19th June 2015
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Classic Trackdays - A Beginner's Guide
Fresh from surviving the Morini Riders' Club outing at Cadwell Park, Martin Gelder presents a first timer's guide to classic bike trackdays. The most fun you can have with your leathers on?
If you own an old bike with even the slightest leaning towards sporting prowess, you need to do a classic trackday of some sort. You owe it to your bike, in fact. It's the only place you can legally and safely give that formerly proud machine its head without fear of consequence, where you can feel it come alive and do what it does best. Or what the magazine test and advertising men of the time claimed it could do, anyway.
You don't need to be a former Grand Prix hero to make the most of the day, and your bike doesn't have to be capable of mind-boggling acceleration, kneecap-scaring lean angles or eyeball-distorting braking. You almost certainly won't fall off, and your old warhorse of a motorcycle might even be running better at the end of the day than it was when you arrived.
If you're still having doubts, the following is a guide to what goes on at a typical classic motorcycle trackday. It's based on last week's Morini Riders' Club day at Cadwell Park, always one of the best events on the calendar, but other events follow a similar format.
Nothing in life is free and that – sadly – includes trackdays. You'll need to book in advance and most events sell out so keep an eye out for the announcement by the club or organiser that places are available. As well as a bike you'll need either a set of one-piece leathers or a leather jacket and leather trousers that connect with a full-circumference zip, leather riding boots, leather gloves and a helmet with an ACU or similar sticker. Online auction sites can be useful in finding suitable leathers.
You'll also need to think about how you're going to get your bike to the circuit. Just ride there? Stick the bike on trailer? Hire a van and share it with a couple of mates? There's a purity to riding your bike to the track, doing the track sessions and then riding home, but the trailer or van approach has a lot going for it; you can take tools, oil and spares as well as the comforts of home like a camping stove and deckchair, and if you sleep in the back of the van can you can even make out that you're recreating the days of the 1960s Grand Prix circus. You'll need to be at the track for around 7:30 in the morning, so travelling up the night before and staying in a B&B or a tent at the circuit might be a better option.
If you ride your bike regularly on the road you probably won't have too much to worry about. Check that brake shoes or pads have plenty of life in them, that tyres aren't about to wear out, and that crucial control cables aren't fraying and falling apart. Oil, points, tappets and timing should also be changed, cleaned, adjusted and fettled as appropriate, and a quick once over with a spanner to make sure everything is tight won't go amiss.
All circuits have noise limits these days, and open-piped ex-race machines are likely to breach those limits. Standard and even quite rorty bikes will probably be okay, but if your pride and joy sets off car alarms and your neighbours have sent a petition to the council about your early morning starts, you might want to think about some additional baffling.
Taping up the headlight, taillight, indictors and speedo glass is something everyone does, although not all organisers insist on it. Covering the speedo is probably a good idea if you're not a confident track rider as you might be surprised – or dismayed, in some cases – at the speeds you're reaching; it's probably better not to know. For the same reason, you'll want to remove your mirrors; if people want to pass you, letting them find their own time and place to do it is much safer than thinking you have to pull to one side or the other.
When you arrive at the circuit, find somewhere to base yourself. Some tracks will open their pit garages for the day while others don't actually have pit garages. Yes, Cadwell Park, I'm looking at you. You'll want to be somewhere that'll let you hear the paddock announcements over the Tannoy and a lot of people feel the need to visit the toilets at least twice before each session. Choose your location wisely. Once you're parked up and sorted out, find the circuit office and sign yourself in. You'll need to show your driving licence and sign some sort of disclaimer saying that you know what you're letting yourself in for, and you'll probably be given a wristband of some sort.
As well as indicating that you've signed your life away, the colour of this band will show which riding group you're in. You'll be grouped either by your track experience or by the age and expected performance of the bike you're riding. In practice there's little difference in the speeds of different groups, but the slower or less experienced groups tend to be calmer and less cut and thrust than the faster groups.
Being British we all tend to want to go in the Intermediate group, but general advice seems to be that regardless of machine being ridden, ACU licence holders should go in the faster group and novices in the slower group. The Morini Club put all the machines of that marque together in their own group while other organisers do it by machine age and capacity. You can usually choose to be in the same group as your friends, but the advice is generally to go in the group that suits the least experienced rider of the group.
