Off to one end, under a clutch of trees, a class of riders have gathered; their bikes tiny compared to the large, imposing, and expensive looking rides that dominate the pit area. These are the Formula 160 riders--a growing cult of vintage enthusiasts racing tiny Honda CC160s, and based primarily out of Portland. Originally designed as urban commuter bikes, the F160s were introduced in the '60s as a response to the tough-guy Harley riding biker image. In fact, Honda's slogan for the bikes was "You meet the nicest people on a Honda." No longer manufactured, the vintage 160s rarely go faster than 80 miles an hour, and the ones here today are largely assembled from three or more different bikes, each found cheaply and usually in un-rideable condition.
"A lot of them are what I call 'Vietnam bikes,'" explains Simon Smith, a local racer. "A guy turns 17, gets a bike, turns 18, goes to war, comes back and is in a totally different mindset. Then he goes off to college or whatever, and mom and dad have this shitty bike that they've been hanging onto forever, and finally in the mid-'80s they die, have an estate sale, and it gets sold for $40."
Such a scenario is typical for the history of these bikes, which get bought up in tatters, then lovingly modified into racing condition. Even Bradford Duval, who actually bought his F160 ready to go, spent only $1500 on it, as opposed to, say, $25,000 on a brand new special edition Ducati 999R.
Because these bikes are so inexpensive to buy, they are an ideal way for someone to begin their racing career, without forfeiting their future children's college fund. It also appeals to seasoned racers who are drawn to it because of the laidback camaraderie among the 160 riders. The bikes are more or less capable of the same speed, although some have unpredictable ticks (and charms) resulting from age and reassembly. Nevertheless, the 160 race is all about how you ride, not about how much money you've poured into your machine.
"It is as pure as motorcycling gets," declares Duval. Additionally, a 160 racer can run the entire course of the track without ever braking, as opposed to bigger, faster bikes, which have to make the transition from 170 mph to 80 in order to successfully round a corner--a balls out bonus that appeals to riders who catch the "160 bug."
"I like the irony of it," says racer Eric "Chopper" Boyd, "I like the fact that it just smacks in the face of everyone who's way too serious."
Despite the fact that the buzzing 160s look relatively funny next to the speed machines milling around the pits, their riders insist that the racing and competition aspects of their class are just as serious as any other. However, the 160 community is marked by people helping each other get started, building and repairing each other's bikes, and at the end of the day, shooting the shit over beers. But the most important 160 commandment is that if you decide to stop racing, you have to give or sell your bike to someone who's going to use it.
The movement was originally started by three men, one of whom is Tim Fowler, who many of the riders refer to as the "spiritual leader" of the group. Fowler is the only one of the three still racing, and he's here today on the only bike he's ever raced, the 160 he started on in 1990 (although he admits, "Parts have been changed, mistakes have been made…"). These founders eventually inspired the growing contingent of 160ers in the Northwest, Portland being the main hotbed, with local shops like Vicious Cycle playing instrumental roles in starting and continuing to foster the movement, which is currently the fastest growing class of road racing.
160 riding also seems particularly appealing to women, perhaps because of the friendliness and approachability of the group. And by all accounts, women are in demand. Duval explains they have the advantage because of their flexibility, lightness, and because "nobody ever told them they have to be a badass."
In addition to nerve and skill, a 160 racer needs to be willing and able to work with their hands.
"Working on old bikes is kind of like mechanical forensics," describes Fowler, who once found an engine whose pistons were caked with mud, and fossil-like earwig corpses.
In the first vintage 160 race of the season, one rider wipes out and Duval's engine begins to sputter in the last lap--probably a result of the extra moisture in the air. Both use the time between races to fiddle with their machines. Duval is rewarded in the second race, finishing fifth, while yet another rider takes a tumble on the slick pavement.
Pleased with how the first weekend of racing worked out for him, Duval packs his 160 into the back of a pickup to head home. If he continues to race consistently for the rest of the season, he could potentially build a championship--but one gets the impression that's not what he's thinking. As fellow racer Jeff Lavallee puts it, "It's about racing, not anything else."
To get involved in 160 racing, you can head down to Vicious Cycle (3961 NE MLK), or join the Yahoo group (http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/F-160/), and visit groupwracing.com. To check out racing before you decide to take the plunge, consider being a raceway volunteer by calling the Oregon Motorcycle Road Racing Association (OMRRA) at 614-1965 or www.omrra.com