The MiniMoto SX in Las Vegas is the ultimate mini race in the U.S. The competition has been getting more and more serious each year and the 2006 event featured the most stacked lineup to date. This bike conquered all in the hands of Derek Costella.
In a sport where racing has evolved from backyard beer fests to high-stakes, cutthroat competition, this factory-prepped machine has just laid waste to supercross, motocross and arenacross champions and off-road heroes alike in the biggest little race in the world.
As they say, big things come in small packages, which is exactly what I was expecting when BBR offered to let us ride Derek Costella's MiniMoto SX-winning machine. When I heard that we would be testing the bike at our local mini hot spot, the first wave of electrical impulses in my brain registered awe and pants-peeing excitement, but once I came to my senses I realized just how much trouble I might actually be in.
Though I've been riding dirt bikes for years, my experience on wheels smaller than 18 inches is extremely limited. Sure, I've putted around the yard on my buddy's stock Honda 50s, but the prospect of taking my first real track day on the mini equivalent of Ricky Carmichael's Suzuki RM-Z450 was a bit nerve-wracking. With only a few days to prepare my mind and body for the little monster, my thoughts became increasingly clouded with worry. Add to the equation that both Chris and Duane Brown would be on hand to watch my every move and I was losing sleep. My only reassurance was that MotoUSA's Creative Director Brian Chamberlain would be there to handle the majority of riding evaluation and take a bit of heat away from my blundering attempt. BC was a participant in the MiniMoto SX
himself, and though not quite as successful as Costella, Brian's experience and ability to go fast on anything with two wheels would be very handy indeed.
Basically, I figured there was no logical reason why I would ride a bike as advanced as Costella's fire-breathing Monster Energy/BBR
119 that's worth more than my Tacoma. The Brown Brothers have turned a child's plaything into a working showcase of BBR's performance catalog. Costella's was one of 36 built-to-the-hilt BBR minis brought to Las Vegas for the MiniMoto SX. How's that for stacking the odds? The Brown Brothers admit that this bike is geared toward advanced riders, but the motor and chassis configurations are popular with anyone interested in top-notch minis. The key is being able to absorb a Mike Tyson-ish left hook on your checkbook's glass jaw.
Shredding berms this hard is usually reserved for big bikes, but the BBR 119 is not your average mini.
Just for fun, and to give us something of a reference point, the BBR guys also hauled down the 160cc race bike that Duane raced in the MMSX. Like Costella's bike, the 160cc machine was built of an almost identical parts list with the exception of the motor. Chassis, suspension, brakes, tires and bars were all the same, although Duane's suspension was set up to suit his larger frame. Having virtually identical bikes with different motors made for a great way to shake down the engine characteristics of each.
"When I first learned I would be riding Derek Costella's BBR-built winning bike from Vegas, I figured it would be the trickest and fastest mini I've ever thrown a leg over," says MotoUSA's mini maestro Brian Chamberlain. "After my first lap on the little screamer I realized I was right."
As highly-regarded pioneers of the mini movement, Duane, Chris and Brent have long been known for their aftermarket chassis and suspension modifications, but have been performing hop-up motor work since Day 1. And while the Mid-Size Pro Perimeter Frame Kit and the accompanying suspension are nothing short of erotic, it's the motor that makes this little 119 a giant killer.
"At first glance it has everything you would expect on a top mini from the guys at BBR
," BC croons. "When the entire package is put together, the result is nothing short of a full works bike, but the biggest surprise to me was the motor."
The Daytona motor has plenty of extra TLC smothered on it. A TokyoMods Stage 3 Ignition, Takegawa 3-speed manual tranny and hand-worked ports added big-time performance gains.
The high-revving engine screamed around the tight Vegas track, passing riders like Ricky Dietrich, Willy Browning and Jeremy McGrath with such dominance that it seemed impossible when Duane and Chris told me it's a 119cc CRF50-based motor. In the 12E (12-inch Expert) class where engine size is unrestricted, top competitors are packing cylinders that would make Dirk Diggler self-conscious. Not so with Costella's bike. While most bikes in the 12-inch wheel category use a modified form of engine in excess of 50cc such as the extremely popular KLX110, Costella, a very sensitive setup specialist, chose the CRF50 as his base of operations. But that's all the little Honda powerplant ever amounted to, a base platform.
