Tag Archives: yamaha

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…..

Going fast at night

Opening Day. In Baseball it’s in April, my brother and I alternate between Angel Stadium and Dodger Stadium each year. We don’t care where we sit, we don’t care who wins…well, we care a little bit…we simply enjoy being there for opening day, it’s an event that is bigger than the game. In motorcycle racing it’s Daytona. Opening Day for those of the two wheel persuasion. Last year was my first trip to Daytona. Two weeks of working with racers and race teams. It truly is a scene much bigger than the event itself. Vintage races, endurance races, high dollar factory teams and lowly privateers just happy to be there.

“Headlights??…we don’t need no stinking headlights!!”

The big event is the Daytona 200. 200 miles on the legendary banking of Daytona Motor Speedway.. The only AMA ‘ endurance race’ on the calendar. This year, the new owners of the racing series have thrown a new twist to the classic race..let’s run it at…Night??!! Light up the track and send the racers out, hey it worked for MotoGP last year in Quatar, why not in Florida??!! Good thinking boys. Move Supercross to the daytime, they get more spectators than the roadrace does, and put the 200 on in the evening. It’s better TV because it’s different. I like it. The MotoGP pilots and the AMA riders are racing on well lit tracks..they won’t be running headlights. At the Dunlop tire testing sessions last month the racers all went out at night and liked it. They liked the difference. I talked with a couple of different racers and after getting past the initial weirdness, the common comment was ‘fun’. But, let’s say you are racing the Bridgestone / WERA Endurance series and a couple of the races take you into the night. Not all tracks are  lit up…most aren’t. Now what to do. You my friend need lights, and good ones at that. Turn 8 at Willow Springs comes up really fast… really, really fast, and I’m sure you have a turn at your track that does too. You have logged many miles on that track and you know exactly where your braking markers are, your turn in points and when to get back on the gas…but,it changes at night. Racing at night requires adjusting your motorcycle and yourself.

Preparing for the WERA 24 hour race at Willow Springs a few years ago, my team and I started working on ourselves before working on the bike. We are blessed with a having one of the best canyon roads in California in our backyard, we ride it regularly and know it as well as we know Willow Springs.

“ I wear my sunglasses at night”

…a cheesy crappy song at best , but…great training for racing at night. My friend Pete Christiansen, one of WSMC’s finest, and I started riding HWY33 at night with sunglasses on, no kidding. Scary at first but when you start letting everything flow...”Luke..use The Force..” it all works. We got to the point that we could ride the canyon at about 90% of our normal pace. But, let’s add in the mechanicals to keep things in balance. Better bulbs , brighter bulbs..” hey there’s my turn in point”…make all the difference in the world. But setting up your race bike for them can be a bit of a challenge. Your race bodywork isn’t designed for headlights..do you go back to the stock front fairing and all it’s additional weight? Cut holes in your high zoot Airtech fairing? mount lights off to the sides? Decision, decisions… Our team opted for remounting the stock front fairing and the bracketing to have lights in in  the easiest manner. We didn’t worry so much about the weight..this was a 24 hour race..longevity was more important than sprint speed. After the first test at night, we figured we wanted more light. We had already put big watt bulbs in the stock lights, PIAA driving lights were next on the shopping list. Easy mounting and wiring and WOW…I can see all the way to Arizona!!! But… …Not for very long. Here’s the one thing we forgot about and you shouldn’t…the bikes charging system. How much juice does your bike put out?? Will it power the bike and a lot of lights?? In our case..not quite enough. Here is where a really good story comes into this bunch of drivel…

My good friend, Evans Brasfield (www.evansbrasfield.com), magazine writer, photographer and roadracer along with his team were riding a Kawasaki EX500 in the WERA 24 hour race at Willow Springs …brave men. Yeah, they blew up a couple of motors over the course of a day, but they had the coolest lighting system of anybody. We all know what a Kawasaki EX500 is, 500CC twin cylinder little hot rod (now the Ninja 500) , basic bike with minimal bodywork. You got your headlight in the fairing but it’s kinda weak at best. So, what do you you do to race this little speedster at night?…BIG ASS driving lights mounted like Mickey Mouse ears on the front fairing. Uh, Ok…but if a 600CC four cylinder machine has trouble powering a couple small additional driving lights, how’s this little twin going to run two really big driving lights. Sheer genius, or brain damage…a flourescent light fixture ballast mounted in the fairing. How it actually works I have no idea and I don’t care but it was really neat. But wait…there’s more and you have to use your imagination for this part. These big ‘ol, they belong on a Baja truck, lights are not aimed straight ahead, oh no…they are pointed outward at about forty five degrees…looked really weird going down the straightaway but when you tip the bike into a turn, wow!! the driving lights REALLY lit up the turn. Cool. You could see a long way through the turn. Thank you Evans. Our Yamaha was quite a bit faster but every now and then in the middle of the night I would catch up with Evans and crew then follow them through a couple of turns just to give my eyes a rest. These guys really did have a cool set up. Crappy motors, but cool lights. So, this years Daytona will be run ‘under the lights’ not ‘with lights’. But if you are going to race at night, make sure your electrical system is up to the task. Oh, and more thing. Once you get used to racing at night, you will be amazed at how fast you can go. Average lap times at night were less than two seconds off daytime lap times, in a couple of cases night speeds were even faster. I think those guys were vampires…yeah Pete, I’m talkin’ about you…

