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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Guest Writer: Becoming “That Rider”

Track_Day_JMeyers-action1-sm
Jeff, being “That Rider”. photo: otmpix.com

It was a long and cold winter here in the Northeast, but at the first Tony’s Track Days event of the year at the beginning of May, we were given clear skies and ideal temperatures. Last year, I worked hard on my track day form which included letting speed come with practice. My effort was rewarded with an advancement from the novice to intermediate level. This year, I was amazed at how much I retained even with a seven month gap.

My Mantra: “You Are That Rider Now!”

As I rolled out onto the track for my first session and each one thereafter, I heard my track Guru Ken’s voice in my head, and what he told me at my one-one-one session last year: “You are that rider now! – when you go out for a session, ride that way right from the start.” I started saying that to myself – “You are that rider now.” I believe it was that confident mind-set that allowed me to tap into the foundation that I had built from my work last year.

Repetition Builds Muscle and Mind Memory

Last year, I met my goal of completing ten track days. This helped me, through repetition, build muscle and mind memory. The first few sessions of my first day this year went remarkably well. Of course, I was not as proficient as I was at the end of last season, but my body “knew” what it was supposed to do, and I was able to get into the proper body position quickly.  My eyes reached out and ratcheted far ahead through the turns and down the straights to reduce the sensation of speed.  And, as the day progressed, I was able to work up to speeds approaching my fastest last year.

photo: otmpix.com
photo: otmpix.com

Muscle and Mind Memory Lead to Confidence

The thing that really amazed me was how comfortable I was in my head. I no longer felt a flash of fear when another rider slowed dramatically, crossed my line in front of me, or passed me on the outside of a turn; I just managed the situation without much thought.

At one point, I was following behind a rider on a faster bike, and I was on his tail in the turns, but he would pull away in the straights. I decided that I could pass him going into the sharp right hand turn after the long straight by waiting to initiate my braking until after he did and trail brake into the turn as best as I could. I did this, and was just about to “tip-in” to the turn, when another rider came up on my right. I delayed my turn waiting for this rider to initiate his. He never did. Instead, he stayed upright, and locked his rear wheel, and went straight into the run-off area. Once he was out of my line, I went about my turn and kept riding. Last year, this incident would have scared me silly and shaken me the rest of the day. This year, my heart rate didn’t even go up…but maybe it should have!

So, I guess I really am “that rider now.” The lesson for me is that a mantra, conscious effort, repetition, and a great coach build confidence. Thanks Ken!


Jeff Meyers
Jeff Meyers

Jeff Meyers is a self-described middle-aged sport bike and track day dog. He has been riding for almost 30 years and, like many folks of his vintage, was taught by his friends. He is amazed to still be here given what he did at a young age on a motorcycle with such little skill and such a need for speed. He is a lawyer at his “real” job, but also is a part time Motorcycle Safety Foundation Rider Coach and has had the privilege of working for Suzuki assisting in running demo rides, mostly at the Americade rally in Lake George, New York. Jeff loves to learn, especially about riding motorcycles.

 


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Ride Review: 2015 BMW S1000RR at COTA

Kevin Wing Photo
Kevin Wing Photo
This is Part 2 of a series documenting my experience riding the new BMW S1000RR during the North American Press launch at the world-famous COTA racetrack in Austin, Texas. Check out Part One if you’re interested in learning about my first experience as a jetset moto-journalist.

Early last February, I got a text from Steve Lita, editor of Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture asking me if I was available to attend the 2015 BMW S1000RR media launch. Why yes, I am.

COTA-track-informationThe Circuit of the Americas

The opportunity to ride the 2015 BMW S1000RR is certainly huge. But equally huge was the fact that I was going to ride the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) where the official North American Media launch was to take place.

When I flew into Austin, I got a birds-eye view of the 3.4 mile track with its 251-foot viewing tower and sweeping turns bordered by massive amounts of red, white and blue paint. What I wasn’t able to see from so far up was the 130 foot change in elevation. Photos and on-board videos do no justice to the hill approaching turn 1.

COTA_airThe track is fast with many triple-digit corners and a 3/4 mile back straight where I saw 175mph on the digital speedo. Many people say that the track is difficult to learn. I found it not too challenging (I found Barber to be trickier).

It took me two sessions to get the turn 2-7 series of Ss figured out, but I never found consistent reference points in the turn 8/9 blind chicane and the turn 17-18 segment confounded my lack of discipline to stay wide until just the right time. Another two sessions would have done wonders (we had 4 sessions, total).

In the end, I got along with the track just fine. My lap times weren’t great, but hardly embarrassing either. And I didn’t crash…not every journalist was able to say that.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 12.08.47 PM
Uber-fast guys, Nate Kern and Roland Sands (yes, THAT Roland Sands) pass underneath me.

Know Your Tester

Anytime someone shares their impressions of a bike’s performance you should find out a bit about who is doing the reporting. Without the context of the rider’s experience, you may end up with a false impression based on biases or lack of real-world knowledge. A reporter who has little experience on a supersport machine will come to conclusions that may not be useful or accurate. On the other hand, reading a review written by a professional road racer may not be meaningful if you never plan to take the bike to the track.

I am a street rider, track day instructor, occasional road racer and motorcycle safety professional who focuses primarily on advancing riders’ skills. This means that I’m able to evaluate a motorcycle from many different angles (pun not intended) and convey the bike’s capabilities, not only as a track bike but also as a potential street mount.

Since this was a racetrack launch and performance review, I needed to ride the S1000RR hard enough, but not risk tossing the $19k machine down the track. I had ridden S1000RRs before…the one I crashed (read Part 1) and another one that I didn’t crash. I’ve also ridden a handful of top-shelf liter-bikes on racetracks on the East coast, but nothing approaching 200hp.

I may have been seconds-slower than the faster guys, but the data on the instrument cluster indicated that I was using a decent amount of deceleration force and the fancy lean angle gauge said I achieved a respectable 54 degrees of lean to the right, but only 51 degrees to the left.

BMW_S1000RR-DynoRiding the S1000RR

The S1000RR is both a wolf in wolf’s clothing and a sheep in wolf’s clothing. The headlights, turn signals, heated grips and cruise control say “streetbike”, while the space shuttle power, ultra-light throttle action and racey geometry say “race weapon”.

Thankfully, the 2015 RR is a sweetheart when it comes to power delivery. The fueling is impeccable and linear. Still, we are talking about a 199hp (claimed at the crank) bike that weights 457 pounds soaking wet.

Compared to the first two generations of S1000RRs, the 2015 model is a comprehensive redesign of engine, frame, electronics and performance. The Pirelli SuperCorsa SP street/track day tires took a couple laps to warm up in the very humid 60 degree Texas morning air, but then provided confident grip and stability.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 6.17.29 PMThe first time accelerating down the long back straight took my breath away. 160, 165, 170. Holy shit. And the throttle wasn’t even quite fully open. Subsequent laps saw the speedo top 175 mph and there was more power that I was leaving on the table.

The Gear Shift Assist Pro helped me reach this lofty speed with clutchless upshifts delivering uninterrupted power from second gear to 6th. The clutchless downshifts are a RR exclusive for 2015 (others will offer this feature very soon, I predict), allowing me to bang down on the shifter (or up for GP shift) as it auto-blips the throttle for mostly seamless shifts.

The upshifts worked great once I stopped pre-loading the shifter (it confuses the electronics). But, the downshifts were less cooperative no matter what I tried with one of the bikes not downshifting without doing it the old-fashioned way. Also, the shift lever felt vague, causing me to wonder if the tranny actually made the downshift or not. The transmission is buttery smooth, BTW.
Here’s the on-board video:

Good Brakes, Thank goodness

OK, high speed runs are exhilarating but don’t hold my attention for long. The 2nd gear hairpin at the end of the straight…now THAT got my attention! At that moment, my focus was 100% on braking power and stability.

Thankfully, the Brembo calipers (and 320mm rotors) provide wonderfully powerful and precise lever action, allowing hard, fade-free braking as well as precise trailbraking control and feedback. The RR is so stable under hard braking that it felt almost like cheating. The electronic Race ABS surely plays a role in instilling confidence, but it’s the ABS in concert with the anti-lift (stoppie) control, slipper clutch, semi-active electronic suspension damping and the superbly balanced chassis that really raises the bar.

Not that I ever really noticed any of those things…not because I wasn’t pushing hard, but because these e-aids are so finely tuned. I did notice when the anti-lift control was shut off as the rear tire skimmed the tarmac during one particularly aggressive corner approach. Race ABS and anti-lift can be set for various levels of intrusion using either the rider modes or by selecting a’ la carte under User mode. More about the electronics can be found below.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 9.54.17 PM
Kevin Wing photo

It Handles, Too

Swinging a leg over the RR immediately reveals a lithe package. Once underway, the bike felt to me like a slightly heavy R6, and at 457 pounds (wet) it’s only 40 pounds off. That seems like a lot, but the power and chassis engineering mask that weight. The agility became apparent in the fast Ss, the blind chicane and the switchbacks. The chassis was dead stable when trailbraking and cornering at fast, knee down speeds.

The fully adjustable suspension on the base model is more than good enough for most people. But I’d spend the extra dough on the Dynamic Damping Control. It responds in milliseconds to changes in braking, cornering, accelerating and road surface. It’s like having an on-board suspension expert tweaking the clickers as needed for the best grip, drive and stability.

A Possible Street bike?

I didn’t get the chance to ride the bike on the street, so I can only speculate on how the RR will perform as a day to day companion. But, in my estimation I bet the combination of light weight and impeccable balance will make the RR a sweet day-to-day mount.

It wasn’t long ago that I would think someone was crazy who suggested that an almost 200hp bike would make a decent street bike, but the S1000’s fueling is so good and the power so controlled that it is indeed viable.  It has all the right features to make a fine street machine…gobs of easy-to-use torque, a ton of electronic stability aids and a reasonably comfortable ergonomic package. The cruise control and heated grips also help.

BMW_DDCLiving with Electronics

Electronics have become a huge part of modern motorcycle engineering and the RR has ample amounts of e-technology. The RR has Lift (stoppie) Control Stability control and Race ABS to help going from 175 to 35 an almost drama-free experience. More intervention happens in Rain and Race rider Mode (This should be called Street Mode, IMO) and very little interference in Slick Mode (the mode I rode in most of the day).

