Handlebar Memoirs: Tales Of Loose Clip-Ons

Josh Herrin on the cool-down lap after HONOS Superbike race one at PittRace, with his right clip-on just a little bit off-kilter. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.
Herrin’s office. Photo by Scheibe Racing.

When the right clip-on came loose on Josh Herrin’s Scheibe Racing BMW S 1000 RR Superbike on the final lap of Saturday’s HONOS Superbike race one at Pittsburgh International Race Complex, a lot of fans were surprised by what transpired and wondered how something like that could ever happen on a racebike.

We checked into it and discovered that the issue happens a lot more often than people think. Fans who are “of a certain vintage” may recall when Doug Chandler broke off the clip-on on his Muzzy Kawasaki Superbike during a World Superbike race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 1998. Chandler was approaching the top of the Corkscrew when his clip-on came loose, and he ended up bailing off the bike. Unfortunately, the motorcycle “ghost-rode” into World Superbike competitor Akira Yanagawa (also aboard a Kawasaki Superbike) and took him out of the race.

Three bolts, count ’em. Ben Spies’ handlebar clamps had three steel bolts securing them, And “Elbowz” would still loosen the clip-ons after a few laps. Photo by Brian J. Nelson Archives.

We’d heard tales of three-time AMA Superbike Champ, World Superbike Champ, and MotoGP race winner Ben Spies having recurring issues with the handlebars on his Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 Superbike, so we contacted him to get more information.

“With Superbike handlebar clamps on the forks of my bike that were 30 millimeters tall, they could not make them tight enough,” Spies said. “So, they had to fabricate clamps that were 50 millimeters tall and had three steel bolts holding them on instead of two. Neither Mat (Mladin) nor Aaron (Yates) had a problem with their clip-ons rotating, but they switched to what I was running anyway.

“It was one of those things. My crew chief Tom Houseworth and my mechanic James Hashimoto, you could offer them $10,000 if they could get those bars to move. They could put their feet against those clamps for leverage, and no matter what, they couldn’t move them. Then, with me on the bike, 165 pounds, going into a chicane, the force of the input I was putting into those handlebars was so high that they were spinning on the forks after just a few laps. I’m obviously not the strongest dude in the paddock, but with all the force, all the inertia happening when I’m turning the bike, they would just spin on the forks. That also explains, with the shoulder injuries I had, why I just couldn’t put that same level of force into the bars when I would turn the bike.”

Wayne Rainey used to rotate the clip-ons on his 1990 Yamaha YZR500 due to the force he put into turning that bike.

Two-time AMA Superbike and three-time 500cc Grand Prix World Champ Wayne Rainey also shared a story about an issue he had with the clip-ons on his 1990 Yamaha YZR500. “I had it happen in Yugoslavia in 1990. I was leading the race, and there is a right-left uphill section at that track. As you start to go up the hill and turn left, you have to put a lot of force into the bars to flick the bike. In the race, I noticed that my hand kept getting closer to the fuel tank. I did end up winning that race, and we checked it later. The handlebar clamp was rotating on the fork tube even though everything was torqued properly. We couldn’t tighten it any more than it was because we were afraid that we’d mess up the valving or spring travel inside the forks. So we made new clamps, and we were the first team to use three bolts instead of the standard two. After we went to the three-bolt clamps, we never had a problem again with the clip-ons moving.”

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