Pinch Hitting – or – Riding Your Alternate Bike

Sometimes you can’t ride the bike you want to ride. This happened to me–I’d given my Daytona to my suspension guy for its annual refresh and adding suspension potentiometers in early November thinking my track season was over.

A little before Thanksgiving, some friends and I wanted to close out the season with the last possible track run so we went to Thunderhill East with Carters at the Track on 11/28/2021. This meant I would have to ride an alternate. I’m fortunate enough to have a good substitute bike that’s largely the same as the Daytona, a Triumph Street Triple 765 RS. This bike is my back road bike. It has over 10k miles on it and is very track-capable. It uses the same wheels and rotors as the Daytona and I had a spare set of wheels with slicks on them already so I transferred them over, along with a 48 tooth rear (16/48) from the stock 46 tooth rear. I did not, however, make any suspension adjustments.

2018 [mostly] Road Use Triumph Street Triple, now with slicks!

I still had objectives that my riding coach and I had determined and that really makes very little difference as to what kind of bike you ride. The degree of application may play into it but not so much here since the bikes are so similar (other than seating position).

My takeaways from riding the bike in A group, set up for the street: First off, the suspension was way too soft for the track–I wasn’t comfortable running at the pace I wanted in a couple of sections (exiting T5, T7-T8). If I knew suspension better, I’d have firmed it up but I think there’s also value in the ‘ride what ya’ brung’ adage. For the most part, though, the bike was awesome. It had decent power, great braking capabilities, super-easy track prep (disconnect the tail light and remove the mirrors, GO), super-reliable (other than a slip-on it’s the stock motor). A couple of weeks ago I’d done some significant programming changes on the quickshifter/auto-blipper (HM) that worked a treat. It’s not quite as light shifting as before but now I never have any partial engagements resulting in popping out of gear at rather inopportune times. I ran the Metzeler TD Slicks on it with 32F/26R (temp after 1 hour on warmers) and increased the rear 1.5psi in the afternoon. The traction was astounding, I only noticed the TC when I’d wheelie, never on hard exits. I think this grip may have exacerbated the soft feeling exiting T5 since the rear suspension was having to absorb the energy since the tire wasn’t slipping. I’d also cleaned the front brakes and installed a fresh set of SBS Dual-Carbon pads–these were new to me and after one day, I would be hard-pressed to tell much of a difference with the Vesrah RJL XX that I normally run. I’ll keep checking on them every few months to see if they wear as well as the Vesrah pads. I also ran my AiM Solo 2 DL with an ECU connection (RPM, throttle, gear position, etc.) and an AiM SmartyCam. Thunderhill East is a fast track with a long front straight–on the Daytona I see ~140mph (GPS). On the unfaired Street Triple, I’d hit 130mph at the top of 5th gear but felt like I was hanging on for dear life. Another notable difference between the two is that due to the handlebars and seating position and lack of wind protection, it’s challenging to transition side to side at speed–I had to use the handlebars to pull myself out of the seat to get from the right to the left side so as you’re hard throttle, the front is light, I had to do this judiciously. Early in the day, I was also having a tough time being smooth transitioning from T3-T4 but by the afternoon I got it down. As the sun got closer to the horizon, it started casting shadows that made me think I had another rider right on top of me.

As always, track days are best when they include good friends and I got to ride with a couple of the best. They were mostly on small bikes that day but we still played–they’re both quite quick so the gap wasn’t huge. I rode with another friend in the intermediate group to check on his progress since we last rode together in early November and he’d really improved so that was great to see too. On top of that, hardly anyone went down or off track so I managed nearly 150 track miles.

Riding with Friends

A new personal accomplishment for me was that I rode the intermediate group mid-afternoon (the point at which I normally lose pace) and then as soon as that session finished I rolled into the hot pit and went out in the A group and managed to set my best time for the day. That pretty much never happens for me–once my tempo goes down in the afternoon I almost never pick it back up but now I know that I can! Another strange sensation that I encountered is that I felt like I was waiting for the bike to accelerate. Very few riders spend much time at WOT so being able to see that I was on the throttle and felt like the bike was slow is a new thing for me.

Thanks to the goals my riding coach and I had set, combined with working on threshold braking in an empty area of the paddocks, I found that coming into fast and/or blind corners preceded by fast straights didn’t scare me this time while it has in the hundreds of previous laps I’ve spun at this track. I truly feel like I can start to push my braking markers safely. It’s a little frustrating that it’s taken thousands of track miles to get to this point but it’s nothing short of a revelation.

The later afternoon setting sun did cause some vision issues in the areas where you are riding west (turns 8-9 namely) so I lost some pace in there but it still worked out great overall. I felt that I was able to work on my goals and spent all of the last session riding with my R3 & Ninja 400 buddies.

In sum, even if you can’t ride your A bike, substitute something else–you can still have a plan and work on it. This also helps you become a more adaptable rider, which will yield more gains in your riding progress.

2:40 PM A group session – T8 & T9 were getting tough with the glare and low sun