There are a lot of reasons you might want to attend a track day. Perhaps you’re looking to practice your skills for race day or you just enjoy riding as hard as possible without limits. For the majority of us, it’s just the best place to improve skills that can be translated to the road. But regardless of your reason for attending, if you’re just starting out, a track day can be intimidating.
The goal of this article is to walk you through what you’ll need to think about prior to attacking the track for the first time. I remember how nervous I was the first time I showed up to a track, so I hope this breakdown helps to demystify the process.
Finding a track day
Track days are usually held by private organizations that rent out a racetrack for a day or weekend and then rent that time back to its attendees or members. In some cases, certain tracks will run their own events, in which case they are usually listed on their website. The first step in your journey is going to be to find a track day organization in your area.
The easiest way to do this is just head over to the ol’ Google and type in something like “motorcycle track days in my area.” If you have a specific race track in mind, you can also search their site for information regarding the different organizations which hold events at their facility.
A lot of organizations will offer discounts and training for new riders, so make sure to ask. Evolve GT, one of our local organizations, has a variety of training and coaching options. During our recent Redline shoot, Alessandra was able to sign up for a complete beginner’s class while Lance and I were able to receive advanced coaching. Coaching is a great way to improve skills and cut lap times regardless of your ability. If you don’t know what mistakes you’re making, it’s hard to eliminate them.
Before you head out onto the track, you’ll need to prep your regular street ride. Unlike some of the more advanced groups, most organizations only require riders in the beginner class to make a few small concessions. You want to make sure you check the rules and regulations of your selected organization, but the following requirements are nearly universal.
Start by taping off any lenses on the bike, which includes headlights, taillights, and turn signals. I prefer the green Frogtape which can be found at almost any hardware store, but really, almost any painters style masking tape will work (note: because of the residue it leaves behind, you do not want to use gaft or duct tape for this process). If you have a headlight that operates on its own fused circuit, you can pull the fuse or unplug the headlights to prevent the heat of the light from melting the tape on your lens.
Remove any unneeded accessories, like cell phone mounts, that could possibly come loose with vibration at high speeds. This includes your license plate. Some organizations will ask you to safety wire exterior spin-on oil filters. Others may require you to replace traditional coolant (ethylene glycol) with water, Water Wetter or a propylene glycol coolant.
Tires will need at least 50 percent of their tread life left in order to get you safely through an entire track day and you’ll enjoy your track day a lot more if you have new or nearly new tires. Tire pressure will also need to be adjusted, which usually means a lower psi setting than you would normally run on the street. If you’re not sure what tire pressure to use, check with some of the folks at tech inspection and ask for recommendations. Remember, the people hosting track days are there to help you, and they see all kinds of bikes and tire combinations.
Once the bike is prepped, you will have to run it through a tech inspection. The techs will look for any leaking fluids, mainly around your fork seals, brake master cylinder, coolant hoses and overflow, and engine cases. They’ll check for any missing screws securing fairings or fenders. They’ll also check chain tension and make sure brakes and suspension are in working order. It’s good to check these things in advance so you don’t spend the money for a track day only to find that your bike can’t pass the tech inspection.
I’ve seen folks turning laps on everything from dual-sports to Harleys. Hell, my first track day was on a Triumph Bonneville. While certain bikes excel over others on the track, don’t let the type of bike you ride prevent you from tackling a track day. Remember, if the goal is merely to improve your skills, attending a track day on the bike you ride every day is a great way to get much more intimate with your machine.
That being said, if you don’t like the idea of using your own bike, or perhaps your ride has a tendency to leak fluids as it’s not in the best mechanical condition, you have other options. Check with your track organization to see about rental bikes. A lot of places will have bikes you can rent if you want to try a track day but don’t feel like your bike is appropriate or perhaps you just don’t want to take the time to prep it. On my recent day out with Evolve GT they had quite a few small-displacement bikes available for riders to rent.
I think one of the most intimidating factors for a lot of people is how to get their bikes to the track. Trailering your bike to the track allows you to comfortably pack all of your supplies and gear and it’s a guaranteed way home if a crash happens. But you don’t need to own a big truck or a fancy trailer to transport your bike to the track.
Before I invested in a truck, I had a little Mazda 3 hatchback that was easily outfitted with a tow hitch. Nearly every car, regardless of size, is perfectly capable of towing a motorcycle trailer. If you’re not sure where to start, I’d recommend checking out U-Haul’s website. They rent solo motorcycle trailers by the day for like 15 bucks, and they can also install a hitch for you. It’s a great option if you’re only planning on doing one or two track days a year.
If you’re on a tight budget you can always just ride to the track. Lance "Call Me Lightning" Oliver does just that with his Daytona 675 because he lives close and can carry everything he needs to prep the bike in a small backpack. But keep in mind, this means you’re going to be very limited in what you can bring, and if something goes wrong, you might be stuck without a way to get home.
Most folks think that getting geared up for the track will require a huge up-front investment. Much like we discussed in the bike prep section, you’ll want to make sure to check with your individual organization, but in most cases beginner riders will be able to repurpose a good portion of their street gear for track use.
When it comes to the track, a full leather suit is typically the first visual that comes to mind. While it is an expensive option, it offers maximum protection for folks planning on regularly attending track days. That being said, it’s not a necessary immediate investment.
