My Uncle Myron, a sports writer and boxing fanatic, realized his lifelong dream the night he donned a tuxedo and climbed into center ring to announce a world heavyweight title fight. There’s no monkey suit in my fantasy—to campaign a “factory” racebike. Then again, there’s no frog costume either.
The True Grits Fun Run, hosted each Halloween weekend by Suches, Georgia’s Two Wheels Only (TWO) Campground, is a lot like heavyweight prize fighting; it’s 99 percent hype, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some seriously tough competitors. AMA Hall of Famers Bob Hannah (motocross/supercross) and Jack Penton (ISDT) are just two of the stars who have competed in the 20-year-old event…which I may have neglected to mention is limited to motorcycles displacing 50cc or less.
My busy schedule didn’t permit a lot of training aboard the Aprilia RS50, so I arrive at TWO on Saturday with about a half hour of daylight remaining and 73 break-in miles showing on the clock.
“Robert (Aprilia Marketing Director Robert Pandya) said not to give it full throttle for another 30 miles,” a messenger tells me, handing over the keys. Others, recognizing me for a rookie, pitch in with more helpful 50cc tips.
• Use big swooping lines—no cut-and-thrust maneuvers.
• Conserve momentum—don’t use your brakes.
• Never let it drop below 7,000 rpm.
• Don’t brake with the engine—if you have to brake, pull the clutch in.
• Forget everything you’ve ever learned about riding.
Knee-dragging fantasies are quickly discarded as I climb into the fog above Suches, searching for the RS’s elusive powerband.
Wheeee-OWwww! Oops, watch that redline. BuhLahhhhh-bubububububub. Row it down a gear—no, make that three.
When a headlight bores in on my mirrors I do the gentlemanly thing and give way to what turns out to be an RC51. The rider waves and grows smaller, but moments later the road crests and down we go. It’s not too long before I realize—I’m gaining ground on the Honda! Next thing I know the guy pulls over and waves me by. The water-cooled two-stroke makes around 7 horsepower, but at 196 pounds it turns quicker than most riders can snap a throttle. In darkness I run up and down the road until the Aprilia is officially loose.
Don’t think 50cc bikes are manly? Over dinner, 70-year-old ex-fighter pilot Charles Howard shows me the scars where his chest caught between a GSXR1000 and Virginia International Raceway. He subsequently escaped from Walter Reed Army Hospital to squeeze in his morning training run. Howard brazenly admits to a full bag of tuning tricks in his Aprilia RS, including a 50 percent displacement bump.
How many rednecks does it take to change a spark plug? Sadly, we’ll never know. In the morning, as Miss Suches, Elvis and 140 other colorful competitors parade past the volunteer fire hall, a half-dozen two-stroke aficionados labor fruitlessly to start my Aprilia before the flag drops. Alas, even Superman cannot make it fire.
But hope is just a phone booth away. Next thing I know I’m sitting at the back of the grid astride a red 1982 Honda MB5, entered under the alias “Pete Tamblyn, Alto, GA.” The air-cooled MB5s are the spear carriers of this event, which began in 1982 as a challenge by Honda’s then district sales manager Ben Cheatwood. At the time, Cheatwood and Honda were up to their eyeballs in unsold MB5s.
For all I know the bike is riding on 20-year-old tires, but at least there’s air in them. In no time I’m passed by the remaining Aprilia riders, each of them clad in trendy race leathers, but the Honda is remarkably easy to acclimate to. After a mile, I pick off my first MB5. Hah—I won’t be last!
I needn’t have feared. The breadth of design, talent and intent is nearly endless. In addition to the supersport Aprilias and the MB5s, there are medium-tech Honda NS50s and Yamaha YSRs, scooters of every vintage—including an MV Agusta stepthrough, a supermotard, and even a sidecar rig.
By the first checkpoint I’ve passed nearly a dozen riders, most of them broken down (how many bikes of any displacement can be ridden once per year, at full throttle for two hours?). Route 60 north of Suches is a corner-carver’s delight, with only moderate elevation changes. He who weighs least climbs best, but when the road descends the serious dicing commences. Never mind that the road is open to traffic and each rider has pledged to obey speed limits and traffic laws.
I settle in behind an NS50 and a gorgeous double-overhead-cam Honda Dream which looks like one of Mike Hailwood’s famous racebikes from the ’60s. The Dream rider has skills, and I know that if I pass him he’ll repass me on the downhill, so I wait until I can leave them both for good. Unfortunately that leaves me no one to play with for half of the 64-mile event.
On Aska Road, the “horsepower” portion of the course, I’m overtaken by an MB5 pilot who is obviously cheating, since he looks to have 30 pounds on me. Then bwee-owww—what looks like a pair of Ducati 916s (one red, one yellow) blitz past. They’re Spanish 50cc Derbis I discover, when a tactical error enables me to repass them (they don’t have their route sheets) before circling back onto the seriously twisty Route 60. The rest of the Euro crowd must be stuffing their calf-hided bellies with barbecue by now, but I’ve got the MB5 dialed (shift up when the needle exceeds tenfive; kick ’er down when she drops below nine), and I’m assiduously working my way through the field. The speed-limit sign says 45, but I don’t care. I pin the throttle and watch the speedo hit 47. There’s glory ahead if I can just pick off two remaining Hondas, but suddenly it’s a rally racer’s worst nightmare….
Church lets out! It’s all blue hair and white knuckles to the finish line, but that’s OK. With an average speed of 40 mph, including six checkpoints and a photo stop, I’m easily the fastest frog. And it’s not a race, after all. Under a system of scoring known only to Jesus and promoter Cheatwood, the “Overall Galaxy Championship” goes to Rick Hogue, who crosses the finish with a sidecar, a Siberian Husky and a broken down competitor on pillion…all pulled by a 50cc motorcycle with 15,000 miles on the odometer!
That, friends, is true grit(s)!
(This article Masquerading as Fast: True Grits Fun Run, Suches, Georgia was published in the May 2003 issue of Rider magazine.)