Why is the track a great place to learn? It’s really simple actually. It’s a controlled environment. And controlled environments are more forgiving of mistakes.
That’s what we seek if we are learning math, art, or golf. Pretty much anything difficult to master requires time in a dedicated and controlled environment. And motorcycle riding is hard to master.
Furthermore, we train for dangerous activities even more purposefully. Things like commercial and military flight instruction and training are done primarily in a simulator. Formula 1 drivers spend more time in the simulator than in the actual race car. And motorcycle riding is inherently dangerous.
So why would anyone want to learn how to ride anywhere but on the track? I guess if there was a simulator for it that would be better yet!
When people hear that I am “going to the track” I think it congers images of hooligans and lunatics recklessly swerving in and out of each other at breakneck speeds, laughing like maniacs at their impending death. I don’t know why that is, but it’s pretty clear based on the responses one gets when they tell people. It also couldn’t be further from the truth.
Let’s get this straight. Riding AT the track is safer than riding TO the track, and maybe even safer than driving there to begin with. Why?
- No cars, dogs, potholes, construction, distracted drivers, etc. All the things that pose the most danger to a motorcycle rider on the street are absent. You can focus on riding, not scanning for danger. There are only other guys and gals on bikes out there and they want to avoid crashing just as much as you do.
- Much less to hit. Besides no vehicles, there are no houses, curbs, guardrails, bridge abutments, or other solid objects just off the edge of the pavement. Tracks have runoff. Where there are hard objects that you could hit the often have a soft covering like an air-fence. If there is a particular corner with a smaller margin of error it will be designated as a no-passing zone to minimize risk as well.
- Emergency medical personnel are available within seconds. Parked right there in pit lane is an ambulance waiting to be dispatched as soon as a serious crash happens. Flaggers at multiple points around the track, all in radio communications with each other keep an eye on every inch and every rider. If something happens they all wave a red flag to stop, or slow everyone to leave the track, as they dispatch the EMTs. That isn’t going to happen on the street unless you crash in front of the hospital.
- Separate groups are based on ability/speed. You will be riding with people of similar experience, caution, and speed. I will not pass you on the inside of that downhill, off camber corner (not only because I’m not supposed to) but because we are not out there at the same time. Everyone around you will be staying far away, they’ll be going about the same speed, and will be focused on what’s ahead. The only thing you’ll have to focus on is your riding.
- High-quality expert instruction. Every on-track session will be followed by classroom or individual evaluation by an instructor. Nearly every organization has a “school” for novice riders and many have classes and instruction all the way up to the expert group (and if you ask someone will lead/follow to give you individual help). You’ll learn the proper line first (because it’s not just faster but safer too) by following an instructor around for the first several sessions if not all day. You’ll learn proper techniques for braking, throttle application, initiating turns, body position, and on and on. There is always something to learn, and people there to teach it to you in ways that you can understand, consume, and repeat.
- It’s a family. Motorcyclists treat each other like family. We’re close, we share something special and we know it. Everyone there will be willing to help you. I’ve crashed at the track and total strangers have helped me make repairs, given me parts, and generally been supportive to help me get back out there as soon as possible. Not just physically but mentally too. You’ll have the support of everyone there, from novice to seasoned expert, young to old.
- It’s transferable. As I’ve written before, riding on the track has not only made me a safer but also a more patient street rider. I know that in a few weeks I can push myself and my machine closer to the limit so don’t feel the need to do it on the street (as much). I’ve learned skills that help me ride better and safer everywhere. And I’ve trained my brain to react and stay calm at much higher speeds than I’ll be going on the street, reducing panic and adding safety.
- It’s fun. Look this might be #1. Even mopeds today can break the speed limit in seconds, if not first gear! At the track we can go fast, safely, and legally.
So, get out there on the track. Find a local organization and sign up. Roadracing World keeps a pretty good list. In New England I can personally recommend Fishtail and Penquin.
You can thank me when you make it to expert group and you pass me on the inside on that downhill off-camber corner…
Now go ride!