Following my experience in the Z2 Track Days Novice School, I was hungry for more track time with the Ninja 300. So I got in touch with another track-day provider, the MotoFit Group, who hosts events at The Ridge Motorsports Park in Washington and Oregon Raceway Park in eastern Oregon to see what options they had for novice track riders.
As with many track-day providers, MotoFit offers three group levels during a track day – Black (advanced), Blue (mid-level) and Green (novice). Within the Green group there’s also the opportunity to participate in the MotoFit Training Course, led primarily by the Group’s founder, Rob Burch. It sounded like a perfect fit and Burch was gracious enough to invite me to the final weekend of the 2015 season in mid-September.
Oregon Raceway Park is situated in a picturesque part of eastern Oregon.
If you’re looking to get away from just about everything but your bike and the track, Oregon Raceway Park is an ideal location. The small rural community of Grass Valley, which is home to ORP, has a post office and a few amenities, but the nearest cities with lodgings and services are several miles away on Highway 97. Located amidst wheat fields that stretch to the horizon, the ORP circuit makes use of the undulating landscape to create some truly dramatic sections. The 400 feet of elevation change per lap include plenty of blind, off-camber corners, decreasing radius turns and blind crests.
Opened in the spring of 2009, ORP is fairly bare-bones at the moment. Riders can purchase 92 clear non-ethanol gas on site and rent garage space, but that’s about it. Many track-day attendees had trailers or RVs to call home for the weekend, and I’d highly recommend this option if available to you. I camped during my two-day stay at the track, setting up a tent on the asphalt of the upper pit area. You’ll need to remember to bring lights for when the sun goes down, as well as plenty of grub and water because it can get pretty warm during the days on track. ORP is currently in the process of expanding its facilities, with restrooms (portable toilets are all there is for now) and showers currently under construction.
The disconnection from the finer things in life is completely worth it for the experience on track. While at 2.34 miles it’s the longest track in Oregon, it’s not an incredibly fast course. Rather, ORP is technical and demands thoughtful line selection. When you start it’s somewhat difficult considering that many corners are only visible at the last minute, but once you develop some reference points and have a feel for the course it’s extremely fun.
MotoFit founder Rob Burch offers two-up rides as part of the instruction during track day events.
The Green group is designed for riders at various points in their two-wheeled lives, with a focus on finding greater harmony with the motorcycle through skills exercises on track. While sportbikes were predominant during our weekend with MotoFit, Burch explains that the essence of the training program is to help riders become more proficient on whatever motorcycle they choose to bring.
“The Green group is a compilation of new riders, returning riders, riders that are licensed but who would like to develop more skill and increase confidence,” says Burch. “Everybody is on all different types of motorcycles. With everyone riding different bikes, the thing that someone in the Green group can expect is that they’ll understand more about how to communicate with the specific bike that they have. That’s really the backbone of our training program, so you can be more at ease with greater situational awareness.
“We’re propagating safety, developing skill, increasing confidence. It’s just a matter of unlocking the combination for people. I think people can really expect that when they show up at a MotoFit event they’re going to get the support from the staff that hopefully is going to make a difference for them.”
The day’s basic breakdown sees Green group riders take to the track for a 20-minute session on the hour, ever hour. While Blue and Black groups take their turns, the Green riders head in for classroom sessions led by Burch with supplemental lessons provided by the other instructors. The classroom vibe is laid back and much of the training is focused on the rider’s relationship with their machine. There’s talk of line selection around the track as well during the initial session, but Burch emphasizes the importance of occupying the right headspace as soon as a rider mounts the motorcycle.
The Green Group Training Course emphasizes remaining relaxed on the motorcycle, making consistent line choices and improving body positioning on the motorcycle.
“We begin with what we call the ‘R Model,’ which helps people understand the concept of relaxing on their motorcycle,” explains Burch.
Elements of the R Model include developing a pre-ride ritual to help focus the mind in the present moment, clearing away any thoughts outside of riding and leaving emotions at the door. The idea is to encourage riders to be loose and calm on the bike, to breathe steadily and regularly all with the aim of helping the rider plan ahead.
Riders then do a lead/follow session with instructors on track and are encouraged to come back with some observations about the course, specifying any particular reference points, course characteristics, etc.
