5 Reasons Why Roadracers Give Up Street Riding

Personal bests, competition, camaraderie... photo: otmpix.com
Personal bests, competition, camaraderie… photo: otmpix.com

Most roadracers start out as street riders. But a lot of roadracers (and some track day riders) stop riding on the street after they begin riding on racetracks. Why is this?

  1. Riding on the street is dangerous. At first blush, you’d think racing motorcycles is way more risky than street riding. Even though roadracers ride at triple-digit speeds within inches of each other, everyone is going in the same direction and is alert, sober and competent. That can’t be said for the deaf, dumb and blind drivers that street riders must dodge on every ride. Add in poorly maintained roads, surface debris and other deadly hazards and the street rider is at a serious disadvantage compared to someone who rides only on closed courses. And if you’re into riding aggressively, doing so on the street is just asking for trouble. There are way too many variables that are beyond your control and if you go down, the chances of severe injury is higher than crashing in the controlled racetrack environment . The only place you should consider trying to achieve knee-dragging speeds is in the controlled environment of a racetrack. Besides being unsafe, you could end up in jail.
  2. photo: owenstrackdayphotos.com
    photo: owenstrackdayphotos.com

    Racers are Athletes. Racers treat motorcycling as a sport with all of the rewards that come with dedicating energy and resources to the goal of improving skills. Personal bests and measured improvement keep the racer coming back for more. Few activities match the satisfaction of trimming a tenth of a second from an already fast lap time. While riding a motorcycle on the street can be an athletic endeavor, it’s not the same.
  3. The thrill of competition trumps the freedom of the open road. The reason many people are drawn to motorcycling is the sense of freedom when gliding through the landscape at speed. Those who venture beyond their immediate surroundings discover the thrill of motorcycle travel and adventure. While those motivators are still relevant to the rider-turned-racer, they take a pillion seat to the challenge of pushing their motorcycle (and themselves) to the performance limit.
  4. Racing camaraderie runs deep. There is no doubt that many street riders find satisfying relationships with like-minded road-goers. Meet-ups at diners before a weekend ride or running into familiar faces at a rally can be the catalyst for new and long-lasting friendships. But, there is something very special about the relationships between people who share the ups and downs of an extreme sport like roadracing (or track day riding). One of the things that always brought me back to the track is the desire to re-connect with my track family. Those who are part of a race team enjoy a familial level of support that will last a lifetime. Awards banquets, garage parties and BBQs, as well as communal efforts to aid fallen riders help cement these relationships.
  5. Racers like mechanical challenges. Street riders check their tire pressures often (hopefully), but racers check them several times a day. Performance mods on street bikes are done mostly for fashion, but racebike mods are purposeful. Suspension and power delivery must be as precise as possible, which requires a deep knowledge of these systems (or the money to get help). Racers tweak, replace and adjust and then measure whether the modifications worked with the help of a lap timer.

I still enjoy street riding. A lot.
I still enjoy street riding. A lot.

It’s important to note that a large number of racers and even more track day riders still choose to ride on the street. I fall solidly under that category. I find that street riding (done well) is equally as challenging as riding fast on a racetrack.
Since most of this blog’s readers are street riders you may ask what the point is of this article? Well, I thought it would be of interest to regular street riders to get a glimpse of what makes racers and track day riders tick. It should also put into perspective just how risky street riding can be and prompt you to learn all you can about how to survive on the street. Maybe it will also stimulate some curiosity about taking a track day.
What am I missing? Add your comments below.
Remember that I moderate comments and it may take a few days to approve yours. But, rest assured, your voice will be heard.


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25 Replies to “5 Reasons Why Roadracers Give Up Street Riding”

  1. Street riding involves/requires skills and techniques that are totally unneeded on a track – namely involving risk assessment/management. To me, sharing the roads with other, shall we say, “less skilled” or “less attentive” vehicle operators is a large part of the challenge. On a track, you’re dealing with mostly-known conditions. On the street, everything is constantly changing and requires you to continually reassess the situation and the environment. I love it.

    1. Actually there is risk assessment/management involved with track riding, including judgment about passing. This is because we share the track with other riders. Fellow riders are not nearly as unpredictable as the general public, but you still need to be on your toes; especially because the speeds are higher.

      1. I agree Ken!
        Sometimes I enjoy riding in a slower group such as beginners as they tend to pack together. It makes passing a very strategic action, especially when you can’t pass on the inside of turns.

