Track Bike Builder part 2: Taking Control
How controlling are you? I don’t mean in your relationship, silly, but with your bike. See, if you’re not in control, you’re the one being controlled and that often means you’ll spend a lot of your time in the gravel trap… or your lap times are so slow they’re best counted by a sundial. Motorcycles are feisty things, constantly challenging physics in more ways than you can shake a stick at, while delivering a pace so ferocious they can make cornered lions seem cute. The point is, with contemporary production bike horsepower figures through the roof, controlling such towering outputs is no mean feat, despite whatever hi-tech gadgetry you’ve got littering your dash. So the question is, how do you take control of a nigh-on-200bhp, fire-breathing, will-hurt-you-if-it-can, motorcycle? That’s the question we’re set to tackle with this issue’s episode of our track bike builder project, but just to recap in case you’ve been living under a rock and missed the inaugural part of our GSX-R1000 track bike build, last issue we placed the Suzuki on a strict diet and managed to lose 29kg in weight with the help of some sexy components and a load of expert insight from the boys at Hawk Racing. Shedding weight from every imaginable extremity, and binning a load of road-focused gubbings while we were at it, the Gixer was transformed from a 202kg bruiser into a sleek and sexy size eight, weighing in at just 173kg and sporting an off-the-peg output of 186bhp. Take a second to digest those figures. People get all heady when they see a supercar with a 1kg-1bhp value, like a Bugati, Lambo, or one of those similarly-minded millionaire’s playthings, but that kind of power-to-weight is not far off what this base model Suzuki was in its showroom guise… before we ramped its ratio up to 1.07bhp-to-kilogram. And that’s before we’ve even looked at the Gixer’s engine, or fettled with its fuelling.
Having less weight and more power is unequivocally great but, without wishing to sound like a cheesy car showroom salesman, it’s true that ‘power is nothing without control’. You’ve got to be able to capitalise on energy, especially on a bike like this where their natural habitats are track shaped. I know from experience that a bad handling bike is bad news, dangerous and could cause you a few breaks and bruises along the way. While I’ve got a bit of a thing for nurses in uniform, I can’t say I’m much of a fan of hospital food. Needless to say, I’ve looked at the most imaginable ways of getting the Suzuki’s act in order, to make it more obedient than a Crufts-winning Labrador, and lither than a leopard. It goes without saying that the most obvious method to improving the way a stock bike handles is to change its suspension. To be fair, we live in an age where most decent road bikes come kitted with trackday-friendly pogos, but when you’re really wanting to clock on and smash your PBs, even the best road-going products fall short of the mark. Typically, the stock damping and springs struggle to cope under the strain, or the budget oil is too quick to overheat… the end result of either won’t float your boat. So what should you be fitting? That’s a pretty subjective question, which comes down to what your bike is, how capable a rider you are and what you’re wanting to achieve. I’m sure Rossi would sell his M1’s units if you took him enough suitcases full of money, but for most trackday riders and club racers alike, a race-spec cartridge kit and performance rear shock are more than up to the challenge. Being truthful, there are a number of different brands out there, some better known, some lesser, some more pioneering, some more household. The point is that you’ll find plenty of options if you look to upgrade your stock products, just as I did when scouting for the Suzuki. I settled for Italian brand Mupo, based on the sheer innovation of the product, and having seen first-hand how it transformed my brother’s race bike last season. On price, spec and support, it ticked all my boxes, and having been offered free tea and biscuits at their base in Bradford while the products were fitted, I needed no further encouragement to get my derrière over there.
Springing into action
Sure enough, whether I fancied a cup of tea was the first point of conversation on arrival at Mupo UK’s head office, being greeted by the beaming boss man, Dave Croft… who pointed to where the kettle was. Brewed up and buzzing, it was time to get the Suzuki on its stands and to whip its forks from within. Knowing all along that I was going to upgrade my bike’s suspension, it made no sense to opt for the higher spec and costlier GSX-R1000R, which comes fitted with fancy BFF forks, with the only real detriment being the stock Gixer’s shorter leg length; for ground clearance and simple adjustability of ride height, longer legs would have been better. The standard fitments came with 120mm of travel, which Dave said would be improved when we fitted the 30mm Mupo K911. These were the same units my brother had fitted, along with many other national level riders, and a whole load of Italian Superbike and Stock riders who’ve dominated their domestic championships. They’re innovative units, with their USP being their ability to alter the spring weight between 9-11Nm, using a simple, hassle-free system. If you know the price of individual springs, or the typical ball-ache of replacing them, you’ll know why I warmed so much to this concept, which looked so simple to operate, even Carl could manage it.
The stripping down of the bike’s fork legs was a revealing exercise. Armed with every tool under the sun, Dave made the process look easy, while being keen to point out at every chance the rudimental design of the stock items. Being a suspension connoisseur and an engineer by trade, the criticisms kept flowing, and I began to see his point when we encountered the plastic-type compression damping adjuster at the bottom of the fork leg, which looked like it came out of a Christmas cracker… and one of the cheap ones, at that.
With the Mupo unit slotted into the stanchion, and everything done up nice and tight, 5-weight fork oil was added into the mix. Dave manually bled the fluid into all the unit’s cavities, ensuring any unwanted air was discarded, before setting the air gap to 190mm. He drew out any excess oil with a measured syringe, before repeating the priming and drawing process three times, guaranteeing that the air gap was definitely the figure that we wanted it to be. After telling me how fat I was, all that was left was to set the spring adjuster to 10.5Nm, wind the fork cap on and set the preload to 5mm. In not a lot of time, the first leg was completed, with an improved travel of 132mm. This meant that the length of the leg had also been extended by 12mm, giving me the improved ground clearance and adjustability I was after. Happy days! An hour later and the second leg had been kitted and fitted, ready to be bolted back into the freestanding Gixer. As was the Mupo AB1 Factory rear shock, which took just two bolts and ten minutes to fit. As with any new suspension, the proof of the pudding won’t be experienced until I’m actually out on track with the bike, but seeing the quality of the product and getting a grasp of how it operates, sure gave me a load of confidence. Not to mention the fact I know Dave’s always available on the blower if I need advice.