The next lesson deals with inputs and asks riders to follow a Body, Brakes, Gear, Gas method when approaching turns. Burch details body positioning techniques, with particular emphasis on utilizing the footpegs to fine-tune a rider’s cornering ability. More track time follows and more discussion of body positioning, which stresses the fact that the motorcycle doesn’t change its mechanical dynamics on its own, only the rider can influence how a motorcycle responds by altering their inputs. The goal is to highlight the fact that organizing one’s thoughts and striving for consistency allows a rider to become a more effective motorcyclist. Burch and the rest of the instructors reiterate the importance of consistent entry, apex and exit as well throughout the weekend and encourage riders to heighten their awareness of each of these aspects of cornering.
On the second day riders in the Green group training course are encouraged to begin a riding journal, with notes on what one hopes to accomplish during each session, and a review of what happened after they return to the pit. The ultimate goal of the MotoFit training course, as we experienced it, is to cultivate an approach to motorcycling that is organized, consistent and thoughtful at the outset. The conviction is that this attitude will lead to good habits which develop the muscle memory, confidence and calmness on two wheels necessary to be a more safe and effective rider.
I had a phenomenal time in the MotoFit Green Group Training Course thanks to great instruction and a breathtaking track.
I had a phenomenal time during the two days with MotoFit Group at Oregon Raceway Park, and it appeared that many others have experienced the same. There were numerous returning customers, greeting one another like family when people began to arrive on Friday night. Many were just as friendly with strangers as well, sharing a warm spot on the couch in their RV, a freshly barbecued burger (which I was grateful for!) and plenty of stories of past rides. The instructors were enthusiastic and approachable, eager to learn about your experience on motorcycles and to help in any way possible, both on and off the track. On Saturday night a potluck barbecue brought the entire paddock down to meet and greet with one another and by the end of Sunday you’ve got a whole crowd of new friends.
The instruction was helpful for me as well, making for a more methodical approach to inputs while on the motorcycle, especially in regards to corner entry, apex and exit. The Body, Brakes, Gear, Gas routine was extremely useful and I found myself muttering the four words under my breath as I approached each corner during the final sessions, helping to focus the mind and improve flow on the machine.
There was no pretension or arrogance in either the staff or attendees during my weekend with the MotoFit Group. No one was put down or shamed for riding slower or having less experience. Rather, it was a welcoming, supportive atmosphere that facilitated learning without pressure. Riders were encouraged to use sessions to focus on just one or two elements, to perfect just one or two corners, to take things in small bits and create building blocks to establish a more perfect union between man and machine.
I was once again out on the 2015 Ninja 300 ABS with Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S20 tires. After a summer of riding the Ninja I am more impressed than ever at its ability to accommodate the novice rider, especially on the track. You have to be prepared to get passed on the straights, as there’s no question that more powerful machines will be out there that can easily blow by with a twist of the throttle.
But in the Green group training session and others like it, going fast isn’t the key objective, at least it wasn’t for me. The Ninja 300 is incredibly nimble and as such allows for corner errors to be corrected with ease. As a rider begins to grow more comfortable with reference points and gains confidence, the 300 proves more than capable at carrying faster corner speeds. This allows for a rider to keep the revs up and pull harder out of the corners, and as has been mentioned in previous articles, the 300 rewards the rider that can keep the revs high. It’s definitely a satisfying sensation when you get it right and feel like you’re getting more out of the machine.
Engine braking is gradual and the Ninja 300 utilizes a slipper clutch, so when a rider downshifts into a corner there’s not an abrupt deceleration but a smooth slowing that, when coupled with some pressure on the front brake, creates a very stable machine in the turns.
There’s no question that the Bridgestone tires play a big part in the confidence I felt in the bike while turning laps. As a novice, I certainly wasn’t taking the bike to its utmost lean angles, but entering turns was always smooth, grip was plentiful and feel from the road was ample. The tires have staying power as well, with plenty of grip left after three full days on track (including our trip to the Z2 Novice School) and more than a 1000 miles of touring in eastern Oregon.
I want to thank MotoFit Group and Rob Burch for having us out and showing me a fantastic weekend at Oregon Raceway Park. The MotoFit season is currently closed, but check their website for updates on the 2016 schedule and try to make it out if you can.
Burch and MotoFit would also like to thank Dunlop Tires, Evol Technology, Pilot Leathers, Impact Safety Armor, Sidi Boots and Motonation for their support.