A month or two back myself and a friend found out we had a local kart circuit that had begun offering the crazy yet fantastically entertaining sport of pit bike racing.
This wasn't a group of Nike Airmax wearing pit bike riders you may be accustomed too. No, this was in fact a series in it's infancy at this circuit of Supermoto converted pit bikes where folks take it seriously once the visor is down, yet have a laugh about it in the pits afterwards and all help one another.
I decided rather quickly I need to get involved. One huge benefit to this sport is how cheap a form of Motorsport it truly is. I managed to pick up a CW 140 pit bike for £475 with a host of spares including wets on wheels! Now combine this with a race day costing just £40 pounds. Yes forty pounds, or the equivalent to a good evening in the pub. Transponder hire for the day is £5 and best of all, you need no licence.
I've had the bike some 6 weeks or so but due to other commitments hadn't be able to attend a practice day, naturally what I did was wait until a race date was available and dive head first into the deep end with minimal prep work. I think I had watched 2 or 3 on board videos (mainly of karts and not of pit bikes) and had been to visit the circuit once while they had been racing. "But surely you would have ridden the bike prior?" I hear you shout. Well of course I did, for all of 5 minutes up and down outside my unit whilst it was raining just to a get a little more familiar with the race shift pattern.
23rd September - I was registered, had received my race number of 69, (because I'm a massive child and not because I'm a die hard fan of the late, great Nicky Hayden) and had managed to shoe horn the bike into the boot of my Peugeot estate ready for an 8am arrival at the circuit.
The atmosphere is all very friendly and everyone is more concerned you get out on track and have fun, than who can set the fastest lap or who overtook who. Don't for a second believe that means there isn't competition, at the front of the grid the times between people are split by tenths or even hundredths of a second!
For your paltry sum of hard earned you get 2 x 6 minute practice sessions in the morning, you then break for a driver briefing and then continue on with 3 x 8 minute + 1 lap heats, the points accrued in these decide your grid positions for the final which is 10 minutes + 1 lap.
Practice 1 - In the morning and for our first practice session there were areas of the track showing the early signs of a drying but largely with damp patches exactly where you would want to put the bike or equally push the bike a little harder i.e. braking zones.
A steady approach to just figure out where the track went and I was pleased not to crash so early on and was filled with confidence heading towards my second practice.
Practice number 2 - The karts that alternate in between the pit bikes had done a stellar job in conjunction with the warming sun of drying the remaining areas of dampness although hadn't completely removed them. Coming down the pit straight, I say straight loosely as just after the start line is a fast kink that is taken in 4th gear if you are brave enough, for the first time and suddenly the bike started cutting out with symptoms similar to fuel starvation. I pulled over on the outside of the first corner and started kicking the bike like a mad man but to no avail. I haphazardly propped the bike against the barrier and resigned to watching how it should be done from the safety of behind the metal barrier
Luckily it was an easy fix... it was just the spark plug cap which had decided for some unknown reason to do it's best impression of a flag and blow about in the breeze. At least it wasn't worse!
Heat 1 - After the disappointment in the 2nd practice I was eager to treat the first heat as an extended practice of dry running. They run heats with random grids where by you will start in each third of the grid randomly. Out of 18 I was placed 16th which I was happy to be nearer to the back as I knew I'd be slower.
A wheelie of the start hampered my get away and I was holding 16th through until we crossed the line and that's when I dropped back. I felt good through the race and certainly got faster towards the end of the race which showed as I set my fastest lap in that heat on lap 10 out of 11. A few fallers in the race and I went away with a 14th position finish and a fastest lap of 50.8 seconds.
Heat 2 - I was 7th on the grid with the only chap I had similar pace too sat in 6th. Getting mullered on the start line I tried to keep him in my sights but sadly with where I was being passed by faster riders it allowed him to get away and keep away. I had a couple of moments where the rear squatted a little too much so I made a mental note to have a fiddle once I had got to the pits. Improved and set a fastest lap of 49.035 on lap 4, I expect due to following faster riders and finished 16th out of 18. Again there were fallers but I managed to make my first over take! The chap who had gotten away fell on lap 9, I passed him as he was on the floor but once he had got the bike restarted he was about 5 seconds up the road on me. I dug deep and had the chase on, as we passed the line and were shown the last lap board I had the gap down to under 10 bike lengths. I worked hard and managed to get close to him as we rounded the long sweeping final corner. I told myself in my helmet "just open the throttle earlier" which weirdly, I listened to myself and drafted him and passed him just before we crossed the line. If it had been for position and not to add another lap there would have been 0.3 seconds splitting us! I was absolutely buzzing!
Heat 3 - Starting 6th on the grid I was worried about how easily others would come through but really I shouldn't have worried so much. It's the case that people were so much faster that really I was more of an object to manoeuvre around than somebody to race. I got a poor starting nearly stalling after pulling away and lost I expect a good 5 places before tipping in for the first corner. I soon got my head down and was pushing harder earlier in the race. Around lap 3 or 4 and I had a couple of rear end slides, the only other person who had shown similar pace to me was a long way behind me so I took the decision to just dial it back a little and nurse it to the final. I had nothing to gain and a lot to lose, it wasn't worth the risk of having to work on my bike to make the final or worse, injure myself and end my day prematurely.
It was a shame after I had felt so confident heading into the race but I still stand by my decision. I expect it was largely down to my tyre pressures and the fact the temperature had risen but I hadn't dropped them at all since the morning.
I only managed a 49.304 set on lap 2 which shows I backed it off early!
Final - Heading to the final and I was a bit dejected having heard talk of "back markers this" "back markers that" all through the pits while waiting for the final. I had even considered going home as I wasn't happy with the bike in the 3rd heat.
I took a minute, pulled up my big boy pants and went out. I was due to be 15th on the grid but moved up a spot as another rider didn't arrive for the start.
The lights went out and I had one of the best starts I had had all day, I tipped into the first corner around the outside of other riders and had a good feeling rolling with the pack if only for a few corners.
Again I stuck my head down, tried to concentrate on lines and just getting faster and more importantly not being last and not being the slowest which had been my goals for the day.
I made a silly mistake part way through the race and it meant a front runner brushed my outside leg with his arm/shoulder as they went round the outside of me, knee firmly squashed into the tarmac. It was certainly a sight to behold!
I felt faster through the whole race and wasn't getting as tired. Then, on one of my favourite corners which is in fact almost two corners, a double apex left and on the last lap no less. I felt something at the back of the bike which felt really odd, I stood the bike up, headed for the grass with an arm in the air and heard and felt something "go". I pulled it up on the grass, looked around and sure enough, on the edge of the track lay my chain which had decided to part ways with my bike.
It was a frustrating to end to what was my most enjoyable session all day! Despite the chain issue I still finished 16 out of 17 and set a time of 48.682 on lap 9 of 13.
Summary - There were highs and lows, there is plenty of work to do on the bike and today my thighs are in so much pain that when attempting to get out of a chair I resemble a granddad after a few sherries, it certainly isn't a fluid motion!
But for £45 and about £8 worth of fuel I can't think of a better way to spend a day. I achieved my goals and can't wait to get back out!
One downside is underestimating the bike, those used to kick starting bikes will know the fear of a bike kicking back if you use a little throttle to get the bike to start.
I also know this but when cold the bike doesn't enjoying starting without a little bit of throttle if you catch it right it's fine. If you don't then you end up with a leg that looks like mine. See the photos in the gallery!
A great day and I thoroughly recommend trying it, even if it isn't for you then you are unlikely to lose much if any money buying and selling a pre-prepped bike providing you have all the equipment such as leathers etc.