Getting Out There – Safely

It’s certainly different than I expected when I started planning racing but I finally rode my bike on the track.

Most of the motorcycle is completed, most of the riding gear is in place and most of the transport is together.

Bike – A 2017 KTM RC390 with about 3K miles was purchased on Jan 1, 2020 in Denver. I replaced the body work with Hotbodies race parts, took off the side stand, added sidecase guards and put on some race tires.

Transport – I couldn’t use my planned enclosed V-nose trailer because it was too tall to park in the apartment’s underground garage, so I got a utility trailer and bolted on my tool drawer with a car rooftop carrier to store the wheel stands. The awning fits on the floor strapped to the toolbox next to the bike.

Gear – I got the leathers, boots and gloves as planned. The new model of the air vest I got, however, will not fit in the suit. The vests for racing are out of stock, so I got a back protector for the meantime.

I got 4 track outings scheduled at a local track and 1 at Brainerd International Raceway before the end of the season.

With all of the CoViD prevention protocols in place, I ventured out for the first of the scheduled days. Here are a few photos of my inaugural session.

On the Track – Finally
Set Up in the Pits
The Rig

Here We Go – Budget Racer!

I’ve committed to try racing the 2020 season. I’m going to join the Central Racing Association and spend a bunch of time at the Brainerd International Raceway this summer.

In a previous post I estimated what it will cost to do this. I was, um, optimistic. Which is to say I could go cheaper but some of the savings increase risk, and I am much more risk averse (smarter) than I was when I was younger.

Also, a category of expense I missed was a trailer, aka Small Garage on Wheels. I got to see a bunch of other riders and their gear on my track day last Labor Day and it illustrated how important this function is to the endeavor.

The expense categories now are:

  1. Bike including modifications like Hot Bodies race plastic/sliders, performance enhancements and consumables including tires.
  2. Trailer including tools/tool box, awning, bike stands, gas cans, bicycle and riding gear storage.
  3. Gear. This accounts for the biggest shift in my thinking and the budget. Talking with other racers and reading informed resources has convinced me to spend more on riding gear. From a purely money perspective, even with insurance an ambulance trip and medical copays are more than a good race suit with an airbag. Good armored and articulated boots are cheaper than casts and crutches. Not to mention, I have learned that being ambulatory is more fun and easier than using a wheelchair. And, if I’m honest, I don’t like pain. Yeah, tough guys and stoicism and macho and all but I’ve got the benefit of some years and I finally enjoy simple things and if I can help it, I’d rather not get hurt. Old guys don’t bounce.

The bike. Shopping around and talking with racers I found I could go one of two ways, buy a stock bike and modify it for racing or buy a race bike from someone moving up a class or retiring from the sport. I opted for the more time-consuming stock bike route. This way I can learn the mods myself and that’s a big part of the fun for me.

I picked up a 2017 KTM RC390 with 3,000 miles in Denver on New Years Day and brought it back home. I ordered a Hot Bodies kit which should arrive in 6 weeks and I’m doing intermittent reading on potential performance mods.

The trailer. There are very few used enclosed trailers available. I found the perfect blend of function and price in a new one. Specs for the 6 x 12 enclosed trailer include a v-nose for tool/gear storage, a fold-down rear door for a ramp, a single axle with plenty of weight capacity and it’s tall enough to stand up inside. Hey, by the way, how tall is it? 7′ 6″? But the underground garage is at most 7′ tall and some of the pipes and wires hang down below that. Crap!

So, I decided to give up the ability to stand up straight in the trailer for the ability to park it inside and work hunched over (or sitting down) in my “stealth shop” in the basement so I ordered one with a 6′ 6″ height. I’ll need to add a bunch of LED lighting throughout but that will help trackside as well.

The Gear. I’m going to get an airbag vest. People who know more than me recommend it. So there. Tech-Air 5. Also, because of my misshapen back I’m going to get a custom race suit fitted. The International Motorcycle Show is in town soon and I’ve got an appointment at the Heroic booth to get my order in time for the season. I’ll get some of their gloves and look for some boots at the show as well.

