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First Track Day of the Year...and Bike


David

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Late note: Sorry. This turned out to be a lot longer than I was anticipating. Sort of like my lap times. tongue.gif

 

I did my first track day of the year, and my first track day ever on the Tuono. It had 93 miles on it as I loaded it on the trailer and headed to Putnam, a really nice road course about 40 miles west of Indy.

 

To recap, new bike; new track; new riding season. To top it all off, the wee hours of the morning brought a temperature of 28 degrees F.

 

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My first thought was "damn, I just flushed all the anti-freeze out and put distilled water in this thing. If I bust a block, I'm going to be pissed." Fortunately all was well, probably because there was enough anti-freeze in the crevices to provide enough protection.

 

As I watched the temperature gauge, I drove through several sleepy Indiana towns with one stoplight, like this one:

 

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Putnam is in the middle of nowhere, and it was still dark when I pulled in and got in line for registration:

 

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Even though I arrived when the gates opened, pit lane was lined with very expensive rigs, race-only bikes, and snappy pit scooters. It's easy to be intimidated by all the nonsense, which frankly has very little to do with what happens on the track. This is what I tell myself every time, anyway. tongue.gif

 

I pull past all this temporary village of testosterone-adled monuments to the reciprocating engine and slide into a spot at the far end, near the hot pit entrance. I kept everything simple for this first track day of the season, not wanting to complicate my learning curve. So all I have to do is roll the bike off the Kendon stand-up trailer, arrange my riding gear, and then watch everyone else fiddle with the stuff I normally fiddle with. Did I mention that it was very cold? I realize that I maybe should have brought different gear.

 

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There are three levels--beginner, intermediate, and advanced--and I've signed up for the intermediate. Each classification brings its own rules about how the bike must be prepped and the minimum riding gear you must war. In my group, I can wear my 'Stich or my leather one-piece, but I elect the former. It's warmer, and it sets expectations lower. tongue.gif

 

I thumb the starter just to make sure my 60-degree V-twin will start. It groans to life and settles into a nice idle. But it's still really cold, and I can hear idling truck engines everywhere as riders try to keep warm, huddled in the cabs. One rider gets his adrenaline running by crashing right next to me. Not on the track, but in the pits! He hopped on his bike to head over to tech inspection, and gave it too much throttle when pulling out of his slot. The rear end pops loose and his GSX-R1000 throws him off like yesterday's cowboy. The bike hits the ground and the throttle is pinned to the stops. The bike is spinning around, whacking the gearless rider on every spin. Finally it stops and the red-faced fellow hops to his feet and acts like nothing hurts, just like I would.

 

I head over to tech inspection and they give the bike a cursory look. I've done more than they ask for, because later days I have scheduled require safety wiring. So there's no way I can't pass, especially after seeing a few interesting specimens in line behind me.

 

Next is more shivering as I wait until the mandatory rider's meeting at 8:20 to explain all the things we've heard a million times but need to hear again. They run everything very efficiently and I'm already impressed. The passing rules make sense, too: anywhere you want as long as you don't get closer than 6 feet. I hate it when I can only pass on the outside, though as it turns out, I'm not likely to do it much today on the inside or outside.

 

Our group is first, so we're all suited up on idling bikes when the clock hits 9:00a.

 

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Thus begins the first of seven sessions, each lasting twenty minutes. Three in the morning and four in the afternoon. I look around, though, and realize that there are only about eight of us on the track, which is about one-third of our group. The rest have elected to do what they consider the smart thing and let the track warm up first.

 

Me, I'm thinking this is a good chance to begin learning the track without as much traffic and at slower speeds, which will theoretically let me find braking and turn-in markers. But even at very reduced speeds, this is a tad treacherous. The front and rear are dancing around, itching for grip that seems elusive. I nearly lose it a few times, and finally elect to go even slower.

 

And I do mean slower. I didn't pass a single soul in the first session, and when I got back to my pit, I have chicken strips about one and one-half inches wide. Duh. Why am I here again? Why did I buy this bike? Lots of crazy doubts.

 

The second session is better, though, as I learn the track a bit more. It's a very nice road course (just under two miles) that allows for a very soothing rhythm. There are some tricky turns, too, and I'm paying careful attention.

