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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

VFR1200F... Another Day at the Track

I spent most of the day today riding my VFR1200F at Race City Speedway and I couldn't be happier with the way things went.

Earlier this week my friend Brad Gavey called to ask if I could help out as an instructor at his school this week. He was short of staff and it would be a good opportunity for me to regain the feel for my VFR and build some confidence after a long winter. I couldn't refuse. He assured me that I would be assigned to a slower group of students so I could take it easy on my big sport touring bike.

I arrived at 8am to start setting up. The VFR got a lot of strange stares as I unloaded my gear from my enormous Givi top case... most people had never seen a VFR1200 before, especially not at a race track. My old racing buddies didn't miss their chance to take pot shots... "Hey do you want me to stand behind and direct you while you back that thing up? "Can we use that thing to haul all the students out to turn 3 for the fly-bys?" It was all in good fun. A few of the other instructors were genuinely concerned about my safety on the Dunlop sport-touring rubber. By the afternoon though, everyone was genuinely surprised by how quickly I could hustle the big girl around the 2 mile road course. I was most surprised of all... My first visit to the track last year amounted to dipping my toe in the water. Today I jumped in head first.

This is the first time I've ridden a bike to a track day. I've always brought one on the back of a truck or trailer. If for no other reason but that it guarantees a ride home if I should huck the bike into a swamp or concrete wall. There was no way I was calling my wife to load up our 3 month old daughter and bring me home...

I'll admit I was a bit intimidated. The logical part of my brain kept telling me that the ride down Deerfoot trail to the race track was statistically more dangerous than anything I'd be doing on the circuit, but ego defies logic. I would need all of my focus on the track. I would have to set a good example to educate my students. I could not allow myself to crash. What state of mind would I be in? How would I cope? Would I get in over my head and push too hard trying to catch up with other riders?  Would I have confidence in the bike and the tires? I couldn't afford to get myself in a funk early and fight the bike all day.

What I needed most were LAPS! 

I went out early by myself before the classroom let out so I could shake the rust off. IMMEDIATELY I  felt more comfortable and confident on the VFR1200F than ever. My confidence level hit a new high. Within 2 laps I was nailing apexes and driving out of turns with a consistency I don't recall having in my racing days. I was trailing the brakes deep and putting my knee down in every turn. My body and mind were relaxed and free of fatigue. The VFR doesn't "flick" from side to side, but it inspires massive confidence on the brakes and will allow the rider to set it up for any type of turn and rail through any line you choose with smoothness and consistency. While it requires more effort to change direction than a supersports bike, it transitions smoothly and predictably. And if you get it wrong, it forgives ham-fisted line mid-corner changes and braking. As odd as it sounds, I felt like I could race it... not that I ever will. Race City was in pretty rough shape, with some new patches that were boucing riders out of the seats of their CBGSXZRs. I just blasted through them wide open with my cushy suspension and long wheelbase.

The students were divided up based on skill level and assigned to instructors. (3-5 students per) There were 2 sessions... Group 1 and 2... slow and less slow. Brad had reassured me that I would get one of the slower platoons and ride in group 1 so they gave me students with limited track experience.Things didn't quite go as planned. While my students may have appeared inexperienced on paper, their skills were much higher than anticipated. While they each needed some coaching, they all had good control of their motorcycles, and they had fast motorcycles.

It was a good thing I found my confidence so quickly in the morning because from the first session it was clear that my students belonged in the faster group. After lunch we were "bumped" and yet even in the faster group we repeatedly passed the other squads and got faster still as the afternoon went on. I even had the pleasure of witnessing one of my students get their knee down for the first time.

At the end of the day we went out for our last session and got split up early trying to filter through a slower group. I decided that my ducklings were safe to leave the nest on their own so I dropped the hammer and put my fastest laps in of the day. I started charging deeper into turn one and braking harder and for the first time felt the ABS engage on dry pavement. It was a strange sensation. At maximum braking with the lever almost all the way back to the bar I could feel the system pressure up and actually push the lever back out against my squeeze. While it did this it would reduce the braking power just slightly. It was simultaneously unsettling and reassuring. The sensation was strange but it was also nice to know that the safety net was there if I ever needed it, and now I would know what to expect. I can understand why people wouldn't want this system on a track-focused bike. The newer digital systems (newer CBRs, S1000RR, new ZX-10R)  probably have much higher limits.

The Dunlop Roadsmart sport-touring tires began to show their limitations as I upped the pace. The back tire started to wriggle and squirm around under power in the corner exits, but it never really "let go". It approached its limit predictably and progressively. The front tire never gave me any loss of grip while leaned over, but slipped enough at maximum braking to engage the ABS.

With sticky tires and the right suspension setup, the VFR1200F could be a very fast bike on the race track. Personally, I don't ever intend to prove it, but today I had the chance to safely explore the bike's limits and bank a stack of confidence for the riding season. It was a great day.


Fish (whale?) out of water
 2 of my students' bikes. A heavily upgraded 2000 R1 and a 2010 ZX-10R (which took a rock to the radiator in the morning, putting it out of service for the afternoon.)
 A Dunlop Roadsmart that spent a lot of time on its left edge.
 My students

 Rider's meeting at the end of the day. Everyone recieves certificates. Nobody crashed.
 Hero blobs ground off

1 comment:

  1. thanks taylor for coming out and helping with my school. it was great to have u back... good job on the riding dude. u going pretty good there. ride anything else that day? ;)