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Ducati 350 Mk 3 and PBIR Track Day Report of 02/09/14

ducati 350

The Fast Ones Ducati 350 On-Site at PBIR Track Day

ducati 350

Martin Weiss, aka Reptile Motos, on his Moto Guzzi V7 at PBIR Track Day on 02/09/14

Okay, honestly this is really an article about the Ducati 350 that Eric is racing now.  But it’s also a short track day report.  The Fast Ones and Reptile Motos recently made an appearance at the February 9th track day at PBIR, formerly known as Moroso Motorsports Park, near West Palm Beach.  The Sunday track day followed a vintage bike show which had been held in downtown West Palm Beach.

02/08/14 Vintage Show in West Palm Beach

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Moto Guzzi specialist Martin Weiss, owner/operator of Reptile Motos in Orlando, Eric Watts (Ducati 350), yours truly (Eric’s father and the Ducati’s original owner), and Martin’s step son, Izzy, drove down from Orlando, representing The Fast Ones Vintage Racing at the track day.  Weducati 350 also did a quick walk through of the downtown show on Saturday afternoon before driving back out to the track for camping.

Saturday Night Camping and Drag Racing

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Saturday night camping at Moroso/PBIR

It was great camping weather, though quite noisy at the track until the wee hours of the morning! Saturday night also offered the opportunity to watch drag racing, comprised of competition between all sorts of cars, from modified street legal cars to full alcohol motors in rail chassis, to junior dragsters piloted by kids.

Sunday 02/09/14 Track Day

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Martin gets a ride on the PBIR Schleppwagen back to the paddock after a kill switch failure

Martin’s rode his well prepared V7 Sport Moto Guzzi, the bike being on track for only the second time since its arrival from its original home in Luzern Switzerland, Martin’s former homeland.  Other than missing a couple of sessions due to the failure of a cheap Chinese made kill switch on the Guzzi, Martin had a full and happy day of track riding.

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Tim Gundlach on his loop frame Guzzi

We pitted next to Tim Gundlach and his brother, both Guzzi riders, and builders of the “Raven”.  The Raven is an interesting home-built classic look machine featuring a Guzzi engine turned sideways to create a classic looking V-twin configuration.  It is chain driven and has the appearance of a 1930s era bike.  They claim to be able to make it go quite quickly, so  I was disappointed that they didn’t ride the Raven on track. It would have been really great to watch a good rider passing 600cc sport bikes.  Pitted on our other side was Martin’s good friend Bobby Summerville, aboard a Tonti framed Guzzi.

The video below is from Tim’s Ambassador 750 Guzzi.  You can see Martin exiting to the pits near the end.

And here is some action of Martin on the V7 recorded by Eric:


The Real Subject of this post, Our Ducati 350

Eric’s day was only a little bit disappointing, as we had all wanted to see the Ducati ridden again.  Since the Ducati got no track time this weekend, and because everything in my own little world was revolving around it, then I suppose this post is more about the Ducati and its history than it is about the track day. The backdrop of the track day and the camaraderie and good times spent with fellow motorcycling enthusiasts makes a great foundation for the story.

 History of Eric/Stirling Watts’ Ducati 350.

This Ducati has a fresh motor, just put back together about 15 years ago.  The bike itself had been disassembled since 1991 and scattered about my garage.  Martin spent the past couple of months getting the Ducati re-assembled, but it was not quite as ready as we had hoped.   Let me take a step backwards 41 years to fill in the blanks.

The Initial Purchase

In the fall of 1973 I was a senior in high school.  I was riding a Ducati Mototrans 350 single (manufactured under license from Ducati in Barcelona) which I had purchased brand new earlier in the spring from the Columbus, Ohio Ducati/MotoGuzzi dealership.  I believe the price for the Mototrans was $943, and my mom got me a loan to help me buy it.  In October 1973 I found this Mk 3 350 for sale at a business called “Corvair’s” in Columbus.  They were in the business of buying inventory cheap from businesses that were closing their doors, much like the Odd Lots of today.  Corvair’s of Columbus had purchased about a dozen brand new Ducati singles out of Canada from a dealership that had closed its doors. I got wind of the deal from the young fellow who worked as a mechanic for the Columbus Ducati dealer.

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This is a desmo version similar to our bike when it was new. This bike was in the Saturday show in West Palm Beach.

I went out to Corvair’s on a cold rainy October Saturday morning and looked over the selection of Ducati singles they had purchased.  If I had had a few thousand bucks I would have bought them all, but I had to make a choice.  Besides Ducatis, there were also a couple of MZ two stroke MX bikes in the lot.  In the Ducati department there was, as I recall, a blue 250 Mk3 with Desmo head, a couple of yellow 450 Scramblers, a variety of others that I don’t remember, and the one that caught my attention -  a red 350 Mk 3 with a springer head.  I think they also had a silver colored one.  No titles were available, and I bought the bike from them for just a little over $600.  Dad had a lawyer friend who got me a title.

I kept both of these Ducati singles (the Mototrans and the Mk 3) for a while.  After I got back from Switzerland about a year later, I ended up selling the orange Mototrans Ducati for about $500.  I needed a car, and that money was applied towards the purchase of my first car, a 1967 Fiat 124 Sedan.  I kept riding the Mk 3 in stock form on the street until about 1983.

