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Vintage Racing: In Praise of Racers

Racing improves the breed. Motorcycle manufacturers have appreciated the salience of this fact since the first motorized two-wheelers hit the road more than a century ago. Builders, would-be manufacturers and riders have since spent countless hours in the pursuit of speed, theorizing, designing and riding their way to the outer edges of performance. It’s a pursuit that has enhanced the capacity of just about every bike available today, because the lessons learned on the track — especially lessons that improve durability, reliability and safety — invariably find their way to the street.

It turns out the learning curve has a long tail. We’re still learning new lessons about our old bikes, and they’re still coming from the track, thanks to the active and growing interest in vintage motorcycle racing. Consider this: By the late Sixties, the average rider had given up — if they ever started — trying to figure out how to make a Honda CB160 run faster and longer. What was the point when you could go out and buy something faster right out of the box? That faster bike was made possible thanks to — you guessed it — racing, and today, thanks to vintage racing, we know more about making a CB160 go fast than we did 40 years ago.

And it’s not just CB160s, but CB350s, Moto Guzzi 850s, BMW /5s, the list goes on. Some people, like vintage racing new-comer Will Brint, race bikes we never thought we’d see wearing frame sliders. Will decided to test his competitive mettle on a 1979 Honda CBX, a leviathan on track or off. Racing the CBX in the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association’s Vintage Superbike Heavyweight class, Will’s proving we still have a lot to learn about how to make a big bike go fast and handle well. It helps that his dad, Bill Brent, has spent the last 10 years developing go-fast bits for Honda’s epic six. The force behind specialty shop TIMS CBX, Bill has spent the last three years teasing out more power and better handling from Will's big CBX, and this year Will has been putting Bill’s efforts to the test in AHRMA racing.

Watching Will and the other AHRMA racers during the AHRMA Vintage Motorcycle Classic at Road America this past June, we started thinking about the commitment in time, energy and money it takes to race a CBX — or any vintage bike. Like everything surrounding vintage bikes, passion fuels the desire: There’s sure as hell no real money in it, and you’re not going pro after winning a series, so what else can it be?

And the interest isn't limited to a particular part of the country. There are a host of vintage race clubs with activities in every major region of the U.S., including WERA, USCRA, OMRRA and WMRRA. AHRMA alone counts 4,000-plus members in its ranks, proof of vintage racing’s influence on the vintage scene.

Whether you know it or not, racing has shaped your landscape, influencing what and how you ride, whether it’s the newest Ducati Diavel or a 1972 BMW R75/5. Thinking about all of this prompted us to launch Racer Profile, a new column (see Vintage Motorcycle Racer Will Brint) where you’ll learn about the people who fill the grid at vintage races across the country. Racer Profile is a chance to shine a light on some of the unknown stars in our little galaxy, a chance to salute and honor some of the people — people like Will Brint and many more — who help keep our sport and hobby alive and well. — Richard Backus