And so it begins

Thursday 3rd November 2011

Sat here with mixed feelings as I write this first entry. I'm excited about collecting my first race/track bike tomorrow. Excited, nervous, scared I'm making a big mistake... will I embarrass myself, can I be fast enough to not finish last every race... only time will tell. Added to this, I found out half an hour ago that an old school friend, albeit one I haven't seen for probably 10 years, died in a bike accident today. Bikes are dangerous, should I really be starting racing? Should I live life to the max as you never know when your time is up? RIP Kev.

The bike is a race prepared Ducati Monster 600 which finished 5th in the Ducati Desmodue (DD) series, which is effectively a "low cost" series based either around the 583cc carbed Monster/SS (Class B) or the 620 injected Ducatis (Class A).  More info available on the series, rules and regs etc are here The rules are such that you should be able to race without fear of someone throwing 10k+ at their bike and blowing everyone away. A full season can be had for around £3k depending on how many races you attend (lots don't attend all races), practice days, sleeping/camping arrangement and of course... how much damage you do to the bike! Power is limited to 53bhp, a minimum weight of 154kg means no super light composites are allowed, forms must have no external adjustment (but springs, fork oil etc can be tailored to the rider) etc. The aim is that you don't need silly money to have a competitive bike, and the racing should be close.

My goal for the season is a top 10 finish (or top half in a smaller field), to improve my riding, and mostly just have fun. I've only ever done 3 trackdays, all in novice groups, but why should that stop me? I WAS going to wait until I moved into a house, with a garage, bought a road bike and converted it by way of a project etc... then I thought... f*** it... rented a garage, put a deposit on a bike I've never seen (except photos)... and dove straight in race boots first

Next... the bike...

The bike

Thursday 3rd November 2011

The big debate was "buy vs build". I've wanted a project for ages, but even though I can do a basic service and maintenance, maybe a race build was too much? Plus, I struggled to find a decent base bike for less than £1,000. Most on ebay were going for £1200-1300. Add to that the costs of a decent shock, basic engine work, fork refresh, uprated brake cylinders etc etc and I could easily spend another £1000 without it even seeing a mechanic (add labour costs if you want someone else to do it and it soon adds up!!). I would have liked a 600SS as I have a road going Monster S2R and fancied something different... but guess what... I dove straight in and bought another monster :)

The bike is a 1999 Monster Dark, the later limited edition yellow frame version. It won 3 or 4 races last year, finishing 5th in the championship, with the previous rider weighing 17st. That's good, in that I know it won't be the bike holding me back. However, it will mean the suspension will need re-working for my weight (11.5 stone). I might not be able to get straight out on track and get practicing, but it will be nice to feel like I've had some input into the bike and I might get the cosmetics sorted while it's in bits.

The good:

 - It was a road bike 2 years ago with 11k miles and history (a decent monster like this would be £1200+)
 - All road kit included (either to convert back, or sell on to raise funds)
 - V5 present with all numbers matching and present (lot of race bikes don't have this, and lots of racers don't care, but it mattered to me that I was 100% confident it was all legit)
 - Dynojet and engine putting out a competitive ~50bhp
- Ohlins rear shock
 - Lots of spares, both electrical/mechanical and cosmetic. Most racers collect bits as and when they come available, and levers, pegs etc are needed in case of minor crashes so I now have a headstart
 - Recent full dealer service

The bad:

- Looks a bit tatty: flaking swingarm, dented cans etc
- Ohlins has an uprated spring on, so I need to swap it for the normal ohlins spring
- Forks need rebuilding with springs for my weight

The ugly:
looks are a matter of taste! :) I might change the scheme, and have spare seat units to change the look. I may even add fairings, not sure yet

we settled on £1500 for the bike, all spares and road kit. I recon the spares and standard kit a worth a few hundred quid on ebay, so the moral of the story so far is that this racing lark might be cheaper than you think. I'm under no illusion it will be cheap, but tell people down the pub you race a Ducati in a national champinship and watch their reaction! :)

Deposit paid, hopefully collecting tomorrow...

She's home

Sunday 5th November 2011

So, I collected the bike yesterday. What a faff!! I collected the keys to my rented garage, needed to get some towing accessories and a number plate from Halfords, went to Rochester to collect the trailer, then Portsmouth area to collect the bike, then back to North Kent... to find I had locked myself out of the garage!! Doh! Not happy, as I now had the car full of bike bits, and nowhere to put them!! The garage now needs a new door lock, which I will probably buy tomorrow as it's less hassle than waiting for the landlord to sort it...

