The beginner's guide to motorcycle track days

John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor
By John Milbank
BikingMilbank BikeSocial Consumer Editor, John owns a KTM 1050 Adventure. He's as happy tinkering in the workshop as he is on twisty, bumpy backroads, and loves every bike ever built (except one). He's bought three CBR600s, two Ducati Monsters, several winter hacks, three off-roaders, a supermoto pit bike, a Honda Vision 50 and built his own custom XSR700. 

 

Attend any track day and you’ll often find a few riders milling around, just watching the action. Many of them are looking nervously at the bikes flying past on track, wondering if, maybe, it’s for them. Too often they decide it’s not.

It really doesn’t matter what you ride, or how you ride it, a track day will help you improve your skills on the road as you can learn just how hard you can brake – and accelerate – in the relatively safe environment of a wide, well-surfaced stretch of tarmac with nothing coming the other way. So what are you worried about?

 

“I’ll crash”

Why? Far too often when someone does crash on track, they do it in the first session, usually running wide because they can’t brake hard enough (they almost always could have braked harder). Would you do this on the road? If not, why do it on track? You have all day to build up the pace, and it doesn’t take long to learn each corner. Ride as you would any unknown road and get faster only as your knowledge of the track increases. Follow your own pace, not someone else’s.

 

“Someone will crash into me

It’s unlikely, but that’s why track days are broken into groups – many operators will give you the chance to move groups if you need to, but if it’s your first time, just book into the novice group. You won’t be the only one.

 

“I don’t know what to do”

If you managed to ride to the track, you can ride around it. Many tracks though have instructors on site that can give you advice – check while booking. Alternatively, book yourself on a track training session, like the California Superbike School – read here how a new rider got on.

 

“I don’t have the right bike”

Again, if you rode to the track, your bike’s fine. Unless you have a really loud exhaust, or the bike’s not roadworthy for some other reason, you’ll be on the right machine to have a lot of fun. At the Bennetts track day in this video, we had 27-year-old ZZRs and brand new R1200GSs on track next to the sportiest track tools.

 

“I’ll have to take my mirrors off and tape up my lights

No you won’t. Many track day enthusiasts advise folding your mirrors in as it’s more important to know what’s in front of you – the rider behind should take responsibility for passing you safely. However, and this is a personal opinion, I leave my mirrors out as I prefer to be aware of what’s going on behind me as I approach a corner – if someone looks like they’ve misjudged things, I can take that into account before I tip in.

As your speed and experience improves, and especially as you move up through the groups (if you want to), then it’s more relevant as you’re aiming for a faster lap time.

 

“I don’t have the right tyres”

Again… did you ride to the track? If you have old or very touring-focussed rubber, you won’t get the same angles of lean, but on your first track day, if you ride sensibly (i.e. not pushing yourself beyond how you would on the road for the first few sessions), then you’ll soon get a feel for your tyres.

And if you’re on road tyres, even sports–oriented kit, leave your tyre pressures at the manufacturer’s recommendation. According to Pirelli, if you really need to think about tyre pressures, you’re at a pace that means you should be considering track-specific hoops.

 

“I don’t have the right kit”

Okay, you’ve got us here – you’ll need one-piece leathers, or two-piece that zip all the way round (not just a short zip at the back). But some places, like the California Superbike School, offer hire kit, or ask around if any of your mates are willing to lend you some – that’s what Jon in our video did.

 

We’d love to hear about your first track day – tell us about it in the comments below. Until then, watch our video to follow two first timers at a Bennetts customer track day…

Guide to your first track day
BikeSocial follows two bikers as they ride on track for the first time
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