Riding on a track is much different than being a spectator at a race. Pro riders make it look so easy and 200 MPH doesn’t look so fast, right? The reality is that it is much more difficult to ride fast, smoothly, and safely than it looks. That is what compelled me to write this article based on my experience and the observations I have made over my years of track riding. Before you go to your first track day you need to be fit, both physically and emotionally. It is my hope that this article will help you prepare and be better equipped to maintain your focus while on the track to keep yourself safe. I will explain bike prep, rules of the track, structure of a track day, and a few techniques to maintain your focus.
Track days are not for brand new riders. If you just learned how to ride a motorcycle, give yourself some time to gain experience. You should have some road riding experience and have good control of the throttle, smoothly apply the front and rear brakes, and be able to confidently steer the bike. If you feel you need improvement in these areas, consider taking a class. We have a list of schools, books, and classes in other articles on our website. When you are on a track you are expected to keep a minimum pace, if you ride too slowly it is a safety hazard for you and the other riders. To get used to high speed riding take your bike on the highway. To practice turns and braking, find an empty parking lot and ride some mountain roads (observe the speed limit).
What To Bring
Some tracks do not have food, water, or fuel, check the track’s website for the services that are available on-site. It can get very hot in the summer, so a canopy is a good idea and be sure to bring plenty of water and food. There may not be any power outlets available, so a generator is nice to have to power a fan, charge your phone, run a tire inflator, etc. Overnight camping is available at many race tracks. Frequent track day riders have an RV, van, or toy hauler and they arrive the night before. If you have an RV, electrical hook-ups may be limited, so check with the track before you go and bring a generator just in case. Here’s a checklist assuming no services are available at the track.
- Tire warmers
- Extension cord
- Motorcycle key
- Fuel (for your bike and generator)
- Tool kit, zip ties, tape
- Tire pressure gauge
- Tire inflator
- Cell phone and charger
- Driver’s license, cash, credit card
- Motorcycle stand
- Rug/Mat for working on the bike
Physical And Mental Prep
Track days are not as physically and mentally demanding as racing, however, they do require much more physical movement than just cruising on the weekend. To be ready for the physical demands, I recommend starting an exercise routine at least two weeks ahead of your scheduled track day. Your routine should incorporate cardio, endurance, and core exercises at least three times a week. A basic routine would be 20 minutes of cycling, walking, or running, followed by planks, situps, and pushups. Physical exercise will help you move smoothly on the bike and make it generally easier to ride.
Emotional and mental preparation help you stay focused while on the track. You want to have a clear mind and be free from distractions. If you are worried or upset then you will not be safe. Before the track day, find something that you can think about that will keep you focused on your riding. When I start a track day, I think about the skill I am going to work on that day. Whether it’s trail braking, bliping, downshifting, and I focus on that. That helps me put aside everything else on my mind and keeps me focused on the task at hand. You may focus on your line through the first corner or maybe body position through corners, whatever it is, find something that will keep you focused on riding the motorcycle to the best of your ability.
Alcohol and drugs are strictly prohibited on all track days for your safety and the safety of the other riders. To maintain your energy during the track day, you will want to start the day by eating a healthy breakfast and not drinking too much coffee or other caffeinated beverages. Drink water throughout the day and have healthy snacks, like trail mix, nuts, protein bars, dried or fresh fruit, etc. Drinks with electrolytes are good to have on hot days and you should avoid foods that are heavy with carbs and starches that will slow you down. Again, limit your caffeine intake because that will make you jittery and not smooth.
Bike Prep And Tech Inspection
Getting your bike ready mechanically is extremely important to having a good day or bad day at the track. Your bike will have to pass a technical inspection the morning of the track day. Check the organizer’s website for their tech inspection procedure since some are more rigorous than others. Generally they are looking for leaks, loose parts, and worn tires.
