The Great Moped Racing Debate
February 15, 2011, 11:59 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Well racing season is coming up and the classic debate of what constitutes a “Moped” has arrived yet again. I warn you now, an essay lies ahead. I’ll mix in some pictures to keep you entertained.

From the beginning, there was strong animosity towards Derbi. Many thought that the derbi was essentially cheating or too easy to build, and really not quite a moped. I find this argument really quite silly, and I’ll explain why. The 2009 Polini Cup did leave many maintaining this view after Jeff won nearly every race on his Variant Sport. In turn, for the 2010 season, Jimmy and Tony both built some really intense bikes based off of the Derbi platform. At the same time others pushed the boundries, like Dean with his wild VX4 and Tommy with his monster Pug build. The first few races confirmed many fears with both Derbi’s dominating on the track, but interestingly enough, with all the crazy tech implemented, these bikes had slower lap times than Jeff did the previous season.

The first 2 years of moped racing did much to evolve the tuning and attitudes towards performance than had been seen the previous few. Old threads on MA show people talking (in 2007) about how they hit 60 but they were scared to hold it and so on. Sure there were outliers like Colby and Shaw down in LA who had been known for their skill in building, but in general most advancements were cautious and had to do with the availability of new parts and adapting parts to work in new applications (say the malossi reed block on a puch polini with a PHBG: instant speed increases).

2009 was a direct contrast. I personally was quite inspired when I saw the BFA Motomatic Derbi/Metra/Demm monster. It was a beast and I wanted one, so I got a derbi. So did Tom, and we both worked to get our Gila’s on there. This process has not been without challenges. After getting my bike (and Tom his) on the track for the first few races problems arose immediately. Mine seized several times. Tom seized a stock crank. We both bent cranks, and he even sheared one. For the time, we had to do many things now seen as commonplace in building: custom fitting pipes, installing forks not meant for the frame, custom intakes, porting, relocating studs, etc.

Really though, what we were doing was nothing. Tommy built an insane Hobbit which had several iterations through the season. Based on much of Peter’s testing in GR, Tommy got the dio block on there and a fat carb and went really fast. Jimmy built a Pug that was initially just that, but also quickly changed. Dean built his Ciao (maybe not specifically for racing, but still DAMN fast). As Jeff won, everyone evolved. Tommy dropped the Athena and put a derbi crank in his hobbit cases and added an 80 metra. Jimmy (with Nate of course) put the derbi 70 kit on his malossi cases, and they built a custom rear variating clutch pulley. Also Tony was fine tuning his Hobbit/Grande/Derbi beast. Each race saw improved lap times and faster and faster bikes, and all gave Jeff a run for his money. Yet still Jeff managed to win, making much fewer changes to his bike, such as changing pipes, adding reed blocks, and I’m sure working magic inside the cylinder. 77 was there all along, working up ways to go fast, first with a fast moby and a faster rider (Elliot). They built their e5 which changed many thoughts. Elliot came close to winning and showed that you could build something totally random and go damn fast. The season ended and much stayed the same results wise. Jeff managed to win just about all the races, but both Jimmy and Tommy were close, and Dean and Tony were nearby as well. Regardless, the innovation in just a series of months was intense. With so many custom builds, people wanted to get even crazier, and they did.

2010 started with both Jimmy and Tony (and the rest of Motomatic) building the 2 super derbis. Both are nearly identical with the 70cc metra, pp derbi cranks (for a 43mm stroke), custom pipes, everything lightened, custom reed blocks and so on. Dean built his VX4 with its jackshaft and dual dual pulleys. Tommy built a mykitech pug. Tony’s Hobbit/Grande was also further tuned and back out there. The first race was cut short due to rain, but the results were instantly apparent. These Derbi monsters were fast, but so was the Pug and the VX4 minus the practice crash. The second race put them all together, and it was close. All the innovations got the bikes nearly equally competitive and the racing was intense (and much faster than the scooters, which were beat in the Twist ‘n Go class beginning in 2009). Still there was a shift in thinking.

Many, myself included, were a bit bummed that racing had become something so intense, where actually competing required either money or great expertise. We tried to combat this from late in 2009 with the Puch Polini class, and now with the ~GR1 moby/pug class. Regardless, the same issues remain. The Puch polini class was certainly competitive from the get go, but there was still a clear divide in bikes. The same people were winning in that class, not because of much crazier bikes (as was essentially banned), but because of better riding and tuning skills. It sounds obvious, but its the truth. There are probably 50+ kitted puch polinis in SF alone, but all are not equal. The porting, clutch tuning, carb tuning, ignition timing, pipes, and so on create a huge spread in speeds. Some might do 35 while others are pushing 65+.

The same will ring true this season with the ~GR1 class. Sure there will be more limitations on the build to make it more affordable to the masses, but the best tuners and riders will still be out in front. Mopeds are such finicky little machines, and those who are determined to push every last drop of power from their 50cc motors will do just that. The casual rider who wants to get on the track probably will not. The racing will be close, but there will still be a fairly large divide between bikes.

