NC30/NC35 Bike Setup for the Beginner Racer or Track Day Rider
Where to Spend your Money and Time
So, you have a new bike for racing or track riding - but where should you spend your time and money first? This is based on putting the money/time where it is most beneficial to a beginner. I won't cover the obvious stuff like removing street stuff. The ideas below aren't necessarily in any order, and you'll have to decide which is most important to you. Also, always remember, the best performance gains are obtained by working on your skill, not necessarily the bike. Track days pay more dividends in dropping lap times than any bike mods. Just make sure the bike is safe and reliable, and go do track days. Note, however, that safe and reliable may sometimes mean spending the time/money to get the engine rebuilt. Many people I've seen start racing have had an engine failure their second or third weekend out, never recovered from the delay or cost, and never came back to the track. See below for more on this.
Note, this was originally written with the VFR400 (NC30) and RVF400 (NC35) in mind, but is loosely applicable to any race/track day bike.
- Get the forks rebuilt for your weight (normally you need to get the spring replaced with a 0.85-0.90 kg spring + valving to match for the NC30/NC35). Buy a ride height adjustable rear shock like a Penske or one of the many shocks other people have suggested on the 400greybike forums (do a search). For the VFR400, keep the 18 inch rear and run the Bridgestone BT090 tires initially. The BT090 is plenty good enough, but use the new shock to raise the rear a little. Stock, the NC30 is too squat in the rear. Do not drop the front (by raising the forks in the triple clamps). Keep the front forks at the stock height because if you drop the front, you'll have front tire to fairing/fender contact.
- Rear sets would help, but are not required. On the NC30/35, if you raise the rear ride height, you can do without rear sets, at least initially. But, the reason for buying rears sets is also because they are cheaper/easier to repair after a crash compared to stock parts. Then again, you might find stock parts at a junk yard. So, you'll have to decide.
- For older bikes, rebuild the existing brakes. Forget replacing them (many people feel the need to replace older technology brakes with newer stuff - it isn't really necessary). Save such mods for when you start to get real serious, and even then, your money would be better spent on the engine (or track days). You might consider replacing the front brake discs with EBC, or other aftermarket iron disks, but even that's not really necessary. Get steel braided brake lines for the front. You can leave the rear stock. Do a good job of bleeding the lines.
- Race body work, of course, is always a good idea. It is much easier to repair after a crash (and you will crash).
- Get aftermarket clips ons if you have the money. The bars are much cheaper to replace in a crash compared to stock parts. Get other spares like clutch and brake levers and lever purches. A spare master cylinder is a good idea.
- Aside from taking off street gear (as required by your race organization and because it isn't needed on the track), don't worry about stripping the bike. At least, unless you want to. I would suggest (for now) that you do not do a total loss system (don't remove the alternator flywheel and regulator). If you are starting out, it's just one more thing to forget, and it sucks to get to the track only to find you forgot to charge your battery, or worse, the battery is no good, and you forgot to buy a spare (and keep it charged). Keep it simple, work on yourself, not the bike if you can. If you must do a total loss system, buy at least one extra battery, a trickle charger, and keep them charged (swapping the charger back and forth between them). If you let a sealed MC battery drain down, you'll ruin it. Always charge the batteries immediately after returning from the track. A single new battery will get you through a weekend, but plan to charge it overnight for each new day because as the battery gets older, it won't last all weekend anymore.
- Keep the starter motor, even if you decide to go total loss. My race bikes are total loss, but I still use the starter motor to start them. It really sucks to kill the engine on the starting grid and deal with all the stress of bump starting it while everyone waits, or worse, they tell you to push it off the track and you miss the race start. The few lbs you save aren't worth it.
- For the NC30/NC35, get an aftermarket exhaust system at a junk yard, ebay, or used elsewhere. Cost is about $400-$800 USD (what, 275-550 UKP?). Then take the bike to a shop with a dyno to get it tuned correctly. Or, spend hours and hours hoping to glean the correct jetting off the 400greybike forum, only to take it to the dyno anyway after it still runs like crap. The NC30/35 bikes are finicky regarding carb tuning. If you want it to run right, pay someone to do it right. If you must do it yourself, again, keep it simple - stock airbox, filter, etc. and just change the jets to match your more free flowing exhaust.
- Remove the speedo and get a de-restrictor (like an M-max box or NC30 HRC derestrictor). Don't spend a lot for this box. All it does is short two wires together with a 2.2K ohm resistor. Should be available for $20 USD (14 UKP?). For the NC35, you can get a de-restrictor, or get the Honda HRC ignition box, which has the de-restriction built in.
- For both the NC30 and NC350, disable the vacuum flow diaphragm in the fuel pet cock (see here). At high RPM for sustained periods, the bike will starve for fuel.
- After a year or two, then start looking into spending more serious cash like a 17 inch rear wheel to replace the VFR400's 18 inch stock wheel, engine mods (porting, better carb setup and other much more expensive stuff). If you come across a good deal on a 17 inch wheel, buy it as this is one of the first upgrades you should consider down the road. You can also buy them new from Honda for about $400 USD (288 UKP?), or get Rick Oliver's 120 UKP hub modification to allow for a 5" VFR750F rear wheel to be used (see the vendor section at 400greybike).
Regarding engine rebuilds and performance upgrades. It doesn't make much sense to spend lots of money on a built engine until you are in a position to actually use it. In fact, a built engine may actually slow down your personal progress on riding skill. Having an underpowered motor forces you to learn to ride better than the guy next to you with a built motor.
On the other hand, having a reliable motor is important. At minimum, a non-reliable motor may fail mid season, and you won't have the time or resources to get it fixed quickly enough to continue racing. Also, when motors fail, they tend to destroy themselves, increasing the cost for repairs vs. rebuilding a motor before a failure. At worst, if a motor fails on the track, it could result in an accident, either causing you to crash, or someone else to crash on your oil. Such crashes occur in non-ideal places, when you least expect them.
If you feel your engine is not going to be reliable, consider getting it rebuilt. Do the job yourself if you have the skills and more time than money, but otherwise, to improve the likelihood of a reliable result, pay a professional to do it. For most of my 14+ years of riding, I have done all my own motorcycle maintenance, including rebuilding engines. With racing, however, I realized that it is better to pay a good shop to do the job instead. On average, I have gotten my motors rebuilt every 2 to 3 years, both to keep them reliable as well as to keep them fresh and at their peak power. It may cost $2000-$3000 to pay someone to do it, but when you spread that cost over 2-3 years of racing, it isn't that expensive, and the peace of mind is well worth it.
Again, this is just a list of what you should focus on. As long as the bike is safe and reliable, you could go race on a stock NC30, with stock shock even, 18 inch rear wheel, and with minimal upgrades like race body work (though getting a rear shock and having the forks modified are a good idea). Don't think you have to spend huge sums of money just to get started. More upgrades are desireable if you have the money, but not absolutely necessary. Remember, personal skill is the main thing you need to work on, and you don't need the best motorcycle to do that. You just need a reliable bike with good suspension, and as many track days as you can attend.