Whether you are building a go-kart from scratch, modifying your current kart or just renting one for a fun-filled session, knowing your go-kart parts and how they work together is an important component in controlling and enjoying this motorized recreational vehicle.
In this article, we will explore the specific go-kart parts to help you better understand how this powerful little vehicle works.
The Go-Kart Engine
The engine is perhaps the most important feature of all the go-kart parts.
Many go-kart do-it-yourselfers will salvage gas powered motors from lawn mowers for use in their go-kart. These units have enough torque to make the perfect go-kart engine. Engines from motorcycles and small cars have also made their way into homemade go-karts, as well as those manufactured specifically for the go-kart. Basically, if the engine will fit within your go-kart frame, it can be used as a go-kart engine.
Electric go kart motors are also widely used, particularly on indoor track go-karts – no fumes!
The go-kart frame is another important component of all the go-kart parts. The “chassis” of your cart will have to be both durable and well-constructed to keep your go-kart wheels connected to the track while steering through the apex or navigating your way over the rugged terrain. Experts know that losing control of your kart is more likely to happen with an inferior go-kart frame, getting this component right is vital in having a successful vehicle.
A good go-kart frame needs to be flexible, lightweight, and durable. They are generally manufactured from steel tubing and are available in four different models;
- Caged – this type of go-kart frame has a roll cage fitted onto the bottom of the kart. It encircles the rider and protects them from a crash or “rollover.” Sometimes this type of chassis will have a roll bar instead of a full cage. This bar is placed directly behind the driver’s seat.
- Open – an “open” frame is just that – there is no protection from a rollover.
- Straight & Offset – these frames are categorized by the placement of the driver in the go-kart frame. The “straight” frame will position the driver in the middle of the kart while the “offset” driver will be sitting on the left-hand side of the go-kart frame.
Go-Kart Steering Wheel/Assembly
The go-kart steering wheel and assembly are another important feature of the go-kart parts. The steering assembly’s job of turning the go-kart is two-fold; it has to turn the go-kart without causing surging or tire squealing. A poor steering assembly can cause uneven tire wear and “clunky” turns on the corners.
There are two different designs of go-kart steering assemblies:
- The Bogie Steering System – this is the most efficient system. It has the two front wheels mounted on the same beam or the same axle, which then allows it to pivot in the center section. The Bogie is similar to a “pull-behind” wagon where the front handle directs the front wheels, changing the direction of the wagon. The downside of this type of go-kart steering assembly is that it can take quite a bit of force to turn the wheels.
- The Ackerman Steering System – this type of steering is where the axles are mounted on knuckles (steel mechanisms) away from the go-kart frame. The go-kart wheels rotate vertically around the pivots, causing them to turn. The Ackerman steering system also consists of levers that are put onto each one of the steering knuckles. The length of the lever dictates movement and force required (the longer the lever, the better they work). Think of the system as a parallelogram – there should be an equivalent amount of movement in the steering wheel and in the wheel knuckles as they are turning.
Go-Kart Torque Converter
The go-kart torque converter is an automatic transmission that gives great power, especially in the off-roading go-kart. The torque converter is made up of belts and two pulleys that work in conjunction with each other as the speed of the kart changes.
A go-kart torque converter can be driven at low speed (for uphill climbs) and can automatically detect which gear it needs to be in depending on the amount of gas being given to the engine as well as the terrain it is being driven on. This type of mechanism also allows for smooth shifting. The benefit of having a torque converter is more power is transmitted when the go-kart is in low gear. When the kart is at a higher speed, the pulleys change to produce a “lower gear ratio” (kart can climb quicker).
Go-Kart Centrifugal Clutch
If your go-kart is being driven on pavement and your main objective is to race at high speeds, then the centrifugal clutch is your best bet. This single-gear-ratio drive mechanism differs from the go-kart torque converter because it is always in high-gear (torque converter has both a high and a low gear). Clutch karts need to be driven at a minimum of 5 or 6 mph to prevent the clutch from burning out – even driving at low speeds for two minutes can destroy a go-kart centrifugal clutch.
The go-kart seat is much more than a place to sit while go-karting. Experts will tell you that choosing the best seat for your needs is a must-have. The go-kart seat comes in many different styles (padded, unpadded, plastic, carbon, fiberglass, soft, stiff, flat bottom, etc.). If you are building your go-kart from a kit, then the manufacturer will recommend the right seat for your go-kart frame.
Over the last five or six years, the flat bottom go-kart seat has gained popularity. This style of go-kart seat allows the driver to sit lower in the kart which, in turn, lowers your center of gravity. This is perfect for taller drivers, as it allows them to steer the kart more effectively.
One important tip to keep in mind when choosing a go-kart seat is to remember the seat is like an oddly-shaped torsion bar (“regular” torsion bars run horizontally and give the go-kart frame more stability). Stiff seats will enable the kart to lie flatter, while softer seats will allow the go-kart frame more flexibility, which is good if you are off-roading and need some built-in suspension.
The go-kart tires are just as important as those you have on your everyday vehicle. The type of tires you choose for your kart will depend on what you are doing with your go-kart.
If you are off-roading, you will want the knobby-style tire that provides the maximum grip required on rough terrain. If your go-kart wheels are intended for asphalt, then there are different types – tires that are grooved are designed for water while “flats” (that do not have any knobs or grooves) have complete contact with the pavement.
You will also want to pay attention to the sidewalls of the tires. There are generally two styles; the stiff sidewall and the soft sidewall. Stiff sidewall tires do better on asphalt and tracks, while the soft sidewall acts as a natural cushion while adding suspension on rugged terrain.
When you are running your go-kart at breakneck speeds you will want to have a good set of brakes to help you stop safely and quickly. There are three main types of go-kart brakes:
- Tire Rubbing Brakes – uses a piece of metal or aluminum that is pressed against the tires to stop the go-kart. The downside of using the tire rubbing style of brakes is that the go-kart wheels tend to wear out faster.
- Band Brakes – braking band material is wrapped around the drum (a metal disc-shaped object used in most brake assemblies). When the band is pulled on, the braking material rubs hard on the drum to stop the go-kart. Although this style of braking is very compact, it does produce a lot of heat.
- Disc Brakes – uses a disc of steel that is rubbed on with a friction-type material (usually rubber) which is clamped on both sides of the plate. This style of the brake can dissipate the heat faster and better than the other two styles can. Disc brakes are commonly used on higher-end go-karts on all four wheels. When the brake pedal on the go-kart is depressed, the brake fluid causes these two rubber pads to squeeze towards one another. This then puts friction on the brake disc (mounted onto the axle) which then slows the go kart down.
Go-Kart Parts Conclusion
As you can see, many components go into a go-kart. Understanding this complex little vehicle will enhance your driving skills and handling of the go kart. If you like to tinker with your go kart, learning how each go kart parts interact with each other, you can improve the performance of your kart and therefore your performance on the track.
If you’re feeling ambitious you can build your very own custom go kart from scratch. Knowing these go-kart parts will be your first step in this fascinating and rewarding adventure.