Murphy Was A Motorcycle Racer

After my first ever race weekend I was hoping to write about the race experience- the adrenaline coursing through my veins just as the green flag drops, the rush as we go through turn 1 and up the hill into turn 2 on the first lap, the passes for position and the inevitable success or failure at the end. What kind of start would I get? How much would my inexperience at Sears Point affect my riding? Would the red mist push me to the edge or over it?

Instead, this post is about people. Old friends and new ones who bent over backwards and relentlessly worked for 3 days to get me out on track and be able to race.

I guess though I should start from the beginning. I got a used 1st gen SV650 track/race bike late last year and while at Thunderhill doing Star School I killed the motor- broke a piston to be exact. I ended up finding a used motor off of eBay and had it replaced just in time for the 2nd AFM round.

I signed up for Clubman, 650P and 650Twins figuring that between doing PTT on Friday and Saturday practice I’d have no problem re-learning the track. See I’ve only done 2 days at Sears before and my last day back in September ended early due to loosing the rear on the exit of the Carousel. But I had gotten down to 2min flat before the crash, so I figured the 2:05 cutoff for 650Twins wouldn’t be a problem- I just needed some track time to get back up to speed and adjust to the new motor.

Being my first race, my buddy Eric decided to come along and be my pit crew, so we drove up early Friday morning and got everything ready. That’s when we first noticed the SV was way down on power- completely unridable even. The new (stock) motor just wasn’t taking kindly to the carbs which still had their stock jetting. Eric commented his old Ninja 250 had more power. *sigh*

Eric tore apart the carbs, cleaned the jets and things improved but still not good enough. A few more cleanings and we weren’t making any progress. Over lunch Eric realized that the carbs were flooding the new engine but I didn’t have a jet kit. Eric decided to adjust the needles and got things not just working but now the motor had serious pull all the way to redline. Needless to say I was thrilled and went out the first session after lunch to re-learn the track.

I felt completely lost that first session, but the bike was working great so I felt I had something to build on. Eric suggested I do the next session in just 3rd & 4th gears so I could concentrate on my lines and break/turn-in markers which really helped and things started coming together. But then things fell apart in my 3rd session- the motor which had been working so well was now surging, poping and worst of all loosing power randomly in the turns making it completely unrideable.

I came back to our pits and immediately Eric tore into the carbs and adjusted the needles (the only means we had to adjust the carbs) to richen thing up figuring we had gone too lean. 15 minutes later the carbs were back on the engine and we started things up. The bike ran for 5 seconds, died and wouldn’t start again.

Obviously something was wrong with the carbs… did we have a pinched fuel or vacuum line? Maybe the diaphragms were screwed up?? We closely examined everything, but all was in working order. We mentioned this problem to another SV racer (hi Machete) pitted near by who asked, “You sure you’re getting spark?” Well duh, obviously the problem was with the carbs- after all we hadn’t touched the electrical and had been playing with the carbs all day.

So we checked the plugs. We were wrong. No spark. I was devastated and was almost ready to throw in the towel. Eric refused to be dissuaded and pushed forward. Maybe it was the regulator? Machete introduced me to a bunch of the SV racers who showed up that evening hoping one of them would have a spare, but no such luck. Eric was able to get a hold of Zoran who informed us, “Iz not f**king regulator, bike will run without ze regulator.”

Maybe the ignitor? Machete pulled his and we tried that with no such luck. By this time, the battery was dead from running the starter and we hooked it up to the truck’s battery. Looking at the plugs clearly the bike was running too lean- did we kill the plugs? All we had was a cheap radio shack voltmeter (didn’t even have a continuity test feature) and the sun was quickly dropping behind the hills, so we packed up and went to the hotel room to wash up and grab dinner.

The next morning we went by Home Depot and got a proper multimeter so we could debug what was going on. Since I didn’t have a working bike, I skipped registration and tech, hoping that we’d figure what was going on in time for me to get a couple of practice sessions in before my clubman race.

Eric figured out that the coils and plugs were working just fine so Eric, Zoran and I tore into the very non-standard wiring harness looking for a resistor that Zoran guessed was the problem. Once we found it though, it tested as working properly and so we were back to square one. At that point we started testing just about every wire in the harness looking for the problem. When the timing sensor came back as not sending a signal we figured we had found the problem. We decided to drain the oil and remove the side cover to check the timing sensor. We knew if the sensor was broken my weekend was over since nobody would have a spare I could borrow/buy.

Imagine our surprise to find one of the bolts holding the timing sensor was missing and it had rotated out of position. We were able to get a bolt from Richard at RaceBikeRentals.com and almost magically the bike started right up. I had just enough time to register, go through tech, get my lap timer and suit up to make the final practice session of the day. Thanks to everyone in the AFM who worked so quickly to get me through registration and tech with literally just seconds to spare!

