Race cars are all the rage on Cayman’s race scene but motorbikes have stuck right with them.
At almost all the major racing events in Cayman, especially at Breakers Speedway, there’s a race bike. With a lightweight body and power-to-weight ratios on their side, two-wheelers can more than keep up with their four-wheel companions.
Among the bikes taking it to the track is the red 1300cc Suzuki Hayabusa of Humberto Rives. The bike features polished headers and a host of engine upgrades, an aftermarket exhaust system and a 10lb bottle of wet nitrous capable of increasing power by some 50 horses.
With all those modifications, the red devil can pull off impressive 0-60 times and top speeds in excess of 150mph.
In spite of the speeds he can reach on a track, Rives has no fear pushing his bike to the limit.
‘The bike is fast enough to beat everyone. If anything happens [like an accident or something] you live with it.’
Over the years, Rives has built a solid reputation at the track. In fact, his biggest claim to fame is being part of the 500 Club.
He is only one of two motorbikes to ever throw down a perfect reaction time of 500ths of a second launching from the starting line at Breakers.
The West Bay resident says he’s proud of reaching that feat.
‘It’s really nice to know you have the skill to accomplish that. It’s really good knowing you enjoyed yourself at the time and now you make everyone proud who supports you.’
To understand how Rives is firmly entrenched in the world of racing one has to look back to his early days in the sport.
Rives was born and raised in Cuba. His parents moved from the Isle of Pines (now called the Isle of Youth) in Cuba over to Cayman when he was 10. They rejoined Rives’ grandmother and went to live in Mount Pleasant, West Bay.
From there, Rives started racing competitively in 2002. His first bike was a green Kawasaki 900. That bike, unlike the one he has today, was a cruiser. It didn’t have a lot of power and was designed more for winding bends than long straights.
The first track Rives raced on was the High Rock facility in East End. Most Sundays he would go with his cousins, taking his bike to and from the track on a used trailer.
The 25-year-old says he did the best he could to get his racing dreams off the ground at the time.
‘I didn’t have much money to afford anything else. I got that bike at 16 and started racing it at 17 or 18 because I always wanted to race a bike.’
Rives’ reasoning for acing was simple: he loved the thrill of flying down the track on two wheels.
‘I love it and I have a big passion for it. Growing up I watched guys racing on TV and that encouraged me.
‘I don’t do what I do for money either. In Cayman no one gets paid or gets the kind of sponsorships you see in the States. I drag race because I just love it.’
As much as Rives loves to race bikes, he’ll be the first to tell you he doesn’t easily become attached.
‘From the age of 16, I’ve been through about 16 bikes. The reason for that is I keep them for a little bit and then I sell them. That way I stay out of problems and keep my bike reliable. The last bike I had I kept it for three or four months before selling it.
‘My only plan with the bike I have now is to sell it. I would like to get my hands on a new 2008 blue Hayabusa. Unlike the one I have, it is turbo charged and much faster.’
These days Rives has to split much of his focus between racing and his job. Rives is a heavy equipment operator at Island Paving. He’s been with the company the last three years.
Luckily, his work does not keep him back from his hobby. Race days are normally on Saturdays and Rives works during the week.
In fact, Rives has turned his love for racing towards representing his country. In April, he raced in Antigua along with a contingent of local drivers.
Rives competed in roughly seven races. He won them all as his bike was in good form.
Rives is always anxious to get on the track but for now he’ll have to wait. The bike is still in Antigua and slowly making its way back to Cayman.
In the interim, Rives is forced to get around on four wheels rather than two.
He says the temporary adjustment to life without a bike feels strange.
‘This is the longest I’ve been without a bike. Everyday I would ride it. I drive my bike to work, on the weekends and to the track. I find it’s quicker and easier to manoeuvre through traffic.’
With a bike that goes as fast as his Hayabusa, accidents are bound to happen. Luckily the mishaps Rives has encountered have not been fatal.
‘I haven’t had any accidents on the track but I’ve been in two on the street.
‘My last accident was three or four years ago. In that case, as with the other one, my insurance bought me back a new bike.’
Like all good racers, Rives has a different mindset on the track versus the street. On race day, Rives tunes out the outside world. He makes his mind clear, his body calm and his focus squarely on a strip of asphalt 1/8 of a mile long.
Moreover, good racers will tell you the best drivers know how to deal with their ride on and off the track.
Rives can do just that as he is a self-professed tuner. He does his own modifications, tuning and maintenance on his bike. The only time he gets outside help is when there’s engine work. For that, his bike is sent off to Florida for a couple weeks.
In fact as a tuner, Rives feels moderation is the key to his alterations. He focuses more on the ‘go’ than on the ‘show’.
‘When I modify my bike, I go to a certain point and no more. Normally I focus on the engine and little things like the spark plugs.
‘The most changes I make are a new clutch and tires from time to time.’
With so many modifications being made, the costs are bound to add up. Some of the approximate costs involved are US$200 for a new set of tires, US$300 for a new clutch, US$2-5,000 for engine work and upwards of US$10,000 for new bikes.
In the end, many onlookers will want to emulate Rives and put their own racing dreams into motion.
Rives has been in their shoes before and would like to give them words of wisdom.
‘Be focused in life and work hard. You’ll achieve what you want and be like me. Just remember to always stay focused.’