Advanced Riding Course: Track Riding Techniques

Once you’re comfortable in the trackday environment, it’s time to go faster. Niall Mackenzie recommends a couple of techniques to tease more speed from you and your bike

Clutchless shifting

I’m always surprised by the number of riders who don’t do this, particularly since it can make your riding smoother and faster. Done properly, the technique also puts less strain on your engine and transmission.

I am of course talking about changing up through the gears – while shifting down without the clutch isn’t impossible, it can be dangerous and expensive. I know some club racers who claim never to use the clutch while shifting down but they’re also rubbish, and that’s probably why.

This technique for near-seamless gearchanges is simple and easy to master. When doing it for the first time it’s best to practice between third, fourth, fifth and sixth gears. While accelerating gently, put some light pressure under the gearlever. Then when you’re carrying some decent revs and you’re ready to change up, just roll the throttle back slightly – a few millimetres is enough. The gearbox should slot instantly into the next gear. That’s it.

From there it’s just a case of practice – you’ll soon be doing it without even thinking. I suggest trying it with higher gears initially since smooth shifts between first and second can be tricky at first. That said, once you’ve developed a feel for your engine and gearbox, shifting without the clutch will become a doddle in any gear.

You’ll soon discover how smooth and effortless changing up clutchlessly is, and how little lever pressure and throttle movement you actually need for perfect shifting. There are some riders who take this a stage further and use the rev-limiter to temporarily take the load off the gearbox, letting them keep the throttle wide open. I wouldn’t recommend this. By the time most engines have reached their rev-limiter they’ve have stopped accelerating, so this crude quick-shifting method is a sure fire recipe for costly mechanical damage.

Does ‘blipping’ help?

It also makes sense to keep things smooth while coming back down through the gears, so if this is a problem blipping might help. When asked about whether blipping (momentarily opening the throttle quickly between downshifts) helps, my answer is a cautious “sometimes”. Certainly if you ride a high performance two stroke then a blast of fuel can be crucial to avoid seizures. However, on four strokes, blipping is simply about easing the transmission into the next gear down. In high gears, when the revs are low, this isn’t essential, but it’s important to let the clutch out between shifts to avoid false neutrals and lock-ups.

Blipping between downshifts works best when you want more engine braking. The technique can be particularly effective in the wet, when you want help slowing down without using the brakes. If you find you can’t blip the throttle without squeezing the front brake and making the forks dive momentarily, practice while stationary. Put two fingers over the brake lever and try to keep a constant pressure while opening and closing the throttle slightly. Blipping can prove difficult if the brake lever is too far out, so a simple adjustment to bring it in a little might help. Keep practising until you can work the throttle without altering the pressure you’re applying to the brake lever.

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On the track

Using the entire track

Another top tip for trackday riders is to get the hang of using more of the circuit on the way into and out of corners. Quite apart from the Scot in me thinking, “I’ve paid for all this tarmac; I’m sure as hell going to use it”, there are many other benefits. Firstly, approaching a corner, the wider your entry, the greater your field of vision as the corner opens out. This means you can see your

exit point earlier. On track, where everything is happening very quickly, every fraction of a second can help. The second advantage is that, since you’ve effectively made the corner wider, you won’t need to lean the bike over as far, making you safer and faster. And thirdly, the fact that you’re faster through the corner means your increased exit speed will be carried along the next straight, helping cut your lap times and set up safe, easy overtakes on other riders.

Obviously the tricky bit is safely riding right out to the line at which the tarmac stops and the not-so-grippy grass begins. Again, it’s all about practice; building up confidence from a slow pace. Many trackday riders have pre-programmed brains that won’t let them get within two feet of the circuit’s edge, so a different approach is key to overcome this.

From lap one, as you get a feel for the track, it’s a case of riding around at 60% of your maximum pace and gradually working your way out to the edge of the track. Once you’re comfortable and you’ve established a good rhythm, you’ll naturally increase your speed.

To begin with you’ll find it is easy to get nice and wide on the entry. but more difficult to use all the track on the exit. When this happens make a mental note to carry more speed through the corner next time around until you are using the entire track. Use the same entry speed but try to open the throttle earlier, so the extra momentum carries you wider on the exit. At new tracks I tend to concentrate on one corner per lap until I’m happy, then move on to the next one.

When you have this nailed at one circuit use the same system each time you visit another. Eventually, you’ll find your brain gradually adjusts making your track management more accurate and efficient.

  • Practice clutchless shifts in higher gears – smoother shifts will be easier
  • Use gentle pressure on the gearlever then roll the throttle back slightly
  • Perfect your blipping by downshifting while stationary, with the bike in neutral
  • Practice using the full width of the track at a reduced pace, then speed up