Florida Road Racing in the 1980s

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Jim Tribou GSXR 750, inside, and Henry DeGouw, TZ 750, in 1986 at Loudon

In the middle of the 1984 season I started road racing with American Association of Motorcycle Road Racers (AAMRR) at Moroso.  The Florida branch of AAMRR was the original group managed by TZ750 rider extraordinaire, Henry DeGouw.  Henry’s group later became AMA CCS, which still races at PBIR today, and is still under the management of Henry.

There was a very informal group of vintage Florida AAMRR riders who started to become organized around 1985.  After I ran my GS1000 and GS750 for a season at Moroso, I decided to transform the Mk 3 into a full race bike.  It went through several configurations of various home-made seats, rear set controls, gas tanks and megaphones.  During those years I also began to race more with the WERA vintage program in Savannah, and with a really informal and fun group called Florida Gran Prix Riders.  I only ever raced with them at the old Sebring, but they also ran some at some other cheap makeshift racetracks in Florida, including Gainesville Raceway and the Tampa Fairgrounds parking lot.  It was a fun but sometimes slightly dangerous group to race with.

Does anyone know what became of Dwaine Williams?  He ran a little motorcycle speed shop in Lakeland.  Dwaine and Henry DeGouw never saw eye to eye, and the story was that Henry kicked Dwaine out of the track grounds at Moroso back in the AAMRR days for some blatant safety infraction, or for just being a dick, or something like that.  Dwaine then decided to start his own informal and low budget racing club, which became FGPRA.  I stayed out of the politics.  I only know it was cheap to race in FGPRA and it was a lot of fun.  Dwaine rode a very modified 750 Norton quite quickly, which he trailered on a little open trailer behind a clapped out 70s era big Chevy or Oldsmobile sedan.  I rather liked Dwaine, but a lot of people avoided FGPRA because of the personality clashes he had with other organizations which I chose to stay clear of.

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Here is Syd Tunstall a few years back working on Malcolm’s bike at au unknown event.

The Tunstalls also came to those Sebring FGPRA events, and it was there that I became a little bit acquainted with Malcolme, the son who is roughly my age, and Syd Tunstall,  Malcome’s Dad. Syd was an Englishman who had immigrated to the US and later became Ducati’s original and sole US importer back in 1959.

When I bought my Ducati, Ducati was an unknown name.  I mean completely unknown.  Now Ducati is a big name, and nobody even knows of the Tunstall family and their contributions to the success of Ducati.  Syd never got much credit for putting them on the map here.  You can read more about the Tunstall family in Mick Walker’s book “Ducati Singles”.

AHRMA Daytona 1986 and 1987

Eric was there!  He was three months old.  We ran the all three bikes at the Daytona during bike week in 1986 and 1987.  At that time the AMACCS modern bike cluib races races and the AHRMA vintage races both ran during bike week.  Accordingly I rode the Ducati in the vintage events and the big Suzukis in the AMACCS full track configuration.  These were the only AHRMA events I ever ran, as the organization did not really appeal to me.  First, the AHRMA of that era was comprised mostly of riders who had little or no track experience.  Secondly they were quite adamant about their rather unreasonable rules which in my opinion left no room for imagination and creativity.  That was why I always favored riding with WERA, FGPRA, and the sometimes non-existent vintage group within CCS and AAMRR.  These groups always had more of a “run what you brung” mentality, and let you go out and race and have fun.  That’s really the only point.  I felt that AHRMA represented a snobbish element with which I did not care to associate.

Engine Modifications

For the first two seasons, we ran the engine stock. When it came time for a complete tear down which included splitting the cases, we decided to just go all the way.

The Bottom End

ducati 350Ducati single engines utilize a pressed together roller bearing crankshaft.  This means that the big end bearing is fit to extremely tight tolerances, has an extremely long life, is well lubricated and thus offers much less rotational friction than does the more common setup of plain split bearing inserts.  This also means that replacing the connecting rod and ensuring that bearing tolerances are correct is no simple task.

I chose to have the crankshaft lightened and rebalanced by a crankshaft specialist, Falicon, located in Tampa.   That work would be a wasted effort without also lightening and strengthening the connecting rod.  The rod was purchased from Carillo, a reputable competition connecting rod manufacturer.  I got my hands on the connecting rod, then purchased the appropriate roller bearings from a bearing specialist in England, checked and rechecked tolerances, and had Falicon press it all together again.

The ends of the crankshaft, as well as the transmission shafts ride in ball bearing assemblies which are pressed into the case castings.  When they get worn out, you split the cases and press them out.  We pressed them out and obtained the required replacements.  Putting new ball bearing assemblies into this type of engine requires heating the cases in an oven to expand the size of the openings, and freezing the ball bearing assemblies to make them smaller, and then swiftly and efficiently pressing them back in. On two occasions this was accomplished in my own kitchen using the oven and the freezer, and a press.

