Aprilia Tuono V4 APRC – Track Day Bike Prep

After a full season owning a 2011 Suzuki GSXR750 track day bike, I decided to take a different route and grabbed a 2013 Aprilia Tuono V4 APRC.

Check out the article I wrote about some things I discovered about the Tuono.

The bike was setup as a street bike, but with a lot of little goodies already installed by the previous owner. Many are items I don’t typically spend money on, like an aftermarket exhaust and sexy cosmetic changes. But, they are cool!

Below, I describe the modifications I did to make the bike more track worthy and also list the stuff the previous owner installed.


The first thing I do with any bike I plan on taking to the track is to bolt on engine and frame protection. Twisted Throttle is a sponsor of this website and sell R&G and SW-Motech accessories that work really well and are reasonably priced. Click here or on the Twisted Throttle logos on this page to buy accessories and help support the site.

Frame Sliders

There is a debate about whether frame sliders are a good thing or is they actually cause more damage. Sliders are great for minor drops, but can also catch a curbing or edge of the track and cause the bike to flip. This happened to a ZX636 I once owned. I decided to take the chance and install some R&G Aero Frame Sliders.

R&G Aero Frame Sliders

These sliders are high quality, with a robust two-location mounting block. The pucks are the usual Delron nylon units. To reduce the chances that the slider will catch when sliding, I cut the pucks down by about 1-1/4 inches. So far, I haven’t put them to the test.


Engine Case Covers

Protecting expensive engine cases is of primary importance. I have used Woodcraft products, but like the full coverage of the R&G covers. These British Superbike approved race-spec covers are made of tough plastic and include replaceable sliders. I bought the complete kit which includes both left and right covers. Buy the case covers here.

The racing version includes replaceable sliders
Installing the covers is quite easy.

Installation is easy. All you have to do is remove a few of the case bolts, locate the cases and replace with the supplied bolts and spacers. One small issue was that the opening around the oil fill cap wasn’t quite big enough, so I trimmed it with a file.

A little trimming was necessary to clear the oil fill cap.

Exhaust and Protector

The Arrow exhaust is a work of art. And it sounds awesome, especially without the db insert. However, one of the racetracks we frequent has a decibel limit and I am not willing to take the risk of getting dinged.

Besides, the exhaust still sounds great even with the insert…like a hot rod.

The R&G exhaust protector is a nice piece that straps onto the exhaust can using a hose clamp. There is a rubber protector strip to keep the clamp from marring the exhaust.
Buy one for the stock exhaust here.


Front Axle Sliders

R&G also makes axle sliders to help keep the forks and brakes away from the ground. The only thing is that you have to take them off to get the axle out to remove the wheel to change the tire. Not bad, but it adds time. Buy axle sliders HERE.

You can also note in the photo below the zip tie around the fork tube. This slides down to indicate how much fork travel is being used. Also note the torque spec is written in Sharpie for easy reference.

Regarding the brakes, they could use improvement with some higher performance brake pads. They are very good, but I’m used to more sensitive brakes; these are just a bit less powerful and slightly numb.


Levers

One accessory I think is worthwhile are aftermarket levers. Not only do they hold up better in a crash, but they give better feel and they look trick. I’ve had cheap Chinese knockoff that work okay, but these adjustable ASV levers are much nicer. They are pricey though.


Gas Cap Mod

The Aprilias are known for leaking fuel around the gas cap when full, especially when braking hard. I would find a fuel stain along the top of the tank, that is disconcerting to say the least. I can imagine fuel dumping in a crash and setting the bike on fire.

The problem is that the gas cap gasket doesn’t sit tight against the fill opening. The fix is to place an O-ring between the gasket and the fuel cap. Measure the gasket and buy a few different size o-rings to see which one fits and allows the gap to lock. I got mine at a hardware store.


Turn Signal Removal

Removing the turn signals is easy enough. All you need to do is unscrew the lens from the housing, unplug the two wires and pull the wires out from the stalk. Then tuck the wires securely under the side fairing.


RSV4 tail conversion

This is a popular mod among Tuonoistas. The stock Tuono tail looks just fine and as a bonus, has a passenger seat. Because the RSV4 tail has no accommodations for a pillion, the passenger pegs were removed and the exhaust hanger connects to the right peg mount.

You can see in the photo that I put some electrical tape on the pointy parts to prevent the tail from getting scratched as I swing my leg over the bike when mounting.


MRA Windscreen

The bike came with a taller MRA windscreen, which certainly makes riding long miles more comfortable, but it also helps with neck fatigue when ripping down a straightaway at 140mph. And the smoke version looks great.

MRA windscreen photo: otmpix.com

Tires

My track day organization, Tony’s Track Days, has a regular Pirelli dealer which makes using that brand a no brainer. Even so, I totally love the feel of the Pirellis, whether the Supercorsa or the race slick. Since I had some 180/60/17 SC1 rear slicks hanging around, I mounted them up and they are working great. I’ll be putting on the spec 200 tires when I’ve used up the 180s.

Regarding wear, I am getting an impressive 6-7 days at a combination of intermediate (when instructing) and expert pace. That’s not what I expected when I first got the bike. I get even more from the fronts, of course.

Pirelli SC1 race slicks are the bomb.

That’s it for now. I’ll update this post as I make more modifications.

Check out the Street Triple modification and Street Triple Track day prep articles.



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10 things You Should Know about the Aprilia Tuono V4

Now that I’ve ridden the 2013 Aprilia Tuono V4 APRC for a full season of track days, I feel it’s time to share some thoughts. You can read about the modifications I did and the accessories I installed HERE.

photo: Tim DeLorenzo

First thing I learned is how to ride the bike the way it wants to be ridden. Don’t fight your bike, learn about its wants and needs.

1. The Tuono turns in great, but doesn’t hold a line mid corner without some effort. To remedy that, I need to get a lot of weight over the front end. Much better. I ended up lowering the front end (by sliding the forks up by 3mm in the triple clamps, which cured much of the mid corner effort.

2. The Tuono feels a bit cumbersome at half pace. Like a lot of harder edged sportbikes (and race set ups), it can be tough to get the Tuono to change direction (even with the tall bars). However, pick up the pace and all is well. Also, lowering the front helped. as well.

3. The stock suspension is soft, even for my 150 pound physique. Thanks to Peter Kates from GMD Computrack Boston for adjusting the Sachs suspension to the best it’s going to get. A lot more preload helped settle the bike in the fast transitions. But, even though the suspension is “busy”( moves around at full lean over sustained bumps). I’d surely need to spend some bucks on better boingers if I want to go much faster with less effort.

4. I tend to drag my boots in corners with mid-corner bumps. Not becasue of low footpegs, but becasue of the soft suspension. More preload and more aggressive body positioning helped.

5. If you have not ridden a liter bike at a track day, then you probably haven’t had to think about “big biking” people who are on slower bikes whose rider is faster in corners. It’s courteous to be aware that you may be holding up someone. Be kind and ease up on the straight every once and a while.

6. The Tuono puts down about 150hp. That’s great, but having power can fool you into thinking you’re fast. Sure, my overall lap times are better, but my corner speed is about the same as on the 130hp GSXR and even the 95hp Street Triple.

7. High handlebars suit my riding style. I never felt as comfortable on the GSXR as I have on the Street Triple or the Tuono. Riding a high handlebar bike fast requires you to hold the inside grip like a screwdriver to allow your upper body and elbow to dip low inside for the most effective body position.

