Go motorcycle racing on a budget with the MZ Experience
Run as part of the British Motor Cycle Racing Club (Bemsee), the Chilton Motors MZ Championship is the latest in a long line of MZ racing series spanning 30 years.
Shod with Moto3 Dunlop slicks, these humble single-cylinder commuters have been transformed into stroker racers capable of impressive corner speeds resulting in some of the closest action in British club racing.
In a bid to get more riders into the mix, the club runs an MZ Experience weekend, giving those interested in taking part a full three-day race weekend taster for just £500 (as long as you’re 15+ and have a valid ACU road racing licence.
For this fee, you get a race-prepared bike, technical support, a morning’s on-track instruction, Friday testing, race entries and more.
The club may also ask for an additional small fee to cover any running costs and there’s a £250 damage excess to cover any major tumbles (although the rugged nature of the bike means this is rarely enforced).
So, to find out what the fuss was all about, I booked a space at the third round at Cadwell Park for which normal entries alone would have cost £280, the Friday test an additional £160 and a further £30 to hire a transponder, making the full MZ weekend an absolute steal.
Riding the number 94 machine, I’m struck that the MZ is like no other race bike I’ve ever seen, being basic, low and minimalist. In fact I’m struggling to fathom why anyone would want to race one.
But, with vibrations through your hands (on the dropped bars), feet and bum, the buzzy air-cooled single feels raw and aggressive and after push-starting it through the paddock to get going (something I was awful at) it feels like a genuine racer, rather than a road bike, converted to compete.
The first session following my instructor and fellow competitor, Andrew Wales, is a sensory overload and I’m aching all over from being too stiff on the bike. Once I’ve got the knack of it though, the lack of weight, combined with grippy tyres means you can fire into bends at full throttle - simply bury your slider into the Tarmac and grin.
What’s more, once the heavens open, the MZ continues to handle itself well, with wet tyres dispersing the downpour to make knee-down angles achievable.
But before I have an actual race, I get an insight into the MZ paddock’s superb sense of community. With just 18 riders taking part that weekend, it feels more like a family camping trip that occasionally breaks into a spot of motorcycle racing, rather than a serious weekend.
Although fiercely competitive on track, evenings are spent working on each other’s bikes, discussing the day’s riding over a beer and eating as a group. This was highlighted when my bike’s rear brake caliper seized-on at the end of the Friday.
With word spreading of my problem, riders swarmed to my tent with tools, ideas and spares and, an hour later, I’ve got a new master cylinder and a free-spinning wheel.
"I’d never change to another series," says racer Gary Williams, who has raced MZs for around 12 years. "Once you’ve done it for a year or two and see the rest of the paddock, you realise there isn’t a group of people like it.
"You could find Chris (Rogers, series chairman), who won today, walking to another rider also fighting for the championship with his spare engine, just to get him out to race against him."
The following evening, chairman Chris invites me to his caravan for dinner and, over the course of the evening, we’re joined by more and more smiling riders all searching for shelter from the rain. It’s a homely atmosphere without egos or animosity and I feel welcomed as one of their own.
But almost as soon as the race weekend comes came along – it’s gone. Having done four races and finishing three, I’ve achieved two top-10 results. A problem with the bike’s carb brought my third race to a premature, abrupt end.
In the final, despite giving it my all in what was the only dry race, I’m still 15 seconds off the pace which goes to highlight both the mountain I have to climb and the skill required to run at the front. But I’m desperate for another go and I guarantee that if you give it a try, you will be too!
Three out of four finishes, one technical, two top-10s and one massive smile! Thanks to @BemseeOfficial and the #MZ family for having us along this weekend for the MZ Experience! Check out the paper, online and video soon to hear all about it! pic.twitter.com/FNXuiF8i0w— Motor Cycle News (@MCNnews) April 28, 2019
I did it, too: Mike Wilby
"When I got here I had some reservations because I’ve never raced before, but straight away, everyone got me into the swing of things and, to be honest, I am really glad it rained. That way, I saw what it was like in the wet and dry. If anyone’s thinking about racing, no matter what age, a one make series like this, is one of the best ways to go.
"It was a good weekend. I really enjoyed it. Everyone’s been fine and there’s been no hiccups and no dramas.
"You’re going to get mechanical issues on these things. It’s not Japanese and not simply a case of pushing a button to start it. But it’s different and I like to do things differently and that’s why my track bike’s a Honda VFR750.
"If I was younger and wanted to race properly it’d be different. But I’m not, I’m looking at it from a different angle.
"I’d be tempted to come back. There’s a couple of guys that have got MZs for sale and if the money’s right I’ll be back for Snetterton."
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