Take It to the Track: The tips and gear you need to start racing

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Every office has that cheesy motivational poster that says, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing for failure.” “Office Space” flashbacks aside, when it comes to your first track day, preparation is crucial. But more than just going fast, a track day gives you the opportunity to be a part of one of the best communities of motorcycling that will help you even if you don’t have the tools or experience. The track will also provide you with an experience you can’t replicate anywhere else on the street.

Choose a School

Whether it’s your first time at the track or your 50th, you’re going to need to find a host to go through. For my first track day, I chose Superbike Track Time (STT) after a strong recommendation from my dealer at Motoworks Chicago. Ask your dealer too – they often have the contacts and experience needed to find the perfect host for you.

For my first excursion, I rode up to Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI on a day so hot it would make the devil sweat bullets. I also came seriously unprepared to a very serious racetrack. Upon riding into pit road with nothing more than a backpack with some tools and water, I noticed that everyone else was prepared with trailers, tools, tents, and everything else needed to go throughout the day. Not a calming start to the day.

One Big Fast Family

Luckily, this is where the community aspect comes in. Upon seeing my lack of tools, knowledge, and experience, the guys from Trackdaymag.com took me under their wing. With their help, I was able to quickly learn what and what not to do on a track day. And everyone there was just as friendly. Racing is a seriously dangerous hobby, but this shared threat binds this group together. So even if you don’t come completely prepared, someone will help you through so that you can pay it forward when you see someone that shows up unprepared.

The Uniform of Speed

The one thing I did come prepared with was the proper gear needed for my first track excursion. Some track schools, like STT, have leathers you can rent for the day free of charge, but for those looking to do more track days, or are even semi-experienced, Alpinestars has a range of gear that you can call your own without breaking the bank.

A race suit is necessary for the track, but can get pricey. Alpinestars offers a two-piece that compromises on price but not quality. Built with all the necessary armor and reinforcements, the Carver is a great alternative to a one-piece suit. If it’s your first time wearing leathers, prepare to regret that last Big Mac you ate. The fit is good, but if you’re not cut like a pro racer, it’s not flattering. Use it as motivation to hit the gym; I know I will.

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Passenger Protection: Icon has the gear needed to keep the person on the back of the bike safe

The dream of motorcycling is an open road, a rumbling exhaust, and a supermodel on the back with flowing blonde hair. With this image in mind, you buy a bike and then go on the lookout for a companion for the back. Often times, you may be successful, but although your girl’s high heels and dress may be suitable for a night out, they aren’t for riding a bike. So, what’s a person to do? Icon has the solution. They make the gear that your girlfriend will not only want to wear, but will keep her safe too.

There is extra pressure when someone is your passenger, but that’s no excuse not to include them. Riding pillion opens your significant other to the why behind the ride. They can experience for themselves the rush of riding a bike. We don’t just buy bikes because they are good to look at, but others don’t understand how fun they can be if they don’t experience it for themselves. Plus, once your passenger is comfortable, there will be no need to take the car out. They’ll be begging for the bike. But first, make sure they’re properly geared up.

Helmets for Her

For helmets, they have a variety of liveries and designs with females in mind. For this test, we used an Alliance helmet. You may recognize this piece from the last article we did, reason being is that it is a perfect all-around helmet for street use. It’s cheap, it’s protective and it’s light. This time around, we picked an Alliance helmet that has been slathered in Barbie pink from front to back.

The design is Chrysalis, but from my girlfriend’s reaction, they should call it OMG PINK!!! If your girlfriend is the glitter and pink type, get the helmet. It’s Disney princess approved and offers the same protection and comfort as the helmet on your head too.

Plus, the design will make her want to wear a full-face helmet. No complaints about their hair getting messed up, or how hot it may be. Get a design they like, pink or not, and they will want to wear the lid. Girlfriend’s not a pink fan? Have her pick out a design from the dozen of choices Icon has.

Suit Her Up

Icon’s jacket choices take their female options past just making it pink, however. Case in point: the One Thousand Federal Jacket. Part of the One Thousand collection, this jacket leaves off flashy graphics and logos for a subdued, vintage vibe. All leather, this jacket is more Black Widow than Disney Princess. The best part is that the jacket has D3O armor in the shoulders, elbows and back.

For those unfamiliar, D3O is a special type of foam that is soft when at rest, but upon impact, firms up. Because of the dual nature of the material, the armor can be slimmer and more comfortable – just another example of form and function combining at last.

Remember to get you girlfriend involved in the decision process, though. For as much as I loved the jacket, my girlfriend found it heavy and ungainly. Forgetting that she isn’t used to motorcycle gear, it will take her some time to adjust, but comfort is a top priority in order to keep your passengers to feel confident on the bike. That’s why she loves her Contra jacket that is lighter, made of fabric, but does not offer the D3O.

The One Thousand Federal is a premier motorcycle jacket with a cost to match, but you don’t need to spend a lot to make your girlfriend happy. She’ll be happy with the gear she chooses rather than the choice you give her.

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Like Steve McQueen: Triumph Bonneville brings 60s cool to the new millennium

The Triumph Bonneville is etched into motorcycle lore. When it was created in 1957, it was one of the world’s fastest bikes. The epitome of fast and loud, it’s the original bad boy bike from across the pond. In 2001, Triumph brought it back for a new generation, but times have changed. The superbike of yesteryear is but a mildly fast ride today; that doesn’t mean that the bike has lost any of its legendary qualities though. So, can a retro-styled bike deliver an exhilarating riding experience without the latest tech and stratospheric horsepower numbers? In short, yes it can.

The Bonneville comes in three separate trims depending on how much you have to spend and the look you are going for. The Base and SE have cast wheels, and the SE adds two-tone paint and a tachometer. The T100 adds wire wheels, a different two-tone paint scheme and more chrome for a definite ‘60s vibe. The Scrambler is styled like a vintage desert sled and the Thruxton looks like a café racer of old. For this test, I took out the base Bonneville, no frills and no extras, to see how it performs.

Classic looks revisited

The Bonneville is not just a motorcycle, but a snapshot in time. Mods vs. Rockers, café racers, swinging ‘60s, Steve McQueen, Bob Dylan; the Triumph Bonneville was around during a truly exciting period in culture and history. To bring this look back may seem like a no-brainer, but it carries a certain amount of risk in that it can’t be a carbon copy or too different than the original. The base Bonneville strikes a good balance. Its cast wheels bring the look up to around the mid-70s, but don’t age the bike too much compared to modern machinery. And like your boomer parents, the Bonneville is plumper today than it was back then both visually and on the scales.

Park anywhere, though, and you might as well be stepping out of a time machine. People