Crashing, intimidation, your motorcycle, and just ignorance. Those are the most common reasons I hear from riders on never making it out to the track. The track is for everyone and yes some crashing does happen but it is a small percentage. Anytime you get 50+ riders together there will be some crashing. It is part of riding. Staying off the track doesn’t keep you away from crashing. It is actually the opposite in the big picture. The small increase in risk you take on the track reduces you risk on the street. I hope this article gives you the courage to get out to the track. If you are still unsure, ride out and watch how it all works. Here is how to keep your odds of crashing as low as possible.
No alcohol the night before and a good nights sleep
Depending on how much you drink the night before, you will metabolize the alcohol before you ride. However, you might not feel 100% or maybe you didn’t get enough sleep. Having a quiet night before a track day is a great idea. Your mind will be free and clear. You’ll be well rested unless you were just too excited to sleep. When putting a track day in your calendar, block off the night before too. Just as a reminder to take it easy.
Eat healthy before and during the track day
Having a good, healthy meal the night before can be beneficial so your body doesn’t have to digest junk food all night. You’ll get a good night sleep with a good balanced meal of natural fats, protein, and some carbs. Same with breakfast. During the track day, what you eat is incredibly important. So important, I wrote an article about it
Use frame sliders or race rails
These are pegs or rails that stick out the side of your bike. If it tips over it becomes the first point of contact on the ground. So you will reduce the damage to your motorcycle significantly. At speed they really can make a difference but they are not a guarantee. They give you a good chance that your bike will still be good to ride after a crash. In rare cases they don’t work, break off or cause more damage. Given everything I have seen on the track and off, I will not ride without them. You can see how effective they are in this video here.
Have good tires and good tire pressure
Your tires should be new or nearly new. They do not have to be fancy track tires. I wouldn’t recommend those unless you are moving to the expert group in track days. The stock tires that come with your motorcycle are just fine and even better are some Michelin, Pirelli, or Dunlops. I routinely test new bikes on the track using the stock tires and I’ll move very quickly with those. It is about the rider not the tire. What you don’t want is old tires, worn tires or both. Do not push the life of your tire on the track. Your risk of crashing goes up. If you are unsure about the age of your tires you can check the date code. Just as important is the air in your tires. You must check your air pressure before you go out onto the track. If you are unsure what it should be, ask motorcycle tech check. Tire pressure is different from the street to the track. Don’t ever overlook or forget about your tires or your tire pressure on a track day.
Don’t use race mode on your motorcycle
For those of you with fancy motorcycles such as the BMW S1000RR, or any motorcycle that has adjustable traction control. Do not use race mode just because you are on a track. This limits or disables all the safety features your motorcycle has to protect you from a crash. Race mode (Fast, etc) is reserved for the professional riders that have long histories with motorcycle riding and even racing. Use rain mode and then go to the regular mode. You will not be lacking in power in anyway.
Study the track maps, find youtube videos and even ‘ride’ them in games
For any race track there will be a track map online somewhere. Find it and study it. You can even find maps that have the racing line so you’ll have an idea where you need to be when you are out there. The best piece of advice I’ve heard for studying track maps is from Ken Hill. He finds the three fastest sections of the course and makes sure he gets good corner exits and entries so he can be the fastest. The three fastest sections can reduce your overall lap time significantly. Youtube videos are good to watch and even better is finding them on a good motorcycle or car game. In preparation for my track day at Phillip Island I bought MotoGP 14 and played Phillips Island over and over so I could learn the course. This is a very legitimate way to learn a track. Professional car and motorcycle racers use this and they’ll run very fast lap times on their first time out.
Signup for instruction
If you are new to the track or new to the track you are riding. Signing up for instruction can really make the most out of your day. It is an additional cost to what is already an expensive day but you will have no regrets about it. They will show you the best lines, what you need to work on, and how to really go fast around the track. You will have an advantage over the rest of the riders in your group. Motorcycle riding is a skill that needs constant attention. The longer you go without riding or instruction, bad habits or bad form can creep in. Keep your riding skills sharp and safe with some form of motorcycle instruction every season. Think of it has crash prevention as it is a fraction of the cost of an actual crash.
