Why You Need to Touch a Knee Calabogie

"Later in the afternoon, I achieved my two goals: I touch a knee down and also break the 3 minute barrier!"

“The tire still has lots of tread on it.”

I’m talking on the phone with one of the staff members of Turn 2, the organization running the motorcycle racing school at Calabogie Motorsports Park, just outside of Ottawa. My wife  and I signed up for an exhilarating weekend of riding our street bikes on a racetrack, in addition to getting lessons on how to get around the track as quick as possible! 

Note: The company we got lessons from is no longer offering classes. At Calabogie, Pro 6 Cycle operates Track Days where you can bring your bike and ride. They have expert riders and mechanics on staff, but do not offer formal training. If you are looking for a class, try the nearby Fast Riding School operating out of Shannonvile Sports Park.

This is something we both have been talking about doing for awhile—you know, “someday.” As the saying goes, “There are only seven days in a week, and ‘someday’ is not one of them.”

My bike is a black Yamaha FZ1 and hers is a deep red Suzuki SV650. Kim’s bike is more of a sport bike than mine, the riding position is more leaned over, a more aggressive riding position, while mine is more upright. Even though mine has more cc’s (1000), hers is more suited for track riding.

Happy racers at Calabogie. 

“It’s not the tread depth that matters, but the roundness of the tire. You will want a tire that will allow you to flick the bike over from one side to the other, quickly and easily.” he replies.

Since the majority of street riding is done on straight roads, bike tires tend to wear more in the centre. This creates a bit of a flat spot. I did not want to spend the money on a new rear sport bike tire unless I really needed to (they are not cheap). But it sounds like to get the most fun out this weekend, only a proper “round” tire will do. That is all you have between you and the racetrack after all. I dig deep and spend the cash on a new one. This weekend may never happen again, so I want to get the most out of it.

As well as good tires, there were a few other items on the list on prepping our bikes for the weekend. All the turn signals and lights had to be taped up. This is in case someone does crash, the organizers don’t want pieces of glass strewn all over the track. Then the antifreeze has to be drained and replaced with water. Apparently, ethylene-glycol, the active ingredient that keeps your bike's cooling system from turning into solid ice over the winter, is very slippery. If someone crashes and punctures a radiator hose, etc, they don't want this liquid ice all over the asphalt. That would be a disaster for anyone following said crashed bike. No one wants a multi-bike pile up on a race track. All mirrors had to be removed too. Not just because of the glass, but because you are not supposed to look behind when you are flying at race speeds. The last item on the list is taping up the speedometer. But why? I want to know how fast I can get my bike down the back straight!  

“Exactly,” the organizer said, “that’s the last place we want you to be looking, when you should be looking for your braking marker. The next corner comes up really fast at speed.” Makes sense. “Besides, we have you on radar, you can see your top speed, as well as your lap time, on the monitor in the classroom after.” Very cool!

I had two goals this weekend. One was to put a knee down. If you’ve ever watched a motorcycle race, that’s when the racer is riding in a corner, they have the bike leaned so far over, that their knee touches the pavement. This allows them to better gauge how far over they really are. You will notice they have “pucks” on their knees and all those pucks have scrapes on them from touching down. 

The other goal was to complete a lap time of less than 3 minutes. This important time was set by our course instructor as a goal to shoot for. A time that I found out later, was not so easy to beat, even with all my years of riding!

With our bikes loaded up in my truck, we made the drive to Calabogie. We already had booked a hotel for the weekend, so accommodations were all set.

Loaded up and ready for a weekend of racing. 

The next morning, we pulled into the track. We find someone that looks official and they tell us where to unload our bikes and where to register. We are signed up for ARC 1, Advanced Riding Course #1. There are 3 courses with the highest level just for riders that plan on professional racing. Once that is completed, we need to get fitted for our racing leathers. We have our own helmets, which we can use. We always wear proper riding gear, but they require the pants and jackets to zip together. Ours does not. That’s OK, with us in full race attire, it will boost our confidence and the pictures will look great!

We take a seat in the classroom (without the riding gear) and our instructors introduce themselves. They are ex-professional racers! We are impressed and even more excited since if anyone knows their way around a racetrack, it will be these guys. They brief us on what to expect in the next two days, and what the rules are, how much classroom time vs track time. The issue they stressed the most was safety! They don't want anyone to get hurt, or to crash their bikes. The next item was attitude. Everyone in this room is here for the same experience, to learn and have fun, in a safe and controlled manner. Anyone not obeying the rules on the track will be kicked out immediately. No exceptions!

No Rear Brake?! and the layout of the track at Calabogie

Calabogie is a massive track outside Ottawa with loads of amenities. 

On the wall, there is a  large picture of the layout of the track. Each corner has a number. Some have a wide turning radius and some are very tight. A few techniques are discussed about cornering and one they really stressed was, to go around a corner as quickly as possible, you have to look way up the track before you get to the corner. You can’t go fast if you look just in front of your tire. When entering a corner, you should be looking up the track after the corner, preparing for the next one. That will take some getting used to. While discussing braking techniques, he says that this weekend we  will only use the front brake! No rear at all. The reasoning is that approx 70% of your effective braking comes from the front. The other reason is that when you are leaned over into a corner and use the rear brake, it has a tendency to want to push the bike vertical, which will upset your bike.

