Banging elbows in the British Mini Bike Championship
Racing has always been a dream, ever since I was a kid watching the same VHS tape of Kevin Schwantz’s 1989 season day after day. Present day, and racing has remained a dream, due to the money required and a lack of skill on my part, but the British Mini Bike Championship is here to prove you don’t need mega bucks to go racing and have fun doing it, nor do you need to be fast.
The 160cc CW I’ll be riding for the weekend feels well put together, and the noise coming from the exahust is suitably angry. Having walked the track with series Promotions Manager Matt, the first couple of practice sessions are steady, getting used to the bike and the tight corners of Red Lodge kart circuit, Bury St Edmunds.
It doesn’t take long before my confidence is on the up and I’m braking later, accelerating earlier and digging my knee into the tarmac on every corner. On the long, fast left-hander at the end of the back straight I get passed by somebody much faster. Knee firmly on the ground, his front wheel tucks and smokes as he drifts across the track, held up by his knee. The bike comes back to him and he clears off, shaking his head. I can’t help but laugh at how amazing it looked.
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Things are looking good until somebody tries to pass me on the outside at the end of the back straight. There’s not enough room and he clips my bars. There’s a wobble. “I’ve got this,” I think to myself as I head onto the grass. The front brake is still on as the tyre wall nears and down we go. A low-speed tumble, but it’s bent the handguard, which is making the throttle stick on. On the next lap the culprit stops and apologises, making sure I’m alright. I let him know everything’s fine and jokingly punch him.
With a little bit of ingenuity from other members of the paddock we’re able to get everything back straight and I make it out for the last couple of sessions. Despite the crash being no fault of my own my confidence has completely disappeared and I’m constantly looking back. Tomorrow can only get better.
This is it. The big day has arrived: my first motorcycle race. After the way yesterday ended I’m a little apprehensive and worried I’ve lost confidence. To make matters worse the bike won’t start for the first practice session. Almost immediately a flock of riders from around the paddock descend on the bike, keen to offer a helping hand. In minutes a young, wiry chap has the carb apart, fixes it and puts it back on. Sorted.
There’s only time for one practice session before qualifying, but I quickly find the rhythm I was getting into before yesterday’s collision. With qualifying round the corner, we’re told the timing system isn’t working, and they’re not sure how to figure out who qualifies where. There’s talk the grid will be decided from championship positions, which will put me last. I’m more than happy to take that and come up with a plan to find my rhythm and pick riders off at my own pace.
It’s race time. The nerves are really startig to kick in now. I feel sick, my mouth is dry, hands shaking. I sit in the holding area, surrounded by 17 other loud, angry bikes and their riders before being told I will start from ninth on the grid. Smack bang in the middle of the grid. Bloody hell, this is going to be intense. My focus narrows onto the starter, I put the bike in gear and wait like a coiled snake, ready to lunge forward to the first corner.
The flag drops and I release the clutch as fast as I dare. My start’s not terrible, but a couple of riders get by into the tight second corner, a couple more into the right. It doesn’t matter, I keep my head down and concentrate on staying smooth. I can hear others behind me, but they never get past. My first race is over, and it feels amazing. I roll back into the paddock jabbering like an idiot, unable to keep my excitement bottled up.
I manage to calm down and get my race-face on for my second go, this time starting from 11th on the grid. My start’s slightly better, and I manage to hold a few people off through the first few corners, but they manage to get through at the end of the back straight. I’m still a little too soft when it comes to letting other riders through. I spend the entire race trying desperately to catch and pass the rider a few bike lengths ahead. He makes a mistake, I close the gap. I make a mistake, he extends. 20 minutes of cat and mouse and there is nothing else in my head except making the pass. The chequered flag comes out all too soon, before I can get close enough and I cross the line in 15th, more than happy with my performance.
My first race meeting done I’m a bundle of excitement and adrenaline, eager to get out on track again to improve. It seems I’ve caught the bug and the Sunday evening at home is spent watching onboard videos from other rounds and scouring eBay for bikes.
If you’ve ever wanted to give racing a go but been put off by the price of racing big bikes, you should seriously consider mini bikes. Second hand bikes can be had for as little as £500 if you look hard enough, tyres can last half the season depending on weather, and entry for an entire weekend costs just £75. If it can tempt a tight Yorkshireman like myself to even think about opening my wallet, you know it’s worth it.
“But they’re not ‘proper’ bikes!” A motorcycle is definied as a two-wheeled bike powered by a motor with no pedals, so technically they are. They’re also way more fun than bigger bikes. If you fall off you bang it straight and carry on – it’s not far to fall. There are racers who have quit the BSB paddock to race in this championship because they enjoy it more, there’s no pressure and everyone is there for a laugh.
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