Ohvale UK Cup: How Peter Hickman is nurturing the next generation of UK racing stars
Peter Hickman is one of the most versatile British motorcycle racers of the modern age. Having won the National Superstock 1000 Cup championship 16 years ago, he’s since become a multiple British Superbike race winner, Showdown contender and the world’s fastest road racer, with an outright lap record of 136.415mph at the Ulster GP in 2019.
After standing on the top step of the podium at Isle of Man TT, North West 200 and Macau Grand Prix, the 33-year-old Louth rider has now added yet another string to his bow: setting up a new race series to help nurture the next generation of UK motorcycling talent.
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Hickman established himself as the UK importer for Italian motorcycle firm Ohvale around a year ago and the aptly named the Ohvale UK Cup ran for the first time in 2020, operating within the Rich Energy British Mini Bike (BMB) paddock. Open to kids as young as eight, the series acts as an alternative path to the top, away from the traditional but temperamental two-stroke minibikes.
"I wanted to do something with kids and the future of our sport in this country and I felt that we are missing something," says Hickman. "When you go abroad – to Italy and Spain in particular – the kids are out on bikes all the time. I wanted to be able to do something that would allow our kids to have that same opportunity."
A perfect introduction
Known as GP-0s, the vast majority of machines feature either a 110, 160, or 190cc four-stroke sealed engine and four-speed manual gearbox. This is slotted into a bespoke race chassis and adorned with quality components at either end. It’s a pure race bike straight out of the crate.
With the bikes weighing around 65kg wet and producing between 11 and 12bhp from even the least powerful 110s, Hickman claims they are the ideal starting point for an aspiring racer and bridge the gap between pocket bikes and Moto3.
"I went from minimotos to a 125 and it was a massive jump," he explains. "There aren’t many 125s around now, but there is Moto3 and that’s an even bigger jump.
"With the Ohvale we’ve got that in-between step, where kids can learn clutch and gears and have a rear brake in the right place whilst still riding on kart tracks. It runs in race or road shift and they’re learning way before I’d even ridden a bike as a kid!"
At the start of the year there were plans for a 10-round British championship, but Covid-19 forced a restructure and a shorter six-round series which kicked off at Ellough Park in Suffolk back in July.
Being the first year of competition, the cup was kept to just 110cc machines for riders between eight and 12, with the aim of reaching 15 riders on the grid by the end of the season. This was actually achieved at the first round of the year.
Next season will see the introduction of a 160 class for 10 to 14-year-olds, with many of the older riders from this season making the step-up. This includes the 2020 champion, 12-year-old Harley McCabe, from Halifax, who was gifted a brand-new 160 model, courtesy of a generous cup sponsor, Rusty Restos.
"It was unbelievable. We can’t thank them enough," says Harley’s father, John. "They are not cheap, so for somebody to go out and spend that money for the kids is unbelievable."
Harley added: "I haven’t been off the podium at any round and I’ve got a trophy from every round, so that’s been nice. I’ve had a go on a 160 already and it’s really good because there’s lots and lots of power compared to our 110."
Although GP-0 190 EVOs are also available, they can only be raced in the open events at BMB rounds. They are also popular with pro riders as a relatively affordable means of training. Those wanting the ultimate in bragging rights can opt for the range-topping £5600 GP-0 212 Limited Edition, complete with a slipper clutch, twin 180mm discs, and carbon mudguards and winglets – however its competitive usage is limited.
"The end goal is to have three full Ohvale UK championships for the 110, 160 and a 190," Hickman says. "We’d have a full progression; from eight to 12 to 15, to then on into the British Talent Cup, world championship, Spain, Italy – wherever – then a Moto3 bike."
Looking after the riders
With a GP-0 110 starting at £3499.99 plus VAT and then around a further £1500 for a full package of spares for a year’s competition, the initial outlay is reasonably hefty – but each of the teams have access to a number of benefits to help keep the running costs down.
"Motul give the parents and kids free oil, brake cleaner, chain cleaner, chain lube, brake fluid – everything they do, all through us," he adds. "SBS have also been fantastic and all of the kids had free front and rear pads all year.
"Reactive Parts have done a bit of a bonus scheme for race winners and podium finishers as a voucher to use on their website and we’ve also had Evotech Performance give brake guards and crash bobbins and protectors – all for free."
On top of this, the kids have been able to enjoy a number of test days between rounds free of charge, thanks to sponsorship from the OMG Racing team – meaning all competitors, regardless of finances, get an equal opportunity to fine-tune their racecraft. Post-pandemic, Hicky hopes to evolve the idea further to incorporate an element of classroom training to help prepare the young riders for life in the paddock, news conferences and dealing with sponsorship responsibilities.