8. Tire wear has been surprisingly good. I thought the bike would eat rear tires, but it’s been fine. I strive to be smooooth and the Tuono gives me more confidence to open the throttle early so I spread the drive over the whole edge-to middle part of the tire, instead of lifting before triggering the 150 hp. See photo.

9. Traction control is quite abrupt. I was exiting turn 3 at Thompson Speedway when I thought the chain had jumped a few sprocket teeth. It turns out I had inadvertently hit the TC button located on the left control pod and increased the setting to 5, causing intervention. I thought this indicated a spent rear tire, but putting it back to the less intrusive #3 out of 8 (1 being least intervention), the tire was fine.

10. The Arrow exhaust (with db insert) sounds amazing. But, it’s rather quiet compared with a lot of other track bikes. And I’m okay with that. The V4 still sounds like a hot rod.



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Knee dragging 101: What You Need to Know

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Most people have seen video or photos of motorcycle racers (or not very smart street riders) dragging their knee while leaned fully in the middle of a corner.

Every motorcycle track day event photographer knows that the money shot that every  rider covets is the one showing the rider’s knee puck solidly in contact with the pavement that confirms a rider’s sport riding prowess.

Showing this gem of a photo to non-riders usually congers a reaction that usually sounds like: “OMG, are you hitting your KNEE?”, “Doesn’t that hurt?”, and “You’re crazy”.

Even fellow motorcycle riders who are not attuned to performance riding may react in a similar way, not understanding the reasons behind what seems to be a stunt or party trick, rather than a useful tool. Read this Article about the Real Value of Knee Dragging.

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

Is it Safe?

Those who have never thought about it before may think that dragging a knee would be a foolish thing to do. Surely, no good can come from placing your knee on hard, rough pavement at a high rate of speed. They probably have visions of ripped flesh, torn ligaments and shattered knee and leg bone. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation certainly does not have it in their course curriculum (although some students do ask about it), so it must be unsafe, right?

So, is it safe? Yes and no. Knee dragging in itself will not cause injury. However, there are three situations I can think of where knee dragging can be hazardous:

  1. You inadvertently catch your knee puck on a curbing
  2. You ride faster than your ability allows in an effort to get your knee down
  3. You drag your knee on the street where the environment cannot safely support those kinds of lean angles.

That’s right. only three situations that I can think of. The curbing problem is easily avoided by raising your knee to avoid contact with a curb. The second situation is not as easily remedied. Yes, the easy answer is to not ride beyond your ability, but reason can be allusive to a novice rider who desperately wants to put “knee dragging” on his resume. And finally, attempting to drag knee on the street is not a great way to manage risk. There are too many variables on the street that make knee-dragging lean angles downright kookie.

To answer one of the most common questions laypeople have about knee dragging; “Yes, I wear a special knee puck made of plastic or nylon that is secured by a large panel of hook-and-loop material that skims smoothly across the pavement surface” … “and no, I don’t do it on the street”.


Badge of Honor

I don’t personally know anyone who would do this (as far as I know), but there are those who try to fool their peers by belt sanding a virgin knee puck at home. Believe it or not, I’ve also heard of riders selling used knee pucks on ebay for wannabes to proudly display as their own. I suppose there’s no harm in that. It’s better than the rookie pushing too hard and crashing his or her motorcycle. But, this hoax is rather pathetic. It goes to show how this ability holds a high honor among the sport riding crowd.

Why drag knee?

Me and the MZ in turn 2 at NHMS (Loudon), 2005. www.owensracingphotos.com
MZ Scorpion racebike in turn 2 at NHMS (Loudon), 2005.
www.owensracingphotos.com

It is true that one reason people drag their knees in corners is to say they can and to have the photos and scuffed knee pucks as evidence of their awesomeness. But, the real reason why knee dragging exists is to provide a lean angle gauge. If your body position is consistent from corner to corner, all day long, then you can reliably use your knee as a measuring device. Here are the various things you can measure:

  • How far over you’re leaned…sort of like a lean angle protractor.
  • As a quick-turn gauge: When you touch your knee can measure how quickly you are initiating lean.
  • Your corner speed: How long your knee remains on the ground measures your corner speed and the duration of your established lean angle.
  • How early you are “picking the bike up” as you exit the corner. This can also indicate how early and hard you are getting on the gas.
  • As a learning tool to become faster and more consistent. If you touch down earlier, this indicates that you are getting your bike turned quicker.
  • As a reference point measuring device. After you have a track dialed in, when and where your knee touches down should be consistent from lap to lap.

Another use for having your knee on the deck is to save a crash if your motorcycle starts to slide. I’ve rarely ever used this tool to save a sliding bike, but having a third point of contact can relieve the overtaxed tires enough to save you from a crash. It doesn’t always work, but it is certainly worth a shot.

Note that this article discusses the specific topic of dragging knee. It is assumed that you already know the purpose of hanging off the inside of the motorcycle.

Read this article on body positioning

Learning to Get a Knee Down

Here I am riding with my friend Paul who is helped get me fast enough to start dragging my knee.
My friend Paul helped get me fast enough to start dragging my knee.
photo by Ken Mitchell

“How do I learn to drag a knee ?” is the age-old question. The answer is that you don’t. Yes, there are body position techniques that need to be learned, but good body position is not unique to dragging a knee, or track riding for that matter. You will need to learn how to hang off a motorcycle properly (but that’s the subject of a future post).

The take away here is that you need to know the fundamentals of expert cornering before you can safely drag a knee. There are people with less than excellent cornering technique that can drag a knee, but they are usually unaware of how close they are to a crash, because they are using enough lean angle to touch knee, but don’t have the skill to ride at those cornering speeds. They are usually riding at near 100%, which almost always turns into 101% at some point and down they go.

The trick to learning how to drag a knee:

  1. Develop your cornering skill. Parking lot drills and track days will get you there over time
  2. Learn proper body position
  3. Do more track days, gradually increasing your cornering competence.

My motto is “Let the ground come to your knee, rather than force your knee to the ground”. Skill comes first, then speed, then knee dragging.

Your turn. What is your experience with knee dragging.  Why do you do it? What helped you?

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.


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10 things you need to know about Trailbraking

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Trail braking can be very useful for street riders. Downhill corners is one example.
Trail braking can be very useful for street riders. Downhill corners is one example.

Trailbraking is often misunderstood, causing many riders to avoid learning the techique. I often hear people say that they think trailbraking is a technique used only by performance riders and road racers. Not true.

This braking technique is actually quite important for safe and skillful cornering. The first rule for safe cornering is to enter a turn at a safe speed.

What exactly is a “safe” speed? It is a speed that allows you to negotiate the turn comfortably while applying gradual acceleration without the need for deceleration or mid-to-late corner braking. Steady acceleration keeps the bike stable and makes the bike corner predictably, so entry speed should allow for this steady drive through the curve.

The amount of brake pressure needed to slow the motorcycle is directly dependent on the approach speed and the point where you begin braking. Braking earlier means you can use less brake force and braking later requires more brake force.

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

Trail Braking Defined

Sometimes delaying your braking can be a useful tool. Trail braking is a technique that is done by continuing to brake beyond the turn-in point. You then gradually “trail” off the brakes as you lean until there is no brake pressure by the time you are at full lean. Trail braking is most useful for tighter turns with a relatively high approach speed and for downhill hairpins.

