After 30-something years of holding a full motorcycle license, I decided it was time for a track day. I should perhaps correct those two statements slightly. Although I’ve held a motorcycle license for said 30-something years, there is a large gap in the middle where I was purely a tin can driver. Track days and racing, in general, aren’t something I’m unfamiliar with having raced karts and single-seaters – without any notable success, I might add – but on two wheels I was a virgin.
Even with those caveats, I should also add that my track day is perhaps better described as a Performance Orientated Riding Skills day. Whereas being on a track we didn’t have to worry about speed limits, it isn’t a day simply riding flat out for bragging rights. Our noble intentions though didn’t stopped us from pushing a little when we had the opportunity. Shame on us for being so childish.
The other major difference between a riding skills day and your typical track day is the high number of on-track instructors available. The highest ratio on our day was 1 instructor to 3 riders. More typically the ratio was 1:2. Perfect for ample time at the front as well as personalised constructive feedback.
There are numerous private tracks around the part of England I live in, mainly due to the number of airfields built in the 1940s for the allied air forces. Many of the airfields are gone completely. Some are still operational airports, albeit unrecognisable from their 1940s configuration and more than a couple have been converted into private race tracks.
Our day was at Blyton Park near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. The track is owned by Ginetta Cars and is leased to the British Superbike School who run a wide range of programmes at Blyton to accommodate riders of all abilities.
Heading into the circuit that day, I was a little perplexed to pass a race prepared, fully faired Suzuki X7, when the rest of us were on road bikes. As the day is broken down into a series of rotating classroom sessions, track time and debriefs, it isn’t uncommon for groups of differing abilities – and different objectives – to share the same day. Which was a relief, as being out there with a bunch of howling strokers, piloted by riders steeped in track experience, wasn’t what I was looking for.
The other item that had my attention was the weather. It was raining and the forecast for the rest of the day was more of the same. The sort of rain that then hangs in the air as well as falling to the ground. We were going to get wet, and the track was going to be soaking all day.
Upon reflection, this turned out to be a real blessing. Without the rain, the opportunity for testosterone to take over and just see how fast we could go was always going to be there. Rain, as is so often said, is the great leveller and does focus the mind when it comes to adhesion.
The day starts with some basic track time so the instructors can get an idea of where they are starting from. With the day having been arranged through the local IAM Roadsmart Group, my partner for the day was the most Reverend Roland, who had also been my Roadsmart Observer.
The bad news for me was that I all too familiar with how smooth Reverend Roland is in the wet, and as we all know – smooth leads to stable, and stable, in turn, leads to speed. No pressure on me to get it right then, I thought, while also wondering who I was kidding.
Having proven that we could all ride around in the wet, at our own pace, without sliding off, locking up or overshooting, we received a few well-chosen words of encouragement and structured critique from the instructors, before grabbing a cuppa and heading off to the classroom. The subject of the first lesson, rather surprisingly, being how to exit a corner.
The classroom sessions may sound ominous, yet are simply an introduction to what is coming up during the next track session. Learning to exit a corner sounded like the wrong place to start, yet it is perhaps the safest, and why it is the first session of the day.
Changing how we arrive at the apex of a corner, hoping it was something approximating the right line, only to discover we had cocked it up, isn’t the right place to start.
Alternatively, learning how hard we could wind the power on while aiming at an exit point, regardless of how dubious our approach to the apex of the corner had been, is an excellent confidence builder. How hard you wish to try is up to you. No one there is insisting you go faster.
Back in the paddock canteen, Vince Conn, our instructor for the day, slowly dismantles our riding technique. My ego blooms for a moment as the Reverend Roland tells me that he was watching me pull away from him when I was leading.
Praise from the master is always good and while I’m lapping up the scraps that have fallen from the master’s table, Vince playfully shuts me down by asking which of my numerous lines around “Bunga Bunga” I was enjoying the most.
The light-hearted interaction sets the playful tone for the day, which also creates an easy environment to learn in; no fear of making a mistake or cocking things up. We all make at least one obvious mistake during the day and in truth made several more and hoped no one noticed.
As we repeat the classroom, circuit, debrief cycle through the day we cover a range of skills from laps with no brakes and in one gear, through to laps with decreasing braking distances and later and later turn-in points. Overall, the day builds up from the basics and brings all the learnings of the day together in the final session.
Whereas the day would be highly beneficial in any weather conditions, if you are looking to understand your riding style and the techniques to make you smoother, rain is what you need. Absolutely perfect conditions.
When I returned to motorcycling, I wasn’t overly happy with riding in the rain. As my riding confidence improved, my dislike for the rain reduced. Completing the IAM Roadsmart course during the winter months, when all it ever did was rain, made me accept that riding in the rain is a normal part of being a rider.
My dislike of the rain now centres on getting wet, and loathing the inevitable way that cold rainwater always seems to find a way past my wet gear and down to my socks.
Having spent the day discovering how much more I could accomplish in wet conditions than I previously would have thought, I now have a wider safety margin I can ride within when conditions get soggy.
As for the Metzler Roadtec 01s (See Metzeler Roadtec 01 and the Desire for Rain) they are every bit as good in the rain as Metzler suggested they would be. A truly outstanding tyre and I’ll fit them again when I’ve chewed through the current set.
And so we arrive at the burning question – who was the fastest? Well, that honour goes to Vince Conn, the track day instructor, who is also an IAM Roadsmart examiner. His 600 Honda had been converted for racing but was shod with scrubbed dry-weather Pirelli Super Corsa tyres and he still made us all look slow. Proof that there is still more for me to learn and hence another day at BSBS will be booked before this year is out.
When is it most likely to rain, do you think?