Track Day: An Experienced Perspective
Many riders think of track days as events for racers only. They don’t see the need or advantages for street riding. Excuses run rampant. In our riding circle, “Next year, for sure!” is the most notable. Some people have used that phrase every year for over a decade.
As a rider with many years of experience, I have attended quite a few track days and would like to shed a different light on what they’re about. I view them as several things, none of which pertain to racing or outright speed. First, they’re the most fun riding experience I know of. Second, they’re the best and safest way to improve riding skills. Third, race tracks are the ONLY safe place to ride at your limits.
Yes, track days are FUN! It’s awesome to be in a race track environment, free to ride as fast and hard as you like. That’s something every rider can appreciate.
A new track day attendee will probably be nervous, as is expected. There are a few ways to minimize this nervousness. For starters, it’s very helpful to attend your first track day with someone who’s been to one before. They can help you with bike and gear preparation as well as the track day routine which includes tech inspection, a rider’s meeting, rules and scheduling. Knowing the routine and being around people who have gone through it before will help you keep calm.
Doing research ahead of time to find out which track day sponsors are the most novice-friendly will also help ease the nerves. From my experience, Sportbike Track Time is a great introductory resource. They include mandatory classes between on-track sessions which are very informative. Control riders are always willing to help on and off the track with the learning and understanding of concepts in sport riding.
A few years ago, one particular control rider spent about ten minutes with me off-track explaining body position during braking and corner entry. This transformed my riding instantly. He explained it in a way that made perfect sense and all of those terms and theories not only fell into place but really worked on the track. I wouldn’t have learned these methods in a hundred years of street riding.
Bike preparation, which many riders use as an excuse to avoid track days, is minimal. You simply need to remove or tape your mirrors, tape every light, tape the speedometer, have good tires and brakes and have a leak free bike. It’s possible to ride your street bike to the track, prepare it, participate in the event, unprepare it and ride home.
In my everyday world I’m an overweight, gray-haired, 50-something software support analyst. When I tell people that I ride in motorcycle track days they usually reply “You’re crazy!” or “Why would you do something so dangerous?”. The truth is that track days are the safest type of motorcycling you can do.
Picture your average street ride. There are countless unknowns just waiting to ruin your day (or life). On the street you must contend with oncoming traffic, drivers in general, unknown road conditions, blind corners, guard rails, trees and utility poles within feet of the road surface, cross streets, etc.
On a race track it’s like riding the same stretch of familiar road over and over again. You can use the entire road surface without worrying about oncoming traffic or cross streets. You can expect the road surface to be clean lap after lap. If it isn’t someone will be waving a big yellow flag to inform you. There are generous safe runoff areas at each corner and paramedics with an ambulance on site in case of an incident.
These factors make track days the perfect environment for safely honing your riding skills. With control-rider instruction and zero distractions you’re free to concentrate on the task at hand, which is to become a smoother, safer and faster rider. After my first few track days I realized the track was the only place to ride at or near my limit.
I confess to have routinely ridden very hard on the street for many years. I’m lucky to have never had a serious incident. Once I took in and understood the track day environment, all of those nasty street hazards became magnified and it was easy to see that in most street situations a simple low-side could quickly turn into a major injury or worse.
I still ride twisty roads in a spirited manner. However, my street pace is never at or near my limit and I’m extra vigilant of roads with hazards (close guard rails, trees, utility poles, ravines, etc). Rather than concentrating on outright speed, I concentrate on smoothness and form. My street pace is probably not much slower than my track pace but I know I’m safer with a greater margin of error and less likely to have a street incident.
So, there’s no excuse for NOT getting out and participating in a track day. They’re a world of fun, you’ll learn a lot and become a much better rider for less than the cost of a speeding ticket. Be prepared, though, as your first track day will not likely be your last!
What Experience Would You Like To Share About Motorcycle Track Days?
There are many great tracks all over the world that welcome motorcycle enthusiasts. Which is your favorite? What do you like about it and why? Your input is invited. Post an article!