On the racetrack, trail braking is typically done using the front brake only, although trail braking can be done with either the front only, rear only or both brakes. It can be argued that engine braking is also trailbraking. I’ve actually coined the phrase “trail-deceleration” to describe the timing of when to initiate engine braking and when to begin accelerating again.

As I mentioned earlier, trail braking is a technique associated with racing as a means to keep the competition at bay. But, it is also useful for street riders. Let’s see how.

*Contrary to what I say in this 2008 video, I have come to believe that trailbraking is very useful on the street to manage corner entry speeds. It is one of the skills we work on during on-street training.


1. Helps Refine Entry Speed

Trail braking is done all the time when racing to keep the competition at bay.
Trail braking is done all the time when racing to keep the competition at bay.

One advantage of trail braking is that it allows the rider to extend the time and distance used to establish entry speed. This can be a real advantage if a bit more braking is needed for a tightening turn or to avoid a mid-corner obstacle. By entering a turn with light brake pressure, you are less likely to upset the chassis if you need to slow a bit more. For minor speed adjustments, simply remain on the brakes a bit longer.

Staying on the brakes past turn-in allows more time and space to get your entry speed just right. On the other hand, if you release the brakes completely before leaning, you have committed to that entry speed. If you need to slow more, you’ll have to begin braking again, which can easily upset the chassis and stress the tires. To prevent front tire traction loss, you must avoid increasing brake force and lean angle at the same time.

For those of you who use the quick-turn method of initiating lean (an excellent thing to learn and use) understand that it isn’t often conducive to trail braking. Most times you will ease into the corner more when trail braking. To turn quickly, you will release the brakes quicker, immediately after turn-in.

Dragging the rear brake a little longer after releasing the front brake is useful for further refining entry and mid-corner speed. Being a weaker brake makes the rear brake easier to introduce smoother braking forces.

2.It Helps the Bike Turn

Trailbraking puts more load onto the front tire for increased traction to handle countersteering inputs. It also steepens chassis geometry as the forks compress to help the bike change direction. It’s important to know that as you begin to release the brakes, you must also relax your arms to let the front wheel track freely through the turn. Follow with a smooth transition to the throttle for a predictable line toward your exit (see #8 below).

Dragging the rear brake is also useful for helping the bike to “pivot” around the center of gravity by “pulling” the rear contact patch rearward.

3. It Enhances Stability (when done right)

Trail braking is also used as a way to enhance stability and control. Trail braking helps minimize forward and rearward chassis pitch that occurs when applying and then releasing the brakes. When the front brake is applied the forks compress, and when the brakes are released they rebound and extend. The forks compress once again when the bike is leaned into the curve. When trail braking, the forks remain compressed as the bike is leaned and the “off-brake” rebound action is eliminated. This also steepens the front end geometry for easier turning. The suspension stays compressed as the bike leans and then rebounds gradually as the brakes are released and the throttle is rolled on.

Trailbraking with both brakes helps slow, but also increases stability even more. The rear brake also increases stability by “pulling” the rear contact patch in line with the front contact patch, controlling any side-to-side fishtailing effect.

4. It Can be Risky (when done wrong)

Trail braking is a technique that combines both cornering and braking forces, which means that you must use light brake pressure otherwise you can lose traction. This is why it is best to get most, if not all, of your braking done before the turn. Because trail braking can be risky it should be used judiciously and should be avoided when traction is limited. However, trail braking is an advanced technique that can be useful for all riders.

Learning how to trail brake starts with overcoming the anxiety that the tires will slide. To prevent “tucking” the front tire and lowsiding, you must use light front brake pressure and understand that increased lean angle requires decreased brake pressure. Once this fundamental level of trail braking is learned, then you can use the technique.

5. Help Salvage a Blown Corner… I Suppose

Remember that trailbraking is a planned technique to refine cornering control and should NOT be confused with salvaging a blown corner entry (that’s called screwing up a corner becasue you didn’t judge entry speed correctly). That said, we all make mistakes and knowing how to trailbrake can be used to fix a mistake. One of the most common reasons for crashes in corners is when a rider enters a turn too fast and lowsides or goes off the road. Most untrained riders panic and either stand the bike up and leave their lane or grab the brakes and lowside. If you are adept at trailbraking, then you can brake past the turn entry while still maintaining a relatively relaxed composure (depending how overspeed you are). To reiterate…trailbraking is not technically “braking to save a blown corner”.

6. You Must Get a Feel for it

To brake effectively you must develop a feel for how much brake power is possible without losing control. Brake feel is a learned skill that includes understanding the dynamics of load transfer on traction as well as developing a feel for how your motorcycle’s brakes respond to subtle inputs. This knowledge is necessary if you are to learn to use brake force to maximum advantage.

One way to help refine the trail braking technique is to use two fingers on the front brake. This allows the use of both the brake and the throttle, which is useful for transitioning smoothly between braking and acceleration. The advantage of two-finger braking is that it allows the two remaining digits to remain on the throttle grip (usually the ring and pinkie). This is useful when implementing advanced throttle/brake techniques such as brake and throttle overlapping or throttle blipping (to be covered in a future post).

7. Trailing off is as important as Trailing on

Getting the right brake pressure applied is critical when trail braking. Progressively squeezing the brake transfers weight gradually and avoids spikes in tire load. But, it’s also important to release the brakes progressively to prevent abrupt rebound of the suspension, which can cause the tires to lose traction, especially when at full lean. Even if you don’t lose traction, the extended forks can push the bike into a wider line than desired.

8. Use the Thrake/Brottle Overlap Technique

The throttle/brake overlap technique (Thrake or Brottle, get it?) is how you smoothly transition from brakes to acceleration while leaned fully in a corner. Begin throttle roll-on just before completely releasing the brakes to smooth the transition from braking force to driving force. See me use this technique through turn 1 at Loudon in the video

The brake/throttle overlap technique takes some practice. One technique that is helpful is if you curl your fingers over the front brake lever as you squeeze, then simply straighten your fingers to release brake pressure as you roll on the throttle. You can practice this technique using Brake Drill #4 in Riding in the Zone.

9.Timing is Critical

How long you remain on the brakes is determined by the curve. Imagine yourself barreling dwn a tight downhill hairpin and need to scrub of, say 15-20mph. You trailbrake into the turn, but then release the brakes well before the middle part of the turn. What then happens is gravity “accelerates the bike at a time when you haven’t gotten the bike turned enough. The result is a too wide line that needs another turning inpt to stay in your lane.  By hanging onto the brakes a bit longer, the front wheel is pointed more toward the corner exit and not toward the outside of the turn.

10. Brake Pressure is Critical

The right amount of brake pressure (force) will preserve traction (see #4) but also help the bike turn more easily (see #2). At some point in the trailbraking process, perhaps 1/3 around the curve, you are no longer trailbraking to slow down, rather you are using the brakes as a tool to help get the bike completely turned and pointed safely toward the exit (where you can then transition to the throttle (see #8). Brake too hard and the bike will likely stand up instead of lean in…not what you want at that point.

Trail braking Takes Practice

Trailbraking requires expert-level brake and corner control, which means that most people should be careful with this technique until they become proficient through practice. Once a rider is reasonably proficient at both braking and cornering, then he or she should start to explore the benefits of trailbraking, because one day, they’ll need this skill.

How to Practice Trail Braking

The practice drill diagram found in Riding in the Zone.
The practice drill diagram found in Riding in the Zone.

