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>How to get started in motorcycle racing by Steve Bullimore

 

Deciding to start racing: If you are reading this then you are already thinking about it!

A good grounding for starting racing is spending some time getting some track riding experience - like trackdays. If you are a regular trackday rider and find your pace is at the higher end of the fast groups it is a good indicator you would probably do well racing at club level.

Steve Bullimore currently races an Aprila RSV-R Mille in the BEMSEE Supertwin Championship as well as the MRO Mille Challenge. Click here to vist the Steve Bullimore Racing website.

How to get started in motorcycle racing by Steve Bullimore

 1. Joining a club and getting a motorcycle race licence

 
Racing club membership, eye test, ACU race licence

Before you can take part in any racing you must obtain a race licence from the Auto Cycle Union (ACU). A licence costs around 25 per year . You must take an eye test and belong to a bike racing club to get a race licence. Normally you must have a race licence before you can join a club so its a bit of a catch 22 - but in practice what happens is you obtain an application form for your ACU licence from the ACU, complete it, get an eye test and send it all off to your bike racing club with their club membership application. The club will forward your ACU application to the ACU for you.

There are different levels of ACU licence - Novice, Intermediate Novice, Clubman, National. For your first year of racing, most will apply for an Intermediate Novice for which you must have a full motorcycle road licence and enables you to race any capacity machine. A Novice licence requires no road licence but restricts you to 600cc. As a Novice (or Intermediate Novice) licence holder, you must race wearing an orange bib. These are available for an extra 5 when you apply for your licence. You may drop the orange bib after you have completed at least 1 race at 10 seperate meetings at 3 or more different circuits. At this point you can upgrade your licence to Clubman status.

The club you join is down to preference and where you want to race. The two main short circuit racing clubs are the British MotorCycle Racing Club (BMCRC or BEMSEE) and New Era. BEMSEE are the biggest (and lots would say best), offer the most meetings and race at circuits mainly in the South of the Country (Brands Hatch, Snetterton, Lydden etc). New Era race mainly in the North (Cadwell Park, Mallory Park etc). The cost of joining a club is usually around 25 per year. You then pay for each meeting you choose to enter - usually a few weeks before the meeting.

 

Racing motorcycles is one of the most dangerous sports known to man. If you participate in this sport you will most certainly suffer some sort of injury (perhaps serious/fatal).

Before you attempt any form of motorcycle racing we strongly recommend you take lessons from a qualified instructors (who can be found at race schools and track days).

 

 2. Get some quality protective wear

 
If you race you will crash. Be prepared.

Before you start spend money on a bike, get yourself some high-quality protective wear (proper race leathers, helmet, back protector, boots...) see our buying race wear feature.

Never scrip on protective wear and as a general rule before you buy an item think about whether or not it would protect you in a bad accident. One thing is certain, if you race you will crash!

 

 

 

 3. Get a race bike

 
Choose which class, find a used race bike and contact the bank manager

First you have to decide which class you want to compete in. Details of the different classes that the BEMSEE club race can be seen here. The 600cc classes are very popular. The racing is always very competitive. There is usually a very large choice of second hand race bikes for sale over winter. The downside of the class being so popular is that the races are usually over subscribed in the popular clubs so getting a space on the grid is not always guaranteed. A good club will usually give priority to riders who are competeing in all (or most) of the meetings over the season and are therefore contesting the championship.

Both BEMSEE and New Era run 600 classes for riders in their first year of racing. Similarly, the 400cc classes are competitve and a good place to start your racing. There is often less demand for grid positions compared to 600's so getting entries might be easier. The 2 stroke GP classes are thought by many to be the pure racing classes. The GP spec machines are very light and powerful and are probably the most difficult machines to ride near the limits. A challenging choice.

Almost certainly the most cost effective way to getting a race ready bike is to buy one that has already been raced. It will already have had the engine tuned, suspension upgraded, race fairing fitted, all relevent safety modifications done (lockwiring & catchtanks) a spare set of wheels, stands and other spares. Converting a road bike is an expensive route to take. Places to look for a used race bike are: Motorcycle News BikeMart (Road Racing section), Bikesport News, BEMSEE website (For Sale section), Clubracing website (For Sale section).

For more information see our feature on 'buying a racebike'.

 

Choose your bike/class: Do some research (i.e. go to some club races) and find out which sort of bike you want to race. Some categories are more competitive than others, and most require huge bank balances while the others require simply gigantic bank balances.

