Pele takes a V-Strom to a track day.
I'ma preface this with a TL;DR because it's gonna be long. I can be verbose, but I like formatting with white space to make stuff easy to read... So if you REALLY need the TL;DR, you might wanna get your ADD checked up on.
Had my first track day with less than ideal conditions and prep. Had a freaking BLAST. Street only riders, take your butt to a track day!
The following is my experience with Roger Lyle’s MotorcycleXcitement at Summit Point’s Shenandoah Circuit.
Motorcycling is an athletic event. Some people prep their bodies for athletic events by eating lightly and hydrating before.
My track day was scheduled for Father’s Day, June 16, 2019; I decided to move the family celebration of Father’s Day to the preceding Saturday. In said celebration dinner, I gorged myself on meat at a Brazilian Churrascaria.
Some people prep their machines for a motorsports event. They change fluids, safety wire stuff, check fasteners for torque, etc.
I hadn’t touched my motorcycle since moving houses in October of 2018. I had boxes and shelving full of car parts stacked around it in the garage and those weren’t moving. My gun safe was the last thing that I put in the garage and I moved that thing in there with a dolly. When I set it down, I remember hearing the rifles and boxes of ammo rattling around, so I’m sure if I opened it up to make it lighter to move it, I’d make a huge mess or jam the door shut or something… So that wasn’t moving either.
Dead motorcycle battery meant that I was pushing it out… Caught the tail of the motorcycle on the door handle of the gun safe and dropped it on my leg. (And that was the extent of the damage to the motorcycle for the weekend.) I rolled the motorcycle down the driveway, popped the clutch and it sprung to life… I did a loop around the Cul-De-Sac that I live on to make sure I still remembered how to ride the damn thing and let it idle to charge the battery as the sun set on Saturday. While idling, I took the time to go through boxes to find my helmet, gloves, pants, and jacket.
Sunday morning, I woke up at 5:30 and hopped on the bike for the hour and a half ride from Manassas to Summit Point. The ride up was uneventful, but it gave me a chance to shake down the motorcycle and make sure it was up to snuff.
Entering Summit Point was a bit intimidating. People had legit track bikes with stickers instead of headlights. People had full on dedicated track suits with scuffed knee padding. People had RVs and trucks to bring their motorcycles and camp out in… Trucks meant that these people could wreck their shit and not care. Trucks also meant that they could bring air compressors, extra tires, tools, and changes of clothes.
In rolls my rear end… Gut full of fillet mignon, pork parmesan, and marinated top sirloin steak… Five year old helmet and basic entry level street gear… Riding a bike that I had spent the past hour and a half on with a quarter tank of stale 87 octane fuel…
While this motorcycle shares its engine with a popular sport bike, the SV650, this is a dual-sport type motorcycle. I have Shinko 705 tires on it; These are an all-terrain tire. In a field full of Ford Mustangs. I brought a Ford Expedition. In a field of Chevrolet Camaros and Corvettes, I brought a Tahoe. In a field of Nissan 370Zs, I brought a Pathfinder.
My preregistration and online payment meant that I could skip the paperwork and go straight to tech. Plastic headlights meant that I brought my roll of blue painter’s tape for naught; no need to cover anything. And I was assigned a number, 42… The answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.
While us noobs were having our introductory meeting to learn about flags on the track and various rules on how to pass and what to do if you wreck, intermediate riders were called out for their first session. There’s something about engines that just sings to me. Gixxers and CBRs and YZFs screaming around the track at 12,000 RPM, popping on deceleration. Music to soothe the soul.
After intermediate and rookie riders were done with their sessions, it was time for the novice session. The newbies. The ones that had never been on the track before.
And then the rain started.
Several people decided to pack it up then and there. But you know what, I had my MSF course to get my license in a torrential downpour. My original motorcycle course instructor said, that it’s the best thing, as you learn to be smooth on the throttle and brakes and you learn how to feather the clutch much more when the road is slick. :|:|:|:| it… I’m going out. I’m gonna ride slow and I’m gonna learn my way around the track.