What generation gap?

I’ll start this post with an apology. There will, in about eight months, be another Nielsen to terrorize the motorcycling world. I’m sorry.  The other day my son Kelly informed me that I was going to be a Grandfather. This can’t be true I said to myself, I’m not that old!!?? A quick look in the mirror and guess what…I am that old. Damn.

I started riding at the ripe old age of fourteen, I rode my fathers Honda CB160 right into the back of his ’66 Impala. Being the good dad, he first asked if I was OK, I said yeah…but as he was asking the question he was checking out the motorcycle. I don’t believe that he even heard my answer. That’s OK too. From that time on I loved motorcycles. It was my stepfather that truly injected the sickness to me. I can’t thank both of them enough.

My son Kelly was about two years old when I first put him on a motorcycle. Trail riding in the Kennedy Meadows area of the southern Sierra’s. Outfitted him with helmet, goggles…(do you know how hard it is to find goggles, much less a helmet to fit a two year old??!!), gloves and whatever I could find for protection. Here we are on my trusty Husqvarna 250 getting ready for a fun ride through the mountains. Over the years I would take Kelly to school on a motorcycle, go to the Speedway races in Costa Mesa on a bike, all over the place and all on a motorcycle. But for some reason the sickness never infected him. Where did I go wrong??

Fast forward a few years. Kelly graduates from high school and we send him off to Europe for three months or so. It’s amazing what you’ll do to get your kid out of the house! Downside…he came back. Upside…he came back and wanted to ride?! Cool. He had rented a small motorbike in Greece and got hooked. He told me that he never understood my obsession until then. We spent Christmas day riding around the hills of our town just having a blast. He on our little trusty CB350 and me on..I don’t remember.  Put the boy in the local MSF course, got his license, made him spend six months riding the little 350 and then got him his own bike,  a Honda Hawk GT. He still has it.

Another short ‘fast forward’ here, my father who got me started, wanted to ride again..great. But..he hadn’t ridden a motorcycle since the days of the Honda 160.  Search the classifieds and back yards and found my dad a ’71 CB350, the perfect starter bike…it seems I have a thing for the Honda 350’s…it’s a weird sickness don’t ask, I don’t know why. Anyway, same thing for dad, MSF course and time on a little bike.  Next up, a Honda GL500 Silver Wing..neat little bike and a good traveler. Dad and I ride the SCMA 3 Flags Classic, Mexico to Canada in 3 1/2 days, together a couple of times and some other good trips. Dad was in his 60’s at the time and just as enthused as a kid, it was great.

At the same time as all this was going on, I was roadracing out at Willow Springs here in Southern California, AFM in Northern California and doing the western AHRMA races. dadwsmc1 My dad became the crew chief of our team and was having the time of his life. But…something was missing, Kelly. For some reason racing didn’t appeal to him..wuss.

paul-and-kellyI don’t know what happened but one day my son decided that racing might be fun…duh… So we bought another Honda Ascot to go singles racing and get him started. After a few races on that evil thing (“that bike is trying to kill me”) we actually got a proper race bike,  a Yamaha YZF600. Set it up and off he went. The highlight of this time was the WERA 24Hour Endurance race at Willow Springs. The whole family, my daughter as a scorer, my son and myself as racers and of course my dad as crew chief. So, like I have said before, when the family rides together, there is no generation gap.

My son and daughter still ride and my dad rode his Gold Wing (he finally stepped up to the BIG leagues) until he passed away. Oh, and one other little note here, in the 24 hour race, my son Kelly was the youngest racer and I was the oldest. We finished 3rd in middleweight supersport. Not bad for a kid and a geezer