I was thinking about where I started on my track journey and what things have been most relevant for me and thought I’d figuratively put it to paper.
For the past 20 or so years, I would go do a track day or two per year at a regional track. After a couple of years I would go do this when I felt like I was getting a little too brisk on the street (dragging hard parts or if I got a speeding ticket). That would calm me down for several months. During this time I attended Reg Pridmore’s CLASS school a couple of times, Jason Pridmore’s STAR school a couple of times, and all 4 levels of California Superbike School. I also attended a 2-day school by YCRS in early 2020. Most of my ridng since 1988 was back road rides and sport touring. I had a couple of VFRs in this time, a CBR1000F, and a CBR1100xx. There were other bikes too, including an early R1, a Hawk GT, a couple of original Fazers (FZX700), and an FZR400 but the Hondas were my primary bikes. I got my first Triumph (Street Triple R) in 2015, did a couple more track days. I upgraded to the 765 RS when it came out, did a couple more track days and since the kids were older and lower maintenance, I wanted to put more effort into it, which brings us to 2018.
In 2018 I purchased my first dedicated track bike. I rode C but mostly B group. My mindset then was to just keep the throttle open longer and brake harder and later. I knew the basic way around the track but absolute precision with entry, apexes, exits, and what controls when wasn’t really at the forefront of my mind. Honestly, I was kind of winging it that year, though I had started studying.
In the off-season prior to 2019, I re-read Keith Code’s Twist of the Wrist I & II again, Nick Ieanatsch’s Performance Riding Techniques book, I reviewed my notes from having attended California Superbike School (CSS) and Reg Pridmore’s CLASS school. At the first event of the season, Sonoma in February with Z2 I did a rookie move. The first session after lunch on day 2, I shot out on the out lap a little too hot and crashed on turn 3a (51 mph, low side). https://youtu.be/m-0llRozqAM The bike’s gargantuan frame slider worked perfectly on the pavement, but then caught in the dirt and flipped the bike. I had brand-new plastics and had to replace a bunch of stuff. I didn’t get hurt really, the TechAir airbag deployed and I landed on my hip but didn’t even notice it a couple of days later. I bought matching duct tape and *kind* of put the plastics back together. It stuck in my mind for several months and impeded my forward progress for most of the season. In March 2019 I attended a Rickdickulous camp at Chuckwalla, led by Ken Hill. This was my first interaction with Ken but I had been listening to his podcasts for a few months. It was fascinating to just be in the presence of so many accomplished riders. Phil Horowitz was my coach for two days. I don’t think I was in the right place to take advantage of that camp–my skills really weren’t up to snuff, I was still gun-shy following my crash a month before, and my head wasn’t as open to learning as it needed to be. Also, for the 2019 season, I purchased a season pass with Z2. Fairly early in the season, I contacted Z2 about trying to work with one of their control riders/instructors and they hooked me up with Dan Sewell. I rode with Dan and he was adamant about lines and precision, far more than he was concerned with hard throttle and deep braking. Dan put up with a lot of my questions (more than he had bargained for, I’m sure). At one Z2 event at Thunderhill, I was hit from behind in the middle of turn 6 (I still have his tire mark on my leathers). Afterward the guy approached me and told me he high sided as a result of the encounter but his buddy loaned him a bike for the rest of the day. I was still mid-pack B group most of 2019 but by the end of the season I was usually on the faster end of the B group.
For 2020, I purchased a season pass with Carters at the Track. I had replaced the plastics on my Daytona 675R with a fresh set after sporting my damaged stuff for all of 2019. I would periodically work with Dan when I attended Z2 track days. Building on accuracy (Ken/YCRS = ‘direction’) most of the season. I sold my Daytona 675R and bought the freshly released Daytona 765 moto2 bike. Gratefully almost everything from the 675 transferred over so other than the cost of the bike, there wasn’t a lot of expense. There was a bit of learning the new engine because it made more torque, similar HP, but noticeably lower redline. 2020 continued to be an exercise in building accuracy (“I MUST hit the apex with the right control at the right time!“). I started sending videos to Ken Hill for review and when I would attend a track day I’d go with a long laundry list of things to work on each session (this turned out to be too much, I should have picked just one or two things for each day or weekend of riding). By the end of the season I started dabbling in the A group after asking multiple control riders because my pace was borderline. I continued to be told that my accuracy was solid and that just being in A my pace would come up. I was initially startled at the difference in pace and was happy if I made one or two passes the entire day, however, it brought my game up considerably. I also came to realize that the quality of riding in the A group, while better than B group, was not as high as I had hoped. The racers in A group were kind of hit and miss, some were really fast and tidy while being courteous, some would apex bomb or be squirrelly on the brakes. I also spent a few days with private coaching–Ken had set me up with one of his premium coaches, Cameron Gish, who while young, had been a very accomplished racer and with his calm and peaceful demeanor and video review, helped me work on some fundamental adjustments that ultimately yielded great results. For 2 years I had made it my goal to graduate from the B group with a pace in A that wouldn’t turn me into a moving speed bump and by the end of 2020, I was still on the slower side of A but making progress. A couple of my friends had gotten their racing licenses and one or two had done a race and egged me on to do the same. I ended up buying a former championship KTM RC 390 and decided to give it a go in 2021. Post track season, I did a 2 day American SuperCamp with a friend and got to meet top MotoAmerica riders who coached it.
