If you think you know how to ride motorcycles, try Flat Track
I accepted that it wouldn’t be long before I got to the track. My only goal was not to break anything. On my body, it is. I classified the motorcycles as probable victims. Either way, the 411cc Royal Enfield Himalayan and I ended the day with all of our appendages intact.
As an underdog, flat track racing is terrifying. Cyclists launch their bikes on dirt roads at alarming speeds, projecting their body weight, sliding the rear wheels while sliding their left foot to stabilize the slide in the turns. It’s a manic art. I have to try it firsthand at Royal Enfield Snow School, thanks to an invitation from Progressive American Flat Track Series.
The end result of my half-day school didn’t look much like the races seen by the awesome pro flat-trackers who taught me. But it left me with great appreciation for the intense dance the riders do as they slide their bikes out of the corners.
And it really is a dance.
“I’m Sitting What I Call ‘Crack On Crack'”, School Instructor And American Flat Track Runner Johnny lewis said. “Your butt is on the right side of the seat. You will really feel like you are sitting on the edge of the seat. This allows you to lean the motorcycle a bit more, and when you lean your body will stay straight. You are not going to lean like a road racer because when you lean you take weight off the tires, the traction and the bike is going to want to slide.
This was only a small part of how Lewis explained body positioning on a flat track motorcycle. Then there’s what makes the flat track instantly recognizable. You know. The thing that drags its feet.
“We stepped outside as a rudder. That’s what helps us turn, ”Lewis said. “If the track is really hip and you don’t have to spin the bike a lot, guys don’t go too far. If it’s a little slippery and you really need to spin the bike, you’ll see some guys really sticking their leg out… The leg is what turns the bike around when we really need to spin that bike.
All of this is much easier said than done.
The closest thing the physicality of flat-tracking has reminded me of is ballet. When I approached a corner and prepared for a slide, I had to make sure that my left knee was bent enough, that the foot below was ready to touch the ground with the right angle, and that my right elbow was pointing upward while trying to counterbalance the bike with the rest of my body. Oh, while also remembering to watch where I need to place the bike and modulate the throttle.
Imagine what it feels like to try to handle it all in your head as you approach a two-wheel turn over dirt at 50 mph. It’s a lot, and scary as hell. Then you have to try to figure out where the track is going and where the ever-changing grip is under your tires.
“Most people get on the track and just do a big circle,” Lewis said. “They don’t really know how to make straights off the track, they don’t know the turns. The fast way is to try and make it as long as possible right away. Trying to figure out the trail is the hardest thing. We know how to drive motorcycles. It’s just really trying to figure out these leads. So many variables are thrown at us in such a short time.
My biggest problem was finding comfort with increased speed. For the class, we kept our Himalayans mainly in first and second gear. It doesn’t sound like a lot of speed, but when you’re on an unfamiliar motorcycle with foreign tires and inconsistent levels of grip, those speeds are intimidating.
When you get it right, it’s an unbeatable feeling. I wish I had more time to try and master my choreography on a flat track, but for now I’m happy to admire runners like Lewis from behind the fence. And if you haven’t seen a flat track in action, go to a AFT race next year and change that.
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