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Take it to the track!

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.

Ah, now this is more like it. No Hyundai Accents, no delivery vans, no traffic lights, no squids and – most important – no speeding tickets.

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.

It may not look fancy, but Dean’s got everything here he needs for a day of high-speed hijinks.

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.

It’s competitive on the track but friendly in the pits when you sign up for a day of racing and performance improvement.

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?

Dean gets his knee down at Calabogie on his 2007 CBR600RR. Are you watching, Jacob?

 

2 thoughts on “Take it to the track!”

  1. Excellent point Peter…good reminder for long time riders, and a good advisory for noobie riders. And yes, track riding is simply heads and shoulders more fun/exciting than street riding, and absolutely makes one a better street rider.

  2. Good article, but please don’t underestimate the risks when riding track – “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.” Remember that you and everyone else out there are pushing much closer to the limits of skill, judgement and traction, and a small error could lead to you going down, or someone else going down and taking you with them. The good thing is that its a controlled environment with limited things to hit, and emergency staff there to assist you when it happens. But it does happen.

    Last year riding green group at Calabogie, I was coming up on a large group of slower riders. As suggested at the morning meeting, I pulled into the pit lane to wait to be sent out when the track was more open. On the following lap, some guy tried a late pass on the front straights and plowed into that group taking out several, with 2 needing trips to the hospital. If I didn’t do that pit lane, I could easily have been one of those.

    Do things like this happen every time? Of course not. And I don’t want to discourage people from trying track days, but I also don’t think we should mislead anyone to think that its a completely safe walk in the park. It requires just as much or more concentration, judgement and respect for the rules and others compared to riding on the street. It’s motorcycling much closer to the edge with both the elevated risks and rewards. Yes, much is done to mitigate those risks, but they are still there. People need to make an informed decision. For me, its worth it. After several years of track schools and rental bikes, I recently picked up a dedicated track bike and have committed myself to doing more track days.

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