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
|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.
2. Get some quality
|If you race you will crash.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
6. A typical race day
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.
& 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
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.
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
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:
Van, Caravan, Motorhome etc)
Tools & a decent sized
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
Fuel to get there
Fuel for the bike
Race entry fee (not
Tyres (perhaps 3 meetings
per rear, 4 per front)
Food and beer
And then there
are the additional expences of:
chain, sprockets, oils...
Engine work: rebuilds
And then things get
really expensive if you start crashing...
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.