 

The straight is one of the longest on any road course in the US, and by the end you can hit 175 mph. I'm constrained by the rev limiter on a bike I'm trying to break in sensibly, so at 7,000 rpm I'm holding steady at 115 mph. But the bike is pulling like a SOB and clearly wants to be rung out. I know it'll do at least 160, but for now I'm getting passed on the straight by screaming inline fours that sound very angry, perhaps at Grandpa in the 'Stich.

 

The first turn is a pretty sharp right. Then drift under power to the outside and dive in to the second turn, also a right. Then the third turn, barely a turn, really, that also goes to the right.

 

Your speed is building again by this point, just in time for an uphill, long fourth turn to the left. You have to remember that this is the first time you've been on the left side of that cold tire, and a prudent throttle hand is critical. Especially because it tightens up right in the middle. Eventually I get the hang of turn four and hold the line as tightly as I can, even though the bike seems to resist obedience just a bit.

 

By the second session I'm starting to learn the track a bit more, stringing turns together instead of taking them separately. I only pass one poor sucker (the stories he must be telling on some other board), and my chicken strips are still there at the end of the session, but half the width. My lean angles are very conservative, and I haven't even bothered to put my knee pucks on. They are safely stowed in the back of the truck, where I know they'll remain all day. Here I am at the front--a rare occurence:

 

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Between sessions, I head over to turn nine to watch the advanced group. I recognize my pit neighbor, and he looks like poetry in motion out there. It's a brand new GSX-R750, and he's whipping that thing into shape. He's handing everyone's ass to them on a platter with effortless, deep cornering without a hint of line correction. After he pits, I introduce myself and probe his background a bit. Turns out he's Thom Lewis and won some senior WERA class last year. Figures. smile.gif But he's a really nice guy and we chat a fair amount. When I was out on one session, he was nice enough to call my Aprilia dealer (one of his sponsors) and tell James to take good care of me.

 

Some other people are making good time, too, though I shudder a bit at the layout of this particular turn. If you go down here, you are not likely to talk away under your own power. That's Thom on no. 502:

 

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There are four wrecks in the morning. A few of the bikes were demolished, but no one was seriously hurt. Meanwhile, I head out for my third and final session of the morning, and it starts to come together. I get to use all the rear tire and nearly all of the front. I'm learning the bike: throttle control, braking, shifting, etc. Most perplexing is the absolute necessity to keep my arms loose on the bars in a lean. The bike stiffens up more than I would expect if the technique isn't perfect, and so I have to keep telling myself to ride it appropriately or my margin starts to disappear. Over and over again I have to correct myself. This is definitely a quirk of the Tuono, exacerbated by the leverage in the bars.

 

It feels good and I'm glad I came, but I'm still fighting the bike too much and I'm not positive why. I talk to another riding buddy (Joe) on the other side that I'd done a lot of riding with at Barber (we recognized each other when we arrived) and he suggested that I hire a pro on the cold pit to take a look at the suspension. I'm not sure I want to spend the $50 just to be told I need a new spring or something, but I file that thought away.

 

Our fourth session, right after lunch, gets red flagged with a bad accident over in turn one. So I exit the track and decided that I'll give the suspension guy a shot: Superbike Italia, from Lyons, IL. He assures me that a suspension does not need to be "broken in" before dialing it in just right, and agrees to give it a thorough look. After about 25 mins of poking, prodding, and measuring, he pronounces it perfect. I ask for all the before and after settings for preload, compression, and rebound, and with that safely tucked in my pocket, I motor back to where I've pitted. By now the mess is cleaned up and they're announcing my fifth session.

 

I head out and by that long, lefthand fourth turn, I know I've found suspension nirvana. It is no longer fighting me and feels like a completely different bike. Sag doesn't take any brains to get right. Measure, compare, and adjust preload. But compression damping and rebound damping require expertise. There's no particular measurement for each--it's more about the rate at which they allow movement. You're looking for about one second, especially for rebound. Get it right, and the bike is compliant and tracks soooooo much better. This is particularly true when leaned over, as the shock movement axis is not perpendicular to the surface.

