Saturday, April 16th 2016
Yep I said mini-bikes.
This was actually my first experience with racing bikes and first experience on a race track of sorts with a bike.
It sounds strange but you look at the mini bikes and you think… no, that doesn’t count.
But I can assure you they do.
And the reason being, that they behave and handle exactly the same as actual racing bikes, you’ve got to use all the same techniques and everything.
Anyway, so when Adrien told the BBM racing group (a WeChat / Chinese social media app) that he’d be doing a mini-bike session and that he wanted to know who was interested, both my friend Louis and I both jumped at the chance.
Also we were directed to a little video that was made before.
View it here:
The idea was to use it as a precursor to see what the actual racing bikes might be like, because since meeting Adrien and seeing his Blackbridge workshop, we both had it firmly cemented in our minds that one day we’d do this, and hopefully we could do it together – we’re both beginners when it comes to racing bikes, but of course would like to have a go.
So this opportunity was actually the perfect setting to have a little go to see if the whole racing bike thing was the thing for us.
And trust me, it was!
The track, the go-kart track was down near Tongzhou
If you want to find it using some other map, for example on your phone, type in : Xin gang ka ding che, 新港卡丁车 and look at the Beijing option in Tongzhou 通州。
So I first drove down from my place in Taiyanggong 太阳宫， to get to my friend’s Louis’ place in Shuangjing and then we drove from there.
Essentially because while I have my license, my bike was still going through the process of being plated, and conversely his bike （a Benelli 300） is registered, yet he doesn’t have a license.
So yep, I drove his bike and he sat on the back, holding the suit that I had borrowed from Adrien in a huge plastic bag.
I swear his bike is the perfect bike for Beijing, a little heavy for a 300cc, however it looks good, it can carry 2 people with ease, it can go safely 140, and its reasonably comfortable with a good riding position. Honestly if people needed a bike for Beijing, i would point them towards that particular one.
Anyway, we took one of the toll roads and followed the GPS, really convenient, I think we were cruising at between 100 & 110, and then once you get off at the exit you realise that you’re quickly in the middle of nowhere and it’s like a Chinese farmers town, but still technically in Beijing.
This is actually where the Beijing government will be moving most of its offices to. Well Tongzhou at least, not this place specifically.
Anyway, we realised we were a bit early, thanks to Louis’ planning, because if it was up to be we’d be at least 30 mins late.
And so stopped on the side of the road for a Baozi breakfast.
Awesome, and really set us up for the day.
Anyway, we arrived, and we were the first of the group at the track, even beating Adrien (the instructor) there, although the people setting up the bikes were already there revving them up and making sure everything was working. So we had a chance to take a few pictures before everyone else arrived.
Aren’t they cute?
Anyway, then Adrien and his friend Vincent arrived, as well as a married couple that usually do motocross – Josh & his wife Xiao. And we all went around the track, asking questions about what we expect and at the same time checking that the track was nice and smooth.
Adrien was also able to point out Apexes to show when show be the point where you’re most leaned into a corner.
Good to have this knowledge before we started.
Then everyone else arrived in dribs and drabs, it turns out everyone went out the night before to some extent, just Louis and I apparently kept it toned down a bit because we were so much looking forward to the day ahead.
Of all the people there were maybe 6 people that had done it before, so they had their own race-suits and everything. There was one guy, Jiang chen 姜晨 who had recently bought the new Aprilia 125 and wanted to try it out at the track.
Look how big it is, as compared to the mini-bikes.
I have to say, lovely group of people. Everyone there was there simply because they loved motorbikes and riding and perhaps wanted to try out one more avenue of that experience- mini-biking.
So there were no questions from any of the people about ‘what do you do for a living?’ then, judgement. Or, ‘how long have you been in Beijing?’ then, judgement.
It was just, ‘you like motorbikes, yeah me too’
‘Yeah, I tried something like this down in Zhuhai’
‘oh yeah, how was it?’
And just generally sharing motorbike driving experiences.
