My love of motorcycling stems from the joy I get being free and unconstrained in the great outdoors. It’s not really about speed for me. That said, sometimes I do like to go FAST. (Especially on my new ride… it’s just so zippy!) Earlier this month, I had the chance to do my very first Track Day. If you’re unfamiliar, a track day is when a racetrack opens to non-professionals for car or bike riding. I wanted my first time to be very safe and have lots of training, so I took the advice of my friends at BMW Motorcycles of Atlanta and signed up to go with BMW-sponsored racer Nate Kern. He organizes private days at Roebling Road Raceway, outside of Savannah. I took the opportunity to take a couple of days off work and visited some friends on the coast at the same time. What an awesome break! To and from Atlanta were the longest highway trips I’d taken to date on the SV (about 5 hours each way). Even with my awesome gel seat, I had a sore bum!
But back to track day…When I arrived at 8 am, there was a steady drizzle coming down. Boo. Wet track = dangerous. But I was actually secretly a little glad, because it meant more time talking about HOW to do this thing! Nate keeps his private days to max 30 people, but I was lucky to be one of just 14 on that day. And what a nice group! All the guys could not have been any nicer to me. After learning that I was a first-timer, they were all so encouraging and helpful, lending me gear and advice and helping with my bike. Note to self: bring good gloves and painter’s tape next time!
Nate held a riders meeting and went over the rules for the day (don’t be stupid!) and details about every turn of the track. While we waited for the rain to stop, he shared race stories, tips and tricks and techniques. I soaked up every detail and tried to remember it all. Then, we waited. Some guys tinkered with their bikes, and others paced up and down the side of the track, looking at the sky. I tried on the leather suit Nate lent me for the day (more comfortable than you might imagine!) and my bike got the once-over (needed oil and tire inflated all wrong – d’oh!) I borrowed some tools and tape and took off my mirrors, and covered all the reflective parts.
We finally piled into a couple of cars to grab a sandwich for lunch and by the time we were finished, the sun was out, the clouds were parting and there were already dry spots forming on the asphalt. Finally, it was time to ride. And damn was I nervous! But I focused on practicing the techniques Nate described, and tried not to worry about my speed… until the .5m straightaway! It was impossible to resist the temptation to see how fast I could go! After a few timid runs (turn #1 comes up fast!) I broke 100 a few times. Wee! And still, guys were passing me like I was standing still!
Each lap I got a little more comfortable, and a little more confident. A super-nice fellow rider offered to follow me on one lap with his video camera going. So I have proof! Warning: this is not a very exciting video. 🙂 Remember it was my first time!
So. Much. Fun. I got to go just as many times as I wanted – it’s very exhausting, mentally and physically. I’d do well to follow Nate’s advice to relax, but I was so nervous my teeth were gritted and palms were sweating even as I tried to remember to breathe. (Random side note- yoga and motorcycling are two things I love, and I swear they complement each other. The strength, flexibility and focus on breath I get from yoga really help me riding. Hmm, maybe a business opportunity here? Yoga for Bikers! (copyright 2012, me))
So as the day winded down, I got an invitation I’d been hoping for. Nate asked if I’d like to ride behind him. Um, lemme think… YEAH! Friends helped add the passenger pegs on his S1000RR (the white one in the pic above) and switched out the rear cover for a (tiny) seat. Nate showed me how to hold on through the turns, where to put my head and knee and promised that we wouldn’t fall off (good plan). And then we were off.
OK, I’ve done a lot of ‘crazy’ things in my life, but this was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I swear my knee was less than a foot from the asphalt in the turns, and my head/shoulder couldn’t have been more than 3 feet from the ground. And still, Nate kept motioning for me to lean more. Usually he did this by moving his head to the side, but I swear a couple of times he reached over with his left hand and pointed. Do you know what that means? ONE hand on the handlebar. Gulp. But I trusted him (mostly). I know that I was supposed to be paying attention to his line and how he was taking the turns, but in reality my head was switching between screaming and saying Hail Mary’s (and I ain’t Catholic). Eight turns at Roebling and then… the straightaway. Good lordy the straightaway. How about 150+ MPH on a tiny seat holding onto a dude for dear life? I say awesome and also kinda terrifying.
After three laps, I’d had my fill. I motioned for Nate to pull in, and after dismounting sat on the ground catching my breath. Everyone had a good laugh at my expression when the helmet came off. What an experience!
My first track day – and definitely not my last. (Check out the pic below – the whiskers are proof that I pushed my tires to new limits!)