The piston is a tried and tested piece supplied by Malcome Tunstall.  The manufacturer is Arias. The Tunstalls have had great success with this piston.  I didn’t measure the compression ratio, but it is advertised as roughly 10.5 to 1.  We did, however, measure the piston to valve tolerance, just to be sure there would be no unexpected internal collisions.

The Head

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This is not our bike again. This picture shows a Dell’Orto 29mm with remote float.

We are currently running a stock head with standard valves and the square slide 29 mm DellOrto carb that came on the bike.  We plan to fit our more modified head sometime soon, but we elected not to install it this time due to some oiling difficulties.  Fitted with that head the engine burned oil only after getting significantly hot, and the only conclusion we could come to is that the wall between the valve box and the ported out intake tract is so thin that oil is getting sucked in when it gets thin enough to be sucked in.  Perhaps the ported tract need to be thickened and reshaped.

For what it’s worth, in my modifed head I installed a 42 mm intake valve from a Chrysler engine, and the exhaust valve was increased to 36 mm.  I had the valve seat work done by someone more experienced than myself.  Cams are stock grind, and you can’t get much more radical with cam timing really.  The Mk 3 valve spring head cam timing is virtually identical with the cam timing in the desmodromic head.

In the hogged out intake tract, we ran a 36 mm round slide DellOrto from a Ducati 750 Sport.   I built my own intake “manifold” to match the big carb to the hogged out intake port.  (It’s not really a manifold, but simply an adaptor, on a single cylinder engine).

We never tested this engine, but I have read that Ducati engines with similar modifications have delivered dynamometer results over 40 bhp.  Of course, we are going to have to fix this modified head again before we ever see those numbers.  But according to Mick Walker, Ducati 350 singles in such a state of tune have reached over 120 mph on the Isle of Man.

Modifications by the late Gregg Woodruff

Maybe I’m getting off track again.  But this is a good point at which to introduce the contributions of my late good friend Gregg Woodruff.  Gregg and I became friends when we were both employed by the contractor for technical services for the USAF Eastern Test Range.  The ETR supports all USAF funded launch activities originating from facilities on Cape Canaveral AFS.  Our activities included launch and tracking related work both at the Cape and at downrange tracking and communications stations which were located in The Bahamas, Antigua, and Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.

Gregg worked as a machinist and fabricator in the metal shops at Patrick AFB, and I was ducati 350in the Communications engineering group on the same base.  We both came from sports car and motorcycle racing families. It was perfect match.  I could create work orders for “antenna parts” and Gregg could manufacture them!  The US Air Force never had any idea that they were actually sponsoring a vintage racing bike.  Besides, those guys in the shops had nothing to do most of the time.

Aluminum Alloy Swingarm and Rearset Brake

One of the most beautiful pieces of work on this bike is the cast aluminum alloy swingarm adapted from a Kawasaki KX-80.  On a manual milling machine, Gregg fabricated two beautiful shock mounting lugs from forged aluminum which were then heli-arced to the swingarm.  The swingarm rides in needle bearings as opposed to the standard bronze bushings about which the more flexible steel tubing swingarm rotated.  There is a little bit of a tire clearance issue, so it’s preferable to use a 100/80 rather than a 100/90 sized rear tire.  The rear wheel could also come back a bit more in the swingarm to provide more tire clearance if we would go up a few teeth on the rear sprocket and compensate by using a smaller drive sprocket up front.

This swingarm is, or was at the time we built it, unacceptable to AHRMA, and technically it was not even allowed under the WERA rules.  But in WERA and especially in FGRPRA, nobody really cares.  Besides, I used to also run the 350 in the F3 class against real 125 two stroke road racers, and in F3, modifications are unlimited.  We wanted to build a special modernized and improved Ducati, and not just a nice looking relic restored to factory specs.

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You can see a little of the modified Kawasaki KX 80 aluminum swingarm in this picture

We elected not to use any rearset control on the shift lever.  This bike, like all Italian bikes built before the federal mandate for left side shift levers, shifts on the right side in a one up four down pattern in stock form.  The factory shift lever was a heel and toe design which was operated from forward and centrally positioned rider/operator footpegs.  The rider/operator footpegs are too far forward for roadracing work and have been removed. The rearset footpegs are simply the factory passenger footpegs.  From the rear passenger position, the transmission can be easily shifted  by simply pushing and pulling the back arm of the double shift lever, the back art being initially designed to be operated by the heel.  The front arm of the shift lever has been cut off.  Thus, since shifting is done from the passenger peg, the shift pattern is inverted, making it a one down and four up pattern.

The rear brake lever is a beautifully crafted forged aluminum allow piece which actuates the brake via a rod. These parts were also fabricated in the PAFB shops.

BSA 650 Triple Clamps and Tapered Roller Steering Head Bearings

This was a pretty easy conversion.  Ball bearing steering heads wear a lot, always require adjustment, and always seem to have a little bit of slop and play in them.  The stock forks which utilized short external springs mounted up top were initially replaced by used Triumph forks which measured about 34mm in diameter.  That has been updated since the current forks are 35mm units from a Guzzi, adapted for the purpose of the eventual disc brake conversion.

