What to expect on your first motorbike trackday
Taking a motorbike out on track is one of the best things you can do on two wheels, allowing you to explore the capabilities of your motorcycle in comparative safety and without putting your licence (and liberty) at risk.
It can also be a great way to blow off steam and get some spirited riding out of your system before heading back into the land of speed limits.
Things to consider before your first trackday
- Planning your trackday
- Motorbike servicing
- Brakes and tyres
- Riding gear and leathers
- Tyre warmers
- Positive mental attitude
- What tools should I take to a trackday?
- What to eat and drink on a trackday
- Listen to the right advice
- Using slick tyres on a trackday
- Video: What to expect on your first trackday
Get the basics planned as far ahead as possible. Book the date itself, and a day off work – plus the day before if you need to travel and stay the night. Book accommodation and van hire if you need them.
If your bike requires servicing or parts (which we’ll come to), do it a minimum of a fortnight before. Dealers and other specialists are busy in summer, you don’t want to get caught out. And make sure your kit fits.
Don't forget, you'll also need to ensure you have valid motorbike trackday insurance.
Consider vital servicing
Your bike will see two hours of full-throttle hammer, so make sure it’s in good shape. Ensure it’s well within major service intervals for jobs like valve clearances, and its vital fluids are in good condition as well as filled sufficiently.
Be confident that your chassis bearings, bushes and seals are in good condition, and don’t put up with dodgy suspension – seek advice, or sort it.
Check your brakes and tyres
Brake pads, decent fluid, lines in good order, and calipers with freely moving pistons are a must. Don’t skimp on tyres – sports or track tyres are helpful, and leaving on an old set to ‘finish off’ is a terrible idea.
Obtain track tyre pressures to suit: set cold pressures at the start of the day before you ride, then check again straight off the track against recommended ‘hot’ pressures.
Look after yourself
A helmet with ACU gold-standard approval, armoured track boots and decent gloves are a must. Good leathers with CE-approved shoulder, elbow, knee armour are essential. Two- piece, zipped-together suits are permitted but a one-piece is better.
One final word: using old, tired gear so you can save your new gear ‘for best’ is madness: protect yourself as best you can.
Don't rely on tyre warmers
Warmers are a benefit, especially for track-specific tyres with high operating temperatures. But they’re not essential: going straight out of pitlane at full speed isn’t wise when riders around you will be going at warm-up pace – even racers take a lap at the start of each session to get their eye in. By all means use them, but don’t rely on them or assume them to be mandatory.
Have a positive mental attitude
Leave the following at home: egos, timing gear, nerves, exuberance. None will help. Treat it as a day spent enjoying your bike. Build up as the day goes on – work on lines, braking points, and being smooth on the controls.
Trying to prove a point, or demonstrating your machismo usually ends badly. A laid-back, methodical approach will give you a more enjoyable day.
Take the right tools
If you want to experiment with suspension settings, take a C-spanner and tools for damping/preload adjusters. A rear paddock stand can be handy, and a front if you are taking tyre warmers.
Feed and hydrate yourself
Leave energy drinks at home. Hydrating sports drinks are good, but plenty of water does the job fine. Anything else isn’t really helping – by all means have a morning coffee on the way in, but don’t drink it all day.
Eating little and often is better than three big feeds. Fruit is a good snack to keep you fuelled. Avoid the temptations on offer in the stodge-laden track-side cafe.
Listen to the right advice
There will be no shortage of advice flying around, but not all of it will be coherent. Ask about a session with an instructor, but suss them out beforehand to see if their attitude suits yours, as it could be a way of absorbing years of hard-won knowledge in the space of 20 minutes.
If possible, give yourself a session to find your way around the circuit before taking instruction as you don't want to waste valuable tuition time learning the track.
Do I need to use slick tyres on a trackday?
Not that long ago, a set of slick tyres on a track bike said that you were a pro racer and was generally accompanied by a pair of battered leathers, thousand-yard stare and a limp.
