Nuzzled into the Northamptonshire countryside, Whilton Mill is one of the UK’s tastiest outdoor karting tracks. But it’s not solely chainsaw-powered kiddy wagons that frequent the venue. Oh no. 44Teeth was invited to race the ‘press bike’ at Round 6 of the British Mini Bike Championship: a collective circus of minimotos, pit bikes and any other midi-sized steed for all shapes, ages and sizes.
Thanks to permanent scars caused by minimoto racing – both physically and mentally – Baron opted to leave me flying solo for my first foray into the sport that’s seen a rapid resurgence in recent years. My bike was a CW 160R packing 16bhp, resplendent with its Scorpion exhaust, fully adjustable suspension, and a medley of anodised components. I was entered in the Stock 160 class: standard engines with no internal modifications to entice intimate, fair racing on a relative budget. Honda CRF150s have recently made a grand entrance into pit biking and, while the Hondas offer insane straight-line performance combined with unwavering reliability, they can also cost more than a small family hatchback. Meanwhile, the CW 160s (and other Chinese machinery) come race-ready at around £1,399 – far less for used examples. Granted, the gearboxes often resemble an undercooked cake, but at just £200 for a complete engine, there isn’t even an argument for financial intelligence.
And it really is racing on a budget. £75-90 is the weekend’s entry fee, which nets you a day of practice on Saturday followed by warm-up and qualifying sessions and two races on Sunday – unrivalled track time, for sure. Chuck in a 20L can of gasoline, a set of tyres can last a few rounds, and that’s pretty much the monetary outlay. Not everyone has a rich dad/loyal sponsor/drug dealer to fund their weekend addiction to speed (and pain), clearly evident when scouring the British Mini Bike paddock. Gone are the days when sheer ability routinely ensures the talented reach the upper echelons of motorcycle racing, and there’s a smattering of super-fast riders amongst the BMB circus – and not just the several BSB support class riders that were present, as I experienced during my initial track sortie.
Whilton Mill is a comparatively easy circuit to learn, although I was soon wishing I’d sacked off editing vids and attended Saturday practice as every man and his dog flew past during warm-up. 15bhp and 15stone isn’t an instant formula for success and, as with all smaller capacity steeds, a pit bike’s riding technique is all about maintaining momentum and ridiculous corner speed.
The CW 160R belittles its price tag with a solid, tight, robust feeling on the hoof. It’s a confidence-inspiring, sweet-handling ride that intuitively goads you into a faster lap time with racey dynamics. See God, brake just after, chuck it into a corner and revel in knee-skid nirvana. Even on cold rubber, there’s oodles of feedback and when the tyres do gather heat after a lap, the grip is mindblowing – it took me until the end of qualifying to fathom how much naughty liberty taking I could get away with.
Qualifying 12th in the Stock 160 ‘B’ class, the usual pre-race anxieties kicked in and I was soon lining up on the grid/wishing I had time for a poo. Green flag up, look at the lights, wait for the lights, why aren’t the lights coming on? Oh shit. Everyone’s gone. It was a flag start…
Given my brief first-hand experiences, I was pleasantly surprised by the gentlemanly etiquette during the first lap. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, close racing and plenty of paint swapping, yet far from banzai. However, this doesn’t correlate with how much of a ballet-dancing mincer I was throughout the first stage of the race. As the tyres collected temperature, I started to figure out how hard to push on and at the same time remembering I was wearing camera and mic – most of those laps were filled with frenzied giggling and nothing truly productive. I finished 11th. Sad faces…
After the clocking the first race results and posting the same lap time as the guy in second place, a sudden wave of competitiveness was sparked. I even blagged a set of tyre warmers, primed for going balls-deep during the opening laps. I’ve spent most of my life competing in various forms of motorcycle sport, sacrificing weekend weddings, parties and assorted benders over the years. Despite the relaxed atmosphere, of course results mattered!
But, needless to say, motorsport can be dangerous: there are signs everywhere you look, it’s even on your ticket/pass, and that danger isn’t reserved for big bikes. Our second block of races was cancelled due to a crash that required an air ambulance, so further delays scuppered the schedule – hence the hurried conclusion to the video below. Hope those involved heal quickly.
Interested? You don’t need a race licence or any previous racing experience, as an IOPD day licence is available at every event and BMB caters for all levels of pilot. Despite a resounding paddock camaraderie and palpable fun-factor, there are plenty of quick guys and gals present that shake hands after a race and share a few beers in the evening. As a racing novice, we’d recommended – at a minimum – making use of Saturday’s practice to acclimatise to speed, rubbing shoulders, and mental/physical exertion. This isn’t chess.
Just because you’re a fast trackday rider or Sunday roads’ specialist, that doesn’t necessarily manifest into instant pace onboard a pit bike. Racing is racing, entrenched when the likes of Scott Redding and Richard Cooper rock up to use this series as a pre-season training exercise. Kids as young as six ignite their racing careers in this championship, on tracks like these but, ultimately, this series is all about fun.