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Taking A Track Day

Article by Sean Coker
Photos by Kent Regan

Conditions are far from ideal despite promises from weathermen stating otherwise. A thick mist has descended upon Portland International Raceway (P.I.R.), although snippets of sunshine peak through gun metal clouds. The scent of race fuel wafts through the air.

As I barrel my way down P.I.R.'s lengthy front straightaway with earplugs in, there is an odd surreal-ness to everything around me. The aerodynamic resistance on a fairing-less motorcycle, this incredible pressure applied to my helmet and chest at nearly 140 mph, adds to this sensation of speed, although I feel numb except for a muffled vibration and the intoxicating scent of a faster rider's spent race fuel. The blue, white and red painted curbs spin by like a flipbook on fast forward, flickering in my peripheral vision. I accelerate hard until my shift light illuminates red, then clutch-less up shift, greedily demanding more speed from my steed. At the four hundred foot mark I sit up, stick my right leg out like a sail and squeeze my front brake like it's a banana I want squished. I tap the bike's shifter down two gears and dip my better half into turn one. There are still eight more turns and nearly 1.5 miles to go, but how will these skills learned on the track cross over into street riding?

Photo: The author winds his way through the turns at PIR.

Visualization

Fast riders are better able to visualize upcoming road and spot problems before they become problematic. On the track, that could mean spotting a downed rider or an oil slick but road riders have much more nefarious things to look out for be that a mule deer lingering along the roadside or a car backing out of a rural driveway. Riding fast on the track forces riders to keep their eyes up and constantly scanning the horizon for anything extraordinary, which prevents accidents and makes for smoother riding.

Smooth = Fast

The fastest riders on the track are the smoothest riders and that is no coincidence. Track riding forces riders to focus on their line through a given turn and more proficient riders consistently hold their line and are better suited to deal with the varying dynamic of street-riding scenarios. Being smooth means establishing and setting a lean angle early, using only one steering input per turn, knowing where you're at and going in a turn and accelerating through the corner. Sometimes smoothness is only a question away.

Professional Critique

The difference between one company's track day and another's is more than just semantics. The price charged, generally from $150-200, often reflects how much hands-on instructor training a rider will get. Cheaper prices might offer less instruction and so forth. While some riders might prefer the "let 'em rip" approach to track days, most riders would benefit from a professional offering some critique of one's riding and tips on improvements. Comparing their lines with your own can be an eye-opening moment for many beginning track riders. Watch their seemless transitions from brakes to gas and from left to right. The advice they give can be priceless.

Cheaper than a Speeding Ticket

One hundred and fifty dollars is not so much money compared to a speeding ticket these days, especially considering that many states have enacted laws mandating the suspension of a driver's license found guilty of "excessive speeding," a subjective term often up to the officer's discretion. If you think your bike is fast, prove it, but do so on the track.

Modern Bikes are Sportier than Ever

Try pushing your bike to the limits in a safe and controlled environment. Remember you're not racing; instead, the track is a place to hone technique and work on fundamentals. Consider getting softer compound tires to really maximize grip and corner speeds. Try establishing goals: dragging one's knee, carrying more corner speed, using more lean angle, etc., and focus on meeting those expectations. Frightening yourself with too much entry speed does not build confidence, but slowly exploring the limits of traction and gradually increasing speed does. Do you have what it takes?

Getting Started

Bike:

  • No leaking fluids or mechanical damage

  • Functional brakes

  • Taped up lights

  • Mirrors and turn signals removed

  • Tires with 75% of tread left

  • A properly adjusted chain

  • Equipment:

  • One piece leathers, or two piece leathers zipped together (some tracks allow textile suits while others do not)

  • Gauntlet leather gloves

  • Leather boots

  • A non-crashed helmet

  • Medical insurance (some require it, others do not)

  • This is hardly an exhaustive list. Check track requirements and/or the requirements of whoever is putting on the track day.

    Ride safe and ride often.

    Sean Coker/Spring 2007


    Photos courtesy of Kent Regan at Onsight Productions . Thanks to Dan Batz of Pacific Super Sport Riders for assistance with this article. CLICK HERE for a list of track day schools in the Northwest.


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