The locals call it grechikha, we know it as buckwheat. Irrelevant of what you call it, it’s bloody horrid stuff but this year I had it for Christmas dinner along with some liver, which is also terrible. Now, this isn’t some sort of obsessive athletic diet fad, I’m at work on a Russian oil rig.
I shouldn’t complain, I knew it’d be a poor substitute for Christmas at home but this racing lark is expensive and sacrifices have to be made. So, work winter, play in summer. I’m lucky enough to have some great sponsors. I get a bit of cash from Bearded Images and an Irish Dr friend and a lot of product support from Motul, Renthal and Tsubaki (thanks to B+C Express), Shark helmets, exhausts from A16 Road and Race and Shorai batteries from Carrot Cycles who also help with my tyre bill, but there’s still a lot more cash to be spent so off to work I go. The TT alone is a five grand hit but you do get plenty of time on your bikes. If everything goes to plan you can rack up close to 2000 miles at race speed during TT fortnight, that’ll eat up £800 of super unleaded, £1800 of dunlops finest tyres, a couple of sets of sliders, 50 tear offs, 3 chains and a couple of belly pans. Add in a world of mechanical torture and the bill can go much higher as pistons and valves aim to destroy each other and often manage. It’s hell on wheels and absolutely fantastic, but more of that later in the year.
The buckwheat is supposed to be healthy, probably because I can’t stand eating it so the calorie intake is going to be low. I don’t generally worry too much about my diet, I don’t eat too much processed crap and fast food and I train a bit so I keep in decent shape. The last couple of years I’ve got into cycling, not the Cal Crutchlow levels of commitment, the lad covers hundreds of miles a week in rain or shine over the Isle of Man’s hills, I’m more of an hour or two a couple of times a week guy. I also try to get in the gym three times a week but being away with work for weeks or months at a time hit’s the training. It’s all a compromise, I could train more and eat better but that’d mean working less or for less money so there’d be less bike time and the best way to go faster on your bike is to be on your bike more. And going fast on bikes is my biggest passion in life.
Then of course you need the bikes to go fast on. These are also expensive, as we all know. Last year and this year I’m running a zx6r and a BMW s1000rr. The BMW is an epic weapon and definitely the best choice for road racing. The new crop of bikes for 2017 may well bring some of the other brands closer but it’s no guarantee, Newer isn’t always better. The BMW just works, the engine is strong, the chassis does what it’s supposed to do and it looks pretty good painted orange. The trick I was told with the BMW’s is not to fiddle too much, fit a system, change the suspension if you want and go racing. I watched Micky D win at Armoy in 2015 with a bike he’d bought from BMW a few days before. He’d changed the suspension, fitted an exhaust system, put fibreglass bodywork on and beat everyone, including the Tyco superbikes and the best of the Irish boys on very fast tackle. He did mention the throttle connection was a bit fluffy as he was still on the stock fuel map!! I know my BMW is capable of lapping the island at over 130mph so really I’ve got to pull my finger out.
With the BMW I’m just refreshing over winter. The engine will get a full strip and rebuild with new shells, rings, seals and anything else it needs and the suspension and chassis will get a full strip and rebuild. Other than the suspension I do all the work myself so it keeps labour costs down and I know it’s all done right. I don’t have to worry about things being built properly if I’ve built them myself and having a clear mind is important before you fire yourself down Bray hill.
The ZX6r is getting a bit more work, we had a strange issue with it last season as it kept burning away spark plugs at the TT. At first I thought it was a blocked fuel pump making it run lean, a common Kawasaki problem but during the fortnight we changed almost everything and couldn’t cure it so it’s having a different electronics set up for next year as this was the only thing not changed, I have a theory as to exactly what was causing the problem but it’s a secret until it’s fixed. It ran perfectly everywhere else we took it which makes it difficult to pin point. When it ate its last spark plug element it also damaged a valve seat so the head has been away to be fixed and it’s almost back together, the bottom end had a full refresh too. I just need to refit and retime the cams when I get home and it’ll be dyno time to see what we’ve got.
The bike that’s taking up the most of my ‘home’ time is a ZXR750K which I’m building into a classic superbike. A friend found the bike is a poor state a couple of years back and bit by bit it’s coming together. It’s had a varied past to say the least. The original owner lavished a lot of time and money on it. It had an Ohlins shock and damper, Marvic mag wheels, NWS linkage, Billet 6 pots, full system and some of the most excessive weight saving I’ve ever seen. Titanium wheel spindles, shock linkage bolts, caliper bolts and yoke bolts, Aluminium fasteners everywhere and a few things that seem a bit too much. Removing the neutral switch and neutral bulbs must have saved about 10grams but the award for most annoying weight saving had to go with the removal of the thermostat housing which also lost the temp gauge feed so you can’t tell how hot it is! Why oh why did that seem like a good idea? I am told the chap once took the starter motor off his daily commuter so had to bump start his GS1000 every time he went to work. This may make him a legend or more likely an idiot. At least he spent some money on the right bits and they were all still there when we got the bike. Sadly, the last owner was not so fastidious. By the time I took ownership the bike had the wrong fairing, a big scrape down the frame and the most bodged wiring loom this side of a 17 year olds TZR125 with added neon’s.
Now it’s a different bike. Every bit of the bike has been given some attention. I’m replacing some of the lightweight parts for more reliable materials, braced the frame, extended the tank, got hold of a kit copy airbox and superbike replica fairings. Rebuilt everything from the brake calipers to the motor. The shock has been reworked and the forks now hold zx10r cartridges (that I happened to have spare). It’s not going to be the fastest ZXR out there as I can’t afford to have it grenade itself but it’ll be no slouch. The idea is to have a reliable and quick bike, not a missile that could explode at any moment. The biggest headache so far though has been the carbs. After years on modern fuel injection (TZ250 aside) a bank of FCR’s seem very antiquated. I’ve stripped them, had them ultrasonic cleaned to remove years of crust and crud and rebuilt them with any new parts they needed.
When the day came to finally press the start button I assumed there would be niggles. I was right. The first problem was the wiring loom. Other than removing the alarm I’d left it alone as it’ll be having a new loom and CDI but I needed to get it running first. So, loom removed, all the unnecessary wiring removed, a few necessary wires repaired, worked out the neutral switch issue, linked out the clutch switch. Bingo, we have a spark. But no fuel pump. More checking, fuel pump relay is dead so linked it out. Now we have fuel pumping and sparks. Still no sign of life though. Squirting fuel straight into the inlets gets it to fire so must be a fuel supply issue. Carbs off for another check, bit of a fiddle. Carbs on. Choke full open. Press the button. WAAAARRRRRRRRRR, 8000rpm straight away. Let go of the choke, stall. That’ll be that run in then! So, it’ll start and rev on choke until the plugs get fouled up. It’s progress of sorts. Carbs off again and up two sizes on the pilot jets. Still no better. Maybe I’m missing something. Hours of research later and what I need is even bigger pilots. Carbs off again, bigger pilots and now we’re making progress as it finally ticks over. Doesn’t like taking throttle yet but now we’re in the ball park and adjusting the fuel screw makes loads of difference. Now ticks over and revs on throttle. Much rejoicing. It’s a long way from fully set up but it runs well enough to move onto the next step which is the new loom and CDI, there’s a Scitsu Temp gauge on the way too. Then all it’ll need is new discs, collect the paintwork from Apache Race paints, beg a Shorai battery from Carrot cycles, find a quick action throttle, get it dyno’d…. I’m going to need more money, where’s that buckwheat?