Tag Archives: track day

2.6 How I Spent My Summer Vacation

My first track day of the summer, a two-day bash over the Fourth of July weekend, got crashed by Hurricane Arthur. We drove down the night before through scattered rain after loading up the bikes in the dimming green light between showers. That night, we stayed at the suites above the pit garages at NJMP, and the heavy rain beat an ominous tattoo on the corrugated roof, while the grass tufts in the paddock formed bristly islands for a small army of hopping toads, out enjoying the weather.

toad

The morning wasn’t much better, with a light but steady rain and winds that made for a less than ideal environment for a couple of novice track-day riders out for the first time in nine months. But sessions began on time, with predictions for a clear afternoon. We sat out the morning and watched from our room as a scattered few folks threw up rooster tails of spray down the main straight.

the cooler king

Lunch break was early and, as predicted, the clouds cleared out by noon, leaving the track bone-dry by 1pm. We ran a few sessions with a beautifully clear track: most riders had just gone home or not showed at all with the weather looking so grim.

njmp july2014 the bridge

I’ve had a few sets of tires on the Triumph, and a few on the Ducati as well, but no tires I’ve ever fitted really gave me any “ah ha!” moments. However, the new Dunlop Q3’s I put on prior to the weekend were absolutely the best tires I’ve tried yet, and made an immediate difference in feel. Combined with strong, two-finger braking from my new Brembo RCS master cylinder and some suspension tweaks, my riding was much more confident and aggressive than last year.

njmp july2014 greg1

Saturday was gorgeous, with the sky swept clear of clouds. Riders were split into four, rather than the usual three, and Greg and I got a bump to the Yellow “experienced novice” group. The novice group we’ve decided has by far the most disparate skill levels, and that makes things a bit hairy for us as we progress: we’re by no means especially fast yet, but we’re working on it, and folks out there wobbling around the track for the first time are unpredictable and need to be approached with caution.

It’s not speed that kills, it’s the speed differential that gets you, and a rider wobbling across the track going 30mph less than you are is a recipe for disaster.

njmp july2014 daytona1

There were definitely some slower riders in our group, but everyone at least kept to a predictable line, which made passing them relatively simple.

I wanted to see what my body-position was like on-track, so I mounted my GoPro on the fairing, facing back towards me, and was pretty happy with how the video turned out.

For some reason, pointing the camera backwards really reduced wind noise, so you can actually hear the bike for a change, and can even hear my knee dragging a couple times. The bike had some major surgery to replace the charging system and, when I got it back, it had developed this annoying, part-throttle hesitation below 4k rpm. But that doesn’t matter at all at the track and it absolutely screams all the way to 14k, so I’m not going to mess with it for now…

njmp july2014 crashed cbr1

2.1 Spontaneous Deceleration

When I made up my mind to finally buy a bike that would work on track, my desire to have something slightly unusual still won out: I bought a first generation Triumph Daytona 675.

It’s a beautiful charcoal grey machine, very subtle, and it came with through-the fairing frame-sliders, Woodcraft case guard, tank-protectors, a cool little shark-fin chain-guard, and suspension already set up for someone my weight.

It’s a great bike, with a hugely flexible motor that revs out happily to 13,000rpm. I’ve really done nothing to it except change the oil and tires.

But my track time is pointing up a weakness I didn’t expect: the brakes. They’re strong enough, but they lack feel, in spite of being bled and new pads fitted. This is especially disappointing because I found that I’m able to make up significant ground braking for corners versus faster liter bikes.

I’d been planning two upgrades for the bike: a set of Woodcraft rearsets since I found myself dragging  my toe in a couple corners at Pocono Raceway, and a new Brembo master cylinder to replace the stock Nissin to see if that might help.

My good friend and track riding buddy came through with the latter, and got me a completely gorgeous Brembo RCS adjustable master cylinder for a combined Christmas/birthday present. The adjustable ratio I’m especially excited about: my old, injured right hand gets pretty fatigued toward the end of a session and a more sensitive setting might be great on track.

