A school at a track, or a school at a track day - what a difference a word makes!
As a newer rider, I was often told that the best place to improve my cornering was at a track under the watchful eye of a qualified coach. I’ve since attended two such schools. Both included instruction and both were on a track.
But they were SO DIFFERENT.
One was a dedicated school that happened to be on a track (makes a great gift!). I was surrounded by many different types of riders on a plethora of different bikes. There was even a Goldwing! There was a mix of first-timers and returning students. Some had pristine new leathers, and others like me were in borrowed gear. While we all shared a mix of emotions from excited to nervous, we had something more important in common: we were there to learn.
And learn we did!
Our schedule for the day turns out to be fairly typical of any event at a track. Twenty minutes in the classroom, twenty minutes in the pits (grab some water, use the loo, get your gear ready, fuel up if needed, etc.), then twenty minutes on the track. This pattern is repeated throughout the day.
Each classroom session was well structured with an easy-to-follow lesson to prepare us for our on-track session. They happily answered any questions we had for them, and I felt 100% prepared to hop on my bike and ride.
Geared up and on our bikes, we were directed to head to the hot pits. This is the entry lane for the track. Before sending us out, the track control person would quiz us to make sure we knew what we were supposed to be doing, then off we went!
We were spaced out with tons of room for each rider. Within a lap or two, my butterflies were gone, and it was time to really focus on the lesson. At least once per session, my instructor would pass me so they could offer feedback. It would start with a tap of the tail (that’s the motorcyclist’s version of follow me and do what I'm doing.) Before they calmly passed me I didn't even know they were behind me. How long had they been watching me? It was nice not knowing when I was being observed, I was just focused on what I was doing: practicing my new skill. Each lesson had a hand signal to show me where and when to use this new technique. The most satisfying part was the exuberant thumbs-up telling me I was doing great before zipping off to find their next student.
At the end of our session, we would have a quick feedback session with our on-track instructor. There isn't a ton of time - but the coaching they provided was always valuable. They seemed as excited as I was with my improvements!
After only 5 sessions in the classroom and 5 on track, I had definitely become a more confident and skilled rider. My coach had done an amazing job of making me feel welcome, excited to ride, and confident in my new skills - after all, they had taught them to me! I can still picture them and their feedback when I think about that day. In fact, I remember most of the coaches and pit crew from that event - they worked so well together and were friendly with every single person in attendance.
Six years later, the skills from that school are still fresh in my mind. Every time I sit on a bike and get out on the road, I use them to make the ride as great as possible. It was a valuable experience and made me love riding my motorcycle even more than I already did (which was a lot!)
I wish I could say that was my first experience at a motorcycle school on a track. But, it wasn’t.
My first “track school” went much, much differently. This school was an optional extra for the beginner group at a track day. While I wasn’t the only student on track, not everyone on track was a student.
As we arrived, I scanned the pits. It was a sea of sportbikes, tire warmers & generators, fancy leathers, and everyone seemed to have a tent keeping their pit shaded. “A bunch of pros'' is what I thought, and wow was that intimidating. Then a tour bus full of riders showed up for a demo ride day that was apparently piggy-backing MY day at the track! Yikes!
Looking more closely, I did spot a few people I could relate to: borrowed leathers or zip-together textiles (like me), that lost puppy-dog look (like me), and a street bike with taped-up lights like my 620 Multistrada.
This day had that familiar 20-20-20 schedule.
In the classroom, the students were all given a colored bib to wear so those “track day pros” could easily tell we were there to learn, and would hopefully give us the space to do it. There was a quick hello, meet your neighbor, and an introduction to your on-track coach.
Apart from being in a classroom, it wasn’t really a class. There was no structure, no progressive approach, or even much of a goal. It was more along the lines of: ok, now here’s some general knowledge for you. Now, go on, get out there and have some fun!
And I really did want to have fun.
Sitting astride my bike in the hot pit, my coach is on their bike in front of me. Our plan: they lead, I follow. We’re set up to go out in the next bunch, and the track controller SPLITS US UP! I honestly can’t remember if I stopped and didn’t go out with my coach, or I ignored him and went out with my coach only to get yelled at later? I’m really not sure. I do remember that it resulted in some drama. There were some heated words and eye-rolling among them, and it was just uncomfortable for me.
After that, I didn’t get much attention from my coach. They seemed frustrated by my pace and inexperience. Their coaching seemed focused on pushing me to ride faster to keep up with them instead of building my skills and confidence. I can’t actually recall a single piece of advice or assistance they gave me, what they looked like or even their name…
The classroom sessions continued throughout the day and it was all motorcycle related, but mainly conjecture - nothing specific was taught to me that as a new rider (I’d just started that year) I hadn’t learned already.
Although I think that both experiences resulted in gaining confidence in my skills, both on and off the track, only one of them left me with life-long knowledge that I’ll carry with me as a rider and continue to use to improve my experience on the road. At the dedicated school, my on-track instructor clearly wanted to build my confidence, offer feedback that was valuable and unique to me, and genuinely make me a better rider.
Looking back, I’m glad that I didn’t let my first experience stop me from wanting to give it another try. Maybe the track day with optional instruction I found wasn’t typical, but for me, a dedicated school that happens to teach you on a track is the best way to improve cornering skills.