Tag Archives: offroad racing

Baby Riders

I have spent the vast majority of my life on two wheels. From riding a Schwinn Stingray to school, throwing newspapers onto porches pedaling that same Stingray…well…occasionally the paper ended up on the roof or in the shrubs…”sorry Mrs. Cleaver…”. I wish I still had that Stingray…do you know much that would be worth on ebay right now??!! About the same time I started getting really interested in girls I also got the motorcycle bug. My friend Byron down the street had a Taco mini bike that we terrorized the neighborhood on for years but now, it just wasn’t cool enough. I needed a real motorcycle.

My first experience being on a real motorcycle was when my dad came home from Vietnam in 1966. The first things he did was buy a new car and a new motorcycle. The car; 1966 Chevy Impala SS, the bike; a brand new Honda CB160. Looking back I wonder…why did he buy a big Chevy with a really big motor, I think it was the either the 396 or the 427, and then buy a ‘little’ motorcycle? If you’re goin’ big go BIG…he could have gotten a Triumph, BSA or a Harley… and in the words of the late John Belushi…”But Noooooooo” he had to buy a little Honda.??!!

I was fourteen years old and I was spending a few days with my dad when he took me on my first driving lesson out at the Marine Corps base…I didn’t get to drive the Chevy, I drove my step moms VW, oh well, you’ve got to start somewhere. But then…but then…came, “you want to ride the Honda?”… “gee Dad, let me think about this a whilel, YEAH!!!” I may have called that Honda 160 ‘little’ but when you’re fourteen, sitting on that bike was better than kissing the prettiest girl in school. And what did I do??…I promptly rode into the rear bumper of my dad’s new Impala…yes, I Impaled the Impala…sorry dad. A rather auspicious start to a long motorcycle career don’t you think?

I was fourteen years old when I started riding motorcycles, started racing at sixteen and you know what I’ve learned of late? I was a late bloomer.

In my job as a Moto Journalist I have had the opportunity to interview and spend time with every type of rider. Racers, travelers, industry types, photographers and everyday riders…it’s a great job. There is always one common denominator, the love of riding a motorcycle. Where does that love come from? Usually it’s dad, an uncle or a big brother…sometimes all three and occasionally it’s a friend who goes through the “this is the clutch, this is the brake,shifter…one down and three up” ritual with you. Most women I have talked with got the bug from a boyfriend or husband…I think they got tired of looking at the back of his helmet or, more often, telling themselves they can ride ride better than him.

About a year ago at the AMA Grand National Flat Track races in Pomona, California I was walking the pits doin’ my job…talkin’ to racers. I usually don’t spend too much time on race reports, I like to get to know the racer and the question I ask of everyone I talk with is…”how old were you when you started riding motorcycles?”. Everybody has a fun story about when they first threw a leg over a motorcycle.

On the way home from the race, I was mentally editing the interview’s and one common thread came through…nearly all of the riders I spoke with started riding very,very young. Somewhere between Pasadena and Fillmore I started reviewing all my roadracing interviews as well and I came up with the same thread. I worked through my interviews…MotoGP, World Superbike, AMA Superbike, AMA Flat Track, Motocross and here is what I found. Most all these champion racers were barely out of diapers when they started riding and racing. Take a guess, how old do you think most of these guys were when they first threw a leg over a motorcycle? If you said ‘four’, you win the prize…that’s right, four years old. At four years old pretty much all they could spell was PW50 or JR50 which, were the two most common bikes all these racers started on.

So what have I learned from all this research? I was a racer of no renown because I started ten years too late and that I’m going to have get my grandson a PW50 in about three years. Now if I can just convince his mother…..

My First MotoCross

It was a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon in the San Fernando Valley made all the more beautiful because I didn’t have any yard work to do. I had already gone for a good street bike ride and was now sitting in my garage with my ‘a little less than trusty’ Bultaco Pursang wondering what to do. A year ago, almost to the day, I sold my faithful Matador to a fellow enduro rider because he wanted a Bultaco Matador and I wanted a Pursang. Good enough reasons don’t you think. The man that bought my Matador was an interesting story in itself. I first met him during the overnight at the Greenhorn Enduro a couple of years earlier. A buddy of his drove up to Ridgecrest to meet him, help him with anything he needed to do on his bike and drink beer. It was long night for those two.

