Friday, May 02, 2008

Motorcycle Speedway Racing: Just how brave are you?

Four riders keep turning left over four laps of an oval track, and each race is over in less than a minute. How hard can it be? Very, very hard, apparently. Speedway riders are brave and talented, and the racing is frenetic – an absolute blur of non-stop action. It isn’t very high-tech though – speedway bikes are mostly Czech-made Jawa machines, fitted with 500cc air-cooled SOHC single-cylinder carbureted engines, which burn 100% pure methanol and make about 85 horsepower.

While 85bhp may not sound like much, the bikes themselves weigh only about 80 kilos, so there you are – better power to weight ratios than your 2008 R1, ZX-10R, Fireblade or GSX-R1000! A speedway motorcycle accelerates from zero to 100km/h in less than three seconds, and those who’ve ridden these bikes say it’s the most intense motorcycling experience ever. Just imagine riding your R1 at full pelt, sideways, with no brakes, on a racing circuit that’s not more than 450 meters long, and has a loose surface made of shale, granite or brick granules…

With single-speed gearboxes, tyres no wider than 100mm, and no brakes – that’s right, no brakes at all – speedway bikes are vicious little things that’ll spit you off in an instant and grind you into the track unless you’ve got your riding technique spot on.

Speaking of speedway riding technique, you first need to forget everything you know about riding bikes on the street. Speedway bikes are meant to be ridden around oval dirt tracks, and the machines are meant to be power-steered via the rear wheel, going sideways to go forward. At loony speeds. Chicken out and ease off the throttle, and the rear tyre will stop spinning. And the minute the rear tyre stops spinning and finds grip – when the bike is leant over at high speeds – the machine highsides you into the dirt.

Since there are no brakes, speedway riders slow down by easing off the throttle in a straight line, and there’s an ignition cut-out switch for emergency stops. Speedway bikes haven’t changed much over the last many decades. Engines used to be mounted vertically till the 1990s, and are now mounted horizontally, for a lower centre of gravity. Earlier total loss oiling systems have made way for more conventional oiling, though the oil still has to be changed after every two or three heats in a race.

Suspension has also been improved on modern speedway bikes. No, you don’t get 46mm USD front forks and rear monoshock, with separate adjustments for low- and high-speed damping. What you get is a slightly adjustable leading-link front fork, and yes, that is an improvement over what was available earlier!

Companies that have, at some point, made speedway bikes include JAP, Weslake, Godden, ESO, Datzmann and some others. But the only two companies that still continue to make speedway bikes are Czech Republic-based Jawa, and GM, of Italy.

Speedway racing is popular in parts of Europe, including, among others, Sweden, Poland, Denmark and the UK. On a smaller scale, speedway racing also happens in Argentina, Australia, Czech Republic, Italy, Russia, Slovenia and the US. There are no fancy MotoGP-style motorhomes in speedway and the riders don’t earn much. But for sheer spectacle, we suppose speedway racing is hard to beat. For more details, visit these websites: Speedway World, Speedway Bikes, and Xtreme Sport.

Also see:
Fearsome: The 1975 Yamaha TZ750 dirt-tracker!
Wild rides: MotoGP vs Bullfighting...
"GSX-Rs are for moped riders..."
MAB Power: BMW K1200R Turbo
The MotoGP-powered KRV5 boardtracker...
Significant firsts in motorcycling...
Hot Singles: Dirtbike-based 450cc road racers
Kawasaki ZZR1400 Turbo: The quest for 320km/h and more!

External links:
Photo Gallery: Lakeside Hammers vs Ipswitch Witches Speedway

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