By mastering trail braking, you can train your mind and muscles so that you believe it is possible to slow the bike down even when leaned and stay upright. This mastery tells you not only that it’s possible to salvage the corner, but also tells you just how much braking force can be used without sliding the tires. If you think this skill will magically appear when you need it, you are dead wrong! You must practice to make this important tool available to you. How do you practice trail braking? Start in a clean and clear parking lot (see the video above) And then practice on the street where no surface hazards are present. Then refine and solidify the technique by going to a track day and asking an instructor to help you work on this technique.

Braking is one of the most important skills to learn. Regularly practice emergency braking and refine your corner braking technique so these skills remain sharp.

Listen to the Trailbraking PODCAST

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.


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Body Position Tips for More Effective Cornering

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Railing through turn 9 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Loudon) photo: owenstrackdayphotos.com
Railing through turn 9 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Loudon) photo: owenstrackdayphotos.com

Most riders sit pretty much upright in the saddle. There’s nothing wrong with that, however they are not utilizing a simple tool that helps the motorcycle turn, engages the rider in the “dance” between human and machine and increases ground clearance when needed.

We Need More Clearance, Captain!

Positioning your body to the inside of your motorcycle when cornering means that the motorcycle does not have to lean as far for a given speed and turn radius.

Hanging off makes this so by shifting the combined weight of body and machine to move the center of gravity lower and to the inside.

Easier Turning

Hanging off not only increases ground clearance, it also keeps the contact patch closer to the center of the tire and adds a degree of “power steering” to help initiate lean. By pre-positioning your body just before turn-in preloads the bike so it falls swiftly from upright to leaned. It can be unsettling the first time you do it as the bike turns so much easier, so experiment gradually.

Let’s Dance

Body position has an additional benefit of encouraging interaction between you, the bike, and the road. Move your body through a series of curves like you would a dance partner across a dance floor and you’ll be flirting with the Zone in no time. Lead with your eyes and shoulders and your motorcycle will willingly follow your lead.

Active body positioning isn’t just for sport bike riders. Try it on whatever motorcycle you ride.

Body Position “Levels”

You don’t have to hang off like Marc Marquez to benefit from body positioning.

When speeds and lean angles increase, it’s beneficial to use a more “active” body position that provides a greater amount of turning ease and ground clearance. There are three levels of body positioning for cornering: The “basic”, “intermediate”, and “full” hang off techniques.

The “basic” position

The basic body position.Use the basic body position for typical street speeds. This position involves simply leaning your upper body off-center, towards the inside of the turn. Position yourself as if you are kissing your mirror. Keep your inside shoulder low and forward while your eyes look through the curve. Your butt stays more-or-less centered on the seat.

The basic position is easy to do and is not intimidating, making it good for people just learning to hang off.

The “Intermediate” position

The intermediate stage is the body positioning technique I use when riding on street twisties. It is appropriate when riding more aggressively, but is no where near the level of extreme positioning typical of racers.

Learning this is quite simple. All you have to do is lean your upper body into the turn while rocking your hips so your inside sit-bone supports most of your weight. Rocking onto your inside butt cheek just before the corner positions your arms perfectly to countersteer with your inside arm and shoulder pressuring on the inside handlebar and your outside arm slightly extended and relaxed.

Rock onto the inside butt cheek just before the corner so that your body is in position as you countersteer. This is a very simple and effective technique.

The “full” hang off position

The full hang off position.The full hang off position allows the most aggressive riders to achieve faster corner speed without dragging hard parts. Hanging off has a lot of benefits, but can cause problems if not done correctly. Here is a basic tutorial:

  • Get your weight on the balls of your feet.
  • Use your legs (a little of your arms) to lift your body into position with your butt on the inside edge of the seat.
  • Position your shoulders and head inside and low (kiss the mirror).
  • Keep your hips perpendicular to the motorcycle.
  • Keep about 2-4 inches between your crotch and the fuel tank.
  • Rest the inner thigh of your outside leg against the tank.
  • Support a little more than half of your weight with the inside foot.
  • Hold the grip like a screwdriver with the forearm more or less in line with the handlebar.
  • Relax your arms by supporting your weight with your legs and torso.
  • Rest your outside arm on the top of the tank.

Avoid rotating your hips around the tank, which can result in a “crossed” body position where the upper body is positioned over the center of the bike. Instead, keep space between your crotch and the tank so you can move laterally across the bike.

Jack Your leg Into the Tank

For extra support, you can press your outer thigh into the gas tank. With the ball of your foot on the outside footpeg, straighten your ankle to make firm contact between the peg and the tank. Extending your leg in this way helps support your body with your legs, not your arms. The cutouts in sport bike gas tanks are ideal for positioning your inner knee. Adding Stomp Grip® or Tec­Spec® can help make the contact even more secure.

Side-to-Side Transitions

Try not to use your handlebars when moving from side to side. Doing so can upset the chassis and traction. Instead, use your legs and torso. Get your upper body over the tank, keeping your arms bent. I find that more rearward footrests help with this.

Also, be sure to get your body in position before you initiate lean (often while braking for the turn). Waiting too long can make the corner entry rather stressful and chaotic. Pre-positioning your body results in a quicker turn in (the benefits of quick turning is a topic for another day). It takes some practice to brake while in the hang off position, but it is a technique that must be learned (another future blog topic, I think).

At :28 in the video below you can see me pre-position for turn 3 at Loudon.

Hang at Your Own Risk

You should be discrete when hanging off on the street. Not only is a full hang-off posture not often necessary, it also draws a lot of unwanted attention. Even when hanging off on the racetrack, it’s not always necessary to hang off like Marquez. Hang off just enough to match your corner speed. Hanging off more may make for better photos, but it’ll wear you out sooner and could actually decrease control.

Slow Speed Maneuvers

One exception to the “inside” body position is when making slow speed maneuvers. In this case, you want to keep your body upright, on top of the bike. This is because stability is almost non-existent and adding body weight to the inside of the bike will lever the bike to the ground. Read about slow speed maneuvers here.

Body Positioning is discussed in the RITZ book. Parking lot drills are also provided so you can learn to make proper, “active” body positioning an integral part of your riding.

Learn more about the Book by clicking here.


Check out this video. You can’t see my legs, but you get a good sense of how much I interact with the bike.

What body position tips have you used that helped you feel more comfortable on your motorcycle?


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RITZ Podcast Episode 4 – Starting the Track Day or Racing Season Off Right with Instructor and Racer, Paul Duval

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This episode is an interview with Paul Duval, championship LRRS racer and track day instructor shares his thoughts on getting up to speed for a new racing and track day season.

Also available to download on iTunes and SoundCloud

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Riding in the Zone Podcast Episode 3- Interview with Stephanie Funk, Car Racer & Track Day Rider

Today’s episode is an interview with Stephanie Funk, championship SCCA (car) racer and motorcyclist who shares her thoughts on racing and track days.

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Review: Energica EGO Electric Motorcycle

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The future of motorcycles? The jury is still out. But, the technology keeps moving forward. Battery range and charging capabilities are improving and you can expect usable performance. The weight issue still needs to be addressed.

Thanks to Adam at Rocket Moto in Nashua, NH for the loan.


Here’s a narrated video to see and hear what the bike sounds like. Details and more thoughts are below. Enjoy.


A few details:

$25,000 base price, $32,600 as tested – Price Reduced from original cost of $40k as tested!