 

That, my friends, was the best $50 I have ever spent. And he confirmed that my average size will work fine on the standard springs, front and back. So I'm going to stick with the OEM pogos (they are good quality) and learn to ride again. Then maybe I'll get some fancy dancy things like Russell is using. Meanwhile, the added confidence in the handling had me passing six riders regularly. smile.gif

 

Anyway, it was a great start to the season. Thanks to John and Ruth for stopping by (some of these pictures are his), and also Tasker. And of course Russell, since we always seem to madly email back and forth via handhelds during our respective track days. smile.gif

 

I wasn't going fast enough to make any pictures all that noteworthy, so all I've got is one. This would look faster if I had my knee down. Really. No, I mean it. tongue.gif

 

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russell_bynum

Nice writeup, bro!

 

A few things really hit the mark:

Even though I arrived when the gates opened, pit lane was lined with very expensive rigs, race-only bikes, and snappy pit scooters. It's easy to be intimidated by all the nonsense, which frankly has very little to do with what happens on the track.

 

Definitely. Some of those guys with all that crap are actually pretty good. Some of them are awful and just had some money to spend. Around here the Willow Springs Motorcycle Club is a racing club that lots of people join. I used to get intimidated by the WSMC stickers on people's bikes ("Oohh...that guy's a racer, and he's in the intermediate group with me? Maybe I should be in the beginner group."), but I keep finding out that it doesn't mean squat. Yeah, some of those guys are scary fast. Some are just scary. Most are just average.

 

But even at very reduced speeds, this is a tad treacherous. The front and rear are dancing around, itching for grip that seems elusive. I nearly lose it a few times, and finally elect to go even slower.

 

That was our first session at Streets last December. Similar temps, too. After that guy went down in T3 right in front of me, I was taking it REALLY easy and still had a huge front-end slide about halfway through T3 on the first real lap. The cold air didn't bother me THAT much (I think adrenalin kept me warm), but the cold track was treacherous.

 

I'm constrained by the rev limiter on a bike I'm trying to break in sensibly, so at 7,000 rpm

 

OMG!!! 7K? You haven't even ridden that bike yet. 7K is when things start to get interesting. Wow...once you get it broken in, you're going to go nuts with all the power that's available.

 

And of course Russell, since we always seem to madly email back and forth via handhelds during our respective track days.

 

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I love that. It lets me live vicariously through you, and I like hearing the session-by-session updates since the emotion is still raw and the message is unedited.

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Firefight911

David,

 

Very nice write up! Thanks for the opportunity to live vicariously through your day at the track.

 

I really have to ask who it is that you feel the need to flip off in the last picture??

 

Thanks! thumbsup.gif

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Having you give your impressions for each of your track days is going to be like series of lessons for me. Please keep the reports rolling. If you publish all the chapters in one binding can you write off all the rides?

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For what it is worth, "Russell's" bike was broken in on a dyno in about 90 minutes, and the engine has been strong as hell since day one. I'm not sure I'd bother babying that bike, given your propensity for bike swapping, the ultra reliability of the engine, and the doubt cast on the concept of the slow break-in, anyway. Mine just got about 8 passes on a dyno, each one getting a little closer to 10K, before it ever left the shop under its own power. And Russell's right, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

 

Incidentally, I found that I definitely had to change my riding style a bit in order to get the most out of the Tuono. Sitting back with relaxed arms took too much weight off the front for confident corner entry and braking. Instead, I had to use a somewhat awkward feeling (initially) body position which scootched me forward on the tank, kept my body low over the bars, and gave me better feedback from the front end. The pictures in the other thread are from when I was just working things out on that bike, so they aren't a demonstration of how I was doing it by the end of my time with that bike. Folks who are built less 'compactly' than I will probably have to do different, anyway, and I think that applies to both Bounce and you, David.

 

I'm thinking we should try to do a naked bike track day. That'd be a blast! The only question is - where?

 

--sam

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Even though I arrived when the gates opened, pit lane was lined with very expensive rigs, race-only bikes, and snappy pit scooters. It's easy to be intimidated by all the nonsense, which frankly has very little to do with what happens on the track.

 

Definitely. Some of those guys with all that crap are actually pretty good. Some of them are awful and just had some money to spend. Around here the Willow Springs Motorcycle Club is a racing club that lots of people join. I used to get intimidated by the WSMC stickers on people's bikes ("Oohh...that guy's a racer, and he's in the intermediate group with me? Maybe I should be in the beginner group."), but I keep finding out that it doesn't mean squat. Yeah, some of those guys are scary fast. Some are just scary. Most are just average.

