exciting and not particularly misleading title image

MCRC Ride Day : Sunday 7th December 2003
Barbagallo Raceway - Wanneroo




Just to give you a bit of background in case you've stumbled upon this page on your own somehow... I started riding around November of last year, became instantly hooked and bought my first bike (a '91 Kawasaki ZZ-R250), picking up my road bike licence at the beginning of January. With delusions of grandeur about getting into road racing some day and foaming at the mouth after hearing about how much fun some riders I'd met on the net were having at these kinds of things, I signed myself up for a ride day / road racing introduction course at the nearest track. I thought I'd write up a brief (read: long and potentially mind-numbing) yarn about what it was like, just to let people know what kind of a time I had and maybe to give anyone else who's thinking about doing something similar an idea of what they're in for.

Since I lived about 180km from the track and the course started around 8-9am, I stayed with some friends living nearer by on the weekend so that the sun would be up before I headed off. After not seeing another bike on the twenty minute ride from where I stayed to Wanneroo, about five k's before I reached the track, I came up behind the reassuring sight of a couple of taped-up road bikes in a trailer behind a ute, who I stayed behind the rest of the way. After coming through the entry gates and along the back of the pits, my trailer-guy drove off to unload his bikes elsewhere, leaving me with little to no idea what to do next. I can only assume that I must've been doing a good job of looking lost, because I was peering around and idling for probably all of ten seconds trying to work out where to park myself, when a rider from one of the other groups came over, said g'day and let me know where I'd need to be going. So after grabbing a spot to park and signing on, I whipped off my mirrors, taped up the lights & rear pegs and one of the organisers came past to check it out. While he was checking out my bike after a bit of friendly banter, he stopped to point out that I should make sure I took it easy on the first couple of laps each time out because I've got reasonably hard compound all-weather touring-ish tyres on my bike and they'd take a while to warm up, especially on the left because there was only one major left-hander on the circuit which he pointed out to me. The way everyone was really friendly and helpful even in little ways like that made me feel a lot more comfortable and helped me enjoy myself a lot more on the day, which I really appreciated.

There were four groups of riders there on the day, the novice racecraft group (with me in there somewhere), the advanced racecraft group, solo licensed riders and finally some sidecars, which only came out for a few sessions. through the day. Generally this meant that we spent about 15 minutes on the track, then about 30-40 minutes off, then went again. In the off time the instructors went through different ideas or drills they wanted us to try out or pay special attention to in the next session, as well as giving us some pointers if they'd noticed anything in particularly that we could improve on individually. Once you throw in the talks, time to get something to drink and loosen up a bit, the time off the track went pretty quickly in general, and while 15 minutes doesn't really sound like a long time, by the end of each session I was starting to feel a bit shagged and even though I was having a ball, I got a light feeling of relief each time I saw the chequered flag come out, but that could just have been my limbs talking. All the spare minutes here and there between sessions got filled up talking to the other guys in the group and getting to talking about how they were going and their bikes. Everybody seems to get in a friendly and talkative mood when they've just come off a racetrack.

Once we'd had the first talk about general track etiquette and been given the task of just taking it easy and looking around the track (getting an idea of where things were) during the first session, I quickly scanned along the novice group bays and had one of the little niggling fears in the back of my mind confirmed, I had the slowest bike there. This also meant that I spent the entire day being passed, lapped and generally eaten up by the other bikes for the entire day, but funnily enough, it didn't put the least bit of a damper on my day. There were a pretty diverse lot of bikes in the group, a couple of race-faired RGV250's and an early 90's GSXR in similar trim, an R1, ZX9R, CBR600F and a pair of Ducati supersports all the way through to a 1200cc Harley Sportster and a 650cc Suzuki single, with the instructors on an older-shape race-prepped 900SS and a road-going BMW R1100S.

the zzr taped up the zzr taped up some of the group zx9r
Suzuki 650 single Harley Sportster 1200 instructors bikes  
The first time out on the track everything seemed to go by really fast, not *actually* fast, but the same kind of fast I remember feeling when I was learning to ride and was coming up to a corner at 20 km/h thinking I was going to fall over and break some legs. The way some of the corners cambered and how they just kept coming after each other scared the wits out of me at first, and made me a bit uneasy. I didn't feel like I was going very quickly, but things felt like they just kept happening so fast. After a couple of laps my head started to calm down a bit and even though I was just plodding along, I started to feel a bit more normal just riding around. Afterwards the instructors started talking about using things around the track as reference points for when to change gears and starting and stopping braking and so on and so forth. They mentioned certain surface changes and ripple strips that were good markers, although I had no idea where they were talking about since I'd been too busy just going around in circles, but I made a note to try and keep a look out for them in the next session.