MOTOR– Permanent Magnet AC, Oil Cooled

MAX SPEED- Limited at 240 km/h (149mph)

HORSEPOWER– about 135 hp

WEIGHT– About 580 pounds

TORQUE- 195 Nm (143 ft lbs) from 0 to 4700 rpm

RIDING MODES- 4 Riding Modes: Standard, Eco, Rain, Sport 1)
4 Regenerative Maps: Low, Medium, High, Off

PARK ASSISTANT- Reverse and Forward (1.74 mph Max Speed)

BATTERY CAPACITY-11.7 kWh

LIFE- 1200 Cycles @ 80% Capacity (100% DOD)

WARRANTY- 3 years / 50.000 km

RECHARGE- 3.5 h (0-100% Soc) Mode 2 or 3 Charge (220), 8 hours using 110,
30 min (0-85% Soc) Mode 4 Dc Fast Charge

The Energica website.


Street Tested

The EGO is in its element on the sweeping, twisting rural roads near my home in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. The EGO may have felt awkward and even a bit slow on the racetrack, but it comes into its own at street speeds.

Power

The Energica rips! At least it does up to about 80mph. After that it starts to flatten out significantly. But you’ll get to 80 very rapidly with all 143 foot pounds of torque on tap from the get-go. The motor spins up quickly and can take your breath away at first. Thankfully, the ride-by-wire throttle is impeccably controllable. The rush is amplified by the almost angry whistling sound that builds to a crescendo.  It’s hard not to notice the contrast of speed and sound coming from a bike that a moment ago sat in total silence.

Rider Modes

The EGO has 4 rider modes:

  • Eco- This mode neuters the power to the equivalent of a 500 Ninja and limits speed to just over 55mph. That may sound sucky, but I would be glad to have it when there is no power supply nearby and I still have miles to go to get to one. Eco mode would be absolutely fine for any city or suburban riding, with plenty of git up and go. Just be sure to witch to Standard , Wet or Sport modes before hitting the highway.
  • Standard- Now we’re talkin’. Twist the grip in this mode and hang on. The bike sharply snaps to attention, but is quite controllable as the power builds in a linear manner.
  • Wet- From what I can tell, Wet mode is a softer sibling of Standard mode. It still jumps forwad nicely, but the torque seems slower to build. Sounds like a good thing to have in rainy weather.
  • Sport- Gitty Up! This mode is the E-ticket ride. Sport mode seems more urgent and angry compared with Standard mode. Like the other modes, power still flattens out at about 85mph. No problem. The rush of getting there is enough excitement for most.

Regenerative Modes (Engine Braking)

There are 4 modes to choose from that controls the amount of regenerative engine braking the bike produces.

  • High- Close the throttle all the way in this mode and you’re launched forward. The blue lights on the instrument cluster tell you that you’re recharging the battery when this abrupt deceleration occurs. That’s good, but I can envision times when having that much engine braking could cause loss of rear tire grip, so it’s smart to select a softer setting in the rain or on gravel. That said, It’s a great setting for helping to control speed on steep hills with hairpin curves thrown in. Uphill hairpins are better handled with the Low mode.
  • Medium- This mode is a good compromise between charging your battery and abrupt deceleration. his mode feels most like a conventional 2 cylinder internal combustion motorcycle.
  • Low- This mode was great on tight uphill hairpins where gravity already provides enough force to slow the bike. This mode feels most like a conventional 4 cylinder internal combustion motorcycle.
  • Off- You can turn off the regenerative feature, which would be my choice for slippery surfaces where it’s better to rely on the brakes to manage traction.

Brakes

What’s to say, except Brembo makes the best brakes out there. It’s good to have these babies on board to slow down this relatively heavy, fast machine. Feel is good and controllable. That is all.

Handling

Handling on the street is great. It’s stable and precise with no tendency to stand up mid-corner and when trailbraking. Keep the tire pressures at the 42/42 and you’ll be happy.

Ergonomics

The riding position is sporty like a small 1990s Ninja ZX-11. Or maybe a cross between a ZX-11 and my old 2005 ZX636. Yeah, that’s it. The bars are low and the pegs are high. The seat is hard, but not too bad for the amount of time and riding distance the battery will afford. It feels compact with the small windscreen that deflects wind only away from your mid-chest.

Battery Life

One thing you’ll have to get used to is energy management. Think about having a bike with a 2-gallon gas tank and then imagine not having any gas stations readily available. And then imagine needing hours to fuel the bike. That’s what you need to think about when you ride an electric motorcycle.

3.5 h (0-100% Soc) Mode 2 or 3 Charge (220), 8 hours using 110-  You can recharge if you carry the somewhat heavy charging cord with you all the time and can find an available 220 power outlet while you’re putting a burger in your pie hole at some rural lunch spot. But don’t rush because with a 220 charge, it takes 3.5 hours to get a full zap. Normal 110 takes 8 hours!

30 min (0-85% Soc) Mode 4 Dc Fast Charge- If most of your riding is in suburbia where you have Tesla charging stations hanging around, you can get recharged to 85% in about 30 minutes. Unfortunately, the are no Fast charging stations where I ride, so I’d need to carefully plan where to turn around to make sure I can make it home.

The range is claimed to be about 100 miles (120 on Eco mode). I did about 70 miles and used up 70% of the battery, so maybe that’s fairly accurate. To be fair, I did several full-throttle bursts and only a little Eco mode riding.

The Nutshell

I really enjoyed my day on the Energica. The more I rode it the more I like it. My neck and wrists were tired after using up 80% of the battery, but the buttery smooth power offset that discomfort. It’s a lot of jingle, but if you want a really cool looking bike that is unique and a ball to ride, maybe the Energica will charge you up.

Updates

Energica reduced the cost of the EGO significantly since I tested this bike. The base price is now $25k with the premium Ohlins suspension, carbon kit and OZ wheels upping the price to $32,600. Still a lot of money, but not out of line with other premium models still being propelled by internal combustion engines.

Also, Energica announced that they will be the sole supplier for the upcoming FIM Moto-e World Cup starting in 2019.

Track Tested

I was able to do a couple of laps on the Energica Ego. The bike is a terrific street bike, but felt heavy at track speeds. Part of the issue was that I lowered the tire pressures to a typical 30-rear/30-front and the bike didn’t like it. The bike handled better with 35 pounds, but would have been even better with the full street pressures that would better support the weight.

Also, I apparently used up enough juice to limit the top speed from the 110 mph of the first session to a maximum of about 80 mph during the second session. A recharge is needed to keep access to the top speed.

Besides that, the bike was a hoot to ride. Take a ride with me:

 


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5 Tips from an Aging Sport Bike Rider

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Graham and Dan. I'm not saying their old, but where is their hair?
Graham and Dan. I’m not saying they’re old, but where is their hair?

Note: This article pertains to all types of riders. So, please read on.

What happens to sport bike riders when they get old? Most people think of sport bike riders as young men in their 20’s or 30’s. A lot of people don’t consider that sport bike motorcycle riders are often in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or even 70’s.

It’s  assumed that those crazy riders on their rice rockets are young, testosterone laden young men. And this stereotype has some truth to it, since the attitude and ergonomics of sporting machinery suggests a fast and young lifestyle. But, many older riders do keep a sportbike in the garage if their body can handle the demands on aging bones, muscles and soft tissue.

