STORY SCOTT BISHOP PHOTOGRAPHY DAN MCKENZIE
We climb on board the race bike of the current points leader in the MX2 class for a DA torture test, but add in a twist: we throw in a factory rider from 10 years ago from the same team to give us his thoughts on what’s changed in the past decade.
Before we get up to our elbows in Luke Styke’s Serco Yamaha Metal Mulisha Racing number-six bike, let’s take a look at the fascinating story that led him to Serco and the leadership of the Pro Lites championship at the halfway stage of the 2012 MX Nationals.
You have to admire the transformation in Luke Styke over the past 18 months. Being involved with Luke since 2008, I have seen firsthand his rise, fall and rise again. Regardless of where he finishes at the end of the 2012 MX Nationals, he’s certainly shown he has what it takes to win in the Pro Lites class.
Styke came to national attention at the end of 2008 with some spirited rides in the Under 19 class, with state-based support from Yamaha. He finished the year strongly and I picked him to join the official Yamaha Under 19 team for the following season. He won the Under 19 championship in 2009 in convincing fashion and then stuck it to the big names in the Pro Lites during the season-ending SuperX.
We rewarded him with a good deal for 2010 that should have jump-started his professional career. Unfortunately, being young and brash, Luke assumed the results would just come and never really worked as hard in 2010 as he had in 2009. He thought to get the job done he just needed to turn up and collect a pay cheque and everything would be fine.
In a result-driven sport, you need results to keep earning that pay cheque. Despite finishing in the top 10 for the MX Nationals in the Pro Lites and a podium in a round of Super X, Luke didn’t do enough to keep a ride at that level and soon found out no other team was interested in his services, either.
So, for 2011, he had no offers until Yamaha stepped up with bikes and parts to assist and told him if he wanted to get serious there was support for him; if he wanted to slack off, this was the last resort, so enjoy it while you can.
During the 2011 season, Luke rediscovered the work ethic he’d had in 2009. He also found it tough as the format for the MX Nationals was back-to-back motos, morning and afternoon; with no one there to help at the races, Luke put his bikes on a triangle stand between the motos to prepare his gate and change his goggles. It was real privateer stuff.
One man who did notice all the work he was doing and how hard he was doing it was Serco team manager Michael Marty: “I watched him at the races and saw the effort he was doing just to get to each round and what he did during the day.
“When I looked through the results by the midway point he was doing OK, but my thoughts were that he was by far the best guy doing it without support and was pretty raw as far as his bike and knowledge of professional racing. So, when an opening came up late in the MX Nationals with our team, we got him on board and set some goals for him. He hit them in the last two rounds.
“Then we still had a seat available for SuperX last year and together we used it as a trial for the 2012 season. If it worked and he did what we asked of him, he was in; if not, then it was over.”
“To his credit,” continues Marty, “he rode SuperX really well and finished up third in the championship, which we were really happy with, and we then offered him the deal for 2012.
“And so far he’s been great for the team. He works hard, brings a good vibe and puts in on the track. He is exceeding our expectations and doing a great job but he also knows that the job’s not even close to done. We have a long way to go.”
“When I look back, I was just lazy in 2010,” Styke says knowingly. “I went riding and I trained but nowhere near the intensity that was required and I soon got found out. The guys in the team were telling me to work harder but I didn’t listen and in the end I lost a good deal. But thankfully, Yamaha were good enough to keep me on the track and must have seen something in me to support me through 2011.
“I knew 2011 was my last chance at Yamaha, so I invested in my racing and my career. I worked concreting during the week then used every cent I made to go racing and I think I spent about $25,000 that year. But it proved totally worthwhile as I have more than made that back in 2012 and I am really enjoying racing and being a part of the Serco team.”
So, Styke has proved it doesn’t matter who you are or how much talent you have, if you work hard enough, surround yourself with the right people and want it bad enough you will find a way to make it happen. His is the feel-good story of 2012.
