Mr. Seck goes to school

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Words: Richard Seck Photos: Richard Seck, unless otherwise specified
With a smooth arc through corner one, I focus on the upcoming 90-degree right-hander – on the brakes, shifter loaded. With a quick in/out of the clutch I’m into the appropriate gear and I slide half my ass off the seat – right foot weighting the peg, left knee pushing into the tank. My right arm is pushing on the bar in unison and I nail the corner with a perfect clip of the apex. With eyes already fixed on the next marker, the whole glorious process begins again.

It was the perfect lap, but in true CMG style this magic was to be fleeting as the checkered flag came out before I could try to repeat the event. With my balloon burst, I proceeded to butcher the final cool-down lap – a suitable end to a tortuous day.

The CMG ZX-7 project bike had been running like a POS, making what was supposed to be a very educational day at the Bring Your Own Bike (BYOB) FAST School into another sad chapter in the book of CMG chaos.

THE GHOST OF ‘03

Readers will probably remember the tale of woe that made me the proud owner of the ZX-7. Having resurrected it in track bike form, I finished off last year with a few track days where I discovered a few other areas in need of attention:

1) The bike tended to wallow somewhat in the corners, thanks to a rather tired original rear shock (the bike is a 1989 model!). Installing a Penske rear shock seemed like a good idea. Unfortunately, this would prove to be the only change that worked at the FAST school day.

2) After discovering that the bottom of the ZX’s tank was rusted, the carbs were handed over to Ronn Moffatt for a thorough cleaning, while I cleaned and Kreemed the tank. Everything came together at the last minute on a sweltering hot early June day.

Several neighbour-pissing-off passes down my alleyway revealed a bike that seemed to be running considerably better than last year. So much so that it seemed that the carb and tank cleaning had cured the lean running problems of the previous year.

To add to the general chaos, Editor ‘arris, (in his pre-Alps-tour frenzy) dumped the Rally Connex Adventure article in my lap, after Pascal – who was originally supposed to write it – fell off the radar (Pascal, I still owe you a severe kick-in-bag for that one).

Like a bad TV sit-com you can guess how this is all going to unfold …

With the article due to go up on the day of my FAST course, CMG’s tech guy, Scott Smith and myself struggled to get it sorted. Finally, at around 1:30am on the day of the school, it was in the bag and I managed about 3 1/2 hours sleep before staggering – barely conscious – to load the ZX-7 onto the trailer.

A hazy trip to Shannonville was interrupted when two of four tie-downs completely backed off and the bike was literally wagging on the trailer! While readjusting them I managed to snap one of the hooks in two – on what was supposed to be a tie down suitable for a 1500lb load!

Just make it stop…

Somehow I managed to jerry-rig a setup by using the two crap tie-downs in a rope-like manner. Of course, the rest of the trip to Shannonville was plagued with images of the ZX ejecting itself off the trailer and sparking down the 401 at 120 km/h.

NO SLEEP TILL SHANNONVILLE

As with just most FAST schools, this course was fully booked. However, this was a unique event, as none of FAST’s own rental bikes were being used. It was an experiment by Michel Mercier (FAST School owner and operator) to combine all the people who were interested in bringing their own bike to a FAST course into one big group. The result was a throng of bikes that ranged anywhere from a 1970’s Honda CB900 to a late model Hayabusa to a resurrected 1989 Kawasaki ZX-7.

Signing away life, credit and your first-born.

On the top floor of the Shannonville administration building, people were signing the multiple waivers, handing over cash and credit cards, while washing down the supplied cookies and muffins with hot coffee.

Michel began the class by stating that with the three waivers that were signed, he was counting on the audience to now realize that we weren’t gathered for a day of lawn bowling … Those who don’t know who Michel Mercier is can check his credentials on the FAST website. This is a man who – over an 18-year career – won no less than 25 Canadian National titles!

He went on to explain that the first chunk of the morning would be dedicated to the classroom, and as soon as possible we’d be divided into groups and put on the track to practice the things that had just been taught. These track sessions would be punctuated by further instruction in a designated area by the track.

Michel illustrated all the points with song, dance and some spirited tap. The audience was proving to be a tough crowd.

And so it went, with the classroom session seeing an energetic and very entertaining Michel Mercier doing theatre, including dancing around at the front of the class to illustrate his points.

Classroom topics included all aspects of cornering and steering, traction, throttle control, upshifting, downshifting, braking, where to look on the track, body position, mental attitude and more.

Michel’s presentation was an excellent review of what I had absorbed to date. But like everyone else, I was eager to get on the track and try some of this stuff out.

TRACK TIME … AND THE CMG CHAOS

The RCMP never did find out what happened to that last Joe Rocket shipment.

Soon enough we were divided into 4 groups of 10 students each and proceeded to get suited up. As you would expect, you need a full set of leathers, appropriate boots and gloves and a good helmet (Michel has a room full of Joe Rocket gear for rent to fit all shapes and sizes if you don’t have your own).

I thought I’d lucked out by getting lumped in with the group of racer-types – as they had pro-racer Kevin Lacombe as the instructor. Then I discovered that the ZX7 was quite as ready I had thought.

