You will pick up from these instructional track day articles, a theme: the devil is in the details.
Find a methodical routine that takes you through everything in preparation for your track day, step-by-step, much like a pilot’s pre-flight checklist. Stick to it and make it a right of passage, because you have to be 100% confident and trusting of your bike once you set out on track. Think that is ridiculous? Leave your keys at home once or forget a boot or tire pressure gauge and then have to be reliant on someone else.
Know Your Motorcycle
If you don’t know how to map your geometry or your suspension settings, go to the documents page at www.crstuning.com and download the instructions along with the track or race day sheet. It is critical that you are fully aware of what each adjuster is named, conceptually what it does, and in making changes how those changes will manifest themselves while the bike is on track. You have plenty of time at home to learn and practice using either of the CRST DVD’s, or allocate time to sit with your dedicated suspension tuner to understand the basics.
Check and Change Fluids
An often asked question concerns changing fork oil. If you look in any shop manual or owner’s handbook, there is no reference to this topic anywhere, so the forks and shock only get worked on if something goes wrong – ie: blown seal that causes a leak. For top flight race bikes, the fork oil is changed at least daily, sometimes after each practice to ensure consistency of feedback if there are only a couple of sets of forks available. With club racing, at least after every race weekend for the forks and every three races for the shock. This often raises many eyebrows, but how often do you change engine oil? It is the same oil, so why wouldn’t you want the same performance out of your suspension as your engine?
As the forks work on track, not only does the oil degrade due to a lot of heat from racing, but the fork springs constantly scrape on the inside of the fork tubes. This creates very fine grey silt that builds up a coating on every surface inside the forks. Over time this silt becomes sediment and deposits layers and if left long enough it will completely change the damping characteristics of the valving. Care to guess what state the fork internals will be after 5,000 miles of track/street use?
Rear shocks on the other hand are a sealed and pressurized environment where only the piston moves up and down inside, with an external spring. However the constant heat cycling from cold to hot from not only use on track but from the engine, really stress the oil and accelerates its degradation.
As an aside, when was your brake fluid last changed???????
A week before the track day you will have spent sufficient time checking the bike over making sure ALL the bolts are torqued including the drain plug (I have this safety wired even for the street), the oil filter is tight, you have the correct amount of chain free play (one inch) and that you have great track tires (80% of all crashes involve OEM or OEM replacement street tires) and excellent brake pads and rotors. All your gear is packed in one bag and the bike key is on your key ring and the bike has been started and run at least twice a few days before you leave for the event.
You have your three ring binder with downloaded detail sheets on the track you are going to (track map, facilities etc), bike set up data sheets to record changes, and notes page(s) for you to record how the day went. Can you go a day or afternoon early? Are you prepared to get up at 5:30 a.m. (depending on light)?
Walk the Track
Walking the track is a critical tool if you have the oppertunity to do so. You can save your self a lot of trouble.
The number one thing very few people do, other than racers, is walk or bicycle a track. It is the single most important thing anyone can do to get an initial impression of the track surface, turn camber/camber changes and general visual layout as well as markers, reference points along with visual reference lines between corners. Do not underestimate how important this is… You can make notes on your track map as you circulate and get a very thorough understanding of the track so that when you experience suspension shortcomings and general handling problems, you can assess to what extent the track is responsible for some of these shortcomings.
Tire Pressure and Air Temperature
The next most important “to do” is calibrate your tire gauge regularly (once a month if possible or at the event itself) so that you know the pressure you are setting at 7 a.m. is accurate. There is nothing worse than blaming immediate excessive tire wear on suspension when the pressure gauge is the culprit! Don’t believe that your cheap or expensive dial or digital gauge is always right. Mine varies by up to 1 pound every month, and that can be the difference between a hot or cold tear in the first 20 minutes of track time and a $300 tire gone in 40 minutes. Once tire pressure is set based on compound and ambient temperatures forecast for the day, then head off to registration and tech.
When you are through tech go back to the pit and check all the suspension settings you have detailed on the set up sheet and make sure that they match. Put fuel in the bike and if needed/wanted, put tire warmers on. Then make sure you find out what vendors are where and relax.
Next on the agenda is ambient temperature. If it is still in the 40’s – 50’s with a high speed track, the wind chill on the forks will keep them very cold, but the shock will work fine as it is bathed in heat from the engine (a good example is Willow Spring in California, where the forks will be ice cold from 160 mph wind chill in winter). The front end may feel vague first thing until the day warms up and then everything comes together. Make sure you factor in this part of the puzzle so you don’t immediately go off on the wrong path.
Make Use of Sighting Laps
Get used to the track before going all out, the first session is going to be wasted by learning anyways, take advantage of this time to heat the tires and brakes while exploring the track.
If the track day provider offers sighting laps after the riders meeting and you have never been to the track, make the effort and get on track to see how your walk/bicycle mental notes compare to the slow slighting laps. They should be very similar. Normally you will get three or hopefully four laps at a second gear pace or better, and this really helps with mental preparation for riding the track at speed in your first session.
The first session is always a ‘throw away’ as I am looking for old reference points to remind me of braking and apex markers, scrubbing in tires, making sure the bike has no problems and keeping a very watchful eye on other overly enthusiastic riders. This includes solid throttle roll ons on the straights to heat the back tire, and early firm braking to put heat in the pads/rotors and front tire. Once I get back after the first session, I check notes on the track map and add any new information that is appropriate (markers gone or moved, surface color changes as reference points, surface repairs or grinding marks, landmarks gone or color changed, new layout not on the track map such as pit entry lane).
At this point you are now ready to work with a tuner, or start your test program.