When it comes to racing, we find that seat time is one of the best teachers around. But should you want to fill your mind in between races, you can't go wrong reading Keith Code's volumes of knowledge, specifically, A Twist of the Wrist, A Twist of the Wrist II and The Soft Science of RoadRacing Motorcycles. Good stuff. Around $20 from the California Superbike School at (800) 530-3350.
Suspension and Exhaust
If you're brand-spanking new, you won't need to ditch the stock stuff right away, as you'll reach the limits of your abilities well before you exceed your machine's. But then, an aftermarket exhaust is lighter and tucks in closer than the OE or "stock" can, and will boost power somewhat if you have the proper jetting. And after a few races, you'll see how the stock suspension was intended more for a comfy street ride than track duty. Your options for these are nearly unlimited-again, ask around the pits to see what the fast guys in your races are doing. Be sure to take the time to set your suspension properly-get a friend to help set your bike's sag. Our thanks to Two Brothers Racing (714/550-6070), Fox Racing Shox (408/269-9201), Race Tech Suspension (909/594-7755) and Factory Pro Tuning (800/869-0497) for taking pity on our little SV.
Most likely the priciest item on your "must have" list (unless somebody gives you one). Forget about picking up a brand-new YZF-R6 or anything else that'll be too fast and expensive for the budget-minded novice. When you visit your local track, look around the pits and see what bikes are running the "slower" (but no less competitive) classes. Kawasaki's EX500 is a great, cheap (we've seen good examples from around $2500) Lightweight Twins bike that's fast enough to learn from for a season or three. Suzuki's SV650 is another great starter bike-although its popularity might make used ones hard to find.
If you own a pickup truck or a van, great. If not, what did you do the last time you needed to move out of your apartment? Give U-Haul a call, or borrow a friend's hauler (heck, take him along). You'll need a truck ramp-if piecing together some two-by-fours won't cut it, try our pals at The Rampmaster (800/231-8999; www. rampmaster.com). Hint: Sleeping in your vehicle saves you loads on hotel rooms.
Preferably, one who knows more about racing than you, since he'll be able to help you race-prep and safety-wire your bike, set up suspension, swap tires, offer counsel, take lap times, and maybe even show you a faster way around the track. Invaluable. Besides, going solo to a race is never a good idea-if you crash, you're going to need someone to get in touch with your family, pack your gear, drive you home, etc. Not that you should be thinking about that....
...needs to be in good shape to face the rigors of the track (try some form of aerobic exercise at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week) and, come race day, be free of any drugs or alcohol. Even caffeine can compromise your concentration on the racetrack. Drinking lots of water is crucial, as dehydration could have deadly effects at speed. And while we find racing to be a great way to clear our heads of cobwebs and the stresses of daily living, you should be in top mental form, too-a wandering and distracted mind will only slow you down.
You need them. Preferably in pairs. Ponying up for the priciest, stickiest race rubber is not entirely necessary, especially if you're running a Middleweight Twins bike which will stick fine on less-expensive (and longer lasting) D.O.T. skins. (Our SV650 seems to prefer either Metzeler's race-compound Z3 or Bridgestone's BT56SS.) Ask around the pits to see what the guys in your classes prefer. Find a brand that gives you confidence and stick with it, since different tires can give your bike different handling characteristics. And always buy new-purchasing used "takeoffs" might be cheap, but racing on a used tire that has an unknown amount of life left can be a dodgy proposition.
Make enough friends at the races and you'll be able to beg, borrow or steal all you need, but eventually you'll probably want a toolbox full of your own stuff. At minimum, purchase a good quality ratchet set, torque wrench, some combination wrenches and hex keys; we've also found a measuring tape, duct tape, tire-pressure gauge and safety-wire pliers to be highly useful. A factory repair manual will tell you how to put your bike back together once you've used your tools to take it apart.