There’s all sorts of ways to improve your skills on a motorcycle. Spend some time in the dirt, find an empty parking lot and run through some practice drills, read A Twist of the Wrist, talk to other riders. But one of my all-time favorite ways to expand my ability on a bike is to head to the track. Believe me, regardless of the type of riding you do, you’ll come away from a few days on track changed for the better as a rider.
To start with, you don’t necessarily need a sportbike. There are lots of track day providers and track schools that allow just about any street bike into the program, as long as it conforms to the technical requirements. Some general rules you’re likely to find pertain to tire condition, brake performance, coolant restrictions, overall bike condition, etc. If you’ve got a Sportster, a GS1200 or a Gold Wing, there’s an opportunity out there for you.
But why would someone on an Ultra Glide want to spend any time on a track? It’s less about leaning through turns or touching triple digit speeds than having clear, open tarmac with a fixed number of unchanging corners to navigate. This allows you to practice and improve form in much more predictable conditions than on a public road. And if you come on your own bike, you get the chance to develop a more intimate knowledge of the capabilities of your machine.
Plus, there are typically a number of instructors on hand who will be more than happy to lead you around for a few laps to demonstrate line selection, braking markers, turn-in points, all of that. It’s also great to have an instructor follow you for a lap or two and then come back into the pit area for a debrief. These folks have seen hundreds, if not thousands of riders lap these tracks, and will be able to breakdown what you’re doing and offer advice on how to do it better.
The basic track day format is for riders to be divided into groups based on experience, so if it’s your first time out then you’ll want to start in the beginner group just to get the rhythm. Even if you’re a skilled street rider, take the time to learn the course through the first session or two and if the other riders in the group are too slow after that, you can move up to a more advanced group.
If you’re still green on two wheels, you may want to consider taking advantage of a track school. In fact, I recommend that it’s the best way to go.
Schools will often run in conjunction with the standard track day. Riders in a school will participate in classroom sessions between on-track sessions where topics like track layout, braking strategy, body positioning and other items will be discussed. This is a great opportunity to ask instructors questions directly, to hear answers to others’ questions and get to know the riders in your group.
What’s most helpful about attending a riding school though is having the attention of instructors. They can follow you– analyzing your technique for a few laps and provide feedback on areas to improve. Or they can guide you around the circuit, demonstrating effective line choice or brake points. The advice they offer after watching you for a few laps can be invaluable.
It was intimidating the first time I rolled out on track. I was in a novice school group and there was an instructor for every five riders. We were released at intervals, in small groups, to follow the instructor around the track a few times. The first laps were supposed to be moderately paced as we got the lay of the land and put some heat into our tires.
I had a few years’ street experience and no formal training beyond my intro-to-motorcycling class at that point, so I really only had the basics in terms of control inputs and body positioning. I was thrilled to be there, but worried that I’d gotten in over my head.
Once we were off and going around corners though, I was in heaven. Think of all the things you’d have on a perfect ride – flawless asphalt, plenty of turns, some long straights to really wail on the throttle, and not a car, cop, or stoplight in sight. It is incredible.
I wasn’t fast by any means, and my form was sloppy at best, but I was able to keep the rubber side down the entire day and make improvements every time out. A useful strategy was to pick a particular corner or a single element, like downshifts on entry, and refine my approach to that skill during a session. By the end of the day, I was putting multiple components together and feeling more confident than ever.
Those skills translated directly to the road and I was a markedly better rider thanks to the day I spent in that novice school. Every time I’ve been back to the track since, my skills have improved. There’s always something new to learn.
And that’s perhaps the best thing about hitting the track. We’re reminded to be students of the craft and allowed to practice our technique in a controlled setting. Plus, you never have to worry about a speed limit.