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Pat’s Real Track Debut

Discussion in 'Racing, Motorsports, and Track Days' started by PatB, Oct 20, 2008.

  1. A few months ago, I posted an account of my first experience on a proper race track at the Collie TT, and at the end of it I noted that I’d had such a thoroughly good time that I’d be looking for further track opportunities.
    Well, a few weeks ago Mate, of Collie TT account fame, emailed to ask if I fancied doing one of the Racecraft courses offered by the Motorcycle Racing Club of WA, although I did note that he didn’t offer me the use of the Beesa this time. Once again, those well known questions regarding the denominational status of bears and the defecatory habits of pontiffs came into play and I’d agreed before thinking too hard about the obstacles.

    Said obstacles were twofold. Firstly, the lack of a suitable bike. At the time I put in my booking my road tool was a BMW R1100RT. Actually a fine machine and capable of picking up its skirts and running in a manner that has surprised a number of riders on more sporting machinery. However, as my everyday ride and representing a substantial (for me) investment, I couldn’t afford to crash it uninsured. Dismissing thoughts of using MrsB’s Ural as both ludicrous and hazardous to my health, that left my old K100RS. A battlescarred veteran of 250,000 kms (not all mine), everyday commuting, outdoor parking, indifferent maintenance (not by me) and all the little trials and tribulations that will befall a 21 year old bike that’s worked hard for its living, it had slumbered peacefully in the shed for two years, battery on one of those little $30 solar maintainers, volatiles evaporating from the contents of the tank and tyres turning to Jarrah. I looked at it for a while, then looked at it for a bit more, then started to thing that it might not be such a ridiculous choice after all. In fact, it had several fairly significant advantages.

    Firstly, it owes me nothing. Financially it’s effectively worthless, whilst recommissioning it to put it back on the road seemed like too much work (although, now, lacking a road bike, I’ve got a rather different perspective on matters). What better way to end its days with honour than to be flung into the sand trap in a shower of sparks and dirt? The bike equivalent of a Viking funeral if you will.

    Secondly, after 70 or 80k kms, I’m not intimidated by it. Whilst I’ve never explored the outer limits of its performance envelope, I know that I can give it full noise pretty much anywhere in the dry and be reasonably confident it won’t spit me off. I know the forks won’t tie themselves in knots as long as I’m reasonably smooth and I know that it won’t tankslap us to our doom if I go over a crest with the throttle wide open. Mind you, I also know that, with less than 80 real rear wheel horsepower, it won’t hold a candle to a modern 600 on the straight, but I decided not to worry about that bit right now.

    Thirdly, the old beastie has very similar on-paper specs and performance to a contemporary Guzzi Le Mans, differing by no more than a gnat’s tadger on any individual aspect. So why is one bike regarded as a fine, sporting thoroughbred whilst the other is considered by many Guzzi enthusiasts (amongst many others) to be a stodgy, gutless grandpamobile? Beats me. Maybe avoiding the ridiculous 80s fad for daft little front wheels, whilst fitting electrical equipment that works most of the time renders a motorcycle manufacturer irredeemably tedious. Anyway, whilst a Lemon ain’t no 600 sports bike, it would be expected to be reasonably quick in the right hands. So why not the old K?

    I made my decision. The Hun in the Sun would awake once more, if only for the day.

    That left the other major obstacle of a lack of suitable gear. Aside from my helmet, pretty much none of my usual road gear would be acceptable for the track (although my recent road crash confirmed it’s adequacy for the road under commuting conditions). Leathers, boots and gloves weren’t going to be cheap and, being a rather big chap and living in a relatively small population centre meant that SH gear at relatively short notice wasn’t really going to be an option. The MCRCWA offer leather hire at reasonable rates but, although I’m not a really fastidious type, I find it hard to get enthusiastic about wearing leathers that have been subjected to heat, fear and crashes by multiple users.

    This is where coincidence was taking a turn for the better and making the whole project feasible. I was in the process of changing jobs and the cash payout for my unused leave would just cover a set of Ebay leathers, gloves and some boots from NewEnough, leaving enough left over for my entry fee.


