How to prepare your bike for a trackday
30 November 2006 14:03
As road riders we are quick to learn our limits. Road furniture (eg telegraph poles, hedges etc), other road users and the law help curb our enthusiasm for riding fast. But on an open track, where there is no oncoming traffic or imposed speed limit, your bike can be ridden faster and harder. That’s all great for improving your riding... but can your bike deal with it?
What might need attention?
Tyres, brakes and suspension get worked harder on a race circuit. Small changes to the way a bike is prepared will make a massive difference to how it handles on the track, which makes for safer riding. You can also protect your bike in case the worst happens.
Is there a golden rule for novice track riders?
MCN’s rule is this: take your time. A trackday means you’ll ride all day. What’s the point in going hell for leather straight from the off? There’s a good chance you’ll make a mistake or get tired too early, and pay the price. Learn the track in the morning, find out how much further you and the bike can go and then put it all together for the afternoon. Another invaluable piece of advice is making sure the bike is in good condition – of an MoT standard is the absolute minimum.
So does that mean more expense?
Aside from the actual price of the trackday and the fuel you’ll be using, it doesn’t have to be any more costly than riding on the road. Your suspension and tyre pressures can be altered easily without cost. However, as with anything that improves your machine, either for safety or speed reasons (crash protectors, sticky tyres etc) the further you go with it, the more it’s going to cost you.
1. Constant acceleration and braking from speed causes tyres to heat up above normal road riding temperatures. This in turn raises the tyres’ air pressure and it’ll be like riding on over inflated tyres – harsh ride and lack of grip, instability and rapid tyre wear. Front and rear tyre pressures should be reduced beforehand…
2. But do it when the tyres are cold. Different makes of tyres need different track pressures. If this info isn’t available (perhaps because you have a dedicated road tyre) then try 32psi front, 36psi rear for your first time out. Remember to put the tyres back up to stock road pressures before riding on the road.
3. Circuits are grippier than road surfaces but it means nothing in the wet if your tyres are worn. Worn treaded tyres don’t clear surface water, so hard braking even when upright is risky. Dedicated trackday goers might run slicks (treadless sticky rubber) but they’ll also have wet (heavily treaded tyres) tyres on hand.
4. Check the condition of your brakes. If they are near the service wear limits then it’s a good chance they won’t last a day of increased and hard braking. If they have to be replaced don’t go for cheap tat, buy good quality kit that’s suitable for the road and trackdays. Stock brake pads are good enough.
5. Brake fluid should be changed yearly to retain braking feel and efficiency. Change it, as the last thing you want at a track is the lever coming back to the bars. If the bike’s over three years old, seriously think about replacing prone-to-bulging rubber brake hoses with braided steel hoses, for better bite.
6. As your pace picks up, your suspension might struggle to cope with late braking, constant acceleration and quick cornering – handling feels loose and wobbly. If your suspension has any form of adjustment then gradually firm it up until the bike feels more stable. Owners’ handbooks usually state ideal settings for fast riding.
7. Moving the front brake and clutch lever mounts to a comfortable, easy-to-reach position will prevent tiredness and muscle cramp in the lower arms, both of which break concentration. Loosen the mounts’ fasteners and, while sat on the bike, position them so the levers fall in line with the ends of outstretched fingers.
8. Taping up the headlight, rear light, mirrors and indicators serves two purposes. 1) headlights won’t dazzle anyone if they look in their un-taped mirrors, brake lights can’t cause panic braking and indicators accidentally switched on won’t confuse those behind. 2) It minimises the amount of debris to fly off the bike if it goes down.
9. There’s an argument as to whether footpeg hero blobs, or bank angle sensors as they’re officially known, should be removed or not. They can damage the track and they might baulk you the first time they touch down, but at least you’ll know you’re close to scraping something else more rigid if you lean further.
10. The engine will get revved higher and for longer. Consequently engine oil may be burnt off with use. Make sure the oil level is correct – check as per the owner’s manual at the start of the day and check as the track sessions progress. The same applies to the engine coolant level.
11. Check fasteners around the bike for tightness as the additional vibes will ultimately cause loose fixings to fall off. If you’ve never been hit in the upper body by a bouncing 100mph nut or bolt then take it from us – it’s not far off like being shot. Race bikes have many fasteners drilled and lock-wired to the chassis.
12. Crash protectors aren’t expensive – R&G Racing (01420-521100) list SV650 protectors as £70 a pair with fitting kit – pretty good considering the savings they can give by preventing damage to panels, frame and engine. They aren’t difficult to fit and this can be done in less than an hour in most cases. Highly recommended.