The morning is all classroom. After lunch, we hit the track! We gear up, fire up our bikes and meet the instructor on his bike at the gate to the track. We will be riding follow-the-leader style, following the instructor single file to learn the racing “line” of the track. The racing line is the fastest way around the track. Adrenaline is pumping!

We ride a few loops of the track, return to the classroom, review techniques, ask a few questions, and head back out on the track and repeat.

competing for space and first place

Kim and I on the track. Loving it!

The track is busy, there are other groups there, but when we are on it, we get the whole track to ourselves! As usual, when you get two or more bikes together, there is some competition brewing. A couple of young guns on 600cc sport bikes have been on my tail. Since you are only allowed to pass on the straights, they try to get by me, but are no match to my 1000 ccs! They do catch me later in the corners, since their sport bikes are much more track-ready, but I leave them behind in the straights. After one of the track sessions, one of them approaches me and says that my 600 is really fast and they keep trying to catch me, but just can’t quite do it. I just smile and keep the secret of the size of my bike to myself.

Later in the afternoon, I achieved my 2 goals: I touch a knee down and also break the 3 minute barrier! I’m pretty stoked about this and I get a high-five from my wife. One of the instructors congratulates me. He then pulls my wife aside and says to her that he is going to help her do a lap faster than mine! So the rest of the afternoon, the instructor completely ignores me and they plot their strategy to beat me. When we finish a track session, the instructor teases me by saying Kim is soon going to catch, and pass, my time. This is a fun rivalry and I do really hope she beats the 3 minute lap time (but not mine!)

After our day has finished, we head back to our hotel, shower and find a place to eat. (Calabogie also offeres onsite accomodations including deluxe suites and basic bunks if you're interested.) The day was definitely exhilarating and the conversation is just buzzing! She was just seconds from hitting the 3 minute time and was confident that it would happen tomorrow. We went back to the hotel and figured we better wind it down and get some much needed rest.

We woke up Sunday morning to… rain. Crap. The previous day was so amazing, and we were pumped to do it again, but this really dampened our spirits. Literally! We drive over to the track, our bikes sitting in a gated area, out in the rain. As we walk into the classroom, the faces of all the other riders look just like ours. 

The instructors come into the room with smiles on their faces. What could they be so happy about? Would they not rather be riding than sitting in the classroom all day? 

track riding in the rain: “This is a good thing. Trust me.”

“Good morning. You are all so lucky to have a rain day. Today, you will learn so much about traction, control of your bikes, and to trust your tires.” We look at each other. Confused.

“So, we are riding in this weather?” A question a fellow rider asked that we are all thinking about.

“Definitely!” He could see the response on our faces was not as positive as his. We were pretty apprehensive about ripping around a wet race track!

“This is a good thing. Trust me.”

A hand goes up: “So what about braking, do we still use just the front brake? 

“Yes, nothing changes. You will be surprised at how much grip your tires have. Except you, Tony, unless you brought an extra set of street tires, you won’t be able to ride with your racing slicks.” Tony was the guy that was chasing me yesterday. Too bad, that was a fun rivalry we had. Just then I recalled making the decision to purchase that new rear tire and now I’m really glad I did!

My new back tire turned out to be an excellent investment. 

Our classroom training discussion was about proper braking and cornering when the track, or road, is wet. As you approach a corner, you want to be prepared for it and start braking earlier, adding a little more pressure on the lever as you get closer to it. The key is to be smooth without any sudden movements with braking or steering.

Feeling a little more confident, our group suits up, get our bikes and meet the instructor. The rain has slowed substantially, but the track is still very wet. We are going to repeat the start of yesterday, riding in single file behind the instructor at a slower pace so everyone can get the feel of our tires on the wet. I’ve ridden in the rain before, but it was on a highway in traffic. At least here, there are no cars around me!

Every lap is a bit faster, the instructor increasing the pace each time. Before I know it, we are all just flying around the track! Our confidence is up and we are having fun again! Who knew riding a motorcycle in the rain would return smiles behind the helmet!

After a couple sessions around the track, we return to the classroom to review our techniques and view our lap times on the monitor. We are all amazed how fast we were riding and how close our times were compared to yesterday in the dry. The lesson learned? Trust your tires.

An epic weekend at Calabogie

Our weekend at Calabogie Motorsports Park was one that will stick in our minds forever. The experience gained will be beneficial when street riding, especially on wet roads. 

So I’m sure you are wondering, did Kim beat my time? Not quite, and we can fairly blame the wet conditions. Had the second day been dry, I’m sure Kim and “her” instructor would be high-fiving.


About Randy Smith

Randy Smith moved to Manitoulin Island to slow life down and embrace "island time." He is a motorcycle rider, writer, photographer, and outdoor enthusiast—on 2 feet or 2 wheels. 

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