Track Day for Street Bikes

Track Day Motorcycle
Riders work to enhance their skills in an environment free of the dangers and distractions present on public roads. (Photography by Arcy Kusari)

When I get on a motorcycle I want to ride far, preferably somewhere I haven’t been before. The idea of repeating the same 1.7 miles over and over never really appealed to me. A track day for non-sportbikes changed my mind.

On August 19, 2014, Tony’s Track Days offered its first-ever track day for non-sportbikes at Thompson Motorsports Park in Connecticut. The event’s mission was to give average street riders the opportunity to enhance their skills in an environment free of the dangers and distractions present on public roads.

A Tony’s Track Day instructor provides guidance on proper body positioning.
A Tony’s Track Day instructor provides guidance on proper body positioning.

“We want to encourage more types of riders to experience the racetrack and to learn more about their bike and ability,” said Tony Iannarelli, da boss of Tony’s Track Days LLC. “This is our 18th year doing track days. We do get riders on sport tourers and the occasional Gold Wing, but today is a different setup. It’s a day of motorcycle riding geared toward touring bikes, adventure bikes and cruisers, for people who have never ridden at a track day before.” (Your humble scribe included.)

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Iannarelli picked the perfect venue. Thompson’s 10-turn, 1.7-mile road course is brand new for 2014. So are support facilities including garages and classroom space.

Several riders on luxury tourers carved up track-day curves.
Several riders on luxury tourers carved up track-day curves.

Compared to a typical track day, gear requirements were somewhat relaxed. We needed a full-face helmet, leather or textile riding jacket and pants, and gloves and boots overlapping our jacket and pants. Each bike received a tech inspection to ensure it was roadworthy, with tires and brakes in good shape and no fluids leaking. Brake lights were taped over so we wouldn’t make decisions about braking based on riders in front of us. Likewise, mirrors were taped over so cornering decisions weren’t influenced by what was behind us. “You want your focus forward,” lead instructor Ken Condon explained.

Condon opened the riders’ meeting by asking, “How many of you are nervous?” A few hands went up, including mine. “The rest of you are lying. (laughter) There’s more to be nervous about riding on the street. Variables on the street don’t let you focus on just your skills because you also have to manage your environment. But here on the track there’s no sand, no potholes, no painted lines, no Buicks, no pedestrians. Here you have the optimal environment to improve your braking and cornering skills. That said, you need to process this new environment.”

In this classroom session, riders get pointers for carving a smooth line through the tricky double-apex turn.
In this classroom session, riders get pointers for carving a smooth line through the tricky double-apex turn.

To begin processing, Condon had the training staff introduce themselves, explain track rules and procedures, and help us set individual goals for the day. Riders placed themselves in the fast, medium or slow group, and every hour was divided into roughly equal sessions of track time, classroom instruction, and a break to grab a drink or talk with instructors or other riders.
For each group’s first track session, five riders followed an instructor. Each lap, on the straightaway, the first participant dropped to the rear so every rider could do a lap directly behind the instructor (group riders will recognize this method as Drop-and-Sweep). Nerves quickly calmed. The track was just a road—a really nice road—free of those distractions Condon mentioned.

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White X’s on the tar marked the ideal spot to initiate tip-in for each turn. A small orange cone identified each turn’s apex and another indicated the appropriate exit line. After a few circuits following instructors and these visual cues, the best line through each turn—even the tricky double apex and the off-camber hairpin—was clear. Practicing those same 10 turns repeatedly improved my smoothness and speed. What chicken strips?

Your humble scribe looks ahead to the cone marking the line out of turn 4.
Your humble scribe looks ahead to the cone marking the line out of turn 4.

Each classroom session addressed a new topic—throttle control, body positioning, visual acuity—then it was back on the track to apply what we learned on those same 1.7 miles. Instructors were always on the track to observe and guide us. It was enlightening—and a blast!

Track photographer Arcy Kusari (otmpix.com) was on hand all day to give riders access to great shots of their day at the track. A buffet lunch was included, as was use of the garages. Broad smiles on the faces of 60 participants confirmed their $250 was well spent.

Triumph Bonneville rider Jesse Sheidlower said he’s still fairly new to motorcycling and wanted the chance to practice skills, which can be difficult where he lives in Manhattan. Bill Weidner, who was recognized for the longest distance traveled, rode his BMW GS from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to Thompson, Connecticut, to spend a day on the track.

Practice on a closed course helps riders improve skills that translate directly into more control and enjoyment on the open road.
Practice on a closed course helps riders improve skills that translate directly into more control and enjoyment on the open road.

