Track Day Review
Extreme enduros, sharp rocks, and slippery roots–the nastier the terrain the better; as an avid off-road motorcycle racer, that’s what I thrive on.
Growing up in the off-road world, you could say that I was predisposed to think that sport bikes were street candy and serious motorcycle riding was done in the dirt.
But since traveling to historic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to experience my first MotoGP in 2005, the throat-gripping roar of a MotoGP weapon (then 990cc) has echoed through my chest cavity. It was like the incessant tolling of church bells, and it was a sign that change was on the horizon!
Of course, I didn’t know much about sport bikes, and had never even ridden one. That didn’t matter to me, however, as I could imagine the feeling of scratching a knee through the Andretti Hairpin and flicking the bike through the left-right-left of the gravity defying Corkscrew, literally to the point where hair would stand up on my arms and my eyes would well up. This is something I had to do!
I know now that with age comes a certain degree of moto-maturity and the naivety of my previous thinking was now borderline embarrassing, especially in light of the fact that I constantly find myself daydreaming about the thrill and exhilaration of riding a track. Was I crossing over?
Then it happened–a message from Ultimate MotorCycling’s Arthur Coldwells who had obviously caught wind of my newfound infatuation and wanted to know if I’d like to "give it a go?" Are you kidding me? I thought. My body began sending mixed signals–total rapture accompanied by a thick layer of utter fear. In my mind, I was an expert sport bike rider. I had spent nearly four years racing through my mind’s eye, dicing it up with my on-track heroes; while in reality I was actually casually jogging on the treadmill or commuting in standstill traffic on my way to the office.
But this was it, the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. The "dirt guy" with the secret sport bike love affair was about to don a stunning one-piece Dainese Gran Premio Professional one-piece suit and let loose on the track. The day could not come soon enough!
David Pyles of Fastrack Riders invited the UltimateMotorcycling.com crew to the Auto Club Raceway in Fontana, California, an outstanding venue that hosts the AMA Superbike series as well as NASCAR. After completing the obligatory logistics of registration, staking out a garage, taping up the mirrors and lights of my Honda CBR1000RR ABS, and mounting the transponder, I was ready to start.
Professional instruction is provided and wisely mandatory for first-time riders. I was teamed up with a trio of extremely competent, prepared, and professional instructors who immediately took the class out on the track for slow sighting lap to familiarize us with the track, entrance and exit points, safety considerations, and track etiquette.
The day was then divided up into seven 20-minute track sessions with classroom instruction in-between each morning session. After lunch, it would be time to leap from the nest and put our skills to the test. The instruction system takes each technique learned in the classroom, and then immediately applies it in the following on-track session.
After re-covering the all important aspects of track day safety and etiquette, we immediately poured over a track map and studied the optimal racing lines, alternative lines, and hitting the proper apexes of the corners. This session alone is worth the price of the class, and provided the basic toolkit to circulate around the track with an ear-to-ear grin!
Each successive classroom session delved deeper, covering the technical concepts of the physical forces being applied to the bike and rider, including the physics behind counter steering and the effect that body positioning has on the overall center of gravity. This session was fascinating, and the instructor used a mountain bicycle to demonstrate the changes in steering geometry and center of gravity during corning. The instruction and curriculum is highly developed, making it as engaging as it is informative.
We suited up and, using a front wheel chock and help from fellow students, we practiced proper body positioning on the bike and transitioning across the seat to simulate flicking the bike through a quick left-right chicane. Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion were readily apparent as the class consciously focused on counter steering technique to overcome the gyroscopic effects of the wheels by pushing on the bars to the right to get the bike to lean to the left to setup a left hand turn.
Out on the track, I glued myself to the rear of the instructor’s KTM RC8 and attempted to mimic his every maneuver as he put on a kinetic demonstration of the laws of physics. By communicating through predefined hand signals, we swapped positions and he followed vigilantly behind me, critiquing my performance and providing on-track feedback with a touch of the knee – the sign for my most common offense – not extending my inside knee enough in the corners. Immediately after each session we debriefed the entire ride, my performance turn-by-turn, and setup the game plan for the next session. The entire learning process is so exhilarating that I found myself growing impatient for the next on-track session to start.
By the afternoon everything began to click, and bad habits such as pivoting around the gas tank and not extending my knee, were beginning to melt away. For the very first time, I felt the scratch of my knee slider touching down while exiting turn 6, a double apex left-hander. But there was no time to celebrate, as I had just discovered the secret sauce! Corner after corner, I punished my knee sliders. I finally felt like I was riding the CBR1000RR as I had been in my dreams for the past four years.
By the fourth on-track session I began to feel very comfortable. I was certainly physically comfortable in my leathers. Mentally, I was hammering the redline. I could not suppress my enthusiasm as I ran my mouth off to anyone within earshot! I was, by my own estimation, ripping it up on a sport bike for the first time in my life. Then I got news that I was lapping in the 1:56 range–fast enough to move up to Level 2!
Riding high on adrenaline and soaked with enthusiasm I decided to mix it up a bit and went out on a Honda CBR600RR ABS. I instantly took to the two-stroke feel of the high revving 600, but I quickly realized that it didn’t have a slipper clutch. I downshifted and backed the rear tire into turns like I was fire-roading my off-road bike! Riding with the faster guys in the afternoon was an endorphin rush in itself and I felt like a bona fide sport bike track rider! No sooner had I turned in my transponder when I was presented with my diploma from the Fastrack Rider School along with a class photo and goody-bag chock full of stickers, plus discounts on aftermarket products and professional bike setup.
What a difference a track day and professional instruction makes! Regardless of experience or go-fast skills, every rider will undoubtedly benefit tremendously from having a safe and structured environment to learn how to utilize a sport bike the way the manufacturer intended, and it’s worth repeating that aggressive sport bike riding on the streets and canyons is not only unpredictable and dangerous, it can be hazardous to your driving privileges as well!
As the sun began to dip in the sky, I negotiated the last few turns of what turned out to be one of the most exciting, educational, and gratifying motorcycling days in recent memory – and the words of one of the instructors kept resonating through my head: "Riding the track is like paying taxes. You want to push the rules as far as you can without breaking them." Words to live by, regardless of what sort of surface you ride on.