Following on from my last blog about anxiety while preparing for a track day, I want to look at some causes of anxiety while on the track.
Talking to riders on a hill country ride is a fascinating cross-section of new and experienced riders, all of whom are interested in riding at a 'spirited' pace on fun, twisting roads.
However when I ask if they are interested in riding on a track, which is clearly a safer environment, many of these riders immediately shoot down the suggestion due to a few common fears.
The biggest fear is the perception that riding on a track automatically means you'll crash.
This assumption always fascinates me. I don't understand why people automatically make the connection with the track and crashing. I personally have crashed on the track one time in the last 22 years - despite attending hundreds of track days in that time.
I also know more people than I can count who have never crashed on a track.
However - these people typically have also never crashed on the street.
What's the connection?
Someone who rides carefully and thinks about what they're doing on the street will ride the same way on the track. They are just as unlikely to crash on the track as they are on the street.
Riding on the track doesn't automatically tempt a rider to do things they don't normally do. A track is not a bouncy castly for adults. (The same cannot be said for dirt bike riding however...)
With this in mind, no matter how careful a rider is, its true there is always a chance that someone else less careful might possibly cause a crash that affects others around them.
And its true, this does happen. I've seen riders get taken out and never see what hit them - I've even been hit myself when another rider lost control. But the chances of this happening on the track are much lower than a similar incident on the street - I know many more people who've hit dogs, cats, squirrels... I even met a crashed rider on a group ride who hit a wombat! And if you don't know, a wombat is best described as a beer keg with legs!
In fact, with so many risks on the street, a rider is clearly LESS LIKELY to crash on the track than on the street.
Lets look at some evidence to support this.
In 2009, 42% of motorcycle accidents involved interaction with another vehicle while the motorcycle was passing through an intersection or passing a slower vehicle, ie interacting with oncoming traffic.
And of all the accidents that didn't involve another vehicle, over 40% of them involved blood-alcohol levels above the legal Texas limit.
Additionally in 2013, 38% of motorcyclists killed that year were not wearing a helmet.
So lets put those numbers into perspective: on the track we have no intersections, no oncoming traffic, we all wear helmets, and we don't drink at all.
In addition to these factors, we have corner workers all around the track so if something does happen around a blind corner, there is a flag waving to tell us to be careful. How often do you see that happen on the street?
We have control riders circulating with the specific goal of making sure everyone rides safely. And when we see someone who isnt sticking to the rules that rider is pulled off the track.
We have class throughout the day to make sure everyone knows the rules, knows the safest way to circulate quickly, and what to do to avoid a crash.
And if the worst happens and there is a crash, EMT's are always waiting right by the track entrance.
What about other fears not related to crashing?
I've heard many people say they are reluctant to try a track day because they worry they're too slow and will be an obstacle to others!
Well guess what - we're all slow when we start out. We all have to learn somewhere and surely the best place to do this is in an environment where everyone is going to class to learn this new skill.
In class we teach people safety rules that ensure they know what to do when they come across a slower rider.
But the thing that fascinates me most is that the people who take issues like this seriously are also the people who learn quicker than anyone else!
Someone who wants to learn will listen when I offer advice. I can see they are listening and when we go back on the track I see they've absorbed everything I said.
The interesting thing here is the difference between male and female riders. Typically, men who are on the track for the first time are so convinced they can go faster they often can't hear me when I offer advice. Many times I've given one rider the same advice several times throughout the day only to see him make the same mistake over and over.
Many men are reluctant to admit that what they do on the street doesn't work on the track but their ego gets in the way of learning.
However I can honestly say I've never seen a new female rider with the same problem. Women seem to be much better at learning this new skill. Thats not to say women I've coached don't make mistakes, but they make different mistakes usually not attributable to ego.
I've never heard a female rider say:
"This time I'm just gunna go for it."
The flip side of this is that people who are convinced they will be an expert track rider before they have ever been on a track are more likely to quit in the first session.
I've coached several Level 1 classes where guys pack up and leave before lunch because they were so convinced they would be promoted to an advanced level they refused to listen to the advice their instructors gave them. As a result they were a danger to themselves and others, and they knew it.
Riding on the track is a real eye-opener, and a true lesson in self control. Speeds aren't always higher - some of the tracks we ride on are tight and complex and too short to reach top gear. But these are typically the most difficult to ride. Make a mistake and you're in the weeds in an instant. But thats the challenge.
It takes no skill at all to hold a throttle open on a long straight.
We learn more when we try to go fast around a slow corner.
Like the old saying goes,
"Fast bikes are for slow riders, but it takes a good rider to go fast on a slow bike."
Or another favorite of mine, a quote from Ben Bostrom:
"The smaller the bike, the more it can teach you."
So when I hear someone say they are afraid to ride on a track due to their lack of skill or abilities all I need to say is, "That's where I come in. I can teach you all the skills you need."
And I guarantee you'll have more fun than you ever thought possible.