It took less than five minutes to demolish ten years of self-assurance on two wheels and two full, exhilarating days to bring it back up and way beyond what I thought was possible. While the bike boffins at OVERDRIVE have often had their way with machines at various tracks, this was a first for me and I was, in some sense, prepared to be embarrassed. OVERDRIVE has been associated with IndiMotard Adventures for their TWO Track Schools for a while, so we thought we'd go the whole hog, ride with them and report our findings. And if I learnt something in the process, that couldn't hurt either, right?
First up: the chaps at the track are a delightful, if slightly off-kilter bunch who could probably race your flight back home on their bikes. And I'm still just talking about the students. It's quite hard to articulate just how much difference a bit of track training will make in your riding, but we sure will try.
What started off as a bunch of friends renting out a track collectively to keep costs low has grown into a full-blown track school. Various skill levels are catered to from complete newbie (Level 1) to expert (Level 3). Being first-timers, Shumi and I were naturally slotted into the former category and got friendly green track numbers for our bikes. IndiMotard has a number of instructors who will monitor your progress through the days and provide personalised input when required, as I learned on a recce lap with Joshua Crasto (who knew you could slam a Karizma on its side two-up at 50 clicks and live?!) While there's plenty of riding to be done over the two days of TWO, each session of laps is preceded by a classroom session that attempts to communicate the finer points of riding a motorcycle.
Most of our compatriots in Level 1 had been riding for several years, but this made the theory no less essential. The thing about riding motorcycles is this: you're doing it wrong. Learn to love the taste of humble pie. Cherish it. Look forward to it. Because at TWO you're getting served a lot of it.
While stay and transport of your own bike aren't included in the package, the organisers of TWO are nice enough to grease the wheels (so to speak) and make it easy for you. Thanks to our friends at Yamaha India, a pair of pristine R15s were delivered right to the track for Shumi and I. Even without the good graces of manufacturers, it's still possible to rent a track-prepped Honda Stunner on location from Apex Racing, or in the worst case, transport can be arranged from Bengaluru in IndiMotard's trucks. All said, it's a hassle-free and relatively inexpensive experience.
Bikes and travel sorted, we landed in Coimbatore on a pleasant Friday evening and checked into the Park Inn, the preferred destination for the aforementioned off-kilter folk. The hotel staff must be used to the loud, disorderly but generally jovial biker folk by now, because nobody batted an eyelid to the hailing, chest-bumping and good-natured sailor-blushing verbal abuse. After all of us had dumped bags and changed into mandated off-track kit (shorts and hawai chappals), it was off next door to sample some Chettinad cuisine. The food was carefully prepared by feeding unidentifiable animals into an agricultural thresher and served with love and grime on a banana leaf. While it was delicious, it did force me to effect an emergency oil drain the following day, if you catch my odious drift.
I can't dance
Day one began bright and early, or as early as was possible given the copious amounts of alcohol and mystery meat consumed the previous evening. The Kari Motor Speedway, which has been home to TWO since it's inception, is about 40 minutes from Coimbatore along a reasonably clear road. Catching a ride with a Level 2 biker, as I did, will get you there quicker. This works out alright when you're fresh on day one, or if your bones still haven't stopped growing. However, if there's a little salt in your pepper, get a cab, as we did the following day. After registration formalities and assignment of numbers for the day, we got down to business in the classroom.
We were a motley bunch of newbies ranging from the young and foolish to the not-so-young and foolish, with a pup and a lady thrown in for good measure. Being around such an obviously varied and enthusiastic bunch is its own kick. Being routinely passed on track by all of them is not, but I digress. Our instructor was IndiMotard's head motard Anand Dharmaraj. A rider for 30 years, Anand would need a fair bit of newsprint to profile. Suffice to say that we came out of the first theory session with a clear idea of what to do. First ride: know the track. And this is where the humbling began.
Despite having ridden my RD350 for ten years on the street, I've always been the slowest. The track only confirmed what I already knew and amplified my flaws. That's the great thing about a track day - you get to clearly focus on what you're doing wrong and with the right instruction, get to fix it with drills. Contrary to what one may think, TWO is not about getting out there and racing with a bunch of equally inexperienced students. That would be a recipe for disaster. If there was one over-arching agenda to the drilling, laps, instruction and theory, it would be 'smoothness'. This is the key to riding fast on the track, or indeed, on the street.
