meeting. This really is important information.

4) Diet. This is more than vitally important to any athlete. First, do not eat in cheap burger joints because the portions will be small and you might have to spend vital racing money on a dessert.

Watch re-runs of “Man Versus Food” for tips on how to get the most food for the minimum expenditure. And don’t forget your doggy bag which, if carefully stocked, should provide you with eats for the rest for the whole weekend.

Do eat in your local burger joint which sponsors you with free meals.

Your dog will be incredibly interested in your race results.
Your dog will be incredibly interested in your race results.

Do look for special offers – especially two for one meals – because your alleged friend who is acting as your mechanic/team manager/driver will expect hospitality. You just can’t get staff these days…

Of critical importance, make sure that on any journey longer than 100 miles you have three flavors of nachos and an emergency store of plain tortilla chips. Racing is a stressful business and the tension can only be ameliorated with vast intakes of refined sugar, hydrogenated fats, unspeakably dangerous chemical flavorings and heart attack-inducing quantities of salt.

This is fact. When did you ever see Valentino Rossi munching on a bag of nachos before a race? Just look at his results last year to see what havoc a nacho deficit causes. If Vale didn’t like nachos – perish the very thought – he could have dieted on French fries, with double helpings of mayo, then he would, unquestionably, have been World Champion.

5) Do remember to steal as many paper napkins as you can from any restaurant, up to the point of getting a bill for them and/or being arrested, because they make excellent visor/goggle cleaners.

6) Do take meticulous care in terms of your relationship with your wife/girlfriend. Practice the subtleties and nuances necessary to explain that a new set of tires is truly and honestly more important than repairing the washing machine.

7) Do research the areas of outstanding natural beauty on the way to the racetrack so that you can claim, justifiably, that you are not so much going racing but rather taking a cultural road trip.

8) Finally, ensure that steps are in place to remove the pictures of her favorite grandparents from the sideboard to make way for your very first race trophy.

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