Categories: all aviation Building a Biplane bicycle gadgets misc motorcycle theater

Mon, 13 Sep 2010

Racey-day fun

I have pictures brewing for this story too, they're just not ready yet.

So, I've been prepping this Ninja 250 for the track, and this last weekend was the time to do it. I took Friday off, and finished bike prep by installing the new stainless steel braided front brake line. This is an absolutely necessary modification, in my mind -- I'll skip the exhaust and the pod filters and whatnot, but the two changes every Ninja 250 needs for me are suspension and brakes.

I got my friend Jesse's trailer loaded up (thanks for the loan, Jesse!), and all my stuff packed into the truck in plenty of time, and had a leisurely evening, including impromptu dinner with a friend. Mmm, indian food.

Saturday morning came nice and early, and I was out of bed around 5:30 (I don't honestly remember, it was so early that things like clocks didn't make a lot of sense yet). Pack food, final check, lock and unlock the door several times as I remember things. Finally, around 6:40, I rolled out.

20 minutes later, rolling down I-5 southbound toward the track, I was passing under the West Seattle bridge when I noticed what I first thought was a hockey stick, slowly and gracefully pirouetting in my lane. It was travelling about the same speed as traffic, so it had obviously been dropped by a vehicle just in front of me. Traffic wasn't heavy, but there was enough traffic around that I couldn't quickly change lanes, and there was this delighful Jersey barrier (ie, solid concrete wall) to my right.

As it got closer, it resolved itself for what it really was: about 8 feet of 1-1/2 inch iron pipe. There was nothing for it, and as I overtook it, it passed under my left tires. There was a big bump, but no apparent damage, so I put it out of my mind.

Going up the hill after that, I noticed a truck to my right, exactly pacing me. This kind of thing annoys me, particularly when my truck is suddenly acting underpowered, and I feel a strong urge to pull over just in case, having recently run over a very solid-looking piece of iron in the road. He eventually pulled forward, and I saw that it was my friend Mark, also on his way to the track. I offered him a weak smile and a wave, and he pulled away.

About a mile later, I was looking in the rear view mirror, and noticed something black spinning away from my lane. I thought to myself, "I hope that's not from my truck, I don't want to lose anything." I'd tied everything in pretty well, though, so I wasn't worried. I looked in the mirror a few seconds later, and saw several more black things spinning off, and realized I had a problem. I pulled off the road as quickly as I could, and took a look back at the trailer, and the small cloud of burnt-rubber smoke coming from the left tire -- it was completely shredded. The wheel had a huge dent, and it had obviously deflated the tire within a second or two of hitting that pipe.

After far too long sitting there dithering on what I should do, I finally detached the trailer, and locked it and the bikes to the guard rail (thankful that I'd remembered to bring along a long cable just in case), and headed south, to the Harbor Freight store. Jesse's trailer is from HF, and I figured they'd probably have a spare wheel. Of course, it was 7:30 in the morning when I got there, and they don't open until 8:30. Arg! The rider's meeting (mandatory) is at 8:30. Looked like I wouldn't be doing any racing that day.

HF fortunately opened a bit early, and I was rolling northward to retrieve my (hopefully not already stolen) trailer full of motorcycles from the side of I-5 by 8:25. I couldn't see them as I passed where they should have been on my way north, and the last few minutes of my trip were quite tense.

Turns out there had been some strategically placed shrubs blocking my view, and the trailer and bikes were still exactly where I'd left them. After an inordinately long digging-around period, I located all the pieces of my jack, and jacked up the trailer. Then I jacked it back down, loosened the lug nuts, and jacked it back up. The new wheel went on with no problems (fortunately I spotted in the store that I'd first grabbed the right wheel with the wrong number of lug nuts), and I was quickly on my way to the track, only about 2 hours behind schedule. Equally fortunately, I had my full tool kit with me, so the fact that I needed a 21mm socket for the trailer lug nuts didn't even phase me.

I got to the track around 9:15, and even the front gate folks had heard rumors of my misfortune. She admonished me for missing the rider's meeting, and I said, "I know, my trailer tire blew up." "Oh, that was you!"

By the time I was ready to start unpacking (having quickly zipped over to registration to pay my moneys), the slow practice session was getting called. I hadn't even rolled a bike off the trailer, much less had a chance to get out my leathers (not for lack of trying: my fellow racers had offered to get my bikes unloaded, but were stymied by the cable lock I'd left looped between the bikes -- thanks for the effort!). Oh well, I'd be in time for the one race of the day, a make-up race from the first session, where Claude Jinks had passed away while racing, which had cancelled the rest of those races.

I ran in that race, turning in a mediocre 2:17, just like the last time I'd been out. I missed the majority of the races this season, due to a number of different complications in my life. Then it was time to lower the canopy over the bikes, and head out. I promised the theater folks that I'd be back to Seattle by 1, and still hadn't left the track at 1:10, procrastinating while hanging out with my racing friends. I don't get to see them enough. Eventually, I did make it to the theater, and we got some stuff done.

Sunday morning came too early, although I was able to get up at 6:30 instead of 5:30, since I didn't really have to do any setup. At the rider's meeting, Tim, #220, rolled his Ninja 250 (an '09, the cheetah bastard!) up, and Phil Cook (#217) and I did the same. Tim and Phil gave a little speech about the Cheapskate Cup class, encouraging others to join in the fun. I have a feeling next year is going to see a few more 250s out on the track.

