Track Days: A beginner’s guide to hitting the track


Recently I decided to get into track days. Why? First and foremost, it’s bloody fun! They provide the perfect opportunity for dickheads like me to unleash. I mean who doesn’t want to ride around at obscene speeds, power sliding out of corners all the while not having to worry about getting a ticket from the man? Secondly, I wanted to improve my riding. Commuting and the odd mountain blast were causing my riding skills to stagnate. By riding on the track I would be able to push myself and my bike to that next level. If you’re in a familiar position to what I was, or simply want to get out on the track, here is some info on getting into track days and some helpful tips.

Costs?

First things first, you have to book a track day. In south east QLD the tracks are Queensland Raceway, Lakeside and Morgan Park. Champions ride days look after QR and Lakeside while Morgan Park is run by Motorcycle Sportsmen. Track days are completed all over Australia and you are simply a Google search away from finding your local track and who runs the days.

Pricing varies from track to track. In QLD prices are $149 – $225 for a day, but I know Phillip Island can be quite expensive approaching nearly $300 in peak season. If you want to hire gear (leathers, gloves, helmet, boots) expect to pay roughly $75 for the day. You can also hire a bike ($400+), garage bay and tuition if you wish. Look out for random specials on websites such as adrenaline.com.au. To book it’s simply a matter of jumping on the corresponding site and signing your life away. Look, it’s not cheap, but it’s the most fun you can have out of bed, and certainly cheaper than having a girlfriend (not including the emotional costs involved too).

Bike Prep

Before hitting the track, make sure everything on your bike is ready to rock well and truly before the day. If you need to order or change a part this gives you ample time. I find its great being able to relax at the track and not having to rush and worry about your bike. This also allows you to concentrate on your riding and not your bike.

When preparing your bike, give all the bolts a once over to check they aren’t loose. This includes engine bolts, steering components, axle nuts and brake calipers. This only takes a minute and frequently you will find a bolt has loosened over time. Scrutineers also give the bike a once over on the day (albeit very a very quick once over). They found that one of my clip-ons was loose from when I changed my fork seals the day before, lucky they checked it. I can just imagine myself now going down the main straight, hitting the brakes only to have my clip-on slip off. I’d have a sudden epiphany while doing my best human torpedo impression ‘Ahhhh, the clip-on bolt, that cheeky little cu…’ before sliding face first through the gravel.

Check your brake pads for wear, adjust/lube your chain and I recommend having fresh brake fluid. You don’t necessarily have to change it specifically for the track, but make sure it has been changed recently. Brakes are one of the first things to suffer at the track and brake fade is a pain in the ass. My brakes faded badly half way through the day. It really affected how hard I could push and was always in the back of my mind. A simple fluid change probably would have got me out of trouble.

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It doesn’t hurt to take some spare oils and consumables

If you’re taking your road bike, I’m of the opinion that if you are running good quality oil and you service your bike regularly there’s no need to change the oil specifically for the track. Bear in mind if you are doing regular track days you should change your oil more than recommended. If you are running a track bike I don’t think there is a need to change your oil after every track day. Oil is high quality now and lasts longer than ever before.  Currently I’m running Fuchs Silkolene and find it great. I’ve used nearly every major brand and found them all to be pretty good.

Feel free to run your road tyres at the track. Just be aware that you need to run lower pressures. I lowered my Pilot Road 4 GT’s to about 30psi front and rear.  Towards the end of my day my sports touring tyres were really starting to slide on corner exits. While I still had a blast, I’d recommend some stickier tyres.

Overall if your bike is in good working order, you’ll probably only spend a beer or two giving it the once over (the first beer never lasts long so lets say two or three ;))

What to take?

After booking you can literally turn up to the track with nothing but yourself and hire everything. People also ride to the track in their leathers. The most common avenue is putting your bike and gear in a ute/trailer and driving to the track. If the track is a bit of a hike I find this the better option, you don’t have to lug gear around in your back pack plus you won’t be as jiggered at the end of the day.

Clothing wise, some venues allow you to wear a pair of jeans and jacket, but generally full leathers are required. Make sure you check with your track day provider’s on their rules. Champions require at a minimum full length boots and gloves (no short gloves), AUS standard helmet and leathers. Leathers can be 1 piece or a 2 piece that zips together. I also have a back protector and would recommend wearing one; they are comfortable and offer great spinal protection.

While not necessary, take some basic tools. People around you are willing to help, but it’s much easier having your own gear there to make adjustments and fix things up.

Essentials!
Essentials!

And you won’t feel like a stooge asking people if you can borrow their tools. At a minimum you want a set of allen keys, spanners, sockets and screw drivers. You should never go without zip ties and the trusty 100 mile-an-hour tape either. If you have a race bike don’t forget your rear stand. It doesn’t hurt to take one if you’re on a road bike either. This allows you to minor adjustments plus they look fully sick…

It’s worth taking some consumables along just in case. WD40, chain lube and some oil are always welcome. One thing I didn’t take and recommend is a tyre pressure gauge. At Champions they have an air hose set up for tyres, but the gauge is shite. Tyres pressures change throughout the day and its worthwhile checking them after sessions.

On the practical side of things, take a couple of chairs, a hat and plenty of water.

The day

A lesson I learnt is to make sure you get to the track reasonably early. This is mainly so you can park your bike in the pits undercover. I found people to get a bit fruity over their space too. Racetracks generally don’t have a lot of undercover area so take what you can get!

Coming back into the pits after a session.
Coming back into the pits after a session.

Personally I found my day to be great fun. It was run well and you got plenty of track time. The system works in a way that every 45 minutes you have 15 minutes track time so you never had to wait long. Sunscreen and water was provided and you were able to buy gear and tyres.

I won’t lie I felt a bit intimidated when I first arrived. Here was me on my stock ZX10 road bike and there are all these dedicated track bikes with slicks, tyre warmers and generators! You don’t need the latest Duprilam Z9000RR-M to have a great time. Turns out I had no need to be intimidated; everyone was helpful and willing to lend a hand or advice.

If you’re new to track days or the circuit, don’t be a hero; go out in the starter group to get a feel for things. I did this and found you still ride at a good pace, get to learn the track and have a great time. If you find you want to up the pace you can generally move up a group.

It’s worth watching the quick guys go around to check their lines out and learn from them. I also found the instructors to all be helpful and willing to give tips. They ride around with every group and if you are struggling with a certain section they will ride in front of you and show you the right lines to take.

Throughout the day I went from being in the starter group to being one of the quickest in the next group by the end of the day.  I was hitting 250+ down the back straight and throwing it down with guys on track bikes. Here’s hoping I improve even more by the end of my next track day at Lakeside and start mixing it up with the fast riders.

Summary

Long story short, DO A TRACK DAY! The general public will think you are cooler and women will want to have your babies (or men will want you’re ovaries ladies). If you’re thinking about doing one but too scared or intimidated, don’t be. If you are worried you might not be that into it and don’t want to fork out money for all the gear, hire some and give it a crack. I can guarantee you’ll be hooked though.

For photos from my track day at Queensland Raceway click here.

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