The road reports for the recent trip to Deal's Gap are coming, but in the meantime ...

I've been told that in the good 'ol days the only way you could ride on a race track was to be in a race. Now a days, there's this thing called a "Track Day". The idea of a track day is you get to take your regular street bike and ride it around on a track at whatever speed you happen to feel comfortable. There are no speed limits. Literally.

The thought of a track day had scared me for some time. I would imagine a mess of bikes with riders of varying skill levels careening down a straight getting bunched up haphazardly in a corner. I would imagine the mess of broken metal and body parts that could result. I was especially concerned about riding a much slower bike in a field of super bikes and getting rear-ended at speed.

Shudder.

Thanks to a skillful hand played by Sonia, Ryan's wife, last year in September, I found myself on a track learning how to improve my riding in ways I never imagined possible at Keith Code's California Superbike School. Since then I've wanted to practice what I had learned.

So it came to pass one day, that Bob's BMW in cooperation with Motorcycle Xcitement hosted a Track Day event up at Summit Point Raceway. What I didn't realize is that it would be a more controlled environment than I had imagined. Given that it was Bob's and the average age of their clientele is probably a bit older than myself, I figured it would probably not be "too fast". After all, I'm not a fast rider. It's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I decided to take the guest bike since it's a more capable machine and I had just redone the suspension with a set of premium Ohlins shocks which Bob's service department had set up for me. I had ordered a set of Michelin Pilot Power 2CT tires as soon as I got back from Deal's Gap. My friend Audrey came over two nights before to help me prep the bike. Through a couple of recent tire changes she had learned to use the No Mar Tire Changer. She mounted the tires while I focused on trying to get the front end to align. Do I have good friends or what? Without her help I doubt everything would have gotten done. There had been a little slow speed mishap a Deal's Gap the week before and the bike had been in a minor get-off that left the front suspension tweaked. No, I wasn't riding it at the time. I did the best I could to line things up but I'm afraid the forks are probably irreparably bent. It seemed to do ok but I wasn't sure if I would notice any issues going at break-neck track speed. After quite a bit of soul searching and over 100 miles of test rides, I decided it was probably still better to take the guest bike tweaked front suspension and all rather than risk my less capable Beloved Blue Bike.

Summit Point Raceway is a little over 80 miles from my house. The paperwork for the event said the riders orientation meeting was to be at 8:30. Considering the possibility of traffic, I decided to get up at 5:30 and leave by 6:15. The last thing I wanted was to be rushed and overwhelmed.

5:30 is a harsh mistress. Why 45 minutes you say? Well, without coffee there is no life.

1_morningcoffee.JPG

I had done pretty well the night before to prep everything so there wasn't much to do but drink enough coffee to stay awake and hit the road. Unfortunately, there was more traffic than I was expecting. I arrived at Summit Point Raceway at 7:55AM.

2_summitpoint.JPG

I went through and found the Bob's BMW area. Lex, Darryl and Charlie who work at Bob's were there along with a few customers. I would later come to understand what a benefit it is to have someone there with a canopy, chairs, and snacks. They had grapes, apples, bananas, junk food and water. It was also very helpful to have some friendly faces there to guide me through the registration and tech inspection processes.

2.5_bobstent.JPG

Charlie instructed me to rush and see if I could get through registration and have my bike inspected before the riders meeting which was scheduled to start at 8:15.

"8:15!?! But the paperwork said 8:30." I said. So the rushing and stress began. This is much the way I felt at Track School. There's a bustle of activity. You have to constantly watch out for bikes coming and going. People are everywhere. "Go to the red roofed building to get your registration card." Charlie said. I had to ask three times because there were several red roofed buildings. I could feel myself getting unsettled and my vision narrowing.

But I remembered this feeling and knew it would pass.

So if you ever want to do a track day, it's important to note that registration happens first. They give you a little card. You take the little card, your bike and your helmet over to the tech inspection stand where a tech will give it a quick 30 second once over. He'll check the tires, the brakes and the levers. If it's a street bike you need to tape up not only the mirrors but all the lights. I did not know this. Electrical tape is not good to use because it's hard to remove and leaves a residue. It's apparently best to use the blue painters tape. Bob's had tape there and showed me what to tape up. The tech will also look at your helmet to make sure it does not have any major defects. You need to have good gloves, boots, and a jacket/pants combination that zips together or a one piece race suite. The paperwork makes it sound like the tech inspection is a big deal but it's apparently just a quick once over.

