Better riding – flat track drifting

Discussion in 'Riding Advice' started by Simon, Dec 9, 2016.

  1. Simon

    Simon Professional storyteller
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    The Champions Flat Track School is one of the UK’s best kept secrets. Run by the godfather of flat tracking, Lincolnshire’s own Peter Boast, this is the place where the cream of racing come to practice their skills. Italy has Valentino’s Ranch, America has Colin Edwards’ Texas Tornado Boot Camp and Spain has Marc Marquez’s Oval, but Guy Martin, Sam and Alex Lowes, Steve Plater, Josh Waters and a host of other leading racers have all been to Caenby to sharpen their bike control and racecraft under the expert tutelage of Pete. That tells you just how good he is…

    There’s no doubt flat tracking has massively influenced bike racing since King Kenny Roberts came to Grand Prix racing and put his own stamp on it, winning three world titles with his sideways style and impeccable bike control. And the importance of being able to slide a bike continues today, with nearly every top level rider using the dirt to keep themselves at the top of their game. So just how useful is flat tracking for the average road? Pete Boast invited us to the Champions Flat Track School to find out.

    I’m still bleary eyed as I pull into the farm in Caenby, and the cold is doing nothing for the metal work in my feet. Winter is well and truly here, and it’s not far off freezing. It may be cold, but the welcome couldn’t be warmer as Pete, Jackie and Geoff greet us like old friends. After a warming cup of coffee and a quick chat, it’s down to business and once the obligatory paperwork is out of the way Pete introduces us to our bikes, a mix of 100cc and 125cc Hondas, which have been lowered and are running on smooth tyres.

    “It doesn’t matter if you ride the 100cc or 125cc, they’re pretty much the same, and you won’t feel any difference on the oval. The only difference is the smaller bikes are kick start. Why do we use small capacity machines? Simple – they allow you to master the basics without being intimidating. And they’re a lot of fun.”

    There’s a wide range of riders here today, from people with no experience at all such as Paul and myself, to amateur flat track racers such as Adrian, right the way up to up-and-coming road racers such as Franco. It’s an eclectic mix and the atmosphere is electric.

    Trepidation builds as Pete and Geoff give us a demonstration, rear kicking out as they slam on the back brake and dig their left leg into the dirt. They make it look easy, effortless even, and the grin on their faces when they remove their helmets says everything. Bring it on…

    After getting our steel shoes cable-tied on, we’re quickly split into two groups, and I’m put under Geoff’s watchful eyes.

    The first lesson of the day is body position, and already I feel out of my depth.

    “Push the bike away from you, move your arse so it’s on the outside of the seat and opposite to the corner you’re tipping into. Keep your elbows up and your upper body still. Let the bike move underneath you, don’t go with it.”

    Geoff makes it sound simple, but it’s counter-intuitive to everything I do on the road. After a couple of runs of swerving through a line of cones it’s clear I’m struggling to let go of my road riding habits.

    Next up is throttle control, and we’re told to ride figure of eights. Again it sounds easy, but controlling a bike on the throttle alone is harder than you’d think. But a smooth throttle is the key to all riding, and soon we’re getting bigger lean angles as we dart around our little track.

    The third lesson of the day is sticking the left leg out and using it as a third point of contract with the ground. Geoff says: “You really need to dig it in. Later on it will make more sense, but it’s effectively a third point of contact with the dirt, and if you lose traction on a wheel, you can use your left leg to hold the bike up. So long as your left leg is out and down, you won’t crash.”

    It’s tiring, much more tiring than it should be, and even after this five-minute drill my leg is aching. It still feels like I haven’t got the hang of flat tracking yet, and as the drills start to build on lessons learnt previously, I’m struggling to put everything together. I eventually get it right for two laps, but just when I start to feel like I’ve got it, my body position goes to pot and I start running horribly wide. There’s still work to be done.

    The next drills sees us using the back brake to get the bike to slide into the corners. This is something we all struggle with, and we’re either guilty of dragging the brake for too long, or not braking hard enough.

    After a quick couple of laps I pull in for a pep talk from Geoff, and when I head back out it starts to make sense. You can really stamp on the back brake, and by doing this, pushing the bike away from you and sticking your left leg out, you can really get the bike cranked over as you slide your way around the cone. Yes, you’re only going left, but your brain is working over time trying to manage the holy trinity of throttle control, brake and lean. “You need to be either on the brake or on the throttle. As soon as you’ve finished braking you need to be on the throttle. Your leg is managing the slide, stopping the front from tucking.”

    We then move from our smaller oval to the big oval and start putting all the drills together. It’s hard work, and leaving your leg dangling quickly becomes tiring. I pick it up in an effort to reduce the pain and that’s when it happens – I tip in to the turn at the top of the course, tuck the front and spin the bike, throwing me off in a slow motion pirouette. I dust myself off, jump back on and in a couple of laps it happens again. And then again a lap later. I can’t stop laughing.

    Geoff runs over and explains what I’ve done wrong. “You’re being too greedy with the gas. And you’ve stopped sticking your left leg out. You’ve come in hard, and then made the bike unstable by asking for too much throttle, too soon. If you’d had your leg out, you’d have saved it, but you didn’t, so the front of the folded.”

    Pretty soon most of us have tumbled, but by exploring the limits of grip we’re already starting to push ourselves and the bikes, and we’re learning about what’s possible, and the limits of adhesion.

    And then things get really interesting when Pete decides to water the track.

    “This will let you experience riding on looser ground, and you’ll feel the bike moving about more. You’ll have to be super smooth with the controls, and your inputs on the bike, and you may have to change your lines. Basically you’ll have to start again, reading the track and judging the grip levels.”

    He’s right. The track feels loose, my arms begin to tighten and my lean angle and speed decreases. But after a few laps I’ve judged the conditions and my pace increases. I’ve got this.

    The final session sees both groups head out on the track, and passing is allowed. The kids are flying – tireless, smooth and fearless – while the adults are starting to flag. I feel frazzled, body struggling to obey my brain’s instructions, and my muscles are aching in places I’ve never experienced pain. But I’m still smiling; we all are.

    The day finishes when it’s dark. I genuinely can’t believe how much time we’ve had on the bike, how much we’ve all come on and how much fun you can have in second gear.

    Pete’s still full of energy, and as enthusiastic as ever. He says: “I love this. Every day is different – different abilities, different personalities and different aims for the day. We get all kinds coming here, from the complete novice to the experienced racer, and they all end up leaving with more knowledge, and a big grin on their faces. It’s what makes it so special.”

    Is it worth it? Absolutely. It’s a steal. You’ll improve your bike control, your confidence and you’ll realise just how capable a bike really is. And because you’ll be tackling the same corners over and over again you’ll learn how to read the feedback from the bike, and just how much you have in hand when you’re on the road– it’s amazing just how far you can really lean a bike should you have to (a crucial skill when you’ve misread a corner).

    WANT TO TRY IT FOR YOURSELF?

    Pete Boast is a racer through and through. The 2009 European and British Flat Track Champion, Pete has also raced at the highest level at BSB and on the roads. He’s also a guest road tester for Bike magazine and a trackday instructor with MSV and the Ron Haslam Race School.

    He runs his school throughout the year, and has both indoor and outdoor courses. For more information, or to book your own flat track experience, visit www.flattrackschool.co.uk or call 01507 313590.
     

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