The Front Brake

Back in the day, when I was trying to mores strictly follow vintage class rules, I elected to install a real drum brake.  I bought a 4 leading shoe front drum brake from a Suzuki 750 water buffalo, drilled it full of holes for cooling and to help lighten the whole assembly, and adapted it to the above referenced Triumph forks.  It worked pretty well, in fact much better than did the wimpy little stock 2 shoe brake, but it was heavy.

This time the decision was made to build a special, not just a replica.  It was to have real brakes.  Several years back I had purchased a Guzzi front hub which would carry a disc.  Martin purchased a new Akront style rim (I think the rim is actually a Borrani) and laced it to the Guzzi hub.  Guzzi forks replaced the worn out Triumph tubes, which were too long anyway.  Some material had to be removed from the triple clamps to accommodate the larger diameter fork tubes.  The result is what you see.  It has real brakes now!

Technically the disc brake should be permitted under vintage rules, even though I am sure AHRMA and WERA rules still prohibit it, as the 1974 Ducati 350 Sport did offer a single front disc as an option.

The Fairing and Tank and Seat

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Fitting the fairing in Reptile Motos Shop

I used a variety of gas tanks on this bike.  At first I used the stock Mk 3 tank and a home made fiberglass single seat, with no fairing.  As time went on I fitted a Yamaha TZ 125 fairing and windscreen, and built a replacement fiberglass seat that I never liked.  At one point in the 80s I bought a 250SCR narrow case Ducati for parts, and I think that’s where I got the bigger steel tank, which looked pretty good.  And I even tried to fold up sheet aluminum and build an alloy tank, which was hideously ugly.  I did show up at the track in that configuration once, and it didn’t look so bad because the fairing was hiding it.

I apologize for not having any pictures from the old days.  I never thought about pictures, and it seems to me that people in general thought about pictures far less in the days of analog film only.  Somewhere I do have a stack of photos, in an old box somewhere – one of those boxes that’s been moved from house to house over the years.

The folded aluminum seat was built by the metal shops at Patrick AFB.  It was designed to go with the angular looking folded and heli arced tank that looked so bad.  But the seat came out nicely, and for the sake of a unique look, we decided to keep it when we purchased the factory replica racing tank and fairing from Tunstall’s.  They also sell a couple of very attractive fiberglass seats for Ducati singles, but we felt that this seat adds some personality to the bike.

The red white and green paint scheme currently in use was Martin’s idea.  It resembles the 750 Hailwood replica fairing, but it is still unique.  I had painted my old TZ 125 fairing in a similar red white and green scheme because it was supposed to resemble an Italian flag.  I had not even thought about the Hailwood replica.  Martin fabricated the fairing mounts which allow the fairing to be quickly removed using eight quarter turn Dzus fasteners.

Exhaust Megaphone

With the smaller stock 29mm Dell’Orto installed, martin wisely chose to use the smaller megaphone which I had initially used in the Ducatis earlier racing days.  It’s a straight through megaphone.  I have also a larger output megaphone which I had used with the ported head and 36mm carb.  It tends to make power at higher revs, while the smaller opening tends to spread power more evenly through the usable rpm range.  Both of them sound good, and are not annoyingly loud at all.


In Martin’s shop we weighed in using an electronic scale at 251 pounds wet with the bike race ready.  That’s quite an improvement over the initial 280 pounds dry in street trim, which means that a Mk 3 on the street weighed somewhere around 295 pounds wet as a street bike.

We reduced weight to the extreme is a number of ways that most people don’t even bother with.  Most important is the reduction of reciprocating weight, especially in the drive train.  That’s the biggest reason that flywheels are removed and crankshafts are lightened in competitive racing motors.  We drilled holes in every reciprocating as well as in other non reciprocating parts.  We even hollowed out the centers of a number of the heavier bolts.  Some would find this a bit absurd, and, admittedly, maybe it is!

Troubles at PBIR and Future Plans

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Time to take the clutch apart again!

We basically had trouble with three items.  First off, starting this bike with the higher compression piston installed has never been easy.  Combined with the fact that the oil bath clutch was not fresh, we experienced some starting difficulties.  We were using standard Castrol, which is kind of slippery stuff, and found that when the clutch was dropped in second gear when push starting, the clutch was just slipping.  That behavior combined with the fact that the idle jetting is not right on, gave us some huge starting problems.  We also failed to start with a fresh set of points, and did not have the timing precisely set.

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Eric and Martin discussing what to do next

We had successfully started the bike and run it up and down the street the day before, but on track day it just refused to light up.  We fiddled with fresh plugs, cleaned the points repeatedly, moved the timing around, and even took the clutch apart and dried to plates off to give it some extra grip to get it started.  After accidentally losing some clutch linkage parts through the clutch actuating tube, we decided we should go do some work before the next event.

To remedy these problems, three modifications are planned for the near future.  Electronic pointless ignitions with a choice of programmed advance curves are now available.  Dry clutch kits are also readily available off the shelf for Ducati singles.  Those changes, supplemented by a set of starting rollers, will cure the starting blues, and once we get it warmed up with a selection of the right idle jets, we will be enabled to make this thing more reliable.