Stability Control (base model) and 14-step Traction Control (Standard and Premium Packages) also intervene appropriately to match the 3 (Base) or 5 (Optional) rider modes. The Premium packages include “User” mode which can be customized almost infinitely to combine rider modes, TC and ABS settings.

All this manifests into a very sophisticated machine that can mitigate (and mask) the consequences of some mistakes. This gives a lot of confidence, but make no mistake…you can still crash this bike, so don’t get too cocky.

With this number of electronic options comes a learning curve. It will take a dedicated and savvy owner with about a season of track time to discover all the potential of the RR. I also wonder how the electronics will fare over many miles of normal exposure to weather and time.

Kevin Wing photo
Kevin Wing photo

In Summary

Buy one. You’ll spend $15,500 for the base model, which is a good value for an excellent machine. For $16,795 you get the Shift-assist Pro, cruise control, heated grips and upgraded TC. But, I suggest you fork over the $18,695 for the DDC and forged wheels. It may mean you eat spaghetti out of a can for a while, but you won’t regret it, especially if you ride on the track.

Please look for the article I wrote for Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture where I go into greater detail about the electronics and features.

BMW S 1000 RR COTA PRESS LAUNCH from mybmw on Vimeo.


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Living the Life of a Moto-Journalist

MotorcycleMagazine-coverEarly last February, I got a text from my newest best friend Steve Lita, editor of Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture asking me if I was available in March to attend a new bike launch. Um, sure. Tell me more.

It turns out that Steve and all of his go-to editors were previously engaged and he needed someone who can both ride and write. I can do that. A few more texts later, I learned that the press launch was for the 2015 BMW S1000RR uber-sportbike and was being held at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) world-class racetrack in Austin, Texas! Be still, my heart!

Since I write the monthly Street Savvy column for Motorcyclist Magazine, I wasn’t sure that Editor-in-Chief, Marc Cook would give his blessings. It took a tense 5 minutes for Marc to return my text giving me the okay! It looked like I was going to finally live my dream of being a motorcycle journalist who gets to ride other peoples’ bikes in cool parts of the world…and get paid to do it!

Living the Life

I’ve been writing safety/skills articles for 15 years for Motorcycle Consumer News as a freelancer, but this job never included riding new bikes in cool places. Like many of you, I always wondered what it was like to live the life of a jet-set moto-journalist. I was about to find out.

Pre-Event Nerves

Even though I have total confidence in my ability to ride, there was a part of me that couldn’t help thinking how much it would suck to either be the slowest guy on the track and/or crash a $20,000 motorcycle in front of the most well-known journalists in the industry.

As a track day instructor, I am often asked to give the newest model a few laps to see what I think, so I have a lot of experience riding other peoples’ bikes. I adapt quickly to new machines and have never had an issue with control. Except one time. I was riding Twisted Throttle’s brand new 2010 S1000 when I tucked the front tire on a cold and slightly damp turn 11 at Loudon. It took me months to shake off that embarrassment and I wasn’t about to let it happen again.

AGVIn the coming weeks, I read up on the S1000 and watched on-bike videos of COTA and waited for brand new leathers, boots and gloves from Alpinestars and an AGV Corsa helmet to arrive. Understandably, gear manufacturers are eager to have their riding gear on the cover and in the inside pages of national magazines whenever possible. Dainese sent me boots and gloves for the event, but didn’t have leathers available, so we went with the full A-Stars setup. Product reviews of the riding gear will appear with the S1000RR review.

The Junket

Apparently, not all press junkets are created equal with some little more than a basic track day or a street ride that includes lunch. The BMW S1000RR junket was going to eclipse these austere events in a big way. Arrangements were made for flight, hotel, meals, and airport drop off and pick up. No, I did not get first-class seats, but I did stay in the posh 4-Seasons hotel in Austin and ate very well.

COTA-ScheduleArriving in Austin, I was greeted by Matthew, my limo driver who handled my luggage. Thankfully, my Ogio gear bag appeared on the conveyor in no time and Matthew drove me to the hotel while I sat dutifully in the back seat where all self-important people sit. A porter carried my bags through the lobby and up to my room. He refused my tip, saying that BMW was taking care of everything. OK, I’m starting to get it.

Often, the marketing people from the bike manufacturer give out nice SWAG bags…not this time, but I did enjoy the gift basket. Yum…beef jerky. Seriously, not having sweet SWAG was fine with me. I was more than happy just to be treated to the venue and first-class treatment. Thanks, BMW!

I wandered around the hotel and then got ready for the welcome cocktail party. I nervously descended the stairs to find about 30 people sitting and standing around an outdoor patio open bar, chatting about this and that. Since many of these men and women are regulars on the bike launch circuit, they know each other well enough to ask about their spouses and kids and get caught up on recently discussed professional matters. At first I feared being the proverbial wallflower, not having much previous contact with these folks. But, a quick glance told me I would fit in just fine, being acquainted with maybe 6 or so others in attendance.

COTA-cocktail
Kevin Wing Photo

An hour or so later, we were escorted to another room where we sat for a presentation highlighting the notable new features for the 2015 RR. Some introductions were made, including the attendance of special guests; Keith and Dylan Code (California Superbike School), Roland Sands (ex-250GP star and custom bike builder), Jesse James (West Coast Choppers), and singer Lyle Lovett who would join us the next day.  Nate Kern, BMW’s S1000RR ambassador-extraordinaire, gave some insight into the significance of certain features that he wanted to make sure we paid attention to.

Dinner was then served in a private dining room. Ari Henning (Motorcyclist) and I had the absolutely delicious Salmon. Unfortunately, Ari had a rough night as his system struggled with the fish.

COTA-present-1
Kevin Wing Photo

After the presentation, the bar was re-opened, but I know better than to consume much alcohol before riding on the track so I went off to bed. I, thankfully, slept remarkably well.

Launch Day

We were instructed to be in the breakfast room early to grab some chow before getting on the bus to the racetrack. The bus driver was stuck in traffic, so we got a late start. After a 30 minute drive we were deposited in the paddock where our gear was moved to a changing area in the garages. The journalists were escorted to a classroom for the marketing/press briefings on the new line of BMW riding gear and another presentation on factory accessories available for the S1000. A fully-kitted RR was on display with over $11,000 worth of goodies.

COTA-present-2
Kevin Wing Photo

We were divided into two groups. Looking around, I could see that I was put in the “slow” group. That was fine with me…and understandable. As a first-time freelancer I’m an unknown quantity to BMW and it meant that I would be one of the faster riders on the track. Besides, it ended up that the guys in the other group were ripping faster than I was willing to go.

Suiting Up

LyleAfter the presentations, we got suited up. This is when things got a bit bizarre. Here I am wrestling to put on a set of brand-spanking new Alpinestars leathers when I glance over to see Lyle Lovett wriggling into his custom “Lone star of Texas” Vanson leathers. “Hey, I know you.” Lyle is world famous and one of my favorite all-time musicians, but today we were just two guys getting ready to ride.

Go-Pro was there loaning out cameras and attaching mounts to the bikes. There was also a drone hovering around with a camera as the first group set out for a session of follow-the-leader behind Nate Kern. All but two journalists had ridden COTA before, so we were mostly in the same boat.

COTA and the S1000RR

This is getting mighty long (for the Internet), so I am splitting this into two parts. Read Part 2 where I will reveal my thoughts on COTA and riding the 199hp 2015 S1000RR.

Final Thoughts

In the end, this was a fairy tale experience. But like most things, there are ups and downs. Listening to the seasoned journos talk about their struggles with travel and time spent away from home, I realized that apparently it’s not all fun and games.

Watch this video interview of my new acquaintance, Jeff Buchanan, talking about what it’s like to ride for a living.

After all was said and done, I had a great time meeting new industry peeps, getting reacquainted with not so new acquaintances and living the life of a real moto-journalist for a couple of days. I hope people enjoy the article (look for it in a mid-summer issue of Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture). I also hope more offers to test bikes happen in the near future. It sure was fun. I’ll be awaiting your next text, Steve.


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How to Crash

J9_Crash
Faceplant owenstrackdayphotos.com

I sometimes get questions from students, readers and other fellow riders asking whether there are ways to minimize injury during a crash. I’ll give you the few tips I know, but realistically you don’t have too many options once you and your motorcycle part ways. In most cases you will not have any control of the situation to do much more than hang on for the ride.

Josh-crash-01
Sky, Ground, Sky, Ground photo: Josh B.

What Are The Options?

It’s not all bad news. Some “easy” crashes (like a low side on smooth pavement with plenty of runoff area) may allow you to exercise a few options.

  • Try to relax to make your limbs less rigid to minimize the risk of torn ligaments and broken bones (think cooked spaghetti).
  • If you’re sliding, extend your arms and legs to help slow yourself down and to spread the load so you don’t burn through your riding gear.
  • If you start to roll and tumble, tuck your limbs against your body…kinda like when you rolled down a hill as a kid.
  • Try not to extend your arms to break the fall. It’s human nature to extend your arms as you are falling, but this can lead to a broken wrist or collarbone. Even if you don’t extend your arms like Superman, a good whack on the shoulder can still snap a clavicle in two.
  • Let go of the bike! Hanging onto the handlebars will only make things worse. You want to be as far away from the bike as possible when it starts tumbling.
  • Don’t stand up right away. More times than not, you are still sliding even though you think you’ve stopped. Next thing you know you are seeing sky, ground, sky ground.
  • Remain flat on the ground. It’s better to have another bike behind run you over than hit you as you sit or stand up. If you crash on the street and get run over by a car, it doesn’t really matter.
  • Assess the situation and crawl to safety. You’re pumped with adrenaline and may not make good decisions, so look first and then move.

Remember, these are “shot in the dark” suggestions that may help, but may not.

Marc Marquez takes a big hit. We would all wish for his airbag race suit if we were to crash.
Marc Marquez takes a big hit. We would all wish for his airbag race suit if we were to crash.

To The Moon, Alice!

Adding throttle and increased lean angle at the same time is a bad idea.
A highside in progress.

If you’re particularly unlucky you’ll get to experience a highside. A highside is when your bike’s rear tire loses traction (usually while you are exiting a corner on the gas) and the rear of the bike swings sideways. Just then, the rear tire regains traction and immediately tries to realign with the front wheel. This turns your bike into a trebouche and you are the catapult’s fodder.

Your landing will be hard and what happens after that is anyone’s guess. I just hope you’re wearing good armor (and back protector) and have decent health insurance.

