Featured: Cheap, Fun, and Fast: You’re Going to Want a Cyclekart

Cheap, Fun, and Fast: You’re Going to Want a Cyclekart

By Brian Driggs
April 23, 2015
24 comments

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. 

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24 Comments on "Cheap, Fun, and Fast: You’re Going to Want a Cyclekart"

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Robin
Robin

hello, I was wondering if there is a site where i can find blueprints for one of these.

James Kilmer
James Kilmer

I’m thinking that if I’m going to build an armature and jigs for the chassis, and bucks for fiberglass molds for nose, tail and bonnet/hood sections, it’s not that much more work to do 2 or 3 than it would be to do one.

Alejandro Diaz
Alejandro Diaz

I’m relatively new when it comes to motorsports, I’ve read some mechanical basics but something in this article confused me: I’ve never heard of “clutch packs” or “centrifugal torque converters” (Though I’ve read a lot about centrifugal clutches and plain torque converters) Are they the same I’ve read about or two completely different things?

Carmelmike
Carmelmike
Nice write up! When my father (Peter Stevenson) and I first built the coaster which would lead to building the first CycleKart, it was in pursuit of that pure essence of four-wheeled fun…And it is very much possible to have great fun without spending much dough at all. I just had a nice discussion last night, surprisingly (as to the timing, but not surprisingly, in light of what we’d been watching: a couple of the lovely Victory By Design DVDs of De Cadenet’s), about inexpensive racing alternatives which weren’t gokarts. No too much nowadays, but a few classes hang on:… Read more »
Dennis Thomas
Dennis Thomas

Here are a few short videos that help explain why I’m hooked on Cyclekarts. Filmed in Tieton Washington June 2015 during the Tieton Grand Prix weekend

Alisdair Suttie
Alisdair Suttie
My Dad and I are building a cyclekart at the moment using a kit from cyclekart.co.uk It comes with a chassis, front suspension, steering, brakes, axles and everything except the body, which you make yourself. The body can be as simple or complex as you like, or you could even just run as a bare chassis. They are a good bunch at cyclekart.co.uk and have been really helpful with our kart, so I can’t recommend them highly enough. I appreciate not everyone wants to use a kit and would prefer to build from scratch, but it’s not an option for… Read more »
Marc Lewinstein
Marc Lewinstein

I know this may be sacrilege to many of you, buy I’m a passionate driver, not a mechanic. Knowing that I’ll miss the satisfaction of building my own, is there any way to buy one of these ready-to-roll? In particular, #17 in the article photos. (I also enjoy food, but I’m a lousy cook and a great eater.)

Reverend Bow
Reverend Bow

Look up Vintage Kart Company in Mesa, AZ

They build and sell them…

Gene Climer
Gene Climer

It would be fun to have a soapbox derby kit to buy that would give a guy the basic chassis parts. Basic kit comes with patrs to make a rolling chassis, and a body kit included with plans for various bodies, etc. Is such a kit already available?

Andy Zimmerle
Andy Zimmerle

Here is a short video of my CAD handiwork for this effort.

Dennis Thomas
Dennis Thomas
The front axle on the aluminum car is a one off pieced that I designed to emulate the front axle of the real car. All of the parts are 1/8″ steel cut with a CNC plasma cutter, box style construction. I was trying to get it to look somewhat like a drop forged axle. The spindles have a 3/4″ axle and are off the shelf go cart parts from http://www.notherntool.com. The Kart is fashioned after the 1930 BMW 3/15 PS Wartburg Roadster. It is still under construction and being prepared to race in the up coming 3rd annual Tieton grand… Read more »
Andy Zimmerle
Andy Zimmerle

Here are a few early photos of the progress.

Stephen Cox
Stephen Cox

#17 looks like The Hannibal 8’s offspring.

Todd Cox
Todd Cox

“PUSH THE BUTTON, MAX!”

carl luikart
carl luikart

I’m curious about the front suspension. The unpainted alloy car has what looks like a factory made axle, and spindles that fit what are possibly Goldwing wheels. Can someone give me a source for these?

Andy Zimmerle
Andy Zimmerle
I have been fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to design the first series of production Cyclekarts. For our initial inspiration the group chose for me to start on the 1919 Monocar (the green beauty with the pointy front end by Dennis Thomas). In the process it became clear we needed a solution to several obstacles all home builders will wrestle with. We have tackled a few of the complicated bits and created bolt-on solutions to simplify the process, shortly we will have several of these items available. I will see if I can post a few photos… Read more »
David Thornton
David Thornton

Very cool; I think I need one.

My home state of SD licenses all manner of “offroad vehicles” as motorcycles and allows them to be operated on roadways. The same laws that apply to motorcycles also apply, so anyone operating or riding needs to wear a helmet, and operators need to have a motorcycle qualification on their license. I wonder if the same would apply to cyclekarts.

David Lake
David Lake

Thankyou Petrolicious for covering the Cyclekart movement.
CKs are not built for legal use on the road, but for private use between friends who get together to race each other on a variety of tracks, paddocks or small towns. If you are around the small town of Tieton in Washinton State, USA http://www.mightytieton.com over the weekend of SATURDAY JUNE 27TH – SUNDAY JUNE 28TH you will see the largest collection of Cyclekarts with international drivers attending. If you want to see CKs being built and join in with the community visit http://www.cyclekartclub.com

Thankyou Dennis for showing off your awesome builds.

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay

The first thing I notice is that no one is wearing a helmet. ?

Looks like a great project for my family.

JB21
JB21

This is smashing! I want to built one!!

Lane T Davidson
Lane T Davidson

OMG I saw the little blue ‘indy’ one at the Copperstate 1000 a the Tempe Diablo Stadium! It was amazing! SOOOOO COOL!!!

Stephan P
Stephan P

Licensing? Ah no. A few years ago I read about a club in California and they raced on someone’s ranch.
I was exited about building one but finding a local place to run was problematic. If these are driven on public streets I suspect it’s an area where law enforcement might be lax.

Evan Bedford
Evan Bedford

Wow! All I can think of, is that the licensing requirements would be insurmountable. But I know what I’m going to be googling later on.

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