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  • Sarah Merrell

To Mod or Not to Mod

I used to not believe in mods. As a rider, I wasn’t even close to surpassing the limit of my 600cc bike or even my DRZ supermoto for that matter, so instead of investing in mods I chose to invest in myself as a rider. I did track days, read books, sought out coaching and workshops and did a riding school. Along the way, when people would ask me what mods I made I would laugh and say I didn’t need mods—that improving as a rider would far outweigh the benefits of any modifications. But recently I realized that I was wrong. Well, partly wrong. I will always tout rider education and training as the #1 way to be faster, but mods play an important role too.

Progressing as a Rider

I’ve found mods are beneficial in two situations: 1) When you begin outriding a motorcycle and 2) When a little extra help is handy. Let’s start with number 1 and use my pit bike (and not my R6) as an example. When I first started racing it I was slow. I lacked confidence on the throttle and was braking too early. Other racers were lapping me. It wasn’t the bike holding me back—it was 100% me. I could have been on a more powerful bike and it wouldn’t have made any difference. But as time passed and I improved, I began reaching the limits of what my 88cc bike with a V1 head could do. So I upgraded to a V2 head (along with some other mods I won’t name for Merrell Racing R&D purposes). Those mods made all the difference for me and enabled me to consistently finish in the top 3 and #2 overall for the season.

A Little Extra Help But let’s talk about the R6 and scenario number 2. Can I tap into the absolute limit of that bike? No. Not many people can unless you’re one hell of a skilled and experienced racer. I’ve seen coaches from Yamaha Champions Riding School—like Kyle Wyman and Chris Peris—hop on bone stock bikes and ride at a level I could never dream of. But here’s what started happening to me the more track days and mock races that I did—my bike had this annoying lag. I would get on the throttle but the power band wasn’t spot on and the throttle response wasn’t immediate. We’re only talking maybe a tenth of a second or two. But multiply that by 10+ corners and that’s seconds added to a lap time. We figured out that my Frankenstein of an exhaust job the prior owner of my bike did was the culprit. So I needed a full exhaust system to prevent the hold up in the acceleration.

This is where Two Brothers Racing came in. They provided their S1R Carbon Fiber Black Full Exhaust System. I’ll be honest. I expected only a little improvement—which even a little would be a very welcomed. But after installing it and riding the twisty mountain roads I was blown away. Before even flashing the ECU it completely fixed the lag! I had immediate throttle response and boy does that feel amazing! It unleashed a whole new dynamic of my bike. Although it felt great, I did do the ECU flash through Superbikes Unlimited, and that’s when my bike really tapped into potential I never realized it had. The difference was WHOA. Even my best riding buddies shared feedback that I was noticeably faster with this change. And on the track, the lap times didn’t lie. Mentally, I was also having much more fun on my bike because I wasn’t feeling frustrated waiting on the acceleration.

Now, acceleration is important, but so are the brakes. And for this next mod, I owe Anna Rigby with RedSpade Racing a huge thank you. At the 2019 Little Talladega End of Season Bash, I won a set of SBS brake pads (the race version) through her raffle. I dragged my feet about putting them on my bike because again I assumed it would only make a marginal difference. Again, I was wrong. After riding my bike with the SBS pads I hopped on my husband’s R6 to take it for a spin. His brakes felt super squishy to the point that I thought there was something wrong with his brakes. Nope. The SBS pads were just that good and have that much better stopping power in comparison.

Between the Two Brothers Racing full exhaust system and SBS brake pads, I felt like I had a whole new bike—in a good way. While improving is completely dependent on me as a rider, I appreciated the leg up those mods provided, especially as I was smiling super big in my helmet with my new-found acceleration and braking.

Now that I’ve experienced first-hand the difference (and fun) that mods can bring, I’m much more open minded. But let’s back track a minute. I provided two scenarios where mods were valuable, but there’s also a third. In many cases, motorcyclists make mods simply for the look and sound. My response to people seeking mods for those reasons it! Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want a bike with a super sexy exhaust system that sounds amazing? My Two Brothers sure does! And I know when I see a bike with carbon fiber bodywork, Ohlins suspension, quickshifter, a nice exhaust system and Brembro brakes I drool. Will all of that suddenly make me fast? No. But dang—it sure is sexy and fun, and if money were no object it would be a new addition in my garage.

So there you have it. Three scenarios to help you determine whether to mod or not

to mod. If you have questions,

please feel free to comment or reach out to me at I’ll answer as best I can or put you in touch with the right vendors.

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