is increasingly likely that, at some point in your biking
career, you will find yourself on a racetrack. Trackdays are becoming
ever more popular as the only way to explore the performance of
your bike without risking your licence and many advanced riding
schools are now turning to tracks as a controlled environment
for group training. Race tracks have a lot of very obvious advantages,
and are by far the safest places you can ride. There is nothing
coming the other way, for a start, and the tracks are designed
with safety in mind so that instead of telegraph poles, phone
boxes and walls you’ll find bales, gravel traps and wide
runoff areas for when it all goes horribly wrong. If you’re
on the track for rider training, your instructors will probably
have their own ideas of what you should be doing, but if you’re
on a normal trackday or if there’s a free session at the
end of your training then here are a few tips to help you make
the most of your time.
Choosing your trackday company
is one of the most obvious, yet commonly forgotten, ways of making
sure your day is as good as it can be. If you simply want to hoon
around the track in the company of like minded maniacs then go
for one of the companies advertising in the more laddish magazines.
If, on the other hand, you would like to ride your bike home rather
than having it delivered in a skip, you may want to look for a
company that advertises itself as offering more tuition. Either
way, you should go with someone who seems to be able to organise
things coherently. Groups split by pace are a good thing, because
whether you’re fast or slow yourself you will be safest
and have the most fun if there isn’t too massive a speed
differential between you and the other members of your group.
We use Rapid Tracks www.rapidtracks.co.uk for all our UK short circuit sessions. They’re exactly what
we need – well organised, friendly, flexible and sensibly
you embark on a trackday, it’s worth taking the time to
prepare yourself. First of all, check your bike over and make
sure it’s fit for a day of being ridden rather harder than
it may be used to. That doesn’t mean you need to lockwire
the sump plug and fit race bodywork, but it does mean making sure
the tyres have enough life in them, brake pads are OK and the
chain is properly adjusted. Remember that if you’re riding
to the track you’re going to be riding home as well, so
err on the side of caution with tyres and brakes. You also need
to make sure that the bike isn’t about to blow up, fall
a part or otherwise expire, and it’s a good idea to check
things like oil and coolant levels while you’re at it.
You don't actually need the latest in race replica supersports
weaponry to get the best out of a trackday. I have had an unreasonable
amount of fun on, of all things, a BMW R1100 GS around the GP
circuit at Brands Hatch. Other people prefer things like CB500s,
Hornets, Fazers and the like, although it is still fair to say
that the majority of bikes you see will be on the sporting side
of the fence.
top trackday bikes are, in no particular order:
Triumph 600 Daytona
BMW 1150 GS
But that's just us. The simple truth is the best trackday bike
for you is the one on which you are happiest. It may be worth
noting, though, that there are no litre class multi cylinder bikes
on the list. Make what you will of that, but we've found them
a little too ferocious to really enjoy on the track.
Take a minute to check your
kit as well. Make sure your leathers still fit properly and that
if they’re two piece that they zip together. If you have
sliders and expect to use them then make sure they are properly
attached and have sufficient meat on them. Don’t forget
the toe sliders on your boots - there’s few better ways
of leaving a lasting memory than filing your little toe off on
the way around Gerrard’s or Clearways.
For some reason, many tracks are quite a long way from anywhere.
You may, therefore, want to travel up the night before and stay
in one of the myriad inexpensive B&Bs which spring up around
racetracks. It's a good idea, because, as we shall see later,
the day will be very tiring indeed and an early o'clock start
won't make it any easier. However, resist the temptation to have
a skinful when you arrive. Although it may seem like a great idea
at the time, a hangover will make you slow and wobbly the next
morning. Not a good start to the day.
Popular UK Trackday venues and nearest town:
Brands Hatch - Dartford, Kent
Rockingham - Corby, Northants
Cadwell Park - Louth, Lincolnshire
Mallory Park - Hinckley, Leicestershire
Donnington Park - Derby
Oulton Park - Winsford, Cheshire
Snetterton - Thetford, Norfolk
Assuming you have made a
wise choice in trackday organisers, when you get to the circuit
you will see that there are several cones dotted around the track.
These will usually show the turn in and apex points of most corners.
They are by no means hard and fast points, and they will have
been positioned for the safest, most conservative approach which
is not always the fastest. It is, however, a good line to start
off with while you learn your way around the track. Feel free
to adjust it yourself as you go along. You will also find that
there are instructors, usually identifiable by their bright coloured
tabards, who you can latch onto and follow around. Talk to them,
ask them things and use them. There is no better way of improving
your riding than by following someone who is as near the top of
the game as it gets around a racetrack at a reasonable pace.
signals are there for a reason and they are massively important.
There are a number of marshals around the track, usually wearing
fetching orange suits, who are armed with an array of brightly
coloured flags and the uncanny ability to spot something going
pear shaped almost before it happens. They are also blessed with
an economy of action which means that if they actually start to
do something (holding out a flag or, in extreme cases, running
like Hell), there's a good reason for it. Knowing what the flags
mean and paying attention to them could, quite literally, be a
matter of life and death. Your morning briefing should cover flags
but for the record, here they are:
Yellow flag – there is an incident ahead. Slow
down, be prepared to stop or take evasive action. NO OVERTAKING!