In the second session everyone actually started getting into things more and giving it a bit more stick around the track. I should point out here that I probably learnt more in this one day about the abilities of my bike, my tyres, brakes and myself than I have in most of the past year I've been riding it. The first new thing I learned about my bike on the day, was that it had roughly a snowball's chance in hell of keeping up with an R1 on anything even remotely resembling a straight. After the initial little dip in mood I had after everyone in the group flew past me like I was standing still when we came to straights, with some guys lapping me several times in a session, being overtaken like a grandmother in a volvo quickly stopped bothering me. My bike was roughly 20hp down on the next slowest bike out there, and knowing that I was consistently going to be the slowest guy around the track took any hint of pressure right off of me. I had bugger all chance of keeping pace with most of the guys and I never passed a single bike on the day, but knowing that from the start meant that it made it nice and easy for me to just go at my own pace and I wouldn't be thinking about trying to keep up or go faster than I could handle to try and fluff up my ego.

In place of the next session we piled into a ute and trailer and went for a drive around the inside of the track, stopping and getting some pointers and info on each corner, good ways to approach it, good racing lines, common mistakes, reference points and so on. While this was all happening, the advanced and solo riders did a session or two. Getting pointers on how to tackle each corner, things to avoid and also seeing how the more advanced riders were taking the corners and when they were braking, coming off the throttle and that kind of thing helped a lot once we got back out in the next session, and after trying taking different lines around some of the corners it helped me keep up speed and get around a lot quicker than before. It also made for a decent opportunity for some rather average amateur photo shots.
some zooming around turn 3 some zooming around turn 3 some zooming around turn 3
some zooming around turn 3 some zooming around turn 3 some zooming around turn 3
The next couple of sessions didn't have any specific tasks like the early ones, but the instructors were out on their bikes riding around the track watching how each of us was taking the corners, moving around and so on. They pointed out better lines by example to some of the riders going all over the shop (myself included), and after each session we were able to get personal tips and pointers on what we could do better, different things to try and so on. After session 2 when I was getting more comfortable at speed but was sitting mostly still on the bike, I'd found myself dragging the feelers on the footpegs on either side around half of the corners. After a bit of clueless effort in the following session trying to move my weight around more (which I'd done previously with average results out on the road), I stopped dragging the pegs, but after following me for a lap or two one of the instructors pointed out that he'd seen me getting off of the seat, but I wasn't moving my upper body around much, which is where a lot of the weight is. After showing me on his bike the kind of position I should be trying to get myself into and getting back on the track and trying it myself, the bike was feeling a lot more settled around corners and I was finding it possible to keep up more corner speed and was feeling a lot better about how the bike responded once I got my weight around the place in a semi-respectable fashion. When we stopped for lunch, I got back to my bike and noticed this:

toasty

Now while this is probably nothing particularly interesting to a lot of people, the concept of having the rubber on my tyres heating up like mad and balling up was pretty novel to me. As the day went on, I ended up wearing more and more into the tyre and getting more and more clumps of rubber happening, but I think whipping out the camera and taking pictures of my tyres after every session (so I could show people how excited I got about a little warm rubber) would've made me look like a bit of a goon. We got back out after a good lunch break and had another session when the only person to have an off in our group on the day lowsided after taking tipping into turn 1 a bit late. Thankfully the rider was fine aside from a good ruffling, only ending up with a bit of skin off his right elbow where a seam in his leathers came apart. The ZX9R he was on copped some light scratching to some outer casings, a bit more scratching to the right fairing, a broken windshield, both mirrors (taped up) shattered and a slightly bent left handlebar. Most of the damage was cosmetic and the bike was still rideable enough for the guy to get back on and do the rest of the sessions, even if he did take turn 1 a bit hesitantly for the rest of the day.

