You may fancy yourself a good rider. The truth is, you’re not nearly as good as you think, and this will become abundantly clear in a hurry when you attend your first track day. The beautiful thing is, that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be, and the experience is set up to boost your skills and send you on your way to smoother, safer riding on the street.
Nancy Joyce and Randy Cook are great friends and working partners in running the Pitt Meadows Track Days (PMTD). Randy, who has been riding motorcycles for almost 50 years, and racing and coaching for over 30, owns Cyclelogics Rider Training and is the kind of guy you listen to when he starts talking about how to ride a motorcycle. Nancy, also a very seasoned rider, former racer and owner of Pitt Meadows Track Days, was one of his students in 2001, and their enthusiasm for safe, effective riding grew into a passion project for the rest of Greater Vancouver’s motorcycle community. While Nancy works for the City of Coquitlam in “real life”, she launched these track day events in 2011 after realizing there wasn’t much available in the area for riders new to the track, and that the Justice Institute of BC has a massive piece of tarmac just begging for someone to set up cones and ride around on it in spirited fashion.
Unlike popular assumption, track day attendees don’t need anything even remotely resembling a “race bike”. At the track day I recently took part in, there were all sorts of sport bikes, sure, but riders were also out on Harleys, KLRs, supermotos, itty-bitty Kayo 125s, and even a Triumph Bonneville. Truly a run-what-you-brung environment, if it’s got two wheels and can turn corners, and you’re looking to improve your riding skills and the understanding of your motorcycle’s capabilities, there’s a place for you here.
Similarly, while they ask (because the focus of the riding is on safety) that you arrive covered head to toe in proper riding gear, you certainly don’t need full one-piece leathers (unless you’re in the “expert” group). Personally, while I have 40-year old BMW, I’m also blessed to have a wife who rides, and I felt her 2011 Ninja 250r would be the perfect track steed, so I made off with it for the day. In speaking with some of the more seasoned track day enthusiasts and amateur racers in attendance, consensus seems to be that big guns like Panigales and R1s are simply too much bike for these circuits (not to mention most people’s skills). In short, Randy and the track design team make sure to set up the cones to focus on honing your cornering skills, because “anyone can be fast in a straight line”.
The day starts casually with registration and bike prep, consisting of a quick safety check to ensure your bike won’t fall apart or leak fluids all over the track, and taping of lights, mirrors, and speedometers. While I initially thought this was just a safety measure to prevent broken glass in the event of a spill, I quickly came to appreciate its full effect; not knowing your speed, who’s behind you, or when the rider in front of you is braking, forces you into your own little world of riding and observational focus and completely eliminates any reliance on the traffic around you – it’s up to YOU to see what’s coming and react appropriately.
A mandatory riders’ briefing at 9am runs through the rules, regulations, volunteer roles and track layout in depth. There are five groups – Ab Initio, Relaxed, Intermediate, Intermediate-Fast, and Expert – and the latter three start the day in successive 12-15 minute sessions while Ab Initio and Relaxed riders take in a “chalk-talk” with Randy, who really is a true gem. He’s the kind of man that looks like he might run an HA chapter, or at least be a stand-in for Santa Claus, but he speaks with the classy verbiage and patient tone of a teaching librarian, and it’s clear he’s immeasurably passionate about motorcycles and how to ride them safely. Whether on track or street, Randy eventually boils everything down to the SOAR approach: Scan – keep your head up and eyes roving; Observe – know what’s coming at the end of the straightaway or several blocks away; Anticipate – be ready for the corner after next, or the car pulling out from the T-intersection; and Respond – brake, lean, turn, accelerate, but only when you and the bike are ready to do so safely.
Then it’s time to ride. I arrived with zero track day experience but 11 years of year-round riding on a wide variety of bikes types and sizes, so I felt comfortable in the Relaxed group. People can move up and down throughout the day; it’s up to the rider him/herself to self-seed, but Safety Riders will also be on the lookout for those too slow or fast for their group’s good.
Session one is all about familiarization: seeing the track, learning the line, focusing on your bike’s feedback as it begins to do things it should never do on the street. Once your time is up, you’re ready to come in for feedback and another chalk-talk. Randy fields questions and delivers tips and theory on line choice – “it’s all about being smooth in, smooth out; the track is basically one long, never ending curve” – lean angle, and body positioning – “you should never have both butt-cheeks on the seat at the same time; lean to the inside, keep your weight on the outside peg, and shift side to side as the track does the same.”
For session two it begins to get more real. I had the pleasure of having one of the roving Safety Riders – Lee from 1st Gear Motorcycle Training – take me under his wing for 4-5 laps and display braking, body position and turn-in points with great clarity before some verbal feedback and advice immediately afterwards.
After a third and final group chat with Randy, it’s time for session three, at which point I was simply having the time of my life. I felt more comfortable pushing deeper into corners and accelerating harder on the way out, and above all, it was gratifying to see how much my understanding of proper high-performance riding technique had come in only a half-day’s instruction and three short track sessions.
After lunch (gourmet, and provided track-side for $10), a full-day’s registration gets you another three sessions on the track, again, with lots of opportunity for feedback and instruction. While watching from the sidelines and awaiting your next ride, highlights include meeting the other enthusiasts and bike owners all around you, and also watching the more experienced track day attendees and Safety Riders lap the track. Local racer and coach Spero Benias is a fixture at the PMTDs and can always be relied upon to put on a show of precision, whether on his own race bike, a Grom mini-racer or, as I witnessed, taking a student around the track as a passenger on her own bike to really get her familiar with the perfect line.
All in all, as a motorcyclist in Greater Vancouver, a Pitt Meadows Track Day is a truly fantastic way to spend a day riding. I came away feeling exceedingly happy with what I had learned throughout the morning, but also with no desire whatsoever to take track speed and aggression to the street. Nancy, Randy and all the rest make it clear as day for all to understand that the reason these track days exist is to make us all better, more proficient and respectable riders in our daily excursions. To paraphrase Randy, we all strive to be professionals in our careers and many other facets of our lives, but many motorcyclists throw respect for others and even their own safety out the window when they climb aboard their bike. The skills learned here, when applied correctly and responsibly and refreshed with regularity, will not only help you have more fun and be safer on your way to work, the grocery store, or riding across the continent, it will also make you a nicer, more predictable, and pleasant rider to drive alongside.
A Pitt Meadows Track Day; the perfect way to hone your skills, and everyone is welcome.
Five levels of riding pace
No racing license required
Proper motorcycle gear required (leather or Kevlar)
For more photos of the July 31st Pitt Meadows Track Day, click here.