"I’m trying to put something on that I didn’t have the opportunity for. This is a proper championship that’s looking after the kids and parents as much as possible. Motorsport is expensive regardless of whether it’s kids’ racing or MotoGP, so the more that we can do with those types of companies to help out, the better."
On top of this, an Ohvale UK service van attends every round, carrying spares and acting as a point of contact. This is run by Louth-based Adele Dunham, 42, who works alongside Peter managing the day-to-day needs of the business. She is joined at the race weekends by her partner, Simon Bogg, who provides free mechanical advice to competitors.
"Simon volunteered us to go and do the rounds, and it’s been absolutely brilliant – I’m so pleased we’ve done it," Adele told MCN. "We carry all spare parts, so if they want to change the gearing, or they have a crash and they need new bits, then it’s all in the van and they can buy it from us there and then.
"Simon has been really good at offering mechanical support and will be up at 10pm doing engine changes and has been really hands-on and absolutely loved it."
Simon also built the championship trophies out of old engines, just so the kids could have something more meaningful for the mantlepiece. Adele continued: "He used to ride schoolboy trials and said 'there was nothing worse back then than being handed a little plastic cup at the end of the season. I want to make some nice trophies that the kids can keep'."
Selling like hot cakes
Operating out of his Peter Hickman Racing unit in Louth, Lincolnshire, Hicky is the sole UK importer for Ohvale (www.ohvaleuk.co.uk) after becoming hooked on them on one of his stateside visits to the Colin Edwards Texas Tornado Boot Camp.
"I’ve done it for the last five years," the road racing ace added. "My friends Brandon Cretu and Brian D’Apice are the US importers and during an 'asphalt day' at the camp Brandon brought his van down with a couple of Ohvales. I could not believe how good they were. It then transpired that there was no UK importer..."
Since establishing the business, Hicky and his team have gone on to sell over 50 machines to everyone from parents of aspiring racers, to adult racers and professionals looking for something to train on.
Why do racers love 'em?
If you’ve ever been on Instagram and followed high-profile British, American and World Championship racers, chances are you’ve seen at least one ripping around a kart track on an Ohvale. From Richard Cooper, to Sam Lowes and Alex Rins to Toni Elias, they’ve all had a go. But what makes them so useful to pros? Hicky reveals all...
"It’s as close to what I do as a job as I can get, without doing my job. Most people look at these bikes and see them as a bit of fun and a bit of a toy but they’re really not. They’ve been designed as a race bike, so when you ride them, they react like a race bike.
"They don’t like being ridden slow and the faster you ride, the more feeling you get from it, which is exactly the same as if someone was to go and ride my British Superbike.
"I can also go and take it to pretty much any kart circuit in the UK and they’ll let me ride it round there for maybe between 20 quid and 50 quid for the day – meaning you can train wherever you want.
"If you ride a pit bike, it’s a different position and because there's so much flex, you can get away with a lot more than you can on a race bike.
"The Ohvale is closer to a proper superbike. It's just small. We’ve also got a new bike coming next year that’s going to be slightly bigger, with a 12in wheel and more adults will be able to use it."
Explored: The anatomy of an Ohvale GP-0 race bike
- A spring in your step The shock is adjustable for preload, compression and rebound, with optional springs. In the 110 class, the 33mm upside-down front forks can have the springs changed only and the compression and rebound damping remain stock. You can change the oil or the level.
- More adjustment for more power In the 160 class for 2021 you will be able to put preload adjusters on the front, but the rear stays the same. You still won’t be able to do compression or rebound on the forks, as it’s about trying to keep it fair and cost effective.
- Rubber side down It’s slicks or wets. This year we ran on PMT tyres, so everyone was the same. The softest dry they could go was an SS, which is a super soft. There is a softer one, but they’re not allowed to use that because I don’t want parents chucking tyres in every five minutes.
- Keeping it simple In terms of chassis adjustment, they can change the ride height, so can lower or raise the rear and front, but that’s about it.
- Motoring along The engines are based on a Honda C90, which is obviously very reliable. The 110 and 160 are made by Zongshen, but they are Ohvale spec and feature a two-valve head. The 190 is a four-valve engine, built by Daytona.
- Bring the noise That’s a genuine Arrow exhaust system developed specifically for Ohvale and comes with the bike as standard. The 190 is obviously the loudest, but it’s still well within the noise limits that the tracks give us and there is an optional dB killer. I’ve not sold one of them and I’ve not had one complaint from anybody!