“THE STEWARD SAYS SOMETHING I CAN’T HEAR ABOVE THE RACKET AND PAST MY EARPLUGS, ALTHOUGH I CATCH SOMETHING LIKE ‘ON THE GREEN’”
being any more nervous. This is the first time the bike has been run in anger. I’ve only done about three test launches; not enough to decide the optimum revs for a clean start. There are spectators everywhere, lining Madeira Drive and high above leaning over the parapet on Marine Drive. We know the clutch isn’t as we want it to be. A couple of days before it had burnt out, aborting testing at Bruntingthorpe. When Gary stripped the Bandit engine clutch down he found that it was missing two thicker plain plates that should have been in there; instead they were all the same thickness. He ordered them but they failed to arrive in time so he fitted a whole new set of genuine Suzuki plates including an extra steel, hoping that would suffice but knowing that the pack was now too thick. We have no choice other than to run what we brung.
With 10 or so bikes ahead of us waiting to commence their quarters, Gary reaches under the dummy tank to turn on the Pingel tap and I fire up the bike. The rear Continental is brand-new so when I finally find myself in the burn-out zone I give the tyre a decent burn-out, rocking it from side to side. As the marshal guides the bike forward to stage it, I run through the orders Gary has given me one last time: “Launch at 5000rpm, hit the air shifter at 9000rpm in each gear and if the finish line is getting close, just hang onto the gear you’re in.” I think I’ve got it. Five and nine.
The steward says something I can’t hear above the racket and past my earplugs, although I catch something that sounds like “on the green.” At this point an unexpected serenity descends and all I can see is the light. I hold the throttle at 5k and as the LED lantern slips from red to green, I dump the clutch. The rev-counter needle quickly slips around to 9k but I can feel there’s more revs than drive. I hit the air shifter. Same again. Clutch slip. I’ve hooked fifth well before the end of the quarter mile but know that really I should have crossed the 400m marker in fourth. It’s a slow run, even without knowing the times.
Then the bumps start, so acting on advice not to shut off or start braking too soon I let the bike lose speed on the long incline up to the holding area. Those Nitron shocks are a godsend. Then there’s a massive stench of burning oil. Looking down to the right of the bike I see clouds of smoke wafting off the Vance & Hines headers. The pick-up and clutch covers are soaked in oil. I pull up alongside a friendly chap called Clive Hurst and his Kawasaki H1. “It’s probably your breather,” he offers, “I’ve got some gasket sealant in my van if you need to patch anything up once you’ve sorted the breather.”
The length of garden hose yes, garden hose, deployed as a breather has kinked out of sight under the bodywork. An easy fix, but the clutch is a bigger issue. Gary removes the generator and clutch covers while I go in search of Clive, his gasket goo and some Coca-cola and chips. By the time I return Big G has the still-roasting clutch plates out, strewn across the roadway, and is reassembling the unit with a new set of EBC friction plates. With no time to soak them, he pours a cup or so of oil onto the top of the pack as a last resort.
By now I’ve learned the stats on my practice run – firstname.lastname@example.org. Every bit as bad as it felt. Given our current batting average of one clutch per run, I’m all too aware that I probably have one more chance to make something like good. We decide on fresh tactics for the first of two timed runs; drive off the line and hit the air shifter at 10,000rpm for each gear thereafter.
As I stage for a second time, I’m ready. Off the line the rear wheel spins a little and the bike describes a parabola to the left. Determined to hold on for 10,000rpm I probably lose a few tenths but stick to the plan. The time spent covering the first 64ft is the critical measure in straightlining. Get that right and the rest of the run will follow. It feels good. At one point there’s a brief over-rev but I’m not sure if it’s clutch slip or a lack of traction. The air shifter slams each cog home quickly and I’m hanging onto fourth as I cross the line. Up in the holding area I check for oil. Dry as my anxious throat.
This time I’m able to ride back with the others. Saul and Ferret flag me down to give me the time – 11.68s@127mph. That’s a lot more like it. That critical first 64ft was despatched in 1.97s so in this at least I was on a par with the big boys in the class. Only five of the 16 bikes in the solos up to 2000cc division did better there and they mostly had gas, a turbo or a supercharger.
Back at the van, Gary stands to give me a mini standing ovation. The Grumpy one is chuffed, which was one of my main objectives for the day.
“Brilliant,” he says, “We’ve done what we set out to do on a bike that cost next to nothing to build. It doesn’t matter what happens on the next run. We know where we are and what we need to do to the bike for the future.” Of course I’m now developing a racer’s mindset and am replaying the previous run in my head, wondering where I could have done better.
The second timed and final run of the day was entertaining enough. Any nervousness has long since evaporated. By this time, with all the cars and bikes that have already enjoyed three runs along Madeira Drive, there’s a load of rubber laid down on the startline, doubtless mixed with a little oil and coolant. It seems like an age before Project £1000 Drag Bike’s rear tyre hooks up but the rest of the run is decent enough although the clutch is on its way out again. The final run is a email@example.com.
While to us it feels like a win, our first timed run was only enough to put us fourteenth out of 16 in class and 33rd out of 70 overall. Although
consolation comes in knowing we can launch quickly enough and everything ahead of us was much tricker than our modest machine.
If you’re wondering how Tom and Ferret enjoyed their evening in the pub, they didn’t. Swiftly rejected from the first, they were refused entry to a second and decided home was the best recourse. By this time it had barely turned 8pm. Lightweights.
For me and G the drive home was filled with excited chatter about the day’s adventures and what there might be to come. Our conclusion was that with the benefit of a lock-up clutch – or
even a set of plates of the proper thickness – we’d run in the 10s somewhere like Santa Pod with its more conventional drag strip. Whatever, we’re already counting down the days until the next Brighton Speed Trials.
The throttle’s pinned, the Nitrons squat, the Conti squeals and Alan’s away
Old 375 hooks up like a good ‘un. Seeley could be into the 10s next year
Relieved, refreshed (right, especially) and rejoicing in a job done good fashion: Tom, G, Al and Ferret
The big man worked wonders. He knows his big Suzukis backwards. Which helps
Kev came to assist too. No shoratge of willing helpers. Thanks folks