Guest Writer: Why Street Riders Benefit by Riding the Track

Ed carves a perfect line on his ST1300. photo: otmpix.com

Ed carves a perfect line on his ST1300. photo: otmpix.com

Guest contributor Ed Conde shares his experiences about how track days have helped his street riding.

The Next Level

I came to riding late. I did not begin riding until I was pushing 50. I tried to make up for lost time by training and reading everything that I could find. I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Course and the MSF Experienced Riding Course multiple times. The books and the courses definitely helped my street awareness and slow speed skills. However, I felt that these tools did not adequately prepare me for riding at speed on the street.

I tried improving my street riding by working on a skill or two each time I rode. I regularly practiced threshold braking, swerving, and weaving in parking lots. All of this helped a lot, but I felt that something was missing. I found that something when I began to do track days.

Some Benefits of Track Days

The three crucial things that track days provided were:

  1. Observation and feedback from track professionals.
  2. Action photographs that captured my riding and body position.
  3. The ability to repeat the same corners at speed without cars or other distractions.

Observation and Feedback from track professionals – There simply is no substitute for having an expert follow and observe you riding at speed. The difference between my perception of my riding and what experts saw was pretty sobering. I suspect that most of us are not as good as we think we are. Track instructors and control riders noticed that that my body position needed improvement, that I needed to relax, that my lines needed improvement, that my shifting needed work, and that my throttle/brake transitions needed to be smoother. This was a bit shocking considering how much time I had devoted to riding technique.

Action photographs – Photos do not lie! I have hated some of my track photographs because they captured all of the things that I was doing wrong. Track photographers often take photos at different curves and from different vantage points. My track photos gave me great feedback on my riding, although I did not always like what I saw.

The ability to repeat corners at speed – Being able to repeat the same corners at speed allowed me to see how changes affected my riding. It is impossible for me to duplicate this on the street where corners vary and hazards abound. While I practiced skills like trail braking, countersteering, downshifting, cornering lines, and body position in parking lots, everything changed at street speeds. Braking and downshifting from 30mph in a parking lot was a lot different than braking and downshifting from 65mph into a hairpin at the track. In addition, following an actual road was more realistic, for me, than following a cone course in a parking lot.

Are track skills useful on the street?

Folks often ask if the skills I learned at track days are transferable to the street. My answer is absolutely! Where else can you work on your riding skills safely at actual road speeds? While many skills learned at a Basic MSF Course or a “Ride Like a Pro” Course are extremely valuable, slow speed skills are often opposite to those I need at speed. While favoring the rear brake and counter weighting may improve my slow speed riding, it hinders my riding at speed.

Body Position Practice

Perhaps the best example of personal improvement from track riding is in my body position. (click on photos for larger image)

Track2009labeled

Figure 1

Figure 1 is a video screen shot of my first track day with Tony’s Track Days at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2009. At the time, I felt like I was riding well and actually passed most riders on the track. Looking at the photo now, I can see that I am almost scraping hard parts even though I am not riding fast. My upper body is leaning away from the turn and my eyes are not looking through the turn. I am pushing the bike beneath me dirt bike style which made me feel like I was really leaning.

HudsonLabeled

Figure 2

Figure 2 is a photo from 2011 taken near Bear Mountain, NY. I am trying to work on lessons learned at the track. I am no longer pushing the bike beneath me and my head is turned somewhat. The centerline of my jacket is now in line with the center of the bike. Despite some improvement, the footpeg is almost scraping at a modest lean angle.

DragonLabeled

Figure 3

Figure 3 is a photo from 2013 at the Tail of the Dragon. I had actually been working hard on skills learned at the track before this trip. The centerline of my jacket was now inside the centerline of the bike. My head turn was much better and I was beginning to weight the inside half of the seat. This photo is a big improvement, but I was still almost scraping my left footpeg at a modest lean angle.

TrackCurrentLabeled

Figure 4

Figure 4 is after multiple track days in 2014 and 2015. My head and shoulders are now lower and well inside the centerline of the bike. The head turn is better and almost all of my weight is on the inside half of the seat. I am not scraping despite a more pronounced lean angle. While I will not usually hang off this much on the street, I will use the better head & shoulder position and the weighting of the inside half of the seat on all my street rides.