Once you've signed yourself in, you'll need to get your bike noise tested and checked for mechanical safety. Noise tests are done by asking you to hold the bike at a certain engine speed while a microphone is held a set distance from the end of the exhaust. The engine revs your bike is tested at depend on your bike's redline and capacity, and how generous the tester is feeling. If it fails (typically if it's over 105 dB(A)) you'll be able to go and sort out some way of quietening things down before coming back to be retested. Most circuits also do “ride by” noise testing while sessions are under way, so any temporary baffling needs to be at least semi-permanent.
The scrutineers check that nothing is going to fall off or leak out of your bike while you're on track, and that the brakes, tyres, steering and suspension are up to scratch. They'll make allowances for your bike being fifty years old and a survivor of umpteen careless teenage owners, but they won't let you out on track with loose handlebars or footpegs, worn wheel bearings or an oil leak that would put the Torrey Canyon to shame.
Once you're signed in, noise tested and scrutineered you can think about breakfast. Don't be tempted by the enormous and succulent full English breakfast on offer in the circuit caff; you'll be ready for a mid-morning nap round about the time you're due to on track. Go for something light and nourishing if you can.
Your final step before being let loose on track is the compulsory rider briefing. You'll have the circuit layout (“Out of pitlane and turn left”) and the meaning of the various flags and lights explained to you, and the etiquette of the day will be discussed. This is usually just a reminder to leave plenty of room when overtaking and to be aware that there will be machines and riders of different speeds and abilities out on track at the same time.
Classic trackdays tend to be very gentlemanly; people don't cut each other up or barge past on the brakes at the last minute. That said, there is passing and for some slow machines with fast riders the only opportunity to pass a nominally quicker bike will be through the bends. The best advice is to ride your own line and let any who wants to get past you find their own way round, and if you come across a slower rider give them plenty of room as you overtake them. The Morini Riders Club advice is “don't overtake into a closing gap”, which seems to serve them well.
Typically, for the first few laps of the first session you'll be escorted round by an instructor or otherwise experienced rider, to find out (or be reminded) which way the circuit goes, where the turn-in points and apexes are for each corner, and where the exit back to the pit lane is. The closer you can get to the instructor leading your group, the better idea you'll have of the correct line round the circuit.
Once the guided laps are out of the way, you're on your own. The main thing to remember is that you're on a road with no cars coming the other way, no side roads with milk floats waiting to pull out in front of you, no diesel spills or speed traps. Just ride like you normally do, don't try and do anything unusual or “racerish” like hanging off the seat to get your kneedown until you're comfortable with the experience of riding on track.
In between sessions, try and relax and drink a little water. Riding on track is quite physical and there's a danger of becoming dehydrated unless you're taking on plenty of fluids. Give the bike a quick check over after each session, and keep an eye on chain tension and brake wear. Stick to the tyre manufacturers recommended pressures and check them when the tyres are cold rather than straight after a session. If your suspension is adjustable, try things out but only adjust one setting at a time.
Remember that at the start of each session your tyres will have cooled off and you won't have as much grip as you did at the end of the previous outing. Take it easy for the first lap and ease your way back into the groove. You'll find that you're getting quicker over the course of the day, using more revs and leaning into bends further, tucking in more and braking a little later, a little harder.
Of course, everyone else is also going a little faster, leaning a little more, braking a little later, so it's not unknown for the rider you're following to either run wide and take to the grass or simply fall off in front of you. If this happens, do not stare at them. This isn't to save their embarrassment, but because on a motorcycle you tend to go where you look. If you're looking at a rider that's run off the track in front of you, you'll run off the track too. If someone falls off in front of you, do try not to run them over; it's considered bad form.
If there is an incident on the tack, let the marshals deal with it. If the yellow flags are being waved ease your speed back a bit; if the red flags are out make your way back to the paddock. If you need to slow down for any reason, move off the racing line and raise a hand to let following riders know you're touring.
Towards mid-afternoon you might start to feel a little worn out. Listen to what your body is telling you, and call it a day. The last couple of sessions of the day are when a lot riders come a cropper and it's better to finish early and be fit to do it all again another day than risk damaging your bike or your self by going for one more fast lap.
Because you will want to do it all again another day. By the time you get home you'll be reliving the day in your mind, planning tweaks to your bike and thinking about changes you could make to your riding. You'll watch bike racing on TV with a new understanding, and you'll find yourself scouring club websites and the classic press for details of forthcoming events.
The most fun you can have with your leathers on? Yes, definitely.
Words and Photos: Martin Gelder
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