I was well into my third hour on the bike before I began calculating just what a disaster I’d gotten myself into.
Not only was I absolutely fucking miserable, but I wasn’t even half way through this thing. But the aches in my knees were foreshadowing what was to come, as were the dropping temperatures, and my optimism was dropping faster.
I still had more than three more hours to go. Welcome to endurance racing, the worst thing I’ve ever done on a bike.
Few things are dumber than contorting your body onto a sportbike for an endurance race. Racing motorcycles is physically demanding and uncomfortable already, so doing so for extended periods of time several times in a 24 hour period is about as insane as it gets. So naturally, when the invite for the M1GP24 race came, I was in.
Chris Cantle, west coast editor of new auto site TheDrive.com, went and got himself an Aprilia RS50 (and old two-stroke, 50cc miniGP bike) with the intentions of bastardizing it with a Honda XR100 motor (a 100cc, entry level dirtbike) and needed some more people dumb enough to say yes to such an idea.
He’d already assembled a car racer who’d ridden a motorcycle twice, a new friend he’d met at a sport riding school, and had supposedly conned his boss over there to join. I made five, and I suggested CycleNews’ Rennie Scaysbrook as the sixth, because he’s Australian (read: crazy), dumb, and would give us at least one fast guy.
With our team set, we started making mistakes right away: first, letting Cantle get the bike sorted. Why I thought letting a man whose guiding philosophy is “the worse the experience, the better the story” handle building a bike I’d be spending four to six hours of my life on was a good idea, I’ll never know.
He did send us several pretty pictures the day or two before the race of the bike being worked on, and it looked awfully pretty, and for some reason I started to have the grand idea that we could actually fair well. Maybe even win.
Come race day, I learned that I may need to temper my expectations. The motor ran and exhaust looked like it might stay attached (it didn’t), but even my fragile frame sunk the front suspension easily.
This was my first time sitting on a RS50, and the only thing skinnier than the front fork tubes were the tires. When Rennie, a man who replaces the word “No” with “Fuck yeah, let’s send it!” began to have his doubts, I realized I’d gotten in way over my head.
The race rules state the bike has to be 125 cc or less, and a quick walk of the paddock revealed that 90 percent of the rest of the teams had made the smart choice and chosen Honda Groms for their race bike. With more power, upright ergoes, and a host of aftermarket accessories, they’re the obvious choice for something like we were planning to attempt.
“Hey Chris, why didn’t you get us a Grom or something for this?” was met with “Because our logo looks better on the side of this.” Oh boy.
Rennie went to work trying to find some way to add oil to the forks and swapping the brake pads while we went to the rule meeting. They were pretty straight forward. We all had transponders, so it was all about laps completed. The finish line was on the track where the paddock was, so you wouldn’t get credit for the laps you pit or switched riders. Finally, for safety reasons, the bike had to be shut off exiting the track, pushed into the paddocks, and then pushed started as they re-entered the track.
Oh, and we were going to have a Le Mans-style running start. For funsies.
We let Cantle, the bozo behind the whole thing, take the first session primarily because we all wanted to make sure he got a ride on the bike he’d spent so much time on in case it grenaded.
As expected, our bike struggled against the more powerful and better tuned Groms, but those tiny tires had incredible grip and, with the right rider, we could keep up in the corners (thanks Pirelli!)
Initially, our idea was just to try and outlast everyone with our larger gas tank but, at the end of Chris’s first hour, we realized none of the bikes racing burned fuel fast enough for us to have any such advantage unless we took two-plus hour long sessions. The look on Chris’s face as he unfolded himself from the bike after his first session told us that wasn’t happening.
Rennie was up second and, as the only proper motorcycle racer on our team, faired much better against our Grom-riding foes. At least until the straights that is. “Fuck, this is the fucking worst. Fuck those guys, I know I should be able to keep up but then we hit a straight and they just walk away from me!” Rennie’s frustration, while fair, set the tone as I zipped up my leather for my chance on the bike. At least my expectations were low.
Our Frankenstein bike was unlike anything I’ve ever ridden, and those first few laps were nothing short of hideous. The thing made what felt like less than zero power. Like you were accelerating (a little), but you weren’t quite sure how and thought it may be a gust at your back. The power delivery was such that it felt like you were simultaneously about to hit the power while also leaving the powerband.
The handling, on the other hand, was so precise I found myself constantly wavering as I entered corners because I was unprepared for how sharply it wanted to change directions. This was going to be a very long hour.
