This past Saturday I was invited to a track day at Calabogie Motorsports Park by my friend Yami. It would be my first track day in over a decade, and my first ever track day on a motorcycle. Should be noted, my first track day resulted in my cars engine self-destructing after just 45 minutes total track time. I was feeling extremely intimidated about this track day for many reasons.
The main reason this was all even possible was due to an agreement Yami had made with is cousin when selling the motorcycle to him. “Would Aka still be able to use it if he wanted to?” to which the answer was apparently yes, which was very nice of them. Another reason this was possible was due to that cousin injuring themselves previously on the bike and being unable to ride for the remainder of the season. So the bike was now usused. The bike in question was a track ready 2014 Kawasaki Ninja 300 with some Pirelli Diablo Rosso III street tyres (despite the Dunlop logo on the bike).
I was also borrowing all the gear from the cousin, as he and I were approximately the same size. This was the gear that had been involved in the crash that he was injured in but it was all still fine to use. The only piece of equipment of my own that I used was my helmet. The leather coveralls, the boots, the gloves, the back protector, were all borrowed. Which was really really nice of them, because that gear isn’t cheap.
I’d be lying if I said I felt confident about all of this at the time. I didn’t know the gear’s condition and whether it was safe. I also didn’t know whether the bike was safe to ride either, having been in a crash prior. I’d asked and been assured everything was safe, but I’m just inherently a little distrusting and like to confirm things for myself. On top of already being intimidated by just about everything already, this definitely added additional fear and stress to the situation. Was everything actually safe?
Getting to the Track
I’d been asked on fairly short notice if I wanted to go, and made it even more short notice due to circumstances happening in my life currently. So I wasn’t able to confirm I’d be joining them until Thursday night, and the track day was the following Saturday. As such, I wasn’t able to see the bike I’d be using or the gear until we went to pick it up Friday night. Had I wasted C$400? I’d already paid my admission on that Thursday night, do they offer refunds?
Getting to the track was quite an ordeal in itself. My friends car wasn’t in great condition, to put it mildly. He’d spent the majority of the week swapping parts off his daily back onto his donor car to turn it back into a daily. However in the rush to get everything ready he’d forgotten to ensure a few important parts were working. Including, but not limited to, the headlights, the rear brake pads, the rear brake lights, the right turn signals, the trailer lights, the exhaust… As it would turn out, the most dangerous part of the track day was getting there! If you’ve ever watched an episode of Roadkill on Motortrend you’ll be very familiar with this sort of situation. In a way it was kind of fun and made the whole event more interesting. But in the back of my mind this made me wonder, is the bike I’m going to be using actually safe? I wouldn’t even know it’s condition until we went to pick it up Friday night.
This was making everything even more intimidating than it already was. I’ve ridden 80,000 km on a motorcycle on the street, and a little bit “off road” (fire roads) in Colorado. I understand that motorcycles are already pretty dangerous, and definitely at high speeds. But add to that all of the above, plus the fact I’d never ridden the motorcycle I’d be using before, I’d never worn the gear before, the motorcycle was setup opposite of normal with GP shifting, I’d never seen the track before, I’d never done a track day on a motorcycle before let alone one where every corner is blind and there’s lots of elevation change, and that I was worried I’d be slow and getting in everyone’s way making it more dangerous for everyone involved. Why I doing this again?
Yami’s friend The Joker was also with us following in his Miata. He tailed us to ensure we had a vehicle with brake lights and signals with us for the journey. We were headed to his place outside of Ottawa on Friday night so we’d be able to sleep and leave Saturday morning. Unfortunately due to all the car issues we didn’t arrive at his place until 3am and had to leave at 6am to get to the track on time. Not a lot of sleep, I was totally going to die wasn’t I?
At the Track
The event was organized and run by Pro 6 Cycle who seem to organize a lot of motorcycle track days at Calabogie as well as Mosport and Shannonville. I didn’t know anything about them before the event, just that my friend was going and was familiar with them. They ran a very professional event, well organized, and included an instructor for the beginner class, of which I was obviously a member, to teach them to track. This was both awesome but also quite intimidating in and of itself.
We arrived late and I just managed to catch the last portion of the riders meeting which happens at the beginning of the day. In it they explain what they expect of you and your attitude, the rules of the track, what the flags mean, and what they expect you to do when they’re waved. They also explained that beginners like myself needed to attend two mandatory sighting sessions with the instructor to learn the correct lines around the track and stressed it’s importance due to the blind nature of basically every corner on the track.
I then went back to our spot in the paddock to get ready so that I could go out in these sighting sessions. Being as intimidated by the whole ordeal as I was, I felt I really really needed to use these opportunities to learn as much as I could about the track from the instructor. Then I learned that the bike I was going to be using didn’t have a left peg.
