You asked and I answered!
Making the jump into racing motorcycles
Maybe you have ridden the track before, maybe you just bought a new sportbike, or maybe you saw your first motorcycle race on TV. Whatever the reason, it has gotten in your head that maybe you might like to give that racing thing a try. Good for you!
This will be an honest and straightforward look at what it means to start down the path of motorcycle racing.
I am here to tell you right now that it is the most fun that you can legally have with your clothes on. It is the kind of thing that you will carry with you for the rest of your life and it will affect you in ways that you cannot yet imagine.
Racing is more than just a sport, it is a lifestyle which has the potential to eclipse all other aspects of your life should you choose to allow it. It is addicting; the adrenaline, the camaraderie, the competition, the pure speed. All of these things will keep you craving racing past what more people would consider the point of sanity.
This sport is a great motivator and it is actually quite good for personal growth as well. The glories of a hard-earned win and even the bitter losses will gnaw at you, driving you to push harder and faster than ever before, driving you to excel.
Racing also cuts out the bullshit in a surgical, almost brutal way that leaves you with nothing but the truth. You either grow from the experience or you crash miserably (literally and figuratively). In either case, you learn something critical about yourself in the process. Overcoming excuses
Over the years I have heard countless excuses from people about why they can’t race. Here are some of the highlights:
• I’m not fast enough/don’t ride well enough
– I hear this one a lot. My counter is simple: I got faster by racing. When I first started I was slower than most people on the track but I learned quickly, I had to! Nothing will teach you to ride more proficiently quicker than getting out there on the grids and mixing it up with people who are also learning. That’s right. The people you will start out racing are all in the same boat as you; a desire but not a lot of experience. You will be on an even playing field.
• I’m waiting until I hit xx.xxx laptime
– This one comes from the track day riders a lot. What they don’t realize is that they will hit that goal and surpass it much more quickly when you are racing. The spirit of competition will push you hard and you will become faster quickly.
• It’s too expensive
– While it is true that racing can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be. I always recommend to newcomers to start out on a lightweight bike; it is easier to learn on, and less expensive to boot! Alternatively your street bike with a few modifications can easily be turned into a race bike. You should already have the bulk of your riding gear (helmet, gloves, boots) so getting started is not as terrible as you may have thought. I will go into this with more detail below.
• I’m afraid of getting hurt
– Ok, yes, there is the potential for injury with motorcycle racing, just like there is with motorcycle riding or any physical sport. We can take precautions to mitigate that risk down to the point where it is really a minimal risk. After all, the sport wouldn’t grow if it really was seriously dangerous, right?
• I’m not ready
– Ready for what, exactly? I hear this every once in a while from someone and I always ask “I felt like I wasn’t ready when I first started too. Ask yourself this; when will you be ready?” This should get a potential racer to really think about things and at least be able to articulate their feelings and concerns. Is motorcycle racing dangerous?
The potential for injury is always there. Under normal circumstances however, I would argue that racing a motorcycle is no more dangerous than any physical sport such as football or boxing, and I would say it is a good deal safer than riding/racing a bicycle!
I would absolutely say that track riding is actually safer than riding on the streets as you should be wearing very capable personal protective equipment that does an excellent job at keeping the rider injury-free. Full-body leathers with body armor, back/spine and chest protectors, gloves with scaphoid sliders, boots with ankle protectors, and helmets that are engineered to disperse any incoming impact are all part of the everyday office attire to a modern racer. Heck, some suits today even have airbags.
The track will also be free of debris, obstacles, and texting drivers, and unlike the street all traffic is going in the same direction so there are far less converging vehicles to contend with.
Finally, if you do happen to get injured, every race track will have EMT staff that is specifically trained at dealing with racing related injuries, a plethora of ambulances, and a fully staffed medical center…all within 60 seconds of you.
Crashing happens at one point or another, it is a part of the game. Tracks are set up to mitigate any risk with things like air-fence, lots of runoff (crashing itself rarely hurts, it’s the sudden stops that do), and numerous other safety-minded precautions that all do their part to make the racing experience as safe as possible.
I have personally crashed about a dozen times throughout my racing career. All but one of them I was able to get right back up and continue racing, the ‘bad’ one was a concussion and some torn ligaments in my hand all of which have fully healed.
So yes, there are risks, but we take every precaution to mitigate those risks so that we can all live to enjoy the sport we love. How expensive is racing, really?
