Famous last words! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked this or been asked when I was younger. Most of the time it ended up with both of us sliding around in the dirt or crashing into something on our BMX bikes. Either way, we always had fun were always trying to push ourselves. After all, you are only as good as the people you ride with and we rode all the time. A few years ago, my buddy asked me to race in a vintage motox. I said, “sure, but what do I need, where do I start?” He said emphatically, “You need a bike you can race!” That started a journey that ultimately led me to supermoto and quickly to racing supermoto. A few times around a track on any bike and if you’re like me, you start to think about how to enter a corner better, how to connect one corner to another and start focusing on stringing together a good couple of turns that are smooth and consistent. As the confidence builds, things start moving quicker and quicker until you find yourself playing a game I like to call “Chasing the Rabbit.” It basically is one guy who leads and the others follow him, his line and see what he does but try to keep up. Me being the slower of our bunch I always felt pressure when I lead because having someone behind me right on my six is an odd feeling. It proved to be a valuable lesson I learned in racing… if you aren’t following people, people ARE following you waiting for a lapse in judgment to pass you. It’s a really odd feeling I am still getting used to. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
So you’re sitting at home, watching race vids, or you go out to the track and see people with all sorts of gear and wonder what it would be like to race? I know when I see videos my buddies share it makes me want to drop everything and go spin the wheels. Biggest question: where do you start, what do you need, how much does it cost and probably the toughest one… can I even do this?
Attitude is the biggest thing when it comes to starting to race. 90% of anything is deciding to take a step forward and just do it. If you’ve ever bridge jumped into water, it takes guts to do the first one and then it becomes way easier. Same with rebuilding engines but we will talk about that some other time! Taking the first step is the hardest but the rewards are amazing. Now, you’ve decided to try it but where to start?
Places to ride, People to ride with
Get online, get in the forums and see what is local to your area. Pretty much every state has some form of kart track or race track for people to ride so do some research and find what is in your area. It takes some digging, some phone calls and who knows you might end up meeting a race organizer. On the forums, feel free to ask where people ride and ask to join them. One of the biggest things I learned racing supermoto is many people are super friendly and are excited to have more people show up. Just remember you are joining their group so big egos and what not need to chill when becoming part of something new. Most of the people I know, this is a small family oriented sport where people do compete, but we also have a ton of fun and help each other. Some people on the forums won’t tell you their super-secret special place, but get to know them, make connections and next thing you know you’re riding in parking lots at night!
Selecting a bike to convert to a supermoto isn’t that tough but you should think about all the parts you are going to need, the wheel set, etc. From experience, it isn’t that big of an issue if you have the time to hunt down stuff on the internet. You can sometimes find complete bikes “ready to ride” but be weary, some may have hidden issues which will end up costing you more than you could imagine. Trust me from experience when I hinted at rebuilding engines. If you have done the research on where to go, made some new friends or even talked to some people, ask them what they have. People love to talk about their bikes as they are about as different as each of us.
My preference is finding a bike that is at most 10years old, more in the 5year range. Take note, as year’s change, so do components so trading or replacing when at the track can be an issue. For instance Yamaha 02 426 wheels fit any Yamaha up to 08. After 08, Yamaha changed the axle diameter from 09 to current. Another plus of having a bike that others have is when they get rid of stuff, if you’re on a budget like most people without sponsors, make them an offer or ask for their “take-offs.” Easy way to have back-ups just in case and trust me, you will need them.
Safety is a big issue for me. I ride dirt as well so I had everything from a neck brace to full armor suits and chest protectors. All it takes is a baseball sized rock from someone’s roost to make you realize you need protection. For supermoto, most people get by using their MX gear. Hard plastic shin and knee protection will do you wonders on the asphalt should you go down. It will still hurt and you will feel it but at least you won’t be scraping down your knee caps.
Get yourself a good pair of boots. MX boots work well but some are really rigid and bulky so get something that fits a bit better and gives more range of motion. Just remember, if you put your foot down on asphalt, the soles wear out much quicker. Some people even make boots with replaceable outsoles and I’ve seen guys bolt some homemade pucks to their boots.
Gloves are up for debate but here’s the thing, when you go down, not if, the asphalt can rip right through those soft MX gloves and your palm will get chewed up. A favorite is to ride with sport bike race gloves as they have added palm and wrist protection. They can be a bit bulky and will take some time to get used to. While it isn’t as safe, I use a pair of MX gloves with reinforced knuckles as they fit and I like them. Ultimately it is up to you to decide what you wear but remember asphalt is a LOT harder than dirt.
