A DAY AT THE TRACK
Your Mother’s Worst Nightmare…. The ZX12R!One of the perks of being A Motorcycle Safety Foundation Instructor (there are many) is that we
can have free track time if we wish. As a kid I always wanted to go racing, not road or scrambling
(motorcross) but Grass Tracking or …… the Ultimate……… SPEEDWAY. Well joining the RAF put a
stop to any thoughts of that so it was trials and enduro for me. Further discouragement to road
racing comes with the 1975 ISDT in the I.O.M. and a trip round the circuit on the Monark. That
track is unbelieveably rough!… potholes, traffic lines and arrows on the road, variable surfaces,
zero run off, badly repaired road works, manhole covers etc, etc. Although a couple of us were
circulating at speeds up to 95 mph on enduro bikes you just can’t imagine anybody lapping this
place and averaging 130 mph!!!
As part of the ongoing instructor requirements you must be a “student” once a year so I elect to
do a track day to take care of that portion of training. I had bought a Kawasaki ZX12R the
previous year, which was an unbelieveable deal at the time and I had only used it to go back
and fro to TEAM Arizona for weekend teaching duties. Now the ZX12R is not a bike that you
would call “User Friendly” goes like the proverbial with 186 horses and would probably top out
somewhere in the 190-200 mph if you were crazy enough or had the ability.
When I first got it I wondered what I had let myself in for as it certainly wasn’t easy to ride,
even at 60-70 it was hoppy on braking and coming out of corners. My first reaction was that the
rear spring was on too firm a setting and that it was set up for around 130-140 and not for
normal road use of 50-70. As soon as I put it on the stand it is easy to see what the problem is
.. the chain is ROCK Solid with no free play at all. Nice pre delivery inspection! With the chain
properly adjusted it is better but the power is not for the faint hearted and you sure have to be
SMOOTH with this one but the overall ride is pretty exhilerating to say the least.
One day I take Brenda on the Barlett Lake run just so that she can see what one of these
beasts is all about. Just so happens there is one section where the Sherrifs can’t hide as its
sheer sided and there is no pulloff area. It starts with a gentle right hander as you crest a rise
then drops gradually through 300 feet into a long sweeping left hander with a long, long view
up the straight to the crest of the next hill some 3/4 mile away. Over the first crest downshifting
to second and as we have intercom I’m telling her to hang on tight as I wind it up.
“Power coming on, 80 in second, upshifting to 3rd 110, up to 4th” and just as we get to 130 and
I’m about to think about 5th an enormous bug hits me full visor, right side, and goes all over me
…. might even have been a small bird, the test run is terminated and we gently coast back to
Are you ready Boots?
Now its track day and I’m ready and so is the bike, all the coolant has been drained and “Water
Wetter” installed. a new tire is on at 4000 miles and I’m full of fuel. Down at the track all the
“glassy” bits have to be covered, lights, turn signals, reflectors and mirrors. Bike and safety
equipment through scrutineering and I’m ready for the briefing. First timers (yes that’s me) wear
red flack jackets and may not be overtaken in a corner. So the group is divided up and we have
beginners, good fast guys, and then the semi-pro racers.
All the Glassy Bits covered, and a nice Red Flack Jacket
The beginners get the briefing and we will go out for a couple of sighting laps following an
Instructor who will then wind it up a little for the next three laps and then the game is on.
2 other Instructors will circulate in the pack and maintain overall safety. After 8 laps or so we
will get the “checkers” and then we leave the circuit. We will get about 4 sessions during the
course of the day.
The session Starts well enough and we all circulate in the right handed manner that only road
racing on bikes and Formula 1 car racing does. Everything else of course goes left handed. Riding
these sighting laps at 60-80 seems pretty routine, and indeed it is as most people are in familiar
territory at these speeds, the only difference is the width of the track which is at least twice the
width of a normal road and in some cases even wider than that. Consequently there is a huge
perspective change and as the speed goes up and you venture into the unknown, braking points,
downshift areas, turn in points and the correct apex position becomes increasingly difficult to
Man! He’s just a bluuuur!
Of course the correct technique would, and should be, to be consistent and then progressively
put the speed up as you gain confidence and become familiar with the track. True to form, and
always having enjoyed the thrill of speed, and also given the opportunity to open this beast up
a bit (legally) you can imagine what is about to happen. Having only ever fallen off a bike on the
public highway twice, and both on the same morning trying too hard to get selected for the
1971 ISDT, I’m not about to repeat the trick as some degree of common sense and self
preservation has taken over with increasing years. But here comes the POWER!
In Deep, Apex late….. power on the diesel John!
Through the twisty bits I seem to have a good line and I’m hitting the apex in the turn about
where I want to be but coming onto the straights I’ve always been a bit reluctant to rev 4
strokes to ridiculous high levels and I tend to short shift at around 7000 rpm but of course
without other traffic to contend with straight line speed is up to 140-150 on the straights and
now I’m in the unknown?????!!!!!
Where do I brake at this speed? Where do I turn in??
how much engine braking? Where should I apex??
Laps 3 through 5 go reasonably well and I think I’m circulating quickly enough until I come out
of a couple of 180 turns when some riders blow by me like I’m standing still which does nothing
for the ego. Lap 6 I try a little harder and then push a little more on lap 7 until I frighten myself
on about 3 different ocassions. First was braking when I downshifted but maybe dropped from
5th straight into 3rd and had the backwheel hopping all over the place, next to add to the fun
I turned in too early at the end of the super wide straight and hit a tar snake at around the 100
mark as I started the turn in……..000000OOOhHHH! Some more errors of judgement finding the
apex too early and the natural problem caused thereby, and running wide without being able to
get all the power on. Fortunately the checkered flag comes out and thankfully the embarassment
comes to an end.
A lot of rethinking before the second session and then we are at it again, just go as fast as you
like and try not to make the same mistakes. This time things go a bit better and I don’t get
carried away. For the big straights I’m braking longer in a straight line, going deeper into the
corner, turning later which gives a later apex and allows the power to be applied quicker with
the bike more upright and holding a tighter line. By about lap 5 I’m getting the hang of it so try
for a fast lap but again I hit the tar snake and that spoils the lap. Lap 7 is regaining confidence
and then the finish flag is out and I’m quite pleased the session is over as I’m getting dammed
I’m hot, I’m tired……. and that’s enough!
Hot and tired the third session is going to be the last so go for fun and a level of smooth
consistent riding without breaking lap records or my neck. Now I’ve always considered my self
pretty good on the open road with a fair number of road skills and an ability to read the road
as it unfolds and still set a pace a lot of others would find difficult to keep up with, but today
either I’m trying too hard or just not being as smooth as normal and I’ve committed just about
every cardinal error there is. Still keep it all in the memory banks and knowing what I learnt
today it will be good to instruct others and is also a good reminder that just maybe, once in a
while we are not quite as good as we think we are!
User Friendly 155 horses and about 170 mph
Drop Dead Gorgeous
No more plans for road racing but I do have the 929RR Rothmans and another 186 horses in
the shape of the MV F4 1000 which makes an awesome sound when its up past 5000 rpm.
I’ll be back……
Ciau! 186 horses from Wopoli, might make 190+ ?? Now that’s a REAL Bike!
(Thank God you can’t afford one of these when you are 16!!!)
Now don’t forget all those Oct/Nov/Dec articles….. find them in ARCHIVES