Cheap, Fun, and Fast: You’re Going to Want a Cyclekart
Photography by Brian Driggs
I’m a gearhead. A proper gearhead.
My fingernails are almost perpetually greasy. Vehicle maintenance, modification, and repair projects eat into my life in ways I’m still not sure warrant humility or pride. I’m loyal to my brand—Mitsubishi—and have been doing 20 years of DSM chest-thumping, but the right Porsche, BMW, or Alfa Romeo (okay, okay, any Alfa) still takes my breath away.
I say all this not to assert status, rather to suggest I’m just like you—one who shares your values, sees the world in similar fashion, and genuinely wants to share something incredibly exciting with you. So here we go. How much money would it take to complete your current (or next) project? Go ahead, add it up.
So what would it take? $10,000? $20,000? More? What if I told you the singular motorsport experience of your life could be had for $1,500? That’s not a typo. One thousand, five hundred dollars.
Don’t believe me? It’s true! Just ask Johnny Dumfries, Otto Pilotti, Blackie Carbon, Reginald Molehusband, Alfonse Roche, Wilf Barnauto, Alessandro Cagno, or Guy Gadbois, all infamous CycleKart racers. Never heard of them? I’m not surprised. I hadn’t either, until I met Dennis Thomas, who introduced me to CycleKart, the next big thing in motorsport—and told me how they all take on nom de pilotes behind the wheel.
You can do a Google Web Search for “cyclekarts” and read hundreds of pages of forum posts and technical articles. Until you’ve actually run one down a residential street at speeds of 40mph (60 km/h); but until you’ve heard the little 4-stroke engine thrumming away right behind you; until you’ve felt the wind in your face—until you’ve experienced oneness of man and machine as it was meant to be experienced—you just can’t fully appreciate the excitement of CycleKarting.
What’s a cyclekart? Well, first you need to know what a cyclecar is: One hundred years ago, as vehicles were getting larger and more complex, gearheads like us began building simplified cars to fill the gap between motorcycles and full-sized cars.
Often small and lightweight, cyclecars, as they were called, were characterized by inexpensive build materials and often dodgy engineering. Their low cost made them accessible to the masses. And what happens when the masses get their hands on inexpensive, lightweight vehicles? That’s right. It isn’t long before we’re racing them.
The first formal cyclecar race was held in France in 1913. The Cyclecar GP took place at Le Mans in 1920. World War I, followed by advances in production technologies—which allowed larger automakers to undercut cyclecar prices with models like the Citröen Type C and Austin 7—however, spelled the end of the cyclecar era.
Until now. Cyclekarts are here, and they’re inexpensive, fun, and fast. The simplest description I might offer, having had only sampled this automotive delight, would be asking you to imagine the most tasteful intersection of go-kart, vintage open wheel race car, and maybe a pirate-slash-cowboy barbecue birthday party.
We’ll begin with the karts themselves. Mostly built on the Stevenson Formula, named for now departed CycleKart Creator Emeritus Peter Stevenson, a typical cyclekart shares a common wheelbase, drivetrain, and overall mechanical layout. The pull-started, air-cooled, 200cc Honda GV200 4-stroke, with 5.5bhp and 9.1tq on tap, is the hot ticket item, mated to a single rear wheel via clutch pack or—if you’re feeling racy like my host, Dennis Thomas—a centrifugal torque converter. The other rear wheel gets a mechanical disk brake setup.
A modest leaf spring setup and direct steering connections in the front pretty much round out the systems bolted to the weld-it-yourself boxed steel frame. It’s all wrapped in an inspired piece of homemade vintage kit, fashioned from hand-rolled aluminum, fiberglass, or vinyl laminate over wood.
Inspired? Exactly. Chief among cyclekart baby steps is finding your inspiration vehicle. An 1919 A.V. Monocar? 1925 Ford Speedway Racer? 1930 BMW 318PS Wartburg? Knock yourself out. Find a pre-War open wheel machine that speaks to you, and study it carefully, taking in its shapes, curves and lines.
While you’re searching, join cyclekartclub.com and start reading. Read until your eyes are bloodshot: learn about the Stevenson Formula and how others design and build their karts. And, perhaps most importantly, find someone in your area who’s building or has already built one.
This article is easily 30% longer than Petrolicious wanted, so I need to wrap things up.
I tend to struggle with keeping it brief when I’m writing about something I truly care about. I’ve been chasing drag racing and stage rally dreams for nearly 20 years. The last three years have found me getting into four-wheel-drive off-road machines and overlanding. “Playing with cars” has been at the center of my life for most of my life. But I’m here to tell you—one gearhead to another—nothing I’ve experienced compares to these wonderful little machines.
It seems a perfect idea for petrolistas. Cyclekarts aren’t about absolute speed or performance. They aren’t about clinical, historic accuracy or matching numbers. One evening in Phoenix, AZ showed me what they’re all about: it’s a light-hearted homage to the early days of motorsport, when building a race car meant more than putting parts onto a credit card. It’s about homemade, 250 pound (110 kg) go-karts with timeless style, bombing quickly around streets, sharing the pure joy of motoring with friends and family—for less than $1500…all-in.
You want to do this. Trust me. I’m a gearhead like you. And I haven’t felt this good behind the wheel in a long time, if ever. Find—or better, be—the cyclekart owner in your town. Just don’t forget to create an exciting nom de pilote for yourself.