Here we go!

Ride Around a Lake

Michigan, that is.

Now that I am newly retired, I thought I should take a long-overdue long-distance ride. There were some roads in Wisconsin I read about that “rivaled the Tail of the Dragon” out east. I could visit a good friend in Chicago. I’d never been through either piece of Michigan. I saw a TV show once about Copper Harbor on the U.P. that I could scout for a couples retreat weekend. There you go! The bones of a ride were setup. Southeast out of Minneapolis and go counterclockwise around Lake Michigan. Leave on a Monday, bring a tent and sleeping bag as backup, and see how long it takes.

It didn’t go exactly as envisioned, and I learned lot.

Lessons learned:

  • I don’t like long-distance motorcycle riding
  • Whoever compared WI roads to the ones in the Appalachian Mountains, has never actually ridden both
  • Don’t ride a motorcycle around the sidewalks of a music camp while they’re in session
  • I have only a few friends, but they’re really good
  • A worse home-life makes your road-life better — The inverse is also true

Let me explain. [Read more…]

Retired

Well, as far as I can tell, I retired. I did it. I was just tired before. Now I’m re-tired, which I found out means “really tired.” We met with the financial advisor and although we’ll need to be frugal (which should be fine — it is “Budget” Rider after all) I can stop chasing the almighty buck.

As funny as it sounds, I owe a lot to my last boss for making the working conditions untenable. I honestly thought I needed to work until the last possible breath to keep up with demand but my displeasure with my job gave me motivation to check out the feasibility of retiring.

I was surprised when I did the simple math of my Social Security benefits. If I retired now as opposed to later, the total amounts I’d collect by waiting eight more years don’t benefit me until I turn 81. So, I’d make more after I’m 81, but what am I going to do with some more money when I’m 81?!? I hope I’m in great shape then, but I think I better do stuff now while I still can. There are already lots of things I can’t do now that I could only ten years ago and odds are that list will just keep getting smaller.

I’m keeping my software certifications active and I can always go back to work if I have to but it’s time to really work on figuring out what’s most important and why and spend the time I have left on those things.

I’ve got a whole bucket full of bucket-list items to attend to. How about some riding? 🙂

It’s Later Than You Think

I went for a ride with my brothers.

My job situation changed.

I’ll let you know about both of those events in upcoming posts.

I realized it’s about time for me to rearrange how I’m spending the time I have left. There’s nothing dramatic or obviously life-shortening that has been discovered. It’s just that when you do a little math, there are too few riding seasons left. There are too few hours in the shop. There are too few campfires and twisty roads and scenic views.

Ride more.

Live more.

It’s later than you think.

My Job Sucks…

… all my time and energy from the rest of my life currently. I just realized it’s been over two months since I posted last. Jeez! Where to start?

First, I should explain that I’ve made the decision not to pursue racing this season. It sounded really fun and not too expensive but the aforementioned time and energy was in short supply. In order for it to be manageable I’d need a different method of making a living. I’ll revisit the subject again in January 2020.

Second, my brothers and I have a ride planned for the week after next. I installed a new battery and got new Michelin Road 5 Trail tires on the GS. Additionally, I’ve put together a bike-specific tool kit and got the saddlebags some new weatherstripping. I’ll trailer the bike from MN to GA, meet up the bros and take five spring days to ride together up through and around the Blue Ridge Mountains. We’ll try to fit in a side-trip to the Barber Motorsports museum. I’ll trailer home after and resume normal life.

The next post should be relatively soon after the ride unless work gets outta control again.

You would have thought that seeing Office Space as many times as I have would start emboldening me to speak up. So, if I decide to kick over a cubicle and speak up I’ll probably be given a lot more time to write about motorcycling.

Stay tuned.

Budget Rider = Budget Racer?

Is it possible to go motorcycle racing and afford it?

Let’s find out.

In a previous post, I wrote about my experience at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) last summer. That experience really got me thinking about a part of motorcycling I haven’t encountered. It was great fun, and I wanted to figure out how a “normal” person could realistically afford to do such a thing consistently. At the Progressive International Motorcycle Show in Minneapolis, I wandered around talking with the racing associations and riding schools to get their recommendations.