The schedule on Sunday was a bit mental. 9:40, practice. 11:40, 250 race. 1:10, 250 race. 1:40, 160 race (back to back). 3:40, 160 race. The weather forecast was for rain, and we did get a bit of a misty rain, starting at the rider's meeting, and ending during the practice session before ours. So, the track was distinctly damp when we went out for our practice.

Of course, I took the 250, as I'd never had it on the track before, and wanted a chance to sort out any bugs before the 11:40 race. It ran well, and nothing obviously needed attention, although the track was wet enough that none of us were able to go very fast. I got one of the best compliments I've ever had: Phil said my form through turn 2 was really good, and that he was unable to keep up with me. Granted, he was on a 250 with stock suspension and brand new (therefore slippery) tires. Tim (who is hella-fast) was behind me for the first few laps, and although I was worried about holding him up, he said I was fine. Apparently his race-compound BT-003 tires were "like ice" on the wet track. Score one for running BT-45 sport-touring tires on the track! He actually had the back end step out in turn 7, to such an extent that the corner worker thought he was going down (we ended up red-flagged at turn 7 after #87 crashed in turn 5 -- no injuries, but he flung a lot of gravel onto the track that needed to be cleaned up).

The first race at 11:40 was a 250 race, and it turned out pretty well for me. We were riding with a couple of other classes of bikes, some of which were considerably more powerful than us. I didn't have any problems with that, and I was only lapped twice (turning a 10 lap race into an 8 lapper for me). My times were pretty good: 2:12 worst lap (the first) and 2:05 at my best. 2:12, for reference, is the fastest I've ever gone on my 175. I'm sure it's all down to higher straightaway speeds and more power exiting corners, but it was pretty cool to see that 2:05 sitting on the timing sheet.

The next race, at 1:10, was a bit sketchier. I did almost exactly the same, performance-wise, but had two incidents that made me question the sanity of what I was doing. The first was in turn 6. This is in the middle of a series of closely-connected turns. Right at the apex of 6, as I'm at maximum lean, there's suddenly a motorcycle beside me. On the inside. He passes me safely, but by doing so where he did, he put himself where I needed to be at the next moment. The only choice I had was to straighten the bike, aim for the wall, and pray I could stop in time. I did, leaving a heavily-gouged trail in the dirt leading up to the embankment, but I was deeply unhappy about it. I suppose a better rider probably could have saved that better than I did, but it looked to me like trying to stay on the track would just have me crashing.

The second incident in that race was coming around the bus stop (turn 10). I was entering it as I always do, when I heard the throaty rumble of one of the faster bikes getting close. I figured he'd pass me into the bus stop, which is fine. When I looked back, though, I saw a line of five of those fast guys lined up, packed close together. Remembering that I'm their problem, and not vice versa (as long as I'm in front of them), I went through as I normally would. One of them ended up jumping the curb. No damage, but that was a lot of disaster potential packed together right there. I'm just a slow vintage rider, guys, I don't do the "grr, gonna getcha!" thing. Tim was saying later in the day that they want to re-arrange how races are grouped together to avoid that kind of dramatic speed differential in the future. Apparently these guys have never had to deal with slower bikes on the track before, and they didn't handle it as gracefully as they could have. I guess everyone on a 250 in that race had a few sketchy moments too.

Possibly the most heart-pounding moment of that race was actually the fact that I had to roll into my pit, park the 250, and leap on the 175 and head out again. I did it in very short order, and just made it for the whistle releasing bikes to the track entrance. My first turn into 2 on the vintage bike was pretty clench-inducing: the 175 is definitely not like the 250. It turns in a lot quicker. I nearly threw it onto the ground, and had to quickly readjust my riding reflexes. Fortunately, that was just the tire warm up lap, and I was alright for the race. My knees were definitely feeling it, though, and the smaller frame on the 175 felt a lot less comfortable than the big, more-modern 250. My quads were pretty sore by the end of the day.

The last race of the day was the final vintage heat. I did fine, just doing another 2:17 best lap. I'd actually managed a 2:15 in the first race on the 175 (although I felt like I was faster than that, coming straight off the Ninja). Nothing notable to report, although it was nice to have another vintage race where I wasn't immediately lapped by a big bike. That's because they weren't there, but I'll take what I can get.

The day wrapped up with packing all my stuff up, taking a few pictures, and heading out. I was home by six-something, and returned Jesse's trailer by 7:30. I think I was in bed by about 10. Much sleeping. I still don't feel caught up on sleep, but I'm better than I've been on some past weekends.

In all, I had a good weekend. I wish the races had been spread out over both days more than they were, but this wasn't too unusual. The 250 racing is actually quite exciting: I feel like I fit on the bike a lot better, and I don't spend any time worrying about what's going to fall off or fail. It's a 2005. It only has 12k miles on it. Once I sorted out the cam chain tensioner and tightened down all the engine mount bolts, it was fine. I'll probably still be going over it and applying many drops of thread locker this winter, but it was solid.

Of course, I'm already pondering upgrades to the Ninja. On the short list are different tires, clip-on handlebars, and a single-sided exhaust (mostly to lose weight off the bike -- it'd also be nice to have a louder exhaust note; I couldn't hear the engine very well, which made it harder to judge shifts). I'm sure Tim and others will show up next year with beautiful, blinged-out bikes that will put mine to shame, but I've gotten used to losing that contest, too.

Posted at 12:53 permanent link category: /motorcycle

Categories: all aviation Building a Biplane bicycle gadgets misc motorcycle theater