There is an old saying amongst racers: “The only way to make a small fortune racing is to start with a big one”. While that was made in jest, there is a grain of truth in there at some levels of racing.
In the early days of racing, you can get away quite cheaply. Yes, I understand that ‘cheap’ is a relative term so let me put some hard numbers to it.
If an aspiring racer is willing to do a little bargain hunting, you can use the following numbers as a baseline:
$2000 – lightweight bike (SV650 or similar)
$1000 – Work to said bike to make it race-ready (suspension, fuel management, exhaust, whatever. Buy used to save big $)
$100 – Tire warmers (used)
$100 – Stands
$500 – miscellaneous gear that you may not already have…again, buy used
$200 – two sets of race takeoffs from a faster racer. They are always selling takeoff tires and at your starting pace these will last you a season or more.
So, in summary you would be looking at ~$4000 to get into racing, and that is including your bike. If you have an already existing bike to use, cut that number in half.
As you progress, you will find that the expense of racing begins to climb. At the very top end of the expert brackets, it can become quite costly but that will be many years away for most riders. What bike should I run?
The million dollar question! The answer? Whatever you are most comfortable with. As I have already mentioned, I always recommend that people start with lower displacement/power motorcycles when learning to race. It is less expensive, and they are more forgiving of any mistakes a young rider may make.
“It is better to ride a slower bike fast than a fast bike slowly”. A SV650, Ninja 650R, or 250, 300, or even KTM 390 all make great starting race bikes and can often be found for short money from a racer that is moving up in displacement.
Learning to get the most out of a bike is a skill that is at the cornerstone of racing. When you take away the ability to simply twist the throttle to generate true speed, you learn to maximize the other areas of your riding.
So, if you can afford to purchase a used race bike to begin, that would be my first choice but there is also nothing wrong with converting your current street bike to race-duty. Being comfortable on a bike you have been riding for a while can be a pretty big advantage.
Generally speaking I would shy away from the larger displacement motorcycles to begin with simply because all that extra power can be a crutch to a young racer. Also things tend to happen quickly on a racetrack, and the bigger the bike, the faster things can spiral out of your control if you aren’t careful. What do you need to begin?
There is a pretty basic list of things that you need to have to start racing:
• A motorcycle, set up within the rules of your racing organization.
• Your protective gear (Leathers, back protector, helmet, gloves, boots)
• Tire Warmers. Some will say that these are not a ‘need’, I disagree.
• Front and Rear Stands
• An approved fuel container
• A racing license from the organization you are running with. See below.
That is an absolute bare minimum list. The ‘want’ list is much larger than the ‘need’ list and would include things like the following:
• A full toolset
• A trailer/truck to bring your bike to/from the races
• A canopy, EZ-up, or pavilion to keep out of the sun/rain
• Rain tires/wheels
• Tons of bike upgrades (brake pads, rotors, brake lines, slipper clutches, suspension components, etc. The sky is the limit when it comes to spending on race parts and this is where a lot of the expense of racing comes into play)
• Spare parts and gear
All of the above items are certainly nice to have, but are by no means necessary when just starting out. How do I make my motorcycle ready for racing?
Each racing organization will have rules that you will need to follow but most are pretty similar:
The bike must have critical areas secured with lock-wire. This is commonly brakes, exhaust, and anything that has the potential to leak fluids.
You will need to remove all lights and mirrors.
All components must be in good mechanical working order: throttle must snap closed, brakes must function and have at least 50% life left on pads, tires must be in suitable condition.
Most organizations will require a belly pan that is capable of containing any leaking fluids and that antifreeze is drained from the bike and replaced with water.
Each organization will have a section of their rulebook devoted to this process. It is always advisable to read the rulebook to make sure that both you and your motorcycle comply with the rules. How do I get my competition license?
Again, this is different depending on which organization you go with but most follow the same path:
A rider must register and pass a race training course. Most are offered the day of or the day before actual racing takes place so that a novice racer can take the course and race the same weekend. Typically this will include the racers-to-be to complete a mock race (called the rookie race where I am from) to demonstrate that they have learned what they were supposed to learn. What if I have more questions?
Ask! The best resource an aspiring racer can have is those racers already at their local track. If you are considering learning to race I would advise going to spectate beforehand. Talk to the local racers, ask questions, and listen a lot! Most racers are very glad to share their wisdom with newcomers. If you cannot find answers there, post up here and I will see what I can do to help you.