17 circuits in the UK host motorcycle track days and several of those have layout variations, like Silverstone with the National, International and Grand prix circuit options, meaning there are plenty of opportunities to test your bikes capability and exceed the national speed limits in a much safer environment, with nothing coming the other way.
And with Focused Events, No Limits, Silverstone, MSVR and the California Superbike School among the top tier of track day operators, there’s also plenty of choice to how each is run. Most provide instructors and split the participants up into three groups depending on ability and experience; novice, intermediate and advanced… also known by numbers or colours with anywhere up to 40 riders per group depending on the size of the circuit. And the beauty of a track day is the breadth of bikes on track from race bikes and the latest litre-capacity sports bike to the A2 licence friendly 500cc machines. I even saw a BMW R1200 GS at Donington in the summer, complete with panniers and a top box!
In order to make the following video, I was joined by a relatively newbie to track day riding, Andrew Luckie, who earlier this year bought himself a road-going Suzuki SV650 for around £1500 and is gradually converting it into a track-only bike.
If you never been to a track day before then let us help you through a typical track day, but let’s start with the prep and what not to forget. Here’s a handy checklist:
- On the basis that most track day operators ask you to be on site by 7am, work out if it’s better to stay locally to the circuit the night before, camp at the circuit, or get up super early on the day.
- Will you ride to the circuit, use a trailer or a van… or even a hire bike available through most operators? If you’re taking your own bike, then make sure you’re taking all the bits you’re going to need, so consider this lot:
- Leathers, boots, gloves, helmet and back protector – you will need either a one piece set of leathers or a two piece which zips together, all the way around. Consider what to wear underneath too, this will depend on the weather
- Driving licence – you won’t be riding without it
- Paperwork – you’ll be sent some before the day with do’s and don’ts and an idea of where to go on arrival as well as approximate timings on the day; read it, understand it then fill it in and sign it beforehand. It’ll save you time on the day.
- Fuel - top up your tank before you get to the circuit and if you can then take some additional fuel with you in an appropriate container. Most circuits provide fuel… but you pay for the convenience. A top tip would be to add only enough fuel for each session thus keeping the weight down.
- The circuit – find a circuit map or search YouTube for any videos so you can learn which direction it goes
- Tyres/Brakes/Chain – check the tread, do you have any? Don’t worry about pressures as there’ll be a tyre service on site, and you’ll only need to reduce them if you’re gunning around in the fast group or have been running very high road pressures. Chain tension, plenty of brake pads.
- Noise – most track days will have a maximum static noise limit, usually around 102dB. If you have an aftermarket exhaust then check the noise level before you go just in case, and at least take a baffle with you if it’s not already fitted.
- Water/food – there’ll be a cafe or restaurant on site but you might want to take your own. Several 20-minute track sessions can soon take it out of you so it’s important to stay hydrated, especially if it’s a hot day. Little and often with food – don’t eat too much at lunch.
- Change of clothes – on a warm day you’ll get sweaty. On a cold day, you’ll need layers when you finish each session
- Seating – between sessions you might want to sit down so why not take a fold-up chair
- Duct tape – some track day operators insist on the removal or taping up of lights, mirrors. Lights: just in case of an accident so glass is retained. And mirrors (which of course you can fold in) so you’re not distracted by what’s going on behind, and you can concentrate fully on what’s happening ahead. Personally, I’d prefer to see the brake lights of the person in front of me, so my advice would be to leave those uncovered.
- Why 7am? It’s because there’s plenty of paperwork to get sorted and signed as well as a safety briefing and noise testing to get sorted before your first session
Above: Mann films Luckie on his first Silverstone track day. Waiting patiently at Oulton Park while the rest of the group assembles
What happens when I arrive?
- On arrival find a base for the day in the paddock, most pit garages can comfortably accommodate at least 5 or 6 bikes and everyone shares.
- 7.30am: before doing anything else you’ll need to register which means taking your driving licence and the completed paperwork to the paddock office, the on-site restaurant or a designated garage where ‘Signing On’ takes place but you’ll find out on arrival. The event staff will check who you are against their list and hand you a sticker for your bike which denotes which group you are in. You will also have a wrist band to put on which the pit lane-based staff will check before each track session.
- After registration get your bike noise tested, at some circuits this is mandatory, at others its more of an advisory. You will get another sticker.
- 8/8.30am: attend a mandatory safety briefing, usually in the cafe/restaurant. You will witness sarcasm and receive another sticker. Often newcomers are invited to stay behind for an additional briefing. You won’t be the only one, I guarantee it.
- 9am: the first track session – some operators prefer Novices out first but most prefer the Advanced group. You will line up at the end of the pit lane and are taken around the circuit for two ‘sighting’ laps at a reasonably slow pace with no overtaking so you can warm your tyres and learn the circuit, especially where the pit lane entrance is. You then re–enter the pit lane, form up again in two lines and are then released to enjoy the remainder of the session at a pace you feel comfortable at. Overtaking is now permitted.
- There are plenty of other options to add to your experience; you can then have your tyres and suspension checked by professionals, you can book yourself a photo album. But perhaps most importantly, rider coaches can be summoned or booked to show you some lines and offer advice.
At the end of the session find your pit garage, leave the bike to cool down, grab a drink and tell tales of how amazing it was.
The other two groups then enjoy their respective 20-minute sessions before you are given a 5-minute warning via the public-address system in advance of your nest session. It comes around quickly.
Above: Checking tyre pressures and finding the best place for the numbered sticker
- Ride within your capabilities, you aren’t Marc Marquez and won’t be setting any lap records so ease into the day, learn a little bit extra in each session and make sure you enjoy the day.
- Let your tyres warm up at the beginning of each session – give them at least a lap and half to two laps before delivering much lean angle
- Keep your rhythm smooth on the track, be safe
- Use the instructors. They are there for a reason, will help with any questions and are able to follow you and offer feedback
- Look ahead on the track, not at the gravel trap or inside of the corner you’re taking
- Know when to come in or stop. You don’t have to complete every session and if your brakes are feeling squidgy or you’re a little tired then don’t push it
Once you’ve had a taste of a track day, be prepared to become very addicted! But it is not a race.