A lot of sport bike riders move gradually to more upright machines with less demanding ergonomics and softer power delivery. But, if you look around at any sport riding gathering, track day, or even club race event, you’ll see that the median age is what is often considered over the hill. You’ll also see that these elders are often some of the most skilled riders on the road and the fastest on the track.

While the hair beneath the helmet may be gray, the desire to express mastery at the handlebars is as strong as ever. I’m not speaking for all sport bike elders, just the ones I know who keep at least one high-performance bike in their stable for those days when the back is feeling okay and the passion for a rip requires a razor-sharp tool.

Ken-smile
I’ve got a few more years behind the handlebars.

At 57 years old, I’m now qualified to speak from the perspective of a once young road racer and sporting street rider. Thankfully, I happen to have a slim physique, which makes me able to climb onto a sport bike with relative ease. I am also of average height so high rearsets don’t bother me. This makes riding a sport bike possible.

Pull up a Chair, Son

There are a lot of things I could share about aging. But, there are a few notable observations I think are worth mentioning.

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

1. Ride Smarter

Tony, Ken and Graham. Older than many, not as old as some.
Tony, Ken and Graham. Older than many, not as old as some. Yes, this is the photo “borrowed” by whoever made that video that went viral.

When I’m on a motorcycle, I can step back and evaluate whether the speed I choose to ride matches my mood and personal limits, as well as the limits of the road or track, the weather, etc. While there are times when my inner squid emerges, I am much less prone to riding beyond the limits. I am closer to the edge of the risk:reward ratio than when I was young and felt invincible. Now, I ask myself whether riding a certain way is worth the possible aggravation.

Top photos © Ken Condon

Bottom photo © Annalisa Boucher

2. Ride more Efficiently

How is it that I can get through a two day track day event riding multiple groups and still get up the next day and go to work? I see a lot of track day riders many years my junior pack up halfway through the afternoon because they are too tired to go on anymore. How am I able to do this? It’s not because I’m in great shape.

It’s because I’ve learned to ride efficiently. This means hanging off the bike only as much as necessary to achieve the goals of keeping the pegs off the pavement and the tires in their sweet spot and perfectly loaded for maximum traction. It also means being relaxed as much as possible. Not only does this help my stamina, it also allows me to feel the tires and chassis so I can “listen” to the bike as it tells me how much traction I have.

3. Change Behavior

Getting old forces changes in behavior. At some point you have to recognize the fact that the mind, eyes, muscles and stamina are not what they used to be. Everyone is different, but from my experience, the rate of decline seems to accelerate once you pass 50 or so. This means I have to pace myself. I am more aware of the need to warm up my body for a few laps just like I do my tires.

The possibility of getting hurt is present no matter what age, but what may be a simple injury, quickly healed, can turn into a long, drawn out healing process if you are older. Riding smart and wearing really good personal protection is important for minimizing those injuries.

4. Stay in Shape

I’m not in bad shape, but I’m not in great shape, either. I walk almost every day, but I used to run. I lightly stretch when I need to, but not as often as I should. I have never smoked and my vitals are good. I guess I can say I’m in pretty good shape for my age.

Even so, I suffered a freak health issue a while ago that I’m lucky to have survived. Thankfully, I can still manage a full day of street riding and both days of a two day track day event without much trouble. Staying in shape is harder as you get older. Weight gain is a real problem for many. Weight can creep up on you slowly. Five pounds may not seem like much, but if that happens every year for 10 years, you’re looking at a whopping 50 pound weight gain that will be tough to get rid of.

Being an instructor gives the opportunity to pass on what you've learned.
Being an instructor provides an opportunity to pass on what you’ve learned.
photo: © Annalisa Boucher

5. Keep Your Skills Sharp

There is a real danger in complacency. It’s easy for veteran riders to assume they don’t need to maintain their mental and physical skills. After all, they’ve survived this far. This perception leads to diminished skills, which can lead to a crash.

Motorcycle riding skills are perishable. So, keep those skills sharp! Practice in a parking lot, attend a safety course periodically, and ride a track day or three. It’s also good to read about riding technique. Even if you already “know” the material, reading about a technique brings it into your consciousness.

And for you older folks returning to riding, GET TRAINING! I know you may know how to “operate” a motorcycle, but that’s not enough to ride safe and smart. You need to update your mental software and learn things you may not have known before that can literally save your wrinkled ass. I recommend taking the Basic MSF course, followed by an advanced training course.


Bonus Tip: Share Your Knowledge

I’m grateful that I can share knowledge that I have accumulated over the years to help people like you ride better and smarter. But, another benefit to writing and teaching is that it makes me a better rider. I constantly think about my riding, which keeps my skills sharp.

A lot of really fast, experienced riders can’t explain how they do what they do…they just do it. That’s fine, but thinking about the physiology and psychology of riding a motorcycle well makes a rider’s knowledge and skill indelibly deeper and accessible when you need it.

Oh, and don’t assume you know what you are talking about, even if you are “fast”. Learn the physics and language of communicating the complex concepts of motorcycle riding before you claim expert status.

How Much Longer?

At some point, we all must hang up our helmet for the last time. In my case, that appears to be several years away. I can still do things I did when I was younger, it just takes more effort. What are your experiences with aging behind the handlebars?
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Check out other track day and riding technique related posts

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Motorcycle Track Days: What You Need to Know

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What are Track Days All About?

Track Days are the most exciting, fun and effective way to improve your riding skills…period! You will learn how to corner and brake with a lot more confidence and control. And you will have a freakin’ BLAST.

Track Days are held on a closed course (racetrack), which means you learn in a safe environment and at real-world speeds. Learning on a racetrack allows you to ride freely and concentrate on and advancing your skill level without the typical hazards faced on the street…potholes, sand, tar snakes and Buicks.

Many types of machines at our regular track day events. While most ride sport bikes, there are also those who ride Tourers, Adventure bikes, and Sport Tourers. There are even special “Non-Sportbike Days”.

It’s one of the best investments in fun and skill development money can buy.

You may want to listen to this short podcast where Tony and I discuss many track day FAQs.

Learn to Corner Better

While parking lot courses have their place, riding your bike on a track will let you practice riding skills at real-world speeds – without the normal distractions found on public roads (like cars, sand, cops, etc).

Classroom sessions are usually included in the price of your day where you will benefit from discussions and demonstrations of advanced riding technique that you can then try on the track.

The fact that you visit each corner several times a day allows you to perfect your technique without the changing variables found on the street. These techniques are transferable to street riding.

The skills typically learned:


My wife, Caroline in "the bowl" at NH Motor Speedway on her Kawasaki z750s
My wife, Caroline in “the bowl” at NH Motor Speedway on her Kawasaki z750s

 


The Racing vs. Track Day Myth

Who said anything about racing? Here’s the thing; A track day is NOT a race event. Many people respond to a suggestion of attending a track day by saying “but I don’t want to race”. Now, I understand that most people automatically think “racing” when they hear “racetrack”. This is why I spend a fair amount of energy on educating the potential new customer that a track day just might be worth considering, both for having a blast, but also for becoming a better rider (much better).

If it’s not a race, then what is it?

Imagine the perfect twisty road, but with no oncoming traffic, sand, gravel, guardrails or folks in big sedans trying to figure out their GPS while talking and texting on their phones and you start to get the idea of what a track day is. Oh, and did I mention no speed limits? So, riding on a racetrack is not only a safer place to ride, but you can also go as fast as you want without the risk of getting an expensive speeding ticket and insurance points.

