1983 Superbike Champ
Motorcycle racing is a brutal affair, in both the physical dangers and the elusiveness of success for its competitors. Victory and fame are dependent on the merging of raw talent, discipline, opportunity, will, and desire–not to mention capable machinery and ample luck. Among the myriad names inked into the annals of this most ephemeral of professions there are but a relative handful that have earned the status of legend. When a racer continues to garner respect and reverence years after their reign is over it is a testament of true greatness.
One such racer is American Wayne Rainey. Today, Rainey is best remembered for his Grand Prix World Championships in 1990, 1991, and 1992—a period many regard as the golden age of the premier class, when the grid was stacked with, perhaps, the most competitive field of international riders ever. It was also a time of great technological leaps that resulted in exotic, blisteringly fast, unpredictable 500cc two-stroke machines. The raspy, eardrum-tickling grand prix bikes in motion were an amazing sight and sound to behold. The men who rode the howling, biting monsters were leather-clad gladiators, plying their precarious trade on the paved arenas of the world.
RIDING STYLE. Helmet: Shoei X-Eleven Norick TC-1 Leathers: Spidi R2 Kangaroo Gloves: Cortech Scarab R.R.Boots: Sidi Vertigo Corsa. Photograph by Don Williams. (Click image to enlarge)
Rainey emerged from this tumultuous racing era with a fluid and calculated riding style that tamed the irascible temperament of the famously hostile two-strokes. His quiet reserve and calm attitude contradicted a fierce intensity and a win-at-all-cost determination that was as intimidating as his results. The famously clinched jaw and thousand-yard stare were portents to numerous track records, pole positions and race wins. But, the most predominant trait was Rainey’s unrelenting obsession to push himself and his motorcycle to the limit, through every corner, over each section of track, all the time, always searching for that crucial edge. If Rainey was winning with a comfortable six-second lead over second place, he wanted to stretch it to seven.
Indeed, racing is a brutal affair. It possesses a cruelty beyond the fleeting of fame. In 1993, en route to a fourth consecutive world title, Rainey fell prey to the consequences of speed, suffering a horrific crash at the Misano circuit that left him badly broken and confined to a wheelchair. Since that dark day in Italy, the racing establishment has often wondered what might have been, had the champion, just hitting his prime, not been sidelined. As proof of Rainey’s continuing legacy, Laguna Seca raceway named one of its corners after the hard-charging racer. Rainey was inducted into the AMA-associated Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, the FIM named him a Grand Prix Legend in 2000, and his induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame is this year in Talledega, Alabama.
Although Rainey is strongly associated with Yamaha for his illustrious Grand Prix career, he earned his first championship stateside, taking the number one plate in the 1983 AMA Superbike series aboard a Kawasaki. It was a year that gave the racing world its first real glimpse of the future star. For anyone who witnessed the diminutive Rainey coax the mighty lime green superbike to six consecutive race wins that season, it was obvious the blond Californian was destined for great things. That breakout 1983 season established Rainey as self-possessed and intensely focused, pushing for the same absolute perfection and total dominance that would later carry him into the stratosphere of racing, securing his place on the coveted mantel of legend. (Click image to enlarge)
RetroSBK’s Will Kenefick chose to honor Rainey’s accomplishments—as well as acknowledging how the young racer’s inspired performances fueled his own passion for racing—by building a tribute bike, commemorating that landmark 1983 season when Rainey officially entered the record books as champion. This is the company’s second tribute project in a continuing series honoring some of racing’s most influential, shining stars (the first was the Honda CBR1000RR Spencer Tribute, RRMC’s November/December 2005 cover bike).
The concept behind the tributes is to embody the soul of a significant machine and individual from yesteryear in a current platform. In this case, a brand new 2007 Kawasaki ZX-10R carries the torch of Rainey’s AMA title. With just a scant few miles on the odometer, the bike was stripped down to the chassis so RetroSBK could reinvent the machine from the pavement up as a modern offspring to Rainey’s 1983 mount.The first order of business was a labor-intensive hand sanding of the perimeter frame. A good number of man-hours were devoted to taking down the rough, cast texture of the stock chassis to a mirror smooth, highly polished surface. All the welds were then painstakingly reduced and smoothed down to render a sea mless appearance. Unlike the frame of old, the dimensions and structure of the 10R’s perimeter chassis has evolved to the highest level of performance and rigidity and, therefore, aside from the aesthetics, was left alone. As Kenefick says, "You can’t out-engineer the engineers."
The swingarm was sectioned, internally braced to increase rigidity for improved handling, then re-welded, smoothed and polished. The same labor-intensive technique applied to the chassis to continue the smooth flow of texture. Applied Powdercoating imbued the chassis and swingarm in a chrome base soft gray with translucent anthracite for a unique look.
Modernity meets nostalgia to stunning performance and aesthetic effect. Attention to detail is spectacular. (Click image to enlarge)
The Kawasaki’s in-line 4-cylinder 1000cc powerplant—already producing abundant muscle in stock form—was left relatively untouched, save altering the cam timing, some milling of the head and the use of a thinner top-end gasket to boost compression. For the essential sport biker’s aphrodisiac—the exhaust system—several Leo Vince systems were ultimately sacrificed at the altar of modification, then bastardized to create a one-off gem that extracted extra ponies from the ZX-10R’s engine and accenting the Rainey Tribute with an appropriately meaty, yet sweet tone.
