Has it already been two years since I started at MO? Wild. Time flies when you’re having fun, I suppose. One thing I have been asking, begging, hounding even, of my bosses throughout those two years was for more track time. I’ve been able to run through two schools: Superbike Coach and the Rickdiculous program, both of which I am very grateful to have attended, but without having the time to get out and follow up on those skills learned, it’s hard to advance to the next level. There’s really no substitute for seat time.
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A few weeks ago, as I was riding through rain and hail during the Honda CB650R/CBR650R press introduction, the pace had slowed, and to be honest, I was bored. I used my Sena and called Evans to see how things were going at the office. He informed me that he and Troy had basically set everything in place for a track day with some instruction for me and that we would all be attending. One big happy family (except John Burns because he didn’t think it was worth it). Ha! They just wanted to make sure I was onboard before pulling the trigger. Of course! My spirits brightened and I almost forgot about the driving rain we were hurtling headlong into. Buttonwillow here I come.
Cali Track Days
We were all set for a relatively relaxed track day at Buttonwillow Raceway with the folks from Cali Track Days. Cali Track Days runs at Buttonwillow Raceway and Thunderhill Raceway and places its focus on bringing riders off the street and to the track. About a year ago, Founder Bill Schaffer, a lifelong street motorcyclist with many years of track riding, saw an opportunity to bring new riders into the sport by offering basic non-competitive track days with an emphasis on safety, rider education, and affordability in a welcoming environment for new track riders.
Schaffer really drives the point home that his track days are not for high level riders looking to push the limits and be the fastest guy around the circuit. “There are other track days for that,” says Bill, “That’s not us.” For this reason, he doesn’t even run an “A” group, rather there are B+, B-, and C groups available for riders to sign up for. This is meant to deter those who are unable to check their ego at the gate or guys simply looking to ride at a high level. More importantly, the focus is on being approachable to riders new to track riding.
During the rider’s meeting, Schaffer talks about safety and the expectations of every rider to ride safely. Specific passing rules are in place for each group with variations based on the levels. All of the flags are discussed in detail to ensure that every person riding understands what they mean. Schaffer tells everyone at the rider’s meeting, “Ride at 70% guys. It’s not a race. We’re all out here to have fun and we want everyone to go home safely afterward.”
In the C group, which I rode in, the first session out is simply a sighting session under waving yellow flags, meaning no one is to pass. This is a chance for those in C group to learn the lines of the track, though others from group B+ or B- are welcome to join if they want a chance to check out the track before their first session. In between each C group session, about 15 minutes after the session ends, there is a classroom opportunity for anyone who wants to learn the basic principles of track riding. Between the first three sessions we covered track basics, vision basics, and braking basics. These classes, in addition to instructors who ride on track to give one-on-one instruction, can be incredibly important to new riders coming out for their first track day. Being able to do some lead and follow with an instructor is a great way to spend some time on the bike and then be able to re-evaluate your work and get back out to keep working on your skills.
In my first session out with Dave, the lead instructor and my personal teacher for the day, he immediately noticed I was far too forward on the tank. He suggested keeping at least a sideways fist worth of space between myself and the tank to allow for the body position I needed to add which would, in turn, help me carry less lean angle instead of riding the bike on the edge of its tire.
During the classes and some of the trackside chats with my instructor , there was a recurring theme with some of the basics that I had heard at other schools. Dave isn’t shy to admit that he’s a big fan of what Ken Hill does at the Rickdiculous school and what Nick Ienatsch does at YCRS and some of the basics he tries to drive home to new riders are the same points the guys in those programs begin with. Building a strong foundation starts with the basic building blocks.
What does all of this education cost? Nothing. It’s included in the $100 dollars you pay for the track day. The education is completely voluntary. You don’t have to attend, but do yourself a favor, if you’re new to this sport, spend the time in the classroom and opt for some one-on-one time on track. Your riding will thank you.
Of course, the program isn’t just for new to the track motorcyclists, it’s also a great place to enjoy a laid back family-friendly track day. Evans, who we’ve been unable to pry off the KTM 790 Duke, really enjoyed riding the KTM Twin at the track and had this to say, “I like the fact that Cali Track Days is a low-pressure environment. The emphasis on safe passing and mutual respect on the track is something that I think will resonate with the occasional track rider. Also, since I was riding a bike that is down on top speed compared to many of the bikes, I felt more comfortable out on the track, knowing that the people who made overly aggressive passes would be talked to.”
Our resident fast guy, Troy Siahaan also came along to give the Ducati Hypermotard 950 SP a shakedown at Buttonwillow after testing a different bike the day before. Troy also managed to get some seat time on a Panigale V4R which belonged to a nice gentleman with the nickname of Madman, obviously (stay tuned for a mini review soon —TS).
Even our videographer Sean Matic managed to sneak out from behind the camera to spin some laps, though we eventually ended up slapping some GoPros to his personal track day motorcycle to employ it as a camera bike during my sessions since it’s fairly easy for Sean to literally ride circles around me.
The proof is in the pudding folks. Anyone can enjoy the odd track day, even if you race, used to race, never raced, or never even considered a track day. Cali Track Days is a great way to have a low key, affordable, educational day at the track regardless of your experience. Just check your ego at the gate, ride within your limits, and remember, have fun!