I did notice that most people seemed to be wearing full race gear. This should have been a Sign(tm).

The riders meeting was starting just as I got through inspection. I hate being rushed. I truly despise it.

3_ridermeeting.JPG

There were a disturbingly large number of people here. Roger Lyle, the man behind the Motorcycle Xcitement organization, gave a briefing. He has an unusual presentation style that seemed a bit out of place for a Track Day orientation. He invokes "God", the "Bible" and other Christian imagery quite often. Just as I began to fear this was going to turn into a sermon, he turned the briefing to the topic at hand and started the introduction to the track rules.

Riders are divided up into a bunch of different groups. The noobs are put in the beginners group. Everyone starts there. There are also intermediate, advanced and race school groups. Most of the Bob's guys were in the intermediate group. Only one group of riders are on the track at any given time. Each track session lasts about 15 minutes. The beginners have additional rules placed on them. As a beginner you are not allowed to pass in corners. This would prove to be a noticable limitation for me given that I have a slow bike. It was also made clear that there would be coaches on the track with us and that they would be available to answer questions.

The first session on the track was to be a slow speed orientation session to let riders get to know the track. I was starting to feel much more comfortable about the whole thing. They stressed repeatedly that this is not a race. Do not ride at the limit of your capability. Leave some room for error. This further built my comfort level.

He went on to talk about "finding a buddy". "Find someone out there that rides at about your level and follow him or her. That'll be your buddy and you'll have a better time."

All good things come to an end as was the case with my feelings of comfort.

An EMT service was there with ambulances at the ready. The main guy whose name I forget said, "Now this is really important. If you have an accident we'll come up and we'll ask you your name. If you don't respond or you're too busy moaning, we'll call for the bird. So it's really important. Stop moaning and answer with your name. Got it?" he said matter of factly.

"Remember, when asked, stop moaning in agony. Say my name. Resume moaning in agony. Check." I would remind myself tentatively. Safe they said. Exactly how fast would we be going?

After the riders meeting I headed back over to the Bob's tent to store my bags and get ready to ride. The advanced riders went out first. The intermediate went second. So I had at least half an hour before my first track session.

4_lex_and_daryll.JPG

Lex, on the left, is the Bob's contact for the event. Darryl, on the right, works in the service department. I don't know Lex very well having only spoken to him a few times over the many years he's worked at Bob's. Darryl and I have spoken more often. He's a really good guy and has always been kind to me. I was looking forward to riding on the track with him. He's got a Miles-By-Motorcycle sticker on his black R1100S bike. Pretty cool.

Announcements would come over the loudspeaker indicating which group was to be up next. They would announce 10 minutes or so ahead. It was time for the intermediate group to ride. They lined up waiting for the signal to go.

5_ridersliningup.JPG

I watched for a little while. To my surprise they were certainly going much faster than we had been at the Keith Code school. I was not sure what to expect. The first session for the beginners group was called sooner than I expected so it was yet another rush to put my gear back on, get my bike and line up. I was surprised to see how many of the so called "Beginners" had full race leathers. Many seemed to have dedicated track bikes with numbers on them. I'm pretty sure my 1999 R1100S was by far the slowest bike in the group. Once again I felt a bit intimidated and was afraid I was going to be holding things up.

Onto the track we went slowly. A group of 10 of us putted around the track. To my surprise, it was almost too slow. The riders ahead of me, even the ones in full race gear on dedicated race bikes, were more tentative negotiating these long sweeping corners than I would have expected. Once again, I have to remind myself not to judge a book, positively or negatively, based on it's cover. It did, however, give me a chance to get a pretty good look at the track but I would have liked to have gone a little faster in that first session so I could have gotten a better sense of it.

