So, you are thinking of taking your bike to the track for the very first time. Congratulations and be prepared to become addicted! What should you do first? Sign up for a regular track day, or pay the extra money and seek out a qualified riding school?
On the one hand, a school might make sure that you don’t develop any bad habits and ensure that you are getting solid direction but on the other, going in with only a few months riding experience might mean you are wasting the instructors time. On the flip side, a track day first might let you work more at your own pace, and you can afford a few more of them, but it could be intimidating for a first timer and you might not learn much, even over a few different days. Most riders don’t have the budget to do both so picking is hard. What should you do?
I usually advise people to take a riding school first.
Going to school before doing a regular track day will do two different things. First of all it will make certain that you are gradually introduced to the whole experience of riding on a track for the first time, and that while you are enjoying being on a track, you will also be learning the fundamentals of good riding technique and working on improving your riding skills.
This will ensure that you will not be wasting your time riding around and around (even if you are having a blast) with poor technique and developing bad riding habits that can become very very hard to undue.
Armed with the fundamentals of good riding tech and a good basic skill set you can then make the most out of unstructured track day(s) afterwards.
Instructors at reputable riding schools should be able to tailor each of the drills to the riders’ specific skill level and speed, so no matter how new you are you would never be “wasting” an instructors time.
In order to take the California Superbike School, for example, you need to know how to ride without excess focus on the controls but there aren’t specific requirements for how many months or years experience you should have or how fast you should be. Students work at their own pace, ride at whatever speed they are comfortable with and work on one specific drill at a time while the instructor follows to observe, and leads to demonstrate.
A riding school with guided orientation laps, a personal on track riding coach, and corner workers that keep a careful eye on what goes on on-track all help make the process seamless for newbies.
Learning the skills first, before hitting an open track day is a great way to utilize your time and money and will make it much more likely that you will have good technique, a solid list of riding skills to practice in the future and that you will keep yourself and the bike upright and intact so you can take it to the track again and again. It may be tough to cough up the money upfront for a riding school, when you could get say 3 or 4 track days for the same price, but look at it as a great investment. If it makes you a better rider, and if it prevents even one close call or crash then it’s all worth it.
One thing to keep in mind though is that riding schools are just that, schools, and are very structured. While they are amazingly fun, there is still a set curriculum and format to follow. If you are looking to hit the track for some free riding, and you aren’t interested in following a pre-set plan or improving techniques with coaches watching and helping you along the way, then perhaps a track day would be more suited.
Track day organizations vary a lot in that some will offer more structure for beginner riders and/or on-track instruction as well. The biggest difference between a riding school and a track day is that with a school you are given specific things to work on each session out while a track day is an open format and you can do whatever you like in a more self-directed manner.
Whatever you choose it’s important to find out as much information as you can beforehand. Read reviews, call and talk to the people in the office, visit some forums to ask others about their personal experiences. Ask questions. How much riding experience does the organization require? What gear do you need? What is the daily format? How do they separate riders into different riding groups and what kind of safety features they have in place? Do they have corner workers, an ambulance on site, on-track instructors or track marshals keeping an eye out for dangerous or sketchy riders? What are their specific requirements for bike tech, tires and riding gear?
Ultimately the decision lies with you, just understand that once you hit the track you will be addicted!
Let me know what you decide! Leave a comment below 🙂