Several years ago I had a realization that led me to discard my Honda XR100 as a training vehicle. I was beginning to race Rusty Bigley’s Spondon TZ750, a machine that weighs 330 pounds and makes 140 hp in an overwhelming two-stroke rush that brightens your day, widens your eyes, and could bloody your body.
Conversely, my ex-Freddie-Spencer-school XR100 was diametrically opposite of the TZ, and I don’t mean just acceleration. The drum brakes had no feel or power, especially compared to the dated but still exemplary Honda Superbike-kit Brembos on Bigley’s Spondon. Yes, I’ve bloodied my body on an XR100 over the years, but not because I was overwhelmed by its performance.
At the Spencer school, we would all slide around on XR100s (and then CRF150Fs) for a half day during our three-day programs. Instructor Jeff Haney of Ascot/Team Honda fame made us all dirt-track racers for a day, and our belief was that dirt-bike training does many great things for all street riders. We messed with the simple equation of lean angle versus grip and had a gas in wide-open gravel parking lots. The XRs were eager and forgiving partners.
But the Spondon isn’t ridden in wide-open parking lots and no TZ750 in history has been described with the word “forgiving” if it was being raced in the manner Yamahaand Kenny Roberts intended. And that was my realization: The XR100 was making me sloppy. The Spondon would punish sloppy.
In this case, “sloppy” means the pace at which I was using the controls. Because the XR makes so little power, I could go to full throttle in the blink of an eye; just snap it open. The brakes were so bad I could hammer them, front and rear, with no thought of linearity, loading, or squeezing. “Snap” and “hammer”…not verbs that equate to longevity aboard the bike I was planning to race.
So what had previously been thought of as my top-shelf motocross bike became my training bike: my ’09 YZ250 two-stroke. The XR was the vehicle to knock the cobwebs off before a school or race, but it’s been replaced by the YZ. Note here: I am not a skilled, experienced, talented, gifted, or good dirt bike rider! I ride in full protective gear and use it often! The 250 constantly overwhelms my brain with its powerful engine and brakes…exactly what I need when an AHRMA race is the next weekend. The Spondon is overwhelming at times, and now my training bike is too.
If you struggle on your racebike or trackbike, rethink what you’re training on. Smaller, slower training bikes will do wonders for your riding, but at some point you may need a training bike that rushes you into the corner with real velocity and has enough braking power to demand linear control. For some of my friends and students, this updated training bike was the missing ingredient in their racing and trackday performance.
For me, racing the Spondon TZ750 isn’t just about pure riding techniques and approaches; it’s also about panic management. My YZ250 stroker has me working on this issue every ride! My old XR100 with tired engine and (poorly maintained) drum brakes just can’t provide much panic.
There are groups out there who know much more about something I truly believe in: dirt bike training for all riders. Groups like Cornerspin/Cornerspeed, Colin Edwards’ Texas Tornado Boot Camp, American Supercamp, MotoVentures, Rich Oliver’s Mystery School; get with them and see how much these programs will improve your comfort, feel, and overall riding skills. And when you get home, get the training bike that best matches your program.