Bike Track Day Preparations

Before going out on track with the Daytona for the first time, these were some of the things that I needed to attend to:

  1. Basic Maintenance
  2. Crash Protection
  3. Tyres
  4. Suspension
  5. Other Odds and Sods

Basic Maintenance

This involves checking the following:

  • Lubricate and adjust drive chain tension
  • Tyre condition and pressures (what pressures are you going to run on track?)
  • Check brake disks and pads (will they last for the track day?)
  • Fluid levels; brakes, engine oil and coolant
  • All fasteners and fixings
  • Look for any oil leaks

Sounds obvious, but it’s easy to overlook these basic checks. On a track day the bike will be worked hard so it’s worth giving it a thorough check up. Depending on what needs doing, it shouldn’t take more than 15-30 minutes of your time, and it is a worthwhile investment ahead of a day spent on the race track.

Crash Protection

If you intend doing more than one track day and you’re intent on learning to ride faster (which means that you’ll be pushing yourself out of your confort zone) then you should probably accept the fact that you will come off the track at some point.

On that basis, you might want to try ensuring that you cause the minimum amount of damage to the bike. What tends to get most commonly broken in a crash are the fairings, tank, levers and pegs. The fairing and tank are big ticket items while the other parts tend to be (much) less expensive.

My long term plan is to remove the fairing, headlamps, indicators and other non-track day items from the Daytona next spring and replace them with a “cheaper” race fairing. In the meantime, adding crash protectors to reduce damage caused to the bike seems like a sensible precaution.

As a result, I visited the T3 web site and order a complete set of engine covers and protective mushrooms. While these won’t actually protect the fairing or tank they should help reduce the total repair bill should I be unlucky enough to take a tumble on track.

I had also been debating the merits of buying carbon fibre tank protectors but figured I would be better off getting a replacement second hand tank from ebay for around £100 (US$ 160) when I needed one compared to spending £90 (US$ 144) for the protectors that might never be needed.

Tyres
Tyre choices are very subjective. Because my on track riding is not good enough to warrant race tyres (yet), I wanted a compromise tyre that would meet the following objectives:

  • Soft compound for track use
  • Safe to use on the road (riding to/from track days)
  • Good handling characteristics in the wet

I spent a few hours researching using the internet before finally decided to on a pair of Michelin Pilot 2CT tyres; a 120/70 ZR17 TL 58(W) for the front and a 180/55 ZR17 TL 73(W) for the rear. The 2CT is a two compound tyre that’s been around for a few years, but which consistently has good reviews. I was looking for a tyre that would be good on track but that would also work well in cold wet weather … we get a lot of that here in the UK! The Michelin Pilot 2CT seems to meet all of my tyre objectives.

For the road I run 36psi front and rear. On a warm track day, I’d drop the tyre pressures to 32 front and 30 rear (depending on the temperature). On a cold or wet day, I’d run my normal road pressures as the tyres are unlikely to generate enough heat to warrant reducing their pressures.

Suspension
Apart from the manufacturer’s handbook for your bike, there are a multitude of guides on the internet on how to set up your suspension. The first thing to do is to note your current settings for compression, rebound and (if you have it) high speed damping. Write them down! Then note the full range for each of these settings (normally a number of clicks).

To adjust your preload, you will need to “switch off” all your damping in order to determine the correct preload setting for your suspension. This is really a two man job and it is best to consult a reputable source on how to do this.

Because I’m not skilled at suspension adjustment, I paid a race mechanic to help me set up my suspension.

It turns out that I’m too light for the springs in my front forks, so those will have to be replaced at some point in the future.

Once you’ve set the preload correctly, you’ll need to adjust the damping settings back to a sensible value. Typically the middle of your range setting is a good starting point. It’s worth getting the suspension set up correctly because along with tyre pressures, it can make a MASSIVE difference to how your bike feels on track.

Other Odds and Sods

The other thing that I urgently needed to add to the bike were a set of tank grips. These are a sticky polymer pad that sticks to each side of the tank where your legs and knees sit. They are vital to helping you to support yourself on the bike using your legs, especially for track use. Without them trying to get any kind of purchase from the tank is nigh on impossible in leathers!

With all this done the bike was ready for its (first?) track day. Will I be as ready?

Got the bug… now get the bike

I ride a Triumph Street Triple daily and because I rely on it for my commute, I didn’t fancy damaging it on a track day. Also, having ridden the CBR600RR I realised that there is quite a big difference between a street bike and an out and out sports bike.

