Why is it that however much planning you put into something, and however many hours you work on it, stuff is only ever ready at the last frikkin' minute?! Please - tell me that it's not just me...
Well, it was close to not being ready, but we got there. At 3:51am on the 3rd July, as I pushed the garage door open to discover the first strains of morning light on the day we were leaving for Spa, I could for the first time say that my Katana was no longer a collection of parts but a motorbike. I took my 3 hours sleep with warm satisfaction and disbelief.
Something that took a year to make, shouldn't be finished 6 hours before you leave for the event should it?! Actually, being honest, it wasn't totally finished, but it was for the first time a functional motorcycle. I'd left some of the simpler jobs for tinkering with in the garage at Spa, stuff like locating the electrical bits and bobs in the undertrays - if the worst comes to the worst, there's always duct tape and cable ties for shit like that I thought.
So here's a run through of the last few weeks on countdown, and how things came together.
With 4 weeks left
Paint - KAS Racepaint in Kettering took care of turning my design into paint. Although it was a simple design it had some subtleties that needed doing the right way. I’ve never used KAS before, although they came highly recommended from a few folk I know.
When I went to pick the paint up, I can see why – if I’d been even a hint more dog, I’d have been standing in a puddle of my own excitement when I saw the paint. Oh boy – it’s bloody beautiful!
Thanks go to Paul from KAS and the team there for making short work of the job – way better than I expected, and honestly, almost too good to race!
Paul from KAS and I share a tender moment as his artistry is revealed - the paint is beautiful
I had been popping over to Derek's regularly to throw my usual cocktail of humour, support, panic and changes of plan into the mix, most of which were received with cake, coffee and comforting words.
With just 3 days to go before we left, my last visit was to pick up the Kat and take it away, whatever was still needed was down to me. Just a few days before this, it hadn't been looking promising...
Derek is the kind of bloke that isn't ever going to let anyone down without a bloody good reason. The week before I was due to pick the Kat up, he'd been struck down with something which expanded one of his legs to at least twice it's usual size. I saw it, and I tell you now, I wouldn't have wanted to take a single step on it. Yet I found him standing at a lathe making bits for my motorbike. I offered a few words which redirected his attention onto getting better himself and away from allowing my arbitrary deadline to get in the way of his recuperation.
Seriously, there are things more important than bloody motorbikes going around in circles, and it seemed only one of us knew that before our conversation started.
Being as tough as old boots, although he eventually nodded agreement with my sentiment, I don't think it changed a thing when I wasn't there. Although I'd let him know in no uncertain terms to take his foot off the pedal and get better, all the jobs I'd needed him to get done had been nailed when I came to pick the bike up. That's the actions of a great guy right there. And to Derek, I hope the leg is finally getting better now I've removed my neediness from your life mate!
Brake Caliper adapters
Stage 2 of adapter manufacture - they fit, they work - but Derek wasn't happy until...
...They were finished with a little "pocketing" - taking material from the middle, which is aesthetically pleasing and of course lighter too.
Rearset - right side
The right hand rearset had to deal with the rear master cylinder mounting - the angles on the frame meant this was a tough job - Derek's solution allows for different plates to be added for different M/C's if needed. Nice.
Exhaust hanger / Right Hand rearset
Exhaust hanger added at the last minute (after we realised there could be no new link pipe as the silencer wouldn't come off the link pipe we had), and of course, the rearset plate was pocketed.
Note the eccentric pedal adjuster bobbin - drilled and fixed with an off centre hole, to get the lever in just the right place requires no more than undoing the retaining bolt and spinning the eccentric adjuster. Clever lot these engineers!
The Yoshimura pipe that I'd welded into my stylistic dreams for this bike turned out to be a pain in the ass - the link pipe and end can have become inseparable - like really inseparable. That meant the hanging tab on the link pipe which needed relocating to be mounted on the footrest plate wasn't going anywhere, and we had to have a difficult last minute rethink about the whole mounting regime.
Eventually a stunningly simple idea of Derek's to share the rear master cylinder mounts with a new plate overcame the problem with some ease. The result is temporary but functional and not so unattractive that it's in my bad books either.
Rearset - left side
The left hand rearset plate is made to be the same as the right (see the holes used for the M/C plate on the other side?) Carrying a spare that fits both sides is good for endurance racing. Clever.
Oil Cooler bracket
A simple L-shaped bracket bolted to the frame, some seat foam, 5 x V2 Sponges skewered with a Satay stick and 4 cable ties. Thats how to mount an Oil Cooler when you're up against it!
The whole idea is to not mount the cooler rigidly - sitting it on seat foam at the bottom, then pulling it up to the frame against the row of skewered V2 Sponges with cable ties, all allow the cooler a bit of flex. Mounting these too rigidly means they could fracture - Paul Boulton used rubber bands to do the job on Factory Suzukis as long ago as the 80's after cracking oil cooler problems reared their head.
The V2 Sponges are great for the job of cushioning the back of the cooler, as they're made from open cell foam and are only 2% material by volume. Thus they allow the hot air to pass through them and create some flow through the cooler.
Derek also changed the hose routing away from the header pipes, originally running through the downpipe area, the hoses were moved to the outside for a run to the cooler that was well away from the excessive heat source of the downpipes.
The day before we leave for Spa
Brakes need bleeding, tyres need fitting, and it was supposed to go on the dyno...
