Big Man, Small Bike - LiveMotoFoto Does UMRA Mini-Moto
I am insistent on telling the world about the marvels that can be had with small displacement motorcycles.
Today I went one step further. You may have caught a recent article detailing my instant addiction to Mini-Moto racing after witnessing a UMRA 24 endurance race. I got it in my head a couple weeks later to head out to Adams Motorsports Park in Riverside California to get a little taste of the action first hand.
Safety First Y'all!
First things first...I needed to gear up. I met up with my friends at Alpinestars, and got set up head to toe with some of the best gear on the planet: GP Pro Gloves, SMX Plus Boots, and Motegi One Piece racing suit.
Located out in Riverside, California the Adams Motorsports Park is a 13 turn (optional course) go-cart course right off the 60 freeway. I came out on the invite of UMRA founding members Ryan O'Neill and Christina Orris to get a taste of what it's like to race mini moto.
Ryan greeted me upon arrival. For those that do not know Ryan, he's a very friendly dude with a great sense of humor, wicked mustache and an affinity for good cigars. After we exchanged a few pleasantries and caught up on past events, he walked me over to the Honda XR100 that would be my mule for the day. After a brief run through and understanding its quirks, he set me loose onto the track.
Suited up and ready to go, I felt like a total badass. A motorcycle race suit is a unique garment, and in our industry, it's pretty ubiquitous and rarely discussed unless it’s for a review. But a race suit seriously makes you feel like a superhero.
I walked around the XR100, did a quick inspection, and then threw a leg over. I may or may not have bottomed out the suspension. Once in the saddle I did a quick look around, checked the brake lever and the clutch lever to make sure everything was operational, and kicked her into first gear.
The XR100 is incredibly light. Even with my fat ass in the saddle, the front wheel wanted to come off the ground as I yanked the throttle. The torque produced a big grin under my helmet. Once out on the track, I pushed through the gears and was underway.
Smooth is Fast
It was almost a year to the day since I had been out on a track. My last experience was at Barber Motorsports Park on a Triumph Street Triple R. No one would disagree that that is one spoiled way to spend a day and one awesome bike to rip around a track on. Even better, I incured no incidents on track and learned a ton. However, a year later, there was nothing smooth about my operation on this little bike. My first session was abysmal. I found my corner entry speed being far too fast, the brakes of the XR 100 we're squishy and provided very little stopping power. The result was me low siding five or six times within four to five laps. I pulled into the pits and said to myself, “Okay, I need to slow down. Smooth is fast. Smooth is fast.”
I have friends that are world class coaches and many others that are simply light-years ahead of me in skill. Lucky me, because they always push me to be better. There is a mantra in the world of motorcycling: "Smooth is fast." Rogue inputs, jerky responses, and sudden reactions are not well received by any motorcycle. Of course, uttering this phrase is one thing, enacting it is very different. Learning to be in control is what divides good motorcyclists and better motorcyclists from the best motorcyclists. Like anything, mastery is attained only with practice, discipline and time.
Ryan came over and said,” Hey dude, you look like you're having fun out there? I have never seen someone so happy to lay down a bike. Anyone ever tell you you make lowsiding look really good?” We had a chuckle and proceeded to ask me if I wanted some advice and my response was, “Of course.”
He replied: "Don't worry about the kids on the NSR50s or some of the other racers on the track. They are always going to be faster than you and there's nothing you can do to catch them. The brakes on these bikes are shit, so instead of relying on the brakes, downshift and incorporate some engine braking. That technique is going to be your best friend. These bikes are super squirrely and don’t have the stability of bigger bikes, so this means they are a lot less forgiving. Focus on your body position, holding your line, hitting the apex of each corner and seeing you're going to see an improvement tenfold."
Ever since I got back into motorcycling four years ago, I have not stopped learning. I don't think I ever will. I am grateful and perhaps luckier than most because I have had some of the best people in the world teaching me how to be better rider.
I got back out out on the track for the remainder of the session and made it six laps without incident.
Racing: The Super, Super Abridged Version
The key with these small bikes (and motorcycling in general) is learning how to carry your speed heading into a corner, finding the correct line while setting for the next turn and utilizing engine braking in conjunction with regular braking. That is my super abridged version. There are books and schools dedicated to mastering race mechanics and by no means am I being super conclusive, but I found those focal points to be an amazing start when approaching a track day. Also critically focusing on body mechanics, head position, and smooth throttle inputs made a world of difference.
I wanted more so I headed out for my second session and all was going well. Lap after lap, no problems. Until something went awry entering turn 5 toward the end of the session. I must have misjudged my line and tried to re-correct halfway through. Big mistake. Instead of just pushing through, my front tire completely washed out and I took a nice tumble. I was fine, but little did I know that someone had been following me closely and bam!
Out of my periphery, I saw a bike and a rider go toward the interior grass area. It was an NSR50 and underneath it was not an adult, but a kid. I said to myself, "Oh shit, I've killed a child." Like it was nothing, I picked up the NSR50 one-handed and tossed it to the side. Ryan ran out from the pits and we ended up picking up the kid and taking him back to the pits—his ankle was a bit busted up.
I felt horrible, but he said, "Don't worry man it was my fault, I locked up on my brakes and folded my front end. I over-reacted and down I went. This is just the nature of racing.” I could not help but smile; a kid was philosophically schooling me in the art of motorcycle racing.
Seth: the Man, the Kid, the (Future) Legend
This young man happened to be Seth Hauer, a 13 year old from Mentifee, California. He has been racing mini-moto for the last 4 years and has more maturity and insight into the world inside and outside of motorcycling than most young people I come across. He and a number of other kids practicing on the track that day happen to be some of the sport's best racers for their age group. I was literally racing with kids that are likely to be the future stars of motorcycle racing. I think that’s pretty f**king cool. The nearly taking one of them out part...not so much.
I sat with Seth to ensure he was ok. We shared some laughs, wrapped his ankle and got him ice. Luckily nothing was broken, but he would have to sit out for a couple sessions. He would be back in the rotation in under an hour. This kid is hardcore.
Seth asked me, “So, how long have you been doing mini-moto?” I laughed and told him. “Prior to our little wreck, about 35 minutes. This is my first go on these little bikes.” With absolute positivity and encouragement he replied, “That’s awesome man. We need and want more people to get involved in this. You’re pretty tall, you should try one of the Honda Grom’s instead of the XR100.”
“I’ll get to a Grom soon.” I said.
Round 3 And Beyond
On Seth’s encouragement, I geared up for another session. I was not going to get better at this race thing by sitting with him. By the last session of the day, everything had come together and bordered on butter smooth. Corner entry speeds were fast and manageable. My body position was on point, I was dragging a knee into almost every corner and I was consistently holding good lines and hitting every apex. It was a damn good feeling. I was becoming more comfortable on the XR. I approached the point in a number of corners where I could feel the moment the rear wheel would begin to slide and compensate back into control by manipulating the throttle and my body.
When I was out on the track I recalled a conversation I had with Shawn Thomas, my dear friend and rider coach who introduced me to off-road adventure motorcycling. Observing my gung-ho and often fearless nature to learn, he said my biggest challenge would never be my lack of gusto, but rather the need to temper my inclination to push my own boundaries in a short amount of time. The trick to becoming a good rider is not always about pushing yourself past boundaries but rather having the wisdom to live at those plateau points. Become comfortable with where you are. When that plateau becomes second nature, it becomes the new base for future advancement.
After 4 hours of hitting the track and 6 sessions later, I could see a noticeable improvement in my ride ability. I also had a better understanding of what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. I was in control of my mind and body. This is where motorcycling takes on the Japanese art of zen.
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