When I was young, armed with my Beckett tuned 350LC, I did my fair share of street racing, but although a regular at race meetings to watch, I never thought about doing a trackday. Over the years speed became less of a focus, and it just never got suggested. So I’m not sure if it was a mid life crisis thing, to prove I could still cut it, or just to be able to ride as fast as we could for a change. But a few years ago now I suggested to some friends that we should go and do one. It was the first trackday for all of us.
Five Descend On Cadwell Park
Cadwell Park has always been my favourite circuit, and as it isn’t so far from me that seemed the obvious track of choice. The VStrom (DL650) on dual sport tyres would hardly seem the ideal track day weapon, but I wasn’t going there to win races, just to test my own ability, see how far I could push the bike and have some fun.
So, one remarkably warm February day, we descended on Cadwell for an MSV novice day. We chose the novices only day as none of us had had any experience on track, none of us (well 1 I guess) were equipped with superfast sports-bikes, and most were riding to the track on the bikes we were using on track (I did take the luggage off LOL).
Ready To Roll
We all arrived early and lights were taped up, mirrors removed, tyres deflated etc. We all went through final mechanical checks, noise control and rider instructions. My only major tweak was to stiffen up the suspension at both ends and drop the forks in the yokes an inch for a faster turn in. I had thought about putting some full road tyres on, but decided to stick with my trusty Anakee 2’s for several reasons, not least of which being they were almost new and just bedded in nicely. And so it was, 3 VStrom’s (all 650’s), a Cagiva Navigator and a CBR600 went out to play.
To say it was February, the weather was great, bright sunshine and a dry track, other than the early morning dew. First session was really just to familiarise the riders with the track, and for everyone to make a mental note of apexes, braking points and turn in markers. All laid out nicely by MSV to make things as easy and safe as possible for all the “newbie’s”.
What An Array Of Bikes
The array of bikes and riders was part of what made the day. We were sat alongside bikes and riders of all types. Brand new (at the time) cross plane R1’s, some gorgeous Ducati’s and KTM’s to name a few, sat beside our trusty VStrom’s. Young and more mature riders, all just as eager to enjoy riding the bikes we had as they were designed to be ridden, without the limits we all have to face riding on the road.
For anyone that doesn’t know, Cadwell Park is a circuit renowned on the UK calendar. Often referred to as the mini-Nurburgring, it is a complex track. Testing even for experienced racers, it is technical and narrow rather than a circuit for all out speed. It was the perfect place to test riders and motorbikes alike. Fast sweeping corners, camber and elevation changes, tight twisty sections, and 2 places each lap where you really could open the bikes up fully. I won’t refer to them as straights because anyone who has been knows that Park Straight is anything but straight.
So as you can imagine I am sure, the first few sessions were a real learning curve. Here are some Slow and Steady laps learning Cadwell Park. Each lap I tweaked the turn in’s to hit those elusive apexes (especially the double blind apexes at Charlie’s), pushing the braking points a bit further each time. Finding the right lines to make the most of the bikes ability was the next task. Then it was learning how to “pick the bike up” out of corners to get the power down faster. Lap by lap we all got quicker, pushing ourselves and the bikes more and more. You will see in the video, as the session progresses, braking points get deeper and apexes become tighter as i try to learn the circuit
There were “hairy” moments when more than one of us went grass-tracking as we overcooked a corner. The dual sport tyres did have some advantages for that. All it takes is to misjudge on braking point. There are so many intricate pieces of tarmac for it to go wrong. As each session finished and we rode back to the paddock the ridiculous smiles were beaming from every helmet. Discussions of trail braking, lines and the mini duels that happened became a babble of grins and laughter. As the day progressed, those smiles just grew and grew.
Fuelled By Tea
Questions and suggestions came thick and fast. Trailing faster riders and planning safe overtakes was the first idea. Piecing together the best transitions from corner to corner, and laughing at the nervousness we had felt at the start of the day. Drinking endless tea during any intervals in the paddock became the routine very quickly. By the end of the day everyone said they had learnt more that day than in years of road riding.
Trackday Lesson 1. Learning How To Trail-Brake Properly
My personal trackday highlight was trail-braking deeper into the corners to pass the sports-bikes through numerous corners. Watching them come past me on the straights stopped mattering when I realised I could re-pass them. Most of the time that was through the next set of corners. Session after session the babbling and laughter just grew all day, and by the end of the last session we all sat there with stupid grins, already planning our next visit.
Trackday Lesson 2. Riding A Fast Bike Is Different To Riding A Bike Fast
For anyone thinking about it, just go and do it. There will be more trackday tales to come, but I will finish this one for now. I am happy with the knowledge that Riding a fast bike, and riding a bike fast, are two very different things. My search for a track-day specific bike would begin as soon as I got home.
Full marks to MSV, the trackday was well organised and monitored throughout, and there was plenty of space on track. Perfect for novices to learn. Not all track-days offer this luxury, so do your research, some companies are much more aimed at Racers. Most do split ability groups, but not all are as closely scrutinised as MSV. I would wholeheartedly recommend them as the best for NON-Racers.
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