The other future plan is the addition of an electronic tach.  We were not able to locate the mechanical drive parts which drive the tach from the bevel gears, but after some consultation with the Tunstall family, Malcome suggested going the electronic route on account of tach drive failures in the past that head caused some bevel gear damage.

Thank You, Reptile Motos!

ducati 350All of the work that went into resurrecting the Ducati was due to the intelligent and diligent work or Martin Weiss, aka Reptile Motos.  We thank Martin for his time and interest and we look forward to a long racing relationship.


Industry Wide Motorsports Blogs

To Hang off, or to Ride Upright? – That is the Question

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The controversy surrounding hanging off

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An extreme example of power sliding and efective weight distribution

In the past 30 years, so much has been written praising the virtues of “hanging off” of a motorcycle when cornering at high speeds, that it makes my head swim.  It appears to me that every effort is made these days to encourage and defend the application of “hanging off” by those who identify with its daring appearance.

So popular is this emphasis on hanging off that the least experienced riders are self assured that they are experts on the matter.

When it comes to sporting motorcycle riding on racetracks, it seems that every Tom, Dick, or Harry believes themselves to be an expert on the subject, based on what they have read, or based on the handful of times they have been on a racetrack themselves.

This hanging off thing only began to become wildly popular, my memory estimates, around the mid 1970s.  .Many of its current proponents may not have been born yet at that time, and they have grown up learning the educated delusion that this is the only way to properly ride a motorcycle fast.

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Two generations of motorcycle road racing. Stirling Watts in 1985 and Eric Watts in 2013.

Hanging off was shunned by numerous riders of earlier generations

I’ve always been a great fan of the late Phil Irving.  Irving was an Australian mechanical engineer and journalist who made important strides in motorcycle and engine development.  He was the chief engineer for Vincent for many years, and the man primarily responsible for the success of the legendary Black Shadow.

In the literary world, Irving authored several classic books on engine and motorcycle technology, and was a regular technical contributor to motoring publications of his era.  I cannot recall whether it was in  the book “Black Smoke”, or “Rich Mixture” or “Motorcycle Engineering” where Irving blasted the practice of climbing all over the motorcycle, condemning it to be but primarily a visual spectacle.  I cannot say that  I agree with him 100%, but that was an expert’s opinion at that time that is now contrary to current thought.

Ted Hubbard, where are you today?

In the mid 80s I had a racing friend named Ted Hubbard.  I think he lived in South Carolina or Georgia.  We always met up at Roebling Road near Savannah.  Ted was at that time, I think, in his early 60s.  Ted had lived in England in the late 60s and early 70s,where he had been a development engineer, and as I recall also a test rider for BSA.

During the time I was associated with Ted we became good friends, hanging out at WERA races and pitting together with the other vintage people.  (Ted and his bike were vintage, but in my case, only my bike qualified as vintage.  I was still relatively young!)

I was racing my 350 Ducati single, and Ted was always racing a big British single.  I believe it was a 441 Victor based bike that he normally rode.  He almost always won the race in his class on that Victor.  Ted was a lightning fast rider and a practical, intelligent man.  He ended up eventually doing some porting work for me on a Ducati single head, and installed a bg intake valve for me.  He was, and I hope still is, a great guy.

Flat track riding style on the road race track.  It works well!

Ted’s riding style?  Ted had more American TT and half mile and mile experience than

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Ted Hubbard’s road racing style

everyone else did.  His riding style was closer to that which you would have seen in dirt track racing than in road racing.   He was always well tucked in, knees against the tank, and he knew exactly where he was on the track every millisecond.  There were of course lots of younger riders on more powerful bikes, climbing all over them, who were not able to keep up with Ted.  And Ted privately shunned their riding style.

I had another friend in the same era named Royce Eaton, from Daytona.  Royce was about 65 years old then, and ran a small hobby type performance motorcycle shop. Memory tells me Royce was a retired airline pilot.  I don’t know what became of him either.  But anyway, there was no way I ever could keep up the pace with Royce his vintage class Triumph T100 Trident, me riding aggressively on my highly modified and more modern GS 750 Suzuki.  Conservation of momentum seemed to be the biggest part of his secret.

Royce’s riding style?  You guessed it.  Tucked in, knees on the tank, always in control, never climbing around on the bike.  Royce also shunned hanging off, and I believe that most of his racing experience had been on asphalt.

Boet van Dulmen and other big stars

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Tucked in old school style

Again, this may be an unfamiliar name to many younger readers.  Van Dulmen was a Dutch world class road racing star who was at the top of his career in the late 70s, around the time of Barry Sheene, Kenny Roberts, Freddy Spencer, and the likes of that era.  Van Dulmen was in fact quite renowned for his lightning fast and always tucked in riding position, but it was a style that was beginning to fall out of favor at that time.

Watch this short documentary and interview with Boet van Dulmen about the Assen TT in 1981, and why Van Dulmen won it.  The commentary and interview are in Dutch.  A couple of minutes into the video you will see the effectiveness of Boet’s upright style.  It’s interesting to see him passing Marco Lucchinelli in the rain, knee all stuck out to the side, while van Dulmen stays tucked in.

