Bucketlist: Ride a classic banked circuit
Most bikers have experience of race circuits, either through racing, trackdays or simply spectating. It’s an experience that rings a far greater appreciation of the adrenaline-fuelled thrills and dynamism motorcycles are capable of when unrestricted by the rules of the road.
A lucky few have also sampled circuits that, due to unique corners or topography, deliver a physical rush you get simply nowhere else. Cadwell’s ‘Mountain’ leap springs to mind, or Brands’ heart-in-mouth drop down Paddock Hill or, further afield, Laguna’s infamous Corkscrew. But the most visceral, extreme, prolonged (and, sadly, increasingly rare, primarily for safety reasons) sensation of all is surely provided by ‘banked’ circuits.
Historic tracks like Daytona, Montlhery, Sitges, Monza, and Britain’s own Brooklands are the stuff of legend primarily for their ultra-fast, big radius, sharply banked turns, which deliver speed and G-forces that confound normal biking dynamics. Any rider who raced Daytona in the Nineties will tell of both the exhilaration and danger the speed and tyre-destroying forces the banking brought. And though that unique dynamism and danger was also ultimately the death-knell for most banked tracks – the Daytona 200 was downgraded in the Noughties while Monza’s banked section was abandoned in 1969, both due to safety concerns – enough remains for you to get a taste of what all the drama was about.
You can still visit Daytona and Monza but Brooklands in Weybridge and Sitges near Barcelona provide the most historic banked ‘buzz’ – up to a point. Both originally ovals, Brooklands, famously, which was the world’s first purpose-built banked race circuit in 1907, featured banking over 30 feet high and was infamously bombed and built over during WW2. However, significant sections of the track survive, it houses the Brooklands Museum, provides guided tours and its Car Rides Team offers sedate rides around what remains of the track. The Autodrom Terramar in Sitges is another oval. Built in 1923 it features two high-banked concrete turns. Sadly it was abandoned and quickly fell into decay after the Spanish Civil War. Renovations began recently and, although not yet open to the public – while there are hopes to do so in 2021 – it is increasingly used for corporate events and as a photo location.
I was fortunate to sample it on the Honda CB1100 press launch (main picture) and was blown away by both its magnitude (the banks are so steep it’s almost impossible to climb to the top) and, during a 50mph regulated, escorted lap, by the simply bizarre yet thrilling (and bumpy) experience: as the speed rises you start climbing the wall and are steering right to maintain height and position yet you’re going LEFT round the anti-clockwise track; the bumps in the ancient concrete exaggerate the speed and you quickly lose sense of where you are on the circuit. What it was like to race there ‘back in the day’ I can barely imagine…
But there is one other banked circuit you can ride that must be added to any biking to-do list. The Autodrome de Linas-Montlhery, just south of Paris, is the only complete 1920s-style banked European circuit still in use. Unusually it’s constructed on a steel girder structure (rather than dug out of the ground), and is an oval comprised of two steeply banked turns and two short straights. Although no longer certified for racing, since 2010 the circuit has been approved for demonstrations and classic-type event use. Revival car and bike events have been held regularly ever since, allowing participants to ride the unique circuit and, for 2021, the two-wheeled highlight is set to be the Café Racer Festival, currently scheduled for June 20-21. Put it on you bucket list, and ‘ride the banking’ while you still can.
Joseph Fallon, 23, owns a pair of Royal Enfields and a Suzuki VanVan
"The Brooklands banking is, from both a historical and an almost spiritual perspective, a vitally important part of Motorsport. It was the first purpose-built racing circuit in the world.
"In its heyday, between the wars, it was a place of great technological innovations with both cars and bikes coming along in leaps and bounds. Nowadays it’s a petrolheads’ paradise with both two and four-wheeled offerings to whet most appetites. Hearing a pre-war racing single fire up and take to what’s left of the banking must be one of the purest and most original sounds in motoring – enough to give you goosebumps!
"Banked circuits were already considered a bit old hat by 1939 when Brooklands closed for good, but it is wonderful to see what’s left being preserved because banked circuits are the very foundations on which spectator motorsports were built. It’s vital that people keep visiting so that the museum can continue to preserve the banking to be enjoyed for generations to come. It is the true birthplace of motorsport in the UK."