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"Advanced" or "Performance" Training
and Track Days

By: James R. Davis

Over the past several years you have heard more and more about courses offering advanced or performance oriented training and there has been increasing interest shown by riders in 'Track Days' - the ability to learn how to handle your motorcycle near its (and your) limits away from our public roads on a relatively safe race track.

I have received several criticisms recently for failing to endorse or encourage my readers to participate in these courses along with claims that my advice seems stuck at the fundamentals level and aimed primarily at beginning riders. The claim has been made that by my failure to encourage these alternative riding courses I am deliberately discouraging rider skill growth and the learning of advanced techniques.

I confess! That has exactly been my intention.

Let me be perfectly clear about that. I have very high regard for many of the advanced and performance oriented courses, the skills and techniques taught by them, the instructors, and even most of their students. What I oppose and find essentially intolerable from my safety oriented perspective is any suggestion that these courses prepare riders to become better in the sense that they will increase their odds of surviving riding motorcycles on our public roads based on what they learn during these classes.

To the contrary, learning how to handle your motorcycle at speeds of 100 MPH or greater, how to lean off your motorcycle, or how to pick your "best" line through a curve, to my mind, encourages unsafe behavior on our public roads, and illegal behavior at that.

Apparently the DOT's National Highway Transportation Safety Association has a similar opinion as this extract from their April 2009 paper (DOT HS 811 108) makes clear:

Another way driver education can worsen the problem is through courses that unintentionally encourage risky driving. Specifically, courses that teach advanced driving maneuvers can produce adverse outcomes. These courses are currently very popular in the United States as a way to supplement basic driver education. The courses are generally taught by police or in advanced driving schools using test track facilities. Several studies, however, have shown that young people, particularly males, who take these courses are more likely than comparable drivers without such training to be in crashes (Jones, 1993; Glad, 1988; Katila et al., 1995). It is not entirely clear why this occurs, but it is clear that superior skills do not necessarily translate to superior driving records and in fact may result in more crashes. Highly trained and experienced racecar drivers, for example, have been found to have worse crash records than run-of-the-mill drivers, adjusting for age, gender, and mileage (Williams & ONeill, 1982). Advanced skills can translate to overconfidence and risk-taking. For young drivers, the immaturity factor, involving decision-making and peer influences, may also contribute. Young people may create extra opportunities to try out the advanced maneuvers, showing off for their friends. This is an example of how skills learned through driver education can interact with developmental and lifestyle factors typical of young people and produce unintended results.
(emphasis added)

Let's look at just those three teachings more closely. There is not a road in the United States where it is legal or safe to ride at speeds of 100 MPH or greater. Only a motorcycle in top mechanical condition has even a reasonable chance of surviving the effort, assuming the rider is also in top physical condition and the roadway is free of all defects, the weather is clear, there is no traffic, and you know with certainty that there are no blind curves (actually, curves of any kind) ahead of you. A police officer who happens to observe or captures your speed with his radar equipment will not be in the least bit sympathetic that you learned how to handle your motorcycle at such speeds in a well regarded class run by people who hoped that you would become a safer rider as a result of their training.

Hanging off your motorcycle is a technique taught by some as a way to "smoothly" and "properly" handle curves and as an advanced skill that will help you avoid dragging a peg in a fast curve - and it looks so cool. What that really translates into is how to increase your odds of making it through a curve at illegal speeds. There is not a speed signed road in this country that requires you to lean your bike more than 20 degrees (closer to 15 degrees) when you are riding at the posted speed. No body lean, whatever, is required to negotiate any speed marked curve in the country at legal speeds. You may look cool when your knee is reaching for the ground in a turn, but you will not look quite so well in a hospital bed, though your body will definitely be cool on the slab in the morgue. (Unless the sign specifying a speed for a turn contains the words "speed limit" it is a "speed advisory" rather than a maximum speed.)

Picking the best line in a curve is a racing performance objective. Usually, the smoothest line through a curve is the one that requires the least steering correction though the turn because that line is the least destabilizing and requires the least lean angle. A safer line can often be chosen such as one known alternatively as one requiring a "late apex" or "late entry", but both of those safer lines require more aggressive steering inputs and steeper lean angles than the smoothest line. Selecting a line through multiple consecutive curves is certainly an advanced technique, but selecting it to maximize your speed through those curves is anything but safety oriented. And if truth be known, at any legal speeds on speed marked curves, you can choose virtually any path (line) through it without requiring any aggressive steering inputs.

So, I don't encourage riders to get "advanced" or "performance" training and I don't encourage "track days" because they lead some participants in such programs, particularly those who are dumb, stupid, naive, immature, foolish, and/or crazy (of whom the population of said participants is greater than zero) to over-confidence and risk taking on our public roads that can, in turn, kill and injure riders. You learn to control your motorcycle, no matter what, and you learn to control yourself. That results in competence and increasing your odds out there. The rest is putting your toes over the edge - for fun or thrills, not survival.

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(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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