1.7 Killed by Death

I really would love a literbike.  Not because this is a good idea: I’d also love to have a pet great white shark, and I think that’d probably be much less dangerous.

But there’s something built into the motorcycle mystique that involves strapping yourself to the biggest, most dangerous, thing within reach and just hanging on for dear life.  I’ve ridden a few BMW 1000RR’s and they’re eyeball-stretchingly fast.  I didn’t get anywhere near redline until I got one out on the track at the Keith Code school.  And really, all that power can cover up for a lot of sloppy track riding.  So what’s the point, if you ride mainly on the street?

Tad KeithCode

My good friend and riding buddy recently made me very happy.  We’d made the decision recently to become track rats and needed bikes suited to that.  I picked up a Triumph Daytona 675, he found a Yamaha R6 with a lurid “Rossi Fiat 500” paint scheme that hurts your eyes if you stare at it too long.

It’s weird, how two machines with ostensibly the same design brief could look and feel so different.

This spring, as we’re prepping for the upcoming season, he told me that he “just can’t imagine needing anything faster than the R6.”  Which is interesting, because the bigger bikes do make passing slower traffic much easier, since you can do it on the straights, instead of having to you know: use actual skill to do it in the corners.  Just a quick twist of the wrist, grab the brakes a teensy bit late, and boom, you’re past.

But I agree with him: the 675 has a pretty wide powerband and I never even run it past 10k on the street.  Twisted to the stop, it’s a shockingly fast machine.

But used MV Agustas are pretty cheap, unless you count maintenance costs, and they are so very pretty.  Except for the instrument cluster: I kinda hate that.  And the symmetry of having two, three, and four-cylinder bikes is weirdly appealing.

-tad

1.3 Budgetary Concerns

I’m walking home from the train after work the other day, and I see a shirtless guy, hanging from a tree limb, doing pull-ups, and the leaves are swishing against the ground each time he dips.  He’s got the torso of a gymnast, ripped and defined.  But he’s nearly bald, with a dusting of white beard on his cheeks and chin that stands out like snow against his dark skin.

He’s talking to his buddies, who stand nearby laughing.

“Yeah, I used to be able to do like fifty of them when I was younger.”

“Well, how old you now?”

“Forty.”

He’s fucking forty.  I’m forty-one.  Maybe he said fifty.  I hope he said fifty, for his sake, cause he looks like sixty from the neck up…  Sort of like Stallone in those “Expendables” movies.

His build makes a certain kind of sense, since I’m pretty sure he just got out of jail.

It’s not the best neighborhood.  But I live here because it’s cheap, and if I lived anywhere near where I work [Manhattan], I couldn’t afford to run my bikes.  And the truck I use to haul them around when they need to go into the shop overnight.

But at least I can run two bikes I really like.  I’m glad I don’t have to make do with the old FT500 I learned on or the VX800 I crashed…

Like the kid that was at the track last Fall on his Suzuki GS500E, a little, unfaired parallel-twin that normally serves as a first bike or economical commuter.  But this kid was running what he brung, and was there to embarrass some weekend wannabes.

Out on the grid, waiting to be set loose, everyone excitedly/anxiously blipping their throttles and I look over.  He’s looking at me, revving his little twin, smiling and nodding as it rattles away, revs rising and falling with glacial slowness, like a car, sounding very unimpressive.

I can hear what he’s trying to say, “Yeah, five-hundred cee cee’s of 1980’s powah…  Suck it.”

He was getting murdered on the straights, but was all over much faster bikes in corners, the very definition of “it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow.”

He made my day.

-tad

NYC Norton

1.2 Moving Pictures

Shower, throw on some skintight, moisture-wicking duds, and head out to unload our bikes in the rising heat. My buddy put a nice, folding trailer together for us that held up well on the way down to the track, and the bikes sit in the bright, slanted morning sunlight, strapped down tight to the plywood deck.

7:30am, and it’s already too hot.