    So Monday of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend saw me digging the K out from under the accumulated debris in the shed and brushing off the more obvious redbacks. In with the battery and switching the ignition on showed all the right warning lamps. Pushing the starter button got things churning and the fuel pump could be heard whirring inside the tank but she wouldn’t fire even slightly. Hunt around for a can of ether and give it a good squirt up the intake. Try the starter again and she coughs a couple of times and throws the starter out. Another prod and one, then two cylinders catch and suddenly she’s running for the first time in 2 years :cool: . Give it a few minutes at a fast idle to let the oil and coolant circulate a bit, then give it some revs. Sounds good. A quick blat up and down the street shows the handling to be awful, but everything else appears to be working as it should. Back into the shed and check the tyre pressures. Hmm, 10 psi front and rear :shock: . That might explain the handling. The back tyre’s down to the wear indicators too. Thought I’d replaced it not long before lay-up, but obviously I was mistaken.
    I spent the rest of the day making a start on removing all the breakable or sticky out bits specified for removal in the MCRC’s Racecraft brochure. Off came the mirrors with integral front indicators, the tail light, the rear mudguard and the pannier frames. On went a slightly less knackered seat and a tail unit to suit from my spares bike, so as to make a better impression at scrutineering.

    Fate took a hand two days later when I got shunted off the R on my way home from work :evil: . Whilst I wasn’t injured beyond some gravel rash and a bit of soft tissue damage, I was fairly well knocked about, and, not being as young or as fit as I once was, I felt pretty ropey for a surprisingly long time afterwards, making work on the project quite a chore.

    Still, in the time remaining I managed to build an extension on the nose of my 6 x 4 trailer, to allow it to comfortably carry most normal bikes, and to complete the K’s preparation. Most of which consisted of cleaning off the residue of many years of an incontinent rear crank seal (which allows the odd dribble to escape from a drain hole at the bottom of the, ostensibly dry, clutch housing), covering anything sharp or breakable remaining with gaffer tape and securing anything loose with cable ties. How on Earth did cheapskates go racing before gaffer tape and cable ties? Anyway, I bled the brakes for good measure as well, and, after much umming and aahing, swapped the worn Michelin on the back for an unworn tyre from the spares bike. The reason for my previous indecision being that I knew the Mich to be a decent tyre and would be happy to ride on it in the dry, but the replacement was a Taiwanese Duro that, although unworn, was almost certainly at least 5 years old. Gulp. Still, at least at Wanneroo, I told myself, when I highside I’ll probably land on my left side, thus balancing the residual aches from my shunt which were primarily on my right. I decided to take the baldy Mich along anyway though, so if the Duro proved too scary I could change back after scrutineering.

    All the while, my gear had been arriving in a series of large, exciting parcels with exotic postmarks and so, by Sunday 19th, I was fully kitted up and ready to go. Trailer loaded the day before with bike and such tools and spares as I could think of as being likely to be useful. Once again, gaffer tape and cable tie shares bucked current market trends. An esky was packed with lunch and 10 litres of water. Weather forecast checked (hot enough to make a duro grip like a Pilot Sport, sunny enough to require a good splat of SPF30) and we were ready to go.

    I’m not a morning person. Hauling myself out of bed in time to get to the circuit (75 kms away) for the 7am gates open time wasn’t a pleasant weekend experience. It was worth it, however, to allow a reasonably leisurely settling in period in my space in the covered pit bays. It was also worth it as the K showed an uncharacteristic fit of temper by refusing to start in spite of having been fine when I loaded it onto the trailer the night before and in spite of having been treated to half a tank of nice, volatile (and bloody expensive) 98 octane. A frantic hunt for Mate enlisted his help for a bump start and we got her fired up after a couple of goes. Phew. Turning up with a non-functional bike would be a quick way to blow $190.

    Sign on went uneventfully and I was issued with a yellow wristband to denote my lowly novice status. Scrutineering was equally smooth and the bike got a matching yellow sticker on its fairing. The coach who checked it over pointed out the renewed dribble of oil from the clutch housing and advised me to wipe it off before anyone else saw it and to keep an eye on it over the course of the day. I set to with a rag and then stuck a bit of gaffer tape over the ‘ole to temporarily contain the bike’s incontinence.
    All done and time, before the riders briefing for the novice group, to have a quick wander along the line of bikes. Lots of late model 600 and 1000 sports bikes, some race prepped, a CBR250RRRRRRR or two, at least one NC30, possibly WA’s entire population of 1098 Dukes and an SR500 who would probably be about my own fighting weight. This was going to be interesting.
    Time for the briefing and an introduction to the coaches, then back to our bikes ready for the first session, which was, supposedly, going to be a few easy laps to familiarise us with the circuit. Hmm. By halfway round the first lap I had a distinct impression that today was going to be a lot harder than I’d anticipated. The fast guys had all cleared off into the distance leaving me with no one to follow along the proper lines, whilst a succession of faster bikes, with riders who may, or may not, have known what they were doing, hurtled past on both sides on a regular basis. I got lost in the gearbox several times, resulting in some very exciting compression lock-ups on the way into corners, and my wrists and forearms started to ache from the terror induced tension. I was starting to wonder what had possessed me to think that I belonged here.
    Eventually the end of session flag came out and I rolled back to the pits wondering if I could square writing off the course fee with my financial conscience. Time for a drink and a bit of a wind down and then along to the debriefing/briefing session. Now that the terror was wearing off a bit, I was able, with the help of the points that the coaches covered, to be a bit more analytical of my performance on the track and started to think I could do a bit better. Race lines were heavily emphasised and, usefully, the issue of correct gears was raised. Rather than constantly fart arseing around with the gearbox as I’d been attempting to do, the whole circuit could be covered in 3rd and 4th, with a brief burst of 5th down the main straight. Perhaps most importantly, it was stressed that what is happening behind is the guy behinds responsibility and that, as long as you’re following the race line, it’s not your problem. That was quite a relief as much of my terror was a result of fear of drifting into the path of someone really quick. We were told to spend the next session picking up reference points for braking, tip in, lines etc, than back to the bikes to wait.

