1 tired motorcycle, 1 crazy rider, and 6 different racing disciplines
Three things have always commanded my attention: food, women, and motorcycle racing. As I watch my bathroom scale register higher numbers each month and celebrate my engagement to a wonderful woman, that leaves motorcycle racing an unfulfilled dream. So I did what any aspiring dream-fulfiller should do—I started reading.
I needed to pick an organizing body, decide on a racing discipline, and choose a bike. I began with a cursory search of the internet and arrived at the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association. I’ve already traveled to a number of AHRMA events, and casually fielded a bike in its Barber Vintage Festival a year ago, so the AHRMA seemed significantly more approachable than any other organizing body. I paid my dues online and, when the rule book arrived in the mail, sat down with a cup of coffee and got down to the business of deciding whether I could really do this.
Let me be clear—no rule book is a page turner. The dry, procedural, and information-heavy text is hardly a pleasurable Sunday read. Still, I kept flipping pages. As I absorbed data on the AHRMA’s multitude of disciplines and classes—vintage motocross, cross country, road racing, flat track, and trials—a single thought crept into my mind.
What if I did them all?
Nah, that would be insane. I’d need to figure out one bike to fit different racing disciplines. As my own mechanic, I’d shoulder the burden of prepping the bike for each class, and I’d have only myself to blame if, in attempting this eclectic lineup, I completely embarrassed myself.
Tackling all the AHRMA classes is a huge challenge, but, thanks to the encouragement of my coworkers and friends, it’s a challenge I’ve decided to accept.
My plan is simple: I will prepare and race one motorcycle in six different styles of racing over the course of one calendar year: vintage motocross, cross country, enduro, supermoto road racing, flat track, and trials. The events are spread across enough weekends to allow for training and bike prep in between races, and are held at venues all across the Midwest, so the schedule will require a good bit of travel. Add practice sessions and riding schools, and that straightforward plan will consume many late evenings, early mornings, and long weekends in 2021.
Mentally, I started with the last element (the bike) and decided on the racing organization—and, therefore, the classes—based the events suited to that bike. If you sort through the classes I’ve targeted, you will see a decidedly off-road slant, which is intentional. Off-road racing requires less safety gear and bike preparation, and the machines suited to it are often more affordable than their on-track counterparts. That last point certainly applies to my 1989 Honda XR250R.
The XR-series is not typically known for its racing pedigree. Rather, it’s famous for the indestructible nature of its air- and oil-cooled four-stroke engine. Though I’ve proven twice in the past year that this engine is far from bulletproof, I have the utmost confidence that it can power me through a year of racing (after I spend some late nights turning wrenches). The steel chassis is durable and handles predictably, even if it doesn’t possess the same aggressive geometry of the racier CR-series bikes. As a beginner, the XR’s relatively tame personality suits me well; if I brought the the most aggressive bike in the paddock, I’d be asking for a trip to the hospital.
The XR will be my Swiss Army knife. Ask anyone who has used a Swiss army knife and they’ll trot out that saying about a jack of all trades, master of none. I may find myself wishing for the perfectly specialized tool for the task, but the compromise that accompanies a do-it-all tool, be it knife or bike, is worth it. I don’t have the space or funds to have a different motorcycle for each AHRMA racing discipline, so I’ll live with the trade-offs and tailor the bike as best I can to each task using suspension tuning and other small adjustments.
I will be mechanic, rider, and truck driver for this motorcycle experiment. Having only the smallest amount of racing experience means I will be doing a lot of learning, both from my own experience and from the experts I have tapped to help make sure I do not completely fail. My one and only race was a year ago at the Barber Vintage Festival where I raced in Vintage Cross Country with a yappy late-’70s Yamaha YZ125. Immediately after the race I sold the bike to a friend, but racing had set its hook deep enough in me that simply daydream about ripping berms and late-braking turn two couldn’t satisfy me: I started doing research and laying a plan to make it happen.
I’ll be reading the appropriate rule books and attending a riding school to hone my skills for the tasks to come. The first tasks are mechanical, though; the bike needs to be repaired from its last outing, during which it dropped a valve and demolished the cylinder head, and built to withstand the coming year.
It’s a crazy plan, one that will require a lot of wrenching and a lot of learning—all of which I’ll be sharing with you on this site. For now, I’m going to turn up the thermostat in the garage and get to work. In a few weeks, I’ll update you on the XR’s progress and give you the details on how I’m preparing this machine for the litany of abuse it’s about to face. After all, racing doesn’t start on the start line—it starts in the garage.