Track Days

Will Make You Fall In Love With Motorcycles All Over Again

Article And Photos By: J. Ken Conte

Originally Published In The March 2017 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

I have put some miles on this year, some so mindlessly it borders on negligent, but I have never been more fired up about motorcycling as a sport. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the thousands of miles on week-long journeys that inspired me—it was the 60 or so laps I took at the legendary Laguna Seca after being afforded the opportunity to attend the ARCH Motorcycle Track Day event. The last time I’d ridden a track was over 15 years ago. That time, I’d been on a BMW R1150R, ill-suited for the track but fun nonetheless, and I came back with new-found confidence, ground-down boots and a notion that it could be a d d i c t i n g . However, kids, my career and building a custom bike became more important, and the exhilaration of riding track was quickly supplanted with cross-country journeys and chopper dreams. The ARCH Track Day was an invite only event for ARCH motorcycle owners and friends of the company to get out on a track and experience the fun and pleasure of pushing a bike to its limits. And, as it turns out, it was where I fell in love with motorcycling all over again. I recommend a day on a track to anyone who has the inclination to take their riding to the next level, wants to learn more about themselves as a rider and more about motorcycle handling. Or for someone looking to just have a great time with friends—although track riding is not for faint of heart. This particular event was fully furnished with leathers, coaching and an amazing array of track bikes, including the ARCH Goodwood ExperiMental one-off custom, which is more suited to track riding than you would think, with a 26-degree rake, S&S Cycle 126” G2 powerplant, beautifully machined single-sided swingarm and rear sets.

The morning began with a safety meeting led by retired Superbike racer Jake Zemke of Zemke Riding Development. He was careful to stress that we should have fun and be safe. The time in the classroom was mostly spent going over obvious items: what certain flags mean, how to enter and exit the track from the pit and what we could expect in the first session. I suited up in protective gear provided by Alpinestars, picked out a loaner bike and tried to shake off the butterflies. I found myself astride one of the biggest bikes, a brand-new Kawasaki ZX 10— it had the power turned down to make it more manageable for a track rookie like me. The nice thing about such a powerful bike is that shifting can be kept to a minimum. We started with a simple lead-follow exercise through the course, spaced out evenly behind the lead bike. We proceeded at a lazy pace and used the time mainly to memorize the track, spot potential jackpots and warm up our tires to maintain proper traction. After 10 or so laps we came back in and Jake took us to school. Over the course of my life, I have mostly ridden v-twin cruisers and always used my heels to hook on pegs and feel comfortable. Imagine my surprise when Jake said we should adopt an athletic stance on our pegs, on the balls of our feet, and use our weight to direct the bike, by leaning on one foot or the other—in this way, we use our feet to steer more then our hands and arms.

This was a revelation of epic proportions. It made perfect sense when he said it, and when we hit the track for our next session, my riding took on a whole new dimension. I started gripping the tank with my knees, using the balls of my feet on the pegs and memorizing the lines of the track. The first day, we mostly followed coaches, which helped us see the line. One coach said, “The line is the line,” which made sense to me. There is a fastest way to get from point A to point B, and the coaches were giving us the opportunity to see it by staying off the throttle and remaining in a tight pack. The other piece that really stuck with me, and is also very pertinent to street riding, is looking farther down the track—when we widen and deepen our view, we can anticipate what’s coming and what we need to do to handle it. I started trying to incorporate these coaching points into my riding, and when they cut us loose for some sessions later in the day, I found myself astride an Aprilia RSV4, and I was able to put together a few turns that felt good. I had just started trusting that the bike could do more than I thought it could when we had to call it a day. But I came out of that first day invigorated, and I couldn’t wait for day 2.

The second day started with the realization that I was surrounded by legends. Kenny Roberts, Jr. and Sr., were there, with Sr.’s 1981 two-stroke winning track bike. Jake Zemke was riding wide open. And 5-time British Superbike Champion Shakey Byrnes—and the Hoonigan himself, Ken Block in his Ford Focus RS—were all in attendance. Watching them ride was both inspiring and confounding. Where I could hit 100 mph, they were hitting 160. I had a lot to learn. I saw 12-year-old Damian Jigalov handle every bike he rode with ease, even though he only weighs 65 pounds—whether it was the ARCH Goodwood ExperiMental or a Kawasaki Ninja ZX6-R, he had it dialed. I also had the occasion to spend some time with tattoo artist GRIME, who has been riding tracks for 4 years and looked like a pro to me. It really inspired me to see someone so dedicated to getting better. My legs were sore from the first day in places I never knew I had muscles. On day 2 we had an open track, and far better riders started passing me on the left and right, sometimes in the middle of turns. This was somewhat nerve-wracking at first, but I was told to just hold my line, that it was their responsibility to make it around me, just like in downhill skiing. I made sure all my mirrors were unusable so I’d be forced to concentrate only on what was right in front of me. This, to me, is what is so enjoyable about track days—the immediacy, the hereand- now of it. You CANNOT think about anything else. I also discovered that for track riding, they tape brake lights and turn signals, primarily so people don’t react to the lights in front of them.

This second day found me out of the saddle, always shifted to one side or the other, and the obsession began to set in. Can I make it a little faster into turn 5? How fast can I go on the straightaway before I throttle off? Can I make it all the way over the rise before I brake? It became an internal competition that was shattered by far superior riders blazing by me. One of the highlights was getting out on the ARCH Goodwood ExperiMental bike. I have ridden almost every iteration of the ARCH KRGT-1, from the bike that inspired the company to production test mules. This bike was different. I wasn’t sure how it would handle or what to expect. I entered the track cautiously—this was a one-off, irreplaceable bike that I did not want to lay down. As I started to throttle up, I felt that lovely v-twin forgiving surge across the powerband—I was home. I let the tires warm up for the first few laps, and then started to get a feel for this v-twin-powered fire breather. The braking was smooth and very tactile; the grip was exceptional; ground clearance no problem at the lean angles I was giving it; and the riding position was comfortable yet compact. It wasn’t a sportbike, but out of all the bikes I rode, I was the most comfortable on this ARCH bike, probably because it was the most familiar. Then I thought about how it was irreplaceable and decided to get out while the getting was good. I pulled into pit row and parked it with a big smile on my face. I have become obsessed now: I want a track bike; I want track days; and I want to figure it out. I know the skills I learned on the track will translate to the street, but I’m not sure riding on the street will ever be the same again. You need to try a track day where you can experience the pure joy of motorcycling again. Seriously, go to your local track and do it! You can see additional images of our track days by searching #Archrides. You can get additional information about Zemke Rider Development at www. zemkeridingdevelopment.com, or from Jake at Jake@zemkerd.com, Fast Track Riders School at www.fastrackriders. info or info@fastrackriders.com.