Dragbike.com Project Bike: Brandi’s GSX-R750
Dragbike.com Project Bike: GSXR 750 – Part 1
For years my drag racing experience consisted of crewing for Tim Schaefer and a local group of riders from the St. Louis area. I would do everything; help drive to the track, unload, help out on the bikes, make sandwiches, push the boys to the line, start them, and push them back. I would do this for Tim, our friends Mike Brewer and Jim Underhill, and what would sometimes seem like anyone else who came to the track without help. We would travel around running the old IDBA circuit and a few local events. I even got the IDBA’s “Sportsman Crewman of the Year” award in 2001. I miss those days!
Being around the track so much I wanted to race myself. My desire was further spurred when I would have a comment about how or what someone was doing and it would almost always be met by a snippy “What do you know? You don’t even race.” I wanted some respect, and there was only one way to do it.
Tim began looking for a bike and I enrolled in a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Class, having never ridden a motorcycle before. He found a ’96 Kawasaki EX500 from a local shop for $700 bucks. Tim put an air-shifter and shift light on in but the real problem was getting it lowered. I’m 5 foot 4 inches tall so even a small bike at stock height has me on tiptoes. The problem was there were no off-the-shelf lowering kits for the EX. Mike Brewer made me a set of custom dog bones and Jim Underhill called his buddy Dave Schnitz and pressured him into giving me a lowering strap for the front end. And because of that Dave has been tormenting me every day since.
I put on Tim’s old Vanson street jacket and I was hitting the track. I had as much determination as anyone with their first bike. I would go to the track whenever I could even if I had to go by myself. I ended up getting #5 in the points at Gateway even though technically I was tied for fourth. But I am not going to go into that!
Tim and Brewer were even using my bike to tinker on. And at the beginning of 2003 I was out of town for two weeks and they installed a used D&D exhaust on it. Why are they wasting their time? Oh, sure, gotta let that bad-ass EX500 breathe! The pipe made my bike sound like a Harley, but it did help me run some quicker times.
After two years on the EX500 I started to get the itch to move up to something quicker. Nothing brings out opinions of “experts” like a girl stating she wants a new bike. Everyone has their pick of what I should get, from a GS 1100 to a Hayabusa to a Super Comp bike like Tim’s. Can you believe my so-called ‘friends’ wanted to put me on a Busa! I was riding an EX500! I wasn’t mentally prepared to take on that much horsepower.
What I really wanted was a GSXR750 SRAD. Tim once owned one and I loved that bike. I thought it would be a good step up. It would certainly be a lot faster than the EX and I didn’t want a bike with bars. Everyone said ‘you have to move up to something you can put bars on’. You have no idea how many times I have said, “I don’t want bars.”
Dragbike.com partners Scott Valetti and Matt Polito knew I wanted to get a new bike and they came up with the idea of making it a project bike for the website. They would help me out getting parts and I would write about the experience of getting a stock bike and preparing it for the track. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I would just be happy finding something faster than I could afford, and I was willing to take anything safe!
As we were looking for a new ride for me I set out to get a custom set of leathers made. Debbie Knebel turned me on to Vanson Leathers, and since a lot of other racers I knew wore Vanson and liked them, I thought they would be a good choice for me. Debbie introduced me to Matt Silva of Vanson and we really hit it off. I told him I had a design concept but it might be complicated. He assured me that whatever design I came up with for my leathers they would be able to make it. So I sketched out the design, picked my colors, was measured at an event, and in less than three weeks my Leathers were ready and looked exactly like I had envisioned them. They fit great and I feel safe in them, which is really the most important thing. Vanson’s follow-up and Customer Service with my leathers have been incredible.
Shortly after getting my Leathers, I found my bike. And by coincidence, the bike matched my Leathers perfectly. Damn, I am a Lucky Girl. However you want to look at it, I found the bike I wanted, a 1998 Suzuki GSXR SRAD. Blue and white, just what I wanted!
The bike was located near Cincinnati which is about 5 hours from St Louis. Valetti assured us the bike was in pristine shape. So we cut the deal and made plans to pick it up.
This was going to happen just two weeks before the Prostar World Finals. At first, I wanted to get the bike and just wait until the next year to ride it because I was doing well on the EX500 and I was extremely nervous at riding this bike at a National event with so little seat time. But Tim and Scott assured me I would be fine riding it at the event and they hatched a plan to make it possible. Time was of the essence, so they both planned that the day I picked up the bike, they would make modifications and I would make my first laps in Cincinnati at Edgewater Raceway Park. It felt like a little bit much, and at times I thought I would vomit, but I went along with the plan. One of the conditions on getting this bike was that I had to race it at the last event. Although this made me extremely nervous, I put a smile on my face and said no problem.
When I first saw the bike it was just as I imagined and it was in absolutely perfect condition and bone stock. It looked like it was ridden off the showroom floor the day before. Scott made a joke that his friend Jeff would wax the bike before he would ride it and wax it again when he got back. It really didn’t look like he rode it at all.
