If you want to go bike racing, it definitely helps if your dad’s a drug trafficker or a Saudi arms dealer. That kind of thing. Or at least has the bank account of one. But most of us aren’t as lucky as that. Because it’s difficult to go racing on a budget. Most of us are overworked and underpaid and by the time her indoors has had her fortnight in the sun once a year, the kids have had another pair of shoes and you’ve put food on the table for the umpteenth time today, there’s probably not a lot left over.
But if the wife’s disappeared with your (better looking, but dull as dishwater) next door neighbour, the dependants have gone to try and catch chlamydia at university and all of a sudden you find yourself with the odd spare weekend and a few extra pennies rattling around in the bottom or your piggy bank, it’s probably time to go bike racing. It’s not cheap, but you can go racing on a budget if you know how. And if you do it right, it might just be the best thing you’ve ever done. So to whet your whistle, here’s the top five ways to go bike racing on a budget, in the UK.
They might not be the sexiest bikes on the planet. And if you’re going racing to try and get your end away, a Honda CB500 (or ‘Pig’ as they’re affectionately known) might not be the route to go down. But for going racing on a budget and for smiles per pound you could do a lot worse. A reasonably competitive bike will set you back about £2,000, and it’ll hold its money fairly well. Another two or three Gs will probably see you through the season. That’s as far as entries and consumables (tyres, brakes, etc) go. It’s obviously dependant on how often you want to race the thing. And how often you crash it.
You’ll find championships all over that a CB500 is competitive in; Thundersport, EMRA and No Limits Racing, have all got mega competitive classes for the 500s, so there’s always someone to race with. I’d suggest trying not to crash, but if you’re absolutely desperate to, an added bonus of racing a CB500 is that when you do launch it at the scenery, it’s probably going to bounce pretty well (possibly better than you) so it shouldn’t cost you too much (if anything) to put right.
If you can stomach the idea of going racing on a kid’s bike, then you’ll absolutely love this. The races vary from four and twenty-four hour endurance races for teams of two or four riders. It’s about £160 – £260 to enter (per team) each round (a bit more for the 24h). The pace isn’t anything spectacular thanks to the bikes only having around 10 – 15bhp (unless you cheat). But that doesn’t mean the racing is anything other than fierce! Streetstock 125 is for the kind of thing you’d expect to see parked up outside a sixth form college; the likes of Suzuki GSX-R125s, Honda CBR 125s Yamaha R125s, that kind of thing (road going, four-stroke 125s). You can pick a decent one up, race ready for about £1,500 – £2,000.
If you want, you can tune it and enter it into the Superstock class, or get yourself an 80cc 2-stroke. There’s no power, so tyres and fuel last for ever. And there is barely any weight so you can throw the things around like there’s no tomorrow. For the money it’ll cost you, and the track time you get, there aren’t many better options.
When I was growing up, I wasn’t sure about the kind of people that raced ‘M-Sheds’. They all seemed very strange. And I couldn’t really work out what an ‘MZ’ was; were they classic bikes, or just something that someone has thrown together in their shed? Well, as it happens, the truth, more often than not, was a little bit of both. But one thing that the MZ lads did all have going for them was their sense of community. I know an asylum also has a good sense of community, but it’s always nice to be part of something, isn’t it? When they weren’t turning oil into smoke, they would be sat round a BBQ with a cold beer; telling each other how fast they used to be.
And the same seems to be true now. If you were to pick up an MZ 250 for a couple of grand, you could go and race it at Bemsee, against a grid full of other MZs for about as cheaply as you could race anything else. But that’s not the best thing. The best thing about the MZ Racing Club is the MZ Experience. It was set up to show us non-believers just how much fun racing an M-Shed can be. You pay £500, and you get a full weekend of racing: that’s all the entries (including testing), tyres, fuel, transponder and of course the use of a fully race-prepped bike. If you fancy having a go, why not Ask Jeeves about it…
This is one of them ones that can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. Well, it can certainly be as expensive as you want it to be, anyway; some of the most expensive bikes I’ve ever raced have been older than me. But let’s focus on how to do it cheaply, shall we? Realistically when we say ‘classic bikes’, as far as this conversation goes, what we actually mean is ‘old bikes’. Armed with not much more than a grand, there are all sorts of relics that you could buy from the 80s and 90s, before fuel injection and lightweight frames were all the rage. Granted, they’ll probably be complete bags of shit. But if you know one end of a spanner from the other, it shouldn’t be too big a job to turn something a bit ropey into a serviceable race bike.
The great thing about older bikes is that there’s always a ton of parts available for them, at rock-bottom prices. They don’t cost a lot to build, and you can put together a decent spares package without breaking the bank. You’ll always be able to find a ‘Golden Era’ Superbike class for pre-injection 1000s. And there’s usually a ‘Steel Frame 600’ class for Supersports bikes of yesteryear. If you’re really brave, you could always throw your lot in with the modern bikes, too.
Now this is where is starts to get a little bit pricier… but I suppose that’s the cost of racing ‘proper’ bikes, isn’t it? You could pick up a reasonable Superstock spec 600 up for anything between £4,000 and £10,000. That’s depending on how old it is and/or how many times it’s been crashed. If you try and go down the Supersport 600 route, there’s no way you’ll go racing on a budget; you’ll spend your life working on the engine.
Where can you go and race it, I hear you ask… well just about anywhere. If a racing club doesn’t have a 600 class, it’s not worth a wank. Some even have a class specifically for Superstock 600s, meaning you could be truly competitive on a stocker. One of the big problems you’ll face racing a 600 though, compared to a CB500, Stock 125, MZ 250 or classic bike, is your tyre bill. Even if you’re only half trying, you’ll need at least a set of tyres a weekend. Probably more. And at £250 – £350 a set, it’s not going to be long before it starts really stinging.