Crash Prevention

Instead of trying to control something that is not controllable, you’re much better off focusing on preventing the mishap from happening in the first place. Don’t drink and ride, don’t ride over your head, don’t ride faster than the environment can support, and become the smartest and most talented rider possible. Now, those are areas where you have some control.

Prepare For the Worst

Most crashes are preventable, but some aren’t, which is why it’s smart to be as protected as possible to minimize the damage. That means wearing a full-coverage helmet, sturdy jacket and pants with armor, gauntlet gloves, and boots that provide extra impact protection for your heel and ankles. Don’t leave home without it!

The Racetrack is Safer

Hopefully, any crashes you experience are on a racetrack where you aren’t likely to hit anything lethal (like unprotected guardrails and oncoming vehicles). If you end up hurdling over a car hood, I hope your affairs are in order because that rarely turns out well.

Have you crashed? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

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Video: Ken Narrates a Track Day Session

Enjoy this video of Ken narrating a few laps of the Thompson Speedway, CT (Clockwise, short course) road course using a Sena GoPro Audio Back.

Here is another from Thompson Motor Speedway in Thompson, CT

Track day riders who sign up for Personal Instruction will receive real-time narration and coaching.

See More Track Day Videos

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Best Track Day Bikes

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I often get asked from riders new to track days, what is the best motorcycle for riding on the track? In an effort to answer this FAQ, I decided to list some criteria for what I look for in a great track day bike. I’ll also list a few bikes I think are worth considering.

Almost Any Bike Will Do

Some people think that they need a dedicated track bike to do a track day. But, this simply isn’t true as long as you have a motorcycle that has a reasonable amount of cornering clearance. This includes most standard, sport, sport touring and adventure bikes.

What this means is that many riders don’t need to buy a new bike to enjoy the benefits of riding on a racetrack. Many track day organizations require minimal preparation, so even that should not deter you from considering signing up for a track day.

FZ-1s, VFRs, Ducati Monsters, ZRXs, all fit nicely at a track day. Even FJRs and Gold Wings show up from time to time.

Non-Sportbike Track Days

Touring machines and cruiser motorcycles are probably the only machines that are not really appropriate for regular, sportbike track days. But, Non-Sportbike days are available. If you’re in the eastern part of the US, consider attending a Riding in the Zone Non-Sportbike Track Training Day.

Non-Sportbike track days are for any bike. photo: Arcy Kusari otmpix.com

Dedicated Track Bikes

That said, there are a lot of good reasons for buying a dedicated track bike. One reason is that you can set it up for track riding by stripping unnecessary lights and street paraphernalia and mounting inexpensive and durable race bodywork. You can also add performance bits that are intended for racetrack use only, such as race tires, low clip-on handlebars and rigid rearset footpegs.

Another reason is that you will feel free to push the limits, because you will be less concerned about potentially scratching your only motorcycle in a fall. See #5 below.

Criteria

What makes a good track day bike? From my perspective, the best track day bikes include the following criteria:

  1. Reliable- A machine that you can always count on to start and run reliably all day long, even at redline. This is why I don’t recommend dirt-bike based motards.
  2. Inexpensive- You don’t need a $10,000 machine to have a great time at a track day. As a matter of fact, if you spend all your money on your bike, then you will not have as much money available for track day registration fees and top-notch riding gear. Another criteria that makes track riding a whole lot less expensive is if you have a bike that is easy on tires. Also, forgo unnecessary bling and wait until you have at least a few track days under your belt before you make any performance modifications. Suspension and brake mods are acceptable at any time, though.
  3. Not very powerful- A moderately powerful bike is one of the most important criteria for novice and intermediate track day riders. Even advanced riders will benefit from a low horsepower machine. I raced a 48hp MZ Scorpion as an expert and had a blast. And it cost me $2500.00. Just sayin’. See the article on the detriment of too much  horsepower. See more below.
  4. Not precious- Many new track day riders suffer undue stress over the anxiety of crashing their beautiful, high-dollar, chrome and carbon laden street bike. Thankfully, it’s easy not to crash at a track day if you ride within your ability. So, if all you have is your pride and joy, go ahead and bring it to the track, but at some point when you start pushing harder, you may want a dedicated track bike that has less sentimental value.
Ken racing an old 50hp Kawasaki EX500 Ninja worth less than $2,000. Photo: Jonas Powell Photography

Some Bikes to Consider

  1. Suzuki SV650– Inexpensive with plenty of V-twin power. Put some money into the front suspension and you’re ready to roll. A lot of fast racers choose the SV as a fun and competitive lightweight racing platform.
  2. Kawasaki EX500 Ninja– The venerable 500 Ninja has been a mainstay of lightweight roadracers in the Northeast for years. Really, really cheap. Just be sure you get a model with the 17′ wheels. You’ll need to upgrade the brakes and suspension, for sure. There are better modern choices, but you can get one dirt cheap.
  3. Kawasaki EX650 Ninja– Similar to the SV650, but with a parallel twin motor.
  4. Yamaha MT-07– Same class as the SV650 and EX650, but with a peppy engine and compact size.
  5. 250/300 Ninja – These bikes are a hoot, are cheap and plentiful. However, you may outgrow the sub-20 hp and limited tire selection after a season…or you’ll go all in and race in the growing 300 class.
  6. KTM 390– A step up from the baby Ninjas, the 390 offers sharp handling and a fun motor. Upgrade the suspension and brakes for expert level capability.
  7. Ninja 400– A step up even further in horsepower and long term potential. Lots of racers are choosing the 400 as a  club racing platform.
  8. CBR600RR, ZX6R, R6, GSXR600, 675 Daytona, 675 Street Triple, and other 600-class bikes– The 600 class of bikes are the most prevalent bikes at a track day. They offer a good balance of power with very good suspension and brakes out of the box. These bikes aren’t the cheapest thing to run. They can eat up tires and crashing them can get expensive. Older CBRs, R6s, GSXRs and ZX6s can be had cheaply.  Note, that if you want a track-only bike with race bodywork, premium suspension and bike protection, it’s often cheaper to find a bike that is already prepared and outfitted for track use than to take a street bike and converting it to a track-only machine. Just be aware of their condition.

Liter SuperBikes: Not The Best Choice for Novices

Testing the 2015 BMW S1000rr photo: BMW

In many ways it’s great when a novice track day rider shows up with a brand new $20,000 rocket. We all love seeing riders who understand that these bikes are designed to be ridden on a closed course and often cause trouble when ridden on the street where their character begs to be ridden hard.

But, these bikes can also be a hindrance to stress free learning. Many new track day riders are better off with a simple, low powered machine that keeps them running a bit slower until they can get a handle on racetrack riding. One reason my friend Josh was having trouble at his first several track days is because he was driven to ride his GSXR1000 faster than he should have. Read about Josh’s mishap.

Of course, it doesn’t take a hundred-fifty horses to get into trouble. A well setup 70 hp bike like an SV650 can corner just as fast as a literbike, but the nature of the Gixxer liter bike often begs riders to unleash all the available horses. However, if what you have is a liter bike, don’t shy away from a track day. Just be extra aware of the temptation you can feel when piloting a hyper-superbike and keep the throttle in check.


Advanced-Level Bikes

The sky’s the limit here. However, I see time and again, riders who go for big horsepower at he expense of investing in skill development. Trust me that smaller is better in advancing your ability to get to expert level proficiency.

That said, here are the liter bikes to consider and why or why not:

Yamaha R1- A beast that begs to be ridden hard. If you can’t run an advanced pace, you’ll struggle to make this bike work the way it is intended.

Honda CBR1000RR- One of the easiest big bikes to ride. The 2017-on model is compact, smooth and fast.

BMW S1000rr (and r)- Love this bike. It’s only second to the Honda as an easy to ride bike. Gobs of power, but with good manners.

Kawasaki ZX10r- I was surprised that I didn’t love this bike. But, it was a bit like the R1 in that you have to ride it fairly aggressively to make it work. Otherwise it feels a bit heavy in the steering department.

Suzuki GSXR1000- Cannot go wrong with a Gixxah. Easy to ride when set up correctly and plenty of aftermarket and used parts out there.

Ducati Panigale 1199- I really like this bike. The handling is terrific, the motor is amazing and the looks… Expensive.

Triumph Speed Triple- more powerful, but less nimble version of the Street Triple. The 2021 model looks to up the performance.

Aprilia RSV4 (Tuono)- This is my current bike. See below. Love, Love, Love it.

Track testing the 2016 Speed Triple r photo: Triumph

My track bikes

Here is a list of track and racing bikes I’ve owned:

2000 Muz660 Scorpion– single cylinder 48hp bundle of awesomeness that helped me I win lots of amateur races.

2005 Kawasaki ZX636- I owned two of these. I whipped these bike over many track day miles and they neve3r let me down.

2012 Triumph Street Triple 675– Simply awesome. I enjoyed this sporty upright bike immensely as a track day machine.

2011 Suzuki GSXR750- This bike was very capable and reliable, but I didn’t gel with it, so I moved on after just one season.

2013 Aprilia Tuono- This is my current (as of 2021) track day bike and I love it. The upright supersports are my thing and with a 160 hp V-4 motor, the Italian machine mov3es my soul. It handles great and has just the right amount of usable and tractable power for a truly enjoyable ride.


Track Day Preparation

How I prepared the Triumph Street Triple R 675 for the track.

How I prepared the Aprilia Tuono for the track

Add your comments, below.


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How to Not Suck at Cornering

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This is a rider who sucks at cornering.
This is a rider who sucks at cornering.

Hot on the heels of the The Power of the Quick Turn article is this followup post about what happens after you tip into a corner. Too many riders struggle with cornering, not necessarily because they are afraid to lean, but becasue they do not understand how to properly complete a turn.

Cornering Basics

By now you know that motorcycles must lean to change direction and that leaning is done by countersteering. Read about countersteering HERE.

Once the bike begins to lean, countersteering pressure is reduced and other dynamics take over that cause the motorcycle to arc around the curve, including front end rake and trail geometry, as well as something called camber thrust. Camber thrust is the term that describes how a tapered object (a motorcycle tire leaned over) orbits around its axis when rolling along a surface (the pavement).

In other words, the rounded profile of a motorcycle tire acts like a tapered styrofoam cup when it’s rolled on its side. Give it a push and it rolls in a circle.

