Go-Karting is an extremely fun activity, regardless of whether you are a first-timer, a hobbyist or a professional go-kart racer. Many of us race our go-karts on tracks every weekend or whenever we can find the time.
Believe it or not, many professional NASCAR and Formula 1 drivers start their careers with go-karting. It’s an easy sport or activity to pick up on a weekend and the barrier to entry is extremely low. You can either rent a go-kart at the race track, or if you’re more serious you may opt to buy your own.
Even though go-karts are quite simplistic compared to cars, many people don’t understand the basics of how a go-kart actually works. They do contain parts that may be complex for some people to understand (engine, braking system, and so on), so I will focus on keeping the explanation as simple as possible.
In fact, understanding how they work isn’t as hard as you think it is. They’re much less complex than a sophisticated racing car.
In order to understand how go-karts work, let’s first acquaint ourselves with the individual parts. To make this understandable to a wider audience, we won’t go into too much detail.
You will notice that most often go-karts will have bucket seats. These seats are designed to wrap around your back. The seat contour prevents riders from being flung out of the karts when turning into sharp corners at high speeds.
Recreational go-karts or off-road karts will typically have padded seats which are more comfortable. Racing go-karts on the other hand are designed to be as light as possible and will often just be made of plastic or fiberglass to reduce the overall weight of the go-kart.
Go-kart tires are usually 10″ – 11″ tall and 5″ to 8″ wide. You’ll find wider tires on the back of the go-kart, as most of the weight is distributed towards the rear end. These tires are usually small in height and wide, to keep the center of gravity as low as possible. Go-karts are usually equipped with one of the three most common tire types.
Slicks are used for dry conditions and are designed for racing. You can either opt for soft tires which provide high amounts of grip but also wear out faster, or hard tires that offer less grip but last longer.
Wets are also known as rain tires and are used for wet weather conditions. They are grooved to provide maximum amounts of grip in rainy conditions and are designed to prevent aquaplaning.
Special tires are used for different types of races or occasions. They are commonly used for dirt, off-road or recreation. Concession or recreational (non-racing) go-karts tend of have larger tires that make for a smoother ride.
Go-kart steering wheels are simple in design and are typically made of aluminum. They’re commonly around 10″ – 12″ in diameter. A steering wheel has three mounting holes that connect to the steering shaft (part of the steering column), which attaches to the front axle.
Higher quality go-kart steering wheels are wrapped with neoprene and feature molded finger grip grooves that provide riders with an ergonomic grip. Comfort on the steering wheel is extremely important, as vibrations and hard turns can be strenuous on your grip.
Go-Karts also don’t have power steering, so you often have to keep a tight grip on the steering wheel. The lack of comfort of your handling can greatly impact your racing experience.
You’ll see go-karts equipped with either a gasoline engine or an electric motor depending on its type.
Gasoline engine on go-karts are either two stroke (up to 18,000 rpm) or four stroke (up to 11,000 rpm). While the two stroke engine is more commonly used for racing, due to its higher revs, the four stroke is quieter and runs smoother.
Electric motors have increased in popularity over the last few years. They can be advantageous due to their quicker acceleration, better weight distribution and the ability to reverse. The downside of electric go-kart motors are the short ranges and the time they last on the track (usually 20 minutes) before needing to be recharged. Electric motors run much quieter than their gasoline counter-parts, of course.
The chassis of a go-kart consists of two parts. The first is the frame of the kart also referred to as the platform. It’s a metal construct where all parts are mounted onto.
The second part is the body kit (also known as body work) that consist of bumpers, panels and spoilers. They protect the foundation and the inner parts of the go-kart and are made out of hard plastic or fiberglass.
The outer metal “cage” around a kart is referred to as the guard frame. It surrounds the go-kart and protects the body work from damage. It also ensure that any wheel collision in a race is avoided. Wheel collisions can sometimes cause a kart to flip and even knock it out of the race track.
As these frames are made out of metal, it adds quite some weight to the go-kart. Professional racing karts often forego metal frames in order to maximize acceleration by keeping the weight of the go-kart to a minimum.
So, How does a Go-Kart Work?
Now that you understand the 6 basic parts of a go-kart, you are able understand and familiarize yourself with how the parts all work together.
Note that there are many more parts in a go-kart that are required in order for them to function, but this guide will focus on explaining just the basics.
The gasoline engine or electric motor sits on a mount, on top of the go-kart frame. It provides power to the go-kart’s powertrain and drive shaft, which are connected to the rear axle.
As the pistons inside the engine cylinders move, it spins the driveshaft, which subsequently rotates the axle that turn the wheels and accelerate the go kart. The constant acceleration moves the go-kart forward.
The steering wheel is attached to the steering shaft. The steering shaft is attached to two tie rods (one to the left and the other to the right). These are connected to spindles on each side that are held together by a kingpin bolt. The spindle turns when you turn your steering wheel ensuring that you can turn your go-kart left and right.
The accelerator pedal (also referred to as gas pedal) is connected via a throttle cable to the engine which regulates the gasoline injection into the combustion engine. Electric go-karts are also installed with an accelerator pedal, which regulate speed through an electric controller.
The braking system in the go-kart is fairly simple. There is a master cylinder installed that contains brake fluid. When you press the brake pedal, brake fluid travels along the brake lines (or hydraulic lines) that are linked to the calipers. The calipers contain two brake pads which “pinch” on the rotor, whenever you depress the brake pedal. Once the brake pads come into contact with the rotor, the friction increases and the go-kart’s decelerates.