Finally to the Modifications……
Phase 1 Modification’s
The first 8 hours I owned this bike it was complete chaos. We picked the bike up at 8am in Cincinnati and we took it over to Scott’s house to start making modifications to the bike so I could take it to Edgewater and test her out. The first thing Scott and Tim did was to install the MRE Air Shifter. (And you will notice that during this project I will actually do very little to this bike myself. That is what boys are for, opening jars, killing bugs, and taking care of my bike – let’s just leave it at that.)
MRE AIRSHIFTER – with MPS Electronic Engine Kill
I originally planned on taking the air-shifter off the old EX but Matt convinced me that a (like) new bike deserves a new air shifter. He got in touch with Jay Regan at MRE and the Air Shifter kit came just hours before we were getting ready to leave for Cincinnati. And this is not just an air-shifter; it’s The Original Air-Shifter!
The MRE Air shifter came with easy to understand directions for installing it. It comes complete with all the needed hardware and is ready to install. However, if you want to fill the bottle up in the staging lanes you will need an on-board air compressor, which you can pick up at your local Wal-Mart for about $12.00 bucks.
From watching the boys struggle I suggest you decided where all the components will be placed before beginning the installation project. This way you can check and make sure your wires are long enough and all the components will fit. We mounted the air bottle and MPS box under the rear seat, air shifter on the frame above the shift lever and air gauge at the steering head.
The first step is to take the air box off to get to coils, to connect the MPS Engine Kill to the coils. You should actually solder the lines for a more permanent and reliable connection. The MPS Engine Kill essentially triggers the engine to kill for a fraction of a second while the transmission is shifting.
We choose the steering head for the placement of the air gauge, to easily monitor the pressure in the tank. I wanted this in a very visible spot because on test and tune days I like to make pass after pass, and it’s essential for me to quickly know the pressure is right.
Next we had to pick a location to mount the actual air shifter. In a perfect world, I would have used the JDM air shifter bracket that is an add-on accessory to the kit, but due to time constraints (and the boys just not willing to wait), we decided to just drill a hole in the frame to mount the shifter. It killed me that I owned this bike for just a few hours and already the boys were drilling holes in it. Actually it was harder on Tim because he was the one holding the drill. He must have asked me 5 times if I was sure I was okay with him drilling into my frame. The shifter should be installed at a 90-degree angle to the shift lever and out of the way of your foot.
Once the air shifter and air gauge were in place, we mapped out the best path to run the wires. The MRE kit comes with an ample amount of wire so I am sure there is enough for any application.
At this point it helps to have the Manual for your bike handy to help determine which color wires do what on your bike. I also suggest taking the time to labeling all wires and connectors you remove from the bike so when you go back to connecting them you don’t grab the wrong ones, this is a very easy thing to do – not that they did it or anything. You think you can remember but a few bad jokes by Valetti and a few minutes later it’s all a blur.
We wired the air shifter to the bike’s horn. You could wire it to a switch so that you could still use your horn for street riding, but we opted not to do this because this bike will only be used for racing. Plus when adding unnecessary devices, you are only increasing your risk of causing problems. Living with a sportsman racer, you quickly learn that simple wiring is better! The less wires, the less chance of something not working.
After finishing up all the wiring and soldering and double-checking the connections, we reinstalled the air box and started putting everything back together. Soon it was time to test her out and she worked perfectly on the first try. Now that’s talent! After the air shifter was installed Tim tested the compressor out and that baby worked like a charm. We hit the switch and the bottled filled up fast! I was impressed and pretty excited. And I have to say, getting more nervous by the minute, because it meant we were closer to leaving for the track.
I will mention that we were in a hurry with this project, but we plan to go back in prior to Gainesville to modify the air shifter set-up. In order to make our system more bullet-proof, we decided to add an additional inline T-fitting between the air tank and the on-board compressor that will allow us to pressurize the air tank from a compressed air source in case the on-board compressor should fail. It’s a cheap and easy change, and it will give me peace of mind.
After the air shifter was installed and working, we installed a Schnitz Racing Kill Switch to the handlebar. You must have one of these on your bike at all NHRA racetracks. It’s basically a switch that will shut off the engine if you come off the bike. I don’t like to think about it but it’s an important safety feature and we had to get it done before going to the track. I have never raced at Edgewater so I knew they would be checking my bike over thoroughly and we wanted to make sure that nothing got in the way of my first pass.
After this we moved on to lowering the bike, this was necessary because I could not touch the ground in the bikes stock position.
Luckily Scott had some GSX-R1000 lowering links lying around so we threw those on the bike. Even with those on the bike, it still felt a little too high for me. The front end already had 2″ lowering blocks but it needs to be lowered a little more. So we pushed the forks through the triple tree about an inch. To do this we had to temporarily take out the brace for the windscreen. And this was a temporary fix because the bike will NOT pass Prostar tech with the triple tree moved more than an inch…even if I whine to Brian Chambers.