So, why hang off? Let’s ask the road racing guru, Keith Code.

I had the privilege of receiving personal instruction from the Master, Keith Code, back in the days before the California Superbike School had become a huge deal.  I attended a road racing school under his tutelage at Roebling Road in the Spring of 1984.  Hanging off was not a subject that was recommended during that class.  Here is what Keith has to say on the subject in his classic work, Twist of the Wrist:

You are moving your body weight from the top of the bike to a position that is lower and to the inside. This changes how your weight influences the bike when centrifugal force begins pushing it toward the outside of the turn. When you weight is higher on the bike, it gives the cornering forces a lever to work with. To overcome the centrifugal force, the bike must be leaned over in the turn. The greater the force, the more you must lean to overcome it. By hanging off, you move your weight to the inside of the bike and lower to the ground, presenting less of a lever for the forces to act upon. This does not weaken the force, it simply lessens its effect. Now the bike does not have to be leaned over as far to make the same radius of turn, and CAN GO FASTER WITHOUT having to INCREASE the lean angle. Even if you go through the turn at the same speed as a rider sitting upright on his machine, you can begin your acceleration sooner than he can because your straight-up bike has more rubber on the road This can be a tremendous advantage. Remember, increasing your speed in a turn effectively decreases the radius of the turn. Right or wrong, everyone who is currently competitive us IS hanging off.

Hanging off has nothing to do with safety!

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Kevin Schwantz displaying excellent weight distribution form.

I have heard it said by bench racers, who once spent at most a handful of times on a racetrack, that hanging off prevents you from low siding.  That’s pure bullshit, as evidenced by Keith’s comments above.  Hanging off is about being competitive on the modern racetrack, and nothing more.  It’s about carrying a higher speed while leaned over at the same maximum angle as the guy who is not hanging off.  When riding with a group of other riders who are also not world class competition material, it’s pretty meaningless.
You will low side when you exceed the limits of traction by being leaned over too far.  That’s the only cause of a low side crash.  You can lose traction when you’re upright because you’re riding at the edge of your tires contact patch, or you can lose traction for the very same reason when you’re hanging of just inches from the pavement.  Perhaps being out of the seat already might be an advantage if you were to crash, because you’re already closer to the ground.  But I have always planned not to crash anyway!

You can also drag parts lightly without drastically increasing your chances of loss of adhesion.  I’ve proven this point to myself.  My old Suzuki GS1000 based race bike almost had a hole ground into the alternator cover on the left side of the engine from making contact with the pavement.

I never went down because of dragging parts, but I did experience a couple of violent high side effects on the GS1000  from dragging the left side of the motor, from which I recovered without going down.  I think that those high side effects were amplified by some kind of improper bodily reaction on my part after I felt the contact, but I never figured that out. It didn’t happen often enough for me to figure it out, and I certainly never tried to encourage experiencing it again.

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The Master himself, Keith Code

Ask yourself this:

Ask yourself:  If two identical motorcycles are riding at the limits of adhesion, and one rider is hanging off, and the other one is not, which rider is going faster?

You will naturally and correctly answer “The one who is hanging off, of course.”

Does this make one of them more or less likely to low side by exceeding the limits of adhesion?  Of course not!  They are both riding at the limits of their tire contact patch.

The two primary  advantages  to hanging off are:

First, the additional speed you carry while still cornering,

Second, after you climb back on center at the exit of the corner, you can start applying power sooner than the rider who remained upright, because for the same speed you’re carrying as the more upright guy, you have more tire patch on the road than he does.

Isn’t that advantageous?

For the super rider, yes. For the guy who goes to the racetrack a few times per year, no.

Focusing on smoothing out every transition you make will make you faster than focusing on any one item in your technique. All things need to happen quickly at high speed, but the sudden severity of every change of every condition needs to be minimized and smoothed. That translates to smooth transitions from being hard on the gas to being hard on the brakes, smooth gear shifting both up and down, especially in corners, and smoothness in the shifting around of your own body weight.  That last item is last because it has the least overall effect.

In most cases, especially on less powerful motorcycles, shifting your weight drastically around is a factor that’s only marginally helpful in comparison to the many other refinements in smoothness you need to learn to make with respect to conserving momentum, being in the right place and following the right line, and all the elements of smoothness of action.

For everything…. there is a season….and a time… turn, turn, turn….

hang off

When men were men! Making a KZ1000 go fast.

There are times when a hanging off technique can be quite necessary.  It depends on what you are riding.  Are you riding something from the old steel tubing frame era, like a GS1100 or a KZ1000, or a competitive motorcycle of recent design?

The best case in point was riding my 1978 GS1000 at racetrack speeds.  It required a great amount of steering input, muscle, and weight transfer just to convince it to change directions.  I’m convinced that was most of the reason that hanging off became so popular in the early 80s.  Everyone was riding GS1100s and KZ1000s (and the like)!

Well I hope that was entertaining and didn’t piss you off  too bad if you happen to like to hang off!

No insult is meant to the self proclaimed expert bench racers who insist that hanging off keeps them from crashing. Maybe you believe that it does that for you, but I am quite sure that It doesn’t do that for me.

