Should You Upgrade Your Track Motorcycle in Your Search for Speed?


Take a walk down any track day paddock and you won’t be hard pressed to find a raft of well turned out bikes, dripping with the latest and greatest bolt on upgrades from the best names in the business. The ones that wouldn’t look out of place on a World Superbike grid.

There’s no denying that these machines, turned out this well, are a things of beauty. They have everyone looking on in appreciation at just how good they look.

Clearly many hours and even more pennies have gone towards making the bike look as good as it does and every credit to the owners for doing it. At the end of the day these bikes are toys, and riders want to make their toy as good as they can so it feels special to them.

This I have absolutely no issue with. If people can afford to build and run a near international level racing spec machine and they do it simply just because they can, good on them!

However, what you’ll often find with some of these bikes dripping with bike bling is that the rider has gone to these lengths in an attempt to get themselves to the front of the pack.

The Bike Bling Trap

The quest for upgrades usually starts when a rider hits a plateau, or is looking to unlock some easy speed and bring their lap times down.

And time and time again they fall into the same trap of thinking that newer, fancier toys and/or motorcycles is what is going to get them there.

But the results almost never meet their expectations.

Often, riders are then left baffled as to why they haven’t been able to find an extra 5 seconds, when on paper they should have found it without even trying.

The truth is that the reason they’re unable to progress is because of their own abilities, not because the upgrades aren’t doing their job properly.

The most obvious cases of this come from riders that upgrade from a 600 to a 1000. Surely with all those extra ponies the lap times will come tumbling down, right?

But as I have witnessed on many occasions now, the rider often ends up going slower than they did on the 600.

With their high expectations not met, the rider is then left feeling despondent and a little lost.

It is one of the reasons why I stuck with my trusty 2004 R6 for as long as I did, and why it was always largely in stock form.

I was taught this lesson early on during a conversation with an ex British Superbike Rider when talking about my bike.

He told me that riders fall into the trap of thinking that upgrading to the latest and greatest R6 is going to make them better, faster riders, when in reality a handy rider on the now ancient bike would run rings around almost anyone in a track day paddock.

From that moment I had always decided I would put more weight on learning how I can personally get more from the bike versus a quick fix upgrade.

Safety in Mind

By no means am I saying that everyone should be riding on ancient bikes until they feel they can get the most out of them.

I myself have made upgrades to my bikes where I feel it would benefit me on the track, and eventually I did upgrade to a 1000cc machine too.

If I had the choice between riding on the limit of a 30 year old bike or riding well within the limit of a newer bike, I know which one I’d pick.

Also, like I said up top, some people like to upgrade their machines to the hilt and get them looking like thoroughbred race machines simply because they can, and are under no illusions that they can’t fully utilise them.

What I’m getting at here is that I don’t want anyone to fall into the trap of thinking that upgrading their machine or moving to something bigger and better is going to solve all your issues and unlock you a tonne of speed, because for the majority of riders that doesn’t happen.

If you’ve found that you’ve hit a plateau and you aren’t making the sort of strides you want, machine upgrades likely won’t get you through the core issues.

A Better Investment?

If you do want to spend hundreds (if not thousands) on sorting the issue then I would always consider coaching to be the number one option for you.

No upgrade in component or bike is going to help you see better, take a better line, lean the bike more or get on the power harder if your confidence isn’t there to be able to do it in the first place.

For riders struggling to improve, upgrades are a band aid fix and not a cure more often than not.

Knowledge and practice is by far the best route to progress for learning riders. Serious performance upgrades, I feel, are something that should come later down the line when you feel you are starting to get close to what the bike can do and you don’t want to go any closer.

I know they’ll be many different views on this topic, but for me personally it falls very much in line with my view of going to super sticky rubber right out the gate.

Because of the above reasons I like to view sizeable performance upgrades more as something that you simply take pleasure from, not a way of supplying a solution so that you can break down a riding barrier.

Photo by Stuart Dallas