Use the track guides and safety riders
If you can’t afford the instruction or just don’t want to pay it. Seek out the track guides or safety riders. These riders are there to ensure safety on the track. They are looking for riders that are being unsafe to themselves and others. They will be riding the proper lines through the course. Before your session goes out, find one and ask questions. You can even follow them. The more you interact with them the more they can help you. In every track day I have been to they have been under utilized. I have never had a guide or safety rider tell me to go away.
Don’t think you are better than you are, start in the relaxed or beginner group
So many riders think they are better than they are. This is constant issue at all track days. Just because you feel you’re fast, means absolutely nothing on the track. If you are smooth and fast, the organizers will make sure you are in the right group. Don’t get caught being the worst rider in the group. You are not only a danger to yourself but several others. Leave your ego at home and work on being smooth. Once you become smooth, you’ll be fast. You’ll score praise from the organizers and they’ll move you up to the faster groups.
Don’t try to drag a knee
It is a thrill to drag a knee or even a elbow but please don’t let this be your goal. Dragging a knee comes when you know your motorcycle, you have a great line through the corner, and your corner speed is excellent. You won’t expect it but you’ll be dragging a knee. If you are purposely trying to drag a knee you will be the slowest and most dangerous in the corner. There is also the risk of poor body positioning. If you are positioning your body so you can just drag a knee, then everything else will be poor form for the corner. Learn this properly and you’ll go through several knee pucks every season.
Stay upright more
The fastest and even the safest way around the track is to stay in the center of your tire the most. If you spend, your time in corners trying to lean the bike over the farthest every time, it will slow you down. At the edge of the tire you cannot use the brakes or throttle nearly as effectively as you can when the bike is near upright. When you are upright or near upright you can use more brakes so you can brake later and harder. At the exit, you can get on the throttle earlier and harder. The racer or track day expert that spends more time on the throttle has the best lap times and is safer.
Be first out in your session
If you want the track to yourself for a good portion of the session, make sure you are the first out. The track is yours! Towards the end you will catch up to riders but you’ll find it is much more relaxed. You can focus on being smooth. If you know you are slow or you get passed a lot please do not be first out. Be the last out, it is same thing.
Being stuck behind larger groups or ‘go fast in the straights’ riders
This is a reality of track days. We can’t have the tracks to our self. If you get stuck behind a group of riders (4 or more), it is strongly recommended that you exit the track and re-enter. It is much safer to exit than to try and force passing on several riders. It is up to you to make the safe pass. Don’t be the one to cause a crash or crash into another rider. Respect other riders space and pace. It takes discipline to exit and re-enter but you want to stay safe right?
Be predictable and don’t swoop from side to side on the track
If you are learning, feeling slow, and just not quite as confident as you would like to be. That is fine. While it is up to the rider to make the safe pass, there is some responsibility to the slower rider. Be predictable. Don’t make abrupt movements, move side to side, bad lines, etc. Stay close to the apex of the corner and don’t go too far wide. Staying on the inside of the corners allows faster riders a safer way around you. It is much safer to be passed on the outside versus the inside. Be as predictable as you can so others can see safe and easy ways around you. There is nothing wrong with being passed.
Corner entry vs corner exit
Frequently I see riders entering a corner too fast then trying to hold the line or (gasp!) hit the brakes mid corner. This type of behavior is a high risk for crashing. Enter the corner slower, get a better line, then you can hit the throttle harder for a faster exit. Not only is this safer, but you’ll pass a lot of riders. A good corner entry and exit feels amazing and smooth.
Go slow to be smooth, and when you’re smooth you’re FAST
This is the best way I have heard to be a great fast rider on a track. It is easy to be caught up in the moment and force being fast but in reality you are probably one of the slowest and potentially the most dangerous. Really work on good lines through corners, getting the body positioning right before the corners, and that great exit out of the corner. You may not even feel it, you’ll be putting down a great pace around the track.
Enjoy track day after track day, crash free
All track days I have gone to have had some crashing. This scares some but when it is just a few out of the several that are at the track. These few are pushing the limits and are making the mistakes mentioned here. You can control a vast amount of the risk at a track day. You are in control so don’t forget that. The more track days you do, the safer you can be. You’ll increase your skill as a rider, you’ll know your motorcycle better and you’ll beat the odds and stats for motorcycle crashes. Have fun out there!
Thanks to Shane of Track Toys and Andrew Marles of the Track Heads group for help with this article