BREAKTHROUGH!

Posted: 31st August 2011 by GoGo in ARTICLES - 2011

I’ve been wanting to write this all year. Finally, our RC8R makes sense. Our bike has officially been exorcised. No longer is it a demon secretly trying to rip my arms from my shoulders in turns no one can see. No longer does it protest every input I give it. No longer does it threaten, in the entrance of every hard braking turn, to throw me over it’s bars. It is now, finally, simply a motorcycle. And a fine one at that – it’s a KTM RC8R.

How did we break the curse? What was the source of our problem? And who was the one to discover it? To be fair to everyone involved, that answer takes some thought. Yes, the source of our problem, which has forever been “Hellish instability”, was our custom triple clamps. Not every aspect of them though – mostly they were/are a great addition to our bike. But there was one sneaky problem which since the get-go, haunted them. And therefore haunted me. And therefore haunted the pages of this GOGO’s BLOG. Turns out how they were designed to press the two steering head bearings together, and keep them torqued-tight as the bike ran at speed, was flawed. The result of this flaw was the steering head bearings would come loose after just a couple of laps – no matter how anal you were about torquing/tightening/assembling the front end. And each time those bearings broke loose on me out there on the track, so too did hell.

Now, I could leave my “problem solved” story right there forever, and move on. But you know dam well I won’t. So reach over your shoulder and draw your seatbelt over your lap. Let’s go for a ride..

My little Ewok therapist doesn’t specifically teach me, anything. But she does a dam good job of helping me see, everything. One thing I recently began to see is that no one of my mistakes stands entirely alone. My mistakes have relatives. Even families. They are smaller parts of bigger problems I have. She very kindly calls them “challenges”, but let’s cut the bullshit. They are problems. And they have really made things crappy at times for me and for those close to me. Maybe this is what my grade school teachers referred to when they warned me, “Life is hard Mr. Gulbransen. You will see…”

Tracy Gulbransen

We as a team this year, and our RC8R as a bike this year, have made a lot of mistakes – and suffered from many problems. At first none of our mistakes were solvable, because none of our problems were apparent. Instead they just felt like struggles. Like things all teams go through. But then one quiet morning at Tri Valley Moto, while Dannyboy was pushing a bike, something in his leg just snapped. I still don’t know what it was, something about a calf muscle tearing in half – which sounds completely hideous. Thankfully Dannyboy will eventually make a complete recovery, but for the past two months Mike has been filling his shoes as not only Tri Valley Moto’s full time service manager, but also as our race team manager.  To understand the potential gravity of such a huge change to our race program, you need to understand a bit about Mike.  First, he’s German.  Now I don’t know many German men, but I DO know Mike’s father.  While that man is extremely kind and generous, he is also a bit of a bull in a china shop.  He is retired now, from a life-long career of being a very successful businessman.  He started from ground zero as a kid, and hasn’t stopped climbing since.  Mike is no different.  Very focused, very determined, often forgets to laugh out-loud.  Unless I’m around…

Mike Meissner, Eric GoGo Gulbransen

As you can imagine, with a guy like Mike grabbing the bull by the horns at Tri Valley Moto, changes will be made.  And very soon they were.  As it turned out change was very good for Tri Valley Moto’s service department, but very bad for Tri Valley Moto’s race program.  Gone were any idle moments for our super-thorough and consistent race mechanic, Keith Rodrigues, to prep the race bike.  Really, this was the main reason our last race (round 5) was so troubled from the start.  Mike had directed every last ounce of effort away from our RC8R.  When I showed up Thursday to do a few hours prep for that last weekend, in an attempt to make Friday practice – I found our RC8R in the back of the shop, not even on a lift, and days away from being ready to race.  That’s the real reason we didn’t get to the track until Sunday.  That was our mistake.  But that was not our problem.  Our problem was something bigger – Tri Valley wasn’t producing the way Mike believed it could, so Mike dropped racing from his radar.

When I showed up at Tri Valley two races ago (round 5), and found the bike so far from done, my heart fell into a panic.  But strangely my head did not.  I have my Ewok to thank for that.  So I took Mike to the side and said something I have never said before, “I understand what you are up against here, and I agree with your priorities.  But you can’t ask me to run out there on the track at 150mph on a bike that’s on the bottom of your shop’s priority list.  That’s a recipe for disaster.”  To his credit Mike responded like a man well on his way to wherever it is he chooses to go.  We made the races that weekend, but more importantly we discovered something far greater – change.

When I showed up at Tri Valley Moto for this past weekend’s race (round 6), I found things very different.  Our RC8R was not just ready to race, it was a completely different bike.  Mike had asked John Starks to come to Tri Valley two weeks prior to the race, to go over his triple clamps with a fine toothed comb.  Mike’s idea was there was a problem with them, which we needed to find – now.  It took them an hour to find the mistake John had made in the design/build, but eventually he did.  ….And then he fixed them.  Sounds easy, right?  But it wasn’t.  In fact it’s taken all year to find and fix that one mistake.   like I said before – mistakes aren’t the problem.   Problems are.

So what was our problem then?  Our problem was management.  It’s a very delicate balance I have found, in any of the many years I have raced, for any of the many dealerships/shops/or teams – to find the proper balance between life, work, money, and racing.  Mike nailed that balance last month – maybe it’s the first time I’ve seen it done, ever.  The result was a full-time, thriving service department that made money, while building a better race bike in the background, on a schedule, three weeks prior to the event – rather than three hours prior to an event.  I am not sure how he did it, or where his motivation came from.  Perhaps it’s his different perspective now, gained from not only owning Tri Valley Moto’s service department, but from actually being Tri Valley Moto’s service department.  From not only owning his race team, but from actually being his race team.  Either way, Mike showed up for round 6.  In a big way.  And his redefined presence made all the difference, to everything.  The next challenge will be packaging that delicate balance between work (service), and work (racing), into a football-like shape so Dannyboy can run with it once he is back.

….Stay tuned, round 6 story is on the front burner,

GoGo

  1. mattacme says:

    Nice, and on the more cerebral side all so true.

    Ewok, eh? Who’d have thunk.

  2. Alyssa says:

    Eric,
    The kind words you have shared about my dad nearly brought me to tears. Granted, I only get to see him now when I am home for a visit, but very little, if anything at all has changed. He is still up before us all and he doesn’t get home until well after dark. He pours blood, sweat and dare I say tears (dad, if you’re reading this, I have outgrown that phase of my life where you can ground me) into his work. But he does it, not only because he is a German, though I am sure this is mostly to blame, but because he loves his work, he loves his team and he loves the way that both of these things have enriched his life. Tri Valley Moto and this KTM race team have given him so much, including a few more gray hairs perhaps, but you and everyone who has been a part of this experience have helped bring one of my dad’s dreams to fruition. You have given me and my entire family enough memories and enough joy to last a lifetime. Thank you for acknowledging and recognizing his hard work, but I hope you understand how grateful we are, as a family, for you as well.

    • GoGo says:

      You know, Alyssa, let me be the first to warn you – you’re never too old to be grounded, by someone… Trust me on that. :-)

      Your Dad asked me to race for him at a time when most had lost faith in me. Even I had lost faith in me. What’s worse is we didn’t exactly choose a bike that would prove easy to rebuild faith on. That Superduke was unconventional, slow, heavy, and it handled like an ice cream truck. But we never let up, and finally we did succeed with it. Then with this RC8R we entered another trying time. For sure your Dad has had many reasons, and opportunities, to give up. But he never has.

      Trust me on this too – that’s one of the greatest qualities a person can have.

      TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More

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