Complete any maintenance tasks before the track day and take a test ride to confirm there are no mechanical problems and no leaks. You will need to remove the mirrors and use painters tape over the lights and turn signals. I also recommend removing the fuses for the lights, horn, and turn signals so they cannot be accidentally activated. You will need to pick a two or three digit number for your bike. You can buy your own numbers or track day organizers usually have a supply of stick-on numbers. You will need the number on the front cowl and one on the tail or side fairing of the bike. Check the organizer’s rules for details, some are particular about the placement of the numbers on the bike.
List of Items to check or change prior to track day
- Oil and Oil Filter
- Air Filter
- Spark Plugs
- Brake Fluid – Front and Rear
- Engine Coolant – Replace with water wetter or distilled water if required
- Brake Pads – Front and Rear
- Brake Lever play and position – Front and Rear
- Tires – Front and Rear
- Throttle cable play
- Clutch lever position and play
- Shifter position
- Suspension – Set sag
Do your own tech inspection before the track day. Usually there are relaxed requirements for new riders. Below is a list of common tech inspection items. Keep in mind some of these are not required by some organizations, so check their website or rider’s manual first.
Tech Inspection Checklist
- Front and rear wheel play
- Handlebar/clip-on looseness
- Throttle snaps back/does not stick
- Steering stem play
- Tire wear
- Chain slack
- Brake pad wear
- Test brakes
- Check for leaks – brake lines/bleeders, calipers, radiator, hoses, underneath engine
- Taped/disabled headlight, turn signals, brake light
- Taped wheel balancing weights
- Safety wired oil drain plug, oil filler, oil filter
- Exhaust sound level check
- Engine runs okay
- Windscreen and fairings are securely attached
Renting A Bike And Gear
You can rent a leather suit at some track days, check the track day organizer’s website to see if they offer gear rentals. They may also rent bikes, check with the organizer for details.
The gear required for track riding is as follows. Check with the track day organizer for their rules. The gear on this list is acceptable for all track day organizations. Photos included as examples.
- DOT/Snell Approved Full Face Helmet, flip up chin protector helmets are usually not allowed
- Gauntlet style gloves
- One piece leather suit
- Motorcycle racing boots
Differences In Track Day Organizers
You may have a choice of the track day organizations who run track day events in your area. Some organizers are racing focused and some are not, check their websites for how they run their track days and search forums for other rider’s track day experiences. Most of these organizations have a membership fee that may or may not be optional. Some allow you to ride as a guest but you have to pay a little more. Before buying a membership, I recommend riding as a guest to get a feel for the organization. Most organizers require new riders to attend an orientation class on their first day for no additional cost.
Registration, Tech Inspection, Schedule, And Calls
The first thing you want to do when you get to the track is check-in and pay any outstanding registration fees. Some organizers have a mobile app that you need to use for registration and check-in. Most still have in-person registration and check-in. At registration, the staff will put a sticker on your bike and sometimes will give you a sticker to put on the chin guard of your helmet. They will also issue you numbers if you don’t have them already on your bike. Then bring your bike to tech inspection- some organizers require inspection of your helmet, suit, gloves, and boots. Check the organizer’s website or rider’s manual for their tech inspection rules.
There is a schedule that each organizer has on their website that you can review prior to the track day. There are two mandatory items on the schedule and if you miss them, you will not be allowed on the track. Those are the technical inspection of your motorcycle and the rider’s meeting. Before each group rides there will be three announcements or “calls” to alert you to put on your gear and prepare to line up at the pit lanes. First call is 10 minutes before your session, second call is 5 minutes before, and third call is 2 minutes before. If you miss third call, you can still get on the track, but you will have to wait for the Pit Marshal to give you the thumbs up to enter the track. Do not enter the track until the Pit Marshal gives you the okay.
