Part 17. – The first ride – so whats it like Mister?

The potential for this bike to not behave itself on it’s first ever ride, was, how shall I put it?; Significant.

Anyway – here we were, on track, seeing what this beautiful mongrel of a Katana could muster by way of staying together and performing.

My head was multi-tasking.

The first ride, ever, really. This was it – it’s first ever session on track.
  • 40% test pilot – running through the systems and making sense of how they worked/didn’t work
  • 20% careful owner – DO NOT DROP IT!!!
  • 20% “which way does this track go”
  • 20% “F**k me – I’m riding the Katana!!!”

The problem with the build being so late was that we were rolling the dice without any clue as to what was going to happen. Nothing had been proven, in spite of all the care we’d applied to the build, as it was untested everything could have failed miserably.

Instead, the first ride was something I expressed at the time as “unremarkable”.

The worst part of the first run was balancing the engines need yet dislike for choke, it was still burning off oil from the assembly and keeping it happy whilst warming up was pretty consuming.

Once out on track though, with the choke turned off, the engine didn’t miss a beat. Even though only gently ridden, the performance was good. It pulls so strongly that revs are un-necessary, making it ideal for running in whilst still making good progress. It wasn’t the slowest thing on track even whilst running in. It ran cleanly barring a little fluffiness in the mid range, but for a first run – it was amazingly well set up.

For the first time I was able to check out what it was like ergonomically whilst on the move. It was more comfortable than expected with plenty of legroom and yet it wasn’t un-racy. The bars although looking quite low are supportive and not bad on the wrists, and I’m happy enough to say that it handled nimbly and solidly – in this gentle first session, I couldn’t fault the suspension at all and the feeling from the Avon AM22/23 tyres was confidence inspiring. Eau Rouge, Spa’s biggest challenge felt just perfect on our beautifully sprung Kat.

What is the Katana’s best feature? Well, I’m surprised to tell you that it was the braking, provided by the AP Lockheed Master cylinder and Deauville Brembo calipers. They stopped the 230Kg of Katana brilliantly. Hit the brakes and the forks dip a little accompanied by the audible clue that they’re working hard as they hiss when biting the discs. This bike, blighted by the rules into only having 2 piston calipers, has really effective brakes!

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

I’m impressed with the Dunlopad pads we bought for these calipers too. They came in a race compound and although they’re biting into stock ZX9R Kawasaki discs, which have a few road miles on them, they’re obviously a very good brake pad. British made too, which I think is great.

Given that the first time our Katana turned a wheel under it’s own power was on the way to the scrutineering bay this very morning, all of this was unexpected. But boy, it was very welcome.

Of course, nothing is ever perfect. But, the sum total of problems in the first session were limited to;

  • 2 exhaust nuts coming loose (I could hear a downpipe starting to blow)
  • there was a little oil blowing out of the overflow on the head – whoops! that’d mean we forgot to add a catch tank then…
  • the realisation that the clutch was too heavy to use effectively
  • the throttle action was also really heavy.

Once Steve had plumbed in a catch tank after emptying a can of Jupiler especially, it was clear that the hand controls were going to be the biggest issue.

Hand crafted by the man whose bike inspired the build, Steve Adams, specifically to address the lack of catch tank - over and above the call of duty, and being the only beer you can buy at Spa, the most poignant thing on the bike. Love this!
Hand crafted by the man whose bike inspired the build, Steve Adams, specifically to address the lack of catch tank. Jupiler is the only beer you can buy at Spa, making this the most poignant thing on the bike. Love it!

My hand ached at the strain of stopping the throttle from closing on most of the corners, and downshifts required a process slightly slower than sending the engine a postcard to tell it I wanted to go down a gear; the clutch was barely movable at the lever.

Brakes - firm, throttle - firmer!
Brakes – firm, throttle – firmer!

Happily, the clutch cable responded well to rerouting and more lubrication, but the throttle issue needs some bench time to make a small modification to the spring return – it’s apparently been done before by lots of other lightweights with delicate little office worker hands like me!

Even I don't know why I took it out in the pissing wet, but I'm glad I did - it rocks!
Even I don’t know why I took it out in the pissing wet, but I’m glad I did – it rocks!

Several more sessions over the weekend, and some in the wet, proved to me that this bike is good, really good. The niggle list didn’t grow much at all, the engine loosened up and the speeds grew until we were just behind those which I might consider ‘competitive’ – I made sure this bike was going home in one piece!

Wow, I finally had a bike. It worked and it worked well. Although it’s not finished, it is sort of finished – this year of the Kat has been capped off with just the right ending – a great weekend, a great ride around a legendary track and not to mention, a stunning Katana that’s exactly how I wanted her to be. With the help and inspiration of many brilliant people along the way (minus taking part in the race) I’d actually done what I set out to do. I’m more amazed than anyone at that!

But – just for a moment, share with me in celebration of the fact that there were no disasters. It felt like the repayment for trying to do things the right way had started.


Oh, the relief.