  2. People often say that riding on the track is safer than the street, but I can’t find objective evidence for that. Anecdotally it seems true, but are you aware of any study that compares the number and seriousness of track crashes to the number and seriousness of street crashes on a “per miles ridden” basis?
    I wonder if the track is actually safer, or maybe people just have a sense that it’s safer but don’t have an objective basis for that view?

    1. Comparing track riding and road riding is the epitome of comparing apples to oranges. While more crashes per mile ridden will occur on a racetrack compared to riding on the street, the chances of sustaining severe injuries on the street is typically higher. That’s because when we crash on the street we tend to hit other vehicles, guardrails or other roadside furniture.
      Crashing on the racetrack with good runoff or barrier protection rarely leads to severe injuries. Racers crash more because it involves pushing the limit. This will lead to loss of grip, or talent, or both as the rider pushes harder and harder as their skills progress.
      The takeaway is that if you are a conservative and safety-conscious rider, you can plan on many miles of event-free street riding enjoyment. However, if you ride fast and risky on the same street, your odds of getting hurt or killed are perhaps double (anecdotal).
      Conservative track day riders can also plan on injury-free miles. But the nature of riding on the track is to learn the limits, which increases risk. If you want to push the envelope, the racetrack, with its focus on rider safety (runoff, barrier protection and idling ambulances) is the smart place to do it.

      1. Makes sense – thank you. For any given level of of “aggression” in riding, the consequences of a mistake on the track are likely less than the consequences on the street.

      2. I have also never seen an unhelmeted, shorts wearing, flip-flop shod rider at a track day. That should be factored. There are two question i think.
        1. More likely to crash?
        2. More likely to be hurt (and how badly)?

    2. All I can say is I’ve seen multiple crashes every single time I’ve done a track day but luckily I’ve never once seen the ambulance leave the track headed to a hospital. I know 2 people that have died on the street this year alone and a few more that went to the hospital. I feel a ton safer on the track and i’m fairly new to it after riding street for 20 years

  3. Good points, Ken, open for discussion! Part of the risk assessment for me, ‘way back in my racing days, was the drive to and from the track, Loudon just a couple of hours, but then there was Daytona, VIR, Mosport and others, between 8 and 24 hours away, usually driving straight through, over night, swapping driver shifts, bikes packed in the van. So now I’m enjoying street riding exploring the northeast.
    As to maintenance for street riding, some of do a lot more than check tire pressures 🙂

  4. So in a nutshell, racers exhibit obsessive-compulsive personality traits: shaving off a tenth of a second, measuring tire pressure several times a day…
    I like to go speedily on my motorcycle, especially on roads I rehearsed well, but not at the limit. I like to coast to appropriate corner-entry speed, not brake hard in a split second to it. I like to ride through fall-color New England at speeds below which my field of vision narrows to a tunnel. I used to take my Porsche to the race track, and it was fun as far as it went. I don’t actually want to take my bike to the track.
    I do concede the points about “other drivers” and “road quality.” After going through a bump where I prayed it wouldn’t blow out my tires or bend my rims, I swore my next bike will be adventure touring. (I saw it in time and went through it on my pegs without upsetting the balance of the bike.)

    1. I do recommend track days for skill development, even more than for pure exhilaration. One or two track days with a good organization whose focus is on street rider training will advance your riding tremendously.

    2. Matthias, while I appreciate your opinion, I wouldn’t call the behaviors Ken described obsessive-compulsive. It’s not obsession or compulsion that brings a racer to do things like check tire pressures multiple times per day – it’s the desire to perform better, to get the most out your machine, and to learn from your experiences.

  5. Thanks for this article. I discovered track riding last year and have done five track days this year(so far). I have found the more time I spend at the track, the less interested I am in street riding. This is for many of the reasons stated in the article.
    Living in Southern California we have an abundance of distracted, aggressive and just plain bad drivers. The traffic here is notoriously bad and people are short tempered and only concerned with getting where they are going. That combination makes for a dangerous recipe.
    At the track I can do what I really want to do, which is explore the limits of the machine and my skills. (I have yet to meet a machine whose limits far exceed my skills. 🙂
    I know have a track bike and two street bikes in my garage and the track bike gets used the most. I still enjoy some riding on the street, but at a far more relaxed pace than I had before discovering the track.
    I would advise everyone who can to participate in at least one track day for all of the reasons mentioned in the article. Additionally, you will become a better street rider based on what you learn at the track. It’s not just about going fast, but that sure is a great added benefit.

