As I explained in the Introduction to this story, I’ve joined a team for the 3rd Annual UMRA 24 Hour Endurance Race but I have almost no experience going fast on little bikes and even less experience with legitimate racing. To get an idea of what to expect, I asked a few friends who have participated in this race before for advice. One of them was Brody Cox over at Motorcyclist Magazine, and he responded by telling me to meet him at an open practice day to just experience it for myself. He didn’t have to tell me twice!
So on Sunday morning, full of nervous energy, I rode out to Apex Kart Track in Perris, California for one of their open bike track days.
It’s a simple setup: you pay $38 for all-day access, and…that’s pretty much it. There’s no tech inspection for rider or machine, so you have to have a bit of faith in the riders you’re sharing the track with. You just show up, pay your fee, set up your canopy, and then ride. The day is organized in 15 minute sessions split between go-karts and bikes, so you’ll get plenty of track time.
Brody has been involved with minibikes for years, and nowadays he races a Honda XR100 and Kawasaki KX65 in corresponding classes of UMRA. A recent highside during a race meant he was taking it easy and wouldn’t be riding, but he was still kind enough to lend me one of his bikes to try for myself.
Well, this wasn't what I had planned for this weekend…had a massive high-speed high side in turn 3 on Horse Thief Mile during the 65cc final that sent me over the bars a good distance. Luckily my #arai signet-x took the brunt of the force (as it was designed to do). Waiting to be seen at the hospital regarding some of the other injuries, but overall am stable. This one's going to hurt tomorrow… Photo: @gojoe313
I’ve never ridden a XR100 before, but they’re very popular in mini racing because they’re cheap and they’ll last forever. As Dirt Rider said in their review, “…the only two things that are capable of surviving nuclear war are cockroaches and Honda XR engines.” In fact, UMRA has a spec class called “Thunder Bike” just for stock XR100s and TTR125s. The only modifications allowed are for controls – pegs, rearsets, handlebars, etc.
I hopped into my first session with only a few minutes to spare so I was only able to put down enough laps to get familiar with the bike and the course layout. Objectively, the bike does not make much sense for a rider my size as it does not have enough power, brakes, ground clearance, or suspension. But those characteristics actually make it a great practice bike as it emphasizes smooth inputs, picking the best lines, and keeping your momentum through corners because you can’t make up for a bad turn by simply powering out of a corner.
For the second session, Brody’s friend Joey Alves slowed down to my pace and led me for a few laps so I could get learn the optimal lines quicker. Once that was taken care of, it exposed my biggest issue: body position. Especially on this small bike, I wasn’t doing a good enough job positioning my boots on the pegs to avoid them dragging on the ground.
Each lap, I’d work on a new aspect (and occasionally forget something I was working on previously). Eventually, it started to pay off and I could tell I was running higher corner entry and exit speeds.
As it’s a kart track, the course is best suited for small bikes and supermotos, but over the course of the day I was surprised to share the track with a Yamaha FZ-07 and even a couple of liter bikes. I can understand the appeal, as this is much cheaper than a regular track day. But it also seems unfair as the little bikes aren’t allowed to run at the usual track days at Chuckwalla or Willow. Big bikes fly by on the straights and then some hold up the little bikes in corners. Still, everyone played together nicely and there weren’t any issues of note.
A few sessions in, I was coming around a tight left hand hairpin when I heard the sound of plastic puck against road surface – I had finally dragged knee for the first time in my life! It would end up being the only corner that I could consistently do so, but it was a start.
Someone asked to borrow Brody’s bike for a session, so I grabbed the Versys-X and decided to run a few laps with it just for fun. I took it easy to make sure I’d still have a bike to ride back home with, but the little Kawi didn’t embarrass itself out there. Still, I was relieved once I was able to get back on the XR.
After about 2.5 hours of track time, I could feel myself getting tired. I wasn’t surprised by the general exhaustion caused by heat, but I was taken aback by how much arm pump I had from constantly grabbing the fistful of front brake required to slow down the bike with its tiny drums. There was one right hand corner that I was particularly focused on because I thought I could come in at a higher entry speed. Lap after lap I’d come in hotter until I overdid it and found myself sliding along the ground underneath the XR. Whoops. The beauty of this style of racing is that speeds are low. I popped right up and wheeled the bike out of everyone else’s way. Save for a bent footpeg, it was totally fine. Save for some scratches on my boots and leather pants, I was the same.
I wouldn’t let myself end the day with a lowside, so I went back out for another couple of sessions before I called it a day. The experience was eye-opening, particularly regarding my understanding of energy conservation, water intake, and arm pump. My thighs were sore for the next two days, so I can only imagine how beat up I’m going to feel after the race. But I cannot wait. My time on the track was exhilarating and I found myself seriously considering getting a mini moto so that I can partake in more events like this going forward. If you have similar events or open practice days like this nearby, I highly suggest that you go check it out. I suspect you’ll fall in love like I have.
I’m trying not to get too ahead of myself – let’s deal with the 24 hour race first, then worry about the future!
Before I end this post, I have to make a special mention of one of the riders I met at the track. His name is Kristian Daniel Jr, and he is awesome. As I mentioned above, my first session was just to get familiar with the bike and learn the course. This was my introduction to Kristian:
I had a chance to speak with his father (and was excited to find out that he was already a subscriber to the Bike-urious Daily Digest), who let me know that Kristian is about to head out to Barcelona to test with a Spanish Junior road racing team to see if his success in the US will translate in the tougher competitive environment of Europe. If you’re like me, you keep hoping for more US talent in Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP. Well, it starts with people like Kristian’s father who dedicate their lives and resources to help their kids pursue their dreams. Motorcycling for fun is an expensive hobby – racing is a whole ‘nother level. If you feel like helping out a future motorcycling star and want to help defray some of the costs of the Barcelona trip for Kristian, join me in donating a few beers’ worth of money to this GoFundMe.
On to The Bike!