It’s been 217 days since I’ve been on the track, or as I told the Americans, a Canadian weekend.
After injury put me on the sideline to success in 2015 I was keen to fix some of the issues with my racing program to hedge my bets for 2016. There were a few developments over the off season, and the main one was violating my own cardinal rule. I kept a bike. Since I started riding in 2010 I have never kept a bike for more than a season. As a street rider I always wanted to try something different. As a racer I always want something better. It turns out better costs money.
My dear 2003 Yamaha R6 has not been the “best” bike. She can be temperamental. She can flat out refuse to work sometimes. She isn’t the fastest down the straight, quite the contrary. She oft decides that third gear is not the gear you want, even if it is. However, when she works, she is a hell of a ride. She handles like a dream and can brake with the best of them.
As mentioned, third gear has been a constant problem since I got the bike. If you upshift with the utmost authority it is generally not a problem. However, in the midst of a battle if you take any liberties with the shifter it will pop back to 2nd gear or go into a false neutral. Going down the box was not much better. At the end of the long straights going down three gears, fifth to second, it would often not shift down to second but stay in third instead. Keeping the bike meant having to fix this issue.
There are several way to skin a cat. I could take the motor to someone and have it fixed. Expensive. Race cut gears? Even more expensive. Perhaps I just buy a used motor. Cheaper but an unknown quantity. Fix it myself. Somewhere in the middle and only myself to blame if it all goes wrong. Sounds like a plan.
Will the help of my good friend and fellow racer Bill, we set about inspecting the transmission. Bill has previously done the transmission in his nephews 2002 R6 which is almost identical internally so at least one of us knew what we were doing. Splitting the cases and inspecting the gears revealed the engagement dogs for third gear were quite badly rounded, as well as the gear it meshes into. Two of the shift forks showed wear as well as the shift drum. All the parts were ordered with the utmost efficient through St. Onge Recreation and we set to putting it back together. Well, if I hadn’t left half the bolts at home we would have. Bolts retrieved and a long night later it was back together and ready to go back in the bike. Thanks to my 2016 endurance teammate Marc and some Lost Era engineering we got the motor back in and she fired up first crank. Ready for practice!
The other main development over the off season was the team decision to stop freezing our asses off in a tent and playing packing tetris every weekend to go to the races. The new bike budget was diverted in the trailer fund and we picked up a 6×10 enclosed trailer off of another great SOAR racing family.
I got the wheel chocks installed, the bikes loaded, and all the other stuff. I had originally registered for the Saturday practice, but after using my amateur degree in meteorology a.k.a checking the radar every 3 seconds and seeing the 90% chance of rain never changing I opted to switch to Sunday. Leaving for the track at 9pm, having to wait for Melanie to get back from a roller derby game, meant not arriving until 11:30pm. Early by my standards. Even for the first time out, getting a trailer was totally worth it. Being able to pull up, pull out the bikes, and go to sleep is worth it’s weight in gold.
We awoke on Sunday morning to the sunshine, cool breeze, and the feeling of the trailer floor as the air mattress had leaked out almost all of it’s air overnight. Lovely.
My goals for the practice weekend were simple. See if the motor blows up and see if I still remember how to ride. Hopefully more of the latter than the former. With the warmers on, the riders meeting out of the way, and the road racer mating dance that is putting on my gear, I was ready to go.
The first session out was about knocking the rust off, and testing out the new transmission. Third gear never felt so good! The shifting was so smooth and so precise it was like a new bike. As I turned my laps and increased my pace I noticed that I was not touching my knee down at all. Was I slow? Was my body position wrong? Do I just suck? I went into the carousel determined to give it some lean and get some contact. It was then that I figured it out. I hadn’t put any sliders on. Needless to say one side has some melted Velcro now.
I took another session to get back on the pace. However, after that I felt good and started pushing. I set about attacking the braking zones and seeing how deep I could go. Dumping three gears with the back end sliding is seriously good fun. I was pushing the front end a bit trying to up my corner speed, but I think the track was still fairly cold, and the front tire is still from round two last year so it will be replaced for round one.
The rest of the day was just turning laps trying to burn up the old gas while making minor adjustments to lines and braking markers to see what worked and what didn’t. I also took out my endurance teammate Marc’s bikes for a few sessions to try and diagnose a lack of power above 10,000RPM on the A bike, and get some seat time on the B bike. Post weekend inspection turned up some nasty looking plugs in the A bike so hopefully a new set will fix the issue.
I consider the weekend a success. The motor didn’t pop and I got back in the groove quite easily. The new trailer is making packing and unpacking a lot easier and I’m looking forward to not sleeping in a tent this season. Here’s looking forward to a great season and we’ll see you all in three weeks at SOAR Round One!
As always thanks to my sponsors St. Onge Recreation for all the parts and accessories to get me back going again this season, Orange on Orange for the awesome website, and Winterborne Bicycle Institute. Also big thanks to Bill for all the help and guidance with the transmission rebuild and Marc for his help getting the motor in and out.
Photo credit goes to Nicki Rohrer-Mitchell. Thanks for the great shot!