In 2021, I again purchased a Carters season pass. A few friends and I did a few days at local kart tracks with our small bikes or supermotos. I also had upped the data acquisition on the Daytona with an AiM EVO4s and brake pressure sensor. I’d given the Daytona to Mike Canfield to get it refreshed and set up. The buddies on the small bikes (R3, 390s) and I coordinated a day of private coaching and video gathering with Cam at Buttonwillow in February along with Ken doing remote pre and post briefing. Accuracy was becoming easier for me and I didn’t have to consciously think about it as much. At that Buttonwillow coaching day though I had spent most of my day on the little 390. Because the Daytona had just come back from Mike, I wanted to take it out for a session and realized that it wasn’t so easy for me to go from a little to big bike. That improved in time though. I had the 390 ready, got my AFM race registration done, and ran the first 4 rounds in AFM racing while still attending as many track days as possible. I would typically bring both bikes to track days, spending the morning on one and switching to the other in the afternoon. I brought home a few trophies from racing but was nowhere near the pace of the original owner on the bike (granted, he had a 40+ pound weight advantage and I never changed the springs on the 390 for my weight). While racing, I started to find what proper braking felt like and still managing control without panicking. After seeing 2 friends with 390s have multiple engine issues, I decided to sell my 390 after the 4th round and bowed out of racing for the rest of the season. I didn’t find racing as compelling as lots of people do and the quality of the riding and accuracy wasn’t as great as I’d hoped. In working on my own riding, I was beginning to be able to see in other riders what their limitations were, even if they were appreciably faster. Late in 2021 (the last 2 track days), I finally broke my curse at Thunderhill East. That track had scared me, probably because it’s such a fast track and as such, I’d consistently over-brake for the corners after the long straights. Late in the season I’d also learned to not be afraid of proper throttle application exiting. I’d made it a small goal to see the traction control light flicker on many exits (bike in ‘track’ mode) and this was starting to happen with greater regularity. Through the season I’d continued to work with Ken Hill by sending him notes and videos to review. The improvement in throttle usage, I feel, came from a couple of Ken’s video reviews and I was waiting for permission to accelerate properly. While on street rides, I continued to work on track techniques. My street bikes also have TC and I’d work on throttle application trying to get the light to come on. Riding my Bavarian Cow (BMW R1250 GS) I’d worked on holding full throttle until the braking and letting the throttle snap shut and going immediately to the brakes then turning in while still using a good amount of brake pressure. I’ve been able to carry this over to the track and though I need to refine it quite a bit, it’s coming to me now. The last track day of 2021, I brought the Street Triple and was able to get within a couple of seconds of the times a couple weeks earlier on the Daytona so that was significant for me, particularly since that was at Thunderhill East where you have some pretty fast straights and with an unfaired and handlebar equipped street bike it can be a challenge. I feel like my accuracy is generally pretty good, it can always be better and there are a couple of corners at a couple of tracks where I know there are some development opportunities.
And now, into 2022. I’ve renewed my AFM racing license, not because I want to race a bunch but they did announce a Laguna race and while I will likely be a backmarker, it would be a pretty cool feather in my cap to have raced there. The CRF100 and the Grom have both been to a kart track and I picked up a nearly new Ninja 400 track bike. I’m slowly getting the bits for the Ninja, including data acquisition so that should be fun. I’m going to run it nearly stock as long as I can other than the front brakes and some protective bits. I am really excited to further my development on the 100mm of fork travel at turn-in concept. The Daytona is back with Mike Canfield getting the suspension refreshed, some valving tuned, and suspension potentiometers. I’ll be riding both bikes this season and the Ninja I’m looking forward to going through the process of learning the bike and finding its limitations and working on my riding to get around the limitations until I feel that it’s time to upgrade. I also just purchased another Carters Season Pass and will ride Sonoma with other providers, go to Washington to ride with Track Time at the Ridge, and have booked a spot at a private track day.