So I dropped the bike to MSG Racing in Aylesbury for a last minute Dyno test and a few other bits and bobs - logistically the Dyno run which was always going to be a late night affair turned into something that was impossible to get done. If we always leave things to the last minute, thats what happens. Nobodies fault, just the way it is.
What did get done though was the shitty job of bleeding the rear brake, fitting a new Z-Ring chain (lower friction coefficient than either an O or X ring item, apparently) and changing the tyres... on which subject
I used to race on Avon AM22/23’s back in the early 1990’s, I remember liking them a lot more than any of the other stuff I tried at the time. Being a nostalgic old fool I liked the idea of using them on the big Kat. Today they come in modern compounds and also in the perfect size for the Katana’s GSX-R Slabside wheels: 110/80-18 front and 150/70-18 rear.
The other Classic racers I’ve spoken to rubber stamp the positives in using AM22/23’s – if it rains (it’s Spa, it probably will) these tyres are the daddies. Remember, no wets, no warmers, you run the same tyres on the bike whatever the weather.
The night before we leave for Spa
Fixing the seat
Recycling at it's best...
So, we needed a way to get the seat on and off reasonably quickly, but at around 1am in the morning the night before we left, my ideas for sprung loaded bobbins with split pins had to be abandoned in favour of something more achievable.
Lo and behold, what I came up with is a design that is so usable, it may well stay for good.
I never throw shit away, it's always got a future in my book. Finding that the cylinder head bolts and studs from my GSX1100 engine fitted onto the OE Katana seat bolts and lengthened them to a point I could drill the undertray and use them to fix the seat was a moment of deep joy.
Although the picture shows 2 studs, I eventually settled for just one. To get the length correct, with just the right amount of stud showing through the hole I drilled in the seat undertray, I made a small plate that connected the 2 OE seat bolts, with a hole in between them. Into this hole I fixed the long cylinder head stud by tightening a nut onto it's thread on either side of the plate.
The exposed thread that poked out underneath the undertray was now perfect for holding the seat in place; neither too short to get a nut onto, nor too long as to be unsightly or in the way.
It's quick enough, secure enough and it uses original Suzuki parts; whats not to like?!
Fixing the bodywork
Graphics added, fairing drilled, and my other current #117 looks on.
The fairing had developed a problem, an unavoidable one it seems. The plastics I'm using are from Low Pressure Mouldings in Coventry, who make a range of replica Katana stuff in proper plastic, not fibreglass. Well, the fairing is a big chunk of material, and being a Katana, is a very odd shape indeed.
When this went into the low-bake oven at KAS racepaint, what came out was a slightly different shape to the one that went in. Now, it'd be easy to get the hump and start throwing shit about, but really, this is just the way it is this time - everybody took care in what they did, nobody expected it to happen and the end result is by no means irredeemable. But - it did mean some time with a fan heater and common sense was needed to get the fairing back in alignment.
On the plus side, it eventually fitted easily, and plastic is a lot easier to drill than fibreglass. I'm dead happy with the way all the push located parts fit together too - the lugs which push into rubber locators are very strong and as long as you coat the mounts in red rubber grease, they pull out easily too.
I have one small residual issue with the headlamp aperture, which still is slightly skewiff, but really - If I hadn't told you, you wouldn't have noticed. Making me wonder why I did tell you? Oh well, honesty is the best policy.
The screen took a while to get perfectly right, it's only 4 holes, but the way the screen braces align is a little twisted. I'm happy to say I drilled 4 holes, and used all 4 holes. I only had to make one of them a little wider. For me, this is good!
Fixing the headlamp
A reasonably simple job, but the Katana headlamp bracket and the aftermarket clear lensed unit I bought weren't ever meant to work together, so a small metal bracket needed fabricating to give the top mount on the headlamp somewhere to screw into.
20 minutes with a hacksaw, drill and some slotted zinc joining bar saw the job nailed. I'd like to do something better in the long run, but to get a headlamp on the bike for now - perfect.
The business owns this Katana, and yet it's name appears nowhere on the bike - well, I'm being pretty purist about the whole thing at the moment and have reserved just the space on the number boards for sponsorship - so I made these in my favourite retro 70's-80's font.
Buggered if I can fix them on permanently yet though - at the moment, every picture you see with these plates on will be a cocktail of duct tape, velcro and magic!
If only they'd stick on the seat easily...
I don't want to drill the into seat and screw them, but who knows? I may have to. Watch this space, as I know I really like the plates and want them on the bike full time.
Interestingly the materials used have a bit of Suzuki heritage too - the plastic baseplate was bought to make display plates for the Suzuki cruiser range at the 2007 NEC bike show, so nice to see them being used to do a little work with the brand they were originally intended for!
it's gone 1 in the morning, I've been up since 5:30 am the day before, having driven 160 miles to coach at Donington, done 200 miles on track and then another 50 miles to pick the bike up from MSG - still 3 hours left - I may be knackered but deep inside, I knew the magic was happening - we were about to have a motorbike for the first time.
I approached the last night on a job by job basis. I picked a job and finished it. If I felt like it, I'd pick up another one. My phone battery ran out at 00:34, and it felt like I had worked for maybe an hour after that.
When I finally got to the bedroom, it was showing 03:51. We were leaving for Spa at 10. I decided to get up at 7 and pack!
Next up - The morning after the night before. I see this Katana off the bench and all dressed up for the first time.