Normally, I hate writing but it's been fun to write about my experience. I guess it's always fun to share things that are really enjoyable, like riding bikes fast, for me.
For me, it all started with the high gas prices and the need to used a vehicle more economical than my 4x4 V-8 4.6L pickup (actually, it all started when I was 15 and manage to convince my Dad to help me buy my first bike... but that's a whole other story
After not having been on a motorcycle for almost 35 years, I decided that it would be the ideal vehicle for where I live (central New Mexico), where the climate is perfect for riding (dry and warm most of the time). But I have to go back a little. There is a reason I didn't sit my ass on a bike for that long. The first being that I was living in Alaska for most of that time (the least ideal climate for riding motorcycles), but a close second is that as a teenager I was a complete nut on bikes. I was really dangerous. I could have replaced my throttle with a switch, because there was no position between idle and full. How I made it alive through those few years, I have no idea. Luck I guess, because it certainly wasn't skill. Anyway, as I became an "adult" (by age only
), I figured that I really should stay away from those things if I wanted to stay alive. Instead, I picked up much safer activities like ice climbing and firefighting
Going back to the present now, when I decided to buy a motorcycle, figuring that I am now much more mature and probably won't kill myself with it, I read an article in some motorcycle magazine stating that motorcycle racers, or riders that had had racing or advance riding training had 10 times more chance of avoiding an accident when a bad situation occurred on the road than someone with no formal training. I don't know where they got those statistics, but it sounded pretty convincing to me.
So, I signed up for the "Skilled Riders Course" in Santa Fe. I skipped the beginner's course because I knew the basics of motorcycle riding. In the 8 hours of that course I learned so much, it was incredible. I could feel the progress I had made between my trip to Santa Fe and the trip back home. Outstanding! Now, this course teaches you how to handle your bike correctly, but mostly at low speed. I felt that it would be very useful to have a course on how to handle the bike at high speed (highway speed). Well, I couldn't find one of those, at least nowhere near where I live. Then someone (I can't remember who) mentioned that I should take my bike on a track, and that I would certainly find someone there that could give me pointers. "Are you nuts!!!
Take my bike on a RACING track! You must be out of your mind." I seem to remember replying, or at least thinking to myself.
Shortly after that, I went to a motorcycle store in Albuquerque to get a new pair of gloves. The parking lot in front of the store was full of motorcycles with numbers on them, but no lights, turn signals, license plates or even mirrors. Instead, they had tires that looked really worn out and completely slick. How crazy is that, probably totally unsafe.
Anyway, I started to talk to the owner of the business about the training I was looking for. He said the same thing! "Why don't you take your bike on track day". That particular day being a track day, I drove to that Speedway, on the West side of town to go and check it out. Ha! The sounds of fast going motorcycles and the smell of 2-strokers, memories of my youth. I leaned on the fence separating me from the straight away and watched the bikes go by for a while. I then started a conversation with someone who was also watching. Come to find out he is a racers and he is in his mid 60's. How crazy is that? Anyway, he mentioned to me that the next day was race day and they're always looking for corner marshals, and he asked me if I was interested. Well, geez, I could either be at home painting some walls or fixing some leaky faucets, or I could spend the day watching motorcycle racing... for free, eh, better than that, they'd pay me $50 for it. The next day I spent my day being a corner marshal watching fun races from really close. It was a hoot.
All the folks I met at the track were really friendly, and not at all the hot heads, macho attitude I was expecting. Just a friendly bunch having a good time, correction, a great time. They, of course, talked me into bringing my bike on the next track day to give it a shot. I was really apprehensive, and didn't really know what to expect, but I decided to at least give it a try.
First track day. What an experience. The day was split into 20min sessions, one each for beginners, intermediates and experts. During the beginners' sessions, they had experts (racers) available to help the beginners, to guide them, give them pointers and in general teach them about track riding. They're super friendly and super helpful. They either follow you or they tell you to follow them, and after the session you can chat with them about how things went and ask questions.
My first sessions, I just went on my own, or so I thought because one of those "control riders" was following me the whole time, just to get the feel. At the end of that first session, I came back to the pit area ready to pack my bike and go home. That was not for me. I was so scared! I really didn't know what I was doing out there, and it seem like everyone was passing me and felt in everybody's way. The control rider that had followed me stopped by my pit area and we talked for about 20min. He was so helpful, and convinced me to give it another shot with the next session. I followed him for a while, then he followed me and so on for a while. It got better, much better, and by the end of the track day, I was not fast or even good, but I was enjoying myself, which had not been the case on that first session! Anyway, I was hooked.
I have made tremendous progress since that first session and I feel like I've improved my street riding skills a lot too since I started track days. I really recommend it!
Because my 919 was my commuter bike and I was really afraid to damage it, I decided to buy a bike just for track days... and that's where this whole thread started at.
I have read about motorcycle riding techniques a fair bit as well, and I think that reading about the techniques and going to track days is a great combination to learn, I think they complete each other very well.
I read Nick Ienatsch's Sport Riding Techniques twice, plus David Hough's Proficient Motorcycling. A lot of people also mentioned the book by Keith Code, but I don't know the title.
Everyone learns things differently, but track riding has been a great thing for me and I highly recommend it, and because it is in a control environment (no crazy texting cage drivers allowed on track!), it is quite safe.