 

Yeah, remember the guy in a new Lexus SUV, pulling that slick aluminum trailer, with a shiny Mille and tire warmers...in Level 1? tongue.gif

 

OMG!!! 7K? You haven't even ridden that bike yet. 7K is when things start to get interesting. Wow...once you get it broken in, you're going to go nuts with all the power that's available.

 

I will be pronouncing the Tuono officially broken in after El Paseo. smile.gif

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I really have to ask who it is that you feel the need to flip off in the last picture??

 

To all BMW riders who think that the only braking system that requires only one finger sounds like "evil"! smile.gif

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Thanks, Sam. I have a lot to learn. But after a rough start, I left the track very enthused about what's ahead.

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StretchMark

I will be pronouncing the Tuono officially broken in after El Paseo.

 

Me too tongue.gifcool.gif

 

Was the suspension setup a one shot deal, or did he tweak it in between sessions?

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Was the suspension setup a one shot deal, or did he tweak it in between sessions?

 

He made it clear that I could stop back by and he would tweak it. The preload wouldn't have needed anything, but either damping setting might have.

 

We ought to play with Christine's FZ-6 at some point and get it dialed in.

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DCB,

 

Glad you had a good maiden outing on the new scoot! You're write-ups are always great - right on about both the factual and emotional. I still get those "am I sure I'm supposed to be here?" goosebumps every time I ride to a track in the morning - even after having done it for twenty-odd years now.

 

I have a feeling you'll get the right feel for the new ride pretty quick and it'll feel like second skin in no time at all.

 

I'm still jealous.

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Thanks. Let's not let 2006 expire without doing a track day together. Maybe pick something from Sportbike Track Time or NESBA? I'll show up with the Tuono all prepped for you, and I'll scoot behind on the GS. thumbsup.gif

 

I'm thinking Barber. smile.gif

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Thanks. Let's not let 2006 expire without doing a track day together. Maybe pick something from Sportbike Track Time or NESBA? I'll show up with the Tuono all prepped for you, and I'll scoot behind on the GS. thumbsup.gif

 

I'm thinking Barber. smile.gif

 

That might be too good an offer to pass on. I'll get back to you. thumbsup.gif

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Nice. Always enjoy your reports.

 

Now will the bike be broken in before VIR? I like the idea of you doing only 115 in the likely event I need to catch up!

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Nice. Always enjoy your reports.

 

Now will the bike be broken in before VIR? I like the idea of you doing only 115 in the likely event I need to catch up!

 

It'll be broken in by then, for sure. What bike will you be on?

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russell_bynum
Should be on the R6. It will be my first time on the track with a 4 cyl. bike. I'm hoping for a quick learning curve.

 

The big thing that keeps biting me with that...don't forget to shift. Your powerband is very narrow and very high in the RPM range, so you're all over the gearbox trying to keep the revs up.

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Should be on the R6. It will be my first time on the track with a 4 cyl. bike. I'm hoping for a quick learning curve.

 

If you get the urge, I'd be glad to swap for a session.

 

Like Russell said, the biggest thing is gear selection. Next biggest thing is lack of engine braking.

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Should be on the R6. It will be my first time on the track with a 4 cyl. bike. I'm hoping for a quick learning curve.

 

If you get the urge, I'd be glad to swap for a session.

 

Like Russell said, the biggest thing is gear selection. Next biggest thing is lack of engine braking.

 

Thanks. Maybe, but let's see. The last thing I need to worry about is trashing your brand new bike. Mine came pre-scared, so I'm not too worried about that. I do like trying new bikes though . . .

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Firefight911

Thanks. Maybe, but let's see. The last thing I need to worry about is trashing your brand new bike. Mine came pre-scared, so I'm not too worried about that. I do like trying new bikes though . . .

 

So how does a bike respond to being scared, as opposed to scarred? Does it wet itself by leaking oil or do the fork legs shake?

 

Sorry, could not resist a tempting morsel such as this. grin.gif

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So how does a bike respond to being scared, as opposed to scarred? Does it wet itself by leaking oil or do the fork legs shake?