In the second session, I was able to pick up the pace a bit but found that I kept getting behind riders that would bolt from corner to corner much faster than I could only to slow down painfully in corners. "No passing in corners." was the rule even if they are crawling. This was stressing me out because I really wanted to practice cornering. A coach started following me around and would occasionally lead. But inevitably we would get caught behind a bunch of very slow riders. Once we came around to the straights everyone would get on the gas and leave me behind. There was no catching up. And the story would repeat itself at the next corner where I would catch up and have to slow way down. This really was no fun at all. So I attempted to hold back a little bit and bolt out of a corner in some of the slower sections to get ahead of people. It felt really rude and I was trying very hard to pass without unsettling anyone.

After the session, the coach, a pleasant enthusiastic guy named Greg, came over and talked to me. "You pass very politely. You're not unsettling anyone. You're doing well." I mentioned I was having trouble passing in the straights because compared to these 150+hp monstrosities out there my little 85hp bike just can't keep up in the straights. "Out brake them. They'll hit the brakes earlier. You can get by them right before going into the turns." he suggested.

During the next session things started to become fun. I did as Greg suggested and in the main straight where I could reach maybe 132 mph I would simply wait a bit longer to brake. As the others hit the brakes early to tentatively go around turn 1, I would rush past, waiting to brake at the last moment I felt comfortable. The first two or three times I did this it was a little scary because I misjudged where to brake and damn near had to do a panic stop. The rear of the bike got light and started wiggling and I wasn't sure if I could make the turn but I did manage to save it with some margin for error. Slowing down from 130 to 30 in a hurry is challenging and isn't something I've done before. It's a good skill to have but hard to practice when you're surrounded by other bikes you're trying to get past.

I noticed I wasn't being passed very much. At one point I came upon a guy on a Yamaha R6 who was moving along at a really good pace. I started following him and stayed with him for the rest of the session. "This is my buddy." I thought. It was a blast. As I rolled up, I saw he was talking to Greg. I waited patiently. Greg said to me, "You and this other guy, Nathan, are the two fastest riders in the beginners group by far. You're lapping many of the others. I think you should get bumped up to the intermediate group. At your pace, you're a solid mid-level intermediate rider. But it takes two coaches to sign off so let's go find one to follow you."

e_greg.JPG

We chatted for a bit. He used to race motocross but said that as he's gotten older he no longer has that win-at-all-costs mentality that's necessary for racing. "I prefer coaching now. It's relaxing." he said. He seemed to really enjoy sharing knowledge.

We talked to a coach, Lucas, who agreed to follow me for an evaluation. I went back to the Bob's tent to get some water and take a break.

I found myself thinking, as I sat there sipping on the water that Bob's provided, that on the one hand having a little canopy, some chairs and water doesn't seem like much but man would I miss it if it weren't there. Because of the work the Bob's BMW stuff does and all the stuff they bring, someone can just ride up on their street bike and take it on the track. They make it so much easier for someone to do this than it would be otherwise. Without them there, I'd likely be baking in the sun not having any place in the shade, which on this day wasn't too bad as the weather was absolutely beautiful. A cool breeze was ever present. If I do a future track day event where the Bob's crew aren't there I'll have to figure something out. I must admit if you've never done a track day and would like to get a taste of it, joining the Bob's BMW track day event is about as trouble free an introduction as one could get.

Most other riders had trailers and cars and their own canopies to sit under. There's just all this additional stuff you need to do these things on your own.

I was hoping to ride with Darryl on the next session, but unfortunately, he had some bad news. He had mentioned before track day that his bike was making some unusual noises and it looks like it self destructed on the track with just under 90,000 miles on the clock. He was visibly bummed about this.

6_daryllr1100s.JPG

I think this is his bike. if it isn't it's very similar to his bike. Since I was still in the beginners group and he was in the intermediate group, I offered to let him ride the guest bike but unfortunately he wasn't interested. I did have good coffee with me, of course, so I offered him some. Bummer, I had really been looking forward to riding with him.

Down at Deal's Gap I had noticed that there were many more female riders than I had ever seen before. I noticed the same phenomenon here. There were far more female riders than I would have expected and all of the women riders I saw were on full sport bikes wearing full race leathers. My thoughts turned to Tara, the Canadian who handed me my ass and set me on this course to become a better rider than I thought possible.

