So, now you’ve been to the racetrack a couple of times, you’ve been bitten hard by the track “bug”, and you’ve decided that you want to keep your Road Bike nice and shiny and not risk dropping it at the track… Enter the dedicated Track Bike!
Basically, a track bike can be pretty much anything you choose, ‘Sport’ oriented (you wouldn’t want to try racing a cruiser bike around the track, would you?) or even a Motard if you like. Anything from a 30 year old 250cc to the latest and most technologically advanced litre bike. But, as this is going to be your first track bike, lets look at realistic options…
To start with, you probably want a smaller capacity bike, say between 250cc and 400cc. These will teach you about cornering, handling, throttle control, balance, and they won’t tear your arms off up the straights! New or old, they’re much of a muchness, although it is easier to get parts for newer bikes, should you need them. Or, if you are on a limited budget, look at some of the more popular older generation bikes: early to mid 90’s 250’s and 400’s pop up online every now and then, some have already even been “tracked” and come partially set-up.
Set up is a huge part of a good track bike, and can dramatically alter the way the bike rides at speed and around corners. Things like hand and feet ergonomics, suspension, tires, braking, and gearing will, when set up correctly, turn an uncomfortable bike into an absolute weapon on track. Each and every bike at the track will be set up differently, because every single rider (and every single bike) is different. But to be comfortable on your bike, to feel at home with every movement the bike makes around the track, takes time, patience, research, and trial and error. There are literally thousands of videos online with information about setting up a track bike. Talk to the other people at the track, particularly the ones that have been around a while, they’re sure to point you in the right direction.
The advantage of starting out on a smaller bike, especially older generation models, is that they are very simple in design, and easy to work on. They will teach you not only control skills, but how to maintain your track bike as well. Track bikes do need a lot more attention than your road bike, purely due to the higher stresses they are under from greater speeds and braking forces. Make sure you keep an eye on your chain, cleanliness and tension; your brake pads thickness; and your engine fluids, clean and topped up.
Engine oil change intervals should be increased, to anywhere up to every 500 kms of track work. Some riders I know change their oil after every second track day, to keep their motors healthy. Forks and shocks should be serviced at least once a year, even if it’s just to change out the internal oils. Engine coolant will (in most cases) be non-glycol, and should be changed out yearly as well. If in doubt, ask the more experienced guys at the track you ride at.
Also, keep an eye on your tires. They are the best indicator of your bikes performance – they’ll tell you when the bike is working effectively by the way the tread wear patterns look after a few hot laps. They’ll also tell you how your suspension is working, and whether any adjustments need to be made. The experts spend years learning what different wear patterns mean! Again, there are plenty of videos online to help you in this department.
The most important thing to remember is to have fun. Don’t get overwhelmed with laptimes, or who passed you, or anything else. Before you know it you’ll be looking at upgrading to a bigger faster bike, maybe even thinking about racing competitively! Get the basics right and everything else will fall into place. And if you see me out there, come say Hi!