John Milbank discovers the most enjoyable, and cheapest motorcycle racing in the UK. It’s fast, fun and open to anyone…
Photos by John Milbank
There’s a gasp from the crowd as four racers fight their way into turn two. It’s the final lap, and there’s no way they’re all coming out of that bend. The TV camera swings round; the heli-cam hovers expectantly above… Three bikes exit the corner as another motorcycle slides past, the rider close behind it. This is close racing, and it’s what the crowd wanted to see, yet it costs nothing to watch. This is the world of the National Mini-bike Road Racing Championship (www.NMRRC.co.uk). Oh, and the rider that crashed was back on his feet in seconds.
There are two sets of nine races to enjoy – from six year olds in the Junior Production mini-moto, through adults still flexible enough to squeeze on the little machines, to tuned junior race bikes, and various pit bike classes for all ages.
The series is televised on MotorsTV
Watch the juniors in action
Really, it’s free?
Yep, and you’re also completely free to wander around in the pits, chat to the racers, or stand wherever you like outside of the track. This is racing on a small scale, but with all the excitement (and far more crashes) of BSB, WSB and MotoGP.
It takes place on go-kart tracks around the country, which not only makes for incredibly tight competition, it also means that you can see the whole race from pretty well any viewpoint. Try that at Brands Hatch.
Events are televised on MotorsTV, with much more coverage planned for next year’s season.
Who races these bikes then?
There’s everyone from plumbers to floor-fitters, first time racers to Superbike pros. Aaron John Evans is 15, and rides a 140cc pit bike which he shares with his Dad, Mark: “We both ride the bike, which we bought off eBay for £400, but have spent about the same getting it sorted. This has opened the doors to a great new hobby for me. Dad’s a welder and got it for me to enjoy, but I can’t help thinking there’s a hidden agenda – he loves it as much as I do!”
Alex Lowes (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki WSB) and his Moto2 racing brother Sam have raced pit bikes and mini bikes, as has Dan Linfoot, BSB star: “I raced pit bikes for fun and training – it’s great riding closely with others, and really makes you sharp on a bike. It’s also a brilliant grounding for the younger generation to learn race craft on geared machines.”
There’s a good chance you could see some of racing’s future champs jumping into their parent’s arms after a win in the junior mini-moto rounds, or stumble across a current race champion hacking around on a pit bike.
Watch ex-Yamaha Past Masters racer Mark Hardy battle it out…
I wish I could have a go…
You can! Mini motos can be quite expensive, but for most of us who don’t have the flexibilty to perch on the tiny motorcycles, pit bikes are perfect – they’re cheap, easy to work on, and relatively safe to crash (and they bounce really well).
There are three pit bike classes in the NMRRC – 140, 160 and open. The latter is for any four-stroke engine up to 200cc (or two-stroke up to 80cc), but the former two classes only allow for standard Chinese-made engines of 140cc and 160cc.
Enter the Stock 140 class race for just £59 and you can run a well-specified bike for anywhere between about £800 for a good used example, to £1100-£1300 for a race-ready brand new machine. You’re not allowed to tune these C90-copy motors, besides fitting a hotter cam (for about £20), and while you could tune the suspension, few of the leading riders bother.
As Alan Lord, co-director of the NMRRC tells us, “This isn’t cheque book racing – almost anybody can afford to compete, and with riders from all walks of life and ages taking part, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.”
There’s no ACU race licence needed either: “We’ll lend you a transponder at the race for free,” says Alan “So you really can just turn up on your motorcycle and enjoy it. All we do insist is that the bike is fitted with crash bobbins to protect the track, a catch tray under the engine, and that the sump plug is drilled and lock wired.”
Where can I get a bike?
You might have seen motocross pit bikes tearing around private land. Chinese machines that can be picked up brand new for as little as £500, they’re basic but fun. As they’ve found their way onto Tarmac tracks, riders have fitted sticky slick race tyres and adjustable suspension to turn them into cheap supermotos. With companies now offering race-ready bikes, it’s even easier to get started, and there are plenty of great suppliers out there for any parts you might need.
If you’re buying used, you can pick one up on eBay, but you’d be well advised to go along to a race or practice session to get a feel for what you need (and maybe bag a bargain while you’re there). Most current bikes are based on a Honda CRF50 or CRF70 style frame (the 70 tends to be preferred by taller riders, as it’s a little bigger). There are also TTR and KLX style frames, which can make buying spares slightly confusing. Fortunately, most of the suppliers are friendly and helpful, so do your research before buying.
You could pick up an MX style bike and convert it to supermoto spec; you might want to build your own machine from new and used parts, or you could simply buy a race-ready bike brand new. Which is what I did. I spent £1125 on an M2R Racing KX140SM supermoto from funbikes.co.uk. All I needed to add was a catch tray and a set of crash bobbins for the footpegs. And it’s the best money I’ve ever spent – it’s fun to ride, and it’s cheap, easy and enjoyable to tinker with.
Jon King is the boss of FunBikes: “It’s not overly competitive racing – it’s just a good laugh really. You do have people banging handlebars at the front, but equally it’s there to enjoy, and there are plenty of father and son teams.”
Watch editor John crash his new bike…
These are cheap Chinese bikes, and you need to keep on top of the maintenance: greasing dry headraces; re-packing bearings; adjusting tappets and checking everything’s tight after each race. Parts will break, but when they do, it’s still cheap. A complete, brand new engine will cost about £250, while a frame could cost you as little as £58, a chain £12 and a gear lever £4.50.
Ben Lord (one of Alan’s three racer sons) is currently leading both the 140 and open classes, but on the same, un-tuned 140cc. If you needed proof that it’s not about throwing money at expensive engines and set-ups then this is it. Ben rides a standard Monster-Pro (monsterpro-pitbikes.co.uk) CRF50 worth just £1072.
What if I don’t want to race?
Then enjoy the cheapest track days you’ll ever come across. Not all go kart tracks let pitbikes on, but check www.nmrrc.co.uk for a list of bike-friendly circuits. A Tuesday evening at Whilton Mill near Daventry costs £30, while a day at Stretton in Leicester is just £35 (£25 if you become a member). No pre-booking, no long briefing, just turn up, pay and ride. You can even call the Stretton circuit any day of the week, and if the track’s available you can ride for £30 (£20 for members).
The NMRRC is about to host classes for junior mini-moto and geared-bike riders taught by ex-champions and BSB riders, as well as introducing the Bambino Gearbox classes for six- to nine-year-olds on mini pit bikes and mini GP bikes.
Whether you want to compete, enjoy some cheap track time, or simply watch the action, this really is racing for absolutely everyone.
If you’re buying a new bike, give the seller a call and explain what your background is. They’ll be able to help you make sure you buy the machine that suits you.
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