Tim pulled the bike out of the garage and took it for a ride, and rode it straight into the trailer and tied it down. That’s right girls and boys; I wasn’t even given an opportunity to ride this bike before taking it to the track. Needless to say, I felt like I was going to be sick the whole ride to the track. I hardly even sat on the bike since the lowering links were installed. We got the track late; the first round was in the staging lanes. I suited up while the boys unload the bike and warmed her up. I sit on the bike and was on my tip-toes, I could not push the bike around by myself because it was still too tall. But there was nothing that could be done at this point, I was only going to get three runs on the bike and if I didn’t get my ass tech’d in and in the lanes, I was only going to get two passes. So I follow Valetti up to the tech area, and got tech’d in without problems. I rode up to the staging lanes and put my helmet on.
I was on the bike for less than 5 minutes when I rolled into the water the box. Scared as hell I brought the RPM up to only about 4000 and launched the bike real soft and made my first pass, with an elapsed time in the 13-second zone. I know some of you are laughing about this, but consider the fact that I was coming from an EX500 that I only rode for two years, to this ‘short wheelbase loves to wheelie’ 750, that I could barely keep in the upright position. I did not feel comfortable doing anything crazy on the first pass.
After this pass, Scott and Tim determined I could not ride this bike properly without lowering it more. So they pushed the front forks through a little more, adjusted the lowering links and I was able to get better footing. We had to take a hacksaw to the kickstand so that it would not fall over. I made two more passes improving to a 12.40 – still not impressive considering my fastest pass on the EX500 was a 12.28. I remember shaking for a while after the run – I had never felt power like that before, but you can bet I had a big stupid grin on my face after every pass. And the local racers at Edgewater were extremely nice to me and very encouraging, thanks Boys!
After getting her home we were able to make a few more modifications before we had to get ready for Gainesville.
If you’re gonna take the time to install an air shifter, you should install a shift light. Especially if you are going to be bracket racing all the time like I am. I want to be consistent and a shift light is a sure-fire way to get there. We pulled the shift light off my EX500 and mounted it to the 750. Matt got pissed at me for that one because he wanted to get me a new one. But TOO BAD SOO SAD! First, we had to make a bracket to mount the light, which didn’t take long. Tim installed the shift light directly in the center of the console, it is the easiest to mount there plus it puts the light right in the line of sight so I can’t miss it. Now, do you need shift light – hell no, Tim used to whoop-ass on his old street bikes shifting by looking at the tach. But my theory is why would I want to do that if I don’t have to? If you’re going to bracket race, get a shift light, it’s worth every penny. As you can see in the picture I have something over the top of my shift light. That is to eliminate glare for those times when the sun is behind you. My local track is St. Louis so it’s common for the light to be behind me.
As you know, the best way to get a stock bike to perform at its peak on a drag strip is to give it the correct gearing. We were able to make one test and tune session at my local track before the final race and we quickly realized that this bike needed re-gearing because it was falling on its face out of the hole. And to be sure it wasn’t just my riding error, I had Tim ride it to be sure the problem wasn’t in my wrists. After a ‘boy’ confirmed that the bike bogging off the line wasn’t the fault of the girl. I called up Sprocket Specialists and got them to overnight me a new sprocket for the front, one tooth smaller. And if you didn’t know – one tooth down in the front is like going up three teeth in the back. We choose to replace the front because the sprockets are cheaper and you don’t have to get a longer chain.
We decided that before we headed to the AMA/PROSTAR World Finals to have the seat cut down so that I could get better footing. Tim took the seat to a local Upholstery shop and showed them how much to take out. It made a big difference and I feel a lot better with more of my feet touching the ground. This was a cheap Modification at $30.00 and the seat still looks good. But the bike still needs to be lowered more, the boys think it is lowered enough, but I want that bike to be on the ground. Of course, I will always take into consideration the Prostar two-inch ground clearance rule – (Hi Brian)
The first time I was able to take this bike out for competition was to the AMA/Prostar World Finals. I was a little nervous not being really comfortable on the bike and running the biggest event of the season. I made as many passes as I could on Thursday’s test and tune session. I would have made more but my shoes, which I ran with all year, were suddenly deemed illegal and I had to go to Target to get some new ones. GRRRRR.
I was not riding to the best of the bike’s ability because I was really nervous about the new found power I had in the bike, and I didn’t want to make myself look like an ass on the starting line. I blew away my old record of a 12.28 and quickly got into the 10-second range at 130 mph. I tried to be consistent and I think I did a pretty good job, running between 10.70 and 10.60. My best pass for the weekend was a 10.572 at 133.65 mph with a 1.799 60’ time. Not impressive, but all my passes were safe and straight.
I would say for the weekend as a whole I did pretty well. I went a few rounds in the rescheduled MRE event and the World Finals and didn’t do anything stupid off the line. I can see now that riding technique becomes so much more important as the power increases. One of the major modifications we are planning before the first race is an extended swing-arm. I can’t wait to make more modifications and get back to the track this year.
Stay tuned as we aim for the 9-second barrier! I am so scared ;o)
Photos By Dragbikephotos.com
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