I know people use street bikes on track but I figured that I wanted to ride on a sports bike. To this end I had to decide what size and make of bike to buy. I’ve ridden litre plus sports bikes in the past and decided that I would prefer something smaller like a 600cc bike; even if it meant a slightly more cramped riding position for my 6’2” (187cm) body.

Although I really enjoyed riding the CBR600RR, I decided that I wanted something that had a bit more character but not so exotic that it was going to break the bank. Secondhand was my best option as I couldn’t really justify paying new bike prices for something that wouldn’t get ridden that often or which might get totalled on track.

The obvious choice for me was the Triumph Daytona 675. The reviews for this bike have been consistently good for several years, and having ridden a Street Triple for a while, I could vouch for the fact that the engine is amazing – it just makes power virtually from tickover and pulls like a train all the way to the redline.

Having decided on the bike, I started to scour the small ads to see what I could find. I researched for about three weeks weighing up age, mileage, condition and extras. I had already discounted the pre-09 Daytona models as the 09 and later models had a taller first gear, lighter wheels, better suspension and a more powerful engine. I also didn’t want something that was too old or which had high mileage.

Prices from main dealers for the ’09 and later model Daytonas varied between £5,500 and £6,500 (approx US$8,800 – 10,400 in October 2012). Some private ones were cheaper but I was looking for something clean with no damage history.

One evening I was researching Daytona parts online when I spotted a black 2010 Daytona with 3,000 miles on the clock. I rang the seller the next day and we did a deal over the phone. The following day I jumped on a train with my leathers and helmet in a bag and set off for the North of England to collect the bike.

The bike looked better in the flesh than in the photos, and although I didn’t really want a black bike, I had to admit that it looked great. I fired it up and the exhaust barked into life – the menacing growl at tickover was aided by the fact that the baffle had been removed from the Arrow slipon can. The sound of the exhaust was pure intoxication!

After riding a street bike (Street Triple) for nearly three years, getting on the Daytona and reaching forward to the handlebars was a bit of a shock. I pulled away with trepidation as I didn’t really feel 100% in control, but within a few miles, I slowly began to start getting used to the riding position despite the fact that both my back and wrists were beginning to complain. As the discomfort grew, I seriously began to question my sanity about buying a sports bike after all.

Riding through town and 30mph roads was pure hell; offset only by the fact that the exhaust note was attracting much (admiring?) attention from roadside bystanders, which was quite amusing.

If I thought the exhaust sounded good at tickover, it was nothing compared to the symphonic howl that develops from 4,500 RPM upwards. I think that this is due to a combination of the airbox flapper and the exhaust EXUP valves opening fully which allows the engine to breathe better. The Daytona makes power from low down in the rev range, but from 6,000 RPM onwards, the bike literally propels itself forwards with an urgency that you just need to experience yourself to understand.

Once I got out of town onto the A roads, I was able to increase my speeds significantly enough that the wind started to take some of the pressure off my wrists. This bike was made for fast sweeping A roads – it feels so taut and planted that you just want to keep increasing your speed as you drive through corners.

After a few miles of A roads, I still had over 160 miles of motorway to negotiate to get home. Although at the time, I hadn’t really clocked the double bubble screen on the bike but I seriously began to appreciate it as the speedo veered past 70 mph. Even so, with my body complaining about the cold and cramps from the riding position, I elected to stop every half hour or so, to break up the monotony of the journey.

Apart from comfort, another area where the Daytona differs significantly from the Street Triple is the quickness of its steering. Initially it feels like it wants to fall into corners – this makes for really quick steering which can be a little disconcerting in the wet and in slow speed corners. The fact that the front tyre was slightly squared off on the bike didn’t help much but at least that could be fixed with a set of tyres quickly enough. The other main differences between the Street Triple and the Daytona were in the suspension and brakes; on the Daytona the brakes are phenomenally powerful. The suspension too is much tauter than the Street Triple’s while still being quite compliant and forgiving.

After nearly 200 miles of riding, I arrived home. I was elated from riding such an amazing machine although that was slightly tempered by concern that I might have driven through one or two speed cameras on the wrong side of the speed limit!

In summary, not only has riding a Daytona confirmed everything that I read about it in reviews but the one I bought seems to be a really tidy and clean example and I am really happy with its purchase.

Track Day Economics

Having decided that I wanted to do more track days in order to improve my riding skills, the question was how would I actually go about doing this.

I have a road bike that I use for daily commuting. While I could have used that on track I couldn’t really afford to have it off the road for any length of time following a track mishap.

