Any motorcycle racer worth their salt will tell you that in order to be fast you’ve got to start slow. Or in this case, small. Accomplished road racer and Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Famer Toni Sharpless recently opened the Super Sonic Road Race School that makes use of a fleet of minibikes. Pupils of all ages learn the fundamentals in a fun, less intimidating environment where the speeds are lower, and the level of risk reduced.
Anyone who has attended a track school in the past can likely attest to a certain level of bravado you’ve experienced at the onset. There’s always at least one character (usually with a mohawk helmet) who thinks he should be running the program instead of participating in it, only to quickly run out of talent and embarrass himself. If he’s lucky, no damage will be inflicted upon any motorcycles, himself or his classmates. Well, there wasn’t any of that at Super Sonic. The school doesn’t attract or endorse that kind of behaviour, and frankly it’s impossible to retain any element of ego when you’re bunched up on a minibike. Those who attended were either children, or adults who were legitimately there to learn and left their egos in the parking lot.
There are bigger plans in the works for 2021, but the inaugural season took place at Brechin Motorsport Park on the east side of Lake Simcoe in Brechin, ON. The program makes use of the Gamebridge Go-Karts track that offers a number of variations. Kicking off the day with the usual registration, those who didn’t bring their own gear were fitted with a helmet, suit, boots and gauntlet gloves before introductions and general housekeeping commenced. Transpiring during a pandemic, this was done masked and socially distanced. We then took part in a track walk, where Sharpless stopped to identify the apexes, as well as visual cues and recommended points of entry and exit.
Gathering back in the pits for a quick lesson on flag identification, participants were then divided up into small groups by skill level, ranging from those who had never been on a bike before to experienced riders who were looking to build on their existing abilities. The list of instructors on any given day reads like a who’s who of Canadian motorcycle racing. In addition to Toni Sharpless who runs the school, are 2018 CSBK Amateur Lightweight Champion Jake LeClair, 2019 CSBK Amateur Lightweight Champion Ben LeClair, Two-time CSBK Pro Sportbike 600cc Champion Tomas Casas, Three-time CSBK Pro Sportbike 600cc Champion Kenny Reidman, 2019 CSBK Pro Superbike Champion Ben Young. A selection of other recognizable names have offered their services as guest instructors, such as CSBK Director Colin Fraser and MMIC Communications Director Dave Grummet who are both accomplished racers in their own right. A group of participants who took part in an October session were treated to instruction from none other than 14-time CSBK Champion Jordan Szoke. Needless to say, you’re learning from the best in the country and are in good hands.
Starting with fundamentals before adding incremental skills to be focused on each time out on the track, sessions were kept short to ensure things kept moving along and one-on-one feedback could be given regularly to prevent poor habits from forming. Depending on age and experience, participants can choose from a fleet of bikes available, starting from the Honda CRF-50 and Yamaha TTR-110, up to the Ohvale GP-0 110 and GP-0 160. The Italian made Ohvale models may be diminutive, but they pack a lot of punch into a small package. Having the chance to turn a few laps on both models, they feel like miniature versions of legitimate race bikes.
Allowing paying customers to enjoy the Ohvales, I spent most of the day riding the TTR-110. Who knew 7 hp could be so much fun? Capable of hitting 75 km/h, the tight, technical nature of the exercises only required the use of one or two gears. A priority was put on form and technique rather than reaching top speeds. Having taken part in various track programs other the years, I may have achieved more positive development in a single day at Super Sonic than any other. Without the trepidation of high siding off a super sport at triple digit speeds, you can really focus on small, incremental improvements. Breaking off to practice specific drills related to balance, throttle control and lean angles definitely paid off. Truth be told, I’d never been able to get my knee down those last few inches, but by the end of a day riding the little Yamaha my knee pucks were well worn.
You may not be going as fast or have as far to fall, but that’s not to say lapping a track on a minibike isn’t as much fun as a barrel of monkeys. Participants from the age of five to 50 removed their helmets between sessions to reveal smiles from ear to ear. As the day went on and skills progressed, speeds also increased.
The path to becoming a motorcycle racer is not easy or attainable for many. Mostly due to the exorbitant costs of setting up and maintaining a full-sized bike, but also due to the lack of opportunities for the development of younger riders. Sharpless is working with Canadian Superbike Series (CSBK) to form a new Canadian Mini Superbike Championship Series (MiniSBK) and the Canadian Ohvale Cup. Creating a feeder series with the intention of fostering development from a young age would open up new channels for young kids to get into racing. I sure wish something like that existed when I was a kid. Nevertheless, even as an adult I learned some valuable skills and had an absolute blast in the process. The bikes may be small, but they open the door for significant rider development and big fun.