The Thunder Diaries, Part 5

(Read Part 4 here)

INTRO – Editor ‘arris

It’s all smiles – especially after the race with Guzzi intact.
L to R, Larry, ‘arris, Pat Doyle.

Expected to be reading the write up from Race 4 at St. Eustache? Due to unforeseen chaos (re: crashes and Editor absenteeism), we’ve had to delay it for a week. Sorry ’bout that.

Not really.

However, this week instead we have a write up from temporary Team CMG member Larry Tate, who we managed to get onto a Moto Guzzi V11 for Round three at Shannonville. The Guzzi was courtesy of Pat Doyle at Bavarian Motosports. The idea was to get a viewpoint of the yet unseen other brand eligible in Canadian Thunder.

So just how does the Italian air-cooled twin shape up against the competition? Read on …

The (in)famous American racer David Aldana has always been good for a quip or an outrageous story that, incredibly, usually turns out to be true. Perhaps his most famous line (other than the one about the fun value of always taking the extra insurance on the rental car …) is his reply to the question, “What’s the best race bike in the world?” His answer: “Somebody else’s”.

The name says it all.

It’s a statement I’ve religiously agreed with during all my racing “career”, if my intermittent times on the track over the last couple of decades may be so called. With that in mind, when CMG photographer extraordinaire Richard Seck called and offered me a ride, I could say nothing but, “Oh well, if you insist.”

It seems that Richard had had a chat with Bavarian Motorcycles (BMW and Moto Guzzi) owner Pat Doyle. Richard, an energetic sort, enthusiastically suggested that it would be great to have a Moto Guzzi in the new Canadian Thunder series, and enthusiastically noted that Pat happened to have a V-11 Sport sitting around the shop doing not much, and enthusiastically added that CMG hanger-on Larry Tate could still fit into his leathers despite his predilection for single malt, and weren’t all three of those just a wonderful cosmic coincidence? Pat bit, chewed, and swallowed hook, line, and sinker.

Pat Doyle and the Bavarian crew.

Which is how I ended up at Shannonville for the third round of the Canadian Thunder series. At least I had history on my side, what with my age combined with this year being Guzzi’s 81st anniversary. Plus, having taught racing and performance riding courses at the track for much of the last couple of decades I have a pretty good idea which way the pavement goes.

Doing things backward, I want to thank everyone involved before instead of after the story, so maybe their names will actually get read and noted.

First, of course, Pat Doyle of Bavarian Motorcycles in Woodbridge, who was kind and trusting enough to not only let me use his bike, but busted his ass (well, maybe one of his employee’s asses) in the busiest time of the year at his shop to fit sticky new tires and get the bike prepped, beautifully I might add. Second, FullBore Accessories, who gave us a smokin’ deal on a nice set of Metzler MEZ3 Rennsports on very short notice. Third, CMG’s Richard for orchestrating the deal, and there’s some guy named ‘Arris who was in the background, too. Fourth, RACE for the excellent deal they offered CMG for the track entry for the weekend, not to mention the extra track time for practice and photos; VERY much appreciated.

Looking good Mr. Tate.

Also my bosses at Tony’s Cycle in Kingston, who gave me the day off to race a competitor’s bike, and of course my wife, who said very little about my being occupied elsewhere while her mom and sister were visiting. No doubt I’ll pay for that one later …

So how’d it all go? Cutting to the chase, I’LL sadly state that I set a personal worst in my racing history by finishing absolutely last. Sigh. On the other hand, it was about as much fun as I’ve ever had at a racing weekend, so what the hell? Also, after the first couple of practice sessions I quickly revised my goals for the weekend to “don’t get lapped!”, and I managed that much at least. Meeting your goals: a howling success, I call it!

For starters, I had no illusions about actually mixing it up with any of the Canadian Thunder racers; there are some pretty hot Buells (Costa and more) and Ducatis (Philippe and more), not to mention one sweet BMW (JP and nobody else silly enough), all of them ridden by guys about two-thirds my age (at most) who are on the track pretty regularly.

Larry tries to keep the SVs at bay.

Photo: Flair Photography

Against this I was bringing a stock V-11 Sport with delightful loud pipes and excellent tires, a few extra pounds of personal and motorcycle avoirdupois that weren’t strictly necessary, and rather rusty riding skills better suited these days to schools and track days than to serious racing. Plus, the Guzzi physically is about the same size as JP’s R1100S, being no less than an amazing six inches (!) longer in the wheel base than, say, a Firebolt and a couple longer than an SV, and carrying about 100 lb more than either of them.

So, on the track at the same time as the Thunder bikes is the SV Cup, mostly even younger nut cases (excepting the odd older nut case like Bondo) with light, quick bikes. I was hoping that I could avoid losing too much to the fast guys on the twisty bits and use the Guzzi’s claimed 91 bhp to keep the SV Kids (and Bondo) at bay down the long back straight on the Fabi track, sort of splitting the difference between the big bikes and the SVs.

Ever heard that military aphorism to the effect that “no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy?”