Debra Conde, who came from Watertown, Massachusetts, on her Suzuki V-Strom, observed, “I’m always looking to learn new things, be it motorcycle related or otherwise, and I thought this would bump up my skill set. I think being able to read curves better by taking them repeatedly in a controlled environment will help improve my everyday riding, doing twisties specifically.”

Would I still rather ride 1,000 miles to some place new than ride 1.7 miles over and over? I would. But this day at the track, focused on improving my skills, will make those long trips even better. Tony Iannarelli is planning more track days for non-sportbikes in 2015, so get on your cruiser, tourer or adventure bike and spend a day at the track.

For more information, visit tonystrackdays.com, or search the web for track schools in your area such as the California Superbike School, CLASS Motorcycle School, Penguin Racing School and Yamaha Champions Riding School.

(This article Track Day for Street Bikes: Cruisers, Tourers and Adventure Bikes Take on Thompson was published in the January 2015 issue of Rider magazine.)

On their first track session, riders get a feel for Thompson’s 1.7 mile, 10-turn road course.
On their first track session, riders get a feel for Thompson’s 1.7 mile, 10-turn road course.
One technique covered in the classroom: point your chin in the direction you want to go. This rider’s got it.
One technique covered in the classroom: point your chin in the direction you want to go. Rider Dave McBride has got it.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Great article and an awesome class! Can you guys give credit to the riders in the photos please? I’m the one with the caption “One technique covered in the classroom: point your chin in the direction you want to go. This rider’s got it.”
    Also, the caption “Several riders on luxury tourers carved up track-day curves” under the photo of the rider on the white Goldwing neglects to point out his lack of legs blow both knees, and something seriously awesome needs to be said about this mega-dude who was faster than most people on the track 🙂

  2. Hopefully, this article will inspire more “street-only” riders to participate in track events with Tony’s. I participate in many different types of motorcycling. AdventureSport touring; Dirt Bike and Dual Sport riding on both closed courses and open trails; Sportbike riding on the street; and Track riding with organizations like N2, TPM, SST, Tony’s, etc. I often find the members of one group of riding style snubbing their nose at the other styles, while dismissing the skill-set that each style requires to perform successfully. Many riders of each style simply don’t realize the benefits to their own skill-set that participation in the other styles can bring them.

    High mileage street/touring riders are masters of looking down the road, keeping their eyes up, and reading the cues from the movements of traffic, other drivers, and potential hazards entering from the sides…whether animal or mineral. They will see the slight tilt of the head of the driver of the lifted pick-up truck three cars ahead, indicating an unsignaled lane change is about to occur. They’ll notice the rustle of the grass on the open road just before the deer or elk jump across the lane. These skills of eyes up and anticipation are important skills for all riders, regardless of bike or venue they ride in.

    Track riders learn about the limits of their equipment like no other riders. They learn the limits of their brakes, tire adhesion, and lean angle as they progressively carry more speed into each corner, each lap. Riders who have never been to the track question the fun of going through the same 16 corners over and over. I liken it to being a musician, who practices the same scales or same sheet of music repeatedly until the music is perfect and effortless. The repeatability leads to skill improvement. You know you just messed up the entrance to turn 3, but in 2 minutes or so, you’ll get another shot at correcting it. These skills of trusting how far a motorcycle will lean, how quickly it will brake, how closely you can place your front tire to that apex cone will enhance your skills whether on the open road or in the woods.

    Dirt bike riders know how to let it hang out. Whether on a motocross track, a flat track or barreling through a Hare Scrambles course, they know that it’s not necessary to have your tires lined up in a nice straight line. They hang the rear out and cross up the front. They ride on a huge variety of surfaces that offer a wide variety of traction. Loose stone, deep sand, wet clay, loam, all offer new challenges, as do steep hills and other obstacles. The skills developed in these environments are also transferrable to the street and track, where a sudden change in traction conditions can lead to panic for a rider with less developed skills.

    So make 2015 the year you try a different bike. Ride an ice bike, ride a cruiser, a big tourer, a dirt bike, a sport bike or a track bike. You may surprise yourself how much fun the other guys are having and you may pick up some new skills that make your particular passion more enjoyable.

    Happy New Year

  3. My wife surprised me with a track day at Sonoma Raceway. It was pricey but was part of the Class rider improvement course. I learned so much! Mostly I learned that limitations exist more in the mind than with my BMW GS1200! -highly recommend a track day!!

  4. The guy on the Gold Wing is my good friend Sean. He’s been riding bikes for over 30 years.
    He’s is one of, if not the best rider I know.

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