A beginner’s guide to racing

Published: 17 June 2002

I’m just about to embark on my first race, but it’s not just a question of turning up with your bike and having a crack as I’ve found out. Here’s a simple guide to what you’ll need if you’d like to have a go as a first-timer.

1)Other than a suitable bike, the most obvious thing you’ll need to go racing is a licence. To get one, you’ll need to join a club. I’ve joined Bemsee, purely because they run a rookie series that suits me and my bike. Visit www.acu.org.uk or www.clubracing.co.uk for a full list of nationwide clubs.

2)To join you’ll need to pay an entry fee, typically £25 or so, fill in a few forms, complete a medical disclaimer and get your eyesight checked by an optician – also about £20-£25.

3)Upon acceptance the club will send you a book with its rules and regulations regarding the technical parameters for your bike, what standards they expect from your kit, a booklet with your race entry forms, your licence and a race log.

4)An orange bib is obligatory for all novices, and until you collect ten post-race signatures in your log you’ll be forced to wear it in every competition. This is so other, more experienced, riders know to expect the unexpected from you.

In a first-timers class like Bemsee’s Rookie 400, you can expect virtually everyone to be wearing them, at least until the season’s well underway.

5)A dog tag with your name and date of birth (blood group is always a good idea, too).

6)Money. Nothing is cheap in racing. Just to enter a race can cost you anything from £80-£140 for a day. Plus to get your bike anything like race-ready, let alone competitive is going to cost. For starters you’ll need:1)A bike, possibly two if you’re flush. You don’t need to pay a fortune – my 1991 VFR400 was a cosmetic write-off bought from a bloke for just £1000. But it needn’t be that expensive. There’s racing to suit every budget, even a hard-fought moped series.

2)A race fairing. Not only will it save your road kit from taking a bashing, race fairings don’t have the cut-outs for lights etc. They’re tough and easily repaired. Mine’s from Skidmarx on 01305-780808.

That will get you your race bike.

To comply with race regs you’ll need to strip it of all its road kit like lights, mirrors and side and centrestand, lockwire sump, grips, filters and oil cap, build a chainguard (if it hasn’t got one) and stick down the wheel weights with gaffer tape.

You’ll also need to drain all the coolant out and replace it with water, and fit a catch tray over the sump. This is to prevent unnecessary delays on race day if a bike goes down or spills its guts, covering the track in slippery fluid. And your head bearings should be in order, too if you’re not to fall foul of the scrutineers on race day.

And remember, it’s easier to scrutineer a clean bike, so give it a wash before you turn up.

Now you’ve got a bike that’s fit for the track. Depending on your budget you can start adding Gucci kit like braided hoses, sharper race pads, different ratio sprockets, wets, spare wheels to carry the wets, rear sets, aftermarket suspension…the list is almost endless.

You should make sure your race kit of one-piece leathers, ACU Gold-stickered lid, boots and gloves are in decent nick, with no holes, tears or dents or you’ll fail scrutineering.

Get your applications to race in early. You can apply for entry on a race-by-race basis, but you’re more likely to secure a place on the grid if you send all your applications in at the start of the season.

The club won’t cash you cheque/ debit your account until 10-14 days before each race, so you won’t be hit for the entry fees all in one go.

About a week before your big day the club will send you a scrutineer’s card and, if it’s your first race in that series, your number. You must have an appropriately coloured number board, too. You don’t need to be handy with a paintbrush though, a sheet of Fablon from an art shop costs a couple of quid and does just as well.

There’s no need to cut out your numbers by hand though, there’s always at least one trailer at each meeting that’ll sell you some cheap.

That’s a basic overview. For more information on the Bemsee Rookie 400 series, contact the club on 01304-831714. Its website: www.bemsee.co.uk is packed with useful information.

To give you some idea of my riding ability I’ve been riding for about four years and doing trackdays for about three. I’m not by any means devastatingly quick, but I thought I’d see how I compared in a real race, rather than just slogging around on a trackday.

My bike is a 1991 VFR400 NC30, with almost 25,000 miles on the clock.

The bike is built with parts bought by mail order from the following:

*Maxton fork springs: www.maxtonsuspension.com, 01928-740531.

*EBC race pads and discs 01604-583344.

*Skidmarx race fairing www.skidmarx.sageweb.co.uk , 01305-780808 (VFR Race Fairing (with ACU approved belly pan) £176.25; seat unit £99.99. Double Bubble screen £40 plus VAT.

*Metzeler MEZ1 H-rated tyres:www.metzelermoto.com, 0845-609-4949 £170-180 (fitted).

*Penske 8981 two-way shock (imported by SPA): www.spa-uk.co.uk, 01827-288328 £417.02 plus VAT.

Many thanks to Guy at Wheel Fit Motorcycles, Cambridge, for all his assistance in preparing the bike. Wheel Fit can be contacted on 01223-425831.