Advanced Riding Course: Trackday riding etiquette

The trackday paddock can be a daunting place. For track newcomers Niall advises a calm approach at your own speed – after all, it’s no race

When it comes to trackdays, the psychology of riding starts way before you even get near a circuit. I’ve always felt there are many riders who would love to take part in a trackday but fear they will be too nervous or intimidated so never get round to it. The fact is if you can ride a motorbike at any level then you will enjoy a trackday at just about any circuit you fancy.

It is completely acceptable to book yourself into the novice group and potter round in 3rd gear all day long, absorbing the magnificence of Donington or Oulton Park along the way. And it doesn’t matter if you have just passed your test or are eighty years old; the novice group on a trackday will have fewer hazards than most main roads. I have been involved in many trackdays where I’ve seen fearful trackday virgins grinning from ear to ear after only completing their first twenty-minute session.

Thinking that you’ll be wiped out by mad men out of control at every corner couldn’t be further from the truth. Any trackday operator worth his salt will nip any dodgy riding in the bud instantly. I work regularly with Focused Events and I must say initially, I questioned the way they treated customers. The boss there is Kevin Healy and should there be any misbehaving he will happily red flag his event, get everyone in the pit lane and use some choice language to express his concerns.

My worry was that customers wouldn’t like this but of course the majority know they are innocent so actually welcome these chats and even applaud him when he is finished. The bollocking is of course aimed at the thoughtless minority and consequently, if anyone is caught twice Healy will happily escort them off the premises. Everyone wants to feel safe so being strict with the culprits gives the others confidence everything possible is being done to keep them safe.

So if you are heading out on track there is no need to worry. You’re free to ride round at your own pace keeping plenty space between you and your fellow riders. Mirrors should be taped up or folded in as there is never any need to look round. The rule of thumb when passing is to stay six feet from everyone else so there is no need to check behind while entering corners and it is always more beneficial to concentrate 100% on where you are going.

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After a few sessions you should be able to trace a map in your head so it is worth having a mental practice in the paddock before going back out recalling your gear change pattern and braking points. If I were new to biking and had no aspirations to be Valentino Rossi then I would stay in the novice group as long as possible but try out different circuits. Riding at a flat Snetterton for example will develop different skills to the likes of the undulating Knockhill, so the more variations you have the more your riding will improve.

As you gain confidence and find you are passing more and more riders in the novice group then it may be time to try an intermediate session. The pace might be slightly faster but the rules are the same. In this group you will begin to use more of the track and race-like lines, albeit still at a steady pace. At 80% of tracks this is a simple case of joining the outside of the track on entry to the apex of the corner and then the outside of the track on the exit. Some corners that are tighter than 90º may require a later turn-in point and will require a bit more practice. Once again, all of this can be practiced at no extra cost between sessions by relaxing in your comfy chair with your eyes closed in the pit garage.

At intermediate group pace there is no need to have any fancy bike set-up as standard road suspension settings will be fine as will normal tyres providing they are at the correct pressures. Tyre warmers might give you belt and braces safety but I think they can be an unnecessary expense, especially in the summer months. It is always worth looking at and listening to others on trackdays but doing laps while keeping your riding smooth will build up your pace, which in turn keeps things safe. This middle pace group may be enough to satisfy all your trackday needs but should you want to go to a level that is one step away from racing then sign up to the fast group. You’ll know when you’re good and ready.

The trouble with making this step is you will struggle to judge just how good you are against the others lining up in the pit lane. You will be on track with tuned bikes, trick suspension, sticky tyres or even racers getting some sneaky practice in for next weekend’s club race. I can hold my own with most but sometimes it is tough to match a highly tuned bike, good suspension and race tyres. You have to participate in the fast group on your own terms and at your own pace because if your standard bike is parked next to the same model with a race shock and a full race system then the owner also has the psychological advantage. But as the guy at the briefing will tell you, it’s not a race and you get no prizes after the chequered flag so ride and enjoy whether you have the cash for the trick bits or not.

By the time you’re ready for the experienced group your riding should be pretty sharp. With a clear track your lines should be the same every lap and should take you out to the kerbs and edge of the track at the appropriate points. The pace of the other riders around you will also be quick so good fitness and hydration is a must to keep you sharp. When you start to make mistakes then it is time for a rest and a drink. With the pace being faster without knowing it you will get dragged along so it is wise to not go too fast too quick. Also, always remember if something isn’t feeling quite right either with your bike or your riding then if you do push harder something will inevitably go wrong.

Always do your own thing and you will go home happy.

Improve Your Confidence

  • Don’t think trackdays are only for the brave. Nothing is further from the truth; they are a track riding experience not a Grand Prix
  • Get in the novice group and ride as slow as you want, that is what it’s for
  • Most trackdays have staff giving good advice and instruction
  • Only move up a group if you are passing too many riders in your session
  • Do lots of mental practice between sessions
  • Enjoy doing your own thing and you’ll go home happy with you and the bike in one piece