Getting to grips
With the new pogos in place, my focus then turned to bettering the rest of the package. In anticipation of the forks being re-inserted, I’d already traded the stock, fixed position handlebars for adjustable clip-ons. It might seem a little gimmicky, but clip-ons are a huge asset in the fight for control. For starters, they give you the adjustability to position the ’bars at your preferred angle, better accommodating your body and, in my case, with the clip-ons nearly flat in line with the top yoke, offering better leverage to pull the bike around. My advice would be to buy units with pre-marked references, like these Renthal options, as this means you’ll always achieve the same angle on the ’bars, should you ever have to replace or remove them from the bike. I also binned off the standard levers with my preference being to fit Evotech Performance’s brilliant folding options. In many respects, the items aren’t dissimilar, not weighing much less or looking much different, but the fact they fold means they’re more likely to withstand a crash, simply lifting up when they contact the ground.
The other thing I like about them is the six-stage adjustability of span, which is so much easier to access and alter on these jubblies. Last, but certainly not least, I also changed the grips for Renthal’s medium compound options, which might seem like a minor detail, but when you’re racing in the wet, or you’re fatigued in a race, the last thing you want to be struggling with is gripping the ’bars.
At the polar opposite end of your anatomy are your feet, and they also need a worthy place to perch. Rearsets come in all shapes and sizes, fundamentally offering greater ground clearance levels, to stop the pegs from decking out. If you invest in some top-dollar beauties like the Bonamici I’ve fitted, you’ll be able to fettle until the cows come home. I was pleasantly surprised at the range these had on tap, allowing for the rearsets to be raised or lowered by three positions, as well as moved forward or rearward by three locations. The toe pegs on either side (brake and gear change) can be moved closer or nearer to the footpeg, to better suit the size of your wellies, and they even facilitate a simpler than simple system, which means you can quickly and effortlessly switch between road shift or race shift, by locating the shift rod on either side of the pivot mount. How good is that!?
Suits you, sir!
On any track bike, getting the ergonomics to suit you often makes a huge difference. No one wants to feel cramped and achy, or unable to utilise your limbs efficiently to get the bike doing what you’re asking it to, so getting the ancillaries set to perfection is essential with any track build. To make that point possible, that meant it was finally time to fit my Crowe Performance fibreglass fairings, and to get this motorcycle looking like a race bike. I could’ve gone down the double-bubble route, but I already had the stock screen to hand and I didn’t want to release any more moths from my wallet. Plus, the standard screen is decent in size, plenty tough and easy to come across cheap on Fleebay. Maybe I’ll regret that a few races down the road, but it ticked the box for now, so was quickly mounted into place on the top fairing, before that panel was in turn mounted to the standard front subframe. With access to the underside of the bottom yoke still available, I took the chance to fit my Mupo AM1 steering damper, which is gas charged and velocity dependant, meaning it comes to life more according to the ferociousness of a tank-slapper. I’ve ridden the stock Suzuki plenty enough times to know that the standard, electronically governed unit is not a lot of cop. While you’re at it, it’s worth fitting Yoshimura’s steering lock system, which does exactly what it says on the tin, limiting the range of steering and meaning that slappers can’t be as wide or as brutal.
Back to the fairings, a good point about the CP bodywork is they have all the stock fairing mount nodules visible, so it takes the guessing out of where to drill. It meant that in next to no time, unlike on many fairings I’ve fitted before, the bike was fully dressed and sporting a new tank cover, with a pre-bored recess so I could still access my Bonamici tank cap. The seat unit was the last piece to place, slotting over the rear subframe and mounting firmly on to the CP kit’s saddle bracketry, which raises the seat height by 30mm and gives you a more relaxed knee angle. Last but not least, I added a custom-cut Cool Covers saddle into the mix, which is made from a bespoke nylon matrix material. If you’re familiar with track bikes, you’ll know you’re lucky if your seat even comes with a piece of foam to straddle, like these did, which is great for feel, but not so good for comfort. Considering me and the Gixer are staring down the barrel of a whole load of endurance races this year, including No Limit’s 10-hour Anglesey jobby, I figured there could be room in the build for a bit of luxury. That’s exactly what this cover has to offer, as well as improved grip in the rain. It’s only 8mm thick, so it’s still far less chunky than the stock seat and it’s far cheaper to buy than a lot of the high-end items you see on superbikes. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a guinea pig with this product, so I’ll let you know how it turns out in due course, but for now, and with the saddle in place, it meant I could finally climb on board the Suzuki and try it out for size. It felt roomy, comfortable and a good starting point for my first track outing, which isn’t too many weeks away. Sure enough, I’ll no doubt have the spanners out on that test to finely alter the ergonomics, or tweak away at the Mupo suspension to get it working how I want it, but the point is that I didn’t have this opportunity before this part of the build, and it’s a fundamental step to making your bike handle how you want it and feel like it’s your own.
What’s next, you might be wondering? Well, we’re off to the Crowe Performance dyno to get this Suzuki fuelled the way we want, and we’re upgrading the stock electronics with some Woolich Racing goodness while we’re at it, so stay tuned to see how that pans out.
Words: Bruce Wilson