I of course both needed one for me to ride the bike but also to pass tech inspection which you needed to go out on the track. As you might have gathered already, I wasn’t being instilled with confidence with all of the issues and events so far. No question, I was totally going to die.
The peg issue was solved with a simple nut and bolt as we didn’t have a pin to use. Tech inspection was performed and the bike passed without issue, which allayed some of my fears in the condition of the bike. I then had to go get a noise test done to ensure that the bike was within limits set by the track. Finally, everything was good to go! But I’d now missed the first of the two mandatory sighting sessions with the instructor. I wasn’t worried at this point though, because at the time I thought they ran all day and that I just needed to attend any two of them before I could go out by myself. I would later learn this wasn’t the case.
Learning the Track
I went up early to wait for the second session to ensure I didn’t miss it. I was told I’d be the second rider in the pack, which was great because it meant I would be up close and could really learn the correct racing line through the corners. Before we went out he instructed us to keep as close together as possible and that he’d be going slow. All we needed to do was focus on learning the lines and of course not rear ending the bike in front of us. He didn’t want us to have to be doing too much at once so that we could just focus on the lines. Little did he know this would literally be the first ever time I’d ridden this motorcycle beyond the 20-30 km/h I did in the paddock to go line up.
I’d never leaned a motorcycle over so far in my life. Slow?! This was slow?!
I’d never leaned a motorcycle over so far in my life. Slow?! This was slow?! Having ridden there the whole day now, I definitely know that this was indeed a leisurely lapping pace. But for the first time I’d ever been on this bike, this track, in this situation, trying to learn all of these things at once, trying to keep up to bigger bikes with my little 300, trying to stay as close as I could, trying to remember to GP shift instead of street shift? It definitely felt like I was going faster than I’d ever ridden a bike around a corner in my life. And that lean angle I had, as little as it may have actually been, was indeed the furthest I’d ever leaned a bike up until then (that didn’t involve dropping it anyway). And it was the first lap. I honestly thought the bike was going to slide out from under me and I was going to low side on the very first lap of the day.
But I didn’t. We kept going for a few laps and I was getting confident that the bike was going to grip and that I wasn’t going that fast, as bikes were definitely passing all of us at a much higher clip. I started to think I can do this, this isn’t so bad, I can keep up. Then I turned into a corner too early and suddenly saw grass in front of me. I straightened up but then I started to go off the track and towards a wall. I did what any respectable motorcyclist should do at this point which was to look where I wanted to go instead of the wall. I corrected, let everyone pass, looked to see it was safe to rejoin and tried to catch up. I almost did, but I was making a lot of mistakes now, and the checkered flag was being waved so it was the final lap of the session and we all exited the track back into the paddock.
I knew what I’d done wrong, but I wasn’t sure what the instructor would say or do about it. He was a friendly guy, firm but kind. He immediately asked me what I did wrong to gauge whether I even had any idea myself. I told him the truth, I’d had a lapse in concentration and turned in too early, corrected the first mistake but didn’t yet have the confidence in the bike and myself to correct the second mistake and stay on the track. Knowing what I know now after the whole day, I could have easily just corrected and stayed on the track, the bike would totally have done it. But that’s two hours of track time talking vs 20 minutes at this point.
He reiterated that I just needed to stay focused as I was doing fine up to that point, and that I needed to continue to learn the lines through the corners and not care about the ‘male ego’ or other bikes on the track as it was their responsibility to get around me safely not mine (so long as I stayed on the racing line). It was then I heard someone ask if this was the final sighting session to which I’d heard him affirm that it was. So I asked because I couldn’t believe it, was this really the last one? And he again affirmed that it was. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I hadn’t learned the track, I didn’t know the lines, I screwed up on the last lap, and I didn’t get my two mandatory sessions in. What the hell do I do now?!? I only had 6? laps under my belt there’s no way I’d learned enough. I didn’t say anything about it, and the instructor just reiterated to learn the track, enjoy myself, and that I’d be fine. I took that as permission that I could keep going out as it seemed either I was the only one who knew I’d missed the first, or that he wasn’t going to ruin my day and was confident enough in my ability that he thought I’d be fine.
Continuing to Learn the Track
I went back to our spot in the paddock and parked the bike. Trying to remember everything I’d learned in those 6 laps but felt like I’d learned nothing. My next session would be coming up in 40 minutes. 20 minutes for each class and 3 classes. Do I go back out? Or am I already done for the day?
I started to remember bits of the riders meeting at the beginning of the day, that there were pylons on the track that indicated entry, apex, and exit for each corner. I could just aim and look for those, even if the corners are blind, there’ll always be at least one pylon visible to tell me where I should be on the track which would tell me which direction to turn as well. And if there wasn’t a visible pylon that would mean keep going straight. I realized I’d actually learned some really good lessons in that first and only session. The bike was safe and that it will grip, I was not at the bikes limit, I was at my limit.
