2023-06-28 – Passing Thoughts

Track Time at The Ridge, photo by Gavin Powers

Passing can be fun but it can also be frustrating, scary, and dangerous. When two riders collide on track it seldom ends well for anyone. However, passing can be an outstanding skill building exercise. Before I go any further, this is in the context of track days, NOT racing. The higher up you go in racing, the more familiar you will be with the other riders’ skills and abilities which will allow you to somewhat minimize risks with passes that might be sketchy in club racing. If you don’t know the other rider’s abilities, an inside pass once they’ve turned in could have disastrous results.

Different track day providers will have different passing guidelines and the guidelines may vary per group. I’ve heard things like:
* No inside passing
* Pass with 6′ (~2M) cushion
* No rubbing

Some of the more specific guidelines that make more sense from a safety perspective:
* Don’t pass as the other rider is coming toward you, be parallel
* Don’t pass on the inside after the other rider has turned in
* Pass for the other rider’s comfort

When I first started attending track days, all I heard were the first group of guidelines above. As I’ve worked with different schools and more specific passing guidelines, I heard more of the latter set. Here I’ll lay out my general approach to passing, which is largely based on the latter set of guidelines. My basis for this is an utmost concern for safety–we put ourselves at enough risk riding motorcycles at high speed already, let’s not compound it by doing things that make it more dangerous for ourselves or others.

Sometimes I ride in a slower group (to ride with friends, just to get more seat time, or to ride 2 bikes in a day) and honestly, passing in a slower group on a slow bike is fun. When I first started doing track days, I was warned about the B (intermediate) group, a.k.a. ‘The Thunderdome.’ Now I kind of like it but I feel like I’m much better at predicting other riders’ actions and I can generally stay away from the worst of it, even on a 400.

If you find yourself getting passed frequently, that’s fine. Just be predictable and consistent. Continue to work on your apexes, slow points, etc. If I’m passing you, I want you to stay your path. Don’t get out of the way if you hear another bike coming in on you. If I’m being passed, I ride like I would ideally and stay the course–who knows, maybe I’ll get to see a different approach. I totally enjoy being passed by a rider executing solid technique. Some of my favorite track days have been ones where MotoAmerica riders are coming out to train or practice and seeing them go by and latching on for a couple of corners is inspiring. In my opinion, being accurate and consistent is far more important than outright pace. Accuracy and consistency are safe and you can add speed to that. If you’re missing apexes and/or you’re not using the right control at the right time, that’s a recipe for disaster.

If you haven’t already, take a listen to Ken Hill’s passing podcast here.

I’m going to include footage from my own riding experiences and I’ll point out some of the things that I try to do or examples of good clean passes made on me. To keep doing this track thing safely and continue to improve, you sometimes have to check your pride at the door and stay calm and learn from your own experiences. If you keep at it and continue to improve safely, you’ll find that it becomes increasingly difficult to ‘get a time‘ but you can still work on your craft by executing clean passes and refining your skills. Then you might get a few open laps where you can exercise your skill and you might be able to get your time, but don’t go to a public track day expecting that.

Horsepower Passes
If you have the horsepower, pass early and in the straights, long before the other rider turns in. While power helps this, on a lower-powered bike you can work it out by setting up early drive against a faster bike. In this example you can see that the rider passes me on the inside long before I initiate turn-in. Easy pass (if you have the power). In this example, the passing rider is parallel to me.

Horsepower Pass

Passing on the Brakes
This can be an easy and clean pass but make sure you give the rider being passed space to continue on their intended trajectory. You need to get ahead of the rider being passed before she/he initiate their turn in. Here the passing rider goes by me on the inside before I initiate my turn in. Very clean and tidy.

Clean pass on the brakes
Same 2 riders as above, another clean pass on the brakes, note how I stayed in my lane and didn’t jump back in front of him which could have altered his trajectory or control usage

When passing, don’t take the other rider’s line
In order to pass for the other rider’s comfort (don’t alter their trajectory or controls), you may need to take a different line than optimal. Here is an example where I pass another rider on the brakes but I stay on the trajectory I created for myself, which is turning in from 1/2 the track width, far from ideal but if I want the pass, I have to compromise my line, not the other rider’s).

