Best Track Day Bikes

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

Almost Any Bike Will Do

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

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

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

Non-Sportbike Track Days

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

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

Dedicated Track Bikes

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

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

Criteria

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

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

Some Bikes to Consider

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

Liter SuperBikes: Not The Best Choice for Novices

Testing the 2015 BMW S1000rr photo: BMW

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

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

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


Advanced-Level Bikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Track testing the 2016 Speed Triple r photo: Triumph

My track bikes

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

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

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

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

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

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


Track Day Preparation

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

How I prepared the Aprilia Tuono for the track

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