Not only are track days fun, they are also a great place to develop your skills. Most track days offer some instruction, with classroom time and perhaps a garage seminar on body positioning. You can also get some on-track coaching if you ask for it. Then you go practice what you’ve learned by circulating around the track. The beauty of riding on a racetrack is that you visit each corner multiple times a day so you can perfect each corner as the day goes on. You also get to explore the limits of your bike, the tires and your ability. Woot!

It’s not about speed!

Yes, we are talking about riding on a racetrack, but that doesn’t mean you have to have the latest rocket, or even that you have to go a whole lot faster than you do already on the street (in the novice groups). That’s the beauty of track days as opposed to a competitive racing environment; they have two completely different purposes. Both track days and racing allow you to go as fast as you dare, but track days allow you to go as fast as you want without the pressure to win a competition. When racing, you risk a lot more because your goal is to try and beat the next guy.


The goal of a Track Day

So, what exactly is the point of doing a track day then?

  • A Safer Place to Have Fun! With no surface hazards or roadside obstacles to hit and an ambulance just seconds away, the track is the safest place to ride, especially if you want to ride fast.
  • A Safer Place to Learn! You will be able to concentrate on refining cornering and braking skills by riding the same corners over and over.
  • Socialize! Commiserate and socialize with like-minded motorcyclists. Most new track day riders show up for their first day nervous and afraid, only to find a friendly group of fellow riders eager to help you learn the ropes.

Ed carves a perfect line on his ST1300. photo: otmpix.comTrack Days Make Safer Street Riders

 

Safer Riders

I am often asked about the benefits of track days for street riders. The bottom line is that a day or two spent at a training-oriented track day helps develop braking and cornering skills beyond what can be done in most other courses and certainly better than relying on experience alone.

Learning to brake harder and lean deeper pays benefits when a car pulls out in front of you or a corner tightens more than expected. Riders who have never experienced floorboard-dragging lean angles usually panic, stand the bike up and run off the road, even though they had more ground clearance available. Those who have learned to lean deeply and to trust their tires are much more likely to remain in control and stay in their lane.

On the track, a rider practices braking skills by waiting to brake deeper and deeper into corners. Not to go faster, but to see just how capable their bike is at slowing. Trailbraking is also practiced…an important skill to have for safe street riding.

Finally, highly-developed physical skills allow more automatic responses to challenging situations, freeing more bandwidth to manage the hazards and variables of street riding.

Be sure to check out the Non-Sportbike Street Rider Track Training Day page.


Top Excuses why riders don’t do track days:

  • I don’t have Proper Riding Gear
    Yes, you need to protect your body in the event of a crash, but that’s a good investment whether you ride on the track or the street. Most track day organizations allow street gear, so you should already have most of what you need.
  • I am worried about crashing my bike.
    It can happen on the track, but it can also happen on the street (with more severe consequences). Track day crashes usually happen because the rider pushed too hard before they learned to manage the extra speed. Rarely do two riders come together to cause a multi-bike incident. And with no trees, mailboxes or oncoming vehicles to run into, serious injuries are also rare.
  • I’ll be the slowest rider out there.
    So what if you are the slowest rider out there? You’ll get faster as the day goes on and will likely be passing people by the end of the day.
  • I’m afraid I will be in the way of faster riders. This is a common concern. The answer is to ride your own ride and be predictable so faster riders can safely pass. This means learning the line and staying on it. Oh, and keep your eyes looking forward. It is the passing rider’s responsibility to pass…just like when skiing.
  • I don’t have a way to get up to the track.
    Many organizations have a forum or Facebook page where you can ask for help getting your bike and yourself to the track. If it comes down to it, just ride your bike there. You are risking crashing the vehicle you planned on taking you home and you’ll be tired ride home, but many people do it. Bike prep is usually minimal and can be performed at the track. Here is a video I did showing what is required for Tony’s Track Days. NOTE: some of these requirements are no longer required. See the bike prep page on Tony’s Track Days site.
  • I don’t ride a Sportbike.
    Again, so what? All types of bikes show up at track days…sport tourers, adventure bikes, standards, vintage bikes, even the occasional Gold Wing and cruiser.
  • It’s too expensive. Why should I pay to ride someplace?
    It makes little financial sense to risk serious injury, a speeding ticket, and insurance points rather than pay to ride on the track. The cost of a track day varies from region to region and from track to track, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $150.00 to over $300.00 per day. This often includes some instruction.
  • I’m not comfortable doing a track day yet.
    Maybe you’re just nervous. If so, then rest assured that you’re not alone. It’s smart to have some street miles under your belt, but if you’re comfortable riding around corners at brisk street speeds, then you’re probably ready to do a track day. Many organizations allow spectators to come check out what it’s all about. This is a great way to see if it might be right for you. And most organizations have two or three group levels so you are matched to others’ experience level.

I hope this has shed some light on the mysteries behind track days.

If you have questions, let me know and I’ll do my darnedest to help out. You should also check out the website of the track day organization you plan on joining. FYI, I work as the chief instructor for Tony’s Track Days. And check out other track day related posts and videos.

 
http://www.tonystrackdays.com/

Check out the other track day related posts and videos.


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Guest Writer: Taking Control- Hope is not a plan

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Jamie Renna on his FJR1300 at Thompson Motor Speedway. photo: otmpix.com
Jamie Renna on his FJR1300 at Thompson Motor Speedway. photo: otmpix.com

Guest contributor Jamie Renna shares his thoughts on sport touring and the benefits of advanced knowledge and training:

There is a genuine adrenaline rush that comes after carving a corner with a smooth approach; throttle roll off/brake, lean and a spirited throttle roll on.

I’m new to motorcycling. I’ve got less than 3 years of riding under my 52-year-old belt. They have been fun years. I’ve crammed two Non-Sport Bike Track Days and two trips down the famous Blue Ridge Parkway in my early years of this new challenging hobby. My bookshelf is populated with several well-read reference books including Keith Code’s Twist of the Wrist II, Lee Park’s Total Control and Ken’s Motorcycling the Right Way. Reading, and re-reading these books have provided me with a much better understanding of how motorcycles work and why they behave the way they do.

Motorcycling is a learning activity and that really appeals to me. I get great satisfaction from beating a challenge by utilizing my small but growing collection of riding skills. The instantaneous feedback of successfully carving a corner can result in a grin that extends from ear to ear.

Getting it Right

My quest for a smoothly carved corner has too often been thwarted by factors that seemed to be out of my control. Something was happening that kept causing me to:

  • correct my lane position in mid-corner
  • swerve to avoid an obstacle I should have noticed
  • scrub off speed in a descending and/or decreasing radius turn
  • and other unplanned “Wow, that was close!” maneuvers.

The Big Question

I wondered: Were all these grin-defeating events out of my control and simply the price of admission for spirited riding in a non-track environment? I think not.

My Training Tour Experience

I’m now confident that I can take control of my riding in a way that will minimize the risk and make close calls a thing of the past, partly because I spent two fun (and rain) filled days touring southern VT and western MA with Ken as part of a 1 on 1 personal Training Tour.

I don’t want this to sound like an infomercial, but I wanted to share all of my thoughts beyond a brief testimonial.

I chose to invest in Ken’s training to augment the Track Days and copious reading I had previously completed. I concluded I needed on-street training to learn how to better manage the factors that prevented me from exiting EVERY corner EVERY time with a grin.