While there was a lot of milling around and chin-rubbing about the damage, one of the guys helping out the instructors who had been out in the last session started talking to me about how he'd taken a ZZR250 out on the track once before, and while they were generally gutless compared to anything larger, they were reasonably flickable and he started talking me through how I could adjust some of my lines a little and turn in later because the bike was a bit smaller. Apparently when he'd tried it the bike belonged to his girlfriend and he got reasonably mauled when he brought it home with some healthy scraping down the muffler. Like I said before, all these friendly helpful tidbits made me improve a lot and helped me enjoy everything just that little bit more. In the talk before the following session we were told to try and run through a no-brakes drill, which surprisingly enough, involved doing the circuit without using the brakes (unless of course things were going to get ugly) . The idea behind this being to remove having to think about braking from the equation, as well as getting us to slowly increase our corner speed. While they didn't offer a lot of feel, my tyres never ceased to amaze me throughout the day. Once they'd warmed up a little, even though they're not particularly sporty tyres, the things just stuck and stuck. I'd lean the bike in hesitantly and gently twist the throttle and every time I expected the back to slip a little it just kept on holding on and I just kept on pushing further and further as the day went on. So I got a little something extra out of the session, as well as getting more confidence in my corner speed, I ended up with a lot more confidence in my rubber. One other thing I noticed was that I got overtaken a lot less in that session, since the guys on the bigger bikes wouldn't make up so much time on me along the straights because when they'd gunned it, they had to grab the brakes to have any way of slowing down before they hit the corners (keeping the exercise in mind anyhow).

The second last session involved being shown how to pull up harder and told to really go hard on the brakes to get an idea of what they were actually capable of, and if we were pulling up early to slowly brake a little later each time until we'd cut down braking time a bit. Again, I was impressed by how well the bike handled things for a little old machine. Riding around in general on the roads, I've barely ever actually given the front brakes a hard grab, but after getting the hang of quickly loading the front end and then squeezing the life out of them, I was pulling up a lot faster than I'd expected to. I did have a bit of a scare however when I scraped my left footpeg coming out of turn 4 and my front end started to get a bit of wobble. I'm not talking about the handlebars slapping lock to lock, but it started out like the little headshakes I'd felt before on the roads when coming around corners with an iffy surface (which normally gives me a little fright) and then swung more and more until it was fairly bucking about. I don't remember actually doing anything in particular to remedy the situation aside from easing up my grip on the bars and looking down at them, but a short spurt later it sorted itself and I was coming gently around the next corner like nothing had happened. I was all weirded out, partly because I didn't know exactly what just happened, and partly because something in my head mustn't have been up to speed and let me know this was a bad thing and I should soil myself, because I wasn't panicking and screaming like a little girl on fire during the event. Just about then the fella who came off the ZX9R overtook me down the straight, beating his hand against his chest as a reminder in case I'd forgotten to have a heart seizure at the time. All in all it was a really weird experience, I'm just happy I didn't end up airborne.

I got a little freaked out about it when we headed out for the last session, but it didn't take long for me to calm down and get my confidence back. And while I said I learned a lot in the one day, I got a much better idea of how much there is that I can actually learn and improve on. My throttle control and general smoothness looks like a good thing to put a lot more work into, as well as trying to get a bit more consistency. Hopefully all the waffle hasn't bored you to death and put you off the whole deal. While I've managed to rant a fair bit about what happened and the things I found out, there's no way I could remember, let alone write down everything I was told and shown. But regardless of how much I learnt, I also had an utter ball zooming around, even if I was a slow poke. I'd thoroughly recommend it to anybody who rides and I can't wait to get back out and do another one, I had a hell of a lot of fun and I've already had several days worth of cheesy post-ride-day grinning out of it.



-- Dwight Jolly



UPDATE: I've added some new action shots thanks to Brian White who was shooting on the day
zoom zoom zoom zoom zoom zoom zoom zoom



Seeing as how you managed to read through all of my waffling (or at least scrolled down past it all), here's a handful of other photo's I took on the day...
  burn baby burn burn baby burn  
I mentioned my tyres got a bit more ruffled up as the day went on, that's how they looked the next morning *sniffle* I'm so proud...
  poor photo effort another poor photo effort  
A couple of average photo's of part of the track
  V8 Ford loving V8 Ford loving  
If you're not going to ride to the track, you may as well cart the bike in style (possibly in an FPV Pursuit)

towing with a Hyundai Excel, now I've seen everything

Or alternatively you could tow it there with whatever you can get your hands on

*drool*

One of the advanced group riders was doing the right thing by getting an MV Agusta F4 out on the track where it belongs
loaded outback more outback
A few leftover pics from my rather indirect trip up to Perth.

sasquatch

While one of the instructors was talking to me about how I should move my weight around, he mentioned he had trouble seeing what lines I was taking because he kept getting distracted by this two and a half foot thing whipping around behind me. Thankfully everyone was wearing full face helmets and noone lost an eye.



Text and images 2003-2004 Dwight. All rights reserved.

If anything in particular interests you, you've got any questions, you'd like copies of any of these pics larger and uncropped,
or for some odd reason you'd like to reproduce this piece elsewhere, feel free to contact me by emailing dwight (at) wen.ch