I’ve been sitting on these photos for ages, which is stupid. This glorious flat tracking machine was exhibited at the 2017 Bike Shed London show as part of the Dirt Quake display and again this summer as Sideburn Magazine recreated a life-size cover of issue 32, alongside co-star and fiercely fast racer Lucia Aucott.
But long before the glitz and glam, and as with many of the best things in life, a shed was involved. Kye Forte is a world renowned, Red Bull sponsored BMX racer and dirt jumper. But it was his dad Rick who inspired Kye to take up racing in the first place. Rick is a lifelong motorcycle guy and an accomplished engineer too whose been restoring and creating home-brew specials for as long as he can remember.
New to flat tracking Kye threw a leg over a 450 DTX (converted MXer) bike in 2016 and was immediately quick, but he and his dad had an itch to scratch. To build their own Kenny Roberts replica Yamaha XS750 racer. Actually it was more Rick’s itch from a time before Kye was even a glint in his dad’s eye. In 1977 King Kenny raced at a grass track meeting near the Forte’s family home near Exeter, Devon. Rick was so overwhelmed by Robert’s performance that the enthusiasm never wained and just shy of four decades later and the desire was still burning so he set about building, from scratch a homage to that rip-snorting Yam that defeated the Triumphs back in the day.
The donor was an eBay find but would end up being far from a bargain. The stock frame was a boat anchor and the motor too asthmatic for race use. Rick embarked on mission to sculpt a tubular structure from cro-moly, using a home-brew frame jig fabricated especially for the project. He had basic dimensions and angles imperative for flat tracking to work around but the rest was a wet finger in the air job. Without CAD or blueprints Rick faithfully replicated a grainy photo downloaded from the Internet.
Meanwhile the engine was breathed on, heavily, by XS tuning whiz SmedSpeed. The capacity is up to 750 cc thanks to a big-bore kit and high comp Wiseco pistons. A ported and flowed head with a race-spec camshaft married to a re-phased crankshaft not only ups power output considerably but makes for one of the best sounding bikes in the DTRA paddock. Since the initial build the sump has been modified to avoid power sapping crank splash. The clutch is now actuated hydraulically and the gear shift pokes out of the right hand casing, allowing Kye to prop the thing up on his left leg and deal with braking and shifting unencumbered.
Despite there being a fair amount of guess work involved the bike works incredibly well. I was at Rye House for the first proper run in 2017 and to add to the theatre a MotoGP style starter is the only thing that’ll coax the angry motor into life. The cacophony of thrashing generator engine and the burbles, belches and bangs of the off-beat XS was simply wonderful. And Kye was of course rapid, his smooth and unflustered style made the Yam dance around Rye’s tight turns.
A few weeks later at the larger and more sweeping Peterborough track (my favourite) during the MCN Festival I raced against Kye and the XS properly. During one of the heats I was dicing for 3rd place, close enough for the occasional kiss of tyres. Not bad I thought, this guy runs in the pro class on his 450 and hauls on the XS. A chat in the pits knocked the wind from my sails, a faulty condenser had caused a misfire and Kye had been fending me off with one-and-a-half cylinders. Oh well, it felt good at the time to have a visor full of yellow and speedblocks, imagining the King was doing his thing.
Next season I’ll be riding my interpretation of the Yamaha framers from flat tracking’s golden era. I do hope Rick and Kye are impressed. And perhaps polite enough to let me passed from time to time.
And there is talk of road going versions being produced… form an orderly queue here.
Images by Dan Jones (except show shot, Amy Shore for that one)