The Cheap, Riotous World of Mini-Motorcycle Racing: An Introduction
The Drive drags knee at an M1GP training session. Epic battles, and crashes, ensue.
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The loud scuff of knee-slider off the apex startles me. Bowman’s in my sights, we’re inches apart. I can take him on the long straight, I know it. I edge up next to him, practically under his elbow. We jostle, fast approaching V-Max, daring each other to stay off the brakes. My speed might just barely carry me past him into turn one. He glances over his shoulder, flogging his motorcycle for all it’s worth. He’s laughing, the fiend, I can see his ribs heaving inside his leathers. Simultaneously, we both sit-upright, turning our bodies to airbrakes, then grab a giant handful of brake, careful not to upset the front in such close proximity to each other. Bowman extends a middle finger as I pass.
If we ever went faster than 35 mph, I’d be shocked.
This is mini-motorcycle racing. The most democratic, and certainly most amusing, form of motorsport I’ve ever acquainted myself with. Our guide for the day is Young Lee, organizer and chief whip-cracker of the M1GP mini-motorcycle racing series in California. Natalie Fenaroli, Spec Miata racer and friend of The Drive, joins me and Road & Track editor Zach Bowman for a training session. It’s not just Natalie’s first time racing a motorcycle, it’s her first time riding a motorcycle. Young coaches her out onto a cone course in borrowed gear. Minutes later, she’s gently touching knee sliders to asphalt in nearly-graceful figure-eights.
Dragging knee. It’s a rite of passage, something you start hunting the second you saddle up a motorcycle. Self-taught in canyons on 600cc sportbikes, the way I did it, it’s a thing that’ll take time and subject you to enormous risk. On a tiny motorcycle, inches from the ground, with good instruction and little but pride at stake? Half an hour. Tops.
Spring through fall, these tiny motorcycles (50-to-125cc pitbikes, and a handful of proper 50 and 100cc racers) take it to the track. We’re caning the bejesus out of Honda CRF50F’s, a bike with aftermarket support for training wheels. It’s absurd and we look like giants. I don’t know that I could have more fun.
We wrap up the day with a race. A running Le Mans start. There’s jostling and gamesmanship and more elbow-to-elbow racing. Natalie high-sides spectacularly on the first lap. Close to top speed, maybe 30 mph, an oscillation in the bars turned into a hysterical vault over the front end. Immediately she’s up and pushing the bike to rejoin the race. She’ll only take home a bruise. Bowman and I duel to the end.
A used bike, a set of tires, entry fees. All together it adds up to the cost of a set of Pirelli P Zero’s for my Mustang. So The Drive bought one. Actually, we’ve gone a little nuts and made our own, this weird mix of a Craigslist orphan Aprilia RS50 and Honda XR100 dirtbike. It’s a nasty little mutt, soft suspension and tires plucked from a Moto3 GP race bike, a 7/8ths scale motorcycle with 1/10th the power of its looks. And, last weekend, we took it racing at a 24-hour enduro with Young and the M1GP gang. Stay tuned.