However, with the trackday market now a big money business, tyre firms are offering what they call ‘trackday slicks.’ And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to roll out on a set of slicks as not only do they look the dog’s on your bike, they offer the ultimate when it comes to outright grip.
I’m happy to admit that when I’m close enough to a race bike on display, I stick my fingernail into its slicks just to see how soft they are, but I’ve not ridden on them in anger. Can they really offer more grip than full-on sports road rubber?
Time to find out as, with a trackday Honda CBR600RR armed with a set of Metzeler Racetec RR CompK slicks (when I saw the tyre wall marked with ‘soft’ I couldn’t resist submerging a fingernail in them just to check...), I set off around the Snetterton 300 circuit.
I’m no racer, but despite the CompK being constructed using a compound that works at a lower temperature than a ‘race’ slick, there is still a bit of rigmarole when it comes to using them.
For a start it is recommended you heat them up for 45 minutes beforehand on tyre warmers at 80°C (you can run them from cold) and then set their pressures (32F, 28R) with the tyres hot. Fairly obviously that requires not only a set of tyre warmers, but also paddock stands and access to an electrical point, not to mention several sets of hands to get the bike safely up on the stands.
As my pit crew (my wife) decided bed was a better option than setting off for Norfolk at 5am, I was left a touch lacking but there is always someone on hand to help in a trackday pit garage.
But in some ways this procedure builds the excitement as putting on tyre warmers makes you feel like a MotoGP mechanic (there is a technique to rotating the wheel while keeping tension on the warmer to ensure it covers the wheel that, once mastered, adds to the illusion) and up on its stands the bike looks super-cool.
While I have no issue using road tyres on a trackday, you do need to give them a few laps to warm up. The problem is that with sessions generally lasting 20 minutes, and red flags irritatingly common, you can lose out on track time.
A set of warmers means you are ready to rock from the first corner. That said, it is quite a pain trying to remove warmers and paddock stands while wearing full leathers, which is presumably why Rossi has a team of men to do it for him.
Out on track and a few tentative laps to knock the shine off and the biggest surprise is the stability. So often you see race bikes snaking in a straight line (Marco Melandri in WSB!) but the CBR was rock solid on Snetterton’s straight and never shook its head once. But who goes to a trackday for straights? It’s the corners that provide the thrills and that’s where slicks rock!
Riding on slicks encourages you to push harder than you would on road tyres. I’m not a fan of dragging the front brake all the way to an apex, but knowing I had a slick on the front gave me the confidence to explore this technique more and that resulted in my braking markers moving later and later and my corner speed increasing as a result.
And once leant over the grip levels offered are staggering, so much so that on a long corners such as Coram or Williams you keep the throttle pinned and the only limiting factor is your bravery. It’s probably tempting fate, but fitting slicks on a fairly low powered bike such as a CBR makes it feel virtually uncrashable! And a scraped fairing hints that towards the end of the day I was pushing on a fair bit. Or I’m too fat for the suspension.
Spending a full trackday on slicks was a real eye opener as previously I’d generally assumed anyone using them was just a show-off. While in reality there is little difference in outright grip between a slick and high-end sports road tyre, I don’t really see why you wouldn’t use them on a trackday.
Obviously, you need to van your bike to the circuit, but tyre warmers are a sensible investment for any trackday fan and in terms of life slicks generally last as long as treaded tyres. But, if I am being honest the main benefits of riding on slicks for anyone aside from MotoGP riders is purely mental, but by the same token riding a bike fast is 99% in the head so this isn’t a bad thing. And there is simply nothing cooler than seeing your bike in the pit garage all ready to rock on a set of toasty hot slicks.
Video: What to expect on your first trackday
As a recent convert to sportsbikes, Staff Writer, Ben Clarke, had never ridden on track before. Since he is running the MCN Fleet 19 Honda CBR650R, he thought he’d better get himself booked onto a trackday as soon as possible.
The novice only day at Snetterton with MSVT seemed like the perfect opportunity. You can see how he got on in the video below.