I woke up the next morning with frost on my sleeping bag, it gets cold in the desert at night! I climbed out of the bed of our truck heading to the porta john and here were these same two guys passed out next to their truck still in the clothes they were wearing yesterday. The rider was still wearing his boots. On the way back I went over and did my best to wake the guy up but after 15 minutes of shaking, yelling, poking and prodding, this guy was still dead to the world so I gave up. And besides, I had to get ready to ride.

Two hours later, this guy on a beat up old CZ pulls up next to me at a checkpoint, asks me if I was the guy trying to wake him up. I said yes, he looked at me and my motorcycle and said, “nice bike, next time try a little harder, thanks” and off he went.I saw him at the end of the Enduro, walking along with a beer in each hand looking for something, or someone. Turns out he was looking for me. He thanked me again for my efforts that morning, handed me a Lucky Lager beer and then asked if I wanted to sell my bike? I told him no, I liked it too much. This little “do you want to sell your bike?” scene happened at almost every Enduro I rode for the next two years.

At the end of a particularly grueling District 37 Enduro, I was sitting on the tailgate of the truck too whooped to take my boots off and here comes Mr. ‘You want to sell your bike yet?’ carrying the usual two Lucky’s. He hands me one and asks the usual question. This time I shocked him, “Sure, how much you give me for it?” “I got three hundred in my truck, I’ll be right back”. Half hour later my step dad and I are driving home with only one bike in the back and three hundred dollars I didn’t have that morning.

So, here I am sitting in the garage staring at the Pursang that the three hundred dollars, along with some help from the guys at Steve’s Bultaco in Van Nuys , California got me. There are no desert races this weekend so maybe I’ll just go trail riding, even though a Pursang is not what you would call an ideal trail bike…I wish I had my old Matador back. I call a couple of friends about going riding but everyone has plans, oh well, I didn’t really want to go trail riding anyway.

Two beers and a bike wash later, my friend Tim wanders into the garage carrying two beers that I swear he got out of my refrigerator, and parks his butt on my BSA. “Whaddya doin’ tomorrow?” he asks. I told him I wanted to go riding either up Angeles Crest on the Beezer or maybe dirt riding somewhere. “You ever ridden Motocross before?” he asks. “No and I don’t have any plans to”. Two more beers and enough badgering by Tim, I’m changing the gearing on my bike for motocross.

Sunday morning as the sun is coming up, Tim and I are heading to Indian Dunes, a cycle park about 30 minutes from home. Indian Dunes is a big place, two motocross tracks, a flat track, and miles of trials in the surrounding hills. I had been to the Dunes a couple of times before to watch motocross and ride the trails but never to race. To say that I was a bit apprehensive would be an understatement. I had been racing in the desert for years, even rode a TT race a couple of times, but the push, shove and knock you off your bike world of motocross was going to be new and I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it.

Tim spent the whole time driving to the track telling / convincing me how much fun motocross was and how I was going to do great. On and on he went, giving me tips on the start, the first corner, the jumps, using the berm…etc,etc. After a while I tuned him out and started thinking of ways I could gracefully get out of this. I couldn’t use the old “the bike won’t start’ or, ‘ I think maybe it’s seized’, Tim’s too good a mechanic for those excuses to work. I couldn’t even pull off the ‘I’ve got a hangover’, he’s ridden with me when we were both hungover. I was doomed, I was going to have to race.

After signing up for the race, Tim in the expert class and me in the novice group (Novice??…how humiliating…I’m an Expert in the desert…) we had an hour or so to practice before the official practice sessions started. Off to the ‘easy track we went, and so did everyone else. I got bumped, knocked down, stalled my bike twice coming out of a corner, and run into a tree. If this is what they call practice what’s the race going to be like?? Now, I’m thinking maybe I could go ride off on one of the trails into the hills and come back after the race and say I got lost, or maybe I could crash and break something important so I couldn’t ride like, say, my arm…Ok, that last idea wasn’t such a good one. It looks like I’m still doomed to race.

Back at the truck, Tim starts right in giving me more tips and encouragement. Start in second gear, don’t get caught on the inside of the first turn, take the second jump on the outside and use the berm for the next corner, stay wide on the last turn ‘cuz that’ll give you a good run down the straight and into turn one and watch out for the guy on the Maico he worse than you…Thanks Tim. I’m sure he said a lot more, but after the first five minutes all I could hear was my poor motorcycle saying “I wanna go back to the desert…I’m not having fun…”.

