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6 Steps to Preparing Your Bike For Your First Track Day

Jenny SmithSeptember 30, 2016

Now that we’ve discussed preparing and outfitting yourself for your day at the track (read the article here), it’s time to make sure your bike is track-ready.

Crash Protection

UK-based R&G Racing makes quality crash protection for all types of bikes, including sport-touring and adventure models normally overlooked by other manufacturers. I chose to use R&G because it offers engine case covers that bolt right on, giving me the most protection possible for my borrowed FZ-07.

UK-based R&G Racing makes quality crash protection for all types of bikes, including sport-touring and adventure models normally overlooked by other manufacturers. I chose to use R&G because it offers engine case covers that bolt right on, giving me the most protection possible for my borrowed FZ-07.

Crash protection, such as frame, axle and exhaust sliders, engine case covers and crash bars, are an inexpensive form of insurance when it comes to saving your bike from serious damage. A lot of riders choose to use some form of crash protection, even if they never plan to go to a track—all it takes is one garage tip-over or encountering some gravel in a slow-speed turn to ruin your day.

At the track, you’ll be pushing your limits, and possibly those of your machine as well, so spending a couple hundred dollars on some easy-to-mount crash protection is a no-brainer.

R&G’s frame sliders are made from a special material designed to slow the bike down as it slides, and the bolts will bend rather than break or remain rigid, which can result in twisting the mounting point. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s mounting instructions carefully; tighten all bolts to spec using a torque wrench.

R&G’s frame sliders are made from a special material designed to slow the bike down as it slides, and the bolts will bend rather than break or remain rigid, which can result in twisting the mounting point. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s mounting instructions carefully; tighten all bolts to spec using a torque wrench.

Tires

Although the stock Michelin Pilot Road 3 tires on my FZ-07 still had plenty of life left in them, I opted to swap them out for a set of Dunlop Qualifier 3s. While the Pilot Roads are perfect for commuting and the occasional spin up the canyons, the Q3s are stickier—at the expense of mileage. Since the Pilot Roads are still in great shape, I can swap back to them when the Q3s wear out.

Although the stock Michelin Pilot Road 3 tires on my FZ-07 still had plenty of life left in them, I opted to swap them out for a set of Dunlop Qualifier 3s. While the Pilot Roads are perfect for commuting and the occasional spin up the canyons, the Q3s are stickier—at the expense of mileage. Since the Pilot Roads are still in great shape, I can swap back to them when the Q3s wear out.

Tires are possibly the most important piece of equipment for your bike; those rubber hoops are the only connection between you and the pavement, and as such most track organizations are adamant about the condition of the tires you have on your bike when you show up for a track day.

If there’s a time not to skimp on tires, this is it. If your tires have more than a couple thousand miles on them, I recommend springing for a new set of quality rubber from a name brand manufacturer. If you’re taking your sport-tourer, cruiser or adventure bike to the track, mount up a fresh set of your street-oriented tire of choice. If you’re bringing something more sporting, opt for a sport-biased tire such as the Dunlop Qualifier 3, Michelin Pilot Power 3, Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S-21 or Pirelli Diablo Rosso.

Just remember to “scrub” them in before you hit the track!

Unlike riding on the street, track day tires will wear out faster on the sides than down the middle. The upshot is that, even after a hard day at the track, your new tires will be ready for a normal lifetime of street use.

Pro Tip: Always check the manufacturing date of the tires you buy, especially if the price seems too good to be true. Tires degrade even in storage; if yours are between five and 10 years old, consider leaving them at home. If they’re 10 years old or more, pitch ‘em.

You can find the manufacturing date on your tires here: after the DOT symbol. The numbers correspond to the week and year of manufacture; hence, this tire was made in the fourth week of 2016.

You can find the manufacturing date on your tires here: after the DOT symbol. The numbers correspond to the week and year of manufacture; hence, this tire was made in the fourth week of 2016.

Brakes

The brake pads on this bike still have plenty of life left in them. If you’re in doubt, ask a bike mechanic or trusted riding buddy to take a look.

The brake pads on this bike still have plenty of life left in them. If you’re in doubt, ask a bike mechanic or trusted riding buddy to take a look.

It’s a good idea to inspect your brake system before you head to the track. You should be changing the brake fluid every two years, and if your reservoirs have sight windows, take a peek and make sure the level is within spec.

Using a flashlight, take a look at the pad thickness both front and rear. Remember that you’ll be riding harder at the track than you normally do, so your brakes will get an extra workout. If the pads look a little thin, it’s a good idea to swap for fresh ones—especially if you’ve already got the wheels off for new tires.

