Life on bikes

Your first track day on a bike

Your first track day is probably going to be the start of a long and expensive love affair. Here’s how to make sure the first date goes as well as possible.

Hands up, in the week up to my first track day I was bricking it.

Would I bin the bike? Would someone run into me? Would my knackered old Daytona 955i be up to it? The worse thought: would I be quick enough and not be the last one back to the pits?

By the end of the first session half of those fears had gone. By the end of the last one, you literally could not wipe the ‘2nd fastest in the session smug bastard’ smile off my face.

And yes, that’s me at the top of the page, then aged 46, on the old banana bike for the first time at Brands Hatch. Blissfully unaware I’d got the bike so far over I was welding the exhaust joints together…

Whatever bike you ride, however you ride, whatever age you are, everyone here at Biker and Bike urges you to do a track day at least once before you hang up the keys.

You’ll become a better rider

Pretty much the first thing you’ll learn on a track day, and you’ll learn a lot, is that your riding skills will improve significantly. How you use speed, your awareness, your technique and your level of control over the bike will come on leaps and bounds, even if you already have 20 years in the saddle.

When you are choosing a track day provider you’ll be asked to choose a group to go into (events are split into six or so 15-20 minute sessions of equally matched riders: Novice, Intermediates and Fast groups).

Choose novice, even if you’re always the first one of your mates to come down off the Mountain Course at the TT’s Mad Sunday. The groupings refer to the amount of experience you have on track, not your ability to go fast. If you are noticeably talented and fast, you may be moved into a higher group.

Once you’ve plucked up the courage to book, how do you prepare well enough so that you can leave nerves at home and have what will be one of the most memorable days of your life?*

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Prep before you arrive

I’m a dickhead. On my first day, I realised only once I was actually at the track that I hadn’t even checked my tyre pressures, let alone the chain. Do this.

In fact give your bike as good a going-over as your mechanical knowledge will allow. If you don’t know how to do certain things then look at our ‘Why, when, how?’ articles. If we haven’t covered something yet (there are only so many hours in the day), look it up on YouTube.

This includes your gear. On UK tracks you’ll need an ACU approved full face helmet. Look for the gold sticker on the back. You’ll also need full leathers – either one-piece or a two-piece that connects the trouser and jacket with a zip fully round the waist, not three-quarters. Some tracks and some marshals may let you on track with a zip that has a 6” gap, but they’ll insist you put some racing seat foam in the gap. Tip: You can also use the, until now, otherwise useless foam back protector that came with your jacket if you don’t want to spend £10-£15 on the seat foam.

UK tracks won’t let you on in textiles… That goes for the gloves too, which should have at least a few inches of gauntlet to cover the gap before the jacket.

Boots is down to you, but you are better off if you have race-style boots with sliders. Borrow a pair if you don’t, but don’t stress if you can’t get race boots.

R1 at Brands Hatch
I decided the 955i wasn’t fast enough

Prep for the track

Before the day itself, watch onboard laps of the circuit you are going to. Even if you can only find car ones. This helps you know the track sooner and means you can dispel unfamiliarity (and it’s associated nerves) and get to work on your technique quicker. There are bundles of them on YouTube and a guy called Mike ‘Spike’ Edwards does very professional track tuition videos, if you can afford to splash out. He has some tasters on YouTube. You’ll hear him say “On the gas or on the brakes… anything else is a waste of time” quite a lot…

If you are keen to hit the track running, there is a fantastic track days resource at lifeatlean.com run by Dan Netting, who is not only a cracking little writer but an absolute gold mine of useful info on all things track day related. He’s also got pretty much the best series of articles on setting up your suspension that you are likely to find.

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On the day

Tip: Tank up before you get to the circuit. And make sure you brim it. The on-circuit fuel prices, when they have refuelling, is eye-watering. Expect to pay at least 20% premium at many tracks.

The golden rule is PAY ATTENTION to the instructors during the pre-session briefing. Even if there is a fittie in the tightest leathers you ever did see.

In between their banter (it’s hard to meet a TDI who isn’t proper) they will give you tips on what tyre pressures to run (makes a MASSIVE difference), how to spot the markers for braking and turn-in points and so on. If you think you may have missed something, grab them in the breaks (there are a lot during the day) and get their free advice.

You can also book a session with an instructor for around £25-30. I haven’t done one but mates that have say they’re worth it.

On a normal track day you’ll get around five, 15-20 minute sessions. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but by the end of the day you’ll be knackered and very glad of the 40-minute breaks between sessions.

At some tracks, you may have guys selling tyres and doing suspension set-ups. They are a great source of info. And if you think your set-up isn’t quite right then spend the money with them. Speak to any track day addict or fast road rider and they tell you the number one way to improve both your bike and your riding is to get the suspension set up for your body weight.

