A beginner’s guide to motorcycle track days
Posted by Dave Hort on 21st September 2016
Yesterday, I ventured on track on two wheels for the first time ever. And it was brilliant.
The venue: Llandow Circuit, Wales
The event: Private track day with RST, Bridgestone and Fast Bikes.
The bikes: Yamaha MT-07 and MT-03
In terms of riding, I’ve come quite a long way in a relatively short space of time.
I completed my CBT in February and I’ve been fortunate enough, through working at The Bike Insurer, to get out and do some brilliantly fun things on two wheels.
I’ve ridden the TT course on a Honda C90, I’ve ridden off road with the Mick Extance Experience and now I’ve conquered (kind of) a track.
Ahead of my CBT I was excited to get through it and out on the road. Before riding the TT I was more concerned about not getting lost more than anything else and on the eve of going off-road, I just couldn’t wait to get started.
But a track day was different. A track day was scary and not helped by the huge potential for embarrassment.
What’s different about a track day?
Despite having more experience on two wheels than I had ahead of my trip to the Isle of Man or going off-road, the thought of chicanes, straights and run-offs was laced with far more fear than any other two-wheel jaunt.
In my head a track day meant speed, hard braking and pointing my knees towards the tarmac rather than straight ahead at perfectly rigid right angles. And I wasn’t sure I’d be able to cope.
When you throw in a camera crew, supremely experienced riders and a brand new bike that I didn’t want to ruin, it all felt a bit much for someone with about 12 hours worth of riding under their belt.
What happened on the day?
The day kicked off with sign-on and a safety briefing from the Marshal. He made jokes about crashing and the experienced heads laughed. I didn’t.
From there it was into our leathers and on to the bike for a warm-up and sighting lap around the simple track.
I took it easy, reaching a whopping 30mph on the back straight, before I was hooked off the track and told to go quicker.
While it wasn’t the advice i wanted to hear, It was the encouragement I needed to actually twist the throttle and in truth it was the instruction I received time and time again throughout the day.
As an occasional rider at best, I struggle to trust the motorcycles I’m riding, purely because I’m unsure of how hard I can push the throttle and how heavily I can brake.
And the instructors spotted it immediately. They told me to speed up, they told me to play with different levels of braking and really put the bike to the test.
One lap later, having hammered the brakes into a chicane, I realised just how good the brakes were, which confirmed that I could accelerate harder because braking was a doddle.
It was enough of a confidence boost for me to break the 80mph barrier and slash my lap time by well over a minute.
But it also proved that, for a beginner, I wasn’t as bad and it wasn’t as scary as I thought both would be.
How do you feel about riding now?
The best thing about being so slow and terrible on the track from the outset is that improvement was almost continuous from then on.
Every time I got another lap under my belt, it was quicker. Every time I accelerated down the straight, it was faster. And every time I went through a chicane or round a corner, it was smoother.
But the biggest improvement was in mentality. With top of the range bikes I know now that you can trust the brakes. They’re forgiving and they inspire confidence.
Without this track day I wouldn’t be as aware of that, I would have continued to ride like your grandma and I could have put myself and others in danger by doing so.
Would you recommend a track day?
I was lucky in that the track wasn’t busy, it was short and relatively simple so I got longer on track and completed more laps than you normally would on a track day.
But even if I’d had one third of the time on track, I would still recommend giving it a go, no matter what level you ride at.
If you take your own bike, it’s a relatively safe environment to test out its capabilities – how hard you can brake and accelerate – and if you’re getting tuition, it’s more valuable nuggets of information that can translate to your road riding.
Without a doubt, anyone experienced or who fancies themselves as a bit quick, will laugh at the speeds I achieved (I did when I watched a video back!) but you can’t take that 1:04s lap time away from me!