Track’n’Roll

Thirteen years ago, egad, I wrote this about one of the IAM’s track-based skills day. I’ve just been to another one and had once again, a rather mixed experience. At least this time, there weren’t any actual accidents, damage or injuries, which has to be a major step forwards. But there were a few ‘issues’, he says, through clenched teeth.

A little personal context here: I don’t do commercial track days any more: I’m just fed up with the testosterone-soaked antics of too many people who don’t have the gumption or skill to go racing but who seem to think that a track day is a competitive environment and an excuse for poor and deeply inconsiderate behaviour to others – it only takes a few to screw it up for everyone.

When I go to a track day, it’s to test myself against myself and I usually find myself circulating either towards the front of the intermediate group or towards the back of the, ah, advanced group. I generally prefer the former, simply because the behaviour is better: yes, you have to deal with superbike owners who thrash it in a straight line but who then hold you up in the corners, but that’s just part of the challenge. It’s the behaviour of those, often the ones who turn up in vans with track-prepped bikes, tyre warmers and a bad attitude, that I take issue with.

Now I’m not exactly uncompetitive – if I see a bike in the distance that I think I can catch, I’ll work on doing just that, purely to test my own skills and learn something from others. What I won’t do is then trash the poor bugger with a death-or-glory overtake in an inappropriate place. Which is what happens much of the time on commercial track days and that is just so deeply boring: I really, really don’t fancy hobbling home, dragging the remains of my bike in a bin bag.

So I’ve spent more time in recent years honing such skills as I have on track-based training days, most of which (the original notwithstanding) have been well run and managed – those in recent years at Knockhill have been absolutely excellent.

IAM@Croft

Monday’s almost fell into that category for me: it was at Croft, a circuit I hadn’t ridden before and which turns out to be friendly, interesting and technical. The format was one instructor per four riders, with A, B and C groups roughly corresponding to novice, intermediate and brain-out on a ‘normal’ track day.

Firstly, the good stuff: the instructors were universally excellent, giving good, eloquent and constructive feedback. I learned some useful stuff and got to try out the stuff I don’t usually do on the road. Like braking.

But there were two things that really played against the spirit of the day: rather than each group remaining together for the duration of each session, rotating each lap to allow everyone to be watched by the instructor, it was stated that, once you’d had your turn at the front, you had the choice of either rotating back through the group to carry on or to clear off at the front and play by yourself. Big mistake, which was then compounded by mistake 2: allowing people to turn up with bikes in vans, resulting a a number of track-spec bikes being ridden in a concomitant manner.

The first session went well, as we all warmed up and got to terms with learning the track. the second session went likewise, for a whole lap, then, as people elected for the ‘bugger off in front’ option, it all went pear-shaped: any pretence at working on lines, turn-in, braking and gears went out of the window and the whole thing degenerated into a bit of a free-for-all. Even the instructors couldn’t tell where their own groups were. After being heavily carved up by a supermoto-riding turnip from another group, who’d got a bit carried away at the hairpin (although he was kind enough to genuinely apologise later), I curtailed the session, made my displeasure known, loudly, and sulked for a bit. At least Kevin my instructor was kind enough to say that he thought my lines were the best of the group. Which is what I was bloody well trying to work on,  root vegetables notwithstanding.

At least sitting out a session gave me the opportunity to grab some pics, right up to the point where I was politely turfed out of the photographers’ area for not having my PLI certificate with me…

After lunch, I switched from Group A to Group B – I was very sorry to lose Kevin’s input but the on-track behaviour was far more civilised there – people were actually more concerned about learning than flat-out speed, which suited me just fine. So just two things there for future events: ensure people stay in their nominated groups on what is, after all, a training day and secondly, only allow people to ride who’ve actually ridden there.

There and Back Again

I’d covered 250 miles on the way down the day before, most of it in good company. I’d then ridden 65 miles to the track first thing in the morning (it should have been 35, but I took a wrong turning and was having so much fun on the Dales roads that I didn’t notice), rode most of the day on track and then another and highly enjoyable 200 miles home. At lunchtime I was talking with another rider about the need to ban van-based arrivals. He was horrified – he and a bunch of mates had brought their bikes in a van as they were coming from Cheshire, in his words, “far too far to ride“. That’s all of 130 miles away. I was gobsmacked – is that really what motorcycling is about nowadays?

Three of us came down, using the dear old A68, a route I haven’t used for years. A lovely road, made deeply irritating by the Scottish Police State putting fixed speed cameras every couple of miles, at just the places where there is a safe overtaking opportunity after miles stuck behind really slow stuff. Northumberland was a breath of fresh air in comparison: no cameras and therefore a more relaxed, fluid and safer ride. I was however heartened to see that a number of the cameras on the Scottish side had been comprehensively trashed, presumably by the woad-daubed adherents of F-r-e-e-d-o-m!!

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