Rally scooter to Production Racer | RETRO SPORT
From Rally to Street Class
I don’t think I have ever really considered racing my Lambretta before, sure I have been aware of the BSSO, but it all looked serious with cut down machines and leathers which seemed a distant ambition.
I knew it existed but wasn’t really interested in it. But earlier in the year I stumbled across the website link for the LCGB Production Class. It sounded great as an entry level ‘get started ‘ class but as I checked, you needed to buy a bunch of control parts such as the pipe, barrel, etc so all the scooters matched. I wasn’t really interested in that, if you have a scooter already you’d have to ditch what you have and buy more new parts. Parts which I haven’t used before either, being a TS1 lover.
While looking through the rules, I spotted the ‘Street Class’. This class was much better for me, from a quick scan of the rules, I could literally run my rally scooter in a race. I wouldn’t need loads of unwanted new parts at extra cost and I could get on the track with only a couple of evening’s worth of little modifications. So I could get out there, try it out, if I liked it, build a new bike next winter or if I didn’t, I haven’t lost much.
The small things for the regs were pretty simple as I already have a good fast scooter with a lot of trick bits, such as disc brake, powerful engine, dampers, etc. So after a quick call with Dave, the BSSO tech chap, I had a list to nail through. Things like drilling my oil plugs and lock wiring them, removing my spare wheel and sprint rack, fitting some number stickers, etc, it was all child’s play and quite good fun as they are things I hadn’t needed to do on a scooter before – new jobs. Two things stumped me though, one a race seat and a pit stand as the standard centre stand had to be removed. After searching online and finding nothing, I decided to make my own seat and have it covered by a local chap who is an upholsterer to make it look OK. Since then loads of people have asked ‘that seat’s cool, where did you get that?!’. A bit of metal, fibreglass and rattle can black and we were in business. I finally managed to get a stand via Dave’s friend, Martin, who would kindly bring it to the track for me later on.
All the gear
With the class and scooter sorted, I needed to get a licence to race and some leathers, neither of which I had ever had, probably like most scooterists. I went to the local bike shop, scored some leathers, boots and gloves (my helmet was already the correct standard for racing), came out £1,000 lighter courtesy of Alpinestars, which was the best gear they had in my size – another step closer.
I hold an international car racing licence and have participated in a number of different profile car races over the years, both home and abroad, but never on a scooter or bike. Considering the licence is for life, it’s worth the aggro of doing it, just like your road bike test, it’s a hassle but worthwhile once it’s done. So I booked up an ACU test at Brands Hatch, a circuit local to me and one I have racked up hundreds of laps at over the years in a car. It made good sense to ride my scooter on track for the first time at a venue I knew. I paid my £190 and turned up with my scooter. First issue : Noise. MSV had a strict noise limit on track during the event and it had not occurred to me that my trusty MB Devtour pipe that I have had for years would be too noisy, yet it was. After much screwing around, I couldn’t get it any quieter so I called my brother Rob and friend Martin to bring up his Series 2 to do the test on. There I was, whizzing around Brands at 50mph being passed by fools on massive motorbikes – it wasn’t scary, just stupid and dangerous really but all in the name of the licence.
The licence itself was a doddle, just be Forrest Gump – do as you are told exactly and you pass. If you are ever put off by the whole licence test thing, don’t be as it’s absolutely easy and completely idiot proof. The whole day is set around assuming you know nothing about being on a race track, so while some of it was a bit boring for me, having raced a long time in cars, for most it was very insightful.
As I decided to do this scooter racing lark very late, most of my weekends are already spoken for, so I can only do three races this year. The first of which was East Fortune. I’d not heard of the place until three weeks ago but that was to be my first outing, only three days after passing my test at Brands. My licence came through and the BSSO were kind enough to give me a pretty cool race number, No. 99, to which Martin decided ‘Team Flake’ would be most suitable, also being able to coin me as ‘Flakey ‘ in the usual scooterist piss-taking manner for the rest of my life. Another fact is the BSB rider, Shayne Shakey Byrne lives on our little island down here in Kent, so with Shakey and Flakey living in close proximity, it makes sense that in future years I could pop round his and give him some tips. We’ll see.
So nine hours in the van and we hit East Fortune, and what a cracking little circuit it is. The sun came out and never went away all weekend, which was great as part of our Team Flake adventure was that we are going to treat the events just like rallies, boys’ weekends away for some fun. After meeting a load of friendly and helpful people in the paddock, I passed scrutineering and after a warm up session for the first ever ride on track on my GP, it all seemed nice and familiar. Although I was slow and trying to be a sponge in soaking up what was happening on track to me, my scooter and everyone around me.
Only one other rider was in my class, a chap called Craig on a GP, also running an SS225 top end. We were both newbies and doing it for the first time and had similar powered engines, although I had got confused between reading the LCGB and the Street Class rules and had a number of things missing from my GP that I could have had but neglected to consider, such as variable ignition timing, sticky race tyres, lightweight panels, anti-dive front end, and a few little bits that could add up to a difference when I know what I am doing. I literally had my rally bike with number stickers on in essence. Through the weekend we both got to learn from ground zero and our times and speeds were near identical, although in fairness to Craig he suffered from a number of issues with his Casa exhaust which kept cracking during each race, while I pounded around getting more seat time. The result was at the end of the weekend I had won all four races in our Street Class owing to a combination of doing my best to keep Craig behind, ride my GP as quick as I dare first time out, his reliability issues and a bit of luck. It was an awesome weekend and we came back very happy, mostly that I had not binned it.