Oil & Coolant

Fun fact: glycol-based engine coolant is slippery. Very slippery. Encounter some of it spilled onto the roadway—or right in the racing line on a track—and there’s a good chance you’ll be sliding along the tarmac before you can say “Water Wetter.” For this reason, some track organizations require you to flush the coolant from your bike and replace it with distilled water.

Most track schools, however, especially those geared towards street riders, don’t require it. In either case, make sure the system is filled within spec and there are no leaks. You don’t want to leave a dangerous trail of slippery coolant behind you!

Use a high-quality synthetic oil if you know you’ll be taking full advantage of a closed-circuit track (i.e. you’ll be riding hard and near your bike’s redline).

Use a high-quality synthetic oil if you know you’ll be taking full advantage of a closed-circuit track (i.e. you’ll be riding hard and near your bike’s redline).

If you’re approaching your bike’s scheduled oil change interval, it’s probably a good idea to go ahead and change it. As with coolant, check for any leaks and make doubly sure you’ve tightened the drain plug (with a new crush washer) appropriately.

Pro Tip: Organizations vary on their coolant/water requirements. Be sure to ask BEFORE you get to the track—there’s nothing worse than failing tech because you forgot to check the rules.

Lights

Wait, why am I worrying about lights at a track day? It’s not like we’re going to be signaling lane changes, right? Most track organizations and schools will require you to disconnect or tape off your headlight and brake light, and they’ll likely want you to tape off the turn signals, auxiliary lights and any reflectors, as well as removing or taping over the mirrors.

The reason is two-fold: one, your brake light can be distracting to riders behind you, and two, in the event you take a spill, they are trying to minimize the broken glass and plastic debris that might scatter across the pavement and become a hazard to others.

You can tape the lights at home if you’re trailering to the track, or, if you’re riding your bike there, just bring a roll with you and allow some extra time in the morning to get taped up.

Pro Tip: Use blue painter’s tape—it’s easy to trim to fit and it will peel off easily, leaving no sticky residue behind.

Extras

If you’re trailering your bike, you’ll have the luxury of bringing some extra items that might come in handy:

  • Pop-up tent (i.e. an EZ-Up)
  • Folding chairs
  • Bike stand
  • Cooler for water and food
  • Extra gas, oil, chain lube, etc.
  • Tools

Even if you aren’t trailering, it would be a good idea to pack a backpack or bike luggage with these essentials:

  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Extra brake and clutch levers
  • Basic tools (screwdriver, sockets and/or hex head wrenches in sizes corresponding to commonly reached areas: battery, side panels, mirrors, etc.)
  • Hat
  • Drinking water

So now we have covered outfitting yourself and preparing your bike. The final part of the story is the track day itself! Stay tuned for Part 3: Your First Track Day.

4 comments

  1. One more thing:

    EXTRA FUEL. Unless there is fuel available for sale at the track (and you *need* to verify this ahead of time that it is available AND that it will be available on the day of your track school and BRING CASH!), you absolutely need to bring at least an extra 5 gallons of fuel.

    “Oh,” you say, “my bike gets over 40 mpg, holds 4 gallons of gas, and the school estimates that I’ll only get about 100 – 120 miles of track time, so I won’t need more gas.”

    WRONG!

    Anecdotal evidence: I regularly get 50-ish mpg (even with semi-aggressive canyon riding) and have a 5 gallon tank. On a trackday at Laguna Seca, I went through a little over 4 gallons of fuel…BY LUNCH. YMMV, but you don’t want to have your day cut short by running out of gas (literally) or having to beg/bother other riders for some because you weren’t prepared (and if you do, fergawdssakes, PAY THEM FOR IT). Trackdays move fast between classroom, track, refresh, repeat. There’s little time to actually look over your bike/make adjustments between sessions and your fellow riders/students are equally pressed for time. And you definitely don’t want to have to get on your bike (which now has taped-over/removed lights and license plate) to head off down the highway to find the nearest gas station.

    • We did mention this in the “Extras” section at the end, but thank you for highlighting it–and sharing your experience! It’s true that a lot of tracks don’t even offer gas on-site, and when they do it’s not cheap! -JS

      • Oh, yes, I know. I just feel that it is not an “extra” but an “essential to bring/have arranged.”

        You know, like one’s riding gear…

        • I hear ya! I’m not going to be able to trailer to this one, so I’ll be backpacking and taping up when I get there. Fortunately we’re at Streets of Willow so there’s a gas station quite close.

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