Guest post from Build. Train. Race rider, Nean Kiskela. You can read her first blog post here
So I finished my Royal Enfield INT650 flat track bike build. Not without running into some issues, but ain’t that how custom builds go? Time and money was my biggest constraint on this project. Without the advice and parts coming from my sponsors at Royal Enfield, S&S, RaceTech/Z Moto Suspension, Johnson Engineering, and Maxima, among a few others, I don’t know how I could have even got close to finishing it on time.
Besides an array of parts suddenly becoming hot unobtainium due to the global pandemic, my main issue before completion was that I didn’t have a map for my newly acquired Power Commander sent to me from my sponsors at DynoJet. These bikes are new territory for many companies, and we (the builders) are kind of fumbling the way for any future custom performance builds. Without getting our hands on a map, we couldn’t get the bike to run right with it installed. It needed professional tuning if I was going to get it going. After many panicked and pleading phone calls to get the bike in to see a dyno doctor, I was told there would be no such luck at this short notice. I had to let go of the idea of using this little box of added horsepower right then. It got pulled off the bike and boxed back up. I’d have to ship it along with my bike in hopes that I could get it into a shop with a dynamometer before my first race in the American Flat Track Racing series in Chicago on May 28th. Sadly, it didn’t happen, but I’m happy to say an appointment is scheduled before our second race in Pennsylvania, which is coming up on July 24th.
Regardless of setbacks, I still technically completed the bike in the nick of time and was grateful to get a quick shakedown ride in. My friend Davin and I took it out to my buddy's dad's place with an old abandoned-ish, lopsided oval track in an overgrown field next to their more cared for and well-ridden motocross track. I lapped around that slickery grass oval as much as possible while also kicking down foliage, getting dust and grass seed stuck in the crooks of my shifter peg and anywhere else it could latch on. I also took turns handing the bike off to Davin and my best friend John to rip it around as well. They both helped me out a lot with the build, and I figured if anything were to fall apart on the bike, between our three collaborative brain powers, we'd have a good understanding as to why. I don't trust myself yet with a complete bike build. My confidence in knowing if anything felt wrong was very low, so having them in tow for the shakedown was vital to find any of the less obvious, sneaky gremlins that may have gotten past me. But after about 45 minutes of doing circles and increasing speed on the bumpy overgrown 'track', not without a grin of sweet relief or two, we all agreed the bike felt pretty darn good.
Then, almost immediately, it was time to load up the bike and get it shipped away. Dusty, grass seedy, and practically still warm, my bike was quickly on its way to being officially revealed at the Get On! Moto Fest in Texas the following weekend. It was specifically going to be featured in the Women's Motorcycle Show exhibit. I had to calm myself regarding the mess we had made of the bike before it had shipped, but Davin assured me it was way cooler that way. 'It's a go bike, not a show bike, Nean!' How fast the 'go' part was still TBD against my competition later on... and I got word that all of the other Build.Train.Race. girls' bikes were on their way to Texas as well. I would be joining them for the show and would finally be getting a look at what I'd be up against for our race season.
My bike made it to the show in Texas without a hitch. Out of the nine BTR ladies, eight made it there to show off their bikes. The only bike that was missing was Jillian Deschenes, who I believe was racing hers that weekend , plus she had already debuted her build the previous year being a BTR alumni. I had a quick weekend whirlwind of seeing the girls again, checking out their builds among the others at the show, and celebrating the completion of the Build part of the Build.Train.Race. program. Words can’t explain how awesome everyone’s bikes turned out. You can look for yourself here – https://buildtrainrace.com/flat-track-voting/
You can even vote for your favourite build at this link! By the way, don’t forget my name is Nean, and I’m #27. Insert hard *wink* here.
Race day cometh quickly; The following weekend it was time for me to leave Portland and reunite with my bike for its first race. I flew into Chicago on a Thursday evening, knowing it was called the Windy City, but had no idea how that windchill would cut me to my core throughout the weekend. My naive excitement to be there was at a high once I landed. The following day all of us, ladies of BTR, were scheduled to hit the Dirt Oval at Route 66 Raceway (aka Chicago Half-Mile or The Dirty "O") for our first official shakedown runs on our bikes. Plus, we entered our first race of the weekend in the AMA District 17 for that night.
My mind was reeling with anticipation for the following days' plans. Unfortunately, the weather was coming in quick with a big fat no. We had woken up that Friday morning to a forecast of blustery winds and dumping skies ahead.
On our drive to the track, just before noon, we were told the races for that day had been canceled. My sadness set in, but luckily Bree (the head of Royal Enfield Americas, Marketing, our Build.Train.Race. Program manager, goddess, and overall stoke provider) assured us this day would not be a total loss. We were all getting new tyres from our sponsors at Dunlop. She had 'em and was ready to have us meet up with our bikes that they had shipped to the track for us. We made our way there to get the Dunlop DT4 rubber on our bikes.
I don't know how you feel about it, but tire changes are a b*tch in my opinion. It has to be my least favourite bike maintenance grind, but I was relieved to hear the Royal Enfield mechanics would be there to help. We made it to the track, and everyone got to work. Once we beaded my new tyres, it was time to get the wheels back on the bike. A few of us were experiencing some snafu's with our bikes, so tensions began to run high. It didn't help that it was windy as hell and freezing by this point. People were starting to take notice that I was thoroughly chilled and shaking my way around my bike in the pit. One of the girls in our group, Jillian, brought me a blanket to wrap up inside. We all freezingly forged through the issues that arose, knowing we needed to hurry because the rain was imminent. All of the girls were hard at work on their bikes with the mechanics.