THE SERCO MACHINE
Serco Motorsport and Pro Circuit in the USA have a lot on common. Both are importers, manufacturers and distributors of motocross racing products that use their race teams as a very effective marketing tool in helping them promote their brands. They live by the old adage, “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”
Looking the 2012 Serco Yamaha over, there are plenty of things that catch the eye. So, before we got on board, we nailed down Michael Marty to go through the major changes and components of the bike and tell us about the changes and why they were made.
“There is nothing wrong with the stock ergos on the Yamaha and in fact plenty of national riders use the standard clamps and bars. Luke likes to have his bars a bit lower so we run a Pro Taper triple clamp that has lower bar mounts to keep the bars lower. He also runs the Ricky Carmichael Bend Pro Taper bar as this is his preferred bend and where he feels most comfortable.
“The only other change to the ergo layout is the ripped, gripper Factory FX seat cover for extra butt traction. Otherwise, he uses standard levers, perches, footpegs and pedals. The stock stuff works fine and he likes it, so why change it?”
“In the Lites class, horsepower is vital and we spend hours on the dyno trying to get the most usable and powerful bike we can. Since we got the 2012 bikes before SuperX, we’ve had plenty of time to sort them out but it’s a never-ending quest to get as much as you reliably can out of a race bike.
“When chasing power, most professional riders aren’t looking for bigger gains in the bottom end; they’re chasing midrange and top-end power without sacrificing any low end, so it’s not an easy task on a little bike. A pro rider tends to ride higher in the rpm and therefore we need to make power up where they ride it. We just don’t want to give away power somewhere else to achieve it.
“We flow the head, match it to a set of Hot Cams and run a Wossner high-compression piston. Yoshimura looks after the exhaust for us and we have a great relationship with them to develop exhausts. We wet-sump the bike to increase clutch life and add Hinson clutch components throughout. We run an aftermarket airboot and carby bowl then jet the bike accordingly. Once all is complete, we then add VP Roo fuel and that kicks in a little extra power. A 10 per cent increase in power over stock is good; a 15 per cent gain is what we target.”
“Like most race teams in Australia, we have gone down the path of getting expensive aftermarket or so-called kit suspension but, with current-day production suspension, the benefits of the expensive stuff just aren’t worth it.
“When we’ve tested with riders, they’ve all felt little or no difference between the stock part and the shiny aftermarket item, so we’ve gone back to using more OEM parts in our suspension and the riders are still happy. I guess that is a credit to Yamaha and KYB for getting the standard suspension so good.
“In the fork, Luke looks for it to be a little bit plusher initially. Then we alter the mid- and full-stroke valving harder to suit his weight, speed and personal preference. We tested early in the year and he was happy but when he went home he found he needed it a little harder, so we made some changes and he’s happy. We barely touch the suspension on a race weekend and the only real change we did was run some stiffer forks for the sand in WA.
“The shock is much the same as the fork but with a focus on hook-up and drive. We spend time making sure the shock drives well and the bike accelerates with plenty of traction as there is no point making more power if we can’t get it to hook up. Again, some internal valving changes set up the ride height and the correct spring and it’s good to go.” — Michael Marty
“The only other changes are to suit Luke personally and to ensure the durability of the bike is good. Pirelli makes a great range of tyres and we put on what the race track requires, and always with heavy-duty tubes. Luke runs 13/50 gearing; stock is 13/51. We also change the rear brake rotor to a 2005 model round rotor as it’s easier on brake pads and pad life; the front is an oversized GYTR rotor for more power. He uses Pro Taper grips, the diamond compound, as he likes the feel of them, an RK chain, No Toil air filter and LightSpeed engine protection and the bike is ready to race.” — Michael Marty
LET’S GET ON BOARD
For this test, we thought it would be cool to invite back a former Serco racer to give us his impression on not only the Styke bike but how Serco’s race bikes have developed. Chris Urquhart raced for Serco in 2002 and now, 10 years on, he gets another chance to throw a leg over the factory Yamaha.
