It was a solid year of continuing to work on improving my technique and get feedback from professional coaches (thank you Ken & Phil!). The net result has been greater precision, continued safety, some greater awareness of suspension and motor work (the latter not by choice), and improved lap times.
Some numbers and data points from 2023
- Number of “big track” days = 33
- Tuono V4 track miles = ~2,200 (I haven’t specifically kept logs on this bike so this is an estimate)
- Daytona track miles = 1,100 (this number struck me as low but it’s right)
- Ninja 400 track miles = 900 (still going up as it will be visiting kart tracks in the off-season
- Bikes ridden on-track, besides my 3 = Scott’s R1, Track Time’s SV650, Tim’s & Kris’ RSV4s, Christian’s R7, Max’s Street Triple RS, Annie’s infamous CBR600, Aaron’s R6, Track Time’s N400, Ken’s FZ-1, and I’m sure I’m missing some others
- Tires consumed = a staggering number, at the Ridge I was getting 1 – 1.5 days out of a rear SC1 or SC2
- Brake pads used = way more than I might have expected, I think I’m going through them at a greater rate than I am front tires. Thank goodness for Kurvey Girl.
- Number of engines broken = 1 (Daytona, blown head gasket)
- [Big] Tracks ridden = Sonoma, Laguna, Thunderhill West, Thunderhill East, Buttonwillow, and The Ridge Motorsports Park
- Areas of focus = building a sense of front suspension geometry (thank you Ridge and the chicane), more comfort with brakes at lean and turning on throttle, body position
- Favorite hardware upgrade = quick change rear on the Daytona and carbon brake ducts on the TV4 (tie)
Sonoma and Laguna days were limited this year, largely because of the Laguna repave which put Sonoma in greater demand by all groups (particularly cars) and an aversion by track day providers to do days there. Sonoma and Laguna have historically been the most expensive tracks to rent so it is something of a gamble, particularly Sonoma since a lot of riders don’t want to ride there because of safety concerns. I still love it and it’s my personal favorite California track.
I’m still working with Ken and his cadre of coaches, though a schedule conflict prevented me from working with Mark one-on-one this year. I spent a few days working with Ken and a couple of days working with Phil–all of which were great. With where I’m at with my riding, big things are mostly sorted out but there’s always going to be areas to improve but it’s getting more granular now. I can generally get the bike where I want it but with Ken, we worked on some refinement of the exact angle on some of the apexes, throttle builds, exit references, etc. Phil had me working on turn-in points and actually working on body position, something which I hadn’t thought about consciously in a long time.
While I haven’t done a lot of it yet during the season, now that the off-season is here, I plan to do more kart track afternoons on the 400. I had a couple this year but that paid dividends. To put it into perspective, riding a 400 on a kart track is akin to riding a 200 bhp bike on Thunderhill West in the 10-turn configuration, maybe more like a MotoGP bike even. The 400 on the kart track is unrelenting. In the tighter configs, I seldom get above 60 mph but there are rapid successions of 17 – 20 mph turns in alternating directions. For me, the benefits are drilling it into me how quickly to get my body from side to side and turning on the brakes and under power. On the 400 the brakes start fading about 7 or so minutes into the session so I’ll have to transition to 4-finger braking once that happens. You’re just not going fast enough to cool the brakes on the kart track. In trying to go faster, just like the big tracks, it’s about carrying the throttle longer and tightening up the braking zone which means carrying even more brake at lean. At the kart track, you can [relatively] safely start to explore how much brake you can use at lean and I found myself carrying a lot more brake pressure with a good amount of lean, not being terribly afraid of falling off just inches off the ground at less than 20 mph. Another thing that I’m just now returning to is dirt. It’s been years that I’ve done much dirt riding but I’m going to give it a go. Both dirt and kart track work are teaching me to be more comfortable with the bike being loose and building my faith in the bike going where intended while practicing solid technique.
My biggest disappointment for the season is the early retirement of my primary track bike. I lost the head gasket in the last days at The Ridge and while I’m excited to get it back refreshed and improved, it’s still out waiting on parts. As soon as it’s back to me I’ll strip the existing bodywork and fit the new bodywork, then take the new bodywork to get sprayed and drop the bike off with MC Tech to get the suspension refreshed and maybe a couple of other treats (like a standard TTX shock, a proper steering damper, maybe a thumb brake).