Chamberlain, having witnessed Costella's decimation of the pro class in Vegas, was also surprised to learn that the motor came from such a small CRF. "Reading the spec sheet on the way to the track revealed a 50-based motor. At first I thought we were given the wrong specs."
Nearly everything from the "donor motor" was scrapped in favor of aftermarket components from BBR and others. "All that's really left are the cases," says Chris. A stock CRF puts out 2.7 horsepower but BBR's Daytona 119 kit generates around 16 horses with ready-to-ride jetting and a knobby on the rear. While other manufacturers claim to extract even more power from the puny motor, Duane insists that his bike is at top of the food chain. "There's not a minibike out there that will do 18 horsepower," he states.
Lofting the front wheel is no problem for the Monster/BBR 119, despite the longer wheelbase. An excellent clutch, chassis and suspension all help deliver the power directly to the ground.
The heart of this screamer is the Daytona 119cc, 4-valve DOHC kit. Cramming on the 54mm aluminum cylinder required boring of the crankcases, but the B-bros weren't happy with simply bolting on the Daytona kit. Porting the head and welding and reshaping the port floors resulted in an additional two ponies and a boosted rev range. Max power comes at around 13,200 rpm, only 400 revs before the rev-limiter kicks in.
"The power right off the bottom doesn't feel quite as strong as some of the big-bore minis like the BBR 160 we were comparing, but it pulls pretty hard considering how much rpm you have left," says Chamberlain. "The meat of the power, though, is in the midrange and top end, and there is plenty of it. Riding this bike back-to-back with the 110-based 160cc bike makes you quickly realize just how impressive this little 119 is.
When asked about limiting the displacement to 119cc against such beefed-up competition, the brothers cited the high-revving capabilities as the primary reason. According to Duane, going larger requires increasing the stroke which in turn generates increased torque and a lower rev limit. Even the 160 we tested for comparison had a significant difference in power deliver and rev range, and that's about as big as the BBR guys want to go. "It seems like anything bigger than 160cc just turns into a trail bike motor," Duane says. Topping out at 11,200 rpm, the 160cc engine pumps out a peak horsepower of around 15.5 at 9,500 rpm, but has noticeably more low-end grunt than the Daytona arrangement.
"I actually felt as though the 119 might be stronger than the 160, although it was a little deceptive with the power delivery differences between the two," says BC. "While the 160 performed like most small-bore 4-strokes with a strong hit off the bottom and the power tapering out shortly after, the 119 motor keeps building power all the way through the rev range, which seemed to go on forever."
Duane Brown was plenty comfortable demonstrating the launching power of his creation. Duane and Chris built 36 different bikes for the MiniMoto SX, but it was Costella who put his to the best use.
A 26mm Mikuni carburetor feeds the ravenous motor through a custom intake manifold and into the Nikasil-lined cylinder. Titanium-nitride-coated rings ensure nothing escapes the 14:1 compression ratio. Such high output in terms of rpm, horsepower and compression definitely takes its toll on the engine's durability. Even with the hardened surfaces, its life expectancy is only around 10 hours. Seems short, right? Well how often are you supposed to maintain that full-sized 250F of yours? The Brown bros have yet to grenade any of their bikes, but the 10-hour mark is about as far as they like to push their luck.
Bringing the little motor to life is a bit of a struggle, at least for the unfamiliar like me," admits Chamberlain. "Duane had no problem getting the bike to fire in a kick or two, but I usually required a few more. The 14:1 compression ratio requires quite a bit of muscle. Once the bike fires to life I could tell right away this wasn't your average 50 motor with a big-bore and stroker kit. The exhaust note is mean, the throttle response instantaneous and the revs climb like a Formula 1 car."
To combat the beast's high-wear nature, BBR has the transmission gear sets cryogenically treated to handle the high-output motor and unforgiving abuse dished out by hard-charging riders. The Takegawa 3-speed transmission with manual clutch puts the power down via 13/44 gearing and Dunlop 756s for traction control. BBR hadn't done anything to modify Costella's 119 or the 160cc bike before letting us test them, but despite the SX-style setup, the potential for outdoor use was obvious.
One finger on the clutch is all that it takes to keep the BBR motor singing. And sing it does, reving to around 13,500 rpm according to the Brown Brothers.