Here is how author and  fellow USCRA racer Tony Foale describes camber thrust:

“As the inside edge of the tyre is forced to adopt a smaller radius than the outer edge, then for a given wheel rotational speed, the inner edge would prefer to travel at a smaller road speed, this happens if the wheel is allowed to turn about a vertical axis through the point of the cone. Just as a solid cone on a table if given a push.”

For our purposes, all you really need to understand is that your motorcycle is designed to track around a curve with minimal effort once the bike is in a lean. Front end geometry (caster effect, rake,  trail, etc.) all make this possible. If you want to read more, go to Tony Foale’s website and learn all about it.

If your bike is properly maintained and has relatively new tires with nearly the original profile intact, you should be able to initiate lean and then maintain that lean angle without introducing any significant handlebar inputs. Problems occur when the rider messes this process up. Most bikes will track predictably and with little effort as long as the rider doesn’t interfere with the process or introduce counterproductive inputs.

Variations in Machine Design

Some riders insist that they cannot round a corner without using significant handlebar pressure to keep their machine on the desired path. Instead of being able to relax and let the bike carve the path, they fight the bars all the way around the curve. It is possible that the machine is to blame, but these days this is rarely true.

While I have ridden bikes with really bad cornering dynamics, the vast majority of modern machines offer balanced, neutral handling that requires little-to-no mid-corner intervention. The only reason for handlebar adjustments are because of mid-corner changes in turn radius, camber or surface condition. A smooth constant radius curve, ridden well, requires almost no additional handlebar pressure.

It’s important to note that different types of bikes handle differently. Sportbikes are responsive to steering inputs, while cruisers tend to be slower steering, but more stable. Still, if the rider does all the right things, then the differences in machine does not make that much of a difference. The trick is to have the knowledge and skill to complete a corner proficiently.

Basically, it’s usually much more productive to evaluate the user instead of blaming the machine.

User Error

To repeat…once the necessary lean angle is established, most bikes are happy to track around a corner with little effort. So, why do some riders struggle with this part of the cornering process? The answer lies in a few areas.

  1. Tension at the handlebars. The front of the bike needs to be free to move up, down, and side -to-side in response to both large and small changes in the road surface. Being stiff on the handlebars interferes with this motion and causes the motorcycle to feel reluctant to turn. It also asks the tires to work harder to stay in contact with the surface. Another problem with stiff arms is that you are inhibiting the slight countersteering corrections that may need to occur to deal with changes in camber or other variations in corner surface. Loose arms allow fluid reactions.
  2. Poor body position. Think of your bike as your dance partner who wants you to lead. In the case of the cornering dance, a slight dip of the shoulder to the inside of the curve will encourage smoother cornering. In contrast, a rider who stays upright or leans outside is stepping on the bike’s toes, causing it resist fluid cornering.
  3. Not using the Throttle Correctly. For the motorcycle to track around the corner predictably and smoothly, the suspension must be stable and in the middle of its travel. Smooth, gradual acceleration throughout the curve produces the best results. Be sure to slow enough at the beginning of turns so that you can comfortably roll on the gas all the way to the exit. Unfortunately, a lot of riders fail to use steady throttle in corners. This is a problem, because changes in speed and drive force alter the arcing path the motorcycle takes. Abruptly chopping on or off the throttle upsets this stability and causes the bike to lift and fall in and out of the established angle of lean and introduces forces that result in a wobbly or weaving line around the corner. Note that acceleration typically makes the bike drift wide and deceleration can either cause the bike to drop into the corner more or cause it to stand up, depending on how abruptly the throttle is chopped and how the machine /tire combo responds to this input.
  4. Not Looking through the Turn. You tend to go where you look, so look where you want to go! By keeping your visual attention through the turn and toward the corner exit, your mind is able to better manage the corner. The other advantage is that the landscape slows down when you look ahead. This reduces anxiety and helps complete the concerning process. Looking ahead will not suddenly make you a cornering master, but without habitually looking ahead, you will never become one. Keep your eyes up.
Practicing cornering technique. Look where you want to go!
Practicing cornering technique. Look where you want to go!

Cornering Technique

Okay, so let’s break it down.

  1. Look well ahead.
  2. Countersteer to initiate lean for the corner.
  3. Crack the throttle as soon as the bike is leaned. Use gentle drive at first and then progressively feed in more drive force. Roll on with more authority as lean angle is reduced near the corner exit. Steady drive creates steady cornering.
  4. Relax! If you established the correct angle of lean for the turn, the bike should require only slight adjustments in handlebar pressure. Corners that tighten will require you to press more on the inside bar to lean the bike more, but keep the throttle as steady as possible.
  5. Finish the turn. You’re not done yet. Keep looking toward the corner exit and roll on the throttle a bit more to let the bike drift toward the outside of the curve. This facilitates the “outside-inside-outside” cornering line, which I will discuss in a future post.
  6. Rinse and repeat for the next corner.

There is so much more to learn about the cornering process, but this is a good start. Implement these steps and you’re well on your way to becoming a cornering master.

What tips can you share that help you to corner with more confidence?


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Guest Writer: When Do You Lean?

The ability to lean a motorcycle with confidence is a fundamental part of riding. Unfortunately, humans do not come hardwired to lean much more than about 20 degrees, which is the lean angle where we start to lose traction  when we run in a circle on grass or dirt. Motorcycle riders must get beyond this lean angle limit for even basic maneuvers. This requires a leap of faith that the tires will grip. Practice is important to train your mind and muscles to lean beyond your comfort zone so you will be able to lean more if necessary. Once greater lean angles become more comfortable, the next skill to refine is timing so you reach maximum lean angle at the right point in the corner.


 

Paul Duval at full lean.www.otmpix.com
Paul Duval at full lean. www.otmpix.com

Meet Paul Duval

Paul Duval is the latest RITZ guest writer. Paul is a fellow track day and MSF instructor, former Loudon Road Racing Series 125 GP Champion, and professional educator. Let’s listen to Paul’s take on the importance of accurately timing maximum lean angle.


Timing Maximum Lean Angle

After many years of racing and instructing on the racetrack, there is one persistent mistake I see riders make when trying to ride faster: Using too much lean, too late in the corner.

Who is making this mistake?

Everyone is susceptible to this problem. Novice and intermediate track day riders often make the mistake of  increasing lean angle late in the corner in an attempt to get their knee down. Especially vulnerable riders are those with a lot of “natural talent” who got fast so much more quickly than everyone else. They end up riding fast, but without the knowledge and precision necessary to manage that corner speed.

What’s the Problem?

Adding throttle and increased lean angle at the same time is a bad idea.
Adding throttle and increased lean angle at the same time is a bad idea.

You may say, “What’s the big deal, I’m knee down and cranking?!” Yes, you may be fast, but this mistake WILL eventually lead to a crash, and probably a BIG one.

The problem with reaching max lean angle well after the apex of a turn is that this is precisely where you want to be on the gas.  Other riders will be already picking the bike up and driving hard.  This will encourage you to match their drive, but you are still adding lean angle.

Remember this:  Adding lean angle AND throttle at the same time is how high sides happen. The opposing forces of changing direction and accelerating can easily exceed available traction and will cause the rear tire to slide.   When this happens, slides are extremely quick, unpredictable, and hard to recover from.  All of your momentum is going exactly the wrong way.

Why do I keep doing this?

There are a few reasons people make this mistake.

Weak countersteering skills:  Newer riders haven’t yet mastered the “quick turn” technique of using counter steering to get the bike leaned over.  They bend their motorcycle into the turns gradually and often pass the apex entirely before the bike has changed direction.  Now they are running out of real estate and HAVE to lean it over to finish the turn.

Lack of reference points:Beginner and Intermediate track riders often use other riders as their reference points. This leads to a lot of crazy entry lines, none of which help the rider get the bike to change direction before the apex.  They commonly ride around the entry point as well as the apex, then crank the bike over to finish the turn.

Charging the corners:  Faster riders who make this mistake are at the most risk.  They rush into the corner at a pace that does not allow them to consistently hit their marks.  They will blow by a tip in point, drift wide past the apex, and then attempt to recover to get back on the “fast” exit line by adding a little more lean and a little more throttle.

Even with all this effort, they wonder why the faster guys are still pulling away.  They aren’t even cranked over like I am!!!  Hmmmm???  You may get away with late lean angles for a while, but eventually, you will push this mistake too far. Highside city.

The Solution?

The correction for all these riders is pretty similar.  And it’s not what they want to hear:  SLOW DOWN your corner entry to a speed that you can actually handle.  I mean a speed at which you can identify reference points, and ride an accurate line from tip in to apex that allows you to OPEN the corner after the apex, rather than tighten it up.  You need to learn to time your throttle inputs and your lean angle so that as you drive out of the corner and standing the bike up progressively as you roll on the gas.  BRAAAAP!  Wheee!


A quicker turn allows early direction change and less risk of an on-throttle highside.
A quicker turn allows early direction change and less risk of an on-throttle highside. copyright Riding in the Zone.

Ken:

Thanks Paul. Paul mentioned the importance of being able to turn quickly. By being able to countersteer with authority, you are able to get your motorcycle from upright to leaned so that the majority of the direction change is complete BEFORE the apex. With the change in direction mostly complete, you can reduce lean angle as you roll on the gas. Traction is managed and all is well. Post your comments below.


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Track Day Bike Prep-Triumph Street Triple R

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The Patient:

Triumph Street Triple R

I recently sold my trusty track-only 2005 Kawasaki ZX6R for a more upright track /street bike. I thought I would buy a new Yamaha FZ-09, but I talked with Dave Searle from Motorcycle Consumer News who told me that the FZ needed a lot of work to make it track worthy, so I opted for a slightly used 2012 Triumph Street Triple R. I rode it at a track day the day I picked it up and it performed very well in stock form. But, as a track day junkie and instructor, I needed more precise handling and I need to make sure a tipover will not keep me from continuing with my day.

Besides doing the track day stuff, I also Accessorized the Street Triple with some street-oriented stuff. You might want to check that out later.


 First, Some Video

Below is a video showing a couple of laps of me and the Striple at Loudon. I’m in the red vest. The Street Triple fun starts at 7:10.

At Barber

At Thompson, CT


Bolt on Bike Protection

You are not required to have frame sliders or any other type of bike protection at most track day events. But, it is smart to protect your motorcycle in the event that you go down. I ride on the racetrack as one of my jobs, so I do over 2,000 track miles per season. Even though My crash rate is very low, I have been known to make a mistake or two. An investment in bike protection (as well as rider protection) can mean the difference between ending your day early or getting back out on the track to finish your day on two wheels. I also carry some spare levers and foot pegs, just in case.