My first session back on by myself I was slow, but I just concentrated on the pylons and aiming the bike where I needed it to go. I got passed down every straight, which was startling at first, but I kept at it. I was definitely getting better already, I was remembering the corners better, I was accelerating harder, I was using more of the tyres. I was starting to actually enjoy myself.
I went out in every session for my group after that and continued to improve and improve and gain more confidence in the bike and myself. The size of the bike was perfect for learning on, it was fast enough but not powerful enough that if I gave it too much throttle I could easily hurt myself. It was forgiving in just about every way it could be. I topped out around 160 km/h on the straights I think, though I wasn’t looking at the speedometer the majority of the time as it simply wasn’t needed. And managed to work my way up to 134+ km/h coming down Spoon (turn 15) and towards 4 Left (turn 16). I’m not sure if these were the highest speeds I achieved in the straights or corners, but they were the only ones I had an opportunity to look. I think they’re probably representative overall because Spoon is a wide and downhill corner so it’s likely to be the fastest turn I took.
By the last two sessions I wasn’t getting passed very often, this was likely due to less riders on the track as I think many of the beginners had gotten tired by this point. But even still I actually ended up passing some “bigger” bikes, which was very hard to do I might add. As in the beginner group you’re only allowed to pass on the straightaways where they would all easily out drag me into the next corner. How on earth do you pass them? And they were holding me up in every corner around the track. Each corner I’d catch them either under braking or through keeping a higher speed through the corner, it was getting frustrating.
Eventually I was able to pass by setting up a few corners in a row and getting a good run where I tucked as much as I could to reduce drag and then out braked them into a corner, doing this a few times in a row to get around the two of them who I think were together. This felt like a big accomplishment for me. I’d gone from being massively intimidated, missing out on learning more from the instructor, to actually being faster than someone. They’d had the whole day to learn like I did, maybe had even been to track days previously (though probably not at that pace), were on more powerful bikes, and I passed them.
Don’t get me wrong though, I’m definitely a beginner, and they were beginners as well. People learn at different paces, get intimidated by different things. Perhaps they’d gone off the track like I did earlier but did so later in the day and had gotten spooked and were working their way back up. Never the less, it did give me confidence in myself and my abilities. It gave me a ‘win’ for the day.
In the end I think I had 2 hours of total track time, between 6 different sessions. And despite all the issues above, I would do it again in a heart beat. I had such a blast, and wished I could have kept lapping and getting better. It was such a great track with loads of grip and all the blind corners gave you a sense of accomplishment when you tackled them even moderately successfully. I definitely want to do more track days. Though I think I may have been spoiled by Calabogie, as there’s no other track close by that’s even remotely as nice or offers as much grip (so I’m told). I can’t think of a single section of the track that had any bumps at all, it was so smooth.
I would definitely recommend to anyone to go to a (well organized) track day that includes instructors. Just keep calm, focus on what you’re doing, and enjoy yourself. I may have only had one session with an instructor but it was so useful at teaching the racing line, the limits of the bike (even though we were going slow!), and giving me some much needed confidence under some safer conditions. I think without that first session I would have been much slower the whole day and in everyone’s way. And that if I’d had the second session I would have been much better by the end of the day, smoother through the corners, learning the lines earlier, and having more confidence to go full throttle earlier through more sections of the track. But even still, I had such a blast learning the track and my abilities. 11/10 would do again.
Photos of Yami and The Joker
Photos of Random People
Like all Ducati’s, this one looks very pretty and very fast. Also like all Ducatis this one didn’t move all day and no one rode it.
Packing Up and Heading Home
By the end of the day I was definitely starting to feel tired. With little sleep and lots of activity throughout the day it was inevitable. I’d gone out for every session I was able to, The Joker had gone out in all of the sessions as well, and Yami only missed the last one due to his shifter losing a bolt and causing issues. We’d all gone off the track once, but none of us crashed. All things considered I think I’d call that a success. We all had a blast and no one got hurt.
But it wasn’t the end, we still had to pack up and drive home. The Joker was lucky he only had to drive an hour and a bit home, Yami and I needed to take his Volvo death trap (lol) on another 5 hour drive back to his place, where I would then need to take another hour and a bit drive to my place. We clearly made it safely as I’m writing this post, and as of writing Yami has repaired the remainder of the issues his car had so that it’s safe to use in the future. Yay!
Of course, even after I got home I couldn’t just pass out, absolutely not. I needed to take a shower. This was not optional. I’d been in a leather suit all day in 30+°C weather out in the sun while also being active. I definitely didn’t want to soak that smell into my bed. I don’t think I got to bed until 3am, but honestly I can’t remember I was so tired.
tl;dr: Go to a well organized track day and have fun.