    Out on to the track again and again I fell too far behind the coaches to be able to see them pointing out reference points. I decided not to worry about it and, instead, concentrate on my lines and gearbox position. As a result I actually started to enjoy myself. I even managed to catch and pass a couple of slower bikes, although passing a CBR250 on a K100 is rather akin to beating up kindergarten kids. Passing an SR500 is like doing it with a pick handle. I was vaguely happy that I wasn’t any slower than the CBR through corners though, and I felt the toe of my boot gently touch down a couple of times through the one big left-hander on the circuit.

    Back in, and the bloke next to me in the pits seemed quite impressed with how I’d been going. Reckoned he’d been unable to get past on his Firestorm, although this may have been a result of the huge girth of the K combined with my still rather erratic lines. A glance at my tyres showed that I still had a bit of chicken strip in reserve and they were both showing signs of working hard. At the debrief, I discovered that there are hieroglyphics painted over much of the circuit and all sorts of marker boards and signs at the edges. Buggered if I could see any of ‘em and I was too busy to look harder. Next session was to be body and foot position. I wasn’t looking forward to this much as I’ve never hung off a bike, accepting the limits of ground clearance as is (which, for the road, I’ve always found more than adequate), so I’d be starting from scratch. I was interested that the coaches reckoned that people tend to panic, upset the bike and crash when they touch their boots down. It seems an alien concept to me as, due to my perpendicular riding style, I’m quite used to it and find grinding chamfers on boots and bike to be huge fun when charging hard. The danger of having a foot bent back under the peg was also pointed out, which, again, I found odd as it’s never seemed much of a risk. Mind you, I can see how it would be much more likely on a sports bike with high rearsets that result in your foot pointing more down than forwards. I’ll do the balls on pegs (ooer Mrs) though as I’m paying for the tuition so I’d better listen.

    Anyway, onto the track and try it out. I find I have major difficulties in weight shifting smoothly. It feels like my kneesliders (‘cos the suit’s got ‘em, not ‘cos I think I can use ‘em) are getting caught on the edges of the fairing. However a glance down shows this is not so. Must be the stiffness of the new leathers. My feet keep creeping forwards on the pegs of their own accord too and I have to concentrate quite hard on keeping them where they’re supposed to be. It all feels really awkward and unnatural too. On the bright side, I’m starting to notice some of the landmarks previously mentioned and starting to get a feel for why I’m supposed to apex that particular corner at that particular point. I’m also starting to realise that I’m not the slowest rider there, and not even (quite) the slowest bike.

    This is starting to be seriously good fun.

    Lunch break and then another session concentrating on lines. I’m not sure why, but I was really sloppy this time out. Mind you, so was everyone else as well which resulted in a few confused and tangled moments, generally while there was a coach behind me :oops: . We were all firmly ticked off at the debrief, although I was pleased that at least 20 odd other riders in the group had transgressed just as badly as I had myself so didn’t feel too bad. Next session was to be completed without braking. There were lots of groans and expressions of disbelief, but I felt quite comfortable with the concept, being an ex MZ owner and having ridden MrsB’s Amazing Frictionless Commando on a few occasions.

    Putting it into practice out on the track, I have to admit I did use my brakes on a few occasions when I was convinced I was seriously too hot and the old SRs kicked in. Otherwise though, get the correct gear, rely on the K’s engine braking and lean a little harder and it all went pretty well. I was finding more reference points as well, as things seemed to be happening at a much less frenetic pace than earlier in the day and I was finding time to look around a little. Even without brakes I was definitely getting quicker.