Anyway, the bike was tatty cosmetically, as expected (the seller had been honest about the condition). It needs some TLC, but that's not a big deal as I fancy getting my hands dirty and stripping it down for some paint and touch ups over the winter. I've been assured it runs and rides well, so should just be a general tidy up and a fiddle with suspension. Lots of cable ties, scuffs, home painting etc at the moment but nothing too scary so far.

I have to admit I did something I never usually do... I didn't even hear the bike running before parting with the cash. I am usually a very skeptical buyer and worry about everything, but the battery was flat and I trusted the seller (he's well known in the DSC) that it isn't about to blow up (plus I know where he lives ;) ).  Tried to get the battery off for a quick charge when I got home, but the screws are jammed and I might have rounded them now! grrr. I will look properly tomorrow and try and get some charge in the battery. Not ideal as the rented garage has no power so can't just clip it onto an optimate while the battery is in the bike. A jump start form the car should do it...

Engine and frame numbers intact (frame was slightly hidden/scratched by the fairing bracket but it's there), original handbooks, loads of old services and MOTs which put the mileage at about 7,000 in summer 2009 before the previous owner acquired in Jan 2010 (on my birthday, if that's a sign!) and converted to what you see here. 2 keys, all wiring in place if I wanted to convert back to a road bike (lots of looms are chopped back on race bikes) as well as some spares, and all the old road kit. All in all, I think an honest bike. More photos below, you can see it's had a battery leak and been down the track, so gives me something to do at least.

I was planning on a track day this Wednesday, but not sure if I will now. I would like to get the suspension sorted for my weight first, but then again, it's only down the road at Brands Hatch and it's cheap at £79, so even if I only get a few sessions done it's not the end of the world. Depends whether I can get it to a rideable condition tomorrow. Should be able to get comfortable with it tomorrow I hope.

Have had some thoughts om colour schemes as below. I have 3 spare screens and 3 or 4 seat units (including an R6 style up-swept one), but not sure how many actually fit, or if they were bought to be "made" to fit, so most might be on ebay soon. Also bought some axle stands and a front wheel chock while I wait for Abba stand adapters, then I can get some work done and not have to lean it on the garage wall. I'll post a list of jobs to do soon...

Wednesday 9th November 2011

First trackday on the bike under my belt today! Brands Hatch was very slippy in the morning which didn't really compliment the rock hard suspension. Slippery wasn't the word! I had no confidence being on a new bike in those conditions so took it easy, but still managed to pass a couple of GSXRs, R6s and a 675 in the corners (before getting smoked on the straights, then taking them again later in the lap).

There were two unexpected surprises today:

1) Club MSV were running an ACU licence day for £99 if you were already booked on the track day. This consisted of a classroom session and 18 multiple choice questions in the lunch hour, followed by a 2 lap observed ride. The aim was not to crash, rather than be fast, as the instructor was looking from the point of view of "I'm about to lap this guy in a race, can I safely pass him?". Basically, if you take a reasonable line, are not erratic, and don't crash... you pass.

2) the teacher was Ian Cobby, ex British Superbikes rider and previous Desmodue champ! It was nice to meet the guy after reading about him and his successes on Ducati Sporting Club. Really nice bloke!

...Unfortunately, he also spotted that my forks have some stickyness returning from compressed (stiction?). Only about 5mm at the top of the travel, but may suggest very slightly bent forks or yokes. I need the forks overhauled anyway, so hopefully that can be fixed then.

Immediately after the two observed laps for my ACU test I was waved into the pits by my instructor, and feared the worst: "Was I really that dangerous he had to stop me?" "Have I failed the test that everyone said was a formality?" ... "Don't worry" he said, "your riding's fine and I'm going to pass you on the practical... but your exhaust is hanging off!" Doh! I missed the first session after lunch while I botched a bracket for the exhaust. Another thing added to my list of jobs to do now is to make a new bracket or two...

As the track dried out in the afternoon my confidence grew. I reduced the rebound and compression on the rear shock which seemed to help the shimmying a little, but I still need the spring changing as the one currently on the rear is just too hard. Unfortunately, everyone else seemed to gain in confidence too so while I still passed a few bikes in the corners, they were now giving it the beans on the straight so I found it more difficult than earlier in the morning. Still, the bike felt much more planted in the dry so I can't wait to have it properly set up.

The brakes were also good. I put in new EBC HH pads at the front last night and they feel pretty good already despite not braking much at all today! Still some way to go to bed the pads in properly I think though. I did manage to break my front lever (excuse the pun!) on the way home by putting the bar straps over the lever, tightening the ratchet too much, and snapping the lever in the housing.

All in all, a good day out, lots of progress made in terms of aquainting myself with the bike, seeing what works for me "as is", and what needs improving etc. Add to that I got the ACU test out of the way, and I'm a happy man tonight. :)

Unfortunately, I have a long list of wants and needs over the winter months! Updates will be less frequent from now on, but watch this space...

Pics will follow when I have any from the official photographer :) (assuming I look like I know what I'm doing of course...)
Sunday 1st January 2012

Ok, so it's been a while since I last posted. Christmas, and some cold weather before that, conspired against me and I haven't been out into the garage much. All I have managed to do is take apart the rear to get the the shock, and change the rear spring. That's one job ticked off (once I managed to put it all back together!). I managed to flood the garage with petrol in the process, but luckily I don't smoke so I'm still here to write this...

In the interest of time, and safety, I think the best bet now is for me to get the rear shock back in, and take the bike as is to a suspension expert to have the forks re-worked and the bike properly set up. I need to get it ready before the end of January really so I can get a bit more track time under my belt before the season starts in 10 weeks (yes, TEN WEEKS!!?!?! Argggghhhh).

Plans for a full strip down, repainting, new body work etc have gone out of the window for this season at least I think. Maybe there are bits I can do along the way, but I think the full overhaul will have to come next year when I have more time, and a more accessable, warm, garage attached to a house rather than a quarter of a mile down the road.
Saturday 4th February 2012

Two things have happened in the last couple of weeks that will likely have opposite effects on my racing.

1) I got engaged last week (this is good news in "normal" life, but negative for cashflow and so my racing budget!)

2) I got the bike back from HM Racing after a full suspension overhaul and a few odd jobs (huge positive whichever way you look at it!)

I've yet to ride it, but they have striped, serviced and set the forks for my weight including new linear springs. This is crucial as the forks are externally non-adjustable as per the series rules (only spring rate, oil thickness and spacers/air gap can be changed). At the rear, they have stripped, cleaned and serviced the Ohlins shock and again set this to my weight. The difference should be HUGE, so I can't wait to get out and test it.

They also made up a new exhaust braket, fixed the fairing bracket which had cracked from my heavy handedness, and dyno'd the bike as it is. I have a massive 48 bhp! Given the limit is 53bhp for the Desmo Due Class B series it is about 10% down on peak power. At least I still have an excuse to pull out post race ;)

Next, is a track day to test the new set up, a few odd jobs and some new tyres, fluids and filters before the first race. It's starting to feel real now, and that's scary...
Sunday 19th February 2012

So, I managed a track day yesterday after the recent work by HM Racing. At a rain soaked Oulton Park... I had a disaster! :( Anything that could go wrong, did! If I was on my own I probably would have gone home, sulked, and written off this racing business as a bad idea. But, the chats with other racers, and friends, in the Desmo Due paddock has made me think that even if I'm slow, even if I can't build a championship winning bike, I can still enjoy my summer of racing and the highs and lows that will involve. I've had the lows hopefully, so bring on the highs!! A brief summary of my day is below. Thanks to all the other guys in the paddock for help and assistance, and my mate for turning up to lend a hand and share the getting wet! :)

1) Arrived to a dryish Oulton. Had the briefing, went outside... got soaked

2) Battery was dead so needed a jump start

3) Went for noise testing, and my digital speedo unit failed (probably had more chance of working at the bottom of a swimming pool by this point)... Had no idea how many revs I was giving it so was probably over the 5.5k test level. Tester said "more revs please... more... you failed, 105db" (odd as the bike is not that loud and wasn't above 100db last year so I'm blaming a stroppy tester :mad:)

4) Got even more wet

5) Borrowed some baffles

6) Another jump start, still no tacho, went out for a session about 12pm ("the noise test pass sticker must have fallen off... honest")

7) Engine was spluttering and coughing at anything above about half revs. I recon I hit 60mph once in top gear... must have gotten water in somewhere during the monsoon

8) trundled round, learning the track a little. Track is drying and the chequered flag comes out, phew, I can now figure out what's wrong with the bike and at least get out for some track time this afternoon. Get to Brittens I think. Left... right... down. Doh!!! I didn't even have enough speed to carry the bike off the track as I was cruising back in on the last lap, but still managed to bend/snap levers and pegs on the right hand side. No idea what happened but no damage to me at least

so, £71, a trip from Kent, 15 minutes on track (maybe 4 or 5 laps) on a spluttering engine, ending in the recovery truck with wounded pride. Oh well, bring on Brands... :D