Let’s face it: traffic is getting worse, drivers are getting worse, and insurance rates are absurd. It’s enough to drive a motorcyclist off the road, literally. Today, many riders are supplementing or even replacing their street riding with track days. Taking your bike to the track is like taking your large-breed dog from your tiny downtown condo to the biggest off-leash dog park in the world, filled with infinite tennis balls and countless unfamiliar dog butts to sniff.
For the motorcycle rider, the track is the best place, nay the only place, to realize the full performance potential of the magnificent machines they might ride. Nowhere else can you push the envelope of traction and speed with as little possibility of physical and/or financial harm as where the curbs are low, flush, and painted with those familiar stripes.
If you’ve never participated in a track day, it can and will be a pivotal experience in your two-wheeled universe. Regardless of your current riding ability, your skills will improve and develop more than a decade of commuting and back-road scratching could ever realize. However, your first outing might best be explored via an established riding school to minimize anxiety, maximize learning, and avoid the many possible pitfalls of the inexperienced track rider.
Your first decision is whether to prep your own bike for track-day duty, purchase a bike specifically for the intended use, or rent. Depending on the organization running the events you intend to ride, prepping your own bike can be as simple as taping up any glass, passing a safety inspection, and making sure there is gas in the tank. This approach may be fine for a day or two of track riding, but be aware that stock motorcycle parts such as fairings and engine cases are easily damaged and expensive to repair or replace.
If you plan on multiple track days per season, and truly want to explore the limits of you and your motorcycle, a set of aftermarket fiberglass fairings, frame sliders, and case protectors are highly recommended. Swapping your track day setup with your street equipment can be time consuming, but time spent working on your bike and familiarizing yourself with all the little bolts and fasteners can be very fulfilling in itself, and the task takes less and less time to complete the more you do it.
Purchasing a track-day-only bike is the dream for many enthusiasts. Buying a new-to-you bike is always a bonus, and not having to make compromises for street-ability, comfort, or insurance premiums is definitely a plus. It can also be easier to find used bikes that may not be street certifiable but are still track worthy. However, even counting the fact that the track bike does not require insurance like a street legal bike, the cost to purchase and the space needed for storage of the bike, not to mention needing a truck or trailer to get it to the track, can be significant hurdles.
Unfortunately, renting a motorcycle for a track day is not as easy as picking up a beige Impala from the rental counter at the airport, but the option does exist in some regions. In many cases, the rider simply has to show up at the track, slip on the gear and jump on the bike, mimicking a day in the life of Valentino Rossi. Rental cost and levels of insurance coverage in the event of a mishap varies. Many riding schools offer rentals, a plus if you are just dipping a toe into the sport and haven’t decided to make the full splash just yet.
Similar options exist for safety gear. Maybe your street riding ensemble already includes the potentially necessary one-piece suit, back protector, certified full-face helmet, gauntlet gloves, and suitable boots. It’s possible a trip to your local motorcycle retailer is in order to equip yourself with a track-only outfit that will never be seen on the street. Or, as with rental bikes, rental gear is sometimes available. Consult your track day provider for their regulations both on bike prep and personal safety equipment.
Just over a century ago, riding horseback on downtown streets for transport or pleasure was not uncommon. Now, horseback riding is mostly confined to specialized tracks and riding areas away from the city streets. Will motorcycles suffer the same fate? We can only hope the answer is “no,” but at the same time, riding at a full gallop and not fighting traffic and dodging lamp posts does sound pretty nice, doesn’t it?