More than just “Geezers on Beezers,” vintage roadracing has become a highly competitive environment. Steve Bond explains.
In the late 1970s, dinosaurs roamed the earth and I held a Professional roadracing licence. But I got out when I was at the top of my game to pursue the usual career, mortgage and marriage—yer basic “Donkey Ride to Hell.”
Twenty years later, the racing flame was rekindled by watching a few Superbike Nationals, but what sealed the deal was a Vintage Road Racing Association event at Shannonville. A couple of the riders were guys I used to bang handlebars with—and they were doing pretty well, too.
I shopped around for some used leathers (“Honestly dear, I need them to track-test press bikes. I have no intention of racing again.”) and in 1998, I borrowed a friend’s Yamaha RD350 and hit the track once again.
It was an eye opener as everyone was passing me in droves. “Crap. I used to know how to do this,” I thought, “how come I suck so badly?” Mainly because vintage road racing isn’t just Geezers on Beezers, these guys (and girls) know how to ride.
I bought one of the bikes I’d made my bones on 25 years prior: a ‘73 Kawasaki 350 triple. Kept it stock for nostalgia’s sake but riding the Kawi in Period Three Light (bikes built between 1972 and 1982) was like bringing a knife to a gunfight, as I was thrown to the wolves against heavily modified RD400s and early TZ Yamahas. Other than co-riding with former CB contributor Larry Tate to a third overall in the two-hour endurance race (where we pitted every half hour for fuel; it was a thirsty little bugger), if I cracked the top 10, I was doing well.
I sold the triple and bought a drum-braked CB350 Honda, which was fairly competitive in the Period One 350 class. The stock, 27 horsepower meant I had to bring a book along for the trip up Mosport’s long, uphill backstraight but the limited grunt forced me to work on my cornering speed. My riding improved and I even won a few races on the Honda.
The reliable CB was perfect for endurance racing and we racked up a couple of seconds in class and even won the class one year. But my riding had progressed to the point where 27 horsepower wasn’t making it anymore. So, over the 2004 winter, I built up a 1977 Kawasaki KZ1000 for Period Three Heavyweight, basically vintage Superbike. I encountered some major teething problems that first year, but in ’05, after 18 months of aggravation, heartbreak and never-ending expense, I won at Shannonville and North Bay. The KZ was a fun ride but funneling 95 horsepower through a 130-series rear tire took a careful throttle hand.
Last season, even though the bike ran great, I stunk the joint out. Don’t know why, just didn’t “gel” with it, I guess. I tossed it down the road at the Shannonville opener and at Mosport and North Bay. No excuses, I got outridden, plain and simple.
I sold the KZ and was preparing to sit this year out but something in the VRRA classifieds caught my eye—a motorcycle I’d lusted over since it was first introduced in 1988—a Honda NT650 Hawk. The beefy twin-spar aluminum frame and trick, single-sided swingarm put the Hawk years ahead of its time.
The liquid-cooled 647cc V-Twin engine doesn’t put out a lot of power but the light weight and rigid chassis means it will handle great and be a lot of fun. My Hawk has all the recommended chassis upgrades: fully adjustable Fox racing shock, complete CBR600F2 front end, Airtech bodywork, braided lines, Performance Machine front wheel, and a Hindle slip-on exhaust canister. The engine is stock but was recently freshened and the 17-inch wheels allow me almost unlimited use of modern racing rubber—even slicks if I desire.
To get on the track this year will require nothing more than personalized paint on the fairing and seat and applying my numbers. The bike even retains the electric start and charging system; just push the button and go. Gotta love that.
The Hawk runs with the VRRA’s Period Four Lightweights and last year, this class had the biggest grids in the club, so I’ll definitely have someone to ride around with. I’ve been looking for one of these motorcycles for a while and unlike last year, I’m really looking forward to the start of the racing season.
Why vintage racing? Founded in 1980, the Vintage Road Racing Association’s mission statement reads: “To ensure the preservation of, and to maintain the traditions of racing vintage and classic motorcycles in Canada.”
While early members rode Gold Stars, Triumphs and Norton Manxes, today’s VRRA paddock seems chock full of more modern equipment. Why? Partly demographics, partly economical.
While there are a few “older” members who still ride classic Brit bikes, a lot of riders are in my age group and are more into motorcycles such as Kawasaki triples, TZ Yamahas and CR-type Hondas.
The club seems to be attracting younger enthusiasts and the bikes they lust over are likewise, newer. The VRRA recognized this and last year officially adopted Period Four for motorcycles manufactured prior to 1989.
Economically, the club was almost forced into this. As older members opt out and grids diminish, costs such as track rentals and insurance are skyrocketing. The club had to either let in more bikes or fold.
Some VRRA members are like me who raced in their younger days and want to get back into it, while others never had a chance before and want to see what it’s like. Still others are younger members who want to try racing but aren’t prepared for the expense and intensity of the Amateur 600 wars.
One thing we all enjoy is the camaraderie at the track. For more, visit: www.vrra.ca