A number of people have asked about what it takes to prepare their motorcycle for a track day. Getting your sportbike ready for your first track riding experience is actually a lot easier than you might think.
While it’s still best to check with your track day organizer as to their technical requirements, the majority of the items you need to address are similar for all track day organizations.
Things to Remove
While you can ride your bike on the track with stock bodywork, you will have to remove or tape up headlight, taillights, signal lights, mirrors and any other glass or lights on your motorcycle. Painters tape works nicely as it can be removed with relative ease at the end of the day. Organizers ask that you tape up these items in order that in the event of a fall, glass is not shattered all over the racetrack causing long wait times to clean up any debris. Mirrors might act as distraction and should be removed entirely, which is generally very easy on most modern-day sportbikes.
It’s not a bad idea to give your motorcycle a good once-over to ensure that all of the bolts are tightened, brakes and gears are functioning properly and that you have fresh oil in the motorcycle. You’ll be putting your sportbike through its paces on the racetrack, so it’s always a good idea to start with a fresh oil and filter to protect your motor and ensure the bike is working at its optimum performance.
Replace the Radiator Coolant with Water
Some track day organizations will ask that you drain the radiator fluid in your motorcycle and replace it with de-ionized water. The reason being that if you fall down, you don’t want slippery radiator fluid leaking all over the racetrack, it can be messy to clean-up and track time might get shortened if cleaning crews have to remove fluid from the racetrack. Be sure to use de-ionized water as the mineral ions have been removed from the water, which prevents corrosion of your expensive motorcycle parts. You can find jugs of de-ionized water at just about any hardware store, Canadian Tire or Home Depot. While you’re there, pick up a small bottle of “Water Wetter”, follow the instructions on the bottle to add it to your de-ionized water to give a bit of “slippery” feel to your coolant. The de-ionized water can remain in your motorcycle all season long; just don’t forget to drain it before the temperatures begin to drop as frozen water in a motorcycle results in all sorts of very expensive parts cracking!
Time and again I’ve had novice track day riders ask me about tire selection. Often they want to know which “race tire” they should buy for their first track day. In reality, for your first few track day experiences tire selection is not as important as tire wear. Most sportbikes come equipped with good quality tires that will suit the beginner rider just fine on the racetrack. Often when you read about sportbike shootouts, the testers are on stock rubber and are able to get going quite quickly. So don’t worry if you don’t have Dunlop’s latest race tire, but rather be sure that your tires are relatively new and have lots of tread left on them. As a general rule of thumb, it’s good to ensure your tires have at least 75% of their tread remaining.
As you get more proficient at track riding, you may wish to speak to the local tire vendor about the track day tire options that best suit your needs, but for your first track day this is not necessary.
Once at the track, it will be important to set the correct tire pressures. This is something you won’t find in the owner’s manual of your motorcycle, as track day tire pressures are often quite a bit lower than the average street setting. A general rule of thumb is 30 -32psi in the front and 28-30psi in the rear if you are running street tires. If you purchase track day specific tires from a trackside vendor, they will be able to give you the recommended tire pressures for the specific model of tire and the day’s temperature and track conditions. Be sure to bring a good tire gauge along with you so you can check your cold tire pressures before heading out for your first session. More experienced riders may check their tire pressures throughout the day, but at a minimum you’ll want to ensure your pressures are in the right ballpark before you head out for your first session.
The new sportbikes offer some great advancements for suspension tuning on the fly. If your motorcycle has a “race” or “trackday” mode, consult your manual on how to adjust to these settings to get the most out of your track riding experience. Some manuals may have “high speed” or “rider and passenger” modes to stiffen up the suspension, without reference to “race” modes, for obvious reasons. Generally, however you will want to stiffen up your suspension settings for the track.
In addition to your motorcycle, you’re going to want to invest in some quality riding gear. Two piece leather suits work fine, but if you think you’re going to do a number of track days, it’s best to go with a one piece suit that is in good order (no holes or loose stitching). You’ll also want to ensure you have a back protector (mandatory at most track days), full-face helmet, gloves and riding boots, which are also mandatory. Your helmet should be in good order, with no obvious dents or cracks on it, and preferably at least 5 years old or newer, with a current/ recent DOT or SNELL safety rating. For gloves, the longer gauntlet-style gloves work best, but regular leather riding gloves are generally okay as well. A higher cut race boot is recommended for track day riding.
Once you’ve got your motorcycle and gear all set, the most important thing to remember is to have fun! A good track day organization wants to see their clients have fun and come back to participate in more track days, so they’re often more than happy to help you with any questions you may have. So enjoy the ride and have fun, you’ll be hooked in no time!