Unless we were all world class riders of the highest developed skill level (of course we can always pretend) then I don’t believe it makes a hootin’ bit of difference whether or not we hang off in high speed corners on today’s most superbly designed motorcycles.  There are more important things to learn about controlling a motorcycle first .

But it sure looks feels good, and it looks cool too!  Keep the shiny side up!




Motorcycle Track Days – Learning to Practice Safety and Speed on the Pavement

Egli Racing Vincent

Lesson 1: Humility in the Racetrack Classroom

This is a classroom introduction to learning the practice of safety and speed on the pavement on or in a motorized vehicle.  Its content is designed to be used in motorcycle track day training.

Photo of Superbike Racing in 1985

The Author in 1985 in Unlimited Superbike AMACCS ,Summit Point Raceway

In the next few minutes,  we’re going to talk about a basic mental precept that we all need to learn to put into practice if we really want to learn to enjoy truly going fast, safely.   The foundation of that learning has less to do with perfecting the actual practice and techniques of riding or driving, and more to do with your mind and attitude.   Lesson One is I think the most important of all, and that is why it’s first!  It is a purely mental factor called —- humility.

In future articles,  we will  talk about the actual practice of being quick, in terms which apply to driving on four wheels, or riding on two wheels.  We are going to talk about about riding briskly in the more dangerous environment of public roads, and  in the more secure environment of a closed racetrack.  We will begin that discussion with a term used by a lot of sportbike riders, called “the pace”.  We’ll talk about that more in the next video.  Briefly, “the pace “is a phrase coined by Nick Ienatsh,  a great motorcycle journalist who has put in a lot of racetrack time himself.  Nick published an article on “The Pace” 10 or 15 years back, and it was in Motorcyclist Magazine.  Learning to ride at “The Pace” is about riding safely and sanely, and yet relatively quickly, without injuring yourself or anyone else, without destroying your equipment, without annoying car drivers badly, and without getting a speeding ticket.  It’s about learning how never to get in over your head and how never to expose yourself to unnecessarily dangerous situations, while you maximize the joy of riding, or driving, as the case may be.  But, stay tuned for that in the NEXT article and video.

But, first of all you may be asking yourself, “Who is this guy?”

“Who is this guy?   I’ve never heard of him!  He’s not famous.  How could he have anything valuable to teach me about how I ride or drive?”   I’ll give you a bit of my background to start with, and I will tell you up front, with all of the humility I can muster up, that I’m certainly no authority who has perfected the practice of everything that I recommend.  But,  I have listened to a lot of people who have a lot of experience and then I’ve personally put it to the test in a variety of pavement venues with different numbers of wheels.

Ducati mototrans, vintage motorcycle racing

The author’s brother, Larry Watts on his Ducati 350 Mototrans singleDucati single in the 1989 WERA Grand National Finals

I was never near being an national champion of any kind, but I do have a fair amount of competition riding and driving experience, and I’ve put in more than a few competitive laps on various racetracks on motorcycles from 250s to 1100 Superbikes.   in motorcycle racing I have roughly 10 years of experience in competition in WERA, AMA CCS , AHRMA, the now extinct Florida Gran Prix Riders, and the now extinct AAMRR south.  That’s me in the intro picture above, on a GS1000 at Summit Point Raceway in 1985, riding in the Unlimited Superbike Class.  In automobiles I drove both fwd and rwd competition cars for a period of about 5 seasons in several classes of the SCCA  at the Regional and National levels.  I once took a  Formula Ford driving school, and I’ve competed in go cart clubs, and I coached my son, Eric, in fast driving when he raced quarter midgets, and later graduated from circle track racing  to road racing my old 100cc Yamaha cart and  80cc shifter cart.   In the past 30 years or so I raced quite a lot, completed a few competition driving schools, riders schools, once even a MSF street oriented safety course.

Those are my humble qualifications.  I never got famous.  I never made a profession of driving or riding or racing, but I’m a guy who has fooled around with it enough to understand how to give you the basics if you’re just coming into the sport.  My VERY first racing school was with the California Superbike School, and was personally taught by Keith Code himself back in 1984, on a Kawasaki GPZ 550.  .  But after that, EVERY time I ever had the chance to be critiqued by someone else, regardless of who they were, or how fast they actually were themselves…..a concerted effort to be humble resulted in a positive learning experience, an experience that dissolved mental barriers, and built my confidence and comfort level with speed.

In retrospect……listen to experience!

I think, in retrospect, thinking back on how I myself personally felt about the material presented, and the hands on experience offered in a lot of competition schools, I would emphasize that the very first skill we all need to develop has nothing to do with riding, or driving, at all. It is the development of personal humility.  It seems to me that the younger and the less experienced is the rider, or the driver, the more difficulty they have with being humble, and being open to learning.  Now granted a lot of very young riders are fast because they just have no fear.  They don’t have to unlearn fear like we do, but they do have to learn common sense.  The young and fast ones who go on to do great things, I believe do so as a result of exercising enough humility to listen to the voices of experience.  A lack of humility puts up a mental barrier that opposes our ability to realize and uncover the confidence we actually naturally possess  -  to overcome our own self imposed limits.