Here are some images of the work I’ve been doing to my 2012 Triumph Street Triple R. It is serving as my track bike and as an occasional street bike. I focused first on bolting on some engine, frame and exhaust protection. I work for Twisted Throttle, so it made the most sense that I use products that they import and sell. The stuff from R&G Racing and SW-MOTECH are top shelf, IMO and I would consider using their products even if I didn’t get the employee discount. Click the links to see all of the Twisted Throttle products for the 2012 Street Triple  and 2008-2011 Street Triple.

A few notes (see photos below):

  • Wired oil filler and dipstick caps: I leave more wire at the ends so I can simply unwind the tail end, pull it through the hole and then reuse the wire after an oil change.
  • R&G Racing swingarm spool and protector, in combination with the Woodcraft spool and protector: I have both of these swingarm protectors because I have seen too many swingarms get damaged when the threaded swingarm spools break off in a crash. I decided to add the axle spools/protectors to try and give a second point of contact to hopefully prevent the threaded boss in the swingarm from getting damaged. Another reason to have both spools s because you can’t use the rearward R&G spools to support your bike with a race stand for removing the wheel, because they must be removed to take out the axle. So you need the other spools as well.

Peter Kates from Computrack Boston works his magic.
Peter Kates from Computrack Boston works his magic.

Suspension

Penske 8389 remote shock
Penske 8983 remote shock

The suspension was upgraded over the winter to include Penske fork valving, a .95 fork spring swap and a Penske 8983 with a remote reservoir. The stock suspension is very good, but at the level I need to ride when instructing for Tony’s Track Days, I need a bit more adjustability than the stockers can provide. The remote reservoir was a bit difficult to locate, making the extra cost of a piggyback worth considering. But, it works great.

The highly regarded skills of Peter Kates from Computrack Boston were employed. PK has been around the Loudon paddock for years and is the go-to guy for suspension and chassis tweaks.After some compression and rebound damping tweaks and a change to a 750 pound spring, the shock is now setup for serious lap times. What is interesting is that the suspension now doesn’t work as well at slower speeds. It’s a bit busy UNTIL you turn up the speed and then it all makes sense (like most race setup suspension).

Forks recessed into the clamps adds sorely needed trail. And the Scott's damper is a nice thing to have for cresting hills at speed.
Forks recessed into the clamps adds sorely needed trail. And the Scott’s damper is a nice thing to have for cresting hills at speed.

One other thing I had Peter do was measure the chassis to get the rake and trail to be set at the optimum numbers for fast riding. This means increasing trail on the Triumph 675s. Many Daytona riders opt to replace their triple trees with one with less offset. this gives them the trail needed for mid-corner stability and cornering feedback. The Street Triple is closer than the Daytona in regards to trail, so instead of springing for the $800.00 triples, Peter slid the fork tubes down inside the top clams as far as possible. It looks weird, but it did increase mid-corner feel at speed without slowing turn-in.


Tires

Pirelli Supercorsa on 2012 Triumph Street Triple R after 2 sessions at NHMS (Loudon) runing in the advanced group.
Pirelli Supercorsa on 2012 Triumph Street Triple R after 2 sessions at NHMS (Loudon) running in the advanced group.

People have a lot of questions about tires. I have done track day laps on all kinds of tires, including basic OEM rubber, Sport touring tires, sporty street tires, and DOT race tires. Believe it or not, most all are capable of keeping you on two wheels when ridden at a novice, intermediate, or a slower advanced group pace. I have used Michelin Power One race tires for the last few track day seasons and loved them, but this year I am switching to Pirellis. The reason is that I always liked the feel of Pirelli tires and it doesn’t hurt that TTD is supported by Motorcycle Tires and Gear (MTAG), who also supplies Pirelli tires to the Loudon Roadracing Series.

My Street Triple comes stock with Pirelli Rosso Corsa, which is a proven track day favorite with many of the TTD staff, including my daughter, Jeannine. I rode the first 3 session at Loudon on the Rossos and had no sense that the tires were limiting me in any way. I changed over to Pirelli Supercorsa race tires after lunch so I could compare the differences and so would have fresh rubber for the track day that Tony and I will be attending at Barber Motorsports Park in November.  I got along with the Supercorsas just fine, thank you. I immediately braked deeper, accelerated stronger and cornered harder to a point where I approached my best times I typically do on my ZX6R. I was impressed.

Does the average track day rider need race tires? No. Most modern sport-oriented tires that are relatively new will do just fine. It comes down to whether your level of riding is good enough for you to actually use race ribber. Most people have a long way to go before the answer to this question is yes. Run what ya brung, mister.


Daytona Rearsets

The stock Street Triple rearsets are very comfortable for street riding, but are too far forward and are a little too low for aggressive track riding. I dragged my toe slider before I was dragging my knee, which is no good, as I use my knee dragging to measure my lean angle. And without that tool, I am not able to monitor lean angle with the same level of confidence I like. The stock footpegs are also too far forward for moving from side to side without pulling on the handlebars. Footpegs that are further rearward allows me to use my legs to support my torso when flopping from left to right, especially when doing so uphill, like what happens at turn 7 and turn 8 at NHMS.

The 2007 Daytona rearsets bolt on easily with no issues whatsoever. I could even use the stock shift rod. The rear brake light switch needs a bit of adjustment, but that’s really easy to do.The Daytona pegs could be even further back for my taste, but it’s a big improvement at 1″ further back and 1/2″ higher compared to the stocker STR rearsets. I also think the Daytona rearsets look great.


Levers

I installed some shorty levers, which are more adjustable than the stock ones and are less likely to break in a crash. The short levers also accommodate two finger use and they look cool. I’ve used ASV levers before and really like them, but a lot of racers use the cheap knock-offs from China, so I’m giving them a try. I installed the levers and they seem fine. Perhaps they aren’t as nice as the expensive ones. but they are good looking and work great. I have to get used to the shorties after always having standard long versions.


Tank Protectors

Like a lot of sport bikes these days, the tank on the Street Triple sticks out on either side, enough to cause serious damage in a crash. The latest R6 tanks are known to puncture where the tank sticks out. I opted to mount the R&G Racing tank sliders on the Triple. They are glued on using Aquarium sealant. I asked R&G whether this sealant will harm paint and they say that it will not. They look a little to Squidly for my tastes, but they will do the job if I were to crash.


R&G Tail Tidy keeps the turn signals out of the way and save a ton of weight.
R&G Tail Tidy keeps the turn signals out of the way and save a ton of weight.

R&G Tail Tidy Fender Eliminator

The R&G Tail Tidy allows my bike to be ready for both track or street. The fender eliminator save a lot of weight and keeps the turn signals tucked in in case of a fall.

Click the link below to view the Twisted Throttle product page for the Tail Tidy.


Tiger 1050 Throttle tube and grip

I just installed a Tiger 1050 throttle tube, which has a larger diameter cylinder that the cables run on. This means that the distance (and time) it takes to reach full throttle is reduced.  Racers install quick throttle tubes as a matter of course so they can get to full throttle in an instant. Motion Pro makes a throttle kit that includes several cams to suit the rider’s preference. The 1050 tube is cheap and is a stock item that is an intermediate upgrade without going the full race route.

The installation of the throttle tube was easy. However, I read about the throttle housing c=screws being easy to strip, so I grabbed my impact driver and with a few whacks, loosened the screws. Another slight complication was that the throttle wouldn’t snap back with the larger diameter throttle tube. After some investigation, I discovered that the throttle cables needed more slack… piece of cake, since the “pull” adjuster was about 6 inches down the cable from the throttle grip. Now it’s perfect.

I took it for a short ride and I love the feel of the throttle. It seems more responsive and shifting is even smoother. Two thumbs up on this cheap modification. ($17.00 shipped from Bike Bandit)


This is where the gear shift sensor is located. The wire goes to the unit that is behind the plastic countershaft sprocket cover.
This is where the gear shift sensor is located. The wire goes to the unit that is behind the plastic countershaft sprocket cover.

Gear Position Sensor Failure

The old gear shift sensor.
The old gear shift sensor.

It seems that the Triumph 675s are notorious for having bad gear position sensors. The symptoms are a Check Engine Light (CEL) and any manner of numbers appearing in the gear indicator area of the speedo/tach instrument cluster. I bought the Tuneboy ECU reader and after many attempts to get the software to work (thanks Paul) I managed to confirm that the CEL was the result of the gear shift sensor going bad.

Some people have had good luck cleaning the old one, which worked for a while on my bike. But, in the end, the CEL kept coming on. What’s the big deal? you ask. Well, the bike ran fine, but the Tuneboy data shows that different fuel mapping occurs with the different gears. That means without an accurate indication of which gear you are in, the ECU can’t trigger the correct map.

The sensor is located behind the plastic countershaft sprocket cover with the connecting wire underneath the tank. You have to remove the gear shift rod. Hint: The small c-clips that hold the shaft onto the pivot balls poke into a small hole on the side of the shaft’s ball ends. Prop up the tank using the rod that is stored under the seat to get to the wires.

The newer version kit has a 8 inch jumper harness that plugs two of its leads into the Throttle Position Sensor located on the right side of the injector bodies.
The newer version kit has a 8 inch jumper harness that plugs two of its leads into the Throttle Position Sensor located on the right side of the injector bodies.

The new “kit” that was indicated for my bike included the sensor with a wire plug that does not fit the old plug from the bike’s harness. The kit includes a 8 inch jumper harness that plugs into the old harness, the new sensor at one end and the other ends plug into the Throttle Position Sensor located on the right side of the throttle bodies. The wire is long enough to cross underneath the fuel tank. Some say it may provide a power boost. We’ll see. At least the ECU will know what gear the bike is in.

After changing the sensor, the CEL went out after three startups. I am taking the bike to the track again in a week and I’ll see if any power advantages occur because of the new harness and sensor. Stay tuned.


General Track Day Bike Preparation

Oil filter and drain plug wired to keep fluids where they belong.
Oil filter and drain plug wired to keep fluids where they belong.