If you already have a sport leather jacket, then you essentially have the top half of a two-piece race suit. When I did my first track day down at Barber Motorsports Park, I bought a matching pair of Rev’It! leather pants to go with my Rev’It! RS2 jacket. Zipped together, this combination kept me safe for my first few track days. Some organizations will allow textile suits to be used but typically that’s not the case.
You do not need to invest in expensive gloves and boots for your first track day. I did my first track day in a pair of Alpinestars Web Gore-Tex touring boots and the original Rev’It! Monster gloves. You should make sure that your boots are over the ankle without laces and if your gloves aren’t a full gauntlet design they should at least cover where your jacket sleeves end.
Most organizations will require some sort of back protection but chest protection is usually optional. If you’re using a one-piece suit, it usually won't have a pocket for a back protector insert like there is in the jacket of a two-piece, so that isn't an option. Personally, I don’t use a chest protector when I ride on the track, but I do recommend a stand-alone back protector, as it offers more coverage than an insert does.
There are super high end track helmets available, but in most cases your regular street helmet will do just fine. When it comes to SNELL, ECE, and DOT safety ratings there are a lot of strong opinions on the internet regarding which option is best. I’m not going to debate anyone, but I will say that I have crashed in all sorts of helmets and I’ve always walked away fine… I think...
Just make sure to check with your track day organization to see if they have any specific requirements such as Snell or ECE. The last thing you want to do is get to your track day and not be able to ride because your helmet doesn’t meet their requirements.
If any of this seems overwhelming, don’t worry. For folks who don’t want to commit to an additional investment there are a lot of great organizations out there that have gear that you can rent or borrow, just like the bikes. I would recommend using your own helmet, but if you are lacking any of the other pieces of gear, see if your organization offers rentals.
What else to bring
If you’ve ever attended a track day as a spectator, you most likely saw a wide variety of folks from minimalists to those with full traveling garages. When it comes to beginners, I’d recommend just operating with the basics instead of overwhelming yourself by trying to bring everything you think you might possibly need.
Start off with a few basic hand tools to make simple adjustments like an air pressure gauge, wrenches for adjusting chain tension, and anything you might need to remove or tighten different components on your bike. If you don't feel like buying gas at the track it's a good idea to bring a few extra gallons if you are planning on tackling every session.
If you’re towing your bike it’s always smart to bring a camping chair and cooler full of water or Gatorades and snacks as a minimum. You need to make sure you stay hydrated. You’re going to be pouring a ton of sweat into your leathers and you need to put fluids back into your body. If you aren’t going to be trailering your bike, make sure to ask about the availability of water at the track.
If you have an E-Z UP, it’s a great idea to bring it so the sun isn’t beating down on you all day. That being said, make sure you pack sunscreen and a spare towel to help keep dry on hot summer days. You will sweat.
There are always more items you could bring, but I recommend not getting mired down by trying to bring the kitchen sink along for your first day. There are almost always friendly people at the track willing to help out a rookie. Once you get one of these under your belt, you’ll get a much better sense of what items are important to you.
A typical schedule
So, you’ve got the bike, the trailer, and the gear and you’re ready to roll, you’re just not sure what to expect. While everyone’s experience will be slightly different, 95 percent of your schedule will look something like the following:
Folks start arriving between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. If you have bike prep to tackle prior to tech inspection, allot yourself plenty of time.
Based on the number of folks scheduled to attend, tech inspection usually opens an hour prior to the rider meeting. You’ll walk your helmet and bike through tech inspection. The process shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
The riders meeting is usually held about 30 minutes prior to the first session of the day. This is a required meeting for all participants regardless of experience. It is here that the organization will go over all of the rules of the day, such as requirements for passing, the meaning of warning flags and how to get on and off the track. They’ll also break down the day’s schedule. This is the perfect time to ask questions. If you are unclear about anything, ask. It’s always best to make sure you’re crystal clear in the paddock as opposed to when you’re ripping around the racetrack.
Riding sessions usually begin around 9 a.m. The hour is typically broken into three 20-minute sessions or four 15-minute sessions, depending on the number of riding groups.
You will spend 15 to 20 minutes on the track per hour. While this might not sound like a lot if you’ve never done a track day, the physical demands of track riding mean that you’ll most likely be shot by the time your session ends.
Expect a one-hour break for lunch around noon. Use this time to rest and hydrate. Try to eat a light, healthy lunch. You don’t need to stuff yourself as it tends to make folks drowsy. Not a good situation for the afternoon sessions. Some track days include lunch. In many cases, you’ll need to bring your own.
Expect to continue on the track for one session an hour until the end of the day. You will most likely complete seven or eight sessions in one track day.
Get out there
As I said in the beginning, this is just a guide to help give beginners an idea of what to expect and what to plan for. It’s not meant to be an all-encompassing list, but rather just enough information to get you past that hump of fear that can often seem like an insurmountable hurdle. I look forward to reading other track riders' thoughts and tips in the comments section below.
For anyone out there who has ever considered a track day, I can't recommend it enough. Get out there and give it a try. Riding on the street can only teach you so much. You’ll be surprised by how much is left to learn.