Lieback’s Lounge: Returning to The Track 15 Months Later

Ron Lieback R7

Following a 15-month hiatus from the track due to this lingering virus, I returned mid-May at Atlanta Motorsports Park, a private two-mile circuit design by famed Formula One track designer Hermann Tilke.

Before the Atlanta trip, I had a few opportunities to ride some East Coast tracks, such as New Jersey Motorsports Park and New York Safety Track. Instead of spending three-plus hours one-way to these circuits, I spent more time riding my KTM 1190 Adventure R on the street, off-road, and in my bike yard, where I treat the hefty beast like a trials bike. I drop the bike so much I began calling my crashes “Toni Bous.”

My passions have always resonated equally among all riding disciplines, from spirited street riding/touring to big-bike ADV in mostly dirt to enduro riding on single-tracks.

Since the pandemic hit, though, big-bike ADV off-road riding has resonated deeply—mostly out of necessity, I think. Some gnarly single track and fire roads begin a minute from my house—ones that feature sporadic rocks marked by orange paint from my crash bars. The Adventure R has settled into my #1 bike over the past few months (sorry, Multistrada).

Over the past six years or so, most of my track time occurred during new bike launches, which were many every year leading up to the pandemic. I am totally spoiled as a motojournalist because I get to ride world-class circuits, from the YAS Marina at Abu Dhabi to Jerez in Spain to Circuit of the Americas in Texas.

My last track experience was somewhat sour. I had my first crash at a press launch after 12 years as a journalist. The wreck occurred while testing the then-new Metzeler M9 RR in February 2020 at Ascari in Málaga, Spain—a private resort-type track for motoholics.

Metzeler simulated rainy conditions by watering down a small section of the track. Idiot me forgot how slick the curbs get and, while choosing the perfect line that required bouncing over a curb, I tucked the front-end of a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R at 15 mph and went down. The bike and I were fine, but my favorite customized Alpinestars GP Pro V2 leathers suffered some damage. And I have still yet to send them back to Alpinestars for repairs (sorry, Heath!).

When I found out I was heading to a private circuit in Atlanta to ride, that crash resurfaced. That feeling was quickly overcome, and the passion for the track returned. Thankfully, the bike would not be challenging to ride.

The revived engagement with the conditioned pavement in Atlanta was engaging due to the bike underneath me—the 2022 Yamaha YZF-R7 that’s powered by the simple nature of the CP2 twin engine.

Lieback’s Lounge: Returning to The Track 15 Months Later

Yamaha’s new supersport is effortless to ride, something I needed for my initial return to the circuit. Yamaha’s marketing department has some work to do because this is not exactly a replacement for the outgoing YZF-R6, and has nothing to do with the 1999 YZF-R7 (a model we older journalists consider sacred). The R7, basically a supersport-focused MT-07, should sell well, and become a favorite for newbie sportbike riders and twin-cup racers.

I clearly have a soft spot for the R7 because it was my first ride upon returning to the track after a 15-month hiatus. The passion returned—and quickly. My soul is still churning with energy for the track.

My body, not so much. It’s amazing how you quickly realize what muscles you’re not using. My thighs and midsection are still aching that wonderful pain that only happens after an entire track day. This prompted me to switch my exercise regime to focus more on track-focused muscle groups, which lasted for all of two workouts.

I’ll be right back to it this week at Utah Motorsports Park, where I’ll have some on-track time aboard a bike that won’t see much track time from its owners—the new 2022 Suzuki Hayabusa. Some straight-line top speed runs and street riding are also in-store, and I’m mentally readier than ever.

Motorcycle launches that include some track time have returned, and I’m hoping it remains this way. My love for all disciplines of riding is returning to balance, although my body says otherwise.