Practice went pretty well. I was able to drop a few more seconds even though the bike seemed a little down on power from earlier in the day. About this point KC of BRG swung by and noticed our long faces and asked what was up. Immediately he offered his help and gave us a lot of advice on reading spark plugs and some new jets to fix overly lean carb situation.

I decided it was best to do clubman as-is rather then play with the carbs and try to get back the power I lost from Friday. It turned out to be a good gamble. I had qualified 7th out of 10 in that single 15 minute practice session and got a decent start- moving up a position into turn one. By the end I had made another spot up, finishing 5th. My lap times were pretty consistent in the 2:06-08 range, good enough to qualify for 650P but not 650 Twins. Considering what my last two days were like and my limited time at Sears Point I thought that was pretty good.

Eric and I pulled the carbs again and with KC’s help got the carbs properly jetted and found the power I was missing in clubman and we went to dinner content and looking forward to the next day.

We woke up early Sunday morning and I went through registration/tech without any issues. Being in practice group 1, I was the first group out while the track was still cold, but my Pirelli’s did a good job of sticking and I was able to work on my entrance into the chicane- an area that Eric and I had identified that needed the most work. But towards the end of the session I started noticing that the bike started rev’ing a lot better then it had earlier- too well actually. The next time down the drag strip things had gotten bad enough that it was obvious- my clutch was going *fast*. I had just enough to limp the bike off track and Eric and I ended up pushing the bike back to the pits.

At this point I was resigned to the fact it just wasn’t my weekend and was ready to call it a day. Eric refused to give up and we put the bike on it’s side and pulled the clutch cover to look at the plates. They looked fine and we went off in search of advice. We found Zoran and KC talking to each other and both agreed the clutch adjustment was off so Eric and I went to fix things. We made the necessary adjustment and I went to the hot pits to check things out. Things seemed pretty good for a couple of rolling starts, but the clutch started slipping so I went back to the pits. A couple of more adjustments & tests and we were no closer to a solution then when we started and time was running out for my race.

We tracked down KC again and he agreed to come over and take a look. We made another adjustment and we all went to the hot pits to test. I made 8 or 10 rolling starts and the clutch held up… so with less then an half an hour to go until my race we called it done and said a little prayer that it would hold during the race. By this point we had figured the problem was really the springs, but there just wasn’t enough time to swap them out before my race.

1st call. I ride to the hot pits to practice a couple of starts. Just a few, I don’t want to risk the clutch, but I need to relearn the friction zone of the clutch after all the adjustments. I go out for my warm up lap to get some heat in the tires and I think I notice the clutch starting to slip down the drag strip- my imagination maybe? I can only hope.

1 board. Sideways…. Green! I didn’t get as good of a jump this time, but I stay on the gas and I’m able to make a pass again up the hill into turn two. I’m back on the gas on the exit and there’s that nagging feeling about the clutch again. Up the hill again into 3a, down into 4 and the guy in front locks up the rear and foolishly watch his rear tire rather then concentrate on the turn and fail to take advantage. Through 5 now, on the gas not getting the drive I think I should. Down into the Carousel and onto the drag strip I let the bike drift out as I’m hard on the gas only the bike is rev’ing and I’m not accelerating. Up into 5th gear, about to grab 6th and I realize the clutch is gone and there’s no way I’m finishing. Rather then become a rolling obstacle for the 2nd and 3rd waves I put up my hand and ride out turn 7, put the bike behind the wall and watch the rest of the race from there.

You might think I’d be disappointed with how things worked out… you’d be right. It was a long, hard weekend and I didn’t reach all the goals I set out for myself earlier in the week. And while I didn’t score any points on track I learned something important- that club racing isn’t an individual sport; it’s a team sport and your team is may end up being everyone else in the paddock.

Thanks to:
– KC of BRG Racing for his help with the carbs and clutch
– Zoran of Twin Works for his advice and help debugging the electrical issue
– Machete for his words of advice and introducing me to my fellow SV racers
– Richard of RaceBikeRentals.com for the bolt to get my timing sensor working again
– AFM Tech for getting me through quickly so I could make my practice session
– Conan for his words of encouragement
– The corner worker who’s name I never got who pushed my bike to the other side of the track so I didn’t have to
– Everyone else I met (Ben, Sam, Zoe, and plenty of other names I’ve forgotten) who were so cool and made me feel welcome in the AFM family
And especially to:
My buddy Eric not just for spending an exhausting 3 full days wrenching, debugging and fixing my bike, but for teaching me what kind of resolve and determination it takes if you want to win.

-Aaron AFM #828

One thought on “Murphy Was A Motorcycle Racer

  1. Awesome story Aaron! All this great experience will only make you a stronger rider in the future. Sounds like you are super lucky to have a friend like Eric.

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