 

Safer and More Confident Cornering

I will definitely use the skills that I have been learning at the track to ride better while conserving lean angle on the street. By keeping lean angle in reserve, I will have a safety margin if I need to tighten up my line during a curve. I will continue to attend parking lot courses because many fundamentals are learned best there. I will continue to practice slow speed skills with counter weighting, head turn, and dragging the rear brake. I will continue honing my street awareness skills and ability to anticipate trouble. However, I will not neglect training at speed with the help of professionals. I still have a lot to learn, but look forward to the challenge.

Track_Day_TTD_2015_Thompson_6-3-15c1-338

Anyone can do a track day. photo: otmpix.com

Editor Ken: Even if you ride a cruiser, tourer, ADV bike, or whatever, there is a track day for you. Non-Sportbike Track Days are available, as well as “traditional”sportbike track days . Either type of track day allows street riders to advance their skills in a safer environment than the street.

Share your comments below. Note that comments from those who have not commented before need approval before they are posted, so be patient, they will be published.


Ed Conde

Ed Conde

Ed Conde is an administrator and webmaster for the group New England Riders (NER). He enjoys finding the best motorcycle roads, views, and restaurants and posting them to the NER Best of the Northeast website.
His real job is running the federal government’s alcohol countermeasures laboratory and testifying at impaired driving cases. Ed enjoys learning about riding and marvels at the skills of top racers, motocrossers, and trials riders. He and his wife Debra ride all over the Northeast on their motorcycles.


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Posted in All Things Motorcycle, Guest Writers, Motorcycle Safety, Rider Education, Riding Technique & Tips, Track Days, Track Days & Racing Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,
23 comments on “Guest Writer: Why Street Riders Benefit by Riding the Track
  1. I like how you talked about using the track to improve your riding skills, especially turning the same corners and seeing the effects of minute changes to your balance and skill. I’ve always wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle but haven’t been sure where to start without getting myself majorly injured. What you said about learning braking, downshifting, countersteering, and more on a track was very interesting to me.

    • Ed Conde says:

      The track is great for learning. If you have never ridden, then I suggest starting with a basic parking lot course and reading a good book about riding.

  2. Jesse says:

    I learned so much on one trackday. Mostly that I have so much more to learn, but cutting my teeth on the track installed some much needed confidence, which comes in to effect everyday on two wheels.

    Props to the fine folks at TonysTrackDays.com, Ken, Janine and all the control riders for helping out over the course of the day, and of course Ed for helping lead the charge to get us all there.

    • Ed Conde says:

      I am glad that you could make it Jesse. It was an awesome day and everybody learned so much. I pick up something each and every time I go. I look forward to seeing you again.

  3. Mike Ç says:

    i learned to ride in the 70s from a brigs and Stratton powered mini bike through a hodaka of very questionable parentage and a slew of other various street dirt street/dirt bikes
    As
    Time went on I moved to an MX bike then the street.

    The learning off road was fantastic as I recorded input from other riders and such some good some not so good.

    I still ride and plan to until I cannot hold a valid license

    Going to a track I would recommend greatly recommend

    Dirt on a small displacement bike from a schoolthis way you can focus on the basics. Ie learning to ride well

    Learning to read lines
    Learning to brake
    Shift etc

    A good weekend class will bring your skills up to a very high level with a group where feed back and comraderie go together

    Then go try to apply this to your bike

    Then take another track day course with your bike from the same school

    Now you know the right way and will have learned to transfer that to you own bike

    This method is not cheap but neither is a motorcycle

    I plan. After now after 40 years of road riding to go back this winter and do these classes again

    Note my current ride in a KLR 650 hardly a road burner but I can see where I need to improve skills

  4. Gino says:

    Hi Ed,
    It was fun to ride with you that one session. Sorry I missed you at the end of the day. I just couldn’t get enough track time to ride with you all and was out in the last 6 sessions helping other out.

    I could definitely see you working on what I was demonstrating in front of you. It was great to see you trying and improving! The live feedback while riding has helped a number of people that I/we have worked with. The smiles at the end of the day are priceless!!!!!!!