Looking at the before/after graphs below, I see some common trends. Most notably, I see pointier Vs in the shape of the acceleration peaks and slow points. On the acceleration side, this often reflects a greater comfort with more throttle in acceleration zones and quicker transition from throttle to brakes (as opposed to rolling off early with partial throttle and going to brakes too lightly initially). There are some instances where my slow point in a faster lap is actually slower (fewer mph) than it is in a slower lap time. Why? Because this is when you get the vehicle turned or rotated and the sooner you can do that, the sooner you can start to accelerate. It’s quicker to get a vehicle turned at slower speeds than higher speeds, generally speaking.
In working on my own development in 2023, I have been consciously working on using more brake pressure with lean angle (trail braking) and it’s beginning to show in my data. I’ve also been working on building a greater sense of front suspension geometry at turn-in.
Having previous experience at a given track and recalling the sensations of riding it also gives me things of which to be conscious. In the case of Buttonwillow, I reviewed my notes from March ’23 and it was littered with comments about the bumps on fast sections being scary and triggering the nannies. Replaying the video and looking at the data from those days early in the year reminded me that it was normal. Looking at reference video from a much faster rider on my bike demonstrated to me that this is okay–he was still able to hit his apexes and nothing untoward happened. I knew that I had to build comfort with being uncomfortable with these scenarios. I worked on it at the kart track and getting back into dirt riding. The other benefit of riding bumpy tracks is that when you go to a smooth track, you have a bunch in reserve.
I didn’t get any days with the Daytona at Laguna or Sonoma other than early in the year at Sonoma so nothing worth noting there other than the fact that I’ve been close to matching pace with the Tuono (which is faster but is a complete street bike, I’m typically 2-3 seconds slower with it). While the Vs could be a little pointier, there is some overall improvement.
Plans for 2024
- Continue building on everything I’ve done so far.
- More data! I’ve got the tire pressure monitor system configured but not used yet, it should be fascinating to see what happens with tire pressure and temperature during the course of a session. I also have an IMU incoming that outputs lean angle directly so we’ll need to get that coded up for the data stream once it arrives and find a location to mount it. With that, I’ll be able to directly output to the SmartyCam overlay like the Tuono.
- Build a custom SmartyCam overlay that includes things like engine map, TC & WC settings, ABS setting, suspension travel, tire temp/pressure, etc. Not sure you’ll be able to see what’s happening on the bike but should be cool. Matt Romanawski, I’m looking at you!
- Learn how to sniff CAN bus so I can build custom profiles on my own, I’ll need lots of help from Mitch for that I’m sure.
- More dirt and kart track training.
- Not sure I’ll be able to do as many “big track” days so I’ll probably be more selective about the events I attend. Dylan is looking at doing more events in 2024 and those are always great.
- I want to become more confident in the bike being loose, which is what I’m continuing to see with faster reference riders. By loose I don’t mean out of control, but the front and/or rear may be wiggling or squirming; the front tire may be skipping a bit, etc.
- Leg dangle – yeah, I want to try it out a bit to see how that feels
- Continued development of a sense of front geometry at turn-in
- I want to do my best to emulate WSSP riders – I continue to watch that and think it’s the most relatable to the type of riding I want to do.
- Moto-camping – I missed it this year, it’s super fun to do with my kids, and I didn’t make a single trip to the Sierras by bike this year, my soul is a bit empty as a result.
- I hope to work with Ken, Phil, and/or Mark in 2024. These guys are amazing and I learn stuff even if I’m just sharing a garage and they’re working with someone else. Maybe Cam will be willing to come out as well.
- Hoping to try some new tracks but I may have to travel and figure out the bike situation.
- More time on track with MotoAmerica or world-level riders – that is just such an amazing experience to share the same time and space with these racers. Aprilia often has sponsored track days immediately following MotoAmerica rounds so I’ll be keeping an eye out for those. A bonus is that the kids enjoy going to the MA races so it could be a family outing.
- Continuing to ride more different bikes at pace – I feel like this really helps to hone my riding skills and find strengths to exploit on each bike.
- Is there a [proper] superbike in my future? Not sure, I need to try out the options some more. An RSV4 makes the most logical sense, the R1 is super practical, BMW, Panigale? Not sure, I feel like I still have more work to do with the Daytona and if I get the Tuono’s rear shock sorted, it might just be sufficient.
2023 was a great season and I’m grateful for all the coaching time I received from Ken and Phil. There is no substitute for proper analytical coaching one-on-one. It’s not cheap but if you’re serious about getting better safely, this will shortcut it. If you’re not already going to every track day with focus and a plan though, you need to get that going first in order to maximize the value. Kart track training on a 400 is huge, and I can not recommend that highly enough. You can ride a supermoto or a pit bike but it won’t yield the same results if your goal is to go better with a sport bike.