If the flag is being waved instead of simply held out then take
it even more seriously. Either way, keep your speed down until
you see the...
Green flag – you are clear of the incident
and free to resume your previous speed. Remember that the yellows
may still be out behind you so you may come to them again on the
Oil flag - the track ahead may be slippery so
you should be more careful than usual. This flag comes out a lot
more often than you might expect, especially in places where the
weather can be variable or where the track stays damp under trees.
Red flag – track closed. Slow right down
and proceed to the pits slowly. Be prepared to stop if necessary.
Expect almost anything to appear in front of you and be ready
to react accordingly.
Chequered flag – end of session, game over,
call it what you will. Carry on as usual this lap but pull into
the pits at the end. There is no requirement for you to perform
stand-up wheelies, punch the air or do any other victory celebrations.
The marshal has seen it all before and all you'll do is look foolish
and perhaps earn a one sided conversation with the clerk of the
flag – usually accompanied by the marshall pointing
directly at you. There is something seriously wrong with your
bike or your riding and the clerk of the course would like to
discuss it with you. Now and in person. It may be that something
is falling off, you may be leaking oil or you may be riding like
a pillock. Either way acknowledge the marshall, slow down, complete
the lap, get back into the pits and be ready to apologise or get
the toolkit out. If you ignore a black flag you may well find
yourself being banned from the track for the rest of the day.
Best not to, then.
While we're discussing your
not being a professional, it's probably a good time to discuss
limits. Yours and the bike's. The whole idea of a track day is
to have a load of fun, but you should also find that by the end
of the day you will have learned a huge amount. You’ll also
have explored areas of your ability that you may not even have
known you had, and stretched the capabilities of your bike a little
as well. But there’s the right way and the wrong way to
go about it. You can just leap on the bike, tear out of the pit
lane and throw it into the first convenient gravel trap if you
wish, or you can take the opportunity to push gradually and to
increase your pace as you go along until you get to a point where
you’re going as quickly as you feel comfortable. One of
these methods will mean you have a great day and will end up with
your limits expanded beyond your wildest dreams. The other won’t.
isn’t a race, it’s a trackday. It sounds obvious,
but so many people seem to forget. There’s no champagne
for the winner because there’s no winner. There’s
no post race interview for the winner because there’s no
winner. There’s no glory for the winner because there’s
no winner. Have you got it yet? There is no winner because it
is not a race. So you don’t need to risk everything on an
outbraking manouvre, you don’t need to dive down the inside
of that Fireblade on the hairpin and you don’t need to be
massively competitive because there is no winner. That isn’t
to say you can’t overtake or even have a friendly dice,
because that would be silly. Just overtake in a reasonable place
and in a reasonable way.
One of the worst things that happens on track days is that sometimes
a rider gets taken out be someone else’s stupidity. On the
road, while you’re more likely to get hurt, at least the
financial pain is dealt with by the other rider’s insurance.
On the track it isn’t – someone uses you as a braking
point and it’d down to you to sort it out with them directly
because neither of you are insured (although more on that later).
Knowing the level of aggravation that could cause, it makes sense
to leave a bit more margin when you’re going for an overtake
or even when you’re just closing on a slower rider. Don’t
try to use a gap that doesn’t exist or to brake like you’re
Alex Barros because there’ll be tears at bedtime.
|You are not a professional!
Or if you are, the chances are that most of the others out
there aren’t. Either way, something that you see Messrs
Hodgson, Walker and Bayliss get away with is unlikely to end
well for you unless you are totally sure both of your abilities
and those of the other riders around you. So probably best
let it go and remember that there’s another session
in forty minutes or so.
One of the things you’ll find is that riding at 100% for
even a relatively short period of time is incredibly tiring. Your
body and mind are probably not used to running the amount of adrenaline
that you will be producing, are probably not used to concentrating
as hard as you will be and are almost certainly not used to things
happening as fast as they are. Your pulse rate will probably be
pretty high so you’ll be burning calories quite nicely,
which is good, but the end result is that you will get tired far
more quickly than you might expect. You’ll also be getting
dehydrated, which won’t help. All of these things are good
reasons why sessions are usually only 20 minutes long.
You can help yourself fight the fatigue in several ways. Right
at the top is drinking plenty of fluid. Even when it’s not
very warm you’ll find that the level of effort you’re
putting in will be making you sweat. On a warm day you may well
find that you’re getting through as much as a litre of water
an hour. Fruit juice and
energy drinks are your best bet, or just plain water. Coffee and
tea are diuretics and will just make you need to go to the toilet.
Eating is good, but avoid having a big lunch (more on that later)
which will make you sleepy. Pasta, potatoes and rice are all good,
and chocolate is a great way of getting a quick boost. It should
be obvious, but having a couple of pints with your lunch is a
There are some times during
a track day that are more dangerous than others. Oddly enough,
unless you’ve been careless enough to book yourself on a
day populated almost entirely by nutters, the first session is
usually pretty incident free. People tend to take a few minutes
to find their way around before going crazy. As a result, the
second session of the day is riskier – everyone thinks they
know where the circuit goes, they’ve remembered that they
can lean a bit without falling off and they’ve overtaken
(and been passed) a few times. So they’re racers, right?
