It’s Time To Make CycleKarts A Thing
Photography by Michael Banovsky
There’s something instantly contagious about a CycleKart.
Each is hand-made and wears its maker’s inspiration, be it an old-timey cycle car or pre-War Grand Prix machine, is sized to fit a standard-ish CycleKart chassis, and sports a standard Honda engine behind the driver. To those of you who may think that it all looks a bit dangerous, well…isn’t that the point?
It’s been some time since my sense of self-preservation kicked in at speeds that I normally cycle at, and I mean that in a good way. See, I spent roughly the first five laps of a Phoenix, AZ-area wood shop learning “the line”: head for the open door, watch the tight right-hander into the empty parking lot, floor it across the asphalt, loop around into the other side of the building, and hook a right through a doorway where two halves of the workspace were joined.
I’d been trying to coax one of the machines into a controlled, one-wheel-drive powerslide, attacking the right-hander through the doorway at faster and faster speeds until realizing that the kart would actually understeers a fair amount at speed and oh-my-god-am-I-headed-for-a-drill-press? In that moment, I’m sure even Sir Stirling Moss would have been pleased at my skill in deftly pointing the nose through the door and eradicating understeer with a punt of my right foot.
I was traveling 10 mph, probably less. And next lap, man, you should have seen that 5.5 horsepower-induced powerslide.
These machines sit somewhere between a kart, a trials car, a bicycle, and a small-displacement dirt bike. The standard-ish wheels and tires, for instance, are from a motorcycle. There isn’t much of a sanctioning body apart from a lively forum, and enthusiasts are left to build their own machines with the support of experts like Dennis Thomas, who was a most gracious host and ambassador for the sport.
Thomas is well aware of their appeal, and wasted little time in motioning me to one of the karts—his beloved Monocar—before pull-starting its engine and saying something about how I should head for the open door. He’s helped friends get their cars in fighting shape for the annual Tieton Grand Prix, and maintains an active YouTube channel with a number of videos that’ll give you a small taste of what a CycleKart is like.
At about 250 lbs plus its rider, the fastest are capable of 35 mph or more (Thomas’ and a few others will hit ~45), and cost about $2,000 to build. Before you ask, there are no front brakes (only a single one at the rear) because they make the cars handle worse, and there are no plans to make the CycleKart formulae faster, more expensive, or larger—after all, everything is balanced pretty well at the moment. Good.
Better still, if you’d like to build your own and enter the sport’s crown jewel race, the 2016 Gordon Bennett Cup in Tieton, Washington, go right ahead—the more, the merrier. It’s 17 miles of racing—flat out—over dirt and asphalt. I’m certain Thomas would appreciate the competition for his Monocar, this year’s Cup winner.
“But Michael, where else will I race my newly-built CycleKart?” You know, it’s sort of like Field of Dreams: if you build one this winter, you will race it next year.
Special thanks to Dennis Thomas for allowing me the use of his race-winning CycleKart, and if you’d like to know more, head over to the CycleKart Club forums.