Mr. Tate goes for vintage glory, Part 1

Words: Larry Tate   Photos: Richard Seck


When someone asks me if I want to go racing, the general response is a protective flinch from the speaker as I leap for the opportunity.

However, there are tracks to which I’d just as soon give a miss, and consequences I’d just as soon avoid (such as the inevitable family consequences of too many summer weekends not doing things around the house …) Therefore, my vintage racing is usually reserved for two events per year at the Shannonville Quinte TT and the Vintage Festival at Mosport .

Still, my wife has a soft spot for Editor ‘Arris and ‘is main men Assistant Editor Lewis and Photographer Extraordinaire Mr. Seck, so when they asked me if I’d be willing to be the officially-sanctioned CMG Fool on the Race Track this summer and do and write about the entire VRRA vintage racing series (adding to my “schedule” St-Moustache, aka Autodrome St-Eustache near Montreal, plus North Bay in the fall), it was a hard one to turn down.

Having said that, after some negotiations, She Who Must Be Obeyed has generously granted permission, Mr. Seck is hunting a couple of legal helmets (standards changing soon and all that), and CMG has actually agreed to pay entry fees so the VRRA won’t go broke. (er, that’s agreed to negotiate free entry. We don’t like agreeing to pay for anything – ‘arris).

And I’m back on the track, to the amusement of all real racers everywhere. How bad’s that?

But what about the bike? Well that’s a whole different story, so we thought that that tale would make an ideal start to a summer series of racing updates by yours truly. However, CMG may well be the wrong venue for this particular tale, inasmuch as there was no hospitalization required, there are no X-ray photos to display, there was no massive mid-season rebuilding (that came later; see below), nor was there any desperate scramble for parts to repair crash damage.

On the other hand, the paint job took many hours of futzing about with ugly, lung-damaging chemicals followed by far more sanding than I ever want to do again, and it still looks like shite, so I suppose that’s a CMG qualification.

One thing that definitely was CMG-esque was the budget involved. As in zero, nada, nothing, zilch, and zip. In fact, I had no intention whatsoever of buying a racing bike, or a bike of any description, and certainly Home Management shared that sentiment. In fact, the air was distinctly frosty around the house for a few days in and around purchase time.

Now when did this whole event start? Ah yes, it was February 2005, and I’d just opened an email from my pal Steve Bond …


Maybe Bondo just wanted Larry on a slower bike?Photo: Mr. Seck

Bondo: Hey, you have to get on the VRRA For Sale board. Greg’s selling his GS550 for cheap and it’s perfect for you.

Me: WTF do I want with a GS550?

Bondo: You can sprint race as well as do the endurance stuff with Ian and me.

Me: Pat will kill me … how much is cheap?

Bondo: Just a thousand bucks, and it’s a REALLY nice bike.

Me: Oh boy …

So I checked with Greg (he still had the bike), and then mentioned the exchange to She Who Must Be Obeyed, adding that I thought I might go look at it the next weekend. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea.” was the reply. Surely just looking can’t hurt …? Silence … which is obviously a statement of agreement; what a great girl I have!

Saturday night I sort of snuck the loading ramp into the truck, then Sunday morning said, “Don’t forget I’m going to look at that bike today.”

Mr. Tate in a jovial, post-purchase photo.Photo: Mr. Bond

Response: I thought we’d decided that wasn’t a good idea.

Me: Well, that was sort of one side of the conversation. Besides, I’m just going to look at it.

Response: Right. I saw you put the ramp in the truck last night.

Oops. Oh well, she’s a trouper and race fan at heart, and I knew it would all be fine in the end.

Veni, vidi, sumi (bad Latin, I suppose, intending “I came, I saw, I bought”, but it was indeed sold as soon as I looked at it and Greg started it up. Unfortunately, when I got it home I compounded my offense by offloading it from the truck onto the deck (thought it would be safer than my single ramp, particularly onto the snowy driveway), and promptly got it stuck going down the first step when the low-slung exhaust hung up. “Um, dear, can you help me shift this thing please?”


Two days later it had its first (and so far only) crash. I wanted to turn it around in the garage to show it to the Soapbox’s inestimable Ms. Betty Boop, and while backing it out caught my heel on something and went over. The bike went the other way, the tank landing right on my Bandit’s footpeg.

Even wet shaving couldn’t remove the black paint.