When visiting the pits ask the racers questions about the class they race in, their bike, the consumables (i.e. tyres, fuel, engines), running costs, injuries and time-off work, or whatever.

If you really want to get 'into racing' it's a good idea to improve your mechanicing skills and to do as much work on your bike as you feel confident with.

 

 4. Transport to race meetings

 
Trailer, Van, Caravan or Race Transporters

You will not be able to ride a race prepared bike to a race meeting - well I think it 'has' been done but its almost unheard of. No, you will need a trailer or a van. You can buy a bike trailer for a few hundred pounds and tow it with your car. A van will probably cost from 1000 upwards but is the preferred choice. Your bike wont get wet and dirty on route, you can carry more gear and the bike wont fall off onto the road! Also, you can sleep overnight in your van for meetings that are a long way from home.

Alternatively, if you like comfort, race transporters can be bought for a few thousand pounds upwards. Many are conerted 7.5 tonne lorries and can be driven on a normal car licence. After 15 meetings of sleeping in my Merc panel van, I bought a transporter - it makes a huge difference. Warmth, propper bed, cooker, fridge, hot water and an awning for a few thousand pounds. Another popular combination is a van to transport your bike and gear and tow a caravan. Caravans can be bought for as little as 500.

 
Trailers are work well but you can't sleep in them!.

 

 5. Identity Tag

 
Dog tags must be worn...

You are required to wear an identity tag around your neck when racing. It must have a metal base and chain with your name and date of birth engraved on it and it can also have your blood group but this isn't compulsory.

The best place to get one is a pet shop or shoe repairers although if you forget it a piece of card and an old boot lace will do! I know, I've done it.

 
I hope mine never gets read...

 

 6. A typical race day

 
Scrutineering, practice session, race and laugh like a mad man afterwards

This is a brief rundown of how you will spend your day as a racer at typical BEMSEE race meeting.

7:45am Scrutineering & sign on. You walk your race bike to the area designated where scrutineering will take place - this is usually shown on your race entry documentation. There is always a huge queue, but it generally moves quite quickly. Once at the front, you hold your bike upright by the tailpice as the scrutineer checks it. Once he's happy it won't fall to pieces or kill anyone he will sign your race entry card and put a sticker on your bike. You then join another queue to get you leathers/lid/boots/gloves/Id tag checked. Once passed, you get another signature on your race entry card and a sticker on your lid. You then go to the signing on office and exchange your signed entry card for a practice permit and an official programme.

9:00am Practice sessions begin. You must usually complete at least one practice session before you are allowed to race. The sessions run a little like track day sessions but are only 3 laps long. (There are a hell of a lot of bikes to get through before the racing can start). You simply go to the collecting area on your bike with your practice permit and join the queue. Evetually you will get out on track and do the session (without falling off!). I usually ride the practice session pretty slow just to check the bike is working OK. You then go back to your van or whatever, put your tyre warmers on and wait for your races.

10:30am The racing begins. The programme states the order of the races and the time at which the first race will run but not the time of each individual race. Clubs fit a lot of races into a day so its impossible to know when each race will actually be. Bemsee run 2 races per day for each class. The riders for each race must assemble in the collecting area about 4 minutes before their race will start. A call is usually placed over the paddock tannoy calling riders to the collecting area for their races. Dont be late! I missed a race last season because I was late. It pays to keep track of which race is currently out so you know roughly when you must go - this is usually about half way though the race that is before yours. Once in the collecting area, you will be let out onto the track to line up on the grid at your designated grid position - which you will have been told as you entered the collecting area. You are then waved off 1 row at a time for 1 warmup lap before reforming on the grid for the start of the race. Once the grid is formed, the start marshall points at the lights and gets off the track - the lights go red, everyones revs go wild, the lights go green and thats it - your racing! About 12-15 minutes later you will (hopefully) see the chequered flag and it'll all be over. You will most likely be laughing like a madman in your lid.

Around 30 minutes after each race the official result sheets are made available from the paddock office. These show the final positions, race times, fastest lap times of each rider and fastest lap of the race. Lunchtime A short beak in the proceedings for all the officials and marshalls to have lunch then its the same again for race 2 in the afternoon

 
 

 

 7. What scrutineers check

 
Is the bike sound?

Your machine is checked for your safety and the safety of others.