Quick story: While on the starting grid of my first supermoto race in my first heat, the rider next to me reached over and tapped me on the elbow and shook his head unapprovingly as I had no arm protection. He was in full leathers. Nothing like psychological warfare at the starting line. I finished last, BUT I finished my first supermoto race ever.
Track Support Gear
This is a point of contention for me. I bring my tools and support gear and hardly ever need it… THE ONE TIME I don’t bring it, BAM! So think about what you might need. When I started off I had a few tools etc I would use in a small chest. Now, I have a full on roller chest with tools not just for me, but for others as well. Point is, if you think you might ever need it on race day, BRING IT! This includes tire spoons, chain breakers, socket sets, zip ties, needle nose pliers, oil pans, tape, tape, more tape and in different colors. I like tape.
There are a few things though that are absolute must-haves:
Get a decent bike stand to lift your bike up. This will come in handy later for many things like…
I raced the first race with no tire warmers and it showed. It meant I needed to get them up to temp in the first few laps which isn’t always easy when other people are pulling away and you want to keep up. Tire warmers are probably the best investment you can make apart from safety gear and I would even say they ARE safety gear in that they make sure you are up to temp right at the start of the race. There are many companies out there but try and find some that won’t break the budget. Having a bike stand makes it easy to put them on and keep them off the ground which will cause hotspots and shorten the life of the warmers!
If you get tire warmers you need to power them. I got a generator off the local web based swap and trade site we all know and “love” for a few bucks. Classic issue, “I have a generator/bike that doesn’t run.” Most common issue is a dirty carb/spark plug. Buy it for cheap, replace/clean and you have a generator that runs decent. Of course me being me, I modded the generator with a high-flow intake/airfilter and a silencer to make it quiet.
Bring them all. Oil, Chain lube, filter lube, brake fluid, coolant, and most important GAS! Nothing beats race day, overheating, laying it down oil overflowing, gas running out and you still have two more heats. Nothing beats being in practice and flying around a turn and having your bike run out of gas. Honestly a lot of this is common sense and all about preparation but trust me, have it happen once and you will never make the same mistake twice. I am my own crew chief and most of us are as well.
You will always need them if you don’t have them so bring them and you won’t need them! I have extra levers, extra oil plugs and crush washers, extra chains, extra tubes, extra everything! By having them and doing preventative pre-race checks and maintenance, I have never needed them, yet.
Odds and Ends
Bring a pop up tent and a table. Makes it easy to mark out your place in the pit and you have somewhere to put your gear when you come in. I always put the fluids nearby or under, have my cooler there as well. I use the generator to anchor down the pop up and it all pretty much comes together.
Seems like a lot of stuff just to go race and see if you even like it right? Well you don’t have to get it all at once. I had a bunch of stuff from racing vintage motox but the point is, if you are going to do a full race season, get something new for each race and work it into your setup. Eventually it will all get comfortable and become a well-oiled process.
Apart from the logistics and gear, there is the questioned I mentioned at the beginning: “Can I even do this?” As I said, attitude is the biggest challenge. The one thing to remember is this is for fun, this is for pleasure and this is for whatever reason you chose to do it. Motivation is one of our biggest weaknesses and we can always find a million reasons why to not do something. YOU ONLY NEED ONE REASON TO DO IT: WHY NOT?!?!
From experience, I showed up as a newbie at a track day, looked at all the people around with fancy bikes, awesome gear, people who knew each other all clumped together. It was intimidating at first but I have always been the new kid even as an adult. All it took was a “Hey, Hi, how are ya” and we got to talking. As the day progressed, a dad of a superfast kid came to look over my bike. Next thing you know I got a list of things I needed to do, how to do things better than what I had done. I basically showed up with a dirtbike with a wheel kit on and some sliders and a “catch can” of that awesome energy drink.
In the end, if you want to race, get to know the people around you and start talking. You don’t even need a bike to do that and just by showing up, asking questions you will find people willing to help you, point you in the right direction. If you are ever up in the Norcal Area, feel free to get in touch and we can go ride. For me, Supermoto is about meeting new people each year and growing a kickass sport. You can do it on a budget if you do it right and know what and where to spend your money. Of course you can dump a ton of money into stuff but hey, half the fun is building things up, figuring it out, making it all come together. Just make sure you’re having fun!
Get out there and spin those wheels.