And that’s what this is all about…..learning to remove self imposed mental limitations.  In reality, nothing holds back a human being from learning to do any task well, other than his own self imposed and subconsciously self enforced limitations.  So don’t start out believing that you already know everything you need to know, or that you have large testicles and  this school is just some formality needed to allow you to ride or drive on a racetrack.  Learning to ride fast is an internal humble mental transformation. You cannot accomplish that transformation until you are ready to put limiting beliefs about your human selfhood out of the way.

That means not only limitations in the practice of actual driving or riding techniques.  Even before that, it means that you have to erase the barriers which you have been humanly educated to subconsciously put in your own way – mental barriers  that would lead you to the false conclusion that there is little you need to learn.  Get your ego completely out of the way. In other words, you must be truly personally humble.


We all think we are already fast, especially if we own some machine that has a reputation for being fast, and makes nice and pleasing and powerful sounds.  But we can only gain the benefit of good advice coming from the mouth of experience, and become faster and smoother in proportion to our practice of a sincere humble respect for experience.  No hotshot attitudes!  That will ultimately do more harm than good.  Valuable information does not have to come from the mouth of a national championship caliber driver or rider.  A lot of regular club racing people have a lot of practical experience that they can teach you, if you will just relax and open your mind to the reality that you need to LEARN to be fast.  But that learning is really only the discovery of what you really are inside, as you learn to eliminate these mental barriers.

That’s the whole key to fastness. And smoothness. Your machine won’t do it for you.  My son, Eric, can tell you a few stories about folks we have ridden with on the street.  I’ll tell a short one here:  A couple years back we met up with a really nice local guy who wanted to do some sport riding with us here in the Ozarks.  He was riding a Suzuki Hyabusa, so we figured this guy really knew his stuff.  Eric was riding his little EX500 Ninja twin, and I was on my Triumph 955 Sprint triple.  As soon as we got off the four lane and onto a secondary road with a lot of medium and high speed corners, Eric and I took the lead.  We were riding casually at “the pace”.   No insult meant to this guy, he was a really nice fellow, but about 15 miles later we ended up waiting for him for a long,  long time at the next intersection.  We were only casually cruising.  On the other hand, our new friend did display good judgment by deciding not to ride over his own capabilities!  The only difference between us was – racetrack time versus no racetrack time.  That’s a short anecdote that illustrates how the machine has little to do with your ability to ride quickly.

Next time….

So much for humility for now!  In the next video we’re going to talk about how not to push those limits in the wrong places    — and more about riding on the road at “The Pace”.  See you soon!

Proposed Class Structures

The Fast Ones – Motorcycle Track Days for Vintage Enthusiasts

Fast Classic Motorcycle

This is a brand new effort…..and if you like vintage motorcycle road racing as much as I do, and if you like like the idea of attending affordable motorcycle track days,,simple, informal and fun, you will want to hear more about this.

Club racing for many has always felt a little bit too formal and a little too uppity.  It has always seemed hard to filter out those people with the big money, and the formal rules that were designed to control all of that get in the way of fun.

The main problem is that in club racing there is just far too much emphasis on the competition, on winning, on points, on personal recognition, and just not enough emphasis on the fun.   Part of the solution in motorcycle track days.   We, who are among “the fast ones” forming this group, want to put that affordable fun back into riding on the racetrack…..we want to create an environment where you can afford to learn to be a ”fast one” on YOUR vintage bike, in a safe and fun environment.

Who are “the fast ones?” Well we can all be fast, or at least  we can think we are.   But how fast are you, really?  Do you really know how to ride at a fast but sane pace ?   How can you learn to do so without truly and literally risking your own life?

The answer to those questions is “the racetrack”.  Do you own a fast vintage bike?  Would you like to ride it REALLY fast….like,  to explore its limits, and yours, in a safe and controlled environment?

Fast Classic MotorcycleAll during the 80s I was heavy into motorcycle club road racing, in both modern classes and vintage, and the most fun I EVER had racing was in those vintage classes.  And I think it was because the folks riding in those classes were less focused on personal competition.  They were there simply for the joy, perhaps for the nostalgia of riding fast in the vintage class.  In several clubs of that period, I had a blast on the racetrack on my Ducati 350 single……  Recently we started to put that Ducati back together again.  Our good friend Martin Weiss, also known as Reptile-Motos, has been working on that project.  In working with Martin on that project, a little bit of bench racing stirred up some fresh ideas about track time and vintage motorcycles that a lot of folks are going to like.

We all love going faster with our vintage bikes than is allowed, or it is safe to do on the street. This is why we go to the race track where we can go as fast as  we want (or can). For now we just want to have fun, but if there is enough interest we will create a Vintage/Classic Racing group. 2-3 races a year.  For now the group will probably be Florida based.  Suggested venues so far are Jennings in north Florida, and Moroso Park in West Palm Beach.  There are other potential options.

Please Send us a short message, comment on the video (to be imbedded here soon) or this post,  and introduce yourself, your bike, and what you hope to get out of joining us in this new organization.  And let’s make this a reality!

- Stirling Watts

David (MK) via photopin cc