7_femalerider.JPG

8_femalerider.JPG

This woman was in the beginners group as well and was probably somewhere around my age. I forget what she rode. It was some kind of superbike. GSXR? CBR? R1? Ducati? I don't remember. In the last session of the day, practicing something the coach Lucas had suggested I try, I was attempting to pass her in a short straight when she got on the gas. Her bike was much more powerful than mine and launched forward faster than I expected. Lucas said I made the pass cleanly but it was a little closer than he would have liked. It was certainly much closer than I had intended or was comfortable with. I tried to find the woman afterwards to apologize but I wasn't able to find her. I hate when that kind of thing happens.

Nevertheless, there were far more women riders than I was expecting. The times are changing and it's a good thing.

There were, however, a number of women around who looked pretty bored. I assumed they were the girlfriends of racers. I guess it's possible they were support staff. Who knows?

9_woman.JPG

I found myself thinking I probably wouldn't invite a non-rider up to an event like this. Even then, I probably wouldn't want to go with someone who wasn't participating in the event.There wouldn't be anything for them to experience, I don't think. It would be a day of sitting in the sunshine listening to the roar of fast moving machines go by while having largely nothing to do. This woman spent most of her time reading a book. I felt bad for these women who were just hanging around.

It turns out Nathan, the other fast beginner rider, was set up just across the way from the Bob's BMW canopy. Every now and then I meet someone who I just hit it off with. It happens very rarely, but Nathan is just a great guy. He's got a calmness and lack of arrogance to him and he's a damn good rider.

b_nathan.JPG

While I was supposed to be evaluated for a bump up to the intermediate level, the coaches bumped him up to the I level immediately. They were impressed with his riding. Unfortunately, on the very first turn of the very first intermediate level session he participated in his rear wheel came out in turn one and he went down. His gear worked. He was completely fine and his bike was undamaged other than being covered in dirt. He wasn't sure what he had done wrong. Too much throttle? It's not clear. But he was very reasonable about it and kept an even head.

c_nathan.JPG

It shook his confidence quite a bit and it tooks a couple of sessions before he got his groove back. I was impressed with how quickly he recovered and how he didn't let his off and subsequent demotion back to the beginner group dampen his spirits. He still had a blast and it meant we got to ride at the same time. Unfortunately, as fate would have it I didn't see much of him on the track as we constantly got separated at the start, me being in one group of 10 and him in another.

The racer, Jeremy Cook that Bob's BMW sponsors, was there with an assistant. He was riding as a coach in a few of the session. At one point he needed to add some air to his tires but was running short on time. "I have a mini-compressor." I mentioned to him. We used my mini-compressor to add some pressure to a tank of his. They got a kick out of the little gadget. "I've got to get one of these." he said. "I should have brought the espresso maker." I replied.

d_jeremy.JPG

They called up the last beginner session before lunch and out I went with Lucas. I ran around the track at a pretty good pace focusing on my body positioning and cornering. At the end of the session, Lucas found me and we spoke. He said that Keith Code school had clearly worked for me and that I was doing everything correctly except my line through the corners wasn't what people would expect and it would likely not play well at the intermediate level. So he denied me the bump up. He seemed ready for a negative reaction from me but he got none. "The last thing I want to do is something that's going to spook someone." I replied. "I have no ego in this. I'm just here to learn."

"Tone down your speed and practice your lines. Then I'll follow you again and if you improve I'll agree to bump you up." Cool.

It was time for lunch. There wasn't much for me to eat but I managed. I sat down with Darryl and a few others.

f_lunch.JPG

I was talking about how I'd rather be passed that have to pass. Getting around slow people when they bolt from corner to corner was getting a bit old. The conversation moved to the kinds of bikes out there and how fast the S1000RR, BMW's 190hp technological superbike wonder, was. "I think there are a couple S1000RR's in the beginners group." someone said.

"I didn't notice." I replied "My mirrors are taped over."