    In once again, and a final real briefing on the next session, which would be concentrating on maximum braking. Being oriented towards modern sports bikes, at least some of the advice provided was of limited application to the K. However, it was a good opportunity to really hammer the front brakes and tyre to see how well she could be pulled up repeatedly. The answer was, surprisingly well, and I found myself well short of every corner (better than overshooting into the sand though).

    The last session of the day was a bit of a free for all, where we could try and put everything together. I was utterly knackered by this time, in spite of keeping up a good fluid intake and eating plenty of sugary stuff. Realistically, I wasn’t going to be going fast and, indeed, didn’t. In the end I was relieved that the session appeared to be a short one and we were flagged in early so the other two groups could get a go before the track was closed.

    So all that remained was to peel off my leathers (making me still more grateful that I’d decided to avoid the rental option) and load up for the trip home. I’m awfully glad I didn’t ride to the circuit as many participants did. I was sufficiently tired that I doubt it would have been terribly safe. There was also the issue that, after a day at full chat, even in a laden 2.7 petrol HiLux it became very easy to creep over the limit pretty much anywhere, so anything more potent wouldn’t have been a great idea.

    And so to the washup. I had a huge amount of fun and was, perhaps selfishly, very pleased that I wasn’t the slowest rider there. It was only late in the day that I realised that I only felt really slow because all the guys catching and passing me were those faster than I was. In many cases, much faster. Of course I’d never see the folk riding at my own pace if they were behind me at the start as we’d just circulate on our own little bits of the circuit without ever being in close proximity. By the same token, there were a couple of folk out there on big, modern sports tackle who should maybe think about getting some more riding experience under their belts on something a little more forgiving. I’m pleased that they take their riding seriously enough to stump up for the course and I hope they continue to improve, but I also hope that they improve far enough, quickly enough that I don’t lap them twice in a ten minute session next time, giving me less work to do in overtaking people. Still, maybe being comprehensively whupped by a fat old git on a 21 year old shaft drive tourer that’s still trailing cobwebs and shod with cast iron tyres (which, by the way, are now thoroughly frazzled all the way to the edges) might give them some motivation. Still, no one in the novice group crashed (although I think someone went into the sand at turn one but remained upright), unlike the advanced groups which had quite a high rate of attrition. Hope everyone survived OK.

    In practical terms, I now know I’m not ready to race. The long term plan is to run the K, slimmed down and well shod, in Rule 20 with the local historic club. It won’t be competitive in its class ‘cos it’ll be up against early GSXRs and the like, but it would be a laugh and might put up a good showing against earlier, air cooled big Japs. However, I feel I need to do quite a few more days like yesterday before giving it a go. I’ve got to work on pretty much every aspect of my track riding before I can even think about being safe and consistent, let alone competitive. However, I now also know that I can be all the above, given practice, and that the bike will not embarrass me, so it’s entirely feasible.

    So, for $190 (or about $1 per km) I can thoroughly recommend such a course to anyone who hasn’t done one. It’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys (although I’m not actually convinced of whether a barrel of monkeys is really all that much fun, so maybe that’s not right) and you may even learn something useful, about yourself or your bike if nothing else.

    You should try it.
  2. Great writeup Pat, very entertaining :grin: .

    Sounds like a blast, can't wait to get out there myself as soon as I can lay my hands on an 'expendable' bike :LOL: .
  3. Nice one Pat! :)
  4. Pi$$er!

    Sounds like good fun.
  5. That was an awesome write-up.

  6. Excellent write-up.

    Have you thought about submitting it to a magazine?
  7. Yes, I've often considered submitting a few of my less rambling writings for publication. Trouble is, I haven't a clue how or who to. I'm probably doomed to remain in the obscurity of internet fora :? .
  8. Yay Pat
  9. Great write-up Pat !!!
  10. A mate just emailed me some photos he took. The photos aren't good enough to post, but the time stamps have allowed me to work out some lap times. 1.38, 1.32, 1.31.

    The pace for the historics is about 1.15 or so. Bearing in mind my extreme newbiness and the basic unsuitability of the bike, I'm quite pleased. Indeed, I'm fairly confident that both it and I have a 1.15 or thereabouts in us. Not just yet though.

    If I can turn consistent 1.20s and keep to the line, I'd consider myself ready to think about touring round at the back in Rule 20.
  11. No-one, NO-ONE writes like that, Pat, what a pleasure to read :applause:
  12. mate what a fantastic read! :cool:
  13. +10.

    Inspirational.. :)

    I have a small request - I know you are in WA, but still, dont come with your bike to anywhere near the Queensland Raceway on 22nd Nov. I am planning to do my first ever track day on a gsx-r1000, and you dont want to lap me twice in a ten minute session, do you? :LOL: :LOL: