The TT Part 1: The trip of a lifetime, that you should take once a year.

I hate sayings like, "The trip of a lifetime" "if you are going to go to one race, make it this one" etc etc. It speaks to the lack of adventure which plagues many people. Another line of thought you often run into is "You want to go the TT, you have to plan years in advance" I am here to tell you that is fucking bullshit. It is not that hard.

 The legend himself, Joey Dunlop, dreaming of the Snaefell Mountain Course.

The legend himself, Joey Dunlop, dreaming of the Snaefell Mountain Course.

Like many, I grew up watching the TT on TV, or rather on VHS tapes. I grew up in Canada, a country which, as you might imagine, does not televise the TT. We would get the odd clips on Speed, actually called Speed-Vision at the time, on a great show called Motorsports Mundial, if anyone knows what the fuck mundial means, let me know. My main source was from my Uncle Chris in the UK. He would tape the races for me, then bring the tapes over in his suitcase for me. One year he taped over the Senior, so I got a tape of the Grand National, I was beside myself. 

Like many, for years I said, "I am going to go to the TT one day," but I had been constantly put off by a lack of time, funds, and foresight, because of course you need to plan years ahead. I sat at my desk day dreaming, reading about the upcoming NW 200, I decided to check hotwire.com for hotels, I thought, obviously there is nothing, but fuck it. To my amazement there was accommodation, I would have to jump around between a few different hotels, but it could be done. I booked it. Fuck, now I need a ferry, that must fill up a year ahead...Now, this part does, to an extent, ring true. If you wish to take a vehicle on the ferry a last minute booking will be tough, as a foot passenger, it is no problem. I have shown up at the terminal, the day before race week, and walked on. If you want to ride over, or even worse, drive over, you might be in some trouble if you want to book late.  

 Steam Packet Ferry Service operates three boats, two of which carry passengers. You can grab them from Liverpool, or Heysham.

Steam Packet Ferry Service operates three boats, two of which carry passengers. You can grab them from Liverpool, or Heysham.

Alternatively, you can fly over, which is what I did this last year, and hire a bike or a car on the island.

 The flight takes just twenty minutes, and the view is unbeatable.

The flight takes just twenty minutes, and the view is unbeatable.

 I hired a bike, from Manx Motorcycle Hire, who rents out vintage BMW's, this last year. I got a 1974 R60/75 and it was an absolute blast, I booked it less than a month out. They rent them out of the Evomoto shop in Ramsey. I can not say enough good things about these guys, they were great, easy to deal with, and had a great sense of humour. Riding a vintage bike has its quirks, but as I was with my girlfriend, it was a far better choice than the alternative, a 2014 KTM RC8R. It took us everywhere we wanted to go. A vehicle is not a must, but it makes the trip so much better.  A lot of the action is in Douglas, or at the Grandstand/Paddock area, but the best parts are afar. The cost of the bike for twelve days was roughly five hundred dollars, plus a sizeable cash deposit.

 Myself, and the 1974 R60 I called my own for a fortnight.   

Myself, and the 1974 R60 I called my own for a fortnight.

 

 She had her quirks, but very few problems.

She had her quirks, but very few problems.

 

For 2016 I booked my accommodation through Air B and B. This is the real game changer, new listings are constantly being added, and the rates are incredible. I paid 383 dollars, 25 GBP a night for twelve nights in a private room with shared bath. Hardly inaccessible pricing. Our spot was in Strang, steps from Union Mills. One of the best spots on the whole course in my opinion, but I will get into viewing next week.  

 You know you booked a good spot when you find this outside your front gate.

You know you booked a good spot when you find this outside your front gate.

The TT is one of the finest sporting events I have ever been to, and I have been to pretty well all of them, save for a World Cup, or Formula One race, that I will rectify this year. The difference is simple, but profound, the culture. Racing superbikes is a big money game, but there is very little to be made from the TT. Sure guys like John McGuinness and Guy Martin have turned it into a great career, but that is far from the norm. The total prize money for the event?  A hair under 60000 pounds. The salaries are certainly more akin to you or I than they are to professional athletes. Because of this, the vibe in the paddock, and in the stands is completely different. You do not have to be special (rich) to feel special (gain access). The paddock is totally open. It feels like a local club race. Rarely do you see a team with solid walls on their tent. If you have a question for one of the techs, they are all too happy to answer it, or at the very least, they are fantastic actors. If you have ever been to a MotoGP paddock you will know that the second the fairings come off, the doors close, the curtain goes up, the secrets are hidden. I can think of only a couple of exceptions, Milwaukee Yamaha, who's exciting TT week of 2015 I wrote about last week, see the Michael Dunlop R6 post, and this last year with the Padgett's RCV. I could, and have spent hours simply strolling through the paddock. The top half is where all the big teams are set up. Similar to BSB or MotoAmerica, big haulers, huge tents, pristine working conditions.  The bottom, easy up tents, rusty vans, simple set ups, just like you or I would have. The sense of community and comradery is fantastic, without a doubt, it is the highlight of the TT.

 Four time TT winners Team Traction Control tearing down one of Hutchinson's motors.

Four time TT winners Team Traction Control tearing down one of Hutchinson's motors.

 The Norton crew working on their V4 masterpiece. 

The Norton crew working on their V4 masterpiece. 

 Martin Jessop's Superbike and Superstock machine. Can you spot some of the differences? 

Martin Jessop's Superbike and Superstock machine. Can you spot some of the differences? 

 The bottom half of the paddock is like a local club race.

The bottom half of the paddock is like a local club race.

 My fellow "Canadians"

My fellow "Canadians"

This sense is carried over to the fans. Save for the main grandstand, and a handful of others scattered over the course, viewing is free.  Pick a field or a hedge, grab some sandwiches and some cold drinks, get comfy, you are going to be there a while. Some spots ask for a donation, almost always for the Air Ambulance, or Lifeboats, and many places offer their famous "TT Tea"  Homemade cakes, sandwiches, and of course tea, on offer.  Next week I will highlight some of my favourite spots to watch, as well as some of the riders opinions on where they would catch a glimpse. 

 Morning Cuppa. Sat on the wall waiting for some superbikes.

Morning Cuppa. Sat on the wall waiting for some superbikes.

In short, if you are reading this page you are a motorcycle racing fan, if you have not already gone, find a way to make it happen. 

 

 

  

 

The return of the Homologation Special.

The nineties were a wonderful time, well, at the very least they were a time.  A time of total excess, loud bikes and even louder liveries. It was also the last real boom for the homologation special.  For those who do not know, these bikes are built strictly to meet the homologation rules for World Superbike. To put it simply, to race in a "production bike" class, the manufacture must race a bike that is produced, available to the public, and road legal. 

The most famous of these bikes have come from Honda. HRC churned out what is probably the most iconic sportbike in the world in 1987, the VFR750R, better known as the RC30.  They then followed it up with the RC45, before moving away from the true limited production specials and producing the famed RC51 (SP1/2).  Kawasaki was not going to be left behind by its Japanese rival, they came to the table with the ZXR750RR, the first production bike to feature an aluminium tank, which is still not the norm. Kawi followed up the formidable 750RR with absolutely legendary ZX7RR. Of course Yamaha was not going to be left out, so in 1999 they released their weapon, the R7, at just 500 units, and a price tag of $32,000, it is one of, if not the most exclusive special of them all.  Lastly I come to the bike which truly dominated the nineties. The Ducati 916, more specifically the 916 SPS, which actually contained the 996 engine, had an adjustable steering head, and countless other goodies. This was the bike which inspired Honda to build their own v-twin, in order to take advantage of the displacement advantage the two cylinder machines were given.

 The aforementioned homologation specials.

The aforementioned homologation specials.

The next 15 years were rough on the global economy, Japan was hit hardest of all, the days of excess were over and the homologation specials were few and very far between. Ducati produced the Desmosedici, which was a GP bike with headlights, and not meant to homolgate anything, BMW had the HP4, which felt more like a trim level than a true special, and obviously the RC51 carried on until 2005. 

 Thanks to MCN for these two photos.

Thanks to MCN for these two photos.

But then in 2015 things started to shift, Yamaha announced two variants of its new R1, the R1M being the special. It was the first glimmer of hope, a sign that maybe the era of skinny ties and 10 year old bikes donning "bold new graphics" were nearly behind us.

In late 2015 Dorna threw race fuel directly on to the flames, reducing the homolgation number down to 125 at first inspection and just 250 by year end. The 500 number is still in play, but it does not have to be met until the end of year two.  Less than a year on from that announcement the floodgates have opened, everyone seems to be storming in to the party with guns blazing. Here are the specials released so far.

 2015 R1M

2015 R1M

2015 Yamaha R1M 

Set apart from its sibling by a set of carbon fibre bodywork, magnesium wheels, Ohlins suspensions, titanium connecting rods, and the already potent electronics package is upgraded with a quickshifter and data-logging capabilities.

 2017 ZX10RR

2017 ZX10RR

2017 Kawasaki ZX10RR

Much like the R1M the first thing you notice are the weight saving measures, most notable are the lack of passenger accommodations and the seven spoke Marchesini mags. The real changes however lie below the subtle, "winter test" plastics. The 1000cc motor gets modified cylinder heads, capable of accepting high lift cams, which are not fitted, but are available through the KRT catalogue. Many of the internals get a very trick, DLC coating, and the crankcases are reinforced. The electronics package is also very stout, highlighted by a bidirectional quickshifter, also known as an autoblipper. The traction control, ABS, wheelie control, engine braking control, and launch control are all cutting edge.

 2017 CBR1000 SP2

2017 CBR1000 SP2

2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP/SP2

For 2017 HRC brings back the familiar SP moniker. The SP's feature a plethora of weight saving measures, magnesium case covers, lighter aluminium wheels, revised engine internals, and a revolutionary titanium fuel tank, a first for a road bike. The bike also steps into the 21st century with a totally up to date electronics package, ride by wire throttle, and electronically controlled Ohlins suspension.

 2017 GSXR 1000R

2017 GSXR 1000R

2017 Suzuki GSXR 1000R

The GSXR 1000R comes with a lot more than just another R tacked on the end of the name. The R, as I am going to call it, features the Showa Balance Free suspension package found on the ZX10R, immediately recognisable by its defining remote gas cartridge, located at the bottom of the front fork. The top triple clamp has also been lightened and the brakes are slightly higher spec Brembo monoblocs. The electronics package is also upgraded, once again highlighted by what is fast becoming the new normal, bilateral quickshifter, launch control, and cornering abs, all in addition to the usual electronic aids.

 

 2017 Aprilia RSV4 RF

2017 Aprilia RSV4 RF

2017 Aprilia RSV4 RF

No manufacture has gone balls deep into the race replicas and specials quite like Aprilia has this year. Wrapping your brain around all the letters and acronyms is a challenge, I just spent the better part of an hour doing so, and I still do not quite have it sorted.  So I am going to stick to the basics, in 2017 there are going to be two "street" RSV4 variants, sort of. The base model is the RSV4 RR, the homologation special is the RSV4 RF. Limited to just 500 units, it makes a claimed 201 HP, has a set of forged aluminium wheels, Ohlins suspension, and a commemorative plaque atop the triples, nothing says collectable quite like a fucking plaque. 

In addition to the already exclusive RF, Aprilia racing have released five more bikes for public consumption.  The coles notes are as follows, two of the machines are FIM Superstock machines with headlights, two are FIM Superbike spec machines that may or may not have headlights, and the fifth bike is basically the 2015 Aprilia MotoGP machine with RSV fairings, which at the very least have headlight stickers slapped on them, potentially even headlights. But no mirrors.  Confused yet?

Additional pictures of the RSV4-RF-W Misano Edition below.

2017 Ducati 1299 Superleggera

I do not even know if homologation special is the right classification for these next two bikes.  But as they are making only 500 of them, I guess that is the idea. 

We will start with the Duc.  It may look like a standard Panigale, but it shares pretty well only the name and possibly the headlight. The frame is carbon, the wheels are carbon, the bodywork is carbon, the fucking swingarm is carbon. The bike has Ohlins suspension, and is said to make 215 HP, which frankly, unlike the Aprilia is a believable number, especially when fitted with that gorgeous high mount Akrapovic Ti system, which is the big ticket item in Ducati's "race pack" which also deletes a number of unnecessary road going bits. When you factor in the weight, just 167 KG, the back of the napkin arithmetic says this thing should be a fucking rocket ship.  Just don't crash it.

Additional pics below.

 2017 BMW HP4 Carbon Race

2017 BMW HP4 Carbon Race

2017 BMW HP4 Carbon Race

I saved the best for last. Since it was released in 2015 the second generation of the S1000RR has been the bike to have. As they made an HP4 variant of the first generation, it seemed plausible they would do the same this time around. Well they have brought back the HP4 but this time BMW went from special edition, to a full on wet dream exotic. Details are limited, but from the press photos we can take away a few things. The frame and wheels are both carbon, as is the bodywork, subframe, and pretty well everything else.  The forks have a remote gas tube, and the bike is sporting a full Ti Akrapovice exhaust. At first glance the wheels appear to be a carbon variant of the HP forged wheels which are currently optional on the S1000RR, but upon closer inspection they actually have a far more sculpted appearance, these are the nicest wheels I have ever seen. I can't wait to hear more about this machine come spring.

Check out the additional pictures below.  

Shane Austin 

 The nicest set of wheels ever produced for a motorbike.

The nicest set of wheels ever produced for a motorbike.

 The 2017 Superleggera sans fairings. 

The 2017 Superleggera sans fairings. 

  The top of the range RSV4 RF-W "Misano Edition"  Basically the 2015 GP machine dressed up as an RSV4

The top of the range RSV4 RF-W "Misano Edition"  Basically the 2015 GP machine dressed up as an RSV4

 The top of the range RSV4 RF-W "Misano Edition"  Basically the 2015 GP machine dressed up as an RSV4

The top of the range RSV4 RF-W "Misano Edition"  Basically the 2015 GP machine dressed up as an RSV4

 

 

Poster Bike for the New Millenium

2001, the year I graduated from elementary school.  

I had grown up around motor-sport, my father a former rally racer and life long Formula One fanatic, would wake me up at 4 am most Sundays to watch racing live.  I had for a couple years longed after a dirt bike which never appeared...fuck you dad, lusted after my uncles Moto-Guzzi, and gone bananas when he let me rev the piss out of his new Buell S1 Lightening.  But these were far from sport bikes, which would become my obsession.  The Buell was more an impressionist take on sport standard machine rather than a sport bike, those are the kindest words I can write about that hunk of shit.  

 Just an awful machine.  

Just an awful machine.  

That May, something life changing happened,  like had happened to so many 12 year old boys before me, things were about to get very different. I saw a motorbike race.  It was on Speed Vision, right after the Formula One race, I cant be sure if it was on tape delay or live, but it was certainly at Monza.  The fact it was at Monza was far from insignificant, this was a track I knew from Formula One, one of the greatest in the world, and undoubtedly the fastest on the circuit. The race was one of the best I had ever seen, far closer and far more exciting than what Formula One had on offer in 2001.  The standouts were Troy Bayliss and Colin Edwards.  I immediately took to CE, and more importantly his bike.  The Honda SP1, known in North America as the RC-51.

 The face of a mad man.

The face of a mad man.

 

That summer my uncle was killed in a plane crash, his bikes sit in the garage right were he left them to this day.  My plan had been for him to teach me to ride, but with this out of the picture I was left to sort it out on my own.  Surely my mum and dad were not going to pay for it.  Now that riding for myself had been relegated to the back burner I became a super fan of racing. Taping races, reading magazines and most importantly of all covering my locker with magazine photos.  Two wheel tuesday hosted by Greg White was must see TV.  The star was the Honda RC51.   Both Nicky Hayden and CE were dominating their respective series, AMA and WSBK aboard them.  It was the bike I dreamed of owning. 

 Nicky being Nicky

Nicky being Nicky

When I graduated high school in 2006, I bought a 2005 SV650 from Atlanta Georgia sight unseen.  Had it shipped to Seattle, drove down and picked it up.  I had no fucking idea how to ride a motorbike, but I owned one!  I did the right thing and took a school, which my dear sweet mummy paid for, and the rest is history,  just like my love of the RC51.

Until one of these big red pigs started to seduce me. That is a story, next week.

 

 CE leading Bayliss on a later SP2

CE leading Bayliss on a later SP2

SV-650 Over a Decade on.

It has been seventeen years since the first curvy SV650 graced Suzuki showrooms, thirteen since the pointy bike made its debut.  Two years later, in 2005 the bike had gone through a series of tweaks and been given a much sexier black frame.  This bike is one of the all time great motorcycles. 

 My first bike, a 2005 SV650N

My first bike, a 2005 SV650N

I truly do not believe there is a better machine for a rider to learn performance riding on.  First off, its price point was, and still is nearly unbeatable, its downfall, the price point.  Simply put, everything in front of the steering head was crap, as was the rear shock, which frankly had no business being fitted to a motorcycle.  We will double back to these points later.

The positive attributes are much more plentiful.  Firstly, the bike is a looker, the simple round headlight and minimal bikini fairing are perfect, the gauge cluster is a balanced blend of analogue and digital.  Everything you need save for possibly a gear position indicator, a non issue for the seasoned rider, but for the inexperienced it is a nice feature.   The tail section is one of nicest units to ever come from an OEM. Throw on a fender eliminator, and a Suzuki seat cowl, simply gorgeous.  The tank is another strong point, beautiful and slim, thanks to what is the obvious key to this simple bike.  The slim V-Twin. 

 Simple, usable.

Simple, usable.

 Ari Hennings now famous SV650N.

Ari Hennings now famous SV650N.

 That is a great ass.

That is a great ass.

 

The motor is hung from the gorgeous pressure-cast aluminium truss frame.  The first gen bikes tended to look a bit like a bloated take on the simple trellis frames coming out of Bologna, with the second generation bike that is not the case, it looks great and is immediately recognisable.  The motor itself is a fucking marvel, sure it makes just 75 hp, but it is immediate and very user friendly.  Fuelling is quite good from the factory but like almost any bike, an ignition module and pipe go a long long way to liven it up.  Another dead simple and cheap mod is a Timing Retard Eliminator (TRE).  They can be sourced from  svrider.com user 92westshady for a mere $27, worth every penny.  

 The TRE.

The TRE.

From the factory the bike is really really good, but it fell short of being spectacular.  There is really no excuse for this as Suzuki had every part required to make it so, even in 2005.  There is an explanation, price, which lucky for SV Owners has only gone down.  You can fix the suspension and brakes for under a grand with simple hand tools and a jack to place under the engine.  To get my feet wet and my hands dirty I started at the back with the rear shock.  This is a dead simple modification, the toughest part is getting the rear into and un-sprung position.  This could be accomplished any number of ways, jacking the bike up from the motor, or lifting the rear sub-frame from above.  I chose the later.  From here its a matter of unbolting the old shock and replacing it with a model of your choosing.    There are a number of popular options, from CBR600's, as well as most the Kawi and Suzuki sport-bike ranges. There is a great thread outlining compatible models and there spring rates on svrider.com I went for a ZX14 model, this decision was based simply on spring rate.  It came fitted with a spring suitable for the 200# + crowd.  I found mine on eBay for about 65 USD.  I re used the original hardware, job done.  

 The ZX14 rear shock is hardly comparable to the stock unit.

The ZX14 rear shock is hardly comparable to the stock unit.

Now to the front, this job seems slightly more complex, but really it is not.  What does the SV need?  Better suspension and better brakes, well the fix can be accomplished one of two ways, a bunch of calls to Race-Tech and Brembo could do the job, but you would still be left with a dated set of axial mount brakes.

 Or you could go with the easier, cheaper, and simply put best option, a GSXR front end.

 A 2008 GSXR front end. Purchased complete for 550 USD

A 2008 GSXR front end. Purchased complete for 550 USD

You can source these on eBay all day long for under 1000 USD and if you really put time in, much less.  I paid less than 600 for my last front end, everything save for a tire.  Almost any GSXR front end, dating all the way back to the SRAD, will fit on the SV without any modification, however the 2004-2005 600/750 is the best option.  This comes down to a rather simple reason, the ignition mount on the top triple is in the same location on both bikes.  Make sure to get the master cylinder recalled, if it has not already been taken care of.  This swap truly transforms the bike, the fork is not even comparable, but for me the real selling point is the braking power.  I went for a bit of a mash up myself, using a Brembo 19X8 master cylinder pushing R6 calipers.  The Brembo clearly brings more stopping power over OEM, the calipers however were simply a cosmetic choice.  I also sourced some spacers allowing to run 320mm rotors.  

 Brembo 19x18. Sourced used with a bent lever, which was replaced with a folding unit.

Brembo 19x18. Sourced used with a bent lever, which was replaced with a folding unit.

 R6 calipers clamping 320mm rotors.

R6 calipers clamping 320mm rotors.

The end result is some great looking jewellery if nothing else.  I also chose to put on some 1.5 inch riser clip ons, but the stock units would work just fine.  Everything needed to mount your bikini fairing, headlight and gauge cluster is available from various vendors on svrider.com

But I went a different route. You know that beautiful bikini fairing i talked about?  Ya...fuck that thing, garbage.  The headlight was the toughest part of this project for me, and all that hard work was for nothing.  The lights I spent hours trying to build just wouldn't fit the bike in the way I wanted.  So I settled, if you can call it settling when you end up with something so beautiful, for a MT03 headlight.  It looks great.

The rest of the modifications are simple everyday, everybike mods.  An OEM gel seat, svracingparts.com rearsets, Renthal grips, Pazzo clutch lever, a 520 chain conversion with more aggressive gearing and lastly Tech Spec tank grips.

 I settled on a more aggressive, but still everyday friendly 15/45 combination.

I settled on a more aggressive, but still everyday friendly 15/45 combination.

At the end of the day I feel I have built the perfect street bike, it is a shame Suzuki didn't feel the same way.

 A Vapour gauge fit perfectly and kept things clean and simple.

A Vapour gauge fit perfectly and kept things clean and simple.

 SV Racing Parts Rearsets, 530 Chain, ZX14 Shock.

SV Racing Parts Rearsets, 530 Chain, ZX14 Shock.