Bike track days…how, what, why and when!?

Nobody ever forgets their first track day. For many, the instant buzz of actually being allowed to go as fast as you dare is hugely addictive and opens up a whole world of fun, freedom and life-long friendships. I am one of those hooked on the adrenaline rush of being knee-down at 100+mph on what you believe to be the edge – although you’re usually far from it.

But let’s say you’ve never been on track before and you’re quite keen to give it a go. How and where do you start? There are websites, Facebook groups and forums dedicated to those who enjoy riding on track and usually they’re pretty welcoming to newcomers. But here we’re going to run through some of the basics to get you going in the form of a question and answer session. Let’s make an assumption that you’ve got a full motorcycle licence a bike (neither of which are actually necessary, but we’ll come onto that later) and some half decent safety kit.

Q: I love riding my motorcycle but hate not being able to make the most of the bikes capabilities on the road. Should I do a track day?

A: Simple answer here is yes. You’re already clued up on the fact that riding fast on the road is dangerous to both yours and others health and also potentially dangerous for your licence should you get caught going too fast. A track day is the only way you can really enjoy and exploit your bike for what it was designed for.
Q: OK, understood. But surely I’m just going to crash and smash up my pride and joy if I take it on track?

A: That’s not true and there’s no real reason to fear using your own bike on the track. Yes accidents do happen and yes you can’t control everyone around you. But if you stick within your abilities, listen carefully to the safety briefings, respect those around you and act sensibly there’s no reason why you couldn’t enjoy countless incident-free days on your bike.

Q: I’m still worried about my bike getting damaged. Is that game over for me?

A: No. There are a few options open to you here…

  • You can hire a track bike. There are some great companies out there that provide everything you need to enjoy a day on track with a bike they supply to you. The price normally includes fuel, wear and tear on tyres brakes etc plus they will set the bike up for you and guide you through the day. Bike hire is a great way to start in the world of trackdays
  • You can insure your bike to cover any damage. There are specialist companies out there who will provide cover for track days, for a fee of course. Alternatively your current road insurance might already cover you. Some policies include it as standard, but beware of excess amounts and restrictions they impose.
  • Buy a dedicated track bike. That’s possibly not realistic for many, however I personally was one of those who decided to go straight out and buy a track bike having never done a track day, so that is an option.

Q: Right, I’m going to go for it and use my own bike. What next?

A: Well, you need to book a track day! There are plenty of providers out there offering days at almost every circuit in the country throughout the year. The sensible thing to do would be to book one at a circuit locally to you, especially if you plan on riding there. Once you’re hooked you can travel around a bit and explore some of the great circuits out there.
Q: Do I need tyre warmers, slick tyres and a garage worth of tools?

A: No absolutely not. There are plenty of people who ride their road bikes to the circuit, adjust their tyre pressures slightly and go out and enjoy a day on track. If you decide to take things more seriously then there is a whole world of extras you can buy to go with your new hobby. But don’t get stressed about not having all that kit right from the start.

Q: That makes sense, but will my bike be ok on track for a day?

A: The answer here should be an automatic yes, provided your bike is in a road-worthy condition. But there are some simple checks you can do to make sure you don’t fall foul of any mechanical issues.

  • It is imperative that your tyres are in a good condition. They don’t need to be super-sticky race spec tyres, most tyres these days, even sports-touring tyres, are more than capable of knee (and elbow in some cases) down lean angles. Just make sure they have a good amount of tread as a day on track will punish them much harder than any road ride. Also check that they’re not old and cracked and ideally puncture repair free.
  • A track day is very hard on your brakes as you would imagine. Make sure your brake pads have a good amount of life left. If they’re nearly worn get a new set. Don’t scrimp on the basics, especially when they potentially could save your life
  • Fluids and general condition. Your bike will be pushed hard on track, if it’s not been serviced in 5 years put some new decent oil in there. Make sure the coolant levels are topped up and that your brake fluid is clean. Basically a well-serviced and maintained bike should be fine.

Q: Got all that. How about my riding kit. Do I need a 1-piece leather suit for example?

A: No. Most circuits and track day providers will insist that you wear leathers, but you can wear a two-piece suit as long as it zips together most of the way round. You will need to check with your track day provider as to their conditions, but any relatively modern sporty two-piece suit should be fine. You will be required to wear a full-face helmet, boots and gloves in addition to your leathers. It’s always recommended that you wear a back protector too, although it’s not mandatory.

Q: I’m a pretty quick road rider, shall I go straight into the ‘fast’ group.

A: No. No. No. No. Don’t let your ego ruin yours and potentially someone else’s day. Road riding and track riding are vastly different and no matter how good you are on the road, make sure your first track day is in the novice group. You might find you have Rossi-esque talents from the off in which case you can move up a group next time out. Mostly though, people need to build track confidence and that takes time and requires you to be in the correct group. When you’re faster than almost everyone in your group, it’s time to move up. But don’t worry about how long you spend in the novice group, it’s not a race…

Q: It rains a lot here, can’t I ride on track somewhere warm and sunny instead?

A: Absolutely. There are plenty of track day suppliers out there who offer track days in Europe and beyond. Spain is popular due to its good weather and track days there are good value for money. You’re looking at paying anywhere from £300 to £800 for 3 days on track, which is good considering how much a single day in the UK costs. The cost generally includes shipping your bike out to the circuit, the days on track and accommodation. You will be responsible for flights, hire cars, food, spending money etc. Be warned though, European track days are hugely addictive!

The above barely scratches the surface when exploring the world of track days. The best thing to do is just crack on and book one. Just be prepared to have a new favourite wallet-draining hobby!

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