"Power seemed to always be on hand and, if not, a slight slip of the clutch would quickly get it to where it needed to be," says BC. "Even though our test track was a little more spread out and faster than the Vegas track, the 119 could pretty much be left in second gear and just revved like crazy. The 160cc motor we were comparing it to required constant shifting to keep it dishing out maximum horses, and a short second gear and tall third always left me searching for the right gear."
As expected, Costella's chopper-style setup didn't work perfectly for our riders. Preferring to sit more rearwards on the bike, Costella had the BBR
guys install the softer 975-pound spring for the Elka Supershock (1100-lb is stock) and lowered the rear an extra inch with the SuperComp adjustable swingarm. Riders have three options with the swingarm by choosing a soft, medium or stiff leverage block, each of which alters the leverage ratio acting on the shock. Costella uses the softest setting to achieve a squattier rear end. "It rides a little goofy to most people," admits Chris.
"The 119cc bike was set up on the soft side of adjustability while the 160 was on the stiff end," says Chamberlain. "The difference between the two was immediately noticeable and I was amazed at how wide of a range the same components offered. While we didn't make any adjustments to the bikes, I would probably have preferred a setting somewhere in the middle based on my weight and type of riding I would be doing."
Costella's suspension setup was different from most of the bikes prepared by the guys at BBR. He prefers to have the rear end squat and the front to ride high, lending to a chopper-like sensation. A lighter spring and the softest adjustable block on the Elka Supershock does the trick.
So while Chamberlain was out shredding berms and skimming whoops, I was trading bikes with him and squirming around the track as best I could. As I quickly realized that jumping onto the mini-equivalent of a factory bike isn't nearly as difficult to handle as I first imagined. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. The more advanced a mini bike is, the more closely it resembles and acts like a full-size machine.
In the days leading up to our Monster/BBR test, I had spent a little time on the products of MotoUSA's 2004 Project Mini Moto in preparation for the exclusive mechanical marvels that I was about to roughhouse. My practice bikes were nothing to compare in terms of monetary value and attention to detail, but they were respectably modified minis. However, even with a few thousand dollars worth of investment, they were still sketchy and ridiculously hard to ride. The BBR minis, while intimidating in their full beefcake glory, were actually easier to control. A larger chassis and seat, disc brakes, usable motor and a cabled clutch to harness the delivery made me feel right at home. Nothing about the BBR bikes felt like a pieced-together mini. The Brown's have honed each of their components to such high levels that everything works in perfect conjunction.
"The BBR perimeter frame kit and the attached components are so refined, you would swear you are riding a production bike from one of the Big Four manufacturers," notes BC. "Not only does every piece work exceptionally well but they appear indestructible as well."
The Brown's minis are so similar to full-size bikes that Duane's 160cc was sporting Chris Brown-designed prototype front and rear brake calipers that are essentially shrunken versions of those found on a CRF450R. "All the ratios are basically the same," says Duane of his younger brother's creation. "It took almost two years to develop those things."
Though the suspension is set up very differently than most minis, Costella's bike retained its balanced feel. Blitzing the whoops wasn't bad on the softened rear end, but was actually a bit rough on the Marzocchi fork's stiff SX settings.
On the track, the dual-piston front caliper binds the 200mm wave-rotor exceptionally well. The lightest pull on the lever quickly brings the speeds down, though we honestly didn't feel much of a difference between the 450 mock-ups and the Formula/Marzocchi kit on Costella's bike. Perhaps if we were as experienced testers as he then we would have discerned some kind of difference, but alas, I digress. The rear end was much the same in that the BBR disc brake kit on Costella's and the one-off 160 units were very similar in action. Both were extremely touchy offering virtually no range of braking action on the 155mm rotors. The off-or-on brakes are popular with the professional racers according to Duane but we would have liked to have been able to modulate the lever with more accuracy.
A tapered steering bearing set aids in turning, as does the excellent 35mm revalved Marzocchi Shiver fork which absorbs anything you throw at it. The Elka shock does its part by settling into turns with laser precision. Both components offer eight inches of travel. While the rear end of Costella's bike was set up soft, the fork was the opposite, having been stiffened to handle the SX-style obstacles. Duane's 160 was even less forgiving after being adjusted for his 165-pound frame.
