Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Supermoto brings its wild style of racing to Abbotsford

Truckloads of clay brought in to make the track a tough test

Ted Davis, Special to The Sun

The official history of Supermoto racing, or "supermotard," traces the sport to a crazy, late '70s idea to test the top riders in motorcycle road racing against the best in the world of offroad racing -- basically tarmac vs. dirt. This weekend, the Vancouver Supermoto competition in Abbotsford will demonstrate what it takes for both motorcycle and rider to excel in this wild, two-wheeled hybrid form of racing.

The "Superbiker" series of the early '80s roughly paralleled IROC (International Race of Champions) as a four-wheeled equivalent in concept, whereby top drivers from different disciplines fought it out to determine all-around supremacy. And like IROC, Superbikers had its day in the sun as a ratings leader on ABC Wide World of Sport, but was dropped by the network by 1985.

But while the series faded away in North America, the concept stuck around in Europe and gathered momentum in France. The French dubbed their sport "supermotard," and developed it around offroad motorcycles that have been adapted for racing on both a twisting, paved road course, and on a hilly, jump-inducing motocross-style dirt track.

Street tires, or sticky racing slicks -- as opposed to offroad "knobbies" -- are the most obvious tip-off that a motocross bike has been altered for supermoto battle. But the changes extend to include smaller, 17-inch road bike rims to allow the use of the wider racing rubber; alterations to stiffen the suspension and to lower the bike's centre of gravity; and stronger brakes to cope with the higher racing speeds on tarmac.

Supermotos can be expected to reach top speeds of about 160 km/h on the paved sections, and the gearing may also be adjusted to benefit those velocities, through changes to the chain and sprocket.

Even rider gear has a hybrid make-up, as racers may don full road racing leathers, but wear motocross style helmets, goggles and boots.

A favourite starting point for a supermotard project is the Honda CRF450X, a light, single cylinder, four-stroke offroad enduro that adapts well to the supermoto job description, says Mark Hrehorsky, owner of Vancouver Supermoto Ltd.

Another solid choice is Honda's XR650R, as is the Yamaha WR 250 and 450, plus Kawasaki's KLX450. Even the massively powerful CR500 two-stroke was a popular choice about15 years ago, says Hrehorsky, whose business is based on building supermotos for both track and street riding.

But some manufacturers are now making purpose-built supermoto bikes. Given that the sport got its start in Europe, many of those supermotard thoroughbreds are being made by the likes of Aprilia (the SXV 450 and 550), KTM (with its monster 950 Supermoto), Ducati (the new Hypermotard 1100), and even BMW, which offers a supermoto wheel kit to change the HP2 Enduro to a Supermotard model.

Once supermoto started catching on in the U.S., Suzuki jumped into the fray with the excellent DR-Z400 SM. With its lower retail price, the DR-Z supermoto helped open the sport to more people -- some of whom compete with the bike at races, and others who just enjoy it as a great tool for urban guerrilla riding.

A good selection of both Japanese and European supermotard machinery can be expected to gather this Sunday, July 8 at the Abbotsford Tradex for round two of the Vancouver Supermoto Race series. It is the highlight race of the short West Coast series, in that it doubles as a qualifier for entry to the NASMOTO (North American Supermoto) race in Long Beach, Calif., dubbed the "Duel at the Docks."

"We have brought in 130 truckloads of clay to build the course," says series promoter Gaston Morrison. He has overseen the construction of the race course on the tarmac in front to the Tradex trade show hall, adjacent to the Abbotsford International Airport.

The course adheres to the basic supermoto course formula of 70 per cent paved race course and 30 per cent dirt track -- including motocross-style table top jumps.

"We couldn't have made this happen without the cooperation of Tradex," said Morrison, referring to the willingness of the operators to let the course stay standing in between races.

The series has three more rounds after Sunday's race. These are: July 28, Sept. 1 and Sept. 2, all at the Tradex course. Qualifying for the Sunday race will be staged on Saturday evening, and admission to the race itself is $10, including parking. (www.UnitedRPM.com).

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