“Motocross bikes have come a long way in 10 years and, while everyone says that Yamaha haven’t changed this bike in a long time, it feels nothing like the bike I raced in 2002. The ergos are way different, with a more aggressive feel and a flatter layout. The lever shape and pull of the clutch and throttle are so much lighter and the overall feel is so much lighter. The 2002 bike would be a tank compared to this.
“After I got off the bike, I asked Michael what our race bikes back in the day were making power wise. He told me around 35hp, which is less than what the production bike makes these days. This motor is a long way in advance of the motor I raced with as there is a lot more power all across the spread and there torque is way up on what it used to be. I would easily be running a gear higher across the entire track on the 2012 bike than on my old bike.
“The real strength of this motor is high up in the rev range. The motor develops a lot more power through the middle and revs a lot higher in the top end than the bike I raced in 2002. Serco developed a great bike back then and we were quick to improve it but the 2012 model race bike has a lot more kick. Combined with the 13/50 gearing, I was able to leave it in the one gear for longer and not fear running out of power or hitting the limiter at just the wrong time. It pulls harder for longer but doesn’t hit with aggressive power. It’s progressive power that’s manageable but certainly more powerful.
“I noticed a big change in the fork, even to the 2012 production bike. Luke’s bike offered a lot more mid-corner traction and felt more predictable. I felt I could push Styke’s bike harder in turns and still get traction where on the production bike I struggled to get the same feel. And to compare this to my bike back in 2002 is ridiculous — this bike is lighter, more agile, steers sharper and with precision. Motocross handling has improved enormously and even the way the weight is distributed on the bike is nothing like a bike 10 years ago.
“To compare the two bikes as a whole just isn’t fair. I thought my race bike was awesome back in 2002 but when you line it up against a current factory bike, it’s got nothing. Power, weight, suspension, handling, attention to detail and build quality are all 10 years advanced and the only thing that I think hasn’t changed that much is the brakes. We ran GYTR rotors then and the round rotor on the back, so the brakes have stood the test of time. Almost nothing else on the bike has.
“I had a cool time riding it and I think the young kids of today are pretty lucky. The production bikes are awesome and then the race bikes are even better. It would be a pretty angry kid to whinge about the level of performance from a factory bike and obviously Luke loves this bike. It’s pretty easy to see why.” — Chris Urquhart
SECOND OPINION: SCOTT BISHOP
To get on the bike is identical to what Luke had with us in 2009. His bar bend, placement and lower mounts are all exactly the same so his personal preference in rider comfort hasn’t changed in the last two years. My next observation was the smell of Roo 100 fuel. It’s in the pits a lot these days, but the smell of it as a rider is quite different.
The motor responds a lot faster than stock, turns faster rpm and a lot more powerful through the mid and top. Gears ran longer, the rev limiter seemed further away and the motor begged to be worked hard as that is where the major gains are. The test track I rode the bike on had some hills and you could really feel the difference as the bike pulled up them.
Suspension again was a step back to what Luke ran in 2009/ 2010. Most people assume that a pro’s bike is cement hard and unrideable at slower speeds, but Luke was never a fan of rock hard suspension and he has a good feel for his bike as he likes it so be smooth and certainly not harsh or hard.
Even though his speed has increased, his suspension still would work for a lot of racers, it simply is well set up package that offers a great combination of feel, resistance, traction and predictably and riders of any speed require that from their suspension.
WORKING ON IT
You think you look after your bike? Well, take a look at the maintenance schedule of a factory bike
Graphics: Every round
Tyres: Every round
Chain and sprockets: Every second round
Grips: Every round
Brake pads: As required
Oil changes: Every round
Clutch: Every round
Cables: Every second round
Top end: Every second round
Suspension: Serviced every second round
Complete bike overhaul: After round 5 (halfway)
Hours used for season: 25