Sandia Motorcycle Roadracing, Inc.
by Scott Cloninger
I've thought about this question since I was tasked with writing this article and, best I can figure, there are about 16.2 million facets to consider when you start roadracing, or when you're considering a new race bike. I'll try to hit the high points here and hope that this helps new racers get a good start toward a long and enjoyable roadracing career.
The first thing to consider is what bike to get. I know for many of you that seems like a silly question, especially if you already own a specific motorcycle and your financial situation dictates that you're going to ride THAT bike. I'd ask you to think long and hard about your situation to decide if THAT bike is really the right bike for you. You should examine your skill set and your financial situation and decide whether or not you can really support racing on the bike you already own. Look first at tires. I know it sounds ridiculous, but if you own a moderately modern motorcycle the highest cost of your racing career won't be entry fees, or fuel, or gear.....it'll be tires. A set of slicks or DOT race tires for most modern motorcycles can run upwards of $450 a set, and if you enter several races and you're moderately quick you can decimate a set in a weekend or two. That cost can be dwarfed if you're an unsteady rider and you crash often, so set your budget based on the expected cost of tires, fuel, entry fees, and other consumables. Then DOUBLE it. That'll get you in the ballpark. If the number you come up with is too high, then maybe you should consider selling THAT bike and getting something less expensive to maintain and race, especially if it's easier on tires!
Now that we've covered finances a little, let's talk about which bike is right for you. If you're a beginning racer on a meager budget, then you might strongly consider roadracing either an older motorcycle, or a smaller motorcycle. Both of these types have strong financial allure, and are also excellent trainers for getting faster and smoother! Both types, because they don't make lots of horsepower, are gentler on tires than modern sport bikes. Small bikes, like a 250 or 300, have the added benefit of being very light and maneuverable, so they're both easy on tires and easy to ride at a pace. (A 250 only eats about two sets of tires a year...and they're cheaper than larger bikes' tires, too!) Look closely at the rulebook for the club where you're going to race. (If that happens to be SMRI you can click on SMRI Rulebook.pdf and get a copy) See what classes you think you might have fun in and think of a way you might compete in those. Fun is more important initially than being competitive. Don't worry about winning to begin with; worry about having fun and not falling down. Once you develop a bit of track knowledge and race craft you can gain the skills and confidence to compete for championships.
OK, so now you have a bike. What do you need to do to make it race worthy? Well.....remember that rulebook we discussed earlier? It has an entire section on the technical rules that every bike at SMRI must follow, and another section that defines other rules specific to the class of bike you're racing. Look both sections over thoroughly and be sure that you have a complete understanding of what you need to do, what you can do, and what you CANNOT do before you begin preparing your motorcycle. Preparation is generally not expensive, but if you remove something, break something, or discard something you need it costs more.
At a minimum, you'll need to safety wire your bike. The inexpensive way to do this is to go to the hardware store and buy several hundred 1/16" drill bits (OK....a dozen or two will probably work) and a drill if you don't already have one. You can borrow your neighbors drill if you must, but be sure to take it back when you're done. You'll need to drill holes in several fasteners so that they can be secured with safety wire. I won't go into specific techniques here, as there are already several online guides to the techniques employed. I will simply tell you that at a minimum you'll need to drill the axle nuts, brake caliper bolts, any fasteners that directly form part of an oil restraining system like crankcase drain bolts, oil filler caps, and oil cooler line fittings, and you'll need to wire the oil filter. You can either put a band clamp around the filter or buy a filter with a fitting for safety wire already on it, like K&N. Don't drill through the filter! Duh!
You'll need to make sure the crankcase drain can't drain oil onto the ground. That means you'll need to pull the hose that goes from the crankcase vent to the air box and route it to a catch can, instead.
Then, there's bodywork. At a minimum you should remove anything that's a light, unless it's inside the instrument cluster. That means the headlight, tail light, and turn signals. You'll also need to remove the side stand, which means you'll need some way to hold the bike upright in the garage and in the pits. You can purchase a nice rear stand, or you can simply use an adjustable height jack stand under a rigid point on the bike. You can buy race bodywork if it's within your budget, but it's not absolutely required. You'll learn more as you race, so keep your eyes open.
If you crash When you crash, fiberglass race bodywork can often be repaired while stock ABS cannot, so that's one possible consideration down the road. While you're at it remove the license plate bracket, passenger grab rail, passenger pegs and peg brackets if possible, and anything else you simply don't need.
If your bike is liquid cooled, replace the coolant with either unadulterated water, or water plus an approved coolant modifier like Water Wetter. No ethylene glycol coolants are allowed in race bikes, because when you crash and coolant leaks out, or when your bike overheats and spews coolant, ethylene glycol coolants are REALLY slippery.
It's hard to imagine, but I believe that is the bulk of the real work in getting your bike prepped. There are several small steps, like taping over the master cylinder cover or mounting SMRI decals, but they take mere minutes compared to the items above. You'll hear other racers talk about lots of things like smaller chains, or titanium bolts, and other measure to reduce weight. Don't worry too much about that right now. When the time comes you can set up a spreadsheet and figure out how many hundreds of dollars you spend per pound reduced, but for now it won't matter as rider skill is the limiting factor in lap times 99.9% of the time.The last thing I'll encourage you to do, especially if you're a new racer, is get your family involved in your racing efforts. The support of family and friends is invaluable when it comes to enjoying your time at the track. That, and they make good free labor when it comes time to pack up. Make it your goal to get out to the track, have fun, and learn your craft. In the long term it will serve you better than an absolute determination to win at all costs. And, who knows, if your brain is wired just right you might be the next Valentino Rossi. I hope so, 'cause I'll be able to tell everyone I knew you when.........