Ten reasons you need to do a track day
I’ve mingled with just about every kind of motorcyclist over the years, from hyper-competitive motocrossers who dread riding a bike that’s two years old to vintage enthusiasts on bikes that would grace a museum. But I’m most in my element when I’m at rallies or gatherings that draw the serious segment of sport-touring riders. These are generally men and women who put a lot of miles on their motorcycles, using them for travel and for commuting and daily transportation. As a rule, they tend to be safety conscious and wear quality gear, and they enjoy the performance modern motorcycles deliver.
There’s only one area where I find myself disagreeing with many of them. That’s the negative attitude toward track days that I find far too often among many of these riders. The objection often goes like this: “I’m no racer, just a sport-touring rider. There’s no reason for me to get on the track.”
Actually, I think these are the very people likely to benefit most from a track day. So if you’re one of those riders who always thought there was no reason to get on track, give me a few minutes and an open mind. Here are 10 reasons why you should get on the track.
1. Because your track day will be far more than just a day circulating a race track. While it may turn out to be the most fun you’ve ever had on a motorcycle, a track day should mainly be a learning experience. Take a structured school, if you can afford one. But just about any track-day organization offers instruction at no extra cost to novice-class riders or those on track for the first time.
2. Because learning happens when you break out of your routine. Twenty years of riding can be 20 years of progressive improvement or 20 years of repeating (and ingraining) the same first-year mistakes and bad habits. Some schools videotape students, which can be an eye-opening experience. You may think you’re smoothly arcing through the corner at full lean, but if the tape shows you wobbling through with half your lean angle unused, then you know exactly where you can improve.
3. Because MSF courses aren’t enough. This is not an either/or proposition. MSF courses are great for learning basic skills, but there are some things you can’t learn in a parking lot with some cones, such as how to downshift and brake while positioning your body weight to prepare for the approaching curve at 100 mph. Skills like that could save your hide on the street.
4. Because the track lets you focus purely on riding. To uncover new knowledge, a scientist uses a laboratory, where variables can be controlled. The track is a rider’s lab, where you can eliminate concerns about oncoming traffic, speed limits, deer running in front of you, etc., and focus strictly on improving your technique. In that laboratory-like environment, you learn more about your own skills.
5. Because it’s not a race. The worst track day experiences are frequently had by riders whose egos drive them to compare themselves to everyone else instead of focusing on improving their own skills. Valentino Rossi wannabes who get tired of being passed and decide to go faster at any cost will usually find the costs are high. If you finish the track day a better rider than when you started, then you’re a winner, no matter how many people passed you.
6. Because humility is a good thing. This is the corollary to number five. Do you sometimes feel a little smug because you ride faster and smoother than your street-riding buddies? Could that lead you into dangerous overconfidence? On any given day, there’s always someone faster than you and you’ll find many of them on the track. If you ever get the chance to be on the track with a pro, you’ll get a helpful reminder of where you rank in the motorcycle skills food chain, and there will be no denying you (like all of us) still have lots of room to improve.
7. Because it’s not as expensive as you think. “What? Two hundred dollars for a day at the track? Too expensive,” says the sport-touring rider, before riding off on his $13,000 motorcycle with $3,000 in farkles. Yet here’s an absolute truth: For virtually every rider, money spent on improving your own skills will provide better bang for the buck than money spent improving your motorcycle’s performance.
8. Because you don’t have to buy a new sportbike to do it. It’s about improving your skills, not setting a new track record. Which you won’t, by the way. Some experienced riders intentionally take a less powerful motorcycle to the track because it forces them to hone their skills, such as maintaining higher corner speeds, to keep up.
9. Because you won’t be the first ______ (fill in the blank with track-day newbie, woman, old fat guy, young guy too broke to buy fancy leathers, etc.). The track day instructors and the regular customers have seen it all before. Follow the rules and the etiquette and you’ll find you’re among friends. After all, everyone’s there because we love motorcycles.
10. Most important of all: Because you’ll be a better, safer street rider. By pushing yourself on the track, you’ll probably find that you and your motorcycle are capable of far more than you imagined. That could give you the confidence to brake harder, lean farther or react quickly and decisively and save yourself in an emergency situation on the street. In the end, being a better and safer rider is the biggest payoff.
If you’re one of those sport-touring riders with a high-performance bike who (be honest) occasionally pushes too hard on the street, getting your high-speed thrills in the safer and legal environment of the track may encourage you to keep the pace more sane on the public roads. Come to think of it, that’s an 11th reason why you need to do a track day. Even if you think you don’t.