Shenandoah Circuit is a very tight course with 22 turns in 2.2 miles. There are only a few straights in which you can open it up. On slick surfaces, I learned that I can use my off-roader’s torque to my advantage. Keep it in 3rd and just lug the engine. It won’t have the low gearing to accelerate the rear wheel and make it slip out on me. Still, there were some butthole puckering moments where I felt it slide, so I took it easy. Those slippery moments, while scary, also make me feel so alive.
After the first track session, Novice riders were called into a classroom session to discuss the track and riding technique. One gentleman mentioned that in a large banked circle called “Karussel” SOMEONE was taking their sweet time on the outer edge of the turn and because passing on the inside of the turn wasn’t allowed, it jammed him up. Sorry man, but I’m still trying to figure this thing out and the rain wasn’t helping any. I expected people to pass me on the lower asphalt section of the “Karussel” and that’s why I took the upper asphalt section. I wasn’t aware that I could drive on the concrete center section.
Later, the sun came out and the track dried up some so I could feel a little more comfortable carrying speed. There were still some puddles and dirt that scared me near apexes of some turns. I also still wasn’t quite getting the hang of some of the turns.
One of the coaches took me aside and told me just take it easy and don’t try and ace the entire track at once. It’s a very complex layout and some people don’t get it their first, third, or fifth time through. Concentrate on a small section at a time. We conversed about setting up for turns, when I should and shouldn’t be on the brake and throttle, and how some turns set you up for the following turn.
I decided to concentrate on the areas that had gotten me in trouble before. The “Hook” and the “Trigger” are two tight turns in a section called the “Pistol Grip” They’re linked by a series of smaller rolling turns called the “Range Esses.” If you mess up the first turn, you won’t be set up for the second turn, so on and so forth and you’ll miss them all.
I found myself talking to myself in my helmet, psyching myself up for turns, reminding myself about hazards coming up. There’s a curve called “Bus Stop” right before the “Karussel” that had jammed up several riders in another session and I had entered it too hot and eaten grass once or twice before.
The first time the linked turns finally clicked in my head and I hit them somewhat properly was like an epiphany. Coming back around and hitting them a second time just woke something up in me. It gave me a purpose to strive for. The closer and closer I got to getting that string of turns right just gave me a feeling of joy and I had a crap eating grin on my face for the remainder of the day.
After lunch, another instructor stopped by where I was set up in the paddock area. I had heard the raspy metallic sound of the aftermarket exhaust on his Honda CBR 250 R Repsol behind me a few times around the track. He approached me and handed me his credit card and a key. He said, “He’s gonna need a tank of fuel, but take ol’ Rusty out for a spin a couple times and see how he feels.”
Here I am, being entrusted with another man’s vehicle. This is no repair shop or valet service. This is a freaking racetrack where anything can happen and where I’m encouraged to ride in a spirited manner.
The CBR felt very nice. It took a bit to get used to the totally different seating position, and the power band, and just how tiny the bike was compared to mine… But I felt a much tighter connection to the bike, especially when I laid down on the fuel tank… (On my V-Strom, I sit upright.) I felt I could lean a lot harder on the Michelin tires he had on it and that I could carry much more speed into corners.
I wound down the day with a few more riding sessions. While others checked out early, I paid for the entire day and I was going to use the whole day. At the end of the day I met up with Roger Lyle, the organizer of the event and the coaches that worked with me and shook their hands thanking them for an excellent experience and rode back home.
I wasn’t the fastest person on the track. In fact, I was probably the slowest rider. But I didn’t let a bike go down, I didn’t give up, and I didn’t desert the track.
I was able to talk shop with people; Talking about trail braking and late apexing and about rubber compounds of tires with a choir of engines singing in the background and the smell of uncatalyzed exhaust wafting through the air...
I was able to feel alive, and more importantly, feel a reason for being alive...
I was able to feel like I belonged somewhere; and didn't have to worry about doing anything wrong...
For a day, I was home and at peace with the world...
I haven't felt that good in almost a decade...
2012 DL650 Adventure - Black
OEM Hand guards, OEM Heated grips, Stroma Center Stand and Shifter, SV Racing Frame and Swingarm sliders, Eastern Beaver power distribution, Skene Visibility Lights