A Day At The Track

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Having a high-performance sport bike in your garage is great. Learning how to ride it to its potential – and yours – is even better. Unfortunately, we’re limited – on public roads – by the realities of left-lane Clovers and Tazer-happy cops. Not necessarily in that order, but you get the drift – and know the deal. Ride your sport bike hard on the street and the inevitable result will be a mile-long DMV record, sky-high insurance premiums – maybe even some broken bones and a trashed bike.

We don’t learn much, either.

On the track, it’s different. It’s safer – even if you’re riding a hell of a lot faster – because there are no sail fawn-addled cagers to worry about – or deer. Or gravel. And it’s less stressful – because you can concentrate on your riding – instead of worrying about cops.

Regulars know all this – but if you’ve never done a track day, where to begin?

You might look into signing up for a weekend (or just a Saturday) with an outfit like Sport Bike Track Time. You’ll get professional, individualized instruction on some of the country’s most technically challenging road race circuits – for example, the Skip Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham (www.barbermotorsports.com).  SBTC is not the only program out there, of course. Keith Code’s Superbike School is also outstanding. But most of the big-name outfits are geared mostly toward riders who already have some track time under their belt.

SBTC is ideal for the first-timer – but not limited to first-timers, either (that’s me in the first picture above, at Barber, last year).

The founders and operators – Monte Lutz and Bonnie Strawser – launched Sport Bike Track Time back in 1998 with the idea of providing fellow sport bike enthusiasts (Monte rides a BMW R100GS; Bonnie has an R6) the opportunity to ride and learn in a safe, controlled environment where the emphasis is on riding smart, not just fast. Anyone can grab a handful of throttle on a straight; it takes real skill to take an off-camber, decreasing radius left-hander at speed . . . without testing how well your sliders work.

Each day is set up to provide maximum seat time – seven revolving 20-minute sessions that will keep you on the track from morning to late afternoon. A typical day works out to 120-160 miles of track time. Track-side tire service and a catered breakfast and lunch are included in the deal. A professional photographer is on site to record you cutting the apexes – and you can even camp out overnight at the track itself if you like.

Though not a basic course (like the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s new rider course ; it’s assumed you already know how to ride a motorcycle) Sport Bike Track Time is not just for extreme lean angle racers, either. You do not need to have an AHRA, CCS, WERA or other sanctioning body competition license to get on the track. Your bike just needs to pass tech inspection (see here for specifics) and each rider must have appropriate one or two-piece leathers, DOT approved helmet, boots and riding gloves. SBTT rents leathers, too. There’s also a tire truck on hand.

Riders are grouped according to their skill level – Novice, Intermediate and Advanced, with each group set up to keep the riders in it within their comfort zone.

The Novice group is for street riders with little or no on-track experience. Instructors teach throttle control, lean angle/rider positioning and other basics – in addition to showing the group the best line around a particular track, as well as track etiquette.

The first Novice session starts out with a couple of familiarization laps, with speed building very gradually. Instructors observe each rider’s technique – and after each session, there is a classroom meet-up where the session is discussed, questions asked and pointers given to each rider before the group heads out again for the next 20 minute session.

If you’ve never ridden your motorcycle on a track before, this will be a tremendous learning experience – in a very non-threatening environment.

There is no pressure to channel your inner Eddie Lawson here – although you will grow in confidence as the day progresses and speed picks up. The groups themselves are fairly small; typically 5-6 riders per instructor – in order to give each rider as much individual attention as possible.

The Intermediate and Advanced groups are less structured, with no formal classroom meeting in between sessions – although instructors do ride with each group, both to make sure everyone’s riding safely (you’ll get red-flagged if you aren’t) and to be able to offer constructive criticism of your technique.

A rider in any group/skill level can ask an instructor to follow him as he laps the course, then pit for a one-on-one evaluation of what you’re doing right – and where improvements might be made.

To ensure safety, Sport Bike Track Time insist upon a “six foot passing rule” for the Novice and Intermediate classes – and close attention is paid to each group to make sure no one’s riding out of their depth, or riding recklessly. Instructors will drop an Intermediate rider to the Novice group if they deem he’s not able to safely keep up – and will yank an Expert (or anyone else) who does anything to endanger the other riders on the track.

Whether it’s your first time on a track – or you’re an experienced club racer looking for a way to get in some fast-paced practice laps on some great tracks for a reasonable price, Sport Bike Track Time has got you covered.

In addition to its regular three group (Novice, Intermediate and Advanced) programs, Sport Bike Track Time also offers more hard core Limited Endurance Days for just Intermediate and Advanced riders, a Femmoto program for female riders – and a PRO school for serious riders  looking for 120-150 laps (220-250 miles) of competition-level track time with just two groups of 20-25 students per event.

These programs typically sell out well in advance, so plan ahead if you’re interested in getting a slot. Details regarding schedules and tracks, etc. are available on the Sport Bike Track Time web site.

Throw it in the Woods?

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Author of "Automotive Atrocities" and "Road Hogs" (MBI). Currently living amongst the Edentulites in rural SW Virginia.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Great write up Eric. I did trackdays for years, first on a street legal supersport 600(Triumph TT600)…then I bought a wrecked R6 and converted it to track only fairly cheaply.

    I loved it! I’m an MSF instructor as well. I decided to hang up trackdays after my 1st child(I now have 4)…but I’ll probably go back into vintage racing or smaller/slower CC stuff when they get old enough for me not to worry about them.

    I think trackdays are very libertarian. Private tracks, vehicles you don’t have to pay taxes on, no speed limits(obviously), etc.

    The great thing about MC trackdays is that you can see how much the the rider is still more important than the engine size. I used to pass people all day long on 1000cc bikes on either of my 600’s. Trackdays really teach you throttle control and show you the real limits of the bikes which you could never safely explore on the street.

    Before I hung it up I was running consistently in the upper 25% of the Advanced group in NESBA…against some that were CCS and WERA competitors…and frankly my bike was not prepped that well. What a hoot! I miss it, but I’ll be back when the time is right.

    Thanks again for the write up, I think it’s something any car or bike nut should do at least once in their life!

    • Hi Nick,

      Thanks!

      And, yup on both your points. Track days are very Libertarian. I especially like that riders self-police to a great extent. I’ve yet to encounter someone who tried to keep me from passing when it was clear I was trying to get by (and vice versa; if someone’s faster than me, I let them by).

      I also am giving though to getting something smaller – or antique – for racing. I am getting back into old Kaw two-strokes; just finished restoring an S1. I track day 500 or 750 (hell, even a Yamaha 350) would be fun!

  2. Gee, I wonder if (hypothetical) owners of private roads would be as attentive and safety-conscious as the track owners you describe here? Oh probably not. Everyone knows that lust for profit is incompatible with all other concerns. 😉

  3. Great post Eric, track days like the one you describe seem great (I have only attended as a pit crew member/observer). I was supposed to do a MR2 track day a couple weeks back but had issues with the car and backed out.
    I have heard good things about Friday at the Track at Summit Point (friend of a friend is an instructor there) and am thinking of trying that before the weather turns to crap if I can get the car setup properly.

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