Motorcycle Classics Blogs > Black Side Down

Track Days

As a lifelong road rider, up until recently I’d never really entertained track riding or vintage racing. The benefits of track days seemed obvious, but I always felt I could learn many of the same lessons in my own way, riding and reading, taking notes from racing greats like Reg Pridmore and Lee Parks.

Then a few years ago, thanks in large part to an invitation from American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) track instructor Andrew Cowell, I took the AHRMA race class and rode a borrowed Honda CB160 at Miller Motorsports Park during the Bonneville Vintage GP. The experience was mind-blowing.

I would never have believed how much fun it can be to hustle a small, low-powered bike —  all of 14 horsepower — around a track as fast as you can make it go. My top speed that weekend was something approaching 74mph, with an average around the track of maybe 45mph — not exactly blindingly fast. I’ve never been a big horsepower junkie, so the comfortable accessibility of it all with a light, low-powered bike had huge appeal. “Stupid fun,” I said when it was all over. “I can’t believe this is legal.”

Ridiculously, I haven’t been out on the track since. I have dozens of perfectly plausible, defensible excuses — too much to do at work and home, no track bike, etc. — all designed to rationalize my inaction. Internal forces, however, are pushing me to trade in my excuses for a new set of leathers and a dedicated track bike.

I blame associate editor Landon Hall, who recently completed his first track day, riding his 1973 BMW R75/5. Landon will be the first to tell you that a bone-stock R75 doesn’t exactly tear it up out on the track, but that wasn’t his goal. His goal, perfectly met, was to get out on the track so he could find out for himself what it’s all about.

Landon says he was easily the slowest guy out on the Heartland Park race track during his day-long session. At some levels he could have cared less, because for him the session was all about experiencing the thrill of riding in controlled conditions. No cars. No truck. No buses. No dogs. Just himself, his bike and a couple dozen other riders working their way around Heartland Park’s 14 turn, 2.5-mile circuit. Bliss.

Something clicked, because two weeks later he bought himself a 2000 Suzuki SV650. Almost unburstable, the liquid-cooled, double overhead cam, 8-valve V-twin has carved out a niche as a great little touring/commuting bike. Turns out they’re also a decent track day weapon. Unlike most late model 600cc fours, which have generally been flogged to death, good SV650s are easy to find. They’re also reasonably fast, reasonably light and easy to tweak. Landon figures he’ll focus on the suspension first, then slowly work his way through the SV to make it as track ready as he can.

He’s not out to win any races — at least not yet — he just wants to have some fun away from the madness of the street. Occasional contributor Anders Carlson got his track baptism this year, piloting a 1972 Honda CL175 in AHRMA racing at Road America and a few other venues (read Motorcycle Racing: AHRMA), and I have a sneaking suspicion it was Anders’ experience that got Landon moving down the track.

I think it’s a brilliant move, because while I’ve been waiting for the “perfect” vintage track bike to show itself, Landon’s gone out and gotten a bike he can ride on the road or track. The SV may not be a classic in the accepted sense, but the experience Landon’s getting out on the track is classic in every way imaginable. Now to find that Moto Morini 500 … — Richard Backus