That left three choices:

  1. Go to a race school where the bike is provided by the school
  2. Go on a track day and rent a 600 for the day
  3. Buy a bike specifically to use on track and do regular track days

Option 1
To spend a full day at Ron Haslam’s school involves buying two half day sessions costing £289 – that equates to £578 (US$ 920) for the day. The rental of leathers and the CBR600RR is included in the price and there is NO accident damage deposit required either. The day would total 6 hours of which 1.5 hours would be on track in 6 x 15 minute sessions.

The California Superbike School costs £399 for the day, plus £249 for the bike, plus £35 for the leathers if you need them which equates to £683 (US$ 1090). The school also requires a £1000 deposit for the bike hire – you get it all back if you don’t damage the bike.

On paper I think that Ron’s school looks better value for money compared to the California Superbike School.

If you wanted to do ten track days a year with Ron you’d be spending nearly £6,000 (US$ 9,600) and nearly £7,000 with California Superbike School plus any damage you caused to the rental bike!

Option 2
Many of the track day companies will rent you a 600cc bike for the day. Track days typically cost £99-149 and the bike rental is just under £300 with a £500 excess. You would need to have your own leathers as these are not normally available for rent.

Ten track days would cost less than £500 each plus any damage you caused to the rental bike. It’s probably best to assume that you’ll drop the bike once in ten track days although you may not cause any very serious damage to the bike. That’s realistically around £5,500 (US$ 8,800) for a summer season.

Option 3
Initially buying a track bike seems like a silly idea but if you buy the bike (well) in the winter and sell it before the summer ends (and you repair any damage it sustains), you could end up losing very little money on it for nearly 6 months use.

Ten track days would cost you £1,500 assuming £150 per day. You’d also have to factor in a new set of tyres and brakes – let call that another £300. That’s a total of £1,800. Also factor in depreciation on the bike itself; let’s say another £500 (assuming that you don’t totally destroy the bike on track).

With options 2 and 3, you also need to factor in the cost of instruction. Some track companies will give you one session with an instructor for free while others will hire you an instructor for £100-150 for the day, or typically £25 per session.

So taking advantage of the free instruction and one paid for session each track day adds another £25 per track day. That equates to another £250 for the ten track days.

The total cost for option three comes out at around £2,700 which appears to be the cheapest of the three options.

Summary
For a reasonable number of track days, it looks like buying a track bike and selling it at the end of the season is the most sensible way forward.

There’s another benefit to options 2 and 3 over option 1; you get to ride at different tracks rather than the same one all summer! (Since the schools are usually located at a single track).

Ron Haslam Race School Part 2

Silverstone International Circuit

Reviewing my experience at Silverstone, I realised two things; one that the half day session had been a huge amount of fun and secondly that I had actually learned a lot about riding in a very short space of time.

I also realised that I still had a huge amount to learn. Hanging off the bike didn’t feel natural at all and I still didn’t really understand when to start braking, how much speed to scrub off at the end of the straight before a corner or what gear to be in.

So armed with a discount voucher, I booked a second session at Ron’s school. In fact this was the final session available before it closed for the winter.

On the drive to Silverstone I passed through two torrential showers – this didn’t look too promising for the track. Luckily, the rain clouds seemed to part as they passed over the track leaving it dry while the surrounding countryside got a good soaking.

Unlike my first time at the school, I wasn’t sharing my instructor, Mick, with anyone else – perhaps they remembered how bad I was the first time? I let Mick know that what I most wanted from the session was to be smoother on the bike and to try and understand more of the track craft. By that I mean figuring out what line to take, when to brake and what speed to carry through the corner. Speed wasn’t my primary objective as I figured that would come as a by product of being smoother.

Just like the previous time, I had masses of butterflies in my stomach as I started the bike in the pit lane. Again the CBR600RR felt very strange after riding a Street Triple all week on my commute to and from work each day.

As before, I set off following Mick. For the first couple of laps, we let the tyres warm up, and then he started to up the pace. I tried to remember everything from my previous track day as I tried to keep up.

During the debrief, I was reminded to “look through” the corner and plan my line rather than fixating on his back wheel. The second session felt faster than the first, and I really started to enjoy myself as I got the confidence to sail past the breaking marker cones before starting to brake, and then turn in for the corners.

Another thing that struck me was how in previous sessions I had been fixated about what gear I was in for each corner. My new found confidence meant I stopped worrying about that altogether as I tried to ensure that the rev counter sat in the top third of the rev range so that I could drive out of the corners nicely.

