as told by Al Williams
Bucket List Ride
Two weeks after the Taupo meeting, it’s time to head to Pukekohe for another bucket list ride on the ever-faithful Bimota YB8.
Do I change the chain and sprockets to the new 520 for higher gearing? No, leave it. What if the tyre clearance was wrong? Or did I screw up the chain chop? Nup, it’s still going well, but that rear guard must go so the tyre warmers can fit - I wasn’t keen to butcher the beautiful original lightweight chain guard hugger. Water will probably cause grief in the exposed electrics if it rains, so I need something. Aha, there’s that old piece of the shed spouting, should do, a bit of cut and tuck, yep, cool. Tyre warmers fit ...just.
Load her up; still, I can’t afford a $195 practice day and want to keep the tyres as new as possible.
Arrive after dark, we find our assigned open pit, and there are many already here, campers and vans, buses, tents and good-humoured clumps of chat, a good vibe; unload the bike, set up the bed in the van, walk about and talk a bit but retire romantically early.
The First Race
Awake, make coﬀee, do the checking thing and scrutineering. All good; I’m even in the programme (but forgot to add under sponsor "pension"). Hi Xen, (IMOC ally racing his SB6r). Connect tyre warmers to...? Ducati guys next door lend me a multi-box, so we don’t need to run a genny. Leathers on.
Fifteen minutes of practice, then qualifying - where did that track go again? That weird thing of the front brake lever occasionally hitting the bars on the first pump is back like last year, but wasn't it at Taupo? A little unsettling.
Ex-Freeth bike with Dennis Charlett (superbike champ) goes by. I’ll try and see his line. Shit, I'm going too quick for the left-hander, bail out towards pit lane escape road, across a bit of grass. I have time to think. Dang, this really could hurt, and it’s only practice! Images of a broken bike flash through my mind as the wall ahead appears too quickly, but the instincts kick in, brake and lean, which instantly sorts it, and I'm OK, just heading in early, eh? Great, the bike just saved me!
I get grid #17 out of 31!
Nice breakie, and it’s nearly time.
Get cut up quite aggressively on the warmup lap. Line up Red, Red, Red, Red, Red … then GO! Lower gearing means it wheelies too much, so I must ease back a little and don't make much ground. But I CAN go fast into the first corner now with warm tyres. Everybody else has this idea too, and a couple passes me.
I stay with bunch up the straight and then start to gain on Big Macintosh Suzuki. He out brakes me into the chicane; I get him back until braking again, and there are lots of bikes close as we fly out of the hairpin, with the front just oﬀ ground, into a left and a faster left, then throw the body over to the right and hold constant over the right crest, with bikes either side and bumpy - must be 160-ish.
This rebuilt shock by Jebbi Bruin is good, and the bike feels stable as the weight resettles, heading out towards the grass, the power comes in strong, and I can pass... maybe I’ll be in the top 10?
Where’s that braking point? Ease oﬀ, hang oﬀ to the right and turn in, didn’t slide across horse crossing poo line …. can go faster.
A guy goes around the outside on a smaller v4 500 2-stroke, but I haul him in on the straight, hitting 250 km/h. Pump and check the brakes, and I win this braking duel and onto my next target.
That Macintosh can hear that stroker close by, then we're at the back of the faster group, FZRs, GSXs etc...… no - a red flag, and dang, three guys are down at the railway, one is that superfast 916 #137! Since I’m ahead of the Graves Ducati F1, I'm now running top in class!
But no, a restart, and back to 17th on the grid. Quite a wait, and when we re-exit, the bike feels diﬀerent.
Oﬀ again, but not so good; although I manage to hold my place, every lap it feels worse, and I think the front tyre is going down. Perhaps if I push harder, it should warm up and be better. Bad idea and I nearly wiped out at railway and the hairpin, but that 4 hours of a flat front tyre in that 1980s enduro sees me confident that it’ll be OK!
F...... over the hill, straight OK, white flag, faster corners … hmmmmm, railway nooooo…. jezz, and I decide 200 km/h is fast enough, five pass, and a few more scary corners to the flag. Phew is an understatement, and the slow-down lap is just as bad.
There’s zero pressure on the gauge! Big black marks all around the tyre wall, but no nails and, so pump up to 30psi, find the proper valve cap, wait 30 min. Does it stay up? Try diﬀerent fluid level in the front brake as it would be nice to feel more confident. Could it be a rotor flap, pushing pads back?
The Second Race
The next race is again cut short to 2 laps by a nasty cartwheeling 851 in the braking zone just oﬀ the straight. The brakes are now excellent, but some doubt remains. But I am up to the 12th position!
But the pressure has already dropped to 20psi? Somebody says, "oh yes, those old mags can crack and just explode at high speed"! Not a nice visual image! Pump up again!
Then it’s BBQ time, free beers, sunset and gossip. Great!
The Second Day
The morning comes around too quickly, and I get a toothbrush and detergent and find the valve stem is the problem. Phew, not a crack. I make a rubber gasket from an old inner tube, kept for making a fire with wet wood. So now the bubbles appear smaller but from up the thread.
There are no tyre guys here, but an excellent young UK rider from the Ducati pit next door, rebuilding a valve-damaged motor, suggests this fancy silicon he has - worth a shot. It seems to hold while drying. Pressure constant.
The Third Race
Good fun dicing this whole race. Pressure only drops 3psi, and I am 13th!
Ducati guys next door have changed the whole motor, requiring repositioning lots, even the swingarm pivot! Amazing to watch!
The Last Race
Also, not such a great start, a wheelie and then miss a guy ahead who has wheelied even worse, wheelie again, hold my spot but no gains, good dices all race, slowly gain a few places.
The bike handles the bumps over the hill well so I can gain a few metres and, with momentum, get past another Ducati and manage to hold out under brakes, but there’s still heaps of time to save around here; I felt a few small power drifts out of the hairpin, and chicane, with the front just oﬀ… I hope there's a pic of that! Good fun!
That’s it, the chequered flag and no damage. Great - still the only bike in F1 with a current WOF!
The end, apart from no hot water…
So, I have a drink and watch the last races with newly made friends. The results come out, and I won the Pre 95 F1 points and dropped another 2 secs oﬀ lap in the last race. Yaya Haya!
I should have done a test day, I guess, as practice does help!
A few guys come up and say good things, how the bike sounds really good and raspy at full wick, is fast and such, "must have been quite the ticket 32 years ago", some amazed I've kept it completely standard, even down to shocks and 532 chain. And some of them oﬀer help with parts and everything.
Cool as, and I drive home into the sunset feeling good.
Looking forward to an excellent hot shower; oh, that’s right, the hot water cylinder sprung a leak on Thursday night - lucky we came home from that raging jam party when we did! I only had time to block it oﬀ while badly hungover, so the kids could use the cold system and collect another one from Trademe before heading out. Also, very lucky the floor is Kauri with some holes and not chipboard)
Jezz, the bike will have to wait, as I need to change that water cylinder!