Some people get on track days with hired bikes and others with road bikes. Both are perfectly good ways of enjoying track days, but if you are serious about getting into track days long term, then a dedicated track bike is your best way to go for a variety of reason such as cost, added security and less fear of it being crashed.
In that case then, I’ve detailed some things you should consider when looking to buy your first track bike. This guide assumes you don’t want to spend bucket loads of cash on a good track day bike. However if you do then the sky’s the limit, but there’s still some help to be found from this guide.
Purely from a price perspective, you will get more for your money if you buy a track bike that has already been converted into one, rather than buying a road going machine and converting it yourself. However the price differences aren’t as immense as you may believe.
Once you have sold all the road parts you’ll find you won’t have lost a hell of a lot over buying ready made. So if you fancy a project or you want to convert your own road bike, don’t be scared about the money side of things. Also it’s a lot of fun making the track bike look and feel just how you want it to, not only that but it feels like it’s YOUR work you’re parading around the track.
Nowadays there’s a lot of talk about buying a bike without a registration certificate (V5C in the UK) and with a tampered VIN (Vehicle Indentification Number). With stories of police coming and seizing people’s bikes on grounds they could be stolen it’s no surprise.
I’ll leave the decision entirely up to you, but I would suggest you make sure you are very confident on a bike’s history that doesn’t have a V5C or has an altered VIN, otherwise you could see yourself well out of pocket if it turns out to be stolen.
It’s worth noting though that there are a lot legitimate circumstances as to why a bike doesn’t have a V5C or the VIN could be tampered with, such as insurance companies sometimes run a line through it if it’s a right off to stop people putting it back on the road, and breakers are known to do the same, or if a bike has been built purely for racing it wouldn’t have been supplied with a V5C to being with.
Some people are unable to pass up on a good bargain even if the price does seem rather low. If the price of a bike seems too good to be true, it probably is. In my opinion, when buying your first track bike the added security and piece of mind you get with the V5C and untampered VIN is well worth the slight premium you may pay to buy a bike with one, but that doesn’t mean to say you can’t get your hands on a decent track day bike without them, as long as you exercise caution and do your homework.
To help you further, Bemsee (BMCRC) and the Metropolitan Police released a superb guide with tips on what to look for when buying a bike. It was released following the seizure of a number of bikes at a race meeting in 2011. Click this link for a copy.
Good news! You don’t need bucket loads of money to get your first track bike. Even track bikes for reasonable money will see you getting plenty of smiles per miles for a seasons track day riding.
A nice tidy cheap track bike can be had for £1000 or less and will be in good working order. For that sort of money you’ll be looking at a mid 1990s sports bike around the 400-600cc mark. Beware though, as the prices start to creep down the ladder please be mindful that you could be buying someone else’s problems.
As we start to move the other way – looking around the £1500 to £3000 mark – you can easily get yourself a very respectable 600cc sports machine and maybe even a few extras thrown in like tyre warmers or a trailer.
As you move into the £3000+ bracket you’ll be looking at the newer stuff only 5 years old or so, and even higher than that you could be looking at a 1-2 year old machine between the 600cc and 1000cc brackets. Before you hand over any cash though it’s worth considering the following points:
And can you afford to crash it?
If parts and spares are expensive you could be looking at a rather large repair bill if things go wrong.
Can you handle it?
It’s no good going out and buying a top of the line 1000cc sports bike if you can’t even use 20% of it’s capabilities. Go for a lesser powered bike with a smaller engine to start with and learn about track craft that way, it makes it a whole lot easier than trying to learn track craft and taming 170bhp+ at the same time.
Some would argue that even a modern 600cc machine will be too much and to a degree they are correct, but a 600 is a happy medium between not enough power and too much. On another note, I know plenty of people that wouldn’t trade their 60-70bhp CB500 or SV650 for anything, which just reinforces the fact your don’t need tonnes of money and power to enjoy track days.
Is it in good working order?
You might be buying it as a project bike, but if not make sure what you are buying is in good working order. The last thing you want is for something to go wrong when flying into a bend at 90mph.
Has it been crashed?
Crashing is obviously a risk with track day riding and the majority of people who take part in track days have crashed in one way or another, so it stands to reason if you’re looking at a dedicated track bike to buy there’s a good chance it could have been crashed.
Be upfront and ask if (and how many times) it has gone up the road. If the seller is honest he’ll tell you upfront, but if they start acting cagey I’d be inclined to walk away.
It’s also worth checking the bike all over for any signs of crash damage, basically anything that would have touched the ground if it went down on it’s side will have some scarring unless all damaged pieces have been replaced which is fine.
Has it been checked?
In serious crashes the frame, forks and wheels need to be checked thoroughly for any damage as more often than not they need to be replaced rather than repaired. If you can see damage to any of these components or some sort of dodgy repair job, you should either walk away or ask for a drop in price to compensate for putting it right.
If the bike comes with any after market extras like quick shifters, gear indicators, rearsets, exhaust systems etc that’s a big plus. Consider how much they would cost to buy separately afterwards and try and factor that into your decision.
Can you see yourself buying these bits later on for a bike that doesn’t have them? If the answer is yes then buying a bike with them already on will save you both time and money.
There’s a whole host of track day bikes on the market now, so where do you start for an ideal first track bike?
Well as a starter you can’t go wrong with any of the 600s from the big four:
Any of the above bikes will be perfect first track bikes as they’re cheap to buy, cheap to maintain with hundreds of parts on the market, perfectly manageable power and great to ride.
I can’t say which of these is the best track bike because any minute benefits one has over the other will be silenced by the rider anyway, so just know that any of the above bikes across various years will be perfectly capable track bikes assuming they are mechanically sound and running decent tyres.
Some will have different riding positions, so if you can I would urge you to have a sit or even a ride on one of each to give you an idea of how it feels.
Plus if you look for a bike between 2000-2005 they’re not nearly as focused as today’s super sports bikes and would be classed as a little softer, so it’ll be a nice steady learning curve.
What ever you decide on, make sure you are 100% happy with what you are buying and getting yourself into. Your first track bike is something you want to love, so take onboard the above information and I’m sure you’ll be smiling lap after lap.
Photo by Andrew Butitta
Learning to Trust Your Tyres Through Technique & Experience
Using Other Riders to Gauge Your Speed and Uncover Weaknesses
How Early Lower Body Setup Simplifies Corner Entry
What Can We Learn from MotoGP Riders, and Should We Copy them?