It was refreshing not to have any judgements, any preconceived thoughts from people, it was just motorbikes are awesome, let’s talk about how well we did on the track.
Which is great.
So anyway, I was using one of Monty’s old suits a Taichi suit that had a small patch held together with gaffer tape. Hahahah that’s great.
I actually fixed a surfboard once with gaffer tape, so I’m pretty sure it would hold.
(Louis with his suit)
(Louis & Brendan)
Monty actually races with Adrien when the company Boer sponsored them.
So got into the suits, and then got onto the bikes, and as soon as we did we realised – wow these things are really small.
(Myself with Jiangchen 姜晨 figuring out how to sit on the bikes)
I was thinking to myself that I would be too tall to drive this thing, and then when we had to drive them to the pit-lane area a couple of the guys in front of me were struggling to even balance on it, and everyone’s feet were dragging on the ground and I thought ‘ehhh, we’re all in the same boat, I’m sure it’ll be fine’
Plus as well, if you fall, you’re so low to the ground that you haven’t really got so far to fall anyway…so all it’s good.
(Russell, a NZ guy getting himself sorted)
(Brendan, obviously already comfortable on the bike he chose out)
So we parked the bikes in the pit lane and then Adrien went through the track with us on a little piece of paper. He pointed out the Apexes and the lines that we should take.
He didn’t tell us which gear we should be in, he just let us figure that out for ourselves.
Most people didn’t ask questions, but what I wanted to know was the braking ratio.
Turns out its ALL front brake. Zero back brake. Which was convenient because once I got my right foot onto the right peg, I actually couldn’t reach the back brake lever even if I wanted to. I would actually have to life my leg up, and then stomp on the pedal…and I guess it would have been disastrous.
（the picture is a bit unclear, but you can see the cramped riding position)
Plus your arms are literally resting on your legs, you’re just so cramped, so it would mean that you would have to move your arm up, to lift your leg up to stomp on the rear brake.
So anyway that was that, and the reason why I say it’s the same as real racing bikes, is that this is exactly the same. You hardly, if at all use your rear brake on full on race-bikes. It all front brake, that’s why they have double discs and double pads up the front.
So anyway, after that we were off.
So like all these things you first go out with the pro, he’s at the front and everyone is just literally trying to drive the bike properly。
It was so, so difficult to just drive this bike. I could hear people behind me going… ‘ah what the fuck? Why is this so….arrghhh Oh my god, oh my god’
Haahaha I was muttering much of this as well. I got to say it was incredibly difficult.
So yep follow the leader- Adrien as he points out the Apexes and shows you the general line. You do two laps like this and then he’s gone. At which point you’re figuring it out for yourself.
You quickly get confidence though. Especially when there’s people in front of you that have done it before and are whizzing past you. You’re like ‘that looks easy, I’m sure I can do that too’
So the whole idea of the training, is that you’re taught a little bit, then you go out and try, you ask some questions, get corrected, learn better techniques and then go out and try to improve the riding.
To be honest I’ve never had so much fun.
If you are to ask Adrien earnestly for help, and ask reasonable questions, he is more than willing to guide you and show you and help you improve your riding.
Don’t forget everything on the mini-bikes is the same as REAL racing bikes…albeit obviously smaller, so the leaning, the braking, the MOTO_GP style gearbox where you press down to change up a gear and click up to change down a gear, (opposite of road bikes) is all the same.
So asking questions about how to lean, lines to take, counter-steering, braking points, and even gears to be in or when to change are all valuable lessons to take with you to the proper racetrack for next time.
Its honestly so much fun.
I put my Drift Ghost S camera on my helmet at one point to film what it’s like, to see what I see. I will try to post that up soon, once I’ve got through the other important videos that I need to get done.
Here’s a picture of me preparing to go out though.
They organise lunch at the track, but because the local Mc Donalds was closed for renovation or something we all got donkey sandwiches for lunch.
And then some of the guys had a chat about past and future experiences as some took a nap in the pit areas.
And then in the afternoon, back out to try again.