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On the track

We’ll leave it to the instructors to tell you how to ride, the rules of the track and what all the flags mean. But we will give you a heads up on a few tips they’ll give you:

Noise: If you have loud cans, take your baffles. You will be tested, with a limit of normally between 100 and 105db at standstill and lower during a drive-by (there are noise testing units by the side of the track).

If you are going to a small track or an evening session when the parts guys might not be there, taking some wadding if you are really concerned about volume, so you can pack the mufflers.

Tracks take noise very seriously these days due to issues with neighbours. They only get so many days they can run non-race events per year and if they infringe the agreements they have in place with local councils they can lose days and even the right to hold track days altogether. They will take you off track if they think you are being excessive (saying this, my R1 is stupid loud and it still passed. Let’s just say we’ve tipped you the nod on this one).

Mirrors: You aren’t going to need them so tape them up, fold them in or like me remove them altogether. If you leave them in place you will be distracted at some point by the loon coming up behind going into Paddock, Copse or the Hairpin at Caddy P.

We said we wouldn’t go into the rules, but this one is worth knowing to calm your pre-day nerves: The emphasis is on the rider behind you to maintain a safe distance and speed. Leaving you free to concentrate on what’s in front.

Tyre pressures: Probably the most effective thing you can do is drop your tyre pressures to give you more contact area between rubber and tarmac. Your tyres will heat up, considerably, and that heat will increase the tyre pressure, potentially over inflating them.

By how much you deflate them is down to the type of tyre and bike. If there’s no tyre guy on the day, ask the instructors or approaches someone with lots of racing stickers on their bike. They love tyre questions. And don’t forget to inflate your tyres again for the ride home.

Speedo: Tape up your speedo. It’s a distraction and you don’t need it anyway as your revs, gear selection and engine note will be telling you what you need to know. The number of times B&B’s Paul has said he’s nearly forgotten to brake for a corner because he’s overjoyed he’s spotted’s he doing 150mph down the straight, it’s surprising he’s still walking.

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The number plate thing: You’ll notice some people taping up or even removing their numberplate. Some say it’s so that the rumoured insurance spotters can’t take your number down and put it against your file.

For that same reason, others think if they have a spill and want to make a claim and say it happened on a road instead, they won’t be presented footage of their bike, numberplate intact on track.

Personally, I remove my ‘plate so if I do bin the bike, at least I won’t have to deal with a cracked numberplate for the ride home (assuming the bike still goes!).

What if you’re not the fastest?

Who cares? Don’t even go there. It’s your first track day. The slowest guy in our group of regular track-dayers is nearly always the first to sign up for the next event – he loves it. The point of a track day, especially your first one, isn’t really to go fast.

It’s to enjoy being on a track, getting faster each time if you can, maybe burning a slower guy every now and then. It’s not about trying to be Rossi after five laps.

Neither is the point to get your knee down in the first session.

Yes, we all want to get the chicken strips dealt with and the sliders good and scratched. I was desperate too, but just like my driving test, it didn’t go right until the second attempt.

Work your way up to it. You want smooth progression to the point when you are taking corners fast enough to make sense of why your knee goes down in the first place (in my case to give the tarmac a friendly nudge to get me upright when I’ve over-cooked it!).

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What if you really don’t want to bin your bike?

You can hire one. There are a number of track day motorbike hire companies and we’ve rounded them up here. It ain’t cheap compared to running your own bike, but then if you don’t want to down your £18,000 Ducati then a couple of hundred quid is well worth the piece of mind.

If you’re worried about having to pay a high excess to hire a track bike, get a separate Excess Insurance policy.

Make sure you’re sorted:

Nerves aren’t ideal, so the best way to deal with them is to be prepared. Because, item by item, that will give you more confidence when you’re out there. As will steady progress – not overcooking it on the first bend…

*We guarantee a track day is one of the best things you’ll ever do.

More advice on track days:

Relieving anxiety about your first track day
Where to spend your money as a new track day rider

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The Author

Ian Malone

Ian Malone

Ian is the Editor and a co-founder of Biker & Bike.

He is obsessed about bikes to the point that he often starts conversations with new people by saying, "Please don't get me onto the subject of bikes. We'll be here all day."

Inevitably, the next question asked is nearly always, "What bike have you got, then?"

He's 'down' to three bikes at the moment:

'97 Triumph Daytona T595
'11 Triumph Tiger 800
'13 Triumph Speed Triple R

He's not even a huge Triumph fan, it just turns out that's how the stable is filled at the moment.

Having been on every continent except Antartica (as long as Cuba kind-of qualifies as South America) he is a big fan of travelling. However, to his deep but hopefully not eternal shame, he's only ever explored Europe on two-wheels and only started doing this a few years ago.

His main mission now is to explore as much of the world on two wheels as possible, at the same time as trying out as many new motorcycling experiences as he can and go on to inspire other bikers to do the same.