Preparing a motorcycle for a track day doesn’t have to be a big deal. Some people are under the impression that they have to drain fluids, wire bolts and tape every light in sight. While some track day organizations do require race-level preparation, many do not. Tony’s Track Days (TTD) requires very little prep. (See the video

below for requirements). Many people don’t have access to a truck or trailer and ride to the track on their street bikes. They remove their mirrors and licnse plate (if necessary), disconnect or cover the brake lights, lower their tire pressures (30,f, 30 r is a good starting place) and they are ready to go through tech inspection. Staffers are there to help with any issues. Motorcycle prep should not be a reason for not attending a track day!

One thing that seems to stump a lot of riders is how to secure a spin on oil filter. It’s as simple as getting a 4″ hose clamp from your auto parts or hardware store, slip it around the filter and rotate it so it hits a solid part of the engine or frame to prevent the filter from spinning off. If necessary, wire the clamp to a solid object (see photo).


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Guest Writer: Just Go Faster

Jeff Meyers on his '05 ZX6R
Jeff Meyers on his ’05 ZX6R www.otmpix.com

“Just go faster, Jeff,” my track riding guru Ken Condon says after asking him what I need to do next as a track day rider.  I am flattered, because Ken says that my track form is very good. He says that I am on “the line,” I am riding predictably and smoothly, and my body position, while I am sure it can be tweaked, is getting much better.

However, I am also befuddled because I wish it were that simple to “just go faster.” The problem is that each time I enter a turn faster than before, alarm bells shriek in my head, and adrenaline courses through my system. A voice screams “You are going waaaaay too fast for this corner!!” I am terrified.

Speed is the Result of Good Technique

Ken tells me that a faster pace is the result of good technique and consistency. So, I discipline myself to look farther down the track, keep maintenance throttle, relax my hands and upper body, and make my bike lean a little farther, all while being mindful not to move too much so that I don’t upset the suspension or cause tire slip. It’s a balancing act, a tightrope on two wheels. I am terrified, and yet I am so happy at the same time.

Take the Time You Need

I’m not exactly a rookie to track riding. I have done fifteen track days total, all with Tony’s Track Days.  Up until now, I have spent my time in the novice (Red) group, often debating whether I was ready to bump up to the intermediate (Yellow) group. I decided to stay in the novice group longer than I needed to so I could cement the basics and eliminate bad habits at relatively slower speeds. I also wanted to learn how to pass safely and courteously.

The lucky new owner of the ZX6R. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
Jeff Meyers

My ego didn’t like it, but I kept telling my ego to shut the hell up because my body didn’t want to pay the price of crashing. It worked. I am now a solid “Yellow Rider” and feel confident that I am there with the appropriate skill set. Ironically, “yellow” is an appropriate description for my current level since fear is now the main factor holding me back from going faster.

Over the next several track days, I plan to fine-tune my form, push myself against that fear barrier, and (hopefully) build confidence each time so that I become consistently faster. My goal is to bump up to the Advanced (Blue) group, and who knows, maybe to the Super-advanced (Black) group someday.


Jeff Meyers is the newest guest blogger to the RITZ team. Jeff is a self-described middle-aged sport bike and track day dog. He has been riding for almost 30 years and, like many folks of his vintage, was taught by his friends. He is amazed to still be here given what he did at a young age on a motorcycle with such little skill and such a need for speed. He is a lawyer at his “real” job, but also is a part time Motorcycle Safety Foundation Rider Coach and has had the privilege of working for Suzuki assisting in running demo rides, mostly at the Americade rally in Lake George, New York. Jeff loves to learn, especially about riding motorcycles.


Thanks, Jeff. I’m sure you will meet your goal of moving into the faster groups. Just continue to take the time you need to get there.

What are your riding goals? What holds you back from accomplishing them?


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Guest Writer: If in doubt, UPshift

Chuck Boucher ripping around turn 9 at NHMS.
Chuck Boucher ripping around turn 9 at NHMS.

Chuck Boucher is the latest RITZ guest blog contributor. Chuck is an expert level roadracer with the Loudon Roadracing Series and is an instructor for Tony’s Track Days.
You can read Chuck’s biography here.

Chuck recently had a racing mishap that landed him in the hospital with a fractured pelvis and a few other less serious, yet painful injuries. Chuck knows exactly what he did wrong and wanted to share his cautionary tale with you to hopefully prevent you from experiencing the same agony.  Let’s see what Chuck has to say.


If in doubt, UPshift!

by Chuck Boucher

As I sit here, recovering from a recent racing incident, I reflect on the reason I’m in need of crutches and pain killers. My little mishap occurred on the first lap of the first practice session during a Loudon Road Race Series (LRRS) event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The lap was typical of any other I had run during the past six years as an LRRS roadracer. Unfortunately, this time around, I found a false neutral and the absence of any engine braking.

This is what can happen if you miss a shift and then downshift instead of upshift.
This is what can happen if you miss a shift and then downshift instead of upshift.

A False What?

In case you don’t know, a false neutral is when the motorcycle fails to completely engage a gear. This results in zero engine braking and an unexpected sense of coasting that actually feels more like acceleration, just when you want to be slowing down. Yikes!

Downshifting at this time is usually a bad idea, because you risk momentarily skidding the rear tire if the gear is too low for the bike’s speed when the gears finally do engage. Instead, the best way to handle this situation is to shift UP into the next higher gear so you don’t end up in too low a gear for the speed you are traveling. A too low gear can easily cause the rear tire to lose traction. Do this while leaned and you have a bad result.

Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned.
Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned.

My Downfall

Unfortunately, with the turn one apex fast approaching, my mind said click the shifter up (my race bike is GP shift, which means clicking the lever upward causes a downshift). I knew my mistake the moment I let the clutch lever out. The rear wheel skipped a few times then locked, sliding the rear end of the bike sideways. Then the tires regained grip and catapulted me over the high-side.

Understand that there are times on the street or track when you have fractions of a second to make decisions that could cost you dearly. These decisions can go well, or not, based on previous experience. My false neutral took me completely by surprise and I acted wrong. You can be sure it won’t happen again.

If you’ve never experienced a missed downshift and a false neutral, count yourself lucky. However, if it does happen to you, take my advise and always shift UP! You may not have the engine braking you desire and you’ll be in too high of a gear, but at least you won’t likely high side.

More Good Advise

Stuff can happen to anyone, at any time. Whether it is a car at an intersection, a missed downshift or a too fast corner entry. How you react and what you do in that brief moment can be the difference between a close call and taking a ride in an ambulance strapped to a back board. My message to you is to always keep your skills sharp to avoid a worst-case scenario.

Consider taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Experienced Rider Course (BRC 2) and participating in a track day to acquire advanced braking and cornering skills.


Thanks for sharing what you learned, Chuck. Heal up fast!

Editor: Someone asked about whether a slipper clutch would have saved the day. I do believe a slipper would have re-engaged the power gradually enough to perhaps prevent the severe loss of grip. While a slipper clutch can do wonders, the actual clutch design and how sensitive it’s adjusted will affect whether or not the slipper re-engages the power slowly enough. This will still cause the rear to slide, just not nearly as much.

Do you have a similar experience to share? Make a comment below.


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Track Day Tire Dilemma

Modern sporty street tires are quite capable of fast track riding.
Modern sporty street tires are quite capable of fast track riding. I have street compound Corsa 3s on the ZX6 in this photo.

Tires can be a source of anxiety to a motorcycle rider. And it’s no surprise, since our tires provide us with the traction we need to make it home in one piece. When it comes to track days, many people use their only street bike to also ride on the racetrack. This is great because they learn the limits of the machine with which they spend the most time.

But, having a bike that is used for both street and track means compromising on certain things, one of the most important being tires.

Below is  a letter I received from a subscriber named Kevin from the UK. I replied to his email and hit the “Send” button, only to have it bounce back. Since this is a FAQ subject, I decided to post it for everyone to read. I am also hoping Kevin reads this reply, so that he knows that I am not ignoring his question.

The Question

Name    Kevin
Subject    trackday tyres – please help!

Hi Ken,
I have been searching the internet in order to get some advice re tyres when I stumbled upon your web site which has some great advice – you are clearly very knowledgeable, I wonder if you can help please? I own a 2006 GSXR 1000 K6 and have just booked a four day track day to Almeria in Spain in September, I need to buy tyres for this trip and am torn between either Supercorsa SP (so road compound) or SC compound (SC2 rear, SC1 front), can you help me decide which is best for me?

Here’s some information related to my situation: – I have participated in UK track days (but not since 2011) , I am generally at the front of the novice group or in the slower half of the intermediate group – I’ve never participated in a European track day before and wonder if the heat is a consideration (it will be around 75-80 degrees) – I used to have a dedicated track bike (only used for 1 track day!) which I ran an SC2 rear and SC1 front on but the GSXR 1000 is now my only bike, from now on it will spend 90% of it’s time on track with a small number of outings on the road Based on the above, do you think the SP (road compound) version of the Pirelli Supercorsa will be ok or would you recommend the track compounds and if so would you recommend an SC2 rear and SC1 front or SC2 for both front and rear? I’m worried the road version will lose grip due a combination of high ambient temperature and constant track use – does this sound feasible?

Based on your suggestion, how many track days do you think I will get from the front and rear tyre, would one front and one rear be ok for all four days or would I need two rear tyres and maybe two front tyres (the trackday is running three groups, 20 minute sessions so is not open pitlane). Would the road version last longer than the track compounds on track or would it be the other way around? This question sounds silly, but how can I tell when the tyres need to be changed? I’m scared that if the answer is to wait until they start to slide then I might crash!

I’ve never used tyres solely on track before so have changed them when they squared off but I realise this won’t happen on track so I’m not sure when I should change them – I want to get as much use as possible from them as they are very expensive but I don’t want to crash! Finally, I have a set of tyre warmers which I used on the SC2/SC1 combination, if you think the SP (road) version of the tyre will be fine, can I use the tyre warmers with them?

Thanks in advance for taking the time to read this, it’s very much appreciated, esp since we have never met and I found your details on line, apologies for having troubled you but this is literally making me lose sleep and you seem to have the knowledge and ability to give good advice.

Tire warmers are necessary for racing, but not for track days.
Tire warmers are necessary for racing, but not for track days.

Regards, Kevin

My Reply

Kevin,
Tires are a big source of stress even for seasoned track day riders. I have not seen you ride, but in your particular case, with the pace that is typical of a novice/intermediate track day rider, you could go with either Supersport street-oriented tires (Supercorsa SPs), or race compound tires (SC1 Super Soft/SC2 Soft).