So after reading all this you are probably wondering what I’m trying to say. It comes down to this: moped racing is about determined individuals. The particular powerplant is not what is relevant in our endeavors to create competitive racing, but those involved. Whether or not a motor (yes I am talking about revolution motors) is within the “spirit” of mopeds is irrelevant. The builder of any bike starts with a dream. They’ve seen photos or videos of bikes and they either want to build something like it, or something even better. In the racing world, people are going to do anything and everything possible to build exactly what they think will win. This choice is based on many factors, say simplicity, previous knowledge, or just some random attraction to a particular powerplant. With vague rules (which I think maximize progression) people are going to do whatever possible to find any advantage. Unless we start regulating down to the dimensions of port windows, we will never have perfect competition. Racing is about pushing yourself and technology, and both require special people who want to do just that.

If we want to get people involved we simply need to get them on the track. I remember seeing Travis’ initial fear of going out on the track at the Polini cup, but after one lap you could see the excitement in his eyes. Not everyone will respond the same way, but the attraction to racing is difficult to build through rules, instead it needs to be through the experience. Racing is about having fun!

I want to add something. Although limiting the class based on certain builds is cool in that it can eventually build more competition, but there is a flaw. This does not address those who already have a build they’d like to take to the track. Suppose someone built a rad a35 with a gila and some ktm clutches (or not). They laid out several hundred bucks, and now they are in a pickle. The open class certainly allows for them to race (although maybe not finish at the top), but the restricted class means their bike is essentially blocked. Many of us focused on the how fast the fast bikes went, but there was still a very even divide, and battles throughout the pack. I recall racing my hardest against latebird Nik, who was on a fully built tomos while I was riding Tom’s derbi. Not all bikes are tuned to the max, and with qualifying and what not, they get grouped appropriately.

Finally, narrowing entry to a particular build is going to deter potential racers. I like the idea in participating in a restricted class (because it is fun), but its not an end all. We don’t all know the ins and outs of every build (and sure learning is fun), but we shouldn’t close someone out because they need to go buy a pug and everything associated with one.

So with all this, if you have a bike and are considering racing, please do. Don’t be turned off by particular rules or classes. I believe you should show up if you have just about anything, as long as its not going to lose parts going through the track.


14 Comments so far
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amen! that was a great writeup, it’s all about having fun on the track. really hoping something happens in the midwest this year. i’m going to post this too my blog.

Comment by gabe bandit

[…] put together a really well thought out post about moped racing, the progression it’s taken over the last couple years, and what the core of it is all about. […]

Pingback by moped racing: thoughts from zack « MAGNUM DASH!

while i agree with pretty much everything said, the major problems is this – there are not that many people into racing mopeds.
and now california is split into north and south, and thus dividing the racers there are in two.
a strict class will get new kids excited to come play, as they, in theory, have as much of a chance to place well as someone who has been at it for years, and it’s not going to cost them a ton of money or a crazy bike to do so.

a cheap, restricted class may not be the end all, there is no such thing here, but it’s a step in the right direction to get more people stoked on racing and on the track.

the open class allows for those who already have crazy bikes (or even a stock bike if they just want a taste of the experience) to race, and i still say the open will have a lot more bikes than the gr1 class to start off with for that reason.

racing is about fun, but it’s not very fun if you don’t have someone to race. you speak back to the days of lots of kids on the track, you vs nik, but those days are long over, man. you saw how it was last season, hardly anyone one there.. and it got worse and worse every race.

the last race, the straw that broke the polini camel back, there was two polini bikes and one open class bike. the vx4 was finally FAST and i had no one to pit it against. los dorados spoo and chris paz were the polini bikes, and as you mentioned in your essay, there is so much going on in a puch polini that paz was a full half a lap in front of spoo by the end of the race. we were pretty much watching them ride around the track, not race.

this new class was engineered to level the playing field, for real. yes, it will exclude people who already have bikes built or are working on something crazy, but the option is theirs as to whether they run in the open, or start over on a french bike (i sacrificed vx4 to build a gr1 bike).
at least the gr1 bike will cost them way less to build than a competitive open class bike.

also, as you know, both classes will be on the track at the same time, for now at least. we will all be racing together, even if not “officially”.

Comment by terrydean

Lots of good insight here in this post. I just wanted to add that sanctioned moped racing began in 2004 in the midwest, and many similar growing pains were experienced. Other less formal groups go back to the 60’s & 70’s… Much of the tech we take for granted nowadays was ‘proven’ back in 2004-2006, when a 21mm carb was “too big” and an Athena E50 could win the series. The polini cup pushed things forward in a similar way, the biggest benefit being a crop of capable tuners & racers.

Comment by Columbus Josh

Terry I understand completely what you are saying. I likely didn’t help keep the cup around, but even still the 2nd to last race where Rufus, Rafter, Alan, and myself were on the track for the polini race was amazing. I didn’t make that last race and still am disappointed that was the case.

I think my main point is that we need to get more people on the track, but I am not sure how to do this. I guess we need to find out exactly what deter people. I am sure for many it is the cost (of racing and building the bike), and others may be intimidated by the now steep learning curve.

I really want the GR1 class to work out, but I am skeptical that it will be an instant success. I can only speculate there are a number of potentially interested racers, but without any sort of guarantee that the class will exist long term, most are going to be hesitant to dump the cash on a new build.

