Chez TT Racer
Gary Johnson is taking it upon himself to build his TT Superstock & Superbike, in his house. The madman…
I“f a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing yourself” – said somebody with far too much time (and probably money) on their hands, sometime, somewhere. For the 2017 TT, Gary Johnson is taking this approach himself, eschewing joining an established squad for the Isle of Man’s main events, and instead building both bikes for Superstock and Superbike – in his house. When we say house, we of course mean lounge, conservatory, kitchen, or wherever he has a spare square inch of space. So, what on earth possessed him to take it all upon himself? What goes in to building TT racers exactly, and why do it in his home, hmm, Gary, do tell? “I don’t know, because it’s destroying me right now”, said Gary, “the pressure is getting far too great, especially with people not delivering goods on time and so on. Using a new model means waiting for stuff, being pissed off, and as I’m not factory supported aside from the help from friends and good people in the industry, it’s all on me, which is rendering me pretty useless and there’s less than six weeks to go until the TT! I’m having to lean on people, my dad has just taken a bike over to Maxton suspension for example, then there’s all the organising, the logistics, the boardings, the colours, it’s becoming a nightmare. If my bikes were sat ready everything else would be so much easier, but we’re working through it, we’ll keep plodding on!” Okay then! You’ve chosen the new Suzuki GSX-R1000 for both classes, so, why at home and why Suzuki? “I’m doing this at home as we were going to be working long days and nights. My garage is taken up, like a lot of garages, with a load of crap. Now my up and downstairs bedrooms are both storage and the lounge and conservatory is perfect, so bought some flooring and at least we’d have somewhere comfy to work in rather than freezing our nuts off in the garage.
“I’m building both bikes in the conservatory, and my Supersport bikes are currently in my garage, all in varying states of not being finished! I’ve chosen the Suzukis for a couple of reasons. One because they’ll actually be both very similar, with just a few differences. The other is that I know already they’re good!
“I also wanted to do this myself due to my experiences in the past, so now it’s all down to us, rather than join a team that doesn’t do exactly what they say, or don’t listen to what you’re saying. Kawasaki was a considered option, the bike is known to me and in hindsight would have been easy to sort out. But many guys ride them and I’d seen dyno runs of the GSX-R and it looked handy.
When I got it I went for a quick rip around the village and it felt really good, it was easy to ride, a long way from being a race bike but still good. I did consider the BMW, but not the Yamaha R1 as it’s not shown its potential yet in road racing. Originally I was only looking at Kawasaki and BMW, but I was struggling with a throttle issue on the Beemer and if I was in a German team who couldn’t fix the issue, what chance did I have of getting it sorted on my own? I didn’t want to stumble through another season like that, which kind of tripped me into the Suzuki thing.
“With Michael Dunlop also on a Suzuki, there’s more publicity with running one, which is a bonus. I could have been on with it already if I’d have gotten stuff promised while other teams did. But I didn’t. I have about £ 20k of parts currently sat in the wilderness somewhere, and bikes sat here with no wheels or swingarms in. But I’m staying positive!”
Clearly! So, the Superstock bike, what goes into turning your standard machine in to a TT stocker then?
“Well, the very first port of call is the suspension, what to use? I’ve been involved with K-Tech for a few years with good
results, both positive and negative feedback, as with just about anything else. But I decided to have a clear mind on what I want, so I’ve gone down the K-Tech route, but also Maxton and Bitubo, too. I’ll test them and see what I prefer, I’m buying it all and am a free agent to choose whatever I feel comfortable on which is the biggest thing at the TT really.
“Next up is what to do about the exhaust and the ECU. There’s a Yoshimura system available, but I’ve also got involved with Jeff at Pipewerx, he’s sound as a pound. I’ve got the stock system and want to keep the exhaust valve in the front with Jeff altering the pipe from the downpipes onwards. I have a full stainless Yoshi’ system which came as a package with one of the bikes from Pete at B and B Motorcycles who has helped me (the other came from York Suzuki Centre), with that and a bit of money for the budget. So I’ll be able to try all of these back to back to see how they fare. In addition to that my friend (and title sponsor) Steve at Reactive Parts has a full Arrow system for me to try, too. So I’ll make the choice on what works best for me, not for branding or anything else – whatever works goes on my bike, that’s what I’m using, and that’s that.
“For the ECU there’s a few flashing them, like Woolich in Australia who’s doing it for Hawk Racing. I don’t know if I’ll have that software at my disposal yet, so I’ll also ask Dynojet for their options, and also Paul at PCR Racing. Again, I have to pick and choose what’s working and what can get sorted in time of course.
“For all my aftermarket parts, like levers, brake pads, fairings, paddock stands, bodywork and everything else like that, I’ve gone to Reactive Parts. He sells some of the best high-end gear available, it’s real quality. And then there’s quick-shifters, like the Translogic unit, which I hope will be becoming a blipper system before the TT but we’re working hand in glove with that. Last thing is a quick-action throttle, as the gasser is push/pulled by a cable which works a servo, then Samco hoses, GB Racing covers and Hel brake lines. And that’s about it for the Superstock bike, it’s just everything comes with an astronomical price and a long, long wait.”
Sounds good, with lots of help, but also frustrating waiting so long. What’s different with the Superbike?