Our drills began with throttle control, which allowed for no brakes and a single gear around the track, with no overtaking and proper form. It seems impossible to achieve, but that was just the beginning of the 'unlearning' that we did over two days. Each lap session was followed by theory to discuss what we did right and wrong, and how to improve. It was hard to concentrate when the big boys were out there with their big bikes screaming down the main straight at 200kmph+. This made for some thrilling video and I'm sure everyone went home with their memory cards full. More day one drills followed with instruction on the correct line around the track, the correct technique for braking, vision and planning entry and exit.
While it all sounds boring enough, by the end of the day, every single one of us was riding around Kari as if we had been doing it for years. Improvement: off the chart. We now knew lines. We were hanging off, braking light, running smooth and gassing hard with not a single untoward incident, at least among the students. At the end of the day, we had learned and practiced enough to make us several times faster around the track, but were still nowhere near the limits of our bikes or the track. We certainly lucked-out with our R15s, which Shumi aptly calls "a bike and a half". So much grip, so much capability with so little drama. It truly is a bike that makes the most modestly skilled look like heroes. I certainly felt like one.
I like to move it move it
Day two: confidence high, body-ache moderate. A cab was hired for the day. That's another thing about riding hard on the track: if it doesn't hurt the next day, you're doing it wrong. Riding hard is not comfortable, nor should it be. Ideally, one should be secure on a motorcycle using only one's lower body. Thighs gripping the tank tightly is key as attested to by the white paint on Shumi's leathers from his custom-painted R15. By this time, all of us were fairly familiar with the track, so the day began with a quick recap followed by a warm-up session on the track. We were warned that the tyres were cold, so to take it easy for a while. There's nothing quite like a slight squirm at the rear tyre when you're leaned over to remind you that Physics is alive and well and quite chummy with Murphy.
Tyres warmed up, we were off to explore new horizons, which is to say, do more of the same drills. While two days of basic instruction is clearly not enough to make you a local hero, it does tend to sift and sort levels of ability quite well. During the second day, it was becoming increasingly clear who the potential stars were and exactly how far behind in the talent curve I was. Shumi continued to lap me routinely, though with decreasing alacrity. The 'razing' boys from Chennai suddenly lost all fear of death -- mostly mine -- by hustling me on the insides of corners and the young pup showed us that you can grind off your boot till your socks show and not even notice. Some of these guys were scary good! And then we learned counter-steering.
You may have read the sport riding bibles, imbibed the knowledge, know 100 per cent that this is the way it's done, but doing it on the track will still cause involuntary bowel movements. This is why it's important to bring your own riding pants, kids! Counter-steering can be quite confounding because it feels so counter-intuitive. This is not to say that it's a vague theory -- you've been doing it all your riding life without being conscious of it. On the track, however, the aim is to do it in a smooth, if brief and decisive motion to get you and your bike pointed in the right direction.
Of the two days of TWO, I would peg this as the hardest concept to grasp and put into practice. IndiMotard's instructors stepped up their attention to our rising skill levels and continued to point out the flaws in our technique. Watching them lead you around with one hand on the bars with perfect line and technique is inspiring and humbling simultaneously. I had a fairly lively semantic discussion on what constitutes 'correctional braking', which led to an impromptu theory session followed by a live demo while sitting pillion. You can't put a price on this sort of thing.
At this point, basic technique and good form were becoming more natural and more fundamental problems were becoming visible in stark relief. In my case, vision and concentration were concerns. In order to go around a track quickly, one needs the right line and drive out of the corners. You can only achieve this by looking far ahead of where you are -- to the point where you need to be. Master this and you're going faster without even knowing it. It's harder than it looks and sounds, but works. I'll say it again: Shumi and I were lucky to be riding the most track-friendly mounts of the bunch. Our greatly increased speeds were now bumping up against the limitations of our bikes. The commuters were grinding various metal bits and the Fastest Indians were wallowing on their jelly-like suspensions.
The inevitable followed and one of the group went down on the famously fierce C1. Thankfully, there was little damage to rider or bike, but the yellow flag was enough to sober us up and one after the other the bunch quietly pulled into the pits. By this time, however, Shumi was actually trying to pass me as opposed to doing it by default.
Mama I'm coming home
Thanks to the unavailability of flights, we had a welcome night's rest before heading back to Mumbai. The more hardcore of the bunch just got back on their bikes and rode home, some more than a thousand kilometers. The TWO Track Day #5 was enlightening, exhilarating, humbling and scary. Riding on the track can be a bit of a touchstone for one's approach to life itself. It certainly was for me. Look ahead; don't be afraid; you can do it. Just bring a change of underwear.
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