Generally, as I did, you’ll find someone that is more or less the same level as you, and then you’ll stick with them and have a mini-competition of trying to overtake them etc. For me this was a guy called Josh that normally rides motocross.
It was great, we had a couple of lessons together, and were zooming around the track a lot faster than before and getting all the right lines and everything in no time.
A couple of people crashed, Brendan crashed somehow on turn 3 before the hairpin…for which he injured his shoulder a bit; I fell over on the hairpin because the bike wouldn’t let me change down a gear and I just stalled and fell over; Monty had a low-side on one of the corners because he was pushing it too much or something. （Monty is a seasoned racer, so him pushing it…is really pushing it）
And I also had a low-side on the hairpin corner. Hahah there was a crowd of local Chinese people that came to watch the foreigners zoom around the track at the time, and the hairpin corner was quite close to where they were standing and observing.
Basically I was leaning too much and pushing it too much. I didn’t understand enough about getting your bum off the seat at the time, and really shifting your body weight out, so the bike can stay as upright and as planted as possible. So the bike hit its limit of grip for that corner and as there was too much weight on the right hand side, the bike and me fell to the ground and we slid out on the corner.
It was actually rather fun. The leather suit protects you completely. I only fell about half a meter, and the bike slid into the dirt, and I slid behind it across the track and also into the dirt, kind of on my back / on my side, with my right glove grinding on the asphalt and me kind of looking and appreciating the whole scene as it unfolded around me.
I kind of wanted to let out a ‘whheee’ as I slid on the ground.
A low-side by the way is exactly that, you lean too much, the bike’s tyres lose contact and you just slide along-side your bike, sliding on the frame and the fairing panels into the dirt / wherever you were heading.
A high-side is the like a low-side but much more dangerous, because the bike begins to go down…so you’ve already lost control, and then it grips again and effectively throws your off the bike, over the top of it. This is where you start to get broken bones from the impact and everything.
So good thing it was a low-side, however on hairpin corners it usually is.
Anyway after sliding into the grass, I just picked my bike back up, dusted some grass off it, and then a guy came out to help me start it again….its terribly difficult to kick-start it for some reason, especially when you’re wearing all the gear, which restricts your movement anyway….And then I was off again.
When I got back to the pits after the session, everyone was like ‘Oh my god, you crashed… you shouldn’t push it so hard, you should drive more like *this’ or whatever.
It was only Adrien (the instructor) that said, ‘no david, that’s actually a good thing. You slid out because you were testing the limits of the bike, and now you know them. It’s a good thing you did this on the mini-bikes because it’s good to learn it here instead of out the real race-bikes on a proper race-track’
He then proceeded to teach me how to get my bum off the seat and the importance of keeping the bike upright to some extent whilst still being able to lean out.
He actually praised me afterwards, saying ‘you were the only beginner that was really pushing the bike, and testing what you and the bike could do together, that is good to see’
I was quite proud of myself for that. Secret praise from the instructor. Very nice.
Anyway, it was that and I guess some other reasons that allowed me to be placed on the 1 litre bike instead of the 600cc bikes when I went to Ordos for the track-weekend sometime later.
I was the one he felt could handle the 1 litre bike (a Suzuki GSXR-1000) because I was willing to push it, and I had already learnt from my past mistakes which hopefully meant I was going to be more responsible and faster out on the real track.
After the day… we were exhausted. We got a few memorable photos of us all together on the little bikes, and all found our way home.
(Louis, Adrien and myself after the big day)
We stayed in contact with a lot of the guys that day, and in fact Josh and his wife Xiao were 2 of the people that joined us for our Ordos track weekend.
(Josh & Xiao both riding together at Ordos in June 2016)
（Josh helping out Xiao on the track, so nice)
It was a insanely great day out, and great to meet such a nice group of people that all come together for the reason that they all love bikes.
I can assure you that I slept well that night, but the next day, even though my body was exhausted I took my American colleague, that was visiting from the US out for a trip to the great wall, where we climbed up and down and drank beer… a very busy, intense, but amazing weekend!