The Guzzi would attract quite the crowd.

Friday practice was dedicated to keeping away from traffic to learn the bike a bit, figure out tire pressures, and play with suspension adjustments (the bike is not surprisingly set up for owner Pat Doyle, who’s a rather, um, more solid individual than I). However, even at that it didn’t take long to realize that even the slowish SVs were leaving my Italian Stallion for dead on the long straight bit. The absolute worst was when an EX500 drafted past. I felt a bit like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now – “the horror, the horror”.

I responded by sulking and making noises about how stiff the spring was. That claimed 91 hp may exist somewhere other than in a brochure, but I’LL eat every single equine quadruped over 80 or so that comes anywhere near the rear tire. Power delivery is further hampered by having to accelerate an unusually large flywheel and heavy crank.

Back in the pits, however, it was easy to bask in the glow of attention the bike was getting, lap records or not. It looks fabulous and sounds great, and it was quite something how many people wanted to look at it and talk about it, ignoring a lot of the faster trick stuff. Take that, Costa, with your silly chain-drive custom exhaust Techlusion-equipped Buell Firebolt!

Bad heat race puts Mr. Tate at the back.

For the Saturday heat races I buckled down and got probably the two worst starts I’ve had in 20 years of racing motorcycles. At least I saved some guys the trouble of actually having to pass me at speed, which they no doubt thought considerate of the old bugger. That would never be more true than in the first heat when approximately all the SVs and I arrived in the first corner at the same time, and I ended up jammed right up onto the outside curbing.

By the time practice and the heat races were over on Saturday, I’d shamed myself into getting the Guzzi going what felt like reasonably quickly in the infield bits. The V-11 has excellent brakes and good ground clearance in spite of its length, the tires were great, and I was using about all of those that I was feeling comfortable with. I could definitely have found a bit more time on the brakes in a couple of spots except for one oddball characteristic of the bike; on initial hard applications the front feels very sharply twitchy just for a second as you think about turning in. It was disconcerting enough to limit how hard I wanted to try on a bike I wasn’t able to pay for.

Racing can be a lonely experience …

Pat tells me that the bike is sensitive to tire choice, and that this twitchiness is its worst manifestation if it doesn’t like the rubber. He’s been running Michelin Pilot Sports most of the time, and since I haven’t tried the bike with them I can’t say if it’s better or worse on the Metzlers.

When I started nicking the exhaust pipes up near the canisters, I figured that was about as hard as I wanted to go on Mr. Doyle’s still-pretty motorcycle, especially considering the bit of rear-end corner exit bounce I couldn’t dial out of the stiff rear spring. Everything was actually feeling not bad until that damn straight showed up once a lap.

I showed up Sunday morning to find the aforesaid Mr. Doyle banging away at the shock with a hammer and a long punch, having heard about my sulking and whining about his shock. It was definitely better in the warm-up, but then I guessed wrong on re-adjusting the rebound damping and ended up with less improvement than we might have had. Still, better it was, as Yoda might say. Live and learn.

Another awful start and off we went. After the half-way flags I started glancing back from the second hairpin each lap to see how successful Plan B (don’t get lapped) was going to be. It worked! Possibly my increased pace through the midfield; perhaps that the races had been shortened by two laps due to time problems; maybe a bit of both; but still, there you go.

No end of fun, that was. Everyone seemed to enjoy having the Guzzi out even if I couldn’t make it go fast enough to join the party on the track, which I think is a testament to how popular this brand-new class is getting. The Thunder guys are a great bunch of people, and those bikes together with the SV Cup machines make one hell of a neat noise and are providing some of the best and closest racing out there this year. Assuming Rob’s fixed the calendar, you should check out an event if you can make it. Mosport is next, with the added appeal of the National and Formula USA series.

Patrick is keen to get the bike out at the Mosport Thunder round. The fast sweeping turns there should suit the bike admirably, and he’s already been working on tracking down some of the hidden 91 bhp that Guzzi claims is inside the V-twin lump. Sadly, I won’t be able to make the race myself (although I was very pleased to have been offered the ride) , but the honour of CMG will be upheld — Bondo is going to take on the challenge (his update will follow with the CMG Race Team’s report).

At least with his, um, physical attributes, there’ll be no problem with too much spring in the shock.

Larry Tate

Guzzi tach prepped for racing.
Chunky front end.
Pat Doyle gets in to set-up the suspension for the waif like Tate
Guzzi and Tate take it easy.



Thanks for the tires!

Many thanks to Pat Doyle of Bavarian Motosports for trusting us enough to let Mr. Tate take his baby out onto the track. Also to Herman at Full Bore for the deal on the Metzeler tires which kept the Guzzi green side up.

A big thank you again to the good folks at Flair Photography who allowed us to use some of their photos in this article. If you were riding at the track last weekend, you’ve probably been expertly photographed with top-shelf digital equipment. To find out more about Flair’s services e-mail Jack at: As per usual, all other photography is by the superlative Mr. Seck.

(Read Part 6 here)


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