Typical schedule for a track day goes like this:
6:00 am – 8:00 am Registration and Check-in (Mandatory)
7:00 am – 8:00 am Technical Inspection (Mandatory)
8:00 am – 8:30 am Rider’s Meeting (Mandatory)
9:00 am – 9:20 am First Group/Class on track is always the Advanced Group or “A” Group
9:20 am – 9:40 am Intermediate Class
9:40 am – 10:00 am Novice Class
10:00 am – 10:20 am Advanced Class Session 2
10:20 am – 10:40 am Intermediate Class Session 2
10:40 am – 11:00 am Novice Call Session 2
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm Lunch Break / Quiet Period
1:00 pm – 5:00 pm Afternoon Sessions
This is a mandatory meeting where the organizer goes over their specific track rules. They will communicate the track conditions and any issues rider’s need to be aware of. They will review the meaning of the flags and their passing rules. If you miss this meeting you will not be allowed to ride on the track that day. So don’t miss it!
Groups Or Classes
The first time you ride with a track day organization you will be placed in a group (or class) according to your skill level. Some track day organizations place all new riders into the first time track riders group. Then they assess your ability on the track and will advance you to the next group if they think you are ready. Others will allow you to select the group you want to be in. I recommend to all first time track riders to place yourself in the first level group if you have the choice. This is not a time to exaggerate your skill level or to be arrogant. Be real and honestly assess your skill level. If you have the skills to advance, they will advance you the same day. The group size may vary depending on how many riders there are, there may be as many as 30 riders on the circuit at any one time, sometimes there may be only one. There are typically 3 or 4 classes, novice, intermediate, and advanced. Each group takes turns on the track and different classes are never combined for safety reasons. You will never see the novice group combined with advanced, however you may see two levels of advanced classes combined into one in the event there are too few riders in each advanced class. Each class is on track for 15 – 20 minutes and that is called a session. Each class typically has 3 – 4 morning sessions, a 1 hour lunch break, then 3 – 4 afternoon sessions. There are announcements over the track’s intercom system to tell you when your class should line up in the pit lanes. They will announce first call, second call, and third call. At the first call, you have 10 minutes until the start of the session, the second call is five minutes, and the third call is two minutes. The Pit Marshal does not release all riders at once, he will release 5 – 10 riders at a time depending on the number of riders in the class.
Getting To Know Other Riders
Get to know your fellow riders and neighbors in the paddock. Don’t be shy, everyone there loves motorcycles and you instantly have that in common. Most people are friendly and want to talk to you about their bike or help you with your bike if you need it.
Control Riders, Coaches, And Instruction
For new track riders, there is usually a classroom instructional session or separate rider’s meeting to explain the basic rules of the track. Most organizer’s offer free rider coaching at their track days. Coaches usually wear hi-viz vests or shirts. To get coached, all you need to do is ask one of the coaches or staff members. There are control riders that ride with each group / class. Some control riders are also coaches, and they also wear hi-viz vests or shirts so you can easily see them on track. The control riders initially set the pace for each group’s first lap, then you are free to pass them. The control riders are always on track riding with the group to ensure everyone is riding safely and the rules are being followed. The control riders use hand signals to communicate with other riders while on track. They may motion to you to go into the pit or the paddock if they need to talk to you. They may motion you to follow them, speed up or slow down or to pass them. Check the track day organizer’s rider’s manual for the hand signals they use.
There are many things to pay attention to when riding on the track and the flags are one of the most important. Always have your field of vision broad enough to see the flag stations. The Flag Marshals are there to communicate the status of the track to the riders in real-time. Memorize the meaning of the flags, following the flag rules can save your life or someone else’s life, not to be dramatic.
Green Flag – Start of session, track is hot
Standing Yellow Flag – There is an incident up ahead, maintain pace
Waving Yellow Flag – Incident is directly ahead, maintain pace, no passing
Red Flag – Session is ending for some reason, could be end of session or could be an incident and the track needs to be cleared. No passing. Acknowledge the flag with a left hand up or leg off the foot peg. Exit the track at the pit in.
Black Flag – The Track Marshal needs to talk to you, exit the track at pit in and pull up to the Track / Pit Marshal
Meatball Flag (black with orange dot) – Something is wrong with your bike, you are leaking oil or smoking, etc. and you need to immediately exit the track onto the grass. Slow your bike gradually and pull off the track onto the grass near a Flag Marshal to check your bike.