While things were generally looking up, I was still plagued by basic errors and a distinct lack of consistency. However when I got a corner right, it did feel amazing! After the second session, Mick seemed as pleased with my progress as I was. The final session was about consolidating all that I had been shown and trying to reduce my lap time still further.

Because the bikes have no speedometers, no data logging, and because no lap times are posted it’s hard to quantify any improvement that you might have made during the day. Luckily I had put a GPS data logger in my pocket. This later showed me that while my fastest lap in the first session had been 1:50, by the third and final session, my quickest lap had reduced to 1:40. That’s a improvement of 10 seconds a lap in just 45 minutes of track time with an instructor!

The two graphics below show the kind of improvement I was seeing between the start and the end of the day. The left hand graphic shows that I was able to take this corner 15mph faster while the right hand graphic shows that I managed to reach a higher speed down the straight and carry more speed into Stowe corner.

Just to put things into perspective, quick riders will lap in the low 1:20s so I still have a long way to go before I hope to emulate them. It just goes to show that 25 years of riding on the roads counts for little on the track compared to a total of one and a half hours of instruction.

There is nothing nicer on a race track than the feeling of passing another rider, and in the third and final session, we did manage to pass a few riders despite being the first two bikes out on the track. However we were also passed by a few riders, so I still have much to learn, it seems. Again I seem to have achieved as much as I wanted and all without injury to myself or the bike.

If you’ve never done a track day before, then Ron’s school will measurably improve your riding. If however you are a quick rider already with a few track days under your belt, then I’d suggest an alternate way of improving which I’ll detail in another post.

Ron Haslam Race School Part 1

In September 2012, a friend suggested that we go on a trackday race training course. I replied “sure” thinking that it probably wouldn’t happen anyway. The next thing I know both a course and date have been selected – we were booked onto Ron Haslam’s Premier Race Training course at Silverstone (UK) at the beginning of October.

We arrived at Silverstone Experience Centre feeling a little like lambs to the slaughter. Although we’ve been riding road and offroad bikes for 25 plus years, neither of us has pretentions of being fast riders nor do we really want to go racing. After getting suited and booted and then given a briefing we were driven down to the pit lane by mini-bus. I started to develop a terrible feeling of butterflies in my stomach.

We were going to ride as a pair with a single instructor. He explained that the first session was about getting to know the bikes and track. We were to follow his line around the track, brake where he braked, and generally stay close behind in single file.

After riding a street bike with straight handlebars and an upright riding position, getting on a CBR600RR with clipons is an unnerving experience. It takes a lap or two at a gentle pace to start getting used to the bike. The bike’s sharp yet forgiving handling, its amazingly powerful brakes and seemingly endless revs are all a bit of an eye opener!

After the first few laps the instructor started to up the pace – I think he was fed up being passed by all the other trios of instructors and students. At this point, my lack of ability really started to show because I found that no matter how hard I tried, I just could not emulate his lines and speed through the corners. I end up lagging behind on corners, speeding up on the straights to catch up, and then piling into the next corner on the wrong line carrying too much speed for my limited ability – it wasn’t pretty!

I got off the bike at the end of the first session thoroughly demoralised. I suspected that I might be green on a track, but could I really be that useless! We had 20 minutes before the next session, and our instructor explained that we would have to start moving around the bike to get it to go faster round the corners. Using a bike on a paddock stand we practised bending our elbows, dropping our shoulder into the corner and moving our butt in the seat.

The second session was a revelation! The lines and speed that seemed impossible to emulate in the first session were suddenly easier to follow. Whereas before I had struggled to hustle the bike round the corners, it now positively wanted to throw itself at the apex! Of course, I ended up making loads of silly mistakes while trying to lean off including massively unsettling the bike as I shifted from side to side. I arrived back in the pits, after the second session, with a big grin on my face – I finally understood why riders hang off a bike to help it go around a corner faster!

The third session was more of the same, except that I got partnered with another rider (poor sod) and an instructor riding at a (much) faster pace. At times, I felt only barely in control of the bike and was saved more than once by the sublime handling of the CBR600RR and its ABS system.

Trying to remember so many things while riding at the limit of my ability was almost too much for my tiny mind – yet somehow we completed the final session with no mishap. I was both exhilarated and tired and I drove home at a gentle pace reflecting on how much I had learned and how much fun I had had in doing so.

Update

I enjoyed myself so much and realised that I still had so much to learn that I returned to do this course again just two weeks later!