Flattrack racing is a whole lot more exciting for us in 2017 as the Bike Shed is supporting the DTRA in a slightly more official capacity. The season kicked-off with a shindig at our Shoreditch HQ where we had planned to pack arch 3 with loads of race bikes. But by the time Adam Brinkworth had rolled his cooler than ice Chevy El Camino, complete with BSA racer, through the doors space became somewhat of a premium – reserved for the tastiest kit.
Mike Hill from Survivor Customs finished his Rotax framer just in time and it was well worth the wait after a winter watching his progress on Instagram, the craftamsnhip and finish are impeccable. Envy doesn’t come close.
Not to be outdone in the frame building stakes was Kye Forte with his XS750, built in the shed at home by his dad Ric. If someone had told me that this was a fully restored ex-Kenny Roberts machine from the Yamaha museum I’d have believed them. Stunning.
Krazy Horse customs are fielding two Indian Scouts in the Hooligan series this year and brought one down for the day – actually it’s still here if you want to pop in for a butchers. It might be a big lump but it looks the absolute business and feels like it’ll be tough to beat, in the right hands – no pressure Lee.
Super fast DTRA Pro Leah Tokelove brought her Death Spray Customs liveried KTM 450 DTX racer to show the boys that you don’t need a bespoke framer to be quick.
James Jordan from Kingdom of Kicks will race his trusty Triumph again this year but also fancied a bit of hooliganism and knocked-up a Sportster in double quick time. Transportation style guru (his race hauler is awesome) John Harrison was accompanied by his lovely Vintage Class Triumph and smartly dressed entourage.
The sun shone and the ‘Shed was packed-out all afternoon. Sideburn Magazine and DTRA merchandise was selling like hot cakes, and one lucky rider won an entire season’s race entries.
Images stolen from Sideburn
It’s been a decade’s dream to own a Ron Wood framed Rotax and I’ve been bothering Sideburn’s Editor Gary Inman for years about how to get hold of one and what to ride if I couldn’t (he has one of the nicest Woods in the business). Prior to last season he probably thought it’d be another shoulda-woulda-coulda year as my procrastination reached fever pitch. Thankfully I spied an old Yamaha YZ450F on Facebook with an alloy tank and chrome frame, so at least a little bit custom and a step in the right direction. The DTX bikes (lowered motocrossers) have never really appealed to me but I wanted to learn on something cheap and crashable. Despite the trusty Yam taking the rookie class title at the end of 2016 I wanted one bike for 2017 that’d be eligible for two rounds per meeting – Restricted and Thunderbikes.
Despite having an entire winter to prepare I was still chasing around at the 11th hour to finish my CCM Rotax project bike. What I thought would be ‘a quick kit-part build while I get a Yamaha 700 framer project underway’ turned into a more trial, error and workshop hours than I care to remind myself. I sent a spare swingarm to Survivor Customs for shortening as I felt I needed at least one properly fabricated part on the bike. The rest was a cobbled together, midnight oil burning effort. R6 forks and triple clamps came from the eBay – welded bosses to the underside to accept normal bar clamps. A Woods fuel tank and Knight seat ordered from Redmax Speedshop but of course sods law meant that wouldn’t fit the CCM frame so an angle grinder was used for fettling – A square meter of fibreglass matting, 47 pairs of latex gloves, 17 paint brushes and a whole load of swearing followed. Finally a Cagiva Canyon 500 front wheel was made to fit thanks to bottom bracket bearings from a unicycle and alloy spacers from a man selling machined parts-to-order via eBay.
One of the problems with flattrack racing for the novice is that Google doesn’t have any answers and despite the DTRA family being the most helpful and friendly bunch of folk you’ll find – there’s only so much pestering one can do. Especially when I could have just ordered a complete, properly setup bike from Survivor rather than try to copy swingarm angles and seat height from an Instagram photo. More fool me.
Suspension and wheel building experts Hagon, located just down the road from the Shed HQ, laced a new 19″ x 2.5″ alloy rim onto a spare CCM hub and specced a specific shock for my weight, the bike’s ride height and it’s intended purposes but unfortunately it has adjustability, meaning I fiddled with things without really knowing what I was doing.
Two practice sessions led to a false sense of security and I sidelined my trusty Yamaha 450 in favour of attempting Round 1 of both the Restricted and Thunderbike classes on the relatively untested Rotax. Rookie error.
Restricted class, Heat 1 was a disaster. Pottering around the outside and staying out of trouble I saw a nice chunk of daylight down the front straight and wound the throttle to stop, ping! The cable jumped out of it’s slot and I didn’t even complete a lap. Hugely irritating as I’m the most fastidious throttle tinkerer there is, I strip, clean and lube the thing after every single practice/race day. Turns out the Dellorto cable nipple didn’t like the Venhill housing so I reverted back to stock.
With zero points and no chance of making a final the rest of the morning was spent trying to undo whatever it was that I had done to the suspension – it was like riding an angry kangaroo around an ice rink. The rear wouldn’t turn on the throttle and it kept trying to throw me out of the seat. By lunch my arms were pumped and a foot longer, toys out of the pram and spread across the pits, but the beauty of the one-bike-fits-all concept is that you get another go in the afternoon.
The Thunderbike class was everything I’d hoped for, a mixture of pure framers, altered CCM and ATK derived Rotax powered machinery and a smattering of big bore (regulation minimum is 600cc) Yamahas and Hondas, plus the ever so smooth and fast Guy Sutherland aboard his vintage Triumph, the aforementioned Kye Forte’s XS and new to the series young gun Calum Price from deBolex Engineering on a slammed, road legal Husqvarna 701 (ridden to the Bike Shed for the launch the day before).
Despite a few battles that should have been fun I was still frustrated at riding well below pace I’d found in practice a week earlier, I blamed the track watering tractor that insisted on doing its thing before every single one of my heats, the bike, my gloves, the 24 degree temperature and just about everything else. Thankfully it appears that too many ouchy moments have unearthed a sense of self preservation and patience, shedding the win-it-or-bin-it moniker I hope. 4th, 5th and 7th positions accumulated enough points to make the final – my aim for the season.
Starting from the back row with nothing to lose, or gain really, I settled down to try and have fun – the real aim for the season. Which nearly didn’t happen as the exhaust decided to melt through a sagging cable and destroyed my electric start smugness. Kye’s dad smoked the go kart tyre on his MotoGP style starter and got me going just as the gate was closing. Phew!
There were some close battles and the laps seemed to go on forever but about three from the end I found myself giggling and hollering mid corner. The bike was still awful but I gave up fighting it and enjoyed the moment. I was up Gary Inman’s chuff, aboard that green and black Woods Rotax (I think he was held up in traffic) and actually doing it. Not reading about it in Sideburn or dabbling at Dirt Quake but racing with the big boys and my mates on a pretend framer I’d sort of built myself. If that’s not dreams coming true I don’t know what is.
Photos by Ian Roxburgh
Talk to Mike about building race bikes, customs and hot rod haulers Survivor Customs