Checkered Flag – End of session, exit the track at the pit in.
Some tracks have noise limits, so check with the track day organization or the track’s website for noise limits and make sure your exhaust system complies with those rules. If your bike is louder than the sound limit you will fail tech inspection.
Many riders wear ear plugs at the track because it’s a noisy place. On track, the bikes can get very loud at high RPMs, so I suggest bringing a set of earplugs in case you feel you need them. I always have some of the orange foam earplugs with me in case it gets too loud. Ear plugs can reduce distractions on the track and help maintain your focus.
Entering The Track
When the Pit Marshal gives you the go-ahead, you will accelerate and enter the track. You will stay on that side of the track until after the first corner, this is called the blend line. Once you are on the pace, you can merge into the race line. The race line is the common line that everyone takes around the track. It is important for your safety to stay on the side of the track where you are entering into the first corner to allow faster riders who are already on track to safely pass you. Never cut across the track when entering the track! That could be deadly, No joke!
Exiting The Track
If you are ready to exit the track or at the end of a session, raise your left hand and maintain your speed well before the pit entrance / track exit. Continue to signal until you are in the pit lane. It’s okay to signal and then turn for a corner, but get your hand back up in the air so riders know you are slowing down and exiting the track. Never cut across the track to get to the pit entrance! Do not slow down abruptly and do not change your mind! Once you signal, you are committed to exiting the track. The speed limit is 10 MPH in the pit lane. If you want to get back on track, go to the pit lane and signal to the Pit Marshal to let you back on the track. He will find a safe gap for you to re-enter the track.
When you are a new track rider being passed by another rider can be nerve racking. Imagine yourself on the track, very focused and riding well, then out of nowhere a bike going 150 MPH screams past you at 15000 RPMs. If you are not used to it, it can startle you, distract you, and cause you to be overly cautious and apprehensive. Be prepared for it! Don’t let it rattle you! Tell yourself it’s all part of track riding and it is completely normal. Do not try to keep up with those riders, you will end up going too fast and crashing. Always ride at your own pace and at your own comfort level. Remember this is a track day and not a race. You are there to practice your skills, not to show off or to ride dangerously.
Passing Other Riders
All riders are usually allowed to pass each other, however the track day organizer may have their own rules for new track riders. Typically you will be allowed to pass on the outside and never on the inside, unless you are in the advanced group. For example, if you are approaching a corner and there is a slower rider in front of you, you may pass him on the outside of the corner. An inside pass would be squeezing between the other rider and the apex of the turn. Advanced riders are usually allowed to pass anywhere on the track inside or outside. The two safest places to pass slower riders are accelerating after a corner and on a straightaway.
Riders Who Break The Rules
If you are on track and have a safety concern with another rider, you can report it to one of the Track Marshals or staff members of the track day organization. They take safety issues very seriously and will talk to the other rider. I do not recommend confronting the other rider yourself, it’s better to report it and let the organizer handle it.
Anxiety Of High Speed And Proximity Of Riders
It is normal to be a little anxious when riding on a track for the first time. Your mind and body are not used to riding at high speeds around corners with unlimited speed limits on the straights. It goes against everything you learned when you got your motorcycle license, right? Don’t let it get to you. Before you go on track, have enough to eat, be well rested, and hydrated, that will help reduce your anxiety. If you are nervous about running into other riders, just tell yourself you are in control and ride at your own pace. Tune out the other riders and focus on your line. If you have riders cutting into your line, let them pass you and refocus. Remember the goals you set for yourself for that day. What did you want to practice? Smooth braking? Body position? Smooth throttle control? Focus on the things under your control. Remember, this is not a race, it’s practice!
Relax And Have Fun!
After reading this article I hope you feel more confident, better prepared, and less stressed about your first track day. You may reach out to us at TL Tech using our contact form if you have any questions or comments. Check out our other articles about track day organizations, schools, books, and classes to improve your track riding skills. I sincerely hope you enjoy your first track day. Just relax and have fun!