After finishing lunch, I walked back over to the Bob's tent. Jeremy was there telling stories about drifting his rear wheel around corners. Advanced racers can actually slide the rear wheel free to force the front of the bike to point sharper into the corner improving their times. "How the hell do you learn to do that?" I asked incredulously. "How do you develop that feel?"

I didn't think he would take as much time to talk about his progression in riding. Strangely, I've done many of the things he has. I did Total Control. I did the Superbike school. He learned things and pushed himself in ways I can't imagine doing. It's amazing how two people can be exposed to the same things, the same ideas, and one will jump forward in ability to become something extraordinary and the other, me, will just gradually progress. He went on to talk about trust. "You have to learn to trust the machine. You have to learn to trust the engineers and the mechanics. You have to learn to trust that the tires will stick and that the bike will corner better than you can. Once you can build that trust, then the only thing you have to work on is inside your own head." he explained. "It's a chain of trust." I commented. "Yea." he replied.

And it suddenly made sense. Sometimes you will hear motorcyclists say you simply have to "believe" that the bike will do what you need it to. It's obviously more nuanced than this, context being key. You have a finite quantity of attention you can spend at any given moment. Worry is a kind of attention. If you worry about the tires, if you worry about the bike, if you worry about the brakes, if you worry that the mechanic made a mistake or that you'll have some catastrophic failure, you'll have significantly less attention for the task at hand. "You have to have a chain of trust." not because tires can't fail or machines can't break, but that these things have gotten so good that these days the much bigger danger is that you're moving so fast that you have a lapse in attention. Anything, any doubt, any fear, that takes away your attention is likely to lead to problems.

And then, if you have this chain of trust built, if something does go wrong with one thing or the other you'll likely be in a better headspace to recognize it and deal with it calmly because you have excess attention to spend on it. It's like how your attention to driving is drained by a child that constantly asks, "Are we there yet?". "Has the tire failed yet? The brakes? The steering? Do I have traction?" over and over and over. It's tiring and robs you of critical attention and counter-intuitively makes it more likely you'll have an issue.

"And remember, no matter how fast you are going, there's someone else here who has gone faster, one handed sipping a latte." one coach said. "The bike can make it around the corner. You are the limiting factor." I remembered these words as I was pondering what Jeremy was saying.

We are on a track to go fast. When you go fast you have to eliminate doubt so that you can free yourself to be situationally aware of your surroundings and where you are headed.

As incredibly improbable and counterintuitive as it is, you can in fact take corner 10 at more than 85mph despite the fact you can think of 1000 reasons in the blink of an eye why it could and should go horribly wrong. Then you realize that 85mph for corner 10 is probably 20 or more miles an hour slower than is possible by someone with skill.

After thinking about it, I realized the corrolary to "chain of trust" is that in order to build a "chain of trust" you have to give up the illusion of control. Being completely self-reliant is an ideal many of us hold on to. It's like being the rider who worries about every last detail of the bike, the tires, etc. It's safe to be self-reliant. It's safe to feel like we have control over every last little aspect. It is, however, an illusion and it makes us slow and likely more dangerous. To ride a motorcycle well, to ride a motorcycle fast, means giving up the control over your own life and placing it into the hands of potentially thousands of other people who built everything that's made it possible for you to go fast at that particular moment.

Of course we have to choose wisely who or what we give that control up for, but after some time, with some experience it seems to be a skill that can be honed. I suspect, given that the motorcycle seems to be a mirror for my own pychological limitations, these concepts probably apply in many other areas. Entrepreneurship is clearly one.

After lunch, the sessions continued. I attempted to follow the advice Jeremy had given me, not blindly, but to simply assume the bike would make it around whatever corner I wanted it to as long as I did what i needed, namely smooth throttle control, body position, vision, etc. In other words, I narrowed my attention just down to what I was doing and let the bike take care of itself. I also focused on controlling my fear. It's scary going around those corners that fast. You get scared, you tense up, suddenly the bike doesn't handle as well as it did before because you grip the bars too tightly. Unlike Deal's Gap, however, these corners are long sweepers. There's one where you lean the bike over and it seems like you're in that position forever.