I want a bunch of people to get into this, because the days with many on the track were awesome, and I know most of us would like to see that happen again.

Comment by zack

cost is probably the largest factor. that’s why i think the gr1 class is about as good as it’s going to get. not only is the bike relatively cheap to build, but if the racing thing DOES take a dump again, you’re not stuck with a crazy derby or vx4 that you can’t do anything with. put lights and a clutch on your gr1 bike and you have a super fast and reliable street bike.

keeping the gr1 class “unofficial” and racing on the track at the same time as the open will help keep the track full with mopeds, but i think people are going to start getting bummed trying to chase jimmy down on his derbi and eventually turn to cheaper, safer and more fun bikes to race on. 50cc peugeots and mobys.

the puch polini class was fun because the bikes were all so similar, even though they were all drastically different from one another (which showed later on in the race as the field spread out). a class with more limitations on faster bikes than those puch puchs will be an even better version of what you and three other people got to experience.

this kind of class nearly takes away any steep learning curve too, as anyone who can build a fast bike to begin with should have no problem with something as simple as a french bike. the most complicated thing will be trying to figure out what variator weights and sprockets to run on which track. everything else is basic general two stroke tuning.

i don’t think any of us who have been working on putting this gr1 thing together are expecting it to be an instant success. in fact, i’ll be shocked if there are more than 3 or 4 of us out there on gr1 bikes come race day.

the only guarantee of there being any kind of moped racing at all in the future is if kids come out. the open class is there for everyone who still has relics from polini cup, or think they can keep up with those relics on their fast street bikes. the gr1 pseudo-class is there for the kids who want to see moped racing grow into something that somewhat resembles an actual sport, or who just want to race competitively.

Comment by terrydean

super good write up! gettin’ me stoked

Comment by gotspark

People don’t race mopeds because they don’t want to race mopeds. Many people say “I want to race” but they make no effort to race. They don’t acquire leathers, they don’t arrange travel, they don’t build a moped. If I saw racing as only worth doing if I had a chance to win, I wouldn’t race. Just riding around in circles on a track isn’t worth the effort it takes. It is the entire effort that goes into a weekend of work and fun that makes moped racing worthwhile. 5 or 6 of our races from the PNWSRA last year were in Oregon, and for every one, there was at least 3 racers from Seattle, some times 4 or 5. Those of us that wanted to race, made it a priority, and drove the 8 hours round trip a few times a month all summer. Moped racing is an exciting sport, and any event that gets a first time rider on the track in a fun environment is a block laid in the foundation of a better moped racing league.

Comment by Responsible Jon

first of all, great post. good to see the history (albeit brief) doccumented for the history books, so to speak.

as to encouraging new people to race, i would consider myself a pretty average ‘avid moped enthusiast’ who doesn’t make to races. and i’m not using being in the midwest as an excuse, because even when we did set up racing here, i didn’t make it happen.
first of all the cost, mopeds are cheap, even fast mopeds are cheap, but building a fast moped that can run safely and hard on a track is expensive. A set of hydro EBR’s.. a bare minimum for racing.. cost more than most of my mopeds. I bought a race suit, but got a sick deal on it that most people would never see, and there is no way i’d have the money to pay for added transportation expenses.
Also, having lots of options from rallies to gang rides, camping, etc. dillutes the energy because racing adds another weekend a month that you’ll be pissing off your girlfriend and not mowing the lawn.
I’m not sure if there is a way to change any of this, making it cheaper is just damn impossible, its already cheap as hell for what it is. Maybe running at smaller tracks, off hours, something like that. We are talking about trying to do some underground street racing just to get people in the competitive spirit, and if it sticks with our gang, moving it to a track.

Phil is right, its something people have to prioritize as a crew and individually. Get excited with some friends and keep that excitement hot. I think classed racing might be good for that because people will be more likely to share parts. Another idea would be to have a stock class, super slow and boring, but it would let people get out there without suits, brakes, suspension, all the real expensive stuff, and get a feel for the track.

perhaps over the next few years we’ll have enough interest to set official racing league rules after some growing pains.

Comment by Graham

hydro ebrs are most definitely not a minimum for racing. i did pretty well all first season on my ciao, most of the season it had blown out bravo forks (more like pogo sticks than any kind of actual suspension), and then some basic chrome ebrs for the last couple races.

i’ll be racing with hobbit forks on my gr1 bike to start off with.

Comment by terrydean

All this is wonderful.
All you crazy moped builders inspire me.

Comment by Steve

i do not condone street racing at all. but it is the most fun riding i have ever had. around here they do drag races on a half way finished main road, it is at 2 am it is nuts amount of fun however there are two draw backs it is dangerous and the cops know about our little shenanigans and shoo us off the road at 5 am on the dot every week your cops may not be so kind about the situation and throw u in jail. in summary it is a lot of fun but don’t do it in a first world country.

Comment by zeke

wow, good write up!

Comment by nitro

i read your whole post and it much informative. Thanks for telling all the history of moped racing. Your style of express is really nice.

Comment by james03x

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