 

Sorry, could not resist a tempting morsel such as this. grin.gif

 

Actually, what I wrote was that the bike was pre-scared, not scared.wink.gif Pre-scared only involves shaking of the forks. I'll find out soon enough, but very much hope that scared does not involve the discharge of any fluids. thumbsup.gif

 

Just so we're all clear though, here are photos of the scars taken when I bought the bike...

 

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I've since changed the numbers.

 

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David, when I hit the track, I'll look like this. Catch you there!

 

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David,

 

I'm in the process of deciding on my next track day. A friend of mine and I had decided on doing Ed Bargy's school to get our WERA tickets. I wouldn't mind doing some racing in LW Twins on my Ducati. Yeah, I'll lose, but that's not the point. I just want to have some fun. Always wanted to race.

 

He's since backed out for financial reasons, leaving me to decide what I want to do. I REALLY like Barber. It's the only track I've been on, so I wouldn't mind branching out, but I REALLY love Barber. Did I mention how much I enjoyed Barber??

 

Would love to do a track day with you and follow you around (if I could keep you in sight) to pick up some knowledge from someone who's been to a number of track days and learned from some of the masters.

 

My take on track days is this. For me, it's not about going fast. It's about developing skills. I would set out in a session and focus on one particular skill I wanted to hone. The speed takes care of itself. It's the best money I've spent on riding. Not only was it fun, but it gave me a huge amount of confidence and feel for what the bike was doing.

 

I can't wait to get back on the track again. It's the most fun I've ever had legally.

 

Wish I could attend El Paseo with you guys this weekend, but I'll be standing in a parking lot indoctrinating new riders to our wonderful sport.

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Chad,

 

If you want to ride the Duc around with other Ducs, check out the DESMO group on Yahoo Groups. They organize Ducati only track days. Also, BCM out of New England does too. Unfortunately, most of the track days are up in Louden, NH, so it's a big trip for you. I haven't been up there, but those folks seem to like it. At least you'll be evenly matched. One of these days I'm going to get the 750 up there.

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David,

 

I'm in the process of deciding on my next track day. A friend of mine and I had decided on doing Ed Bargy's school to get our WERA tickets. I wouldn't mind doing some racing in LW Twins on my Ducati. Yeah, I'll lose, but that's not the point. I just want to have some fun. Always wanted to race.

 

He's since backed out for financial reasons, leaving me to decide what I want to do. I REALLY like Barber. It's the only track I've been on, so I wouldn't mind branching out, but I REALLY love Barber. Did I mention how much I enjoyed Barber??

 

Would love to do a track day with you and follow you around (if I could keep you in sight) to pick up some knowledge from someone who's been to a number of track days and learned from some of the masters.

 

My take on track days is this. For me, it's not about going fast. It's about developing skills. I would set out in a session and focus on one particular skill I wanted to hone. The speed takes care of itself. It's the best money I've spent on riding. Not only was it fun, but it gave me a huge amount of confidence and feel for what the bike was doing.

 

I can't wait to get back on the track again. It's the most fun I've ever had legally.

 

Wish I could attend El Paseo with you guys this weekend, but I'll be standing in a parking lot indoctrinating new riders to our wonderful sport.

 

Chad, I share your interest. I'm still a bit new at this, but I've done enough of them (nearly 20 now) that I've figured out some of the basics, especially as they relate to what you wrote above. So a few tips, if I may:

 

a) Ride as many different tracks as you can. There's a big difference between learning a particular track and learning a track. What I mean is this: the first half of the first day is what uses your road reading skills, and those are immediately applicable to street riding. It's a tad frustrating because you can't get around very fast while you are learning a track, but processing all that information is a valuable skill to practice. So I've ridden six different tracks so far, and I have six more new ones scheduled this year. It's no different than flying lots of different airplanes so that you learn how to fly...and not just how to fly a particular aircraft.

 

b) Get good instruction before doing open track days. There are a lot of nuts in the latter, and there are also some really good riders who'll intimidate the hell out of you.

 

c) Pick the right level. It's better to be at the front of the intermediate pack than the tail of the advanced pack, partly because you learn a lot more from passing people than getting passed. And it builds confidence. Keep in mind that the "levels" vary a lot, too, and don't translate well. When I do a Code Level 4, I'm usually the second, third, or fourth fastest out of sixty riders. In a Sportbike Tracktime or NESBA group, (in a few months) I'll be about halfway back in the intermediate group until I get more skill under my belt.