My Riding Observations and Self-Identified Successes and Opportunities
To preface, these areas are not listed in any particular order, just things that I’ve come to terms with since I started doing the track thing late 2018. Each person is different and some things that I struggled with may be natural for others and vice versa. I can only emphasize what’s been most noticeable for me.
Vision, honestly, so much of it is just that. Having the ability to see where you are and where you’re trying to go and focusing on the right thing at the right time and for a long enough time is what I’ve noticed in 2021. It seems like it should be easy, but it’s not, or a large portion of it was missing for me. Alberto Naska put together a great video about what to focus on and when. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCgvm5oVPWk My last outing at Sonoma in 2021 a few times I felt like I was coming into a corner too hot but I forced myself to move my eyes up to the apex and lo and behold, it worked out. I want to work on this more in 2022.
Throttle Application – I mentioned that in a video review, Ken had given me ‘permission’ to accelerate at a certain point because my direction was good. I’m working on that and it’s fun to hear the chase rider (on a liter bike) working to catch back up to me in a few of my better exits. https://youtu.be/-TtgV1XkKuE I still had a bunch of stuff I had to fix following that day (my T1 was a mess, T7 wasn’t consistent, and for the pace, my body movements weren’t as smooth as they should have been).
Holding the Throttle until Braking – This one still has some work but it’s getting better. Historically I (and most riders) tend to give up some throttle before the braking point. In faster straights, it’s useful to have definitive braking markers. I’ve also noticed if I have to transition from one side to the other (particularly left side to right side of hanging off), I inadvertently roll off the throttle. I’ve seen this in the data and the next time I ride I’ll put a camera pointing at my right hand to check on it.
Body Timing – For 3 full days of private coaching, Cam was driving into me the importance of transitioning early. Frankly, at the time I was getting a little tired of it and felt like I had spent a bunch of money for someone to tell me to move my butt sooner. It wasn’t until a few months later at Buttonwillow, Cotton Corners specifically, I realized that if I was lazy in transitioning I would have trouble hitting all the apexes in that complex. When I stayed on top of it, I would hit them all. It took months for this immediate tangible benefit to sink in, but it did finally.
Slower and Earlier Turn-in
As the pace goes up, you have to turn-in earlier and slower. When I’d worked with CSS, there was a certain emphasis on being able to ‘flick’ a bike into a turn with a late turn-in. I took it too far and to too much degree. In car track driving, my instructors taught this style as well so I’m still trying to un-learn this technique. I’ve actually made some progress on it, particularly when following slower riders.
Weighting the Pegs – The name of this phrase is not clear. Looking at the physics of a motorcycle, putting more weight on the pegs does not in and of itself really help a motorcycle (or bicycle) turn, however if done correctly, it gets weight off the bars and off the seat of the bike. It also makes it easier for you to transition from side to side. It does require a lot more effort than keeping more weight in the seat though. When I rode my upright naked bike (with handlebars) on track, the bar position makes it natural to keep weight in the seat of the bike but when I consciously put weight on the inside peg, I could feel the bike working beneath me. I’m trying to carry this over to any serious corner work more now. At Sonoma, which is notoriously bumpy, I hardly carry any weight on the seat while riding my proper track bike.
Accuracy (a.k.a. Direction) and Slow Point of the Corner
This is becoming second nature. It can always be improved but it’s immediately clear to me the caliber of rider, even if they’re quicker than I am. And by being accurate, I’m not talking 2 or 3 feet from an apex, I’m talking about knee over the curb (there are a few corners where this isn’t necessary but it’s almost universally true). The 2nd big part of accuracy is using the right control at the right time. Following Ken Hill and YCRS terminology, you should be on the throttle building acceleration past the apex of an exit corner. Even when watching the top tier of AFM racing at Buttonwillow on the last turn, it was fascinating to see how few riders were treating it as an exit corner. The fastest riders were almost universally treating it as an exit corner though.