    1. Sorry, I meant to say I’ve yet encountered a machine where my skills were even close to matching the capabilities of the machine.

  6. Great article Ken. When I was ‘coming up’ as a street rider, I couldn’t fathom why some of my buddies started PAYING to ride their motorcycles on a track. The roads outside our houses were free! Then I tried a trackday, and understood how cool it was…but still enjoyed getting my “free” time out in the country. Buddies started racing (even more expensive, gah!)….ok, let me try it just to say I did it.
    Now, nearly four full race seasons later, I can’t imagine *not* doing racing. My street miles have indeed tapered off; but also because the other facets of daily life often overcome free time nowadays. While not for everyone, racing – especially #3 and #4 for me – is immeasurably rewarding.

  7. I have found that the hand full of track days I have done this season have improved my road riding skills tremendously. I have found that it has actually slowed me down on the street and made me a safer and more aware road rider and if I want to really push the limits I can do it in a safe controlled environment on the track. Also there are many riders with allot more talent and knowledge at the track that are more than willing to give you pointers on how improve and be safer.

  8. I love to see this article, as I am constantly explaining this to other riders. I hardly ride on the street anymore (actually, I don’t own a street legal bike at the moment). Mainly I ride on the street to meet other new riders and introduce them to the track.
    One other major point for me is that once I rode on the track, street riding lost it’s appeal. I fall into the category of riding for the rush, for the edge, to find the limit… Once you ride at pace on a race track, the street is no longer fun for most riders I work with because it’s so incredibly dangerous to get anywhere near the speed it takes to feel the rush that street riding just loses it’s appeal and riders generally just anxiously wait for their next track day.

  9. I got into racing to make me a better street rider. It did that. But now I find that I rarely ride around my home town of Chicago for pleasure. Dodging cell phone slaves while going from stop light to stop light just isn’t fun any more. I still prefer the bike for commuting but if I’m not leaving town to go to a race or a practice day I’m leaving town to go ride somewhere that isn’t a big city.

  10. After riding with Ken and TTD multiple times in the past few years I have to say that my street riding has dwindled. Having open, smooth asphalt with no chance of encountering oncoming traffic, wildlife, potholes, and all the other hazards that come with street riding makes track riding much more appealing. I have also found myself spending more time offroad or on roads that are much less traveled on an enduro bike and would say that the reward of honing those required skills is equal to the rewards of honing track riding skills. I will always have a bike for street riding and will always enjoy it but it will never be the same after discovering track riding.

  11. If you make every ride a race, yes, you do belong on a track. I however like to ride at a good pace but nowhere near race track pace. Other days I plunk along back roads on my dual sport, pulling over for traffic so I don’t hold them up. I did my race track days, many, many race track miles, in competition, before there were track days. Even then I rode on the street. My street bike and race bike were one and the same. I couldn’t afford two bikes at the time. Now I have 5, 🙂

  12. I find one reason i ride less on the street now, has much to do with slow vehicals and a dearth of corners. I have to ride at least an hour to get to anything resembling corners. When i FINALLY get there, i am invariably cock blocked by 4 wheeled sloths. Let them on a head you say! By the time you do, another sloth assumes the position. Hours spent with at best the payoff being a few corners taken at 60%.
    To the track! Alas most track days don’t allow anything but a pure horsepower fueled pass. On my little SV this can resemble my street riding experience. Unlike the street though we have no oncoming traffic. Use all the track and drive it out hard praying you can get to the next corner first! Even if you get powered past, there is great solac in the fact that
    1. It did not take an hour to get to 3 corners.
    2. If you get held up you have about 2 minutes to try again.
    3. Another motorcycle is still a lot easier to pass that a wide car on a road with blind corners and oncoming traffic.
    I still sport ride on street and on track these days. Sport riding on unknown roads is the thrill of judgement, skills and discovery (the thrill of a real fight with real risks and navigating it victoriously). The track is about pursuit of performance perfection (sparing against a partner, honing the skillz).

  13. First let me say that I rarely if ever ride on the street anymore.
    Too much traffic, too many variables. With all that said, I absolutely agree with the notion that the only real similarity between the track and the street is that they are both asphalt and there are two wheels.
    At the track, the same corner comes up every minute and a half or so.
    You can work on it, try different lines, braking/turn-in points, etc.
    This is simply impossible on the street.

    1. I do think that the physical and visual skills one learns on the track translate into a safer rider on the street…provided he/she respects the limits of the street environment.

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