Are you thinking about trying your hand at a track day or attending a riding school at the track? If you’ve reached the point in your street-riding career where you’re at least contemplating a day of track riding, let’s examine some of the options.
First off, let’s define what a day at the track is or is not. As fans of the sport of motorcycling we sometimes go to a track to watch races, where an intense level of handlebar-banging competition is the order of the day. However, when the average rider signs up for a track day or a riding school, even though it takes place at a track, this experience has nothing to do with racing or competition. Instead, it’s a day of riding your bike on a short section of paved road that’s been formed into an interesting loop. In general, it’s cleaner and safer than the street environment because there are no cars, no oncoming or crossing traffic, no greasy pavement, stray dogs or errant landscaping sprinklers—just fellow motorcyclists, all going in the same direction. All in all, it’s a good setting that lends itself well to defining and expanding your riding skills.
So what’s the difference between a track day and a riding school? Well, both take place at a track, but the experiences can be very different. A track day simply gives a motorcyclist access to ride on a track with fellow riders in a controlled environment, whereas a riding school gives similar track access but also includes instructors in a classroom setting and on the track. The realm of sports holds many parallel examples: in the sport of softball or baseball, you can pay to spend time in the batting cages to practice your swing. Or you can go to the batting cages and also hire a coach to teach you more about how to optimize your stance, your grip on the bat, your timing, swing, etc. These included elements of coaching and teaching are basically what set the experience of a riding school apart from track days.
Of course, when choosing between a track day and a riding school, cost also enters the equation. Track day fees are typically significantly less than those for a riding school, and for good reason: When you include a team of instructors in a day of riding at the track, expenses will obviously run higher than just the cost of the track rental. So before you ever start to set out for a track, it’s wise to first clearly define what your goals and expectations may encompass.
To lend some insight into this decision-making process, we asked Reg Pridmore for his take on this topic. Pridmore is a three-time AMA Superbike champion and has more than a quarter-century of experience teaching motorcyclists to improve their skills at his CLASS Motorcycle Schools. So full disclosure here: Reg has his own definite opinions on this subject, but they also come backed by plenty of experience.
Pridmore said, “I’ve been to track days too, and they can be lots of fun. But typically, cost is the main consideration for most riders who choose a track day over a riding school. From my view on things, I don’t see the point of going to the track to practice bad habits when you can instead learn to be a better rider by working with someone who has more experience.
“At CLASS Motorcycle Schools, our focus is on teaching better riding technique and control that make for a better, safer and more confident rider. Many times, riders don’t realize what they don’t know about motorcycle operation—otherwise they wouldn’t keep repeating those bad habits, right? And there’s always room to learn more technique and make more progress as riders fill in missing pieces and steps in their collection of skills. CLASS provides a very relaxed, non-competitive atmosphere in which this can be achieved. There’s no speed limit at the track, but there’s also no pressure to go faster. We want riders to gain confidence and learn control at their own pace.
“Because CLASS features technique and control as its main focus, I believe we also attract a slightly different clientele: riders who want to learn and improve, rather than just see how fast they can go around a track. And I think because our students focus on the teaching/learning process, we have very few crashes at CLASS. That means less waiting around during downtime for a closed track that’s being cleaned up, especially if the track’s got oil on it, and fewer expenses for the rider who might otherwise crash in a less conducive track environment and now is faced with substantial repair bills.”
So when it’s time to make your decision about attending a track day or a riding school, some old truisms do apply. For the most part, you get what you pay for; you don’t expect to get a steak dinner for the price of a hamburger, so choose your track experience accordingly. Also, not all schools are created equal; check into the background of the instructors, compare philosophies and practices in place at different schools, see what kinds of referrals and testimonials you can find, and consider how long they’ve been in business. After defining your goals and priorities clearly, you’ll likely enjoy your choice of on-track experience thoroughly. And you’ll also come away with a greater appreciation and knowledge of what you and your motorcycle can do together as a team.