The following piece is a guest post written by MJ Ball, a RiderCoach for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and a Motorcycle Specialist for the law firm of Hupy and Abraham S.C. In this article MJ will discuss the various steps to getting started on the track, and why getting involved with track riding as a new lady (or man) to the scene is not as scary as you might imagine. Enjoy!
“But I’ve never ridden track before!” you might say.
Fear not! Most beginners start out that way.
The year is 2018, and the trend in the two-wheeled world is decidedly feminine. Realistically, we only make up about 14 percent of riders in the U.S., but that’s 50 percent more than we did 10 years ago according to The Motorcycle Industry Council (2016), so the scale is tipping. Which is nice.
Over about the past 20 years I’ve gone from starry-eyed beginner with much to learn to wary, twitchy-eyed older rider, with still with much to learn.
I’ve seen track days, raced dirt, fallen, become an MSF ‘RiderCoach’ and a Motorcycle Specialist for the law firm, fallen some more, two-wheeled adventured all over the world and fallen there too for good measure.
And with each passing year and with more and more momentum, I’ve seen women entering the track world and almost immediately becoming hooked – here’s why you should too.
Ladies, this is so much easier than we think. The equivalent of the monster-in-the-closets of our youths, a lot of bark with a bite that actually ends up being an old sweatshirt we hung on a mop next to a juice cup we forgot we put there a few days ago.
Statistically speaking, one of the biggest hurdles of our gender is not knowing someone who can introduce us to this world. Fear not, the track “family” is the friendliest bunch of addicts you’ll ever meet, and with a few inside tips you’ll be well on your way.
In this article, we’ll cover who to talk to, what to wear, and how to go about inevitably having a blast.
Don’t get me wrong, motorcycling inherently has risks, but so does putting on mascara (YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN), or stepping out of your door in the morning. If this is something you’re interested in, don’t let the nagging mop-monster voice of “It’s too hard” stop you from a world full of adventures.
I used to be intimidated at the thought of making lemon meringue pies, but sometimes ladies, you just have to make the damn pie.
As we discussed, getting plugged into the track community is easy. Track riders are almost always eager to share their passion (read: affliction) with another budding member of their society.
Women in particular on the track are typically alarmingly adoptive, and the camaraderie and support within that subcommunity is an incredible thing to feel.
“Yes but how?!” you may ask. Girl (OR MAN), I got you.
The Gear – For some organizations, literally all you need is a full-face helmet. They provide rentals for the rest (suit, gloves, boots). For most track companies though you do need to bring your own helmet, gloves, and boots.
Pro tip: an added bonus with the rentals is that the knee pucks and wear marks will instantly make you look and feel like an expert. Score.
The Bike – If you’re unsure if your bike is “trackworthy,” it’s a good idea to ask the owner of the company that you’re tracking with. You’d be surprised at the variety of bikes out there, especially at the entry levels. If you’re relatively sure your lowrider won’t cut it though, many organizations do offer bike rentals. This may also be a good time to open a credit card. (Kidding!)
Prep work is easy too! Simply get some painter’s tape to cover the mirrors and lights. Many tracks will also require you to ziptie your kickstand up during sessions, which you can break by kicking the stand down each time (or borrow a stand from a friend until you have your own).
It’s also important to either be aware of (or touch base with someone trustworthy about) your tire type and condition. For many beginners, a good basic tire will work just fine, but as your confidence, commitment and debt (I kid!) increase, so will the very real importance of this detail for you too.
Transportation – This can be tricky. Depending on your car type there are single-bike transport options available, and you can ride to the track (not always the best idea if you’re not local), but what will likely be the easiest is coordinating transport with a new track friend.
It’s common courtesy of course to provide gas money, “pit bitch” services, beer or various junk food in return for using a trailer space. If you’re not sure whom to ask, then just ask around. The track company owners will again more than likely know who might be a great fit. Remember, track junkies are friendly. In the words of Midwest Track Day manager Jeffrey Wheat, “If you’ve never been to a track day, you haven’t met half of your family yet.”