“The Superbike will be finished late, engine-wise, but I’ll be sticking in some Yoshi’ cams, valve-springs and other parts, plus some basic porting, which will help make it nice and healthy. I don’t know who’s doing this yet exactly, but it’ll get done! I really don’t want to lose the engine characteristic that comes as stock though, that smooth torque curve will pay dividends at the TT and help with stability too. I’m not going nuts, I’ve had 234bhp BMWs before that get rinsed by my Superstocker until it was above fourth-gear, so what a waste of time as you just have to brake harder. I’m also looking at uprating the clutch to a Suter item, who will loan me one to develop for
them, which if it happens I’ll be over the moon about.
“Chassis-wise, I’m altering the standard swingarm and Harris are supplying a Brembo underslung caliper for the quick-release system. But I’ll be running stock swingarm pivots and so on, so essentially I’ll be building one bike across two and when I test my Superstocker I can then replicate the suspension and settings onto the Superbike. I’m keeping it simple, I can test the stocker till the cows come home, rather than starting with new yokes, lightweight wheels, superbike forks and linkages, pointlessly overcomplicating things when someone like Hutchy has proved he go quicker on a Stocker than a Superbike.
“At the end of the day, we’re racing around a motocross track in relative terms rather than a billiard table GP circuit, so the stock stuff is designed for the road (and has been proven just as good on the roads) whereas things like expensive Öhlins forks are more rigid and lighter with less flex. So many racers are going back to stock yokes and so on, for more feel. I’m using standard wheels as if they’re good on the Stocker, they’ll be good enough for the Superbike especially for the TT. If it was the North West 200 or Macau I’d maybe upgrade the brakes a bit more as you’re using them a lot more.
“But with cost versus performance gains, you can easily spend £70,000 to go no faster. The standard brake setup is fine for the Stocker, so will be fine, again, for the Superbike. The standard brake pads are terrible, I pulled them when I went out for my ride and nothing happened! All it needs is some Brembo racing pads to sort them out, the rest of the stock kit is great, I’ve also got some Lucas pads to test them out too.
“Then I guess I may change the switchgear to some smart buttons from Accossato or similar, which may come from the same place as the Suter clutch. And that’s it, the Superbike isn’t much more different from the Stocker, I’m trying to keep it smart and simple, it makes sense doing that.”
So, how much have these two race bikes set you back, roughly?
“The bikes are the stock GSX-R, not the RR, so they’re around £13,000 each. Then once all the parts are added up, even doing this cheaply you’re still looking at (very roughly) around and over £20,000 for the Stocker and well over £25,000 for the Superbike when you add in the engine-work at around £5k, swingarm mods, Brembo caliper and so on, and probably a lot more when I really think about it! Actually, I forgot the tank alterations, a major part where my bike has to go off somewhere and that’ll be around £1,500 per tank to add on. That being said, I’m buying loads of different stuff to test out, so when I choose what I’m using after actually testing the things, I’ll be able to sell a lot of stuff to make some money back.”
And how many man hours are you putting into this endeavour?
“It’s basically taking up my entire life, and as things come in late, time in the workshops, sorry, conservatory, becomes more intense. Just another reason why we’re keeping the variables between bikes to an absolute minimum, we’re not reinventing the wheel, let’s stick slicks on and go!
You only have to look at how some people spend years and fortunes trying to rewrite the rulebook to suit themselves and get to a respectable pace, can tie just themselves in a knot (answers on a postcard as to who exactly he means with that – FB). I’ve got six weeks left to do what some manufacturers have been doing for years”.
It sounds like you’re getting some help though, luckily?
“Everyone has been so good to us. My dad has been retired for years but is tinkering away with things. He works slow, but methodically, and when I put him on something I know it’ll get done right and I can forget about it. I’ve got a mechanic full-time who worked with me on the BMWs, who’s now living with me in my spare room. We get up in the morning, have a coffee and get on with the job. He does stuff while I go take care of things, like my recently sliced open hand and this irritating ear infection that won’t piss off. I try and keep everything working, going forwards, keep my head above water, arranging an oil deal with Motul, sorting the team logistics, the designs, and all the time try to ignore the fact that I’m actually the one who’ll be racing the bikes. I’ve had to get up even earlier to train too, it’s taken over everything though I try and switch off by 10pm. Even then, my brain keeps on ticking over!”
So, we guess that this is all going to be worth it in the end, then?
“I hope so! I’ve been annoyed with what some of these teams have delivered to me over the years, I’ve proven when on the right kit I can perform with the best of them, where on poor kit I struggle to get in the top five. I’ve got a decent set of Supersport bikes from East Coast racing too, we’re working with John Trigger and Luke Stapleford and his World Supersport team on those Triumphs. It’s a constant battle on every front, so is it worth it? We’ll find out, I’ve stressed more the last two years with what I’ve been delivered, so if I can make it a quarter better by myself at the TT that’ll be a quarter less stress. So I’m flat out busier than I’ve ever been, but I’m less stressed, strangely.”
And there you have it, doing the TT family style, including building the bikes at home, not something you’d expect a racer of Gary’s calibre to be doing. How he fares, or whether he even gets finished in time, remains to be seen. Sadly, testing didn’t quite go to plan either – the day before we did the shoot at his house, Gary crashed one of his Suzukis on spilt oil at Donington! Not an ideal start, yet this hasn’t diminished his drive to be ready for the TT, not one bit. However we wish him the best of luck and, no, Gary, we don’t have any spare change…
A little pre-heating never hurts!
We wonder where he got those work mats from? Hmmmm...
A picture, luckily, cannot convey swearing...
Somehow he still manages to smile!
Sofas be gone!
An in-house mechanic is a must!
Garage, or tyre shop?!