It’s way easier to have a track-only bike so you don’t have to spend energy worrying about street versus race compound. But, realistically, street rubber is so good these days that you can push them pretty hard on the track and they will perform very well. Besides, novices do not typically need race rubber. However, as your pace picks up and you graduate to the faster ranks, street rubber will not perform well enough for sustained fast laps. That said, I have run advanced group laps on Pirelli Corsa 3 (Corsa Rosso) street-oriented tires with no troubles.

If your bike is going to be on the track 90%, then go for the SC2/SC1 combo. Although you could also go with the SC2s as I’m sure that they will be more than sufficient for your pace and may last a bit longer. The question is whether you want to use them on the street. A lot of people do use race compound tires on the street (often as “take-offs” discarded from racers), however you will wear them out pretty fast. And, you must be aware that race-compound tires will not heat up as quickly as the street-oriented SPs and will never get up to full temperature at street speeds. They may even provide less grip than street tires in normal street riding conditions.

If you find yourself riding more than 50%  on the street, I would consider moving to street rubber. But, once you become a solid intermediate track day rider you will want race rubber. The SP street compound will work, but want your tires to be better than you are whenever possible.

When it comes to tire warmers, they are nice but aren’t necessary, especially for street tires. Two laps at a moderate pace is enough to get them up to temperature. Even race tires don’t require tire warmers, but they do allow you to go fast after only a few corners. I do not use tire warmers at track days. I’m too busy working with customers to mess with them.

Too worn? The tire on the left still looks good, but it was starting to slide, so new rubber was mounted.
Too worn? The street-oriented Pirelli Corsa 3 on the left performed very well and still looks good, but it was starting to slide, so new rubber was mounted. Street rubber has it’s limits when you start going fast.

Deciding when to change tires is a stressor for most people. I did crash once after asking a front Corsas 3 to go one track day too many. The tire had endured a lot of abuse it wasn’t really designed for, so the punishment from too many hard laps caused them to not grip on a cold out lap. If I had just taken it a bit easier until they warmed up I would have been fine.

I tend to change front tires every 6 days and 4 for a rear, or earlier if the tracks I have ridden are particular abrasive. (I don’t know about Almeria).  That is after riding at all group levels with several expert track day laps thrown in. So, in my opinion, you will likely get the requisite 4 days out of both rear and front. Is there going to be a tire vendor at the track who can sell and mount tires if the tires are wearing faster than expected? Often there is. Find out so you can be prepared with tools and stands to change your tires at the track between days.

Good luck,
Ken
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Other posts related to tires and traction:

How to Preserve Traction by Managing Load

How to Develop a Traction Sense

Traction Seminar: Motorcycle Tires

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Guest Writer: Get Back on the Horse

The latest guest post is from long-time track day rider and club racer, Ian Vivero from Smelly Dog Racing who has an interesting point of view about post-crash psychology. So, listen up. The floor is yours’ Ian.


Ian #604. Photo by Arcy www.otmpix.com
Ian #604.
Photo by Arcy. www.otmpix.com

Getting Back on the Horse

In 14 years of riding I have, thankfully, only had a handful of crashes, and most were more embarrassing than anything else. Tip over’s at a stop or low speeds due to a patch of sand, a misplaced foot, etc. are common and happen to (almost) everyone in their early years. Even as a seasoned rider I recently tipped over my brand new Victory thanks to an unfortunate combination of factors. These things can hurt one’s pride, but for most we can walk away with minimal damage to self and bike, learn from our mistakes, and move on. These events are not what this post is about.

What I do want to talk about are two crashes, both of which occurred on the racetrack. The first one occurred during a track day on my 919, which was the result of a bad line that pushed me into an off-camber part of the track and left me with less than zero ground clearance, picking up my tires and putting me on the ground. The second occurred during a race in the rain when I crossed a paint line while trail braking into a corner and the front tire ran out of grip resulting in another low side.

Despite the obvious differences, there were many similarities between the two crashes. In both cases I was relatively unhurt and the damage to the bike was minimal enough to allow me to ride back to the pits. In both cases I knew exactly what I had done wrong (bad line, trail braking over wet painted markings) and how I could have avoided it.

The Aftermath

That’s the good news. The bad news is that I was left with a lasting reduction in confidence that I didn’t experience from my other get-offs. Why? Both occurred on a race track so perhaps it was the venue, though I’ve gone down on the track before and not had the same issue. And while the damage to the bike and my injuries were worse than a simple tip over, I’ve had worse mishaps that I was able to shake off. So what caused me to be so shaken up?

I believe the “when” mattered more than the “where” or “how”. You see, both crashes happened at the end of the day, which gave me no chance to get back out. Instead, I was left to wait until the next track day or race weekend to correct my mistake. This allowed my mind to endlessly replay the incidents over and over for days or even weeks.

Replaying the incident made a relatively minor crash grow into something much bigger and far scarier. When I finally did get back on track, it suddenly seemed like a dangerous place for me to be.

All of this was purely mental of course. By then I had largely recovered physically and the bike was mechanically sound. But because my mind was so clouded, my riding suffered horribly. Without realizing it, I began to fight myself in every corner, which caused me to keep running wide. To compensate I started braking earlier and crawling through the turns.

My muscles grew tired and sore within a couple laps from constantly working to keep the bike under control. My death grip on the bars left the front end feeling vague, leading to even less confidence. Each session left me more frustrated and exhausted than the last. Eventually I noticed what I was doing and began to relax and by the end of the day things seemed to be working properly again… And yet I was riding at a level far below where I had previously been. It took a great deal of time and effort to regain my lost mojo. Time and effort that could have netted some real gains were spent simply getting my confidence back.

The Takeaway

Which leaves me with this piece of advice for whoever cares to take it: The next time you drop your bike in a parking lot, lose your footing at a red light, or carry a bit too much speed at a track day and end up in the weeds, get up, get back on the bike and do whatever you just tried to do again, only this time do it right. Not only will you learn something in the process that can make you a better rider, but you will also retain your confidence before it has a chance to run off without you.


Thanks, Ian. The aftermath of a crash can be both physically and mentally scarring. I’ve seen countless riders lose confidence after a scare and either give up riding or not enjoy riding the way they had previously. While we cannot expect to avoid all mishaps, we can minimize them by riding within our limits (even when racing). Some say you have to crash to learn how to ride fast and win, but I don’t think it is a prerequisite. Yes, crashing comes with the territory of racing hard, but it usually sets you back and is generally a bad idea. You can learn to win without crashing, IMO.

You do this by learning all you can about traction and how a motorcycle stays on two wheels. This knowledge comes from many sources, including quality blogs, books, instructors and other skilled riders. But in the end, the secret to minimizing crashes is for you to apply this knowledge on every ride or race and develop sensitivity to the physics of riding well, at any speed.

Share your thoughts below.


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#1 Reason Why Motorcycles Crash in Corners

Josh, looking good on his Gixxer1000 at Loudon. owenstrackdayphotos.com
Josh, looking good on his Gixxer1000 at Loudon. owenstrackdayphotos.com

Motorcycles crash for many different reasons, including in no particular order:

  1. They are not very stable when ridden slow, so tip overs are common
  2. They are hard to see in traffic, so collisions with cars is far too frequent
  3. They only have two small tire contact patches, so seemingly small things can cause traction loss
  4. They require fairly precise rider decisions and inputs when traction is near its limit
  5. Most single-vehicle crashes are the result of a too-fast corner entry speed.

Case Study

My friend and track day student, Joshua had a problem with numbers 3, 4 and especially 5.

Josh had a great day at the awesome New York Safety Track until he didn’t. Check out his VIDEOS BELOW to see how his day ended. He walked away unscathed, thanks in no small part to his quality riding gear. ATGATT, baby. The same can’t be said for his beautiful GSXR1000. It slid off the track without much fanfare until it hit some protruding piece of Earth and flipped a few times. Oh well. It’s just a machine, remember.

Below, you can read Josh’s account of the situation and what he learned.

Sky, Ground, Sky, Ground. :(
Sky, Ground, Sky, Ground. 🙁

The Fundamental Reason Why He Crashed

Riding a motorcycle is more of a mental exercise than physical. Yes, it takes physical coordination and a certain amount of strength to operate a motorcycle. But, riding a motorcycle well is much more than simply operating the machine. It also includes using excellent judgement and having deep knowledge about how to manage all sorts of situations.

Mark Brown from MotoMark1 uses the term “driving” to emphasize that you must not passively “ride” a motorcycle, but rather “drive” it with purposefulness, authority and competence.

Josh was doing great all day and, as was the case with another rider at the track that day, got over confident and pushed just a little bit harder than he should have. This mental lapse is essentially THE reason Josh crashed. A too-fast corner entry is the #1 reason for single-vehicle motorcycle crashes.

Josh and I had worked together during a Personal Instruction Day last week at the NH track on strengthening his “skill foundation” to allow him to safely “drive” his bike at the pace he is eager to achieve.

We made good progress, but the eagerness and drive Josh has for rapid improvement seems to cause him to push harder than he should. This is common with highly motivated people. I can name two other very good riders who are motivated to ride at a top level, but have not yet learned and applied all the information necessary to be able to ride at that level…yet.

All motorcyclists who are eagerly developing their physical skills must also develop their ability to monitor their attitude, self-evaluate their real progress, and use judgement that is in line with their true capabilities.

It coulda been worse.
It coulda been worse.

The Physical Solution

Now that we understand that the crash could have been avoided with a bit of “judgment double-check”, let’s talk about what went wrong and the mechanics of how the crash could have been avoided. Remember: A too-fast corner entry is the #1 reason for single-vehicle motorcycle crashes.

Because Josh had decided to “let it rip” down the straight (probably faster than he had done before), he entered the turn 1 braking zone at a higher speed than he had previously. That’s fine, BUT he did not adjust his braking behavior to match the increased approach speed. With an increase in speed comes the need to:

  1. brake earlier using the same or similar amount of brake force as when approaching at a slower speed, or
  2. use the same brake marker as when approaching the turn at the slower speed, but brake harder, or
  3. a combination of #1 and #2

Either method will work to achieve the goal of slowing to a comfortable entry speed. Braking earlier is generally the best solution where you have more time and space to modulate your brake force to slow without anxiety.


Josh did not alter his “begin braking” mark, so he found himself flying past his usual brake marker and therefore reached his turn-in point at a higher speed than he was familiar (or comfortable). You can clearly see in the forward-facing camera angle that he was missing the apex and then used greater handlebar pressure (countersteering) as he attempted to stay on the track, which overtaxed the front tire and it tucked.