    As people have mentioned. Track days allow you to explore your limits that you typically do not achieve in the parking lot or the street. I had a number of people come up to me thought the day and mention “I NEVER thought I was capable of such riding. I won’t do it on the street BUT I now know I have the capability to if ever in a situation. I know handle it.” Granted one day is enough to open up many skillsets. That is just the beginning. Many track days help make riding become a muscle memory where you don’t have to even think about doing it. It just happens instinctively and you will enjoy the ride that much more.

    Gino
    TTD Instructor #4

  5. THANK YOU!! Awesome article and what we tell people all the time!! (My husband is a coach and we own a td organization) I am a track photographer and my racers/coaches are the ones always most anxious for pics to be posted because they want to see their BP EVERY time they ride because, even as experienced as they may be, they know there is always room for improvement!! I have never known any rider to say, even after only one track day, that it didn’t change and improve their street riding and make them safer riders on the street!! Thank you Ed!!

    • Ed Conde says:

      Thanks Jenni. For me, track photographers are an indispensible part of the process. Thank you for your diligence on every shot. You never know which shot is going to be the epiphany moment for a rider. Kudos.

  6. Gary Dionne says:

    Great article! I whole heartedly agree! My days of racing up there gave me experience that was applied to the street on many occasions that would not have ended up well without that knowledge! The best advice I carry from my racing days is resist with all your might the urge to panic! Staying calm in pressure situations is critical to keeping yourself out of trouble! Don’t react with a knee jerk reaction, it will bite you in the ass every time! Keith Code did a fantastic job of touching on this subject and it has saved my life literally more than once on and off the track!

  7. jim dalton says:

    Interesting piece to read ED, I’m an ex road race club champion and agree with a lot you have said.

    however there is more to just riding fast on the street and lately I have used my Pan to try out Motogymkhana.

    I recommend you also have a go at this, its self challenging and easy to do on any bike and you will find you are picking up more skills to use n the road and more information to think about and apply to fast conering (esp when corners catch you out)

    Keep having fun

    regards

    Jim

    • Ken Condon says:

      You are correct, Jim. Track days benefit street riders in many ways besides developing skills for performance cornering. Braking skills, vision skills, shifting skills, traction sense and advanced methods for maintaining stability are also transferable to the street.

      And keep an eye out for an advanced parking lot program that I am planning on offering in 2016 that include many of these skills, as well as a Gymkhana circuit to apply the skills.

    • Ed says:

      I am a big fan of all good training.

  8. Please let me know about any track days or classes. I am in Warwick NY near Middletown.

  9. Al says:

    Thanks for the article I really enjoyed it. I’m guilty of sometimes pushing the bike below me and not leaning toward a turn. I thought that for casual street riding and weekend cruising that leaning into every curve was unnecessary and looked like I was trying to imitate the MotoGP boys by hanging-off even though I want traveling that fast. Can you recommend and articles or videos that go into this topic of body position more? Thanks, Al

    • Ken Condon says:

      Al,
      It’s not “necessary” to use efficient and effective body positioning when you ride casually, but if you try the basic and intermediate techniques (see link below) you will start to feel the benefits. More control, safety and Fun!

      As far as sources for more information; click on any of the links in the article for more articles on topics related to all kinds of riding techniques. You can also do a search in the search box for specific topics. Here is one that you are looking for: http://www.ridinginthezone.com/body-position-tips-2/

      My Riding in the Zone book has a video with segments on body positioning. Trailbraking and countersteering videos can be seen here: http://www.ridinginthezone.com/video-clips/

  10. Great story! I’ve had the pleasure of riding with Ed many miles on the street and at two track days. He’s an attentive student and an information sponge, which no doubt contributes greatly to his skill on two wheels. He is spot-on when it comes to the street value of practice and professional instruction at the track. It helps in ways you won’t appreciate until you do it yourself.

  11. I enjoyed reading Ed Conde’s article about the benefits of attending a Track Day. I was able to get to the non-sport track day at Thompson in early June of this year. I ride a H-D Road Glide and consider myself a “touring” rider. I feel that learning techniques at low speed are critical, especially with a heavyweight bike. But I wanted to learn and practice high speed techniques that are quite different. You must have both in your bag of skills. Tony’s Track Days, along with commentary from Ken, is exactly what I wanted and needed. I will return and plan my trip north just as soon as they publish dates for 2016!

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