Passing on the brakes but don’t take the other rider’s line

Make the pass without altering the other rider’s trajectory (pass for the other rider’s comfort), an example of passing but altering the other rider’s trajectory and/or controls
Here’s an example of what I consider a poor pass. I was waiting for a clean opportunity to get by a rider and coach and made my pass but then another rider went up inside of me and then immediately hopped into my path. This could have had bad results but it didn’t this time.

I make a clean pass and then another rider comes inside and hops directly into my path
First a pass on the brakes, but I kept my line and avoided interfering with the rider I passed. I could have also passed the black bike but it would have been very close to his/her turn in and altered their riding. In the front straight I made the pass before the braking zone and still stayed on my path, so as to not interfere with their trajectory.

An extremely poor choice of location and manner of passing. The offender apex bombs the leading bike in a very high speed corner. The leading bike was on a 400 (plainly visible) and the offender was on a bigger bike and has loads of opportunities to pass cleanly immediately after or even during the exit of turn 8 (Thunderhill East).

Really, really poor judgement on a location to pass and method.

Passing on corner exit
This one may take a little more thought, especially if the rider you’re passing is on a higher power bike. When I ride my 400, it may sometimes take 2 laps to line up the pass. I need to look for safe and clean opportunities which may require that I take a sub-optimal line. In the below example, the other rider was on the same bike as I was but my exit was a little stronger on this lap and though I got close as we got to the end of the turns, I waited until he was taking away lean angle and I could tell he wasn’t going to use all the track, then I went to full throttle and passed.

Passing on corner exit, when the other rider is taking away lean angle and isn’t going to use all the track

Ken Hill – Passing Tips
Two identical bikes, riders with similar pace, where and how to pass.

Award for Most Questionable Passes in 40 seconds
Here a pair of riders (student + instructor) make a series of questionable passes. This is at The Ridge Motorsports Park.
1.) Rider comes inside the video bike on T6 where the generally accepted line is to turn in for a double apex.
2.) Rider goes inside another bike on the way into T7 while the instructor goes around the outside of the rider, effectively splitting the rider on the slower bike.
3.) Harder to see but rider (and instructor) pass inside another rider after the rider being passed has turned in for T10.

Passing with Converging Lines
This is what’s referred to as passing where you know the other rider will be coming toward you, or intersecting lines. This rider works on 2 passes where it’s plainly visible the other rider will be moving. Don’t be this guy.

Passing Considerations
Be mindful of your bike versus the bike you’re about to pass. Since passes involve risk, think about it.
* If you’re on a 400, don’t waste time passing a liter bike on the last corner before a straightaway. Even a liter bike who isn’t going wide open will come back around you quickly. Time it so that you can pass early into a section where you have tighter corners linked together so you can put some space in between. Sometimes it may take me a couple of laps on the 400 to line up a clean pass where I won’t get passed back. If you plan it out, it’ll be easy and safe.
* If you’re on a fast bike or are a faster rider, don’t just stuff someone else on a slower bike on the way into a corner. It’s rude and if you wait 1-2 seconds, you can do a clean pass on the exit and reduce risk and frustration. Sure, we all want a lap time but I want to keep everyone upright more.

Bonus Videos
Some full sessions illustrating passing, mostly riding intermediate group on my 400.

Bunch of first-session laps at Sonoma in B group on my 400
Sonoma B group on my 400, riding with friends
Thunderhill West, CCW10 config
More Thunderhill West, CCW10 config
I approached another rider around T7 and had to sacrifice a couple of apexes to get by him/her without altering their trajectory.
March 2024 Sonoma Raceway, wheelie down the back straight and almost take out another rider
Fun session at Thunderhill East in 2024–with the traffic I knew I wasn’t going to get a lap time but I made it my goal to do clean, safe passes and the pass on me on the front straight was clean and tidy.