Walking back from the outhouse I heard those dreaded words over the loud speaker…”Novice class to the start, novice class to the start”. As I was getting my helmet on I decided that my only goal in the first moto was to not fall down. Probably easier said than done I thought, but that was the goal.

As the starter was getting everyone lined up in position I couldn’t help but notice the kid next to me had to lean his bike way over just so he could put his foot down. Ok I thought, I can at least beat this kid off the line. The flag dropped and that kid was gone like he was shot out of a gun! And me…I stalled the bike right there on the starting line. Ok, I’m last but I haven’t fallen down…yet. A couple of kicks and the Pursang lights off, so do I. Turn one is littered with bikes from a pile up…uh, guys, there’s only room for two bikes to get through the first turn side by side. After picking my way through the tangled bikes I’ve got clear track in front of me. Let’s see what was it Tim said about the first jump? Too late, it’s behind me now. Hey, guess what, I’m actually catching up to someone!! Here we go, second jump…stay to the outside, use the berm, it worked, I passed the guy like he was standing still…well actually, he was laying still. Who cares, it wasn’t me on the ground. Two more laps, passed two other bikes, they were were still upright, hey this motocross stuff isn’t so bad after all.

After fifteen minutes of this pounding my body was screaming at me. My arms were pumped up, my thighs were burning and I think every filling in my mouth had been bounced out along with the teeth they used to be in. Only five more minutes in the moto, I can make it?

As I rode over to the truck, Tim was standing ready to catch me as I fell off the bike completely beat up. “ Wow…you did great!! Did ya have fun? Motocross is way better than desert racing yeah!?!” I couldn’t even answer. Tim leaned my bike against the side of the truck, handed me a canteen full of cold water and just started laughing . “Man I can’t believe you stalled on the line?!, what gear were you in? Second like I told ya? and you should have seen yourself over that first jump…I thought for sure you were gonna do a ‘flying W’…” Now he was laughing so hard that I couldn’t help but laugh too.

I watched Tim’s first moto to get some ideas on how to do it. I watched the leaders, of which Tim was part of , and, I watched the guys in the back of the pack, figuring that that would be where I would be racing. At the end of his twenty minute moto Tim rode over to the truck, parked his bike against the fender and instantly started planning his next moto. All I wanted to do was wash two aspirin down with a cold beer.

An hour after my first moto was the second one, I had to beat myself up one more time today before I could go home. I was lined up next to the kid that was too short for his motorcycle again but this time he was leaning the other way? I thought he was just trying to psyche me out..it was working, I almost blew the start again. The flag dropped, the kid shot off and I actually got a decent start. Remembering the melee at the beginning the first moto, I backed off just a bit and sure enough, five or six bikes got all tangled up and I went right by..ha ha, I’m getting the hang of this motocross stuff. Or so I thought.

About half way through the moto I was in a heated battle with two other riders including the guy on the Maico that Tim said was worse than me. This battle went on for three more laps before I was getting just too tired to fight. This is a bad time when you’re a racer, your race mentality (read ego) takes over and good sense just goes freewheeling down the track without you. Coming to the second jump I was on the outside (like I was told) planning my attack on the guy in front of me, when out of nowhere comes another racer with the same plan as me but he was going a lot faster.
When I finally opened my eyes and mentally counted all my body parts, there was my buddy Tim looking down at me with a big grin on his face…”man, you should have seen you fly!! I wonder if anybody got a picture of you?” and then as an after thought, “oh hey…you OK?” Without waiting for my answer, he picked up my bike and said “How good of friends are you with those guys at the Bultaco shop?” Not what I wanted to hear at that moment.

Tim went on to place second, I think, in his moto and combined with his first moto finish, gave him third place overall for the day. Not bad considering he spent a lot of his time babysitting a novice motocrosser.

We drove home that evening, me licking my wounds and Tim just going a mile a minute telling me all about how funny I looked flying over the edge of the jump heading right for the tree, legs over my head and still holding onto the bike with one hand. On and on it went and I don’t think Tim stopped laughing all the way home.

When we got to my house Tim headed straight for the fridge and returned with two cold beers, “beer before unloading, that’s the motocross way”. When we finished our beers we unloaded my beat up Bultaco, dumped my riding gear in the corner and opened up a couple more beers. We didn’t talk much during that second beer, I was too beat up and I think tiredness finally hit my friend.