Parked next to us is the source of the angry cat noises I heard earlier this morning: a Suzuki RG500 Gamma with a skinny little race slick on the back and checkered tape over the lights.  The Gamma is a relic of the race-replica wars of the 80’s, where manufacturers were engaged in the familiar “MotoGP Bike with Lights” competition, releasing weird machines into their showrooms.  It has a 500cc two-stroke square four with two crankshafts and it sounds like four chainsaws revving together, an angry, metallic yowl. It’s not exactly music, but the noise makes the hair on your neck stand up, and smoke drips from its four little pipes in a haze as it picks up from idle.

Gamma NJMP

Next to the RG500 is what seems to be the veteran track-assassin’s tool of choice around here: a GSX-R1000.  It’s a good thing the same guy brought both to ride, since he lowsides the Gamma during the day’s third session.  He’s not exactly sure what happened, although he suspects the throttle stuck wide-open on him.  Damage is “minimal”, which I’m glad to hear, since I’m a fan of any motorcycle that makes it sound like you’re being chased around the race track by a gang of chainsaw-wielding maniacs.

There’s a good mix of bikes at these things, but they tend towards Japanese literbikes of recent vintage, with some 750’s and 600’s sprinkled in, along with a few oddballs: SV650’s, RSV4’s, 848’s, etc.

Greg’s Yamaha R6 and my Triumph Daytona deliver their power differently, but they’re both down on punch compared to the bigger bikes.   “Punch” of course, being relative: my speedo recorded a max of 136 down that main straight, which is still pretty fast when you’re new at this sort of thing.

Out on track, we spend a couple sessions getting up to speed.  It’s been almost a year, and we need to feel things out again. He’s more aggressive getting around slower traffic and then I have to go chase him down and try to keep up.  So I ride faster than I would if I were out in front, where I’d ride more conservatively, and not be pushing myself.

So it’s a good match, and while he’s more aggressive than I am, we’re doing this stuff in a relatively safe environment, and it’s his way of learning.  Mine is to slowly work up confidence and speed following someone who challenges me: last year, he was MUCH faster than I was.

It makes for a good time.

It’s exhausting though: my forearms and calves were burning by the end of the day from hanging off that thing.  Wish I had money: I’d be out there every other weekend.

The day goes well and we head home early, happy with our riding: we’ve only got a handful of track days under our belts, and are riding a couple of 600’s but don’t embarrass ourselves out there with more experienced riders on much bigger machines: I keep getting jammed up behind bikes headed into Turn 1 slower than I want to be going and lock up my rear tire on one occasion shifting down into first.

It hops across the pavement and my brain, unperturbed, simply registers it as, “Oh, interesting.”

Triumph Tire

Funny how you can get used to that sort of thing, something that might induce terror under other circumstances.

-tad

1.1 Track Daze

I’m stretching, head back, jaw open till it pops, a reptile grin like my head unhinging, eyes still closed.  The hum of the air conditioning washes white noise over the room: I can just barely hear a housefly battering itself to death against the window.

I feel, more than hear my buddy moving around in the room, the changes in air pressure.  Then the ‘clack’ of the microwave door opening and the sound of tearing plastic packaging.

Then cursing.

I’m not hungry, so I keep my eyes closed for just a few minutes longer while he struggles with the contents and tries to heat up a pair of sausage and biscuit sandwiches.

The sharp bark of a four tentatively starting up.  Then the angry-cat howl of a two-stroke snarls into life and settles into a stuttering, faltering idle.  And I’m awake, blood starting to flow again, the morning a bit like resurrection.

Greg and I are at our first track day of the summer, and I’ve slept all night in the cool, crashed out in the “suites” above pit lane at NJMP.  The first time in weeks I’ve actually felt the right temperature, and it’s like my whole body settled into room temperature.  Hibernating.  Exothermic.

But it’s time to get up and stuff something into my maw.  Fuel the machine.

Get through tech inspection.

It’s stiflingly hot: the past few weeks have been like this, the air so thick it’s like breathing in oil, beads of sweat appear across my skin of my forearms.

And I realize I forgot my sunblock.

-tad

Boots Track2