Classic Motorcycle Mechanics


Ad man Charlie is bullied by Bridgeston­e’s Gary Hartshorne into buying a Honda CB500 to go racing – but how?


Charlie Oakman and Gary Hartshorne race a CB500 Honda.

Late August 2018 and there was a new bike in my garage at home, a motorcycle destined for the racetrack though this time a very different prospect to the TZR250 two-stroke I had once raced.

Indeed, parked up on paddock stands as my most prized possession was a Honda CB500, exactly where the now-returned TZR250 had once been.

I had a real stroke of luck. I was bullied into racing again by Bridgeston­e’s Gary Hartshorne (who was to become my teammate for the 2019 season), but he also found me a bike that I bought instantly. The previous owner was a chap called Josh Leaning, a leading competitor in the CB500 racing series with Thunderspo­rt, so someone who knew his way round a CB, thus despite buying totally blind I was happy that I was getting a pretty good machine. By the way, the Honda CB500 is a trusty twin-cylinder commuter/learner machine from the 1990s, and therefore perfect CMM fodder!

Complete with a racing loom, race bodywork and a spare set of wheels, the red, black and gold CB500 was going to have its inaugural run at a No Limits Trackday at Mallory Park; this is where Gary and I would be racing in Round 5 of the East Midlands Racing Associatio­n (EMRA) championsh­ip to get our eye in for the following season.

Leaving the awning for the first time, the run to pit lane was genuinely the first time I had been on a CB500 since passing my bike test a million years ago. Without a speedomete­r, rev counter or screen

to tuck behind, this was the strangest I had felt on a bike for many years. But given a couple of laps, a knee scrape or two and experienci­ng the famed cornering at full pace around Gerard’s for the first time I was hooked. Returning to the awning and Gary filming my first appraisal of my new machine, I can be heard to question: “Why have I been sodding about on bikes that cost many thousands of pounds, when you can have this much fun for £1500?”

The Mallory Park trackday was a great success, but racing is oh-so different. The next time I rolled into Mallory my CB had a couple of makeshift numbers on the side, a few more stickers to thank a number of suppliers who helped me out (I’m an ad-man, don’t forget) and an orange bib in my kit bag. There were also rain clouds threatenin­g and a Bridgeston­e-emblazoned awning full of people getting ready for the racing the next day…

Gary introduced me to the team: Chris Smith, a No Limits instructor who had actually bullied Gary into CB ownership so thus the original architect of this situation; Chris’s Uncle Lezzo – CB owner and extremely experience­d CB spanner man; Mick and his good lady Ange who kept us well hydrated and fed and a chap called Benny Grayson from BGR motorsport – a 600 racer with a vast amount of paddock life experience. This team were here just for the craic of it all, making sure the paddock experience that Gary and I had first tasted at the hands of the excellent Yamaha Past Masters the year before would be every bit as organised and relaxing.

Despite all of this I was far from relaxed and once all set up for racing the next day we headed out of Mallory, had a couple of pints, and I think I saw every hour in that night as I tried to forget what I was embarking on the following day.

My own personal wrestling of nerves will be a common observatio­n throughout these features. I have never considered myself a racer, or indeed a particular­ly fast rider, and the reason for me being here was just to give it my best shot, overcome my fears and experience racing for a full season. Ok, so a CB500 isn’t the supersonic weapon that British Superbike riders use, but tipping into Gerard’s at full chat off of the start/finish straight surrounded by other racers, elbows out, is not for the faint-hearted. You certainly don’t want to be getting that wrong even on a CB500…

EMRA race day arrived and it’s a full-on schedule. One of the most attractive elements of this series is that it all runs over the course of one day, perfect for the time-poor, and it’s amazing what you can fit into a day. Gary and I had signed up for the CB500 racing and the Rookies, thus two practice/qualifiers and a total of four, 10-lap races on the day.

This presented very little time for nerves to really bite, which could genuinely have seen my botty disappeari­ng over the fence and off into the distance.

First qualifier was the Rookies, full wet set up, which was another new experience for me. I followed Gary’s advice to just ride on the wets as you would on the dry tyres and treat this qualifying like a trackday, which I did and also tried to follow Gary round, but he had his own weekend to run and was gone, so I was on my own now. I was amazed at the grip I was getting with the Bridgeston­e wets, which saw a seven-second drop in my lap time over the course of the day.

Like the CB500 qualifying that followed, I was ‘steady away’. I kept out of trouble, tried to brake later each lap and note my markers, and came in elated that I wasn’t last for either session. I had enjoyed it and as soon as the wheels were turning the nerves had gone in an instant.

The CB Race quickly followed and I was a fair few rows back, a warm-up lap re-grid, red lights came on, went off, and I dumped the clutch to hear a massive rev from the engine and hadn’t moved an inch. It was then I decided to put it in gear. DOH! Despite this God-awful start, there was still a race to be had at the back and we tussled for a time, though

my race craft left a lot to be desired. With the excitement raging in me being a part of my first CB500 race, I forgot everything that numerous California Superbike and Ron Haslam Race Schools had taught me.

I was flying into the corners and needing to brake sharply, taking away all of my momentum and chugging out with no drive at all. Desperate to make up for it I did exactly the same again on the next corner. I couldn’t stop myself until the inevitable happened at the hairpin – too fast, too wide, a handful of front and I was sliding along the Tarmac. Thankfully, I had either gotten away from the chasing pack at the rear or they had seen it coming and gave me the space that my orange novice bib suggested. Additional­ly fortuitous was the bike, which sustained little damage, my RST leathers even less, and I rode the bike back into the pits into Lezzo’s hands so that he could straighten things up ready for the next race.

Ok, so it wasn’t the best start, though it did realign my thinking. I now needed to get a finish that came to pass in the following three races, albeit with a bent handle bar and the finishes being pretty far down the field. Especially in the ‘Rookies’ where despite having the same riding status, the litre bikes and 600s just blew the CBS away on the straights, Gary and I both decided that this was not the second series for us…

As the day came to a close Gary went off to get his signatures and, just like racing with him before with the Yamaha Past Masters, he returned with a Trophy as the Fastest Veteran. This was some reward for a great performanc­e from Gary, who had been running from strength to strength all day. For me though, the signatures were enough. I had completed my first EMRA race day, met some brilliant people and made my mind up: my CB500 was going to have some money thrown at it, I was going to revise my old race school notes and was going to complete my first full race season with Gary by my side the following season. I had no expectatio­ns of grandeur, leading the pack or any particular heroics. I just wanted to be able to say I had done it, knowing I would have a great time along the way. Stay tuned!

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 ??  ?? Gazza (left) is literally a big bully to our little Chaz...
Gazza (left) is literally a big bully to our little Chaz...
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? ...his rivals pour past... he didn't ...til the fool realises engage first gear!
...his rivals pour past... he didn't ...til the fool realises engage first gear!
 ??  ?? Our hero releases clutch...
Our hero releases clutch...
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? ABOVE: Gary (3) smooth in the wet while Charlie (5) is getting in some more laps worth of experience.
ABOVE: Gary (3) smooth in the wet while Charlie (5) is getting in some more laps worth of experience.
 ??  ?? BELOW: With Bridgeston­e wets – just pretend it's dry!
BELOW: With Bridgeston­e wets – just pretend it's dry!
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? ABOVE: Charlie heads out of the pits for practice.
ABOVE: Charlie heads out of the pits for practice.
 ??  ?? BELOW: So Gary does have a pot to p... well, you know.
BELOW: So Gary does have a pot to p... well, you know.

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