GP tracks, regional tracks, go-kart tracks… if I can get time off work, I’ll head to a racetrack somewhere and try for smooth lines and corner speed. There’s nothing unusual about that, except I do it on a learner-legal 125cc four-stroke.
Riders at track days are a curious breed. Some are genuinely fast and use ride days to hone their chops. Some are street riders looking for a taste of track action. Some are devoted to crazy haircuts and building an image.
I’m not sure where I fit it in among all those, and to be honest I don’t care all that much. I just love doing it. Seeing that ribbon of hotmix, free of oncoming traffic and speed limits, designed specifically to allow me to go as fast as I dare, sets my heart racing. And I discovered something else about track days.
As a youngster I used to pine for Friday nights when I’d load up the van with a dirt bike and drive to a race somewhere. I’d roll out my swag because I couldn’t afford a pub or a motel, get some sleep, and then flap around an enduro course or motocross circuit with all the other mad-keen C-graders, seriously trying to score a championship point (it never happened). Now, a few decades later, I’ve rediscovered that fizzing, bubbling thrill.
I’ve found that loading my GSX-R125 into the van and heading to Phillip Island, Eastern Creek, Morgan Park, Wakefield Park – or any other track I can get to – makes me feel young again. I normally tolerate travel with gritted teeth, but a road trip to a ride day and bunking down in the van with the bike? Mate! That’s living!
I’m like a Labrador eyeing off a tennis ball every time I see a track day on the calendar.
I did ride bigger sports bikes as a youngster, but I found it frustrating. What’s the point in having a bike capable of 250 km/h if you can only ride at the speed limit? And I’ve always believed if you couldn’t afford to throw a bike away, you couldn’t afford to race it.
The baby Gixxer solves the problem.
At around $4000 for a new, registered bike it’s not scary. And where a big bike used to destroy a rear tyre on a good day, the latest rear tyre on the GSX-R lasted six track days, including a run at the very abrasive Phillip Island.
I get the bike serviced by a pro after each ride and that costs $200, mostly in labour removing and replacing the fairing and lock-wiring and so forth, and that still makes for a cheap day. I know plenty would ask, “Why aren’t you doing the servicing yourself?” The answer is because I’m short of time and I want to know the bike’s in first-class condition every time I go to wring its neck.
With a 125 four-stroke, that’s every time it’s ridden. But being affordable is only part of what it’s all about.
The thing about the GSX-R125 is it looks, feels and behaves like a bigger sports bike. Handling is sensational, it comes stock with shift lights, clip-ons and ABS, and the riding position is aggressive without being serious to the point of discomfort.
Of course it’s still only a 125, but when it’s standing on its nose into turn two at Eastern Creek trying to make the apex or flipping from side to side down the hill at Luddenham the engine capacity doesn’t get a lot of consideration. Admittedly, the big tracks have their boring bits at such low speeds, but that’s all part of the mental discipline. On a bike as small as this one any loss of momentum anywhere will ruin a lap by a big margin.
We’re not talking tenths and hundredths of second. If I don’t scrunch down hard behind the screen the wind drag alone on a long straight can mean seconds lost and as much as 10 km/h shaved from the top speed.
Of course, cornering is what gets the adrenalin pumping, and the little Gixxer rewards bravery. Yes sir. Seeing the frowns on riders of big bikes as the 125 slips around the outside on a tight turn can leave a glow like a Phillip Island sunrise.
It doesn’t happen all that often, but that makes it even more special when it does.
What it’s all about
It’s not that the little Suzuki – or me – can do great lap times. Top speed is still only something like 130 km/h to 140 km/h depending on conditions and the track. But where street riders on bigger sports bikes tend to rely on straight-line snort for a good time, the baby Suzuki demands carrying corner speed to get any kind of result, and that’s the magic.
Where the street riders brake early and stand the bike upright approaching a turn, the only way to put a good lap together on a 125 four-stroke is to keep that throttle pinned and ride it hard and deep into corners. Flowing lines are the key.
Even at relatively low speeds, chucking a bike onto the edges of the tyres and daring yourself to keep that rear wheel driving while the front starts to creep sideways… it’s a sphincter-puckering experience, believe me, and something a lot of riders, understandably, don’t seem keen to do.
But the little Suzi loves it. Good tyres help a lot, but even so, the bike feels like that’s what it was made to do, and when I get it right it makes me feel like I was meant to do it too.
For anyone who loves riding, that feeling is the end of the world.
So there it is. It’s not glamorous and I’m still not scoring any championship points at races, but hoo-aah! I’m having a ball and loving riding as much as I ever did. I’m even excited about getting to and from rides again.
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