Ken tailored a 2-day curriculum that matched my skills and comfort level. We rode for ~250 miles over 2 days with frequent roadside stops to review Go-Pro video of my less-than-perfect technique. Ken provided crisp, objective, real-time commentary on my riding performance via Bluetooth communicators. You get to do a lot of neat things at a track day, but you can only get this type of personal observation and critique in a small group Training Tour.

The on-street coaching included a disciplined approach to observe and act upon all the leading indicators that are present before you even approach a curve. Ken provides the decoder ring so you can proactively read the leading indicators including:

  • curve radius
  • rate of change for the curve radius (increasing, decreasing or constant)
  • guardrail position
  • telephone poles
  • camber direction changes
  • and pedestrians

He will narrate to you via the Bluetooth communicator all of these indicators to better prepare you to ultimately exit a curve with a big grin.

Once comfortable, the roles will be reversed and you will get a chance to narrate to him all the indicators that each curve presents to you. It’s a bit intense. If you are like me, you will feel a fun change as you morph from a reactive (“I really hope there are no surprises on the other side of this corner.”) rider to a proactive curve-carver. Your confidence level will rise faster than your tachometer as you get comfortable reading the road and being in position to get every drop of fun out of every curve.

The on-road sessions are periodically interrupted with parking lot drills to sharpen skills that might have atrophied. These include slow speed U-turns and emergency swerving left or right. Other fun drills involved hard front or rear braking on a sandy surface to experience the shudder of your ABS system.

One last memorable drill was to rapidly stop from a speed of 55+ mph. This type of stopping might be needed to avoid hitting a deer if swerving is not an option. Ken had me do this drill in a remote area where we were sure no other vehicles were present. Doing it on a dry road was fun…doing it later in the day while it was raining was…rewarding.

Final Thoughts

  • Remember: Hope is not a plan.
  • Take full advantage of all your opportunities for qualified training.
  • Read.
  • Ask questions.
  • Read again.
  • Go to a Track Day.
  • Read some more.
  • Take a Training Tour.

There are lots of grins waiting for all of us in those curves. Go get your share.


Jamie_Renna-portraitJamie Renna is an aeronautical engineer who started motorcycling after his 50th birthday. He has aggressively pursued numerous forms of training to ride safely while seeking the next big grin. His newly found motorcycle peeps have been a great source of riding technique tips, motorcycle maintenance skills and most of all laughs.


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5 Reasons Why Roadracers Give Up Street Riding

Personal bests, competition, camaraderie... photo: otmpix.com
Personal bests, competition, camaraderie… photo: otmpix.com

Most roadracers start out as street riders. But a lot of roadracers (and some track day riders) stop riding on the street after they begin riding on racetracks. Why is this?

  1. Riding on the street is dangerous. At first blush, you’d think racing motorcycles is way more risky than street riding. Even though roadracers ride at triple-digit speeds within inches of each other, everyone is going in the same direction and is alert, sober and competent. That can’t be said for the deaf, dumb and blind drivers that street riders must dodge on every ride. Add in poorly maintained roads, surface debris and other deadly hazards and the street rider is at a serious disadvantage compared to someone who rides only on closed courses. And if you’re into riding aggressively, doing so on the street is just asking for trouble. There are way too many variables that are beyond your control and if you go down, the chances of severe injury is higher than crashing in the controlled racetrack environment . The only place you should consider trying to achieve knee-dragging speeds is in the controlled environment of a racetrack. Besides being unsafe, you could end up in jail.
  2. photo: owenstrackdayphotos.com
    photo: owenstrackdayphotos.com

    Racers are Athletes. Racers treat motorcycling as a sport with all of the rewards that come with dedicating energy and resources to the goal of improving skills. Personal bests and measured improvement keep the racer coming back for more. Few activities match the satisfaction of trimming a tenth of a second from an already fast lap time. While riding a motorcycle on the street can be an athletic endeavor, it’s not the same.

  3. The thrill of competition trumps the freedom of the open road. The reason many people are drawn to motorcycling is the sense of freedom when gliding through the landscape at speed. Those who venture beyond their immediate surroundings discover the thrill of motorcycle travel and adventure. While those motivators are still relevant to the rider-turned-racer, they take a pillion seat to the challenge of pushing their motorcycle (and themselves) to the performance limit.
  4. Racing camaraderie runs deep. There is no doubt that many street riders find satisfying relationships with like-minded road-goers. Meet-ups at diners before a weekend ride or running into familiar faces at a rally can be the catalyst for new and long-lasting friendships. But, there is something very special about the relationships between people who share the ups and downs of an extreme sport like roadracing (or track day riding). One of the things that always brought me back to the track is the desire to re-connect with my track family. Those who are part of a race team enjoy a familial level of support that will last a lifetime. Awards banquets, garage parties and BBQs, as well as communal efforts to aid fallen riders help cement these relationships.
  5. Racers like mechanical challenges. Street riders check their tire pressures often (hopefully), but racers check them several times a day. Performance mods on street bikes are done mostly for fashion, but racebike mods are purposeful. Suspension and power delivery must be as precise as possible, which requires a deep knowledge of these systems (or the money to get help). Racers tweak, replace and adjust and then measure whether the modifications worked with the help of a lap timer.

I still enjoy street riding. A lot.
I still enjoy street riding. A lot.

It’s important to note that a large number of racers and even more track day riders still choose to ride on the street. I fall solidly under that category. I find that street riding (done well) is equally as challenging as riding fast on a racetrack.

Since most of this blog’s readers are street riders you may ask what the point is of this article? Well, I thought it would be of interest to regular street riders to get a glimpse of what makes racers and track day riders tick. It should also put into perspective just how risky street riding can be and prompt you to learn all you can about how to survive on the street. Maybe it will also stimulate some curiosity about taking a track day.

What am I missing? Add your comments below.

Remember that I moderate comments and it may take a few days to approve yours. But, rest assured, your voice will be heard.


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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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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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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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Here and SV650 parks next to a ZX6R and a few motards (dirt bikes with street-based tires).
Here an SV650 parks next to a ZX6R and a few motards (dirt bikes with street-based tires).

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.

Ride what you own!
Ride what you own!

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, adventure, and even touring machines. Cruiser motorcycles are probably the only machines that are not really appropriate for fast cornering and spirited riding.

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

I helped start the non-sportbike track day trend in New England with Tony’s Track Days. These days are similar to regular sportbike days, but are geared more toward cruisers, ADV bikes and tourers. Read all about these events here.

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

Older 600s are cheap and reliable.
Older 600s are cheap and reliable.

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. 2003: Ken returned to racing once again on an MZ Scorpion 660cc single.
    Ken battles for the lead on a $2500.00, 48hp MZ Scorpion 660cc single among a gaggle of EX500 ninjas. Cheap and fun!

    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.

Some Bikes to Consider

  1. This 500 Ninja was a blast to ride on the track.
    This 500 Ninja was a blast to ride on the track.

    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.
  3. Kawasaki EX650 Ninja– Similar to the SV650, but with a parallel twin motor.
  4. 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.
  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.

Liter SuperBikes: Not The Best Choice for Novices

 Jeannine waiting to go out onto the track, NHMS.
An older ZX6R and an FZ1.

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.

Track Day Preparation

Read all about my own Triumph Street Triple R 675 track day bike and how I prepared it 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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