I was specifically working through the issue of my new fatter and thicker back tire rubbing up against the front of the swingarm, and my chain was out of any further adjustment to mitigate this. Then my custom-built brake hanger wasn't sitting correctly and was pulled up to the point of hitting the side of the swingarm. The little things seemed to go on and on. Luckily I had the help of mechanics, Erik and Kyle, who were assisting me with adjustments and gearing changes, a new, longer chain, and at one point, the grinder came out to trim the fat on my brake hanger. It may not be an ideal fix, but it's safe. Also, I think our imperfections make us beautiful, and my bike is chocked full of said beauties. Yet another hard *wink* goes here.
Saturday, I opened my eyes at the hotel to blue skies and restored excitement for actually getting out on the track and racing. All of us ladies made our way to the hotel lobby and ate our breakfast. Practically skipping out the door, we then made our way to the track. Once we got there, I saw we were pitted next to Shayna Texter. I wanted to go up to her and tell her how inspirational she is to me, how I think she’s a total badass, how I’m an inch shorter than her, and ask, 'What are your short girl flat track racing secrets, Shayna?!' but in my head that sounded psychotic and my nerves overcame me. I was afraid of coming off as some kooky fangirl. I also had fleeting thoughts of not being worthy of even being next to her. Call it shyness, the race day jitters, or whatever, but I have to say it was wild being amongst all of the pros.
If it hadn’t been for Sandriana Shipman [who we profiled in SB34] coming over and just hanging out with us, being her sweet self, but also cracking us all up with her jokes (she’s quite the comedian and helpful race tip provider), I don’t think I’d have had the nerve to ever say 'Hi' to her either. Not to mention when Riki Rachtman would make his way to our pits for interviews and several super pleasant conversations (he’s ridiculously nice!) I felt like I was drowning in idols. I mean, c’mon, if you didn’t watch him on MTV’s Headbangers Ball, you can’t sit with me.
Let's talk about the nervousness of our first race. I think each one of us ladies took a moment to talk to each other about being anxious, excited, and for some of us, nervous diarrhea (better than vomiting or no?), but we all went through something of the sort. I didn't seriously get the jitters until I put on my REV'IT race suit and heard the clank of my LightShoe hot shoe against the concrete while walking in the pits. It was game time. My friends in the paddocks were now officially becoming my competitors.
Shortly after the rider's meeting, we readied ourselves for our first Practice run on the track, which would, 'gulp', be televised. Despite being nervous, once we got out there, it felt like everything had melted away, and it was just me and the bike sweeping our way around. I placed fifth in Practice and felt pretty good about it. Before I knew it, it was on to Qualifying. I ended up getting p7 right behind my bud Malary Lee who told me she had put great effort into getting herself around me on that last qualifying lap.
Once back at the pits, there was scrambling to change gearing and whatnot. I was scrambling to wrap my head around what just happened out there. It felt like time was in warp speed now. It seemed like once I unzipped the top of my leathers, it was time to get zipped back up for our Semi race. Once out there, I noticed myself pass by Jaycee Jones, who was second for Qualifying. Her bike had an issue, and she wasn't able to make it through. I had come up from p7 in qualifying to now p5 in the semi and had high hopes I could maybe get myself on the box with all of the moxie I felt I had just exerted out there and knew I had a lot more in me to give.
Back in the pits, there were understandably some feelings of stress and haste, but somehow I felt like I was floating along. Even with gearing changes that I still needed to work out, I was mostly in my head in disbelief that there were all these cameras around, and we were all racing in the American Flat Track series. Floating back to reality, we had a new chain with my sprockets swapped out and ready for the main. Once we lined up on the track, the nerves hit again. This is it - the main event. 'Don't fall over at the start line. Just don't fall over at the starting line' kept repeating in my head, and then *DOH* I didn't fall over, but I sure as heck had rolled too far forward. There I was with my little body hustling to pull my bike backward. It felt like everyone took notice of my struggle to get the bike to budge backward. An official had to come to help me get my bike back on the line. The play-by-play commentator up in the press box at this point on TV announced, 'Look at how small she is!' Now I was sweaty and flustered but back in position. I had to get ready for that green light. It flashed! I flubbed to move and got myself off the line with kind of a puttering bum start.
Later on I would end up replaying that moment over and over again. In my head, damning myself for being slow off the line, circling as fast as I could for those six laps, it proved to be something from which I would not recover. I ended up back at p7 overall, which isn't too shabby. I feel like we all are still learning our bikes, our capabilities, and building our skill levels with every run, so I can't wait to see how we all progress and place throughout our upcoming races. Our podium finishers for this one were: 1. Jillian Deschenes, 2. Jaycee Jones, 3. Sarah Dixon. They are fast!
As I made my way off the track, I remember thinking hard about how one detail, such as my start, had affected my whole race. Six laps seem like not a lot of time once you’re out there. And now that I know that, my goal became to mindfully perfect my starts. Of course, being fast and smooth on the track is also a key ingredient, but in the forefront at the moment was my stumbling start. I made my way to the pits. I was working on getting out of my race suit and out of my head. The races were over, and firework explosions began popping off over the top of the dirt oval. I’m not a crier by any means, but I must admit that I took a moment, stood there in awe of everything that just went down that day, and an almost overwhelmed, but also overjoyed happy tear or two may or may not have surfaced. I’m not crying; YOU’RE CRYING!
Before heading home at the end of the weekend, Bree told me my bike had been one among a few others that were chosen to be featured on Bike Exif (what is this? MORE happy tears?! Who am I now?) I gotta go. I’ve gotta ride this high now.
Stay tuned for our next race featured in the American Flat Track Race series: July 24th at the Port Royal Half-Mile in Port Royal, PA.
If you’d like, you can also stay tuned to the Instagram accounts below to follow our journeys.
Photos courtesy of Tristan Afre (@the1dx) // Royal Enfield North America