Why you should learn flat-track moto racing this year

Bike look small? The Yamaha TTR 125 is just right for working on your skills. And, as an fyi, the writer (numberplate, #6) is 6'2". Photo: Brian J. Nelson

Bike look small? The Yamaha TTR 125 is just right for working on your skills. Photo: Courtesy of Brian J. Nelson

Flat-track racing is like Kansas meets motocross: lots of challenging turns, but totally flat. Since your wheels stay on the ground, you can concentrate on turning technique without having to worry about sticking the landing. More importantly, staying on the ground gives riders more time to learn the finer points of one of the best feelings on two wheels: getting sideways.

When snowboard and mountain biking legend Shaun Palmer took the course, he reportedly said, “Now I know why people spend their whole lives racing flat track, making no money: It’s the best feeling in the world!”

Two days long, flat-track school American Supercamp is conducted at locations around the country throughout the year. They offer intensive training, a loaner motorcycle and all the riding gear you need during their sessions.

Small classes at American Supercamp translates to lots and lots of track time. Photo: Brian J. Nelson

Small classes at American Supercamp translates to lots and lots of track time. Photo: Courtesy of Brian J. Nelson

I participated in an accelerated half-day version with a handful of other journalists. Not only was it fun, but I walked/hobbled away (more on that later) a better rider.

The four-hour session started with a quick intro from the school’s founder, Danny Walker, who started flat-track racing in the ’70s. A salt-of-the-earth, no-B.S. guy, he emphasized that the class was all about giving us “more tools in the toolbox” to make us better riders.

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Walker also gave us the down-low on the motorcycles we’d be riding: Yamaha TTR 125s. Just 175 pounds, the TTRs are perfect for learning to get comfortable with putting the bike sideways because so much of motorcycling is about traction control. Producing a paltry 10 horsepower -- largely because flat track focuses on coming into a corner fast and maintaining some speed -- the bike’s braking system is a mix of modern and antiquated tech: a disc brake up front and a drum brake in the rear.

The writer works on his technique, sans wheels and motor, while an instructor looks on. Photo: Brian J. Nelson

The writer works on his technique, sans wheels and motor, while an instructor looks on. Photo: Courtesy of Brian J. Nelson

Supercamp is the steering samba of motorcycling: So much of what you do, you do with your hips. And much of our class was spent on exercises to work on this, ranging from riding an engine-less bike on a rocker to learn how to really lean into a turn to actually riding, doing figure-eights with one hand on the bars and the other on the gas tank. We got plenty of track time.

On the dirt, there were a few teachers who took turns letting us tail them so we could follow their line and see when we should start braking. The instructors, who all had impressive racing resumés, also would tail us, shouting pointers about our form and/or technique.

The writer working his way through a turn as a coach follows, shouting instructions. Photo: Brian J. Nelson

The writer working his way through a turn as a coach follows, shouting instructions. Photo: Courtesy of Brian J. Nelson

One challenge? Rider form is enough to make a Pilates teacher cry: slouching way back and away, into the rear tire. Unlike regular riding, an engaged core is no bueno on the TTR. It’s all about the slouching samba, using your hips and lower body with a healthy bit of upper-body input from your arms.

In four hours, we all laid the bike down at least once -- one rider more than a dozen times. And after only a few hours on the bike, most riders reported being sore for days, since we were using muscles that you don’t use in other activities.

Not quite sideways, but working on it. Photo: Brian J. Nelson

Not quite sideways, but working on it. Photo: Courtesy of Brian J. Nelson

But the next time I got on my street bike, I could feel the effects in the form of more confidence as well as better technique. After being elbow to elbow in a few turns, I was calmer in sketchy situations. I had only one worry: How could I return to the full two-day camp?

With courses for flat-track newbies as well as experienced racers, there just may be one near you this year. American Supercamp released part of their annual calendar, and they’ll be hosting camps in City of Industry, California; Harrington, Delaware; and Fort Collins, Colorado.

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