I had learned to be first in line when the beginners group was called up. This made all the difference in the world. I would typically get the track to myself allowing me to go as fast as I wanted. I would usually have several minutes before I came up on another rider. I got more comfortable diving deep into corners to pass riders who had much faster bikes. I practiced my lines.

j_racedayphoto_r1100s.JPG

Lucas followed me. Doing as I had been told, I reduced my speed and demonstrated I could hit the lines he had suggested. In the post session de-brief he told me, "Now I want to see that you can follow your lines but go back to the same speed you had before." "But you said I should slow down." I replied. "Yea, I know I said that. But now I need to see you demonstrate speed."

And so it continued. On the very last session of the day it seemed like all the beginner riders were going faster. I was flying and after some point I got passed by Nathan on his R6. Given equivalent riders, there's no catching an R6 on an R1100S. To be honest, Nathan is a better more fearless rider than I am. He says he got video of me on the track from his bike. I'm hoping to get a copy.

At one point, Nathan was talking to one of the female riders. I don't think she was in the beginners group. "What do you ride?" she asked me. I pointed at the R1100S and said "The slowest bike in the group. That R11S". "There's nothing wrong with being slow. We're just out here to have fun." she replied. Nathan explained, "Oh, his bike is slow but he isn't."

The day was over. Lucas rolled up next to me and asked me what I thought. I gave him my assessment. "My lines are better but not as consistent as yours. I passed that one woman out of turn 2 closer than I wanted." He agreed and after some discussion told the organizer Roger that I should be bumped up to the intermediate level. Roger replied, "We don't bump people up after the last session." So if and when I go back for another track day, I'll have to spend the first half of the day at the beginner level. No problem.

It was time to pack things up. Luckily for Darryl, there was room in the Bob's tailer for his bike. Unfortunately for him, there wasn't room for him. So he had to return home on the back of Lex's bike.

g_2_daryllandlex.JPG

It was all very funny.

It was over. I was incredibly tired. It was an exhausting day of going much faster than I thought I would. I rolled out of the parking lot and onto the small country roads barely moving already missing the feeling of ever so slightly lifting the front wheel while accelerating out of turn 10. I suspect I may have to do something like this again.

The scenery out near Harper's Ferry is beautiful especially as the sun starts to set.

h_countryside.JPG

So tired, I rode many miles on my guest motorcycle to find a Starbucks, of course, because as everyone knows, I'm a Starbucks Stopper.

i_starbucks.JPG

I reflected on my day. The Bob's BMW guys made the experience much more pleasant and easier to try as a first timer than it would have been otherwise. I'm pretty sure the next time they schedule a track day I'll participate.

The skill levels in the beginners group were all over the place. There are clearly street riders who had never taken any riding courses. There were riders who had been on the track before. And then there were Nathan and I. I think, to get more first time people to participate in a Bob's Track Day it might be good for the Bob's folks to arrange something with the Total Control folks. I would strongly recommend that anyone considering a track day to at least take the Total Control Advanced Rider Clinic before going out on a track. You'll have so much more fun and you'll be safer out there.

Is a track day "safer" than a day down at Deal's Gap or anywhere else on the road? I guess the answer depends on who you are. As I mentioned to Rob the other day, higher performance in both ability and machinery is vastly safer given a disciplined rider. From my experiences on a track witnessing what I did I suspect the track is not safer for a disciplined rider, it's just more controlled with better and closer services. The "illusion" of safety on a track allows you to ride much closer to your own limits, which is inherently not safe. However, again context being key, if you are a reckless rider regardless of where you ride, then yes, I suspect the track is vastly safer. But I do agree, the track is the only place to go truly fast even if all you're doing is riding a very slow bike.

Interestingly, I thought the Keith Code school made me a much better rider in all conditions. This Track Day event was more specialized and what I learned here doesn't seem, at first glance, to translate much to road riding. It was, however, a completely enthralling blast of a time.

As the sun set over the horizon, I rode the lonely cool road back home.

You must be a member of this group to post comments.

Please see the top of the page to join.

Link Details
formVistaTM By: Flying Brick Software, LLC
formVista generated this page in: 0.1083 seconds
using '6291456' bytes of memory