Motorcycle road racing can appeal to all ages, both genders and even riders with no previous experience, thanks especially to Suzuki New Zealand's popular Gixxer bikes.
Essentially a commuter road bike and not a full-blown racing machine, the joy of racing Suzuki's popular bike with the Gixxer moniker – with the official model designation of Suzuki GSX150F – is something that has to be experienced to be believed.
While it's a cheap entry-level option for the aspiring racer, it is no less exciting and no less of a challenge than it is to throw a leg over a 300cc bike, a 600cc motorcycle or even perhaps a 1000cc superbike.
The race speeds might be a little slower on the 150cc bikes, but it's still handlebar-to-handlebar stuff when riders are sharing the race track with like-minded individuals, all armed with similar machines, and like the small-bike Moto3 class of world championship fame, the race action can be a thrill-a-minute.
The 2022 Suzuki International Series finally kicked off in the Manawatu at the weekend – after the official opener of the planned three-round at Taupo was called off due to concerns over the crumbling tarmac there – and conditions were almost ideal at Feilding's Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon on Saturday and Sunday.
We say "almost ideal" because there were occasional squalls of rain, but that's all part of any sporting activity outdoors.
But those inclement conditions and the hectic nature of Gixxer racing didn't deter Auckland 46-year-old mother-of-two Debbie Tapper, or any of her 150cc bike rivals, from twisting the throttle to the stops at Manfeild.
"I've been racing only two years actually, although you can't really count last year because all the racing was cancelled (due to the pandemic)," she explained.
"That's why my bike number is No.44. My favourite number is four and I started racing when I turned 44 years old. I started riding bikes when I was 16 but, as life progresses and you get married and start having kids, you stop all that.
"Then I got to the point when I thought, if I don't get back into it now, I'll be too old. Then a friend of mine said 'come and race' and I thought why not?
"The Gixxer was the obvious choice of bike. It took a bit of learning but I'm now out there with all the young ones. They should all call me 'grandma' because I have quite a few years on them," she laughed.
"I'm the oldest woman out there and I love it," said Tapper, who finished her weekend at Manfeild ranked a creditable third overall among the Gixxer riders, her best result a second placing in the opening race of the weekend on Saturday.
The final round of the Suzuki International Series is, as usual, set for the public streets of Whanganui, the world-famous Cemetery Circuit, to run on Boxing Day, and the 150cc racers will be an integral part of the programme there.
Introduced near the end of 2017 as a brand new class of motorcycle road racing, designed especially to encourage young riders to explore the possibilities of the sport, the Gixxer Cup competition has been a motivating breath of fresh air.
All riders in the class are mounted on identical Suzuki GSX150F bikes and so racing is always guaranteed to be close and exciting.
And it has certainly been that over the past few years, not to mention the fact that this class of racing has kick-started quite a few young racers on to achieving greater things, individuals such as Taupiri's Zak Fuller (now on a superbike); Palmerston North's Justin Maunder and Whanganui pair Tarbon Walker and Luca Durning (all three now accepting the challenge to race on a supersport 600 bike) and Hamilton's Jesse Stroud, Sanson's Shane Miller, Feilding's Scott Hawkes, Waiuku's Hamish Simpson, Tapiri's Billee Fuller, Christchurch's Sam Guthrie and Dunedin's Olivia Goddard (all seven of these riders having now moved up to race a more-powerful supersport 300 bike), just to name a few.
Meanwhile, Suzuki International Series promoter and organiser Allan 'Flea' Willacy said he was thrilled to finally get the Suzuki International Series underway at the weekend.
"Weather didn't favour us on day one on Saturday, but the mighty Manawatu delivered on day two. It was a scorcher and it was fantastic racing and looking great as we carry on now to Boxing Day at Whanganui."
Willacy said the street racing event on Boxing Day is a keystone in the Suzuki International Series and all eyes will surely now focus on that post-Christmas spectacle in two weeks' time.
It is an iconic event that typically attracts many thousands of race fans to Whanganui.
The Cemetery Circuit event also includes the famous Robert Holden Memorial feature race, a trophy that is perhaps among the most coveted of prizes in the road-racing world and generally the domain of 1000cc superbike exponents, although this is what today's Gixxer riders might one day aspire to.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com