When I did my ACU license test day to qualify for a road race license, I was surprised to find a number of people on the course who didn’t have any sort of road license. They had mostly only dirt bike experience. This got me thinking…
I followed what I would imagine is the most popular route through biking: dirt bike, small road bike, bigger road bike, very big road bike, trackdays, racing. I’m sure there are many variations on the theme, but typically riding on public roads is one of the first experiences of bikes a rider has.
But to me, I can’t think of a more hazardous place to try to have fun on a bike – and most of my road riding was for ‘sport’ and could be described as ‘spirited’, apart from commuting into London for a year (a CBF1000 can hardly be called ‘sport’…). I was one of 15 people who traversed Europe in search of WSBK and Moto GP every year with the lead pilot doing a steady 120mph and leaving the rest to keep up. I have had many a balls-out blast round Northern Ireland in my younger days and would be part of an annual contingent of riders who would rake up the West coast of Scotland every year with scant regard to any speed limit.
Now? The thought of such antics makes me quite ill. Some of that might be age and the heightened levels of self-preservation that come with it, but I think most of it is having had a lot of experience of the track. The controlled environment when everyone is on the same vehicle type, going the same direction, with known levels of adhesion and lookouts advising of any potential danger ahead makes the contrast with road riding quite alarming.
Something else that prompted me to consider alternative routes to motorcycling fun was being reminded that quite a few circuits in the UK have no requirement for a license – if you’re over 14 you are welcome. But even for the tracks that do need a license, getting a race license takes one day and requires nothing more than a bit of common sense and basic bike skills.
I wonder how many young people know that for a few quid they could be exploring the potential of a steelie CBR600 or a CB500 round some of the best tracks in the UK? Consider the costs of running and insuring a road bike compared to half a dozen track days each year, you’ve got to think running a track bike can’t be much more expensive? And think of just how much more skilled a youngster would be after 6 trackdays compared to a summer on the roads…
I think there should be serious consideration given to getting young people onto the track as their first steps to biking. Let’s make safe biking accessible for young kids. Educate parents that rather than being irresponsible, perhaps the most responsible thing they can do for a kid who is determined to get into bikes is to cart them and a cheap track hack to a few circuits and teach them real skills, let them explore the limitations of the bikes in a safe environment. When I look around me at trackdays, it is quite depressing noticing that at 42 I reckon I am still in the youngest 30% at any trackday. I don’t see nearly enough young people coming through.
A mix of motocross/enduro and closed circuit riding experience has to be the best preparation we can give anyone going into what I regard as the most dangerous environment for any rider – the open road.