You – The most important and fabulous piece. Look at you, you fierce lady (or man!) legend, you’re almost track ready. Now please, HYDRATE. Not only for glowing skin, but in order to not pass out as well, which is also attractive. Hydrate the day before, don’t party, take it easy on the caffeine (a diuretic, plus you’ll be pumped anyway) and have quick-access snacks ready for the downtime between your sessions.
Ultimately, if you’re nervous about how a track day works, it really is as simple as just reaching out. A great first step is just to ask if you can come observe a track day, there is a 100 percent chance you’ll meet new friends there who will help you launch your tire-shredding journey.
The high-speed elephant in the room. Of course this hobby can carry very real risks. I’m not here to sell you a ketchup Popsicle, because the truth is, over time, you will probably go down or off track. A wise, grizzled old rider (#lifegoal) once told me, “there are those that have and those that will.” You likely will too, but that shouldn’t necessarily stop you.
Typically you’ll find out pretty quickly if track riding is for you or not, and in my opinion a hobby that people bounce off the ground while doing and willingly come back to is of pretty significant merit.
Now that we’ve raised an eyebrow at the risks, let’s cover how to navigate them. If you’re in the market to purchase, women’s gear has come a long way in the past 10 years or so. At speed, my first tracksuit fit like an enthusiastically inflated leather balloon.
Luckily now there are now some more stylish options for women (in colors other than pink) out there from great companies like Spidi, Alpinestar and Dainese. Cruising the closeouts on motorcycle gear websites can also yield slick deals in the smaller men’s suits and shoe sizes for us ladies.
If Italian designs are a bit out of your price range, or you just don’t like the smell of new leather (get out you monster) check out some online Facebook track and motorcycling groups in your area. These pages are a great resource for getting gently loved gear for cheap prices, and potentially making some new friends along the way.
It’s fun when it helps you go fast! One of the most well-known resources out there for track riders is a book called “Twist of the Wrist” by Keith Code. I can’t stress enough the value of picking up and consuming this book. It is a very important step for mop monster slaying. Resources like Life at Lean are also legitimately invaluable, in not only correcting current issues, but for also addressing ones you may not have even known you had.
One-on-one coaching is also available with most track organizations, but it typically comes at an extra cost. If you don’t purchase solo coaching that doesn’t mean you’ll be flung onto the track alone though. “Control riders” will be there every step of the way to offer helpful tips and advice, and reassure you that you did indeed look super cool and got really really really far over (despite what pictures might show).
Courses are also sometimes offered through different organizations. Groups like Motovid.com offer “Intro to Track” classes, which take riders step by step through the process of proficient track control before transitioning into a normal track day. Independently run seminars are also available all over the world to help improve form and speed at more advanced levels.
Create a binder! Being a nerd really is cool. Taking notes between your sessions and reviewing them again before your next track day will help you keep track (ha!) of not only areas to be aware of, but of all the progress that you’ve made too.
Overall, education before, during and after (essentially forever) track days is crucial. It’s guaranteed to help you gain the most ground and have the most gpm (giggles per mile) out of your sessions.
Don’t worry about most things, but in this case specifically, don’t worry about doing everything “right.” Riding is, above all things, a very personal and rewarding learning process. Process meaning something you perfect over time, so go easy on yourself.
As a rider, and unfortunately especially as a female rider, you may experience people pushing advice on you. And in some cases, they may be right, but in others it might just boil down to an excited, but ultimately misguided attempt to help. When in doubt, seek the counsel of an expert and trust your gut, it’s gotten you this far.
In summary, have you ever wanted to fly? Sure you have. Well, take the scream of an engine and the exhilarating weight shift of hard braking, add a carved corner or two and you’re essentially there.
That feeling you get from that “one perfect turn” on the road can be repeated ad nauseam on the track without the fear of police, distracted cars, or red lights. It’s the perfect opportunity to test your limits, make new friends, gain skills and, most importantly, have fun.
And a special thanks to my co-workers at Hupy and Abraham S.C. for tolerating the incessant pestering to start riding, and to Jeffrey Wheat and Kathleen Casey for answering my erratic questions at all hours of the day.
M.J. Ball can be found falling off her SV650 throughout the Midwest USA, puttering on dirt bikes, blogging, vlogging, teaching new riders how not to fall quite as much, buying too many leathers sets, and petting her cat, Finnick, while he is biting her.