 

d) Find a friendly, smooth, fast rider to learn from. Line up behind them on the grid and hang as long as you can. Watch what they do, and then talk to them about it later. Ask them to lead you around for a few laps. You'll find that other rides are eager to help and very friendly.

 

e) Get a lap timer or borrow mine (a cheap way is to mount a video camera you already have and use the time code). It's the best way to measure how consistently you are turning laps and how much improvement you are making. Set goals, even if just for yourself. My goal is to get into the 1:40s at Barber. You'd be amazed at how much work it is to trim each second off your time. I know this goes against your desired wish to work on technique, but trust me: that'll evaporate after a few sessions. Besides, some techniques require speed because you are (in part) training your reactions where there is less margin.

 

If you can swing a professional class financially, do Code. It's simply the best. Or if you prefer, I'd be glad to work with you for an entire day, including video. I enjoy teaching because I always learn a lot in the process. Bogart's is doing a cheap track day at Barber in the fall, and STT is always a great deal. Once you get qualified with Ed, too, you can do his really cheaply.

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russell_bynum

c) Pick the right level. It's better to be at the front of the intermediate pack than the tail of the advanced pack, partly because you learn a lot more from passing people than getting passed.

 

Definitely. Another thing that I noticed at my last track day, is the middle group was full of squids. The novice group had some really good riders, and some new-to-the-track riders...but very few egos. The race group is mostly people who know what they're doing (Except for one yahoo who showed up on a brand new Repsol replica with slicks...it turns out he just got the bike a few days ago and it is his first motorcycle. The bike went home in lots of small boxes. eek.gif ) The intermediate group was, from what I could tell, a bunch of guys who think they're fast, but really aren't. Their lines were all over the place and there were more crashes in that group than in the other two groups combined.

 

Lisa and I are both registered for the slowest group in all of our track days this year. I have fun passing, and it is good prctice. Plus, we'll be new at all of the tracks we're doing, and I know we'll be slow compared to the riders who know the track.

 

My advice: Start out in the slow group and if the organizers want to bump you up, fine. Otherwise, run in the slow group and work on your passing.

 

Passing is an awesome skill because it uses so many other skills...visual, throttle control, brakes, different lines, etc. All of these are great skills to have.

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  • 2 weeks later...
chadhargis

David,

 

I'd love to hook up with you for some knowledge transfer. You ride the way I aspire to ride, smooth and in control.

 

I've only done one track day, so I'm still very much a track newbie. I know one thing for sure, I'm hooked on riding at the track. Not so much for the speed (which is fun), but for the focus I can put on skill development. No cars, cops, dogs, etc. You get the opportunity to try the same corners over and over again and try different lines and get a feel for the bike. It's wonderful!

 

When I took Pridmore's class, he only ran two groups. "A" and "B". I started out in the "B" group as it was my first track day. We did a sighting lap at very slow speeds (maybe 40mph) that was lead by an instructor to show us the line. After that, the "A" group went out at full bore while the "B" group went to the classroom.

 

Once back on the track, we could go at our own pace. I began by riding my street pace, and was passing a lot of bikes. As I got more comfortable, I was passing 5 or 6 bikes in each turn (on the outside...inside passing was not allowed). An instructor passed me a tapped his tail indicating I should follow him. He wicked it up FAST! I mean REALLY fast for me. I did my best to keep him in sight and not go above my comfort level, but he ended up slowing down. Guess he was testing me or something. We got back in the pit, and he asked how many track days I'd done. I told him it was my first one, and he told me to ride with the "A" group, so I immediately jumped back on the bike to head out with the "A" group. Holy Moses, there were some fast guys. I felt like one of my MSF students out there getting passed in every turn. As the day progressed, I passed more bikes than passed me. My speed increased without me really trying. I just stayed focused and rode my own ride. I talked with the instructors between each session, and even asked Reg about turn 8, which was giving me fits.

 

It was the single best thing I've ever done to improve my riding. I don't think I'd be interested in doing an open track day right now. I want to hone my skills a lot more before I mix it up with track day veterans.

 

Right now, finances are playing a big part in keeping me off the track. Just can't afford to do more than one or two a year. But I'm relatively young, and I've got (hopefully) a lot of years of riding ahead of me.

 

I never get tired of riding, because you truly never stop learning and getting better.

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