Becoming A Racer: By Matthew Neuberger
For as long as I can remember, I have been enthralled with everything “motorcycles.” Many of my earliest memories revolve around a love for all motors, but especially those bound to two wheels and a set of handlebars. Unfortunately, my family did not share in my enthusiasm. Understatement does not even begin to describe that last sentence. As long as I can remember loving motorcycles, I remember my family hating them more than anything. Can you blame them? We’ve all heard the worries, horror stories, and stereotypes. To many people, motorcycles are nothing more than unnecessary death machines. From the perspective of a parent, motorcycles are often seen to have no positive purpose or value; nothing could be further from the truth.
For those who have the bug, motorcycles can be the key to fulfillment, success, and general life happiness. If you love motorcycles, you understand that the ride is an addiction, a necessity. Racing, track days, any closed course competition, getting faster, and feeling the progression in my riding, took this addiction to a whole new level. Racing motorcycles effectively runs my whole life; it gives me drive, direction, purpose, and genuine happiness. Racing is my “why,” and this is my story.
I bought my first motorcycle on October 30th of 2014. While I had been dreaming about bikes forever and had already bought all my safety gear more than a year prior, it was a complete impulse buy. Scrolling through Craigslist at the climbing gym, I tossed a lowball offer at an already cheap 2001 CBR 600 F4i. The seller immediately agreed and waves of giddiness and fear rushed through me. I had never started a bike, much less ridden one, when the bike was dropped off at my college house in Boulder, Colorado. Like a kid on Christmas morning I sprinted inside, put on all of my gear and swung a leg over for the first time. I turned the key, kicked the bike down into gear, focused on the clutch lever, and immediately stalled in the driveway.
Within the first few weeks of attempting to teach myself to ride I dropped the bike no less than three times. In preparation for my MSF basic rider course, I spent three weeks puttering around my neighborhood at less than 35 mph, making a fool of myself, scaring myself, and trying to drill the basic muscle memory of riding a motorcycle into my head. Finally, in late November I had the opportunity to attend the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s beginner’s course. Two days later I passed and was awarded my motorcycle endorsement. To this day, I remember this as one of the happier moments of my life. I rushed home from the DMV and immediately swung a leg over to venture outside of my neighborhood onto actual streets for the first time. If there was still any doubt in my mind, it disappeared the moment I touched third gear. There was something about this machine; it was not only a means of transportation but also a means of happiness production. I was completely and hopelessly hooked.
I began riding every chance I got. The motorcycle consumed any and all free time. All of my other hobbies fell by the wayside; I instantly fell head over heels in love with everything “motorcycles.” I immediately discovered that my favorite part about riding was cornering the bike. Something about how bikes fall into corners; like a dance between asphalt, rubber, and rider. Leaned over, exposed to the outdoors, seemingly hovering and gliding across the ground. I spent about 15 hours a week ripping up and down the canyons for the first few months. I was learning to ride with as much seat time as I could fit in to my life, hours per day, every day; I was insatiable.
Four months later, I learned the hard way that the street is not the place to develop fast cornering skills. On my 20th birthday I woke up ready to have a bike day. All of my friends were gone for break so I decided to spend some quality time with Caroline (the F4i). I threw on a new mirror, cleaned and adjusted my chain, thoroughly washed the bike, and headed for the hills. Thirty minutes later I was upside down in a ditch, in a snow bank, on the side of Flagstaff road. I overcooked a hair-pin corner way up the road, went wide, and immediately lost the rear in the gravel and sent myself spinning into the snowy ditch. Luckily I hurt nothing but my pride and some bodywork. I waited on the side of the road for someone to help me pull the poor bike out and went home defeated. Little did I know, that crash would change the course of my life.
Not long after, I ventured out to IMI Motorsports Complex in Dacono, CO for the first time. I will always remember my first day there. After riding motorcycles for about five months, I went out on track on my old beater. My knee went down immediately first session on track and there was no going back. The feeling of touching the ground while still riding the bike will stay with me forever. However, it did not take long for me to learn that dragging knee means nothing; it has absolutely no bearing on how fast you can go. Nonetheless, in my head it was still a momentous day. I started hitting the track at IMI weekly, and began pushing myself to be faster at the expense of my body and my bike. After taking a tow truck home from the track, I decided it was time to replace the street bike with a dedicated track bike.
My first track bike was a 2003 Yamaha R6 that I found on craigslist not far from the track for under $1500. She was certainly not fast, but was a great starting platform, and one that forced me to really learn how to ride a bike, rather than the bike help me learn to ride. A few months later I signed up for my first day at a full size track and the introductory Superstreet class with the MRA at High Plains Raceway. The Friday track day went great; finally getting to open the bike up and feel the speed of the 600cc platform was incredible. However, the superstreet introductory class/school was not quite as successful. After practice and before the mock race, there are launch drills (learning how to get off the line for a race). Never having launched a bike before, I was a little nervous, but laughed it off and joked with my instructor about “Bouncing it off the rev limiter and just dropping the clutch. What could possibly go wrong?” No more than 45 seconds later I spectacularly looped my motorcycle. Fully airborne, stretched out behind the bike like superman, before smashing down onto my face and damaging both the motorcycle and my right foot beyond repair for the weekend. Along with my foot, my pride took another square hit to the jaw, but nothing could keep me away from the sport. Most importantly, I did end up with a nickname that I now love. Jeff Brown, the new rider director started calling me Loopy (a name which he had earned himself much earlier in his career while racing speedway) and the name stuck. Since that day I have always been known as Loopy and wouldn’t have it any other way. Over the next few installations of this blog, we’ll explore how I went from a novice rider, looping bikes on the starting line, to a travelling expert racer with multiple class championships in just a couple years’ time. Stay tuned!
This is a video of my loop!
This is the first day I ever got on a bike
This is a video of the track day right before my loop
This is a video of one of my days at IMI on the 03