They suggested that a beginning racer can get into the sport in a small displacement class and learn enough to know what’s involved to progress into larger, faster classes. If closed-circuit racing is a thing you want to pursue you can start on a smaller bike and your racing experience, knowledge of the tracks and even your riding gear will all apply toward advancement. The time and money invested in relationships with organizations and riders also isn’t wasted. Veteran racers recommend (and some even currently race) small bikes. Alternatively, you might realize that it’s not for you, and if you start small you can get out without spending a lot.

The Central Racing Association for Minnesota has an ultralight class for 250s.

The Bike

A Kawasaki Ninja 250 is the bike recommended for this class. Model years 1988 – 2007 EX250 F/G/H are effectively the same bike. It’s about 300 lbs., 30 or so HP, with 16″ wheels. A 2008 – 2012 EX250J has a little more midrange at the expense of peak HP, better forks, is 20 lbs. heavier, but, most importantly, has 17″ wheels, which make it easier to find good tires.

Looking around Cycle Trader and Craigslist I found some candidates for $1,000 to $2,500.

I’ll need to get the bike up to racing spec, which involves taking off a bunch of stuff, safety wiring, and fitment of racing rubber. Based on some cursory conversations, the tires might last a whole season and cost about $500. Figure some sliders, a wheel stand, better brake pads and other miscellaneous doo-dads at an additional $400.

Another advantage of the 250 is that it’s lightweight enough so I can use a hitch mounted carrier as opposed to a trailer, which will save money since I already have a carrier. A carrier is also more renter friendly in a shared-underground-garage. I could just leave the bike on the back of the minivan and back the van into the stall with a cover over it.

Riding Gear

Although I have street gear, the only piece that transfers is my helmet. I’ll need a leather suit and some track boots and gloves. I tried on some suits at the show, and estimate $1,000 to $1,500 for those additional items.

Race Fees

Until I attend the new rider training and figure out specifics about how many races are in a series and if I’m serious enough to commit to a full season, I’ll estimate race fees at $500.

Expenses

It’s about 300 miles round trip to Brainerd International Raceway, so fuel is about $60 (at $3/gal.) plus fuel for racing – $100 per weekend – 6 weekends = $600. I’m not counting food, because I need to eat regardless of what I’m doing, and I’ll probably just sleep in my van, so there’s no lodging expense.

So, first pass on the total cost of ownership (TCO) for the inaugural season of racing is $4,000 to $6,000. If I finish a season without crashing the bike and want to hang it up, I could probably sell the bike for what I paid for it and get maybe $500 for the used racing gear. That means I’ll need to spend $2,500+ and dedicate a Minnesota summer to find out if I’m a racer.

Hmm.

A Couple of GS Pain-relief Mods

I made three modifications. Late September in Minnesota notwithstanding, I have no good excuse not to put some miles on the GS.

Pain in the butt – solved. [Read more…]

Getting Acquainted

There it is, my new (to me) 2007 BMW R1200GS. It came with the Jesse bags, engine guards and headlight shield.

Even though I haven’t owned a GS before, riding it is second nature. The linear power, the excellent suspension and handling, the riding position, all felt balanced and natural.

The only unusual detail is the strange signal light switchgear. I’m sure I’ll adapt, but non-standard controls? At least the throttle is on the right side.

Also, I can report  [Read more…]

Ride for Four Years, for Free! – Part 2

1) Sell the Bonneville and KLX ✔︎
2) Move Across the Country ✔︎
3) Stay Employed ✔︎
4) Get a GS – Let’s Get to Work

The KLX netted $2,500 and the Bonnie $4,200, so I’ve got$6,700.

Checking both Cycle Trader and the BMW Motorcycle Owners Association (BMWMOA) marketplace and evaluating nine criteria on fourteen candidates, the search has uncovered two finalists. As a quick aside, late fall is a great time to find a motorcycle at low prices.

The first one is yellow and  [Read more…]