Tim hauled himself out of the chair and made his way to his truck. I stayed in my chair because I couldn’t move. As Tim drove away, waving his trophy out the window, he yelled out, “I’ll call you later this week about going again next Sunday!!” Fortunately when Tim called on Thursday, the broken parts of my motorcycle were on back order, as in I hadn’t ordered them yet back order, but I didn’t tell him that.

When my parts did come in, I promised my Pursang that there would be no more motocross for us, the desert was our home. And there friends is the story of my first, and last, motocross race.

One note here, I don’t have any pictures of Tim and I from that day as a matter of fact I don’t have any pictures of Indian Dunes Cycle Park so I got these from Elrod Racing at www.elrodracing.com. Thank you.

Stop on a dime and get nine cents change. Pt1

OK boys and girls, how many of you live where your bike is parked for the winter? Let’s see a show of hands. One, two, three…wow… too many to count. Now here is where I could gloat…living in So Cal and riding year round… but I won’t. I’m your friend, I’m here to help.  Our last podcast (www.themotoworld.libsyn.com) we reviewed motorcycle video games; good fun but only for a little while. Some of us have project bikes to build…I’m working on my Honda 350 Cafe Racer… and we all have maintenance work to do. Whats your project? I have a good one for you and actually, it’s the most important maintenance project you can do.

phpthumb_generated_thumbnailjpegStop!!! Literally.  It’s time to either upgrade your brakes or simply service your current braking system.  Brakes are something we take for granted until they don’t work. But you’re thinking “my brakes work fine, I’ve had no problems…I’d rather put a pipe on, change the bars,  powdercoat or chrome the frame, install a GPS, buy some new saddlebags and maybe a new set of tires.” Yeah OK, lets try this again…It doesn’t matter how fast you can go if you can’t stop when you need to.  Let’s make your bike stop better. And, besides, it’s a good winter project.

My day job has had me working with motorcycle brakes for a long time and I’m always amazed at how little riders know about their brakes. From how they work to how to use them. There are a number of riding schools that can teach you how to use your brakes and those lessons are valuable but, most ‘stock’ brake systems are lacking performance. Brake upgrades are easy and not too expensive.

Let’s start with the biggest improvement you can make to your motorcycle, install a set of braided steel brake lines. You will not believe the improvement in performance and feel. Honest. The stock rubber brake lines are junk, jettison them as fast as you can. When you buy a new or used motorcycle, the very first thing you should do is replace the brake lines!standard-galfer-ss-line-kit

Motorcycle brakes 101. What happens when squeeze the brake lever?  Class?..Anyone?…Anyone?  Here’s the basics of your brake system..pull on the brake lever or step on the pedal, fluid is forced from the master cylinder down to the caliper to squeeze the pads onto the rotor and, voila..your motorcycle slows down. Nice. Now picture this, when you send fluid down the stock rubber lines the first thing that happens is that as the pressure increases the rubber expands, kind of like a balloon, then…the fluid heads to the caliper and the general feeling at the lever is vague.

Picture number two; you squeeze the brake lever and your bike slows down faster than it ever has..even better than when it was new!! Stainless lines don’t  expand, they transmit the energy right now, right to the caliper, right to your disc and you came to a stop a lot sooner than you used to. Nicer. Then there is the feel at the brake lever. Positive and predictable. Nicer still. The ability to modulate your brakes entering the corner, mid corner and exiting the corner is crucial to confidence in your riding. You know exacxtly how the brakes are working, no mushiness, no vagueness, just positive feel at your fingertips.

Installing new lines is really easy. Buy the new line kit from your local shop or online store, it should have all the parts you will need…lines, bolts and washers. Get a new bottle of high quality brake fluid, DOT4 or 5.1. Don’t use the one sitting on your shelf since last time you added a bit a year ago. Next, read the installation directions. This is not a piece of IKEA furniture, it’s your life so a couple of minutes reading the manufacturers instructions is a good thing.

Remove the old lines and pay attention to the routing. Some aftermarket line kits have different routing and some are the same as OEM so just look carefully at what you had and what you now have. One thing to add here; always disconnect the brake lines first at the calipers and let them drain out before you disconnect at the the master cylinder and always cover any painted surface with a towel or rag so you don’t accidentally drip brake fluid (which could eat your paint job) on your bike.