Sigh, again. Oh well. Other than a dent in the top of the tank, no harm done other than the embarrassment. Not bad for a crash in your own garage, I guess. Sounds more like a CMG story with every paragraph, doesn’t it?


Actually, the only horrible thing that happened after that was when I decided to paint the thing. After all, my mechanical abilities being what they are (Soapbox readers may recall my cries for help while I was struggling to get the rear brake working properly – my friend Chris Jacobsen down the road finally took pity on me for that one) I didn’t really want to do anything I didn’t have to, and the damn thing started and changed gear fine, so how much would you expect for a grand anyway, right?

Sidepanels await careful painting.
Sort of.

I researched “motorcycle painting” on the web, found all sorts of mostly contradictory advice, and decided just to go ask the local shops. One recommended a particularly foul toxic mix that was “guaranteed” to lift the paint right off. So one sunny afternoon I laid the tank out in the driveway, applied the stuff, waited the prescribed time, and hosed off the mess. Imagine my surprise to find the ancient black paint pretty much intact except for severe craze marks and odd opaque dulling in random patterns. Sigh.

Pat was over her irritation by now and gave me some advice on prep for painting (her dad was a paint chemical engineer and taught the kids well), which mostly involved days of wet-sanding. I’d love to know what kind of orbital re-entry quality paint was used on that thing; after going through chrome-steel-tough black, blue, and primer coloured surfaces I had enough used sandpaper to fill two garbage bags.

So, the metal tank and plastic sidecovers and tailpieces got sprayed with new gray primer, and I went out to buy some white and some blue paint (after all, any mid-70s Suzuki should be painted like a Yosh superbike of the time, right?), plus some pinstriping and some masking tape

Nearly there …

The white went on not badly, although ominously it ended up with an odd eggshell sort of finish instead of the shiny result I’d expected. Couple of days of drying, on goes the masking tape, followed by the blue paint. Off comes the masking tape, along with a bunch of white that clearly didn’t like being attached to the primer even though it was the same brand and all, guaranteed compatible … balls.

So I just sprayed a saucer full of paint and touched the tank up with a brush, then applied black pinstripe tape along the seam and hosed the whole affair with clear.

Looks not too bad from camera distance, hence the “50-foot paint job” title.

All I had to do then was replace the tires; my friends at Avon were kind enough to forward me a lovely set of sticky Super Venoms, so I popped off the wheels to take them into the shop. Or tried …

Ta-da ! Ain’t she goygeous (photo taken at 50 feet)?

The back wheel is some sort of amalgam of what I was told is a 1979 GS1000 wheel (although I’m think it’s really a GS1000 hub – maybe – and an aftermarket DID rim with the Lord only knows what kind of spokes tying them together), mated up to a rear brake assembly from a period KZ650 or 1000. All of this is located on the axle with some custom-made spacers. Which appeared to have lips. Which locked into the hub and the swingarm in such a way that the wheel simply would NOT come out without, apparently, bending the swingarm out.

I tried for two nights, finally gave up and called Greg: “WTF is the secret to getting the damn wheel out?” Response: two large friends and a six-foot pry bar. Really.

Well, that wasn’t going to happen. Back to Chris; we finally accomplished it but I never want to have to do it again. Need I say that putting it all back together was even worse?

Anyway, with new tires, fresh brake fluid, new spark plugs and a fresh-charged battery the thing started on the second kick (or only a three-metre push), so off to the track to see how it worked by teaching a school. Suspension good, brakes okay, Avon Super Venom tires excellent, I’m ready!


Victory in its first race.Photo: Flair Photo

First race weekend I had a giggle in practice, and rode the wheels off the thing in my heat race to actually win – first time I ever actually won a race. Mind you, most of the fast guys and bikes started from the back since the grid was set on entry dates. So things were a little different in the final, but still, fourth was okay. Mind you again, looking at the lap times I discovered that I was going at almost exactly the same pace as I’d run on Ian’s SR500 in the endurance race the day before. That would be a clue that perhaps a little motor freshening might be in order before the 2006 season …

Things went so well at that Shannonville Quinte TT in June that I actually passed on my last bump race, I was so tired after so much excellent track time in perfect weather. The gearing had turned out to be spot-on for the short Nelson track – another clue, this one that I’d better look into some sprockets before the Mosport vintage round in August.

Come July I did a Pro 6 track day at The Big Track with Ms. Boop, and found that the gearing options I had organized were either a hair too long to easily climb the back hill or a hair too short, maxing out too early. In the spirit of CMG-style budgetary restraints, rather than buy more sprockets I elected to stay with the shorter gearing so I’d have some hope of actually accelerating up the hill, and considered my race prep done for the month.

