If you’ve ever thought about riding on a genuine racetrack, now is the time to turn your curiosity into reality. And it’s never been easier: There are more than 60 clubs and riding schools that operate hundreds of track days on almost 70 road courses throughout North America. Contrary to conventional wisdom, track days aren’t scary. The racetracks are wide and grippy, everyone goes in the same direction, no cops, no cars, no ego-fueled racers or trophies.
In your first year of track-day riding, don’t go crazy with extensive bike modifications. The cash spent for major tweaks at this stage of the game could be better put into simple bike prep, track days and riding instruction. Once you can outride the capabilities of your safe, well-prepared bike, further tuning can be investigated—but not a lap sooner!
Before signing up for your first track day, study the technical requirements of the clubs with which you’ll ride. At first, a well maintained bike with good tires, mirrors removed and all lights taped up is usually all it takes. Generally, as track riders progressively go faster, they are required to take further steps to keep vital fluids in their bikes’ engines and various fasteners from unfastening.
Clean Bill of Health
Start with a clean bike that’s had a recent engine oil and filter change, brake fluid refreshing, good brake pads, well-lubricated cables, a thorough fastener torque check (the motor’s oil drain plug and filler cap are of particular importance), properly adjusted steering head bearings and swingarm bushings.
In addition to the common-sense suggestions above, competent track-day-capable tires are a good idea. The modern street skins that come from the factory on late-model sportbikes are sufficient for beginning track-day riders, but purpose-built street/track tires such as Michelin’s Power Pures were designed for quick warm up, provide good grip and amazing longevity. On the Kawasaki ZX-6R shown here, its original OEM-supplied Bridgestone BT-016s safely went 800 miles; Power Pures did twice that distance before being replaced with stickier rubber.
Tape It Up
Painter’s tape or duct tape—in matching colors, of course—should be used to cover the headlight, taillight, turn signal lenses and reflectors, so they don’t shatter if they come in contact with the racetrack, necessitating lengthy cleanup and hence, less track time for all. Unplug lights or pull fuses so lights are off as the tape can melt onto light housing from bulb heat. Remember to replace fuses after the track day. Duct tape should also be affixed over the wheel weights to keep them from flying off at speed.
The first bit of schooling every rider must attend is a rider’s meeting. This is where you’ll learn about the club’s paddock rules, track egress and ingress, flag procedures and other important information. Get close to the speaker and pay attention!
Many track-day organizations have mandatory new-rider courses for first-timers (or riders returning after a long period of time). In a classroom and out on the track, these sessions will help you learn the track’s lines and, at some clubs, receive one-on-one instruction. They are a very worthwhile track-day bonus.
Nylon plastic frame/swingarm/axle/handlebar/muffler...
Nylon plastic frame/swingarm/axle/handlebar/muffler sliders are relatively cheap and mount easily, helping to protect the more expensive parts on your bike (read bodywork, engine cases) from road rash.
A relatively new protector...
A relatively new protector is the muffler slider, which can help save your expensive (and often fragile) muffler canister from severe road rash, especially the titanium or carbon ones.
Many also use hard plastic...
Many also use hard plastic engine case covers like these GB Racing units to protect exposed engine cases that have oil or coolant behind them. It doesn’t take much to puncture the stock cover.
If you remove your bike’s...
If you remove your bike’s lights and other hardware to save weight, consider going as far as using the kill switch as the ignition key. This trick helps to remind you to shut the bike off and save the battery.
Building upon the basics, for dedicated track-day addicts who do five to 10 days per year and/or whose skills have moved up the ladder to intermediate—and beyond—a good mid-level prep is suggested.
After making sure your machine is safe, clean and healthy, you may want to remove the 20 or so pounds of unnecessary hardware hung all over the motorcycle. You can get rid of lighting equipment, horn, mirrors, side and center stands, grab rails and anything else that is unnecessary to the mission. Note: be careful when removing the “curb feelers” (extensions) on the bottom of the footpegs; if you’re running a stock exhaust, check to make sure that you won’t grind major hard parts such as the exhaust before the footpeg touches down, otherwise you may end up levering the rear wheel off the ground without warning.
Drill and Wire
Safety wire is the best way to ensure that important bolts and hardware stay fastened. Safety wire is .025–.032-inch malleable steel wire that is used to prevent fasteners from loosening; this keeps oil and coolant in the motor, as well as brakes calipers, axles and exhaust pipes and other tackle from abandoning ship mid-session. The various fasteners are anchored to a stationary point on the motorcycle or other bolts; when done properly, the wire should be pulling the fasteners tight and preventing them from somehow working loose.
But, before fasteners can be wired, they must be drilled to accept the wire. This can be done (with great care) using a hand-held drill, but is best accomplished with a drill press. A brilliantly simple, but more expensive route is to buy pre-drilled bolts in steel, aluminum or even titanium. For this project, Pro Bolt (www.probolt-usa.com) supplied a bunch of lightweight titanium fasteners ($5.61-$14.02 each).
Safety wiring is one of the most important (and sometimes frustrating) tasks you need to do with a track-day bike. Drilling the fasteners for safety wiring is best done on a drill press, although you buy pre-drilled fasteners as well. Many riders use safety clips for the larger fasteners, which is not only easier and quicker to remove/install, but also negates having to rewire the fastener each time it’s removed.
Tech inspection at a track...
Tech inspection at a track day can go a lot quicker and easier if you have your bike prepped properly. Having to come back and wait in line again when you’ve overlooked something can be frustrating.
