Monday, April 28, 2008

Track Trip: Chapter4 - Monday with STAR

Small group with STAR Monday. So small in fact, we ran only one group instead of splitting into two.

I decided to rent a garage at the track with 5 other riders. The garages are only $75/day. That includes power, shade, access to the restroom, and about 400sqft of space to setup. $25 for a garage for 2 days? And the ability to leave the bikes there overnight? (They lock the door and there's overnight security.) No brainer. The bikes are probably safer there than in my trailer in the hotel parking lot.

There are usually a few oddities sprinkled in among the Suzukis and Hondas. Usually it's a Triumph, or a 2-stroke of some sort, or maybe a Hypermotard. Today the exotica was supplied by a Bimota Tesi 3D. Pretty wild stuff.

Saturday I stuck the Daytona in 3rd and forgot about shifting. Monday I stuck the Ducati in 2nd and forgot about shifting. (Trust me, the Ducati can get around the track faster in 2nd than the Daytona can in 3rd.) In some of the later sessions I added a shift into 3rd on the two longer straights, but essentially I left it in 2nd. It's amazing how much easier it is to focus on what you want to do (in my case relaxing on the bike and lean-angle) when you eliminate a variable like lots of shifting. ... I suspect many people think I'm cheating. But those are the same people who I'm passing as they struggle to keep their bike under control as they shift 15 times / lap. ... In other words: the jealous people. :)

My day ended one session early. I was on the track at about 3:45 and I was chasing another rider around the track. In the first few morning sessions she (yes, SHE) had passed me and was able to pull away from me slowly. In this session I was gaining on her pretty quick and I really wanted to pass her. We got into some slower traffic, she passed a rider and if I didn't pass the same rider I'd be held up on the next couple of corners. So I added some speed and went around him too... and was in the corner too hot, stood the bike up, and probably pissed off the guy I just passed quite a bit. About two turns later it dawned on me "Why am I worried about her? I should be focused on my own riding. This is stupid." I pulled off at the next opportunity and then noticed how tired I was. Physical fatigue had led to a mental breakdown.

I decided to end my day. I have all day Tuesday.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Track Trip: Chapter3 - Saturday with APEX

I’ve never ridden at Miller. So I’m a little nervous. I’m not one of those riders that can just head out onto the track for the first time and start railing. I like to do recon. Lots and lots of recon.

I’ve also never ridden with APEX. Generally track groups are the same. But each seems to attract a slightly different type of rider. This event is a shared one between APEX and the local Ducati dealership. I’m hoping the Ducati guys (who are probably older and a little more conservative) will keep things civilized.

I arrive at Miller at about 7am, go through registration, and find a spot to pit. The place is amazing. Huge grandstands, covered garage space, clean and professional.

They announce that the first session out will have two “sighting laps” so new people can get used to the layout. (Whew) The track is as nice as the rest of the facility. Wide open sight lines, good pavement, well marked.

The third session is going pretty well. I was getting the feel of the track. I come out of the chicane and see the next corner worker waving the red flag. Red? That’s odd, but okay. While in the back straight I see a huge smoke column and a fireball off to my left! 20-30 feet of black smoke on top of 5-6 feet of flames!

Turns out someone low-sided in Turn 2, they separated from the bike and thought everything was fine. The bike slid across the infield then back onto the track in Turn 3 where it caught fire. The frame was snapped, all the plastic and fiberglass was melted, the rims were bent. I’ll see if I can dig up a picture of the bike after they brought it back to the pits. The rider was fine. Surprised but fine.

I was on the Daytona in the morning and thought I might switch to the Ducati after lunch. But, after a bike on fire? Uh, no.

In the interest of keeping things simple for myself I decided to ride the whole track in 3rd gear. The Daytona has enough torque at 4000rpm to deal with the slow corners, and can easily run to 100+mph on the front straight. Was I being passed? Yes. But it made it a lot easier to focus on body position and lean angle. And I wasn’t the slowest bike out there.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. The APEX guys run a pretty good event. And the Miller track is awesome. A day off, then back to the track Mon and Tues with STAR.

Track Trip: Chapter2 - Getting There

Here’s my Friday

2:08am – Wake up. Why 2:08am? No idea. I wanted to get up at 3:30 and be out by 4:00 but I guess my internal chronometer is a little off.

2:10am – Convince Spike that it’s not really time to get up and eat breakfast. He reluctantly goes back to his bed.

2:30am – Leave the house. If I’m up I might as well cover some miles.

2:50am – Leave work. Work? Why am I at work? Dunno. For some reason I stopped by the office. I think my plan was to get my iPod but that didn’t actually happen.

3:00am – Gassed up and ready to go.

4:00 – Nasty weather on I-90. Nearly blinding snow. Luckily at this hour there’s almost no one else on the road so I drive in the middle of the two lanes.

4:05am – 18-wheelers have some sort of magical vision. Or instruments like planes flying in bad weather. Maybe I’ll just tuck in line behind one.

4:10am – Or maybe they just don’t care if they live or die. Sorry but when your trailer goes sideways on the downhills and you don't change your driving you’re going to have to get along without me as an escort.

4:40am – The weather is a lot clearer on the backside of the mountains.

7:00am – Stop for a nap, some gas, and some breakfast. Mmmm…. Egg McMuffins.

9:00am – The satellite radio is pretty cool. But after awhile I’m a little tired of it. Pop in a few CDs I brought with me. … Shirley Manson sure is angry.

11:00am – Stop for a nap, some gas, and some lunch. What's with Oregon and not being able to pump your own gas?

1:00pm – Discover that the Nitro gets about the same mileage at 82mph as it does at 67mph.

3:00pm – My blood pressure rises over some bozo on the freeway. Left lane hog. He accelerates from 70 to 95 whenever I try to go around him. Bad Karma will soon be upon him.