Larry the rain god.Photo: ColourTech

Come August I was racing with Bondo, Ms Boop, and Bondo’s friend Tony on the Bondo KZ1000 in the VRRA endurance race the Friday before the Vintage Festival sprints. As it happened, the race got cancelled after less than half an hour due to a torrential downpour and electrical storm that made things somewhat less than safe. I still had mixed feelings about stopping, as I was third overall at the time they called it. Oh well. Of course, before the evening was out the rain stopped, the clouds began to disperse, and the forecast was great for the rest of the weekend.

And it was. Until, back on my own GS, my class final on Sunday arrived. As I suited up the sun became obscured by a bank of black clouds, and on the warm-up lap it started to spit. On the first lap it started to rain in earnest, and it continued to get worse until the checkered flag, at which point it suddenly stopped (so the gearing dilemma turned out to be a moot point at best). The track was nearly dry by the end of the cool-off lap, and there wasn’t another drop of rain the entire weekend …

Sigh. Oh well, I stayed upright, unlike a lot of my competitors, and managed to get a third out of it.

I’d hoped to get to North Bay in September for the final VRRA event of the year, but that pesky work thing got in the way, so the little GS has been quietly freezing its nuts (and bolts) off in the garage ever since.

The glorious sound of a triple …Photo: ColourTech

Total costs for the year, including buying the bike, the $20.00 spray bomb 50-foot paint job, tires (thanks again to my friends at Avon), entry fees, track food & drink & T-shirt costs, club memberships, Pro 6 day and all didn’t come anywhere near $3,000.00. And the biggest chunk of that is ready to go for the 2006 season!

Er, well, it will be after Ian at Wolf BMW gets through going over the bike for me. First, there’s that bloody rear spacer arrangement. Second, after looking at the spacers and rolling his eyes (ditto with the front axle, which his shop apprentice called “tragic” and I hadn’t even noticed), he quickly discovered that I’d apparently been running a 412.5 cc triple rather than a 550 cc four, thanks to a bent exhaust valve & no compression in No. 4 cylinder.

Oddly enough, valves Nos. 1 and 2 were also slightly bent, although they still sealed well (wtf? “Carbon can be your friend,” said Ian …). Perhaps I should have gone with the longer gearing at Mosport after all? Ah well, believe it or not Suzuki still has valves for it (in stock in Toronto, no less), ditto for ring sets.

So I’m already in for more money than I’ve spent to buy the bike and race it for a season. Then Ian says, “you know, given those valve dimples in the pistons, you should get a rev limiter. They’re still available.” I suppose so. In fact, given my predilection for ignoring the tach since it doesn’t read worth sh*t anyway, I suppose it’s a no-brainer.

The GS gets a thorough going-over at Wolf BMW, ferkling, fettling and tweaking included.Photo: Ian McQueen

But he didn’t stop there; “You know, if I have to wire one of those in, we might as well ditch the points ignition and put in a Dyna electronic module. Motovan still has them in stock.”

Well, I guess that makes sense … do they have a racer discount for 29-year-old junk?

“You know, adding this stuff in will give me a great chance to clean up that dodgy wiring harness and add a proper battery switch.”

Of course it will!

“And I’m really reluctant to let you go out with those rear wheel spokes the way they are, especially if I’m going to ride it with you in the endurance at Quinte.”

Sigh. So fix the f*cking thing … pls & tks.

Since Ian is a perfectionist and I’m not, I can’t imagine what else I’ll have to sneak past Home Management somehow before the first race happens in June.

Still, as Mr. Seck would say, it’s all good.

Read Part 2 here.


Is Larry going to kick some arse and bring home the (vege) bacon for CMG? Maybe, but hopefully with some chaos in between.Photo: Flair Photo

Keep an eye on CMG for the upcoming series of articles regarding the latest recruit to the Team CMG gang. I’ll be submitting my reports right after each race, so they should be up the following week, CMG-allowing …

Quinte TT, Shannonville, June 16-18

Quebec GP, Autodrome Ste-Eustache, July 8-9

Vintage Festival, Mosport, August 18-20

Runway Romp, North Bay, September 16-17

Please come out and bring scotch. Beer also appreciated on hot evenings.


Avon Tires for the sticky rubber.

Wolf BMW for their bike preparation services.

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