Box full of teeth
While it was an easy process to get up and running and to get to an event, actually during the lead-up to the event as usual with anything you are prepping to do on your scooter, it throws grief at you. About three weeks before the event, while taking a ride locally, my gearbox decided to eat itself and shred two gears and my cluster, something it had never done in the 20 years I have owned it. The box had been in my bike since the late nineties, supplied by MBD with special combinations all those years ago and now I had no gearbox and the plan to go racing now had a spanner in the works. Knowing that gearing is a major part of scooter racing and what I already had would have been useful, I now had a serious issue – what do to.
A couple of emails, one to Rimini and one to MB saw neither of them have an immediate solution for me. MB had the new 5 speeds done but they were spoken for with customers and Rimini said they had a new 5-speed race box but it would be two weeks, plenty of time. So I went with the two week Rimini option and waited as it sounded tight but ideal, doing the little jobs in the meantime. A few days before the first race after hearing nothing from Rimini, I called Dean and he said the box wouldn’t be ready after all. Panic.
Back to the trusty boys at MB I went, explained my situation and Mark and Phil stepped up to be heroes, supplying me with one of the first batch 5-speed MB-5. I don’t know how as they were all spoken for, but they did, I needed help and they sorted me out. A day later it was here and a few hours more in my bike and a quick blast around the block confirmed its potential awesomeness. So now not only did I have to ride on track for the first time, I had to also forget all I knew about changing gear and relearn short ratios, cluster and an extra gear while doing it. Er…
All the gear
Hand on heart I can say that new MB-5 box is absolutely mega. I paid full price for it and owe the MB boys nothing in terms of saying good things about the box at all. Other than great thanks for helping me get on track, so my comments about the box are genuine. While I listened to others on track build revs through each gear while alongside, including Craig (who was running a 4-speed gearbox), I was snapping through each gear hitting my power band instantly, something Craig noted when he told me he just couldn’t keep up with me out of the corners. I was constantly on the power as soon as I opened the throttle in each gear. It’s up there as one of the best things I have ever bought for my scooter. It’s pricey but what a bit of kit – it made the weekend and it’s made my scooter. Over the years I have bought tons of gear from the boys at MB, sometimes coming close to setting up a direct debit payment system with them as I constantly have boxes arriving. I still have the MB outboard conversion, twin tanks, Dev Tour pipe and chain guide, among many things that have lasted the test of time and thousands of miles and are now having a new purpose, racing around the track. I really hope the box is the same and so far, it does look that way, fingers crossed it can put up with my abuse on and off track. I must confess the only thing on my bike that wasn’t supplied by MB is the Casa SS225 top end which I put on last summer after a TS1 blow up and little options at a rally but it too works well and now has 800 miles and four races under its belt, although I lowered the compression ratio on it and pulled back my timing as it’s a bit too close-to-call on a road spec.
Following my first outing we came away with a little sensible list of things that needed a sort out before the next event at Cadwell. Not having anti-dive was a major thing as, despite having MB springs and BGM dampers, etc, you hit the brake and it wants to dig in. That cost me lots of time as it unsettles the bike and you find yourself wrestling instead of preparing for the corner. Also I suffered major fuelling problems mid corner as my bike runs so rich to keep it safe around my TMX carb, when I reopen the throttle, there is no response, I had to wait for it to pick up. I think those two things alone cost me a bunch of lap time at East Fortune. One thing I am proud of is a bodge we had to do to my engine mounts. Although new BGM items, they aren’t up for racing as I found out, they allow the engine to move in the frame so my whole back end was moving around. The fix was to push three 13mm bolts in each of the voids and clamp it all back down, making the mounts more solid – it fixed the problem so well, I am leaving them like that despite it looking a bit bodgy. Come Tuesday morning after the event, yet another MB parcel arrived with some spares I needed including new brake pads which will replace the ones which have been in the bike since the early 2000s and new sticky tyres, replacing my less than sticky road tyres.
Of course, I can do all these things to the bike but ultimately I need to progressively learn how to ride it more competitively. It’s catch 22 though. If it doesn’t handle right and I can’t get the best out of what I have, it’s going to make learning that much harder – just like the engine mounts, no matter what I do if my back wheel is moving 20mm either way on each corner, I am never going to learn too much about riding. So with that in mind, we’re tweaking a few little things to make a difference to how the bike works on track and only then can I start really understanding how to ride it much quicker. It’s a tough trade though as I only plan to use this scooter for three events and maybe build a new dedicated bike for 2017 so any changes I make now are only as stop gaps as I can’t do too much – after all, it’s just my rally bike.
Our next event is Cadwell at the end of June so if you stop by and see Team Flake looking like we know what we are doing and my bike looking all ‘racey’ as it has numbers on, don’t be fooled – we don’t really know what we are doing but we’re having a good go on a bike that only a few weeks ago took me to the Modrapheniacs rally.
If you have a street bike like mine, proper engine, brakes and bits, get yourself a licence and come and race it, we can both look like we know what we are doing, but not really.
Words: Andy Barnes