And we know what racers do, don’t we? After lunch is always
a good one – there’ll be people who may not have read
this (well, you never know) or who, even worse, may have read
it but not paid attention. So they’ll have had a huge lunch
and they’ll be half asleep but won’t realise it. Not
a good thing. But the absolute best session of the day, assuming
you’re in the spare parts or recovery business, that is,
is the last one of the day. Everyone forgets, come that last session,
that although they may have got their money’s worth out
of the trackday, they still have to get themselves and their bikes
home. And they go out and they ride like complete psychos. Oddly
enough, this isn’t a good thing either.
So here it is. Summarised
in just a few lines, a guide to how to go as quickly and have
as much fun as possible on a trackday.
your own pace. Don't worry about being overtaken, just
feel your way around until you know where everything goes.
Once you're happy with the pace you're going, start to attack
the track gradually, one section at a time, until you feel
as though you are approaching your limits all the way around
the track. Then, as the day goes on, you will find that you
get progressively faster and those limits get raised all on
their own with no conscious effort or pressure on anybody's
Be smooth. Look at the consistent
winners - Rossi and Hodgson, for example - and you'll see their
riding is smooth but forceful. And look at the consistent crashers
- McCoy and Xaus spring to mind - and you'll see how they always
look as though they are on the ragged edge, waiting for something
to go wrong. Make like the winners. Make your braking positive
and firm but smooth. Accelerate hard but progressively rather
than just banging the taps open. Ride as though you mean it, yes,
but ride as though you mean to stay on as well. A major plus is
that your tyres, chain and brake pads will last much longer, and
that will stay with you when you get back onto the road as well.
the cones. One of the most common mistakes a road rider
makes on the track is turning in and apexing too early. The result
is that they run out of track on the exit - never a good thing.
Sometimes racers do it as well, like this chap. The cones provide
a useful visual cue to help a rider do something that feels unnatural
- turning in later, one of the most useful skills you'll pick
up on a trackday. On the track it means that you can get the bike
stood up earlier after the apex and get more power down sooner.
On the road it translates to better visibility through the corner
and a wider margin on the exit. It also looks much better.
Slow in, fast out. Get all
your braking oput of the way before you turn in, then gently feed
powre in all the way through the corner. The bike will be more
stable and will hold a line better. You will also be quicker on
the exit of the corner becuase you'll already have the power on.
Plus, as Kenny Roberts once said, "Nobody ever lost the front
under power." On the road it will make you smoother (see
above) and will make your bike better able to handle bumps, holes
and other typical road imperfections.
get sucked into a race. Remember about riding at your
own pace? This is part of it. Having said that, though, there's
nothing wrong with latching on behind someone who's just a
bit faster than you for a while. You may well learn something
and up your game in the process. Just be careful not to follow
them into the gravel when they get it wrong.
Smile and relax. Little known
fact. If you're relaxed on the bike then you get less tired, your
control is more accurate and you're more likely to have fun. Another
little known fact. If you're not relaxed then it's very difficult
to smile. So smile and you'll stay relaxed. You'll also probably
have abetter attitude, you'll better be able to cope when someone
passes you (see above again) and when you make a mistake you're
less likely to fly into a nervous tizz or throw the bike down
the track in disgust. So keep smiling.
Look where you're going. Sounds silly, I know, but it's one of the most common mistakes
people make. Separating the direction you are pointed from the direction
you are actually going is a knack that may well save your life
on the road as well as making you faster, safer and far cooler
looking on the track. Watch any professional rider and you'll
see that they look through the corner rather than at it. Indeed,
compare these two enthusiastic amateurs at a recent trackday.
Who looks most likely to get around the corner? They're both in
about the same place and both going at about the same speed. The
secret is to look as far round as you can and keep your eyes fixed
on where you want to go. On the road it will give you the earliest
glimpse of the end of the corner, allowing you to accelerate smoothly
out, and it will give you the most warning of any unexpected hazard
as well as helping you to avoid it because, for all sorts of reasons,
you will go where you look. So get that head moving.
Know your limits.
Don't give up.
Contrary to popular belief, the police aren’t stupid. And, being local, they might just
know what happens on that racetrack. And they also know the local
roads, the local accident blackspots and the good places to set
up a speedtrap. After a full day on the track you’ll be
tired, and although your riding ability will probably be as good
as it ever gets and you’ll have learned a huge amount, you’ll
be used to riding faster and in a more controlled environment.
So do yourself a favour – take a deep breath and deliberately
slow your riding down. Just pootle home and relax. Take the opportunity
to absorb what you’ve learned and to give yourself a quiet,
relaxing ride. After all, it would be a real dampener to either
bin it or to get a speeding ticket on the way home after a great
day on the track, wouldn’t it…