After the old brake lines are off install the new lines. But wait….now is the time to make sure you have your routing correct. Hook everything up but don’t tighten everything down just yet. Once the lines are on, move the suspension up and down..no binding?..good. Now move the steering left to right; again, no binding?…good. If your bike has a fairing, the lines aren’t catching anywhere?…good. Looks like you’re set to finish the job.

Before you tighten down all the bolts be aware of one VERY important thing…some aftermarket brakeline companies have different torque spec’s than the motorcycle manufacturer. Back to step one…read the directions.  Many Aftermarket companies use aluminum bolts instead of steel so the torque specs are often times much lower and ‘Armstrong’ torque wrenches aren’t very valid. Make sure you have a good torque wrench and use it per the directions.

Everything is all hooked up, it doesn’t bind and now it’s time for fluid. A good high quality Dot 4 or Dot 5.1 and you are ready. Fill and bleed the system..this is where it is good to have a friend.  But let’s say you don’t have any friends, I have a solution for you, remember, I’m here to help.  The EZ Bleeder. a90f_21We have all used or heard about the Mighty Vac to suck the air out of your brake system but the EZ Bleeder does it just the opposite. The EZ Bleeder ‘pushes’ the air out of the system. It’s simply a syringe you fill up with brake fluid, attach it to the caliper and push fluid ‘UP’. Air likes to go up. System is bled in no time and you are ready to go riding.

A word of caution here…your brakes are going to be a bit more sensitive than they were before. Take a few miles to get used to the new feeling and the improved stopping power. Don’t go grabbing a handfull of brake like you used to, you might just find yourself, well…

Next up will be installing new brake pads..there’s more to it than sliding new pads in and this something you want to do yourself..don’t leave it to the dealer.

The mother of all races

dakar3Right now, if you are lucky enough to have a TV service that brings you the Dakar Rally, I envy you. I have been hooked on the Dakar for years. I would read about in the magazines, follow it on the internet and when Speed TV broadcasted it, I was glued to the TV.  There is no greater test of man and machine than the Dakar.  Two weeks, thousands of miles, the most extreme conditions imaginable; all on your motorbike. No fancy motorhomes, no elaborate catering, teams service the bike during the night, if you are a privateer with no team, you service the bike yourself and try to get enough sleep to start again the next morning.  And, this is if nothing goes wrong.  dakar1

It originally was the Paris-Dakar Rally. Paris France to Dakar Senegal Africa. Starting under the Champs Elysee in Paris, a short ‘Special’. Across the French countryside to the Mediterranean. An overnight ferry ride and you’re in Africa, now the Dakar really starts.

The rally features cars, motorbikes and trucks.  Cars that many of us here in the USA never see,  motorbikes specially built and trucks…BIG trucks. The trucks are the wild part of the race I think. In years past it was the support trucks that had their own race, now they have their own class and it is amazing to watch.  Next to the motorbikes it is my favorite race to watch.

Things changed this year however, the rally has moved to South America. Two years ago a section of the rally in Africa was cancelled due to terrorist threats. The entire event had to be airlifted half way across the continent. Hundreds of cars,trucks,motorbikes and support teams. What a monumental effort. Last year, 2008, the rally was all set to go, everybody was there. Riders, drivers, mechanics and staff. At the last minute, literally the last minute, the race was called off again due to terrorist threats. All that time, effort and money wasted because of a few dangerous nutballs. I have friend who was part of a team, they spent a year building and testing their bike. They were there in the bivouc excited as hell to be there and then to have it all tossed away. Heartbreaking to say the least. At the US MotoGP round at Laguna Seca last summer, I had a chance to talk with Toby Moody about the threats. Toby was the announcer for the English speaking television broadcasts. He said it was very real and everybody felt very unsafe.

The end of the Dakar? No way. The organizers basically told Africa, you don’t want us…OK, we’ll go somewhere else. South America was more than happy to have the rally.  Over three months time a route was planned, Argentina to Chile and back to Argentina. Fourteen days…the Andes, the Patagonia, the Atacama Desert…from below freezing to 100*. This will be the the rally of rallyes.dakar2

If this piques your interest go to the official website www.dakar.com everything is there..video, photo gallery, news, the route, history…you can even buy Dakar T-Shirts!!! Wouldn’t you be stylin’…

It is the mother of all motor racing, a true spectacle. Take a look at it and you’ll be hooked too. Now, if only my TV service provided coverage…sigh. I guess I’ll wait for the video.