An Expert’s Solution

Could the crash have been avoided in the hands of a seasoned expert? With the bike at that speed and in that position in the corner, I would say maybe, but probably not. HOWEVER,  the expert would have identified that he or she was traveling faster than before and because of this, would have adjusted the “begin braking” location to be earlier and increased the amount of brake force as needed to slow down sufficiently. Expert-level track day riders are comfortable braking very hard, because they have practiced this skill.

He or she would have also used trailbraking to further scrub off speed if necessary as the bike was eased into the corner. However, I want to emphasize that trailbraking is not really “meant” to be a technique used to salvage a blown corner. Done correctly, trailbraking is a planned method for stabilizing the motorcycle when entering corners. That said, if you have trained yourself to trailbrake as it is meant to be used, then it is at your disposal when you need a longer duration of braking force if you inadvertently enter a turn too fast. Read all about trailbraking HERE.

The Lesson

Remember that if you change one thing (faster straightaway speed), you must adjust other things (brake marker and/or brake pressure) to reach the entry speed you are able to handle. Please learn from Josh’s unfortunate mistake and keep your enthusiasm and eagerness in check and resist introducing significantly faster speeds until you understand the concept of cause and effect as it pertains to adjusting entry speed.

Crash Videos

Front view:

Rider Face View:

A message from Josh himself about what he learned:

Staying within limits is a lesson I strive to drive home to my students every weekend as an MSF RiderCoach. The motorcycle, the rider, and the time & space limits around them. My hope is that every rider I come in contact with has takeaway points and thinks about actions and decisions made while riding.

My overall goal as a rider is to learn, fine-tune, and practice as many new and advanced skills as I can. I feel the biggest joy of riding is that there is always something new to work on or perfect. Each year I try and take on something new I can use as a rider and coach. A few years ago I had an opportunity to take a course on dirt bike techniques and later on I was able to become a certified MSF Dirt bike Coach. Last year my new goal was to learn to become proficient in riding on the racetrack at speed.

I went out and bought every book and DVD I could find on the subject, and also a shiny GSXR 1000 that I thought at the time would be a perfect bike to go out and lay down some hot laps. Books and video’s are great tools, however to really be able to learn and apply the skills takes tons of coaching, practice and fine tuning.

My biggest obstacle is always trying to rush and accelerate my learning. I want so bad to be the best and smoothest that I do not take the advice I give to my students. I try and go from step A all the way to step Z in one day. Learning should be in stages and is a building block process. Learn the gross skill 1st and stay within your limits. Ken gave me the best advice of all when he said “Slow down and get smooth 1st”.

I was doing pretty good and learning the New Track. Taking my time and finding reference points and determining where I should look, brake, tip, and accelerate. It was near the end of the day with only 2 sessions left. I was a little tired and sore from working hard on my body position and riding. I started the 2nd to last session and started letting my mind drift away a little bit. I was thinking about the ride home and my fatigue level and on the video footage I had been recording all day; what I would be showing my friends and family and how cool I would look.

I decided to try one more lap and call it a day. I said to myself. “You can push a little harder and get one awesome lap to end the day.” I got to the start of the straight. I did a head check to see if I was holding up any riders. The coast was clear and I gave it all I got. I pinned the gas and tucked my head. Glancing at the speedometer I saw the numbers climbing 130,140,150. I looked up and saw the end of the straight fast approaching. I got on the brakes with a force that seemed very heavy. I was squeezing in on the tank with all my might to hold myself from pushing forward. I saw the turning point approaching fast and thought “Oh No I just blew it” I had lots of speed and not much track left.

I thought in the back of my head. You can do this, usually riders have less skills than the machine they are on. I tried as hard as I could to get into a hang off position and turn the bike. I gave it a flick into the corner and felt the front dropping out. I saw the ground rushing up to my shoulder and I lifted my head up and away from the turn. Boom, I was on the ground and tumbling, I could see the bike flipping as I was tumbling and sliding into the grass. Every second was in slow motion as I could hear the plastic cracking and breaking off the bike.

It seemed like I was going to slide forever and I was saying to myself. OK, please stop now. Once stopped I stayed still, counted to 10 and started to assess if anything was hurt or broken. Not even a scratch. All the gear I had invested in paid off big-time! I looked at the bike and wanted to cry. I knew as I started to scream down the straight I was pushing too hard. I had not taken the advice I want to instill in every single student. I got up and started looking the bike over. Seeing everything all smashed is a feeling I could do without. The session still had 15 minuets to go and all I could do was stand there and wave as my friends and fellow riders went by making smooth turns and having a blast. Sometimes we do not take our own advice and need a hard lesson to set us straight.

Josh


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Vintage Motorcycle Road Racing

A rare Vincent racer
A rare Vincent racer

Yesterday was the the first round of the United Stated Classic Racing Association (USCRA) roadracing season. I got a firsthand look at vintage roadracing in the U.S. by participating in the 2014 United States Vintage Grand Prix at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (aka, “Loudon”).

Vintage Motorcycle Racing, Defined

Vintage racing is fairly self-explanatory. “Vintage” is defined as “of old, recognized, and enduring interest, importance, or quality.” This means that the machinery at vintage road races will be of another era that feature now-obsolete glimpses into how motorcycles used to be.  When it comes to vintage motorcycle road racing, “old” not only applies to the machines, but also to many (but not all) of the riders.

As you might expect, yesterday’s event had more bald and gray heads than full, dark haired-types. Many participants are ex-racers from an earlier era who are keeping their love of racing alive. One such person is famed author and chassis engineer, Tony Foale who wrote a landmark book called Motorcycle Handling and Chassis Design.

There are also many young men and women who have embraced vintage racing. Kerry Smith is a young 30-something who has devoted her career to racing a Giannini Racing Honda 350, not only all over the United States, but also in Australia as a recent AMA National and USCRA champion.

People who choose vintage motorcycle racing have a different set of goals and a more relaxed attitude toward competition than the typical modern-bike “club” racer. The vintage racing atmosphere is light, airy and friendly with clusters of young and old racers comparing notes about such obsolete mechanisms as Zenor Diodes, points and condensers, and drum brake adjusters well into the night before the event.

It's not only old folks who embrace vintage racing.
It’s not only old folks who embrace vintage racing. Here, Kerry Smith talks with Kevin Nixon about his CB160 racer project.

Much of what you’ll see in the paddock of a vintage motorcycle race involves master mechanics performing rituals of tuning that are in threat of being forgotten like a long-lost native language used by an ancient culture that has been diluted by modern life and technology.

Vintage racing is about riding and racing motorcycles, but it is equally about keeping the history of racing motorcycles alive. While many rare bikes spend their retirement sitting in museums, the bikes you see at vintage race events are kept alive and continue to live on, ridden hard…the way they were designed to be ridden.

Once Modern, Now Vintage

I’ve been road racing on and off since 1986.  My racer at the time was a 1976 Yamaha RD400. Even though it was already 10 years old, the venerable RD was still a competitive machine in the lightweight classes.

Today, the RD is a popular choice among the vintage racing crowd. You’ll see, hear and smell a dozen or more of these two-stroke beauties as they fire up in preparation for their time on the track.

Other machines you’ll see are Vincents, Montesas, Guzzis, BSAs and Indians, as well as notable BMWs, Ducatis and Japanese classics. A rolling museum.

Famed author and chassis engineer, Tony Foale with his borrowed SRX600.
Famed author and chassis engineer, Tony Foale with his borrowed SRX600.

It’s Not All Vintage

As with the participants, not all bikes are necessarily vintage. While the most interesting bikes are from a distant era in motorcycle racing history, USCRA also allows the opportunity for certain modern machines to compete in limited classes. There is a 125 GP class and a couple of classes that allow bikes that I don’t consider vintage, but are well on their way to becoming so in their design and performance.

My 1976 RD400 would certainly qualify as vintage today, but it was sold long ago, so I needed to borrow a bike that would qualify to compete. I was originally going to borrow my former MZ Scorpion racer from its current owner, but it would have to be converted from its current state as a street bike back to a racer…something I didn’t have time for. So, instead I borrowed a Kawasaki EX500 Ninja racer from a track day colleague and set off to join in the fun.

The Ninja is not really a vintage bike in any meaningful way, but its obsolescence in the club racing scene is now complete with the deletion of the Production Twins class from club racing and its performance is on par with a wide variety of semi-modern machines, including Honda Hawk 650s. Having a race class for small, inexpensive bikes helps bring newer racers into the sport and helps fill the grids.

Ken_Vintage EXRolling Dumpster Fire

The EX500 Ninja I borrowed was not the prettiest machine in the garage. Far from it. Steve, its owner describes it as a “rolling dumpster fire”. The photo of the bike doesn’t show the depth of its “patina”. Although my patina shows nicely. The EX has led a long and hard life in the hands of several rookie and expert-level racers over the years, and now it was my turn.

Life had gotten even harder for the Dumpster Fire, as it had been crashed the day before during a club race. It’s deeply scared bodywork wasn’t any worse for wear, but the exhaust had detached itself and the handlebars needed replacing…all in a day’s work for a race bike.

A quick pre-tech inspection revealed slightly misaligned bars and a chain that was so loose it skipped across the sprocket teeth at hard throttle. Thankfully, I discovered this before race day began. I put a wrench on all the critical bolts and screws to confirm that everything else was in order.

In the end, the Dumpster Fire performed like a champ. It took both practice sessions for me to figure out shift points, but the bike ran strong and I had my knees down right away. The bike was ugly, but plenty fast.

Wood!
Wood!

Race Day

These USCRA folks are racers and many are able to hustle their machines around the track quite well. They get out there and push hard. But, I had a distinct advantage over most of the riders in my two classes. You see, I put about 2,000 racetrack miles on every season and am used to racing at a pretty high level of competition. Most of my competitors on this day did not have the same amount of track time nor competitive edge.

Because of this advantage, I won two really nice first place plaques to add to my trophy wall. But, more valuable was that I made a bunch of new friends, saw some incredible machines and learned more about just why vintage motorcycle road racing is popular among both old and young motorcycle racing enthusiasts. Thanks for letting me ride with you, USCRA.

I wonder what bike I will borrow for next month’s event. Hmmmm.

Tell us about your vintage racing experiences in the comment section, below.

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