On liquid-cooled bikes, many organizations will require that the coolant is drained and flushed from the system and refilled with distilled water or other approved fluid (glycol-based antifreeze is very slippery when spilled on pavement). Many clubs also allow you to run water additives such as WaterWetter, which provide corrosion inhibitors and better heat transfer than straight water while remaining much less slippery than antifreeze.
The aftermarket offers up all kinds of crash protection—plastic frame, swingarm, axle, handlebar and muffler sliders—that can minimize crash damage. There are also aluminum, steel, plastic and carbon fiber engine covers that keep precious fluids in motors. We went with LSL front axles sliders from Spiegler ($54.95, www.spieglerusa.com), GB Racing’s lightweight, plastic engine covers that go over the stockers ($243.65, www.orientexpress.com), as well as Woodcraft frame and swingarm sliders/spools ($69.95, www.woodcraft-cfm.com) for the Kawasaki.
That said, for crash-damage protection, Mark Rozema, the owner of Markbilt (www.MarkBiltRacing.com), is not a big advocate of sliders because he feels they can dig into pavement and send bikes flipping through the air. Rozema prefers case covers, sturdy rearsets, beefy clip-ons, folding levers and flexible race bodywork.
If you’ve got the budget,...
If you’ve got the budget, tire warmers are a good investment in safety. Instead of tip-toeing around the first few laps to get your tires warm, you can get up speed much quicker and with less stress.
When your skill level increases...
When your skill level increases and you begin running in the intermediate group, a good set of tires will provide a marked improvement in your speed and enjoyment. Tire manufacturers now have models that are specifically intended for track-day riders.
Some riders prefer reinforced...
Some riders prefer reinforced case covers like this Woodcraft unit over frame sliders, while some use both. Regardless, both are excellent investments in crash protection and safety.
This close-up photo of a Woodcraft...
This close-up photo of a Woodcraft case protector after a crash shows how easy it would have been to grind through the stock cover. Note how much was taken off the protector, despite being much thicker and made from a more robust aluminum.
When speeds elevate, stickier, race-compound DOT tires or race-only slicks pre-heated with tire warmers are a winning combo that give increased traction—and confidence. For this year’s track-day season, the ZX-6R was shod with Dunlop D211GP and D209 GP A DOT-legal race tires and heated with tire warmers to ensure sticky buns every time we hit the track.
When a rider is able to comfortably ride his or her bike near or up to its performance limits, exhaust mods and fuel injection mapping are the best bet to power up. Late in season one, the ZX-6R got a Vance & Hines CS-One slip-on (5.5 pounds lighter than stock) and a Fuelpak, a simple plug-and-play device that allows push-button fuel-delivery adjustment. During its second season of track-day scratching, the Kawi got a full Akrapovic exhaust (6.5 pounds lighter than stock) and sophisticated Bazzaz fuel-control system.
To perform a full race prep Markbilt removes all unnecessary items, strips various unneeded wires, connectors and relays out of the wiring harness (sometimes up to two pounds worth), then reroutes it out of harm’s way, inboard of the frame rails where possible. Other tricks for ease of maintenance and repair include drilling a hole in R6 subframes for easy shock removal and modifying various components for quick wheel changes.
Another way to extract better handling, faster acceleration and quicker lap times is by removing more excess weight from the motorcycle. Replacing the ZX-6R’s battery with a tiny lithium-iron unit from Full Spectrum (see SR Tested, August 2011) saved 5.3 pounds. After dismounting the lighting equipment for free, this tiny power unit is the easiest and least expensive way to realize weight savings.
Aftermarket bodywork is a bit more involved. The set of Hotbodies bodywork and windscreen ($649.95, www.HotBodiesRacing.com) that replaced our testbed’s multitude of stock pieces and fasteners saved nine pounds after the ZX-6R’s headlight, taillight, turn signals and rear fender were pulled off (see SR Tested, May 2011). The aftermarket pieces, which can be removed in five minutes, also make the bike incredibly easy to work on. You’ll need to get pieces like this painted, such as the understated two-tone spray job on our bodywork performed by DC Paintworx (610-360-8037).
And this is why a well-prepped...
And this is why a well-prepped bike can survive a crash relatively unscathed. Note how the frame slider kept most of the bodywork from getting rashed, as well as the case guards keeping the generator cover from getting worn through. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the fuel tank and tail section, but the result is still much better than normal.
As riders approach a high level of two-wheeled ballet, they may want to explore some high-buck options that may lower lap times. Revalving a bike’s fork and shock, modifying the stock steering damper or adding a high-quality unit are just a few. We had the ZX-6R’s particularly ineffective damper revalved by Race Tech with great results, but the bike’s suspension remains stock.
Another item we’ve found invaluable is a lap timer to gauge on-track progress. We’ve been testing a Starlane Stealth GPS unit from Yoyodyne. There are many other racer-derived bits that advanced riders may want to consider, including aftermarket rearsets, clip-ons, folding levers, brake upgrades, race fuel, quick shifters, traction control units and slipper clutches. We didn’t go with any of these, but have personalized the ZX-6R with a quick-turn throttle, also from Yoyodyne (SR Tested, January 2011).
To help track-day riders get ready to race, some clubs have high-level go-fast training to get budding racers their competition licenses with group and one-on-one training. Another route is to attend a nationally recognized riding school. There’s a huge number of schools run all across the U.S. SR