Crystal Scheid, the 13th-place finisher in the MiniMoto Women's class, was able to spin some laps aboard both bikes, bridging the gap in skill level between Chamberlain and myself. The lightest of our three testers, Scheid just couldn't come to terms with the merciless suspenders. "It's just to stiff for me to get a hold of," she says.
Crystal Scheid is a MiniMoto SX veteran too after finishing a respectable 13th place in the Women's class. She was all about the burly motor but had more difficulty with Costella's unorthodox suspension.
Even though the suspension obviously wasn't prepared for her lighter weight, she was more than happy with the output of the Daytona motor. Scheid's normal ride is a KLX110 that has been modified to accept a CHP 143 kit, but her impression of the Monster/BBR bike was even better than her larger-bore machine. "I love the explosiveness of that bike," she says of Costella's machine. "I wish I had it in my own bike."
The Mid-Size Pro Perimeter frame is not only large enough to accommodate full-size riders ranging from Costella's slight build to Chamberlain's 6'0," 175-pound frame, but it adds an enormous amount of rigidity. Both the size and strength allow riders to be aggressive and move easily on the bike. The rake is changed from 25.5 degrees to 26 degrees on the Mid-Size Pro frame which lengthens the wheelbase. Other cramp-preventing specs include footpegs that are two inches farther back than a stock KLX110 and the swingarm is three inches longer.
"Sitting on the bike reveals very roomy ergos" says Chamberlain, "but unlike a lot of home-built and pieced-together minis, everything is still very proportionate to a full-size bike."
The beefed-up BBR machine does well in the air but weighs only 34 pounds more than a stock CRF50. That's about the equivalent as a sack of dog food, which is exactly what your stock 50 will become when matched against Costella's meat-eating machine.
Where a stock CRF50 weighs 106 pounds tank-empty, the BBR
machines have an increased weight, which is understandable considering how much reinforcing they've received. Duane's 160cc machine tips the scales at 153 pounds, but Costella's 119cc is only 140 pounds, which is amazing. Little things like the drilled wheel hubs, which are exclusive to the team bikes, add up in the weight-saving department, but the Browns didn't really want to get these things any lighter than they already are. The mini gurus claim that their bikes actually perform better with a little substance to them. "If you have a tiny bit of weight on them, they actually corner better," says Duane.
All of our testers felt that the balance BBR has achieved between too little and too much girth was spot on.
"What's most impressive is how well the mini MXers handled. Both bikes turned extremely quick, although the 119cc bike seemed a little more flickable due to its lighter weight," Chamberlain says. "As opposed to most other minis I've ridden, the BBR chassis was extremely stable. You could throw the thing into a corner and it would stay well-planted, maintain its line and offer good feel from both the front and rear."
It isn't just any old bike that can propel a rider past Jeremy McGrath in a supercross race, be it on full-sized triples or the pint-sized variety, but BBR accomplished their goal of creating the ultimate MiniMoto SX machine. The bike is lighter, more powerful, quicker steering, tricker, easier to use and better looking than any mini we've ever tested. Good luck finding that in the world of big bikes.
We were lucky enough to get a chance to test this mini marvel, but most people who have been around this thing on the track have gotten a view similar to this one.
Though spendy, our qualms over the exorbitant pricetag were quickly silenced after only a few laps aboard Derek Costella's Monster/BBR machine. Brian easily summed it up for us saying, "Overall I was extremely impressed by the 119cc BBR bike, although for $15 grand, I guess I'd better be. BBR seems to have found the ideal platform for a Mini SX type track; exceptional handling, hard-hitting power and a quick, long-revving engine make it an ideal mini racing weapon.
The Brothers Brown have proven time and time again why they are a leader in the mini industry and they've done it again here. It's hard to imagine spending $15,000 on a minibike, but the Browns were pulling all the stops. Chris and Duane assure us they would gladly build a customer any variation of this bike as dictated by their budget, but fortunately that wasn't the case this time around. Costella's Monster/BBR isn't just a big fish in a little pond, but a great white shark in the sea of little fish.
"That's the best of anything we can do," Duane says.
Check out the specs on the two bikes we tested, Derek Costella's Monster BBR Pro
and Duane Brown's Monster BBR KLX110
Now that you've seen what it takes to be the best in this world of extravagant minis, tell us your thoughts on Derek Costella's Monster/BBR 119
in the MCUSA Forum.