Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Budget Drag Bike -

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 – 12.75s@114.7mph. 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 12.33s@127.8mph.

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

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