Part Three – Big Picture
The conversion of a beautiful stock street bike to a track-only race bike is an ambitious undertaking requiring a fair amount of financial and emotional fortitude. Buying a new bike is an experience filled with wonder and excitement. Immediately stripping the bike down to its component parts is more demystifying than first date sex; it’s more like first date dissection.
Many people prefer to build a race bike slowly over time, first the bodywork, then the pipe, then the shock. This approach is fine when financial restraint is dictating the engineering of the motorcycle. We try to tread a fine line between financial efficiency and performance requirements. The bikes (a pair of heavyweight endurance bikes based on the 2012 BMW S1000RR) shown in this series are built to be competitive in the WERA National Endurance series. Contesting a series championship means showing up heavy for the first round. Therefore, the bikes are built from the ground up with all required modifications over the winter months to free up summer weekends for racing or maintenance.
Although ten years ago it was possible to build a competitive 600cc Supersport for about $15,000, these BMWs are probably closer to $25,000 each. This includes the bike, bodywork, exhaust, shock and forks, brake upgrades, engine covers, chassis guards, steering damper, clip-ons, rear-sets, chain, sprockets, wiring supplies, fuel injection programmer with traction control, lap timer, air filter and assorted other pieces. We try to avoid low performance returns like aluminum bolts. We usually budget about 40 to 60 hours to complete the process with a fair amount of outsourcing. Performing all your own suspension work, engine work or paint work can easily double the time but cut the expense. We don't have a hard number on what it would cost to build these bikes as we got a lot of help from a lot of people and, of course, we bought a lot of parts at dealer cost through a sponsorship hook up.
If you break down the whole process into steps most of the modifications are to:
1) Decrease weight
2) Improve handling
3) Improve reliability and safety
4) Improve brakes
5) Improve power
6) Improve crash resistance
7) Improve ergonomics
You should be able to clearly define the objective of any modification before undertaking the time and effort to effect the change. The obvious and most cited example of poor return is a novice racer spending money on power upgrades instead of tires and suspension. Before dropping money on some $400 part make sure you ask yourself if this part is going to quantifiably A. decrease lap times or B. make you safer (reliability). If it won’t, then don’t bother.
Most race bikes will be returned to street service before being sold (unless they end up as office decor or, worse, balled up and scrapped). With that in mind you may want to carefully pack all stock bodywork, lights and such and be careful about cutting electrical connectors or making irreversible frame modifications. Cutting the bungee hooks off of your subframe will probably not show up in your lap times and you will regret it when you try to sell the bike in two years.
You will also want to be careful in your choice of aftermarket suppliers. The participant turnover in road racing is very high. The average duration of participation in road racing is about three years. Due to this turnover some disreputable companies have been able to remain in business selling shoddy goods to racers for years. The racers that get burned once and would swear to never buy another set of crappy bodywork then leave the sport and the new kids that show do not know that certain manufacturers have a reputation for poor quality control. The lowest price is often not the best value.
Customer service, and product quality control has suffered over the years as vendors realize they don’t have to work too hard, as there is always one more customer(mark) calling. Getting the right part that fits, delivered to your door on-time from knowledgeable and helpful vendors is becoming an infrequent experience. If you find a good parts guy (male or female), or used parts vendor, or a company that makes a part that works and doesn’t break, or a supplier that can help you out with a non-standard application, do your patriotic duty and support them with all the fervor you can muster.
The straight story is often made more complicated by the fact that many of the most prestigious racers have commercial ties to certain manufactures (sponsorship) and will endorse a product even if their own bike might have a completely different oil, brake pad, bodywork or suspension internals actually installed. Motorcycle journalists (such as Sam) are often wooed by OEM manufactures and after market suppliers with international travel and four star hotels, free helmets and tires. All of these things can erode journalistic objectivity like water on stone. Ask lots of questions and trust no one. Observe with your own eyes performance, fit, function, reliability and draw your own conclusions. Being able to punch out the fairing and resume practice after sending a bike into the air fence is preferable to reducing the fairing to several dinner plate sized chunks in a similar crash. Making the right choice of aftermarket vendors will greatly impact your race results.
In the interests of disclosure, some of the aftermarket products used in these articles were supplied at a discount or free due to the publicity generated by the team but most of the equipment was purchased through usual racer channels. Virtually all of the suppliers used in these articles were utilized by the teams well before the team won championships. In other words, although we might have received some of the stuff free now (and not much at that as there is scant sponsorship left in motorsports), we were using the same products when we were paying for them. Also, you should be aware that Roadracing World will intentionally eliminate advertisers from the pages of Roadracing World if RRW becomes aware (usually a letter from a reader) of unscrupulous business dealings. That is not to say that you are safe shopping from the pages of RRW or that you are at risk if you buy from suppliers who do not buy ads in RRW but you should be aware of that filter.
We elected to not do any motor work on these BMWs. One, we didn't have any time. Two, motor work is a hassle. Three, motor work typically only helps you if you need more power and these BMWs most definitely do not need more power. They are sick fast. Like, fifth gear wheelie fast.
However, if we had decided to remove the motor we would have followed these basic tricks:
• It's good practice to tape up the intake boots, and especially the crankcase breather,
to prevent the introduction of foreign objects into the motor during removal or
• Remove or unplug anything still connecting the motor to any other system on the
bike, such as the countershaft sprocket, shifter, neutral indicator, oil pressure or
level indicator, alternator, ignition pickup, clutch cable, battery leads (Always
remove the negative cable from the battery first, and then the positive cable.
Assembly is the reverse of disassembly. The reason for this is to avoid the
consequences of inadvertently touching a wrench to the positive terminal and the
frame (dead short if the negative cable is still attached) while you are disconnecting
it, if say, you are wearing a ring that is touching the wrench), etc.
• Take a few minutes to check and double check to make sure there is nothing still
attached to the motor aside from the motor mounts. When you are sure you are
ready to drop the motor, loosen the motor mounts, including the motor spacers
if your bike has them, but don't remove the mounts yet.
• No amount of prying or tapping or swearing will force that motor out of the frame
if the motor spacers are still tight. Your typical motor spacer threads into a boss on
the frame and presses against the motor, and it has notches in it that require either
a manufacturer's special tool or a well-placed screwdriver to loosen.
• If you take off the wheels and forks you can basically lift the frame off the motor,
we usually hang the bike (we have a great 80 year old hardwood beam in the garage)
and drop the motor out of the bottom.
The order in which you strip body parts off the bike is dependent upon how it was assembled, for instance if you can't get to the tail section fasteners without removing the seats, you have to remove the seats first.
Of course, removing your suspension and putting it back on won’t make the bike much better so in a later chapter we will discuss what rake, trail, spring rates and damping mean.