We’d taped a timer to the tank, for no reason other than mental sanity, but now all I could do was tell myself not to look down at it. Each glance, and the revelation that I still had so long to go, swatted away chunks of my optimism. As my mind wandered into philosophical debates about whether it worse to not know how much time was left, or check constantly and see how little time had passed, I told myself to focus on the task at hand and knock out some laps.
With my focus back on corner entry points, apexes, and corner exits, the remainder of my session actually passed fairly quickly, and I was all too happy to see the guys waving me in.
My next session on the bike was far better, and despite being outgunned, it was time to get to the business of racing some motorcycles. Our bike could out-handle the competition, but was woefully outmatched everywhere else, which meant I need to work on being perfect in the tight stuff and make my laps as identical as possible.
The first major hiccup of the race came when Natalie, our MX-5 Cup racer, had a minor low side during her second session. She was okay and the bike was fine, but both the left foot peg and gear shift had broken off in the slide. Crazy bastard that he is, Cantle’s eyes sparkled a bit as he scuttled off to try and find a makeshift peg while telling the next rider to just leave it in fifth and use the nub where the foot peg attached.
Day turned to night. Temperatures dropped. It started to become obvious that we needed to better plan our rider swaps and what those of us who weren’t riding were doing in the mean time. Pit stops meant someone to help push the bike to the pit and then help push the bike to start it for the next rider, and it also helped to have someone on hand for gas or to just help the rider off the bike after their stint.
Cue the longest night of my life. A night where knee dragging and sleeping on a pleather couch in a trailer sort of blend into one terrible haze, with my pile of protein bar wrappers serving as the most accurate measure of time like the carved tallies in a prison cell.
The rider changes continued through the night and the mental pummeling continued, until somewhere around 3 a.m. when the temperatures started to level off. Falling asleep was hard when all you could think about was the dreadful knock on the door that meant you were up next, and I felt like a little kid getting anxious for school on a Sunday night again.
Anyone with anxiety can tell you that, at some point, you just accept your fate, grit your teeth, and feel resolute to tackle the beast at hand. For me, the temperatures leveling and realization that sun was trying to come say hello gave me new life, and my hour session turned into an hour twenty before I called it quits. This thing wasn’t going to beat me, I was racing against Groms, for fuck’s sake.
Another protein bar, another banana, another Ibuprofin and some gatorade and finally some coffee. We were behind the all but one of the Groms, but ahead of everything else racing, and the bike was showing no signs of letting us down. We were going to finish this thing and we were going to do it strong.
My final session came around 8 a.m. or so and, with the sun on my back and the end of this terrible experiment in sight, I rode as if we were in second place and had a shot at this thing. My hips and knees and wrists tried to refuse the movements I’d made now hundreds of times before, but I pushed them anyways. I still had a job to do and it was to hit apexes with my knee and be smooth on the brakes (the gas was never closed).
This was a marathon more than a motorcycle race, and by the end of my final session my body collapsed into jello. Still, we were a team and needed to support each other, and the faces around me looked just like mine must have - so I offered to take runner duty. My body has never hurt so bad.
As we rounded the top of our batting order, Rennie and Chris swapped so Chris could ride the final leg and ride our trusty little steed across the finish line the final time. Rennie mumbled something about how he hated me, would never answer my calls again, and expected beer upon his return as I ran him down the pits and he dropped the clutch.
Crazy bastard that he is, the Australian’s times remained identical to his first sessions, although I’m pretty sure I heard “fuuuuuck yooooou Seeeeean” coming from his helmet as he passed the stands each lap. With a little under an hour left on the race clock, we waved him in and told Cantle to bring us home.
And bring us home he did. At 12 p.m., 24 hours after our idiot clan had assembled, it was finally over. The sun we’d longed for was now baking us, the beer flowed, and the stress of knowing I’d have to get back on that damned torture machine had finally left my shoulders. Overall, team Little Feet (named after an east coast friend’s declaration that I’m a hipster because I have small feet) came in 5th place out of 11 teams, completing 1,237 laps. We beat two of the Groms and everyone else which, all things considered, is actually not too terrible.
I never, ever, ever want to ride in a 24 hour race again. Even with five people it was a fool’s errand and one of the most miserable experiences of my life.
But I also need to get a Grom, build it properly, train and compile an aces team, and conquer this festival of insanity again next year.
Photos: Jonathan Harper and Sean MacDonald