Based on my experience this is what is usually checked: Handlebar clipons are securly fixed and the handlebars and levers do not foul the fairing on full lock. Levers have rounded ends. The steering lock is checked such that full lock is only limited by the lock-stops. The throttle freely returns fully shut when opened and let go. (ie it snaps shut). Front and rear brakes work. Forks compress freely. If your front brake hoses have a split (1 into 2 join) this must be above the bottom yoke. Belly pan is a catch tray and is free from holes. All bodywork is firmly attached. Sump plug and oil filler are lock-wired. Footrests are firmly attached and have rounded ends. Exhaust can is firmly attached.

 
A bike that looks like it has been cared for (well presented, clean, tidy...) will usually pass scrutineering much easier than a bike that looks knackered and thrown together.

 

 8. Tyre warmers?

 
Do you need them?

Well, probably 95% of club racers use them so they can't all be wrong. I think they give you an advantage in the first couple of laps. If nothing else, the psycological gain of thinking your tyres have some heat in them right from the off is worth something.

The warmers will take about 30 minutes to heat the tyres but the longer you keep them on the better so get a set of tyre warmers that have a thermostat built in so you cant overheat the tyres. There is going to be a period before the race when your tyres are out of the warmers. This will be the time to ride to, and wait in, the collecting area. If you time it correctly you should only be in the collecting area for a few minutes but you risk being late and missing the race. You will get 1 warmup lap to put some heat back in the tyres before the race is started.

A set of tyre warmers will cost around 200 to 250. They run off 240v mains so you will need mains power at the circuit. Most circuits have mains power points in the garages and the paddock area - but some don't (e.g. Cadwell Park). So, its best to have a generator for when you cannot get access to mains power. A pair of tyre warmers use about 1KW of power so you'll need a generator with more than that. I bought a new 2.8KW generator for about 270 and its been fine.

 

 

 

 9. Get a mechanic

 
Low siding is considered and honourable way to bin it...

This may sound a bit over the top if you are just starting out and racing a 4 stroke bike which shouldn't need much attention, but you will soon be greateful for all the help you can get so that you can concentrate on the riding instead of rushing about fiddling with your bike. Believe me, when you have just done a race you just want to get off the bike and not have to worry about it. Even just having someone around to put the bike on its paddock stands, bung the tyre warmers on, top up the fuel and put the battery on charge is a big help.

With a four stroke bike, the most work you should have to do at race meetings is changing the wheels (i.e. new tyres fitting new tyres or changing from dry tyres to wets as conditions change). Having someone to do this for you, or at least lend you a hand is a huge help.

There will be times when its 15 minutes before your next race, you've got your wets on and the track is drying fast. You have to decide to change your wheels there and then. If you are on your own you might not have enough time. And there will also be other jobs to do from time to time, like changing brake pads, fitting a new chain, changing sprockets to alter your gearing. And then, of course, there are the times when you crash. This is when the serious amounts of work start! You will be amazed, though, what you can fix with some help in a couple of hours between races.

 
 

 

 10. The costs

 
How many credit cards have you got? Get some more...

It will probably cost you more than you originally planned. It depends on many things but basically the more rounds you enter the more it'll cost you - obviously! But it will also depend on how much you crash and have to fix your bike, or if your bike goes wrong. And how many practice days (or trackdays) you do before the races.

So, here is a quick list of t he main initial one-off expenses:

Racebike

Transport (Trailer, Van, Caravan, Motorhome etc)

Tools & a decent sized jerry can

Tyre Warmers and generator

Leathers, lid, gloves, back protector and boots

ACU and Club membership, dog tags, eye test

 

And then each race meeting or practice day you will have to fork out for:

Fuel to get there and back

Fuel for the bike

Race entry fee (not cheap)

Tyres (perhaps 3 meetings per rear, 4 per front)

Food and beer

 

And then there are the additional expences of:

Consumables: clutch, chain, sprockets, oils...

Engine work: rebuilds and repairs

And then things get really expensive if you start crashing...

 

Racing motorcycles is seriously expensive and as a general rule its will likely cost twice as much as the budget you set.

 

Special note: Prepare yourself

Prepare yourself: Racing motorcycles is physically demanding. Before you start racing we suggest you get your yourself into a good level of fitness. If you are overweight you might consider shedding a few pounds rather than spending a few thousand pounds on lightweight carbon fibre components for your bike.

See our health and fitness section for more information. Hmmm you might also consider updating your Will because racing motorcycles is damn dangerous and shit does happen. See our blood and guts donation section.