100mm of Fork Travel at Turn-in
My first exposure to this phrase was in the Champ-U online course by YCRS. I talked to Ken about it afterward and he confirmed (I believe he said 95 – 105mm). I started consciously working on this in my street riding late 2021 on my big BMW at the same time I started working on snapping the throttle off (instead of rolling off). the combination was fairly jerky at first and still isn’t consistent but I’m starting to get it. I’m beginning to understand the concept of shortening the wheelbase (by using significant engine deceleration + braking) and squishing the front tire (to maximize grip). The bike really does turn and grip differently at turn-in. This will be an emphasis for me in 2022 and I can’t wait to get the Daytona back with suspension potentiometers so I can track it with data.
First and Last 5% Throttle & Brake
I’m always working on this–car, bicycle, motorcycle street and track. I’m trying to turn this into 2nd nature but I feel like there’s always so much more to it. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to tell when you don’t have it as movements may feel abrupt.
I’ve had a few track days where I’ve gone out in the B group in 2021, whether it was open track days, a bike demo, or just to go spin a few laps with friends. Honestly, it’s been great fun to practice safe and clean passing, which is also great rehearsal for racing. When I was riding my 390, figuring out a pass was frustrating but fun too. If I came up on someone slightly who was just a little slower than me, it might take 2 laps to find a good way around. In a race, it was a little excruciating but still a fun exercise.
Always be on either the Throttle or the Brake
This is the key to going faster but as time goes on, and this translates to my street riding and driving, if I don’t either have some degree of acceleration or braking going on, I don’t feel entirely in control of the vehicle. Another way of thinking of it is that if you’re not braking, you want the chain to be taught (which happens when you have any degree of positive throttle). But, this is also part of what leads me to the next thing that I’m working on….
This is another Ken Hill/YCRS theme. The idea here is that you can carry more speed into a corner by going to the brakes earlier and lighter (the former makes you feel safer, the latter helps you carry more roll speed) so you can get your head around carrying a higher corner speed. I’ve got a long ways to go on this one but it’s got my attention for 2022.
I’m a proponent of having reference points, but they may not work as your speed improves. Most recently to help me with my exits, having a couple on each corner is really useful. Don’t think one reference point will always work for you as your pace quickens though. At Sonoma there’s a white dot in the middle of the Turn 9 after tip-in. At my early pace there I could see it soon enough and use it. At my present pace, I’m just about on top of it by the time I can see it which, if I still use it, will result in a flick to turn the bike in, which is not what I’m after. I still want to ride over it but I can’t use that ahead of time so I mostly ignore it now.
For me, racing was ‘okay.’ It was fun to be there with friends and to learn about the whole process but it’s expensive and it strikes me as being more dangerous. Of course people are pushing themselves more than they would be at a track day. It does provide a great venue to motivate yourself to push toward goals you’ve likely established but don’t feel committed to at a track day. I did renew my racing license for 2022 and I would like to race Laguna, even if as a back marker. The community is terrific and I’m glad I did 2/3 of a season last year.
Move Your Body
I earlier mentioned the peg weighting, but you can use your body for more than just transitioning left and right. There are a couple of areas on my local tracks where you can use your body for wheelie abatment. Again, this makes riding the bike even more physical however it helps so much with your bike control. Exiting T9 at Thunderhill East I feel like I’ve got some weird positioning as I move to the right side of the bike and put my upper body as far forward as possible so I can get to more throttle earlier. Same thing for Sonoma exiting the last kink of Turn 8.
Short-Shifting to get to Wide Open Throttle
Ken and I were comparing data on my bike and he was certainly faster than I was and it was all very gradual until T11-12-13 at Thunderhill East. He made a big jump right there and on the way to Turn 14 so we dug into the data and I couldn’t get to WOT because I was struggling to keep the front down in 2nd gear while he was wide open but realized that he went to 3rd gear early and then 4th early but was wide open the entire time. Using that technique gave him far more drive than I could muster staying in the powerband but unable to use all the throttle.
Some people say knee down is overrated. I can’t say because I rarely put one down. It’s infrequent enough that when I do it startles me and I usually stand the bike up. There was one day at Thunderhill East when I was putting my left knee down in T2 almost every lap and I thought I’d have gotten used to it, but not so much. Now I go through that same turn a good 4mph faster and if it touches, it’s only for a moment. My body type is short legs, long abdomen so maybe that’s part of it, who knows. I do know that I pass plenty of people who are very visibly dragging their knee in the same corner. Whatever.
Re-read and re-watch useful materials
In the off-season, I re-read all of my usual go-to books, look at my notes, re-watch useful videos. I’ve found that certain bits from respective sources may not stand out in the first or second read/watch, they might depending on where I’m at with my riding. Take notes when you’re reading or watching, you’ll be surprised at what might not have seemed relevant at the time suddenly has more bearing later.