How To Make Your First Time A Great Experience
Recently I was at The Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, Washington for a motorcycle track day. Since it was a Tuesday, turnout was light leaving lots of open track. The sun was shining, temperature was in the mid-60s and a slight breeze was blowing, a perfect day. In nine days MotoAmerica would be here turning and burning on the same surface.
If you’ve have ever had ideas of doing a track day, this is for you.
Thoughts of riding on a racetrack can be intimidating. Gear requirements, bike prep and pit setup can be scary unknowns along with the fear of higher speeds or swifter riders streaking by just off your shoulder. These fears are natural, yet all of these concerns have solutions and racetrack experience just may be the key to overcome bad riding habits. Breaking bad habits can be difficult and one of the best ways is to take to the track and get proper instruction.
The first step is to commit. Find a local track day provider and drop down your cash. While this may sound like an odd first step, it has a profound effect on motivation. The money spent gives you a goal, a due date, a “no turning back now” mindset that you are in fact going to do this. Paying for your track day ahead of time is the skydiving equivalent of loading the airplane, the skiing equivalent of loading the chairlift; it cements the idea that you are committed. With the date on the calendar circled and your money spent, it is time to prepare.
Keen eyes will note the green vest over my leathers. On this track day I am getting personal coaching. As with any sport, we all can benefit from a little coaching. On-track photos by 360 Photography.
Mental preparation is key and is just as important as bike prep. Invest time here. Many resources exist for improving your mental skill but my favorite is Keith Code’s Twist Of The Wrist II. Keith’s direct writing, illustrations and examples break riding down into a science that can be studied, understood and mastered. I’ve had my copy for years and it has been highlighted, written in, read cover to cover and is literally falling apart. I credit Keith and his teaching for increasing my mental and physical tools before I even ventured onto the track. It is the bible on riding technique. Get a copy, study it and practice Keith’s lessons so they become reflexive before you ever take to the track. In addition, if your track day provider has personal coaching available, pay for it. A qualified coach will help you break bad habits that have been holding you back and coach you into replacement behaviors to help you be faster and safer.
Bike prep requirements and gear requirements may differ slightly depending on who is providing your track day but in general your bike should be free from fluid leaks, have tires with at least 50% tread life, brake pads at 50% life or greater, a throttle that snaps back to return smoothly even with the handlebars at full lock and have the wheel weights duct taped over. Rear view mirrors should be removed and headlights, turn signals and brake lights should be taped over or disconnected (simply pull the fuses). Blue painters tape works best for easy covering. Although your bike will have a tech inspection prior to you entering the track, you know your bike best and are ultimately responsible for its safety.
Your bike will be tech inspected before you take to the track, like these guys first thing in the morning. Read your track day provider’s requirements and prep your bike accordingly. However, you are ultimately responsible for your bike’s safety.
Some beginner groups allow textile gear in either a one piece or two piece, as long as the jacket and pants fully zip together. A back protector is highly recommended. Gloves must be full gauntlet to cover the wrists, and boots must fully cover the ankles. A full face helmet is a requirement and most track day providers will not allow modular helmets. Many riders own this gear already so the investment here may be minimal but remember, should you have an “off”, money spent on good protective gear certainly pays for itself.
Renting a trailer from U-Haul is an alternative if you don’t have a motorcycle trailer available, or even a truck. Use your Tesla.
For your paddock setup, bring a canopy or E-Z Up shelter to shield you from the elements with weights on the ends to keep it from blowing away. Pack a cooler of fluids for hydration along with quick, easy to eat snacks. Toward the end of an 8 hour day, fatigue can set in so drink plenty of fluids between each session and eat small meals throughout the day to keep your energy level steady. Bring extra fuel if your track does not have fuel available since throttle happy track speeds drain your gas tank quickly. Bring basic tools, a tire pressure gauge and a chair that is easy to sit in with your riding suit on.
My setup is shockingly low budget- a lightly modified Honda Superhawk and a Honda Element to camp out of. Once you take to the track, none of that matters.
Track riding provides you with a controlled environment to safely expand your riding skills. Many riders make more growth in one day than most riders make in a year, or many years. Done properly, you will be a safer rider when you leave. The money spent on track experience might pay for itself with increased skill that allows you to avoid that next road hazard, surviving to ride another day. And it’s just damn fun. Heck, EIC Rob has done several himself over the years, loves them, and Road Dirt resident racer Ryan Nolan uses them regularly to hone his competition as well as street riding skills.
As I was loading my bike on the trailer at Shelton by the end of the weekend, an automobile driver approached me. He had a BMW 3 Series ready for an evening car track session when our group was finished. He looked over my bike and its freshly destroyed tires and could not help but comment.
Track speeds and temperatures accelerate tire wear. Make sure your tires have at least 50% tread ahead of time. Budget for possible replacement afterwards.
“You guys are the crazies,” he said.
I disagree. I think a rider is crazy to not try their first track day.
*Be sure to check out this video discussion between Ted and Rob about their experiences at track days, without ever leaving this page!