When the Kawi’s engine was put back in the frame all of the suffocating smog equipment was conveniently left behind on the workbench and a K&N air filter was installed for freer breathing. With just these conservative modifications, the unrestricted bike burns up the dyno with an astonishing 177.6 hp at the rear wheel. The standard slipper clutch was re-shimmed, beefing up performance to better handle the increased output of the engine.
As the Rainey Tribute took shape, it received the official Super Stock Prep—a practice traditionally reserved for hardcore racing machines that re-routes electrical wiring and fuel lines, and shaves off extraneous brackets and mounts, allowing easier access to the engine, radiator and other components.
With the engine and chassis in place, RetroSBK went to town on dropping weight. To get things started, 11 pounds were lost simply by replacing the stock fuel tank with a Kevlar unit and billet aluminum fuel cap manufactured by Fuel Cel. Lightweight Galespeed wheels by Active Japan were installed to save a whopping 14 pounds of critical unsprung weight. The massive 17"x 6" rear rim is paired with a 17"x 3.5" rim on the front to give the Rainey Tribute bike a healthy footprint on the pavement. Galfer brake lines and rear rotor, complementing the Ferodo rotors on the front, increase braking performance and feel while shaving off some additional bulk.
Titanium fasteners were used judiciously to reach a wet weight (including a full tank of fuel) at an unbelievable 358 pounds (down from the stock claimed dry weight of 386). The significance of that weight, or lack thereof, combined with the increased horsepower being transmitted to the rear wheel, results in a bike that adequately pays respects to the factory roadracer of 1983.Attacking an aesthetic that would capture the upright Superbike of old, Kenefick and Glenn Cook of Zero Gravity designed a custom fairing to mimic Rainey’s original green machine. The minimalist bodywork helped shave 6.5 lbs off the bike’s weight. Zero Gravity also created the custom windscreen and a Lexan airbox lid. The solo tail section was fabricated by Catalyst Composites and appropriately sports the famous number 60, which Rainey campaigned during his title-winning season.
The icing on the cake with regard to the Tribute’s appearance is a paint scheme replicating Kawasaki’s factory racing livery of the ’80s. Airtrix Industries captured the green shade of the original machine, then brought in a custom touch with a highly provocative glisten. To arrive at the final electric green sparkle, Airtrix used a unique process of crushed glass mixed with the paint instead of the traditional acrylic. The green base was then hi-lighted with a variation on Kawasaki’s period racing stripes and logo. The result is so beautiful, it runs the risk of spooking the rider with notions of scrapes and scratches in the event of a fall. But Kenefick assuages any doubts the bike is intended for serious laps at track days, reminding, "This bike was built to be ridden hard—very hard." (Click image to enlarge)
An Öhlins shock replaces the stock unit for increased suspension performance, adjustability, and weight savings. A 20mm Öhlins fork kit, installed by Danny Hull, results in a more responsive and compliant feel for aggressive track riding. The stock Öhlins steering stabilizer helps steady any potential front end shimmy as a result of the Kawasaki’s newly acquired horses and loss of weight, which increase its propensity for getting the front wheel light under hard acceleration in the first three gears.
RetroSBK takes the practice of blueprinting—honing a engine to perfectly replicate the engineer’s original specifications—to all mechanical components, not just the traditional application to motor internals. Swingarm pivot, wheel and steering stem bearings are painstakingly aligned to reduce friction. Kenefick points out that blueprinting works as well, if not better, in optimizing the performance of wheels, brakes and suspension components than it does on engine internals. Reducing the friction and stiction of all moving parts culminates in what he refers to as "free horsepower."
Kawasaki, green and #60 mean only one thing: AMA Champion Wayne Rainey. (Click image to enlarge)
To evoke the upright stance of the ’80s superbikes, Heli Modified Hi-Rise clip-ons raised the handlebars two inches and pulled them back an inch for rider comfort. An AP Lockheed master cylinder from GP Tech replaces the stock unit, delivering a more positive feel on the front brake and the rear brake pedal has been removed in favor of a handlebar-mounted thumb brake (also by GP Tech). Kenefick feels the modification allows for more subtle brake input by hand.
Footpegs have been upgraded to Woodcraft rearsets for adjustability, additional weight savings and better boot grip. Chain and sprockets are by AFAM. Additional one-off custom fabricated pieces include the license plate bracket, carbon fiber exhaust heat shield and a heavy-duty countershaft sprocket guard. RetroSBK’s attention to detail is reflected in labor-intensive efforts, such as a custom wiring harness that hides the unsightly ribbons of vinyl and plastic from view. The final touch of AMA specification safety wiring of all major nuts and bolts gives the finished machine an allure that is all business.
The Rainey RetroSBK Kawasaki ZX-10R is intended to be as impressive in real-world performance as it is a rolling tribute to the former champion. The bike recently passed muster at the Rock Store (a popular southern California weekend stop for motorcyclists), garnering more than its fair share of attention, as much for its originality and impressive demeanor as for its nod to the ever-popular Rainey.
In addition to its line-up of project bikes, RetroSBK will custom-build a machine to a customer’s personal whim. As for the Rainey Tribute bike pictured here? Despite the buzz the motorcycle has generated, along with the requisite inquiries about purchasing it, Kenefick will be keeping this one for himself.