The aging process can be frustrating. Of course, it is better to continue having birthdays than not, but as we gain knowledge and experience, we lose memory and dexterity. A good diet and exercise can help keep you sprightly and fit, but only for so long. Just like humans, motorcycles need to move and stay active.
‘Twas merely but a fortnight ago that I was rambling on from my high horse about how great my trusty 2001 Yamaha R6 was handling track duties at the FAST Riding School at the Shannonville Motorsport Park. Oh, how I carried on, rattling off the benefits of learning the ropes of track riding on an older motorcycle thanks to its lack of techno-nannies. I could have made use of the school’s fleet of brand-new sport bikes, but no, I had to bring my own. Consisting of ZX-6Rs, Yamaha R6s, and Suzuki GSXRs, all outfitted with new Michelin rubber and Hindle slip-in exhausts, the school has an on-site mechanic to ensure all the bikes run tip top all day long.
Mine had been looked over by a mechanic to ensure it was in general working order, but without cracking it open for a deeper inspection or having the full maintenance history, I simply had to trust the word of the previous owner that it was fit for track duty.
Level 2 went smoothly. The day was a success. My 20-year-old bike performed flawlessly (the same could not be said for me), and I picked up some welcome riding tips from the friendly and knowledgeable instructors. Without ABS, lean angle sensors, or dynamic stability controls, I was learning the track and getting more comfortable and confident with the bike every lap. There is, however, a downside to riding an old motorcycle as I soon found out.
Level 3 makes use of the 10-turn Pro Track at Shannonville. Speeds are significantly higher, and it puts more strain on the rider and their motorcycle. Coming out of the low-speed hairpin of turn five, you’re moderately easing onto the throttle as you reposition yourself on the pegs and the bike becomes upright, making its way to the outside of the track. Then it’s go time. Getting behind the windscreen bubble, you wring out the throttle – winding it up to redline in second gear, then third, then fourth, then fifth. Something I’d never dream of doing on the street. It is, simply put – exhilarating. The 600cc engine was singing away at full chatter before I’d pop my body up into the wind while grabbing both levers and dropping down to fourth and then third for a high-speed right hander. If you get it right, it is a wonderful feeling. If you get it wrong, you find yourself in the run-off area that is part of the old drag strip.
I’d consistently been seeing speeds upwards of 220 km/h all day long during our sessions (sorry, Mom) without issue. The engine sounded fine, and temperatures looked good. After doing a parking lot oil change the night before, I was happy to see the new filter and plugs were still in place and working fine.
Less than 24 hours after I was bragging about the benefits of riding an older motorcycle, things went all CMG. On our group’s last session of the day, I came out of turn five and got on the gas. Second, third, fourth…BOOM! “Well, that didn’t sound right,” I thought to myself. Thinking perhaps it was a broken chain, I let off the throttle and slowed down to the edge of the track where I noticed a Marshall frantically waving a red flag. Shutting off the bike, I looked down to see smoke billowing out from between my legs. Getting off the bike in a hurry, I saw the trail of steaming hot oil dripping down my boots and along the back straight of the track.
Not having been ridden by the previous owner in several years and then being ridden hard evidently caused catastrophic, irreparable damage. The internals became external. Pieces of crankcase littered the track. Judging from the damage, it appears a broken or dislodged connecting rod was the culprit. For all intents and purposes, its only use now is perhaps that of an anchor.
The session was paused as instructors jumped into action, cordoning off the area with pylons and alerting the maintenance crew to inspect and clean the track, ensuring it was safe for the next group to go out. I was officially “That Guy” and I’ll be honest, it didn’t feel great. It turns out redlining a twenty-year-old motorcycle consistently for two days could have a negative outcome, who knew?
Other than some good natured jabs at my expense, things carried on normally for the remainder of the day. Next time I attend, I’ll ensure I take advantage of the fleet of brand-new motorcycles they have available and hopefully things will be less eventful. And less messy. And less expensive.