5:30pm – Check into the hotel.

14.5 hours from beginning to end. Just under 13 hours of diving. 851 miles. 14mpg. All in all not a bad trip. Here's the route.

Track Trip: Chapter1 - Getting Ready

What I take to a track day:

Motorcycle related:
• The bike
• Two keys. One I keep on me, one I keep with my clothes in case I lose the first one.
• 5 gallons of extra gas.
• Front and rear wheel stands
• Shop manual

Track gear:
• Helmet
• Gloves
• Boots
• Leathers

For comfort:
I spend a reasonable amount of time not on the track between sessions. I like to sit and relax so I’m ready for the next session.

• A couple of folding chairs
• One of those collapsible shade things
• A cooler with ice

Things to ward off Mr. Murphy:
Everything I can think to make minor repairs at the track. The track is a pretty stressful environment for the bike. Things vibrate loose. They get hot. They pick up dirt and grime.

• Hand tools
--- Two ratchets
--- Socket set
--- Box-end wrenches
--- Allen wrenches
--- Two crescent wrenches
--- Hammer
--- Several pliers
--- Torque wrench
--- Rear-wheel sockets
--- An awl
--- Set of screw drivers
• Cleaners
--- Rags
--- Chain wax
--- WD-40
--- Windex
--- Brake cleaner
• Electrical wire
• Wire ties
• Collection of nuts, bolts, washers and quick-release fasteners.
• Fuses
• Extra tie-downs for the bike
• Electrical tape
• Duct tape

Because I have space in the trailer and I’m a little anal retentive:
• Portable electrical power. I’m not a fan of gas-powered generators at the track. (Too loud, too much of a hassle for my needs.) But some electrical power is handy. I just bought something similar to this. It’s essentially just a rechargeable battery with AC outlets and an air compressor.
• Extra tires. They’re spares, and they can act as ballast for the shade thing if the wind starts to pick up.
• An extra bike. I admit this is a bit excessive. But for multi-day trips it’s nice insurance. I don’t ever want to crash. But it would be worse if I crashed on day 1 and then couldn’t ride on days 2 through N.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Track Day Pics

There was a photographer at the track last weekend. He caught a handful of shots of me.

Here are some from the morning.

And here are a few from the afternoon.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Always Have a Spare Handy

I went to the NESBA track day last Saturday. It turned out to be a gorgeous day. According to the gauge in my car on the way back it was 81 degrees. (So the 7-day forecast was only off by 35 degrees. Thanks guys.)

I had a few goals for the day. (I find it's helpful to have goals for the day so I don't just get caught up in "Hey, that guy just passed me! I better speed up!". When I do that I usually just end up scaring myself and not making any real progress.)

1. Figure out if the trailer works. Do the bikes fit? Do they stay put? Is the weight distributed correctly? How much other crap can I stuff in there? How kind of gas mileage does the Nitro get pulling it? I needed to sort these things out before the trip to Miller in a couple weeks.
2. Lean angles. Ignore lap times, braking points, and especially other riders. Focus on getting the bike leaned further. Especially to the right.
3. Relax. Trust the bike. It knows how to get around the track. The more I relax the more the bike takes over and the more likely things will go well.

The trailer worked 98% perfect. The bikes stayed put for the 40-minute drive. Everything except my safety gear fit in the trailer (bikes, gas, shade, chairs, tools, spare tires) without a problem. The Nitro did well pulling it. It didn't have a problem getting to 70mph and it got about 14.5 mpg on the trip. I should get a spare tire for the trailer but other than that everything is all set.

Because it was the first track day of the season I decided to ride the 955i instead of the Ducati. Too many people (including me) that might be rusty after the winter. I also figured riding the cheaper bike would help me with goal #3. Things were going pretty well in the morning. I was feeling comfortable and I'd managed to drag a knee in turn 3 (one of the few right hand turns at Pacific Raceways.) But in the 3rd session the check engine light came on so I cut the session short.

I wasn't able to figure out what the problem was, I didn't want to risk major damage to the motor, but I didn't want to pack up and call it a day. So I decided I'd ride the Ducati in the afternoon. (It was mighty convenient having a second bike handy.)

Riding the two bikes back to back was surprising:
1. The Ducati can really fly. It was much easier to tip into the corners and would pull out of them in a huge rush.
2. The 955i is considerably louder. I shift by ear and a few times on the 1098 I had the red "Hey bozo, your shift point was 1000rpm ago." light come on because I just wasn't used to the Ducati sound.

By the second session on the Ducati I was dragging a knee in turns 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9. (3 and 6 are rights.) It's just so much easier to toss around.

I still intend to start on the 955i when I get to Miller. If for no other reason than it's a good bike for recon at a track I've never ridden. But I suspect the 1098 is going to get the lions share of my 3 days in Tooele.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I had a big April planned. I signed up for the local NESBA track days for April 12+13. Then I have a trip to Tooele Utah (outside of Salt Lake City) for 3 track days over four days with APEX and STAR. So I'll test out my trailer with the trip to Kent, then be ready for the longer trip.

Unfortunately the weather has decided to taunt me.

NESBA allows you to cancel your registration up to 7 days in advance and get full credit towards another NESBA day. So Saturday the 5th (12 - 7 = 5) I checked the forecast for the 12th: 46/37 70% chance of rain. I don't like to ride in the rain, I don't want to go to the track in the rain. So I cancelled my registration. There are plenty of other NESBA days this year I can apply the credit to.

I checked the forecast for the 12th today: 63/42 20% chance of rain. Great. Now it's going to be good track day weather and I'm not registered. ... Oh well, if the weather is good I can just drive down there and sign up at the last minute. It will cost me an extra $20 but I guess that's a cheap hedge against bad weather in Seattle in April.