There was a huge crater of a flat spot in the ZX-7’s powerband – spanning from 2000-6000 rpm. It was a cool day with rain threatening and with the resulting dense air, the bike was running way too lean. It was pathetic.

“And I looked him right in the eye and went straight at him”. Tales of yesteryear track carnage entertain the students.

On the first ride we were supposed to swap positions behind Kevin in a gentle exploration of the track that was designed to show students the best racing line. Of course, trying to be graceful on a bike – who’s power splutters out like the breaths of an 80 year-old chain smoker and then comes on like a light switch at 6 grand – is virtually impossible. As a result I would create huge elastic gaps between the riders in front and behind me.

After the first session I felt like weeping openly but I sucked it in, in an effort not to take CMG to a new level of embarrassment.

Each subsequent session was followed by a review of what we had just practiced on the track. Michel would then add another element to explore in the next track session, and so on. Fortunately for me there were only one or two more sessions before the lunch break, allowing me to regain my composure … slightly.

“… just be real careful around the wanker with the ZX-7”. Braking exercises turn CMG.

Post lunch was braking exercises, which consisted of revving through the first two or three gears to a set of pylons halfway down Shannonville’s home straight. At this point the brakes were to be applied hard, but smoothly, for a well-timed stop at the end of the straight.

This would prove to be the peak of my embarrassment for the day. Despite my best efforts to warm my POS Kawasaki up (it seemed a bit better when hot), it still managed to retain the vast gulf of zero power below 6000rpm.

A wild fanning of the clutch was required to get the thing into the power and once there – with a good chuck of the class watching the festivities – the light switch power would rocket me past the mid-way pylons where I was supposed to be off power and thinking about getting on the brakes. Inevitably, this lead to grabbing a handful of brakes and shaving off speed way too early, releasing and then having to coast to a stop.

Tuning – CMG style.

The instructors tried to be encouraging, but if it was me I’d be thinking, “what a wanker”…Back in the pits, I was given a gift from of my brain’s glitchy hard drive. It dredged up a tidbit of information that had allowed the bike to run better last year – jam the choke on half way with the help of duct tape! This had the added side effect of having a 2500+rpm idle, but the overall richening would fill in a bit of that power hole.

With this ‘fix’ the rest of the afternoon thankfully got incrementally better for me, and with the weather warming I was able to manage that one magical lap.

At this point I want to emphasize the fact had the bike been running right, this would have been a truly brilliant day. The instruction at FAST is comprehensive and delivered in an entertaining and thorough way, and everyone except for me appeared to be having a great time.

THE HAPPY MOMENTS

Lacombe gives expert cornering tuition in between sessions.

The best part of the day for me came when Kevin Lacombe would pick a corner and we would do multiple passes through it while he took notes trackside. Having one of Canada’s top level National racers giving you pointers on your riding technique – well, it doesn’t get any better than that. Of course, his initial comments to me were, “you don’t need come into the corner with the bike screaming”. At that time Kevin, I’m afraid I did …

His critique of my downshifting was invaluable too. Turns out the trick is load the shifter when you know you’re going to need a downshift and just pull in the clutch enough for the bike to drop into the lower gear and quickly and smoothly release it – no throttle blip required. However, I fear that race fans will now miss my crowd-pleasing, leather-soiling, wagging back-end hops, whilst coming into a corner all-wrong.

Bret Fenwick proudly displays his “best rider of the day” award. Shortly afterwards he went missing. Mr. Seck claims that he gave him the award and knows nothing of his suspicious disappearance.

For me, it’s pointers like these that make a FAST course an almost necessary requirement for anyone interested in exploring a track day or working towards going racing. No wonder they’re always booked up!

I’m already thinking of registering for FAST 2 and 3 for next year. At these levels, it’s more of what I was looking for. That is more time on the track with the instructors doing continual critiques of your riding. The added bonus is that once you’ve gone through FAST 1, 2, and 3 at Shannonville you’ll know the best lines on most of the track configurations, as they use a different track every time.

If you were interested in trying this out, I’d say book now for 2005 before your chances evaporate shortly after the Ontario and Quebec motorcycle shows!


TIPS FOR FAST SCHOOL VIRGINS:

(from someone who got it all wrong):

1) Get a hotel near the track the night before so that you’re fresh in the morning.

At the end of the day everyone had learnt to ride better. Mr. Seck learnt the meaning of CMG chaos (again).

Photo: Flair Photo

2) If you can afford it (it’s actually quite reasonable, relatively speaking), rent one of Michel’s bikes. If your bike’s not in tip-top condition, you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches!

3) If you insist on taking your own bike, make sure it’s running well… As I found out recently, the best thing you could do if you have a track bike is to seek out a race tuner to get it track-ready.

Stay tuned to CMG for an upcoming article on our trip to see Dr. Jeff Bloor at the Cycle Max clinic, where we attempt to finally cure the power hole of the ZX-7 (with the hopes to somehow bond with the ZX-7 in time for the upcoming VRRA Period 4 vintage endurance race!).


Thanks to:

The FAST crew!

Michel Mercier and the rest of the crew at FAST for the day at school.
(www.fastridingschool.com)

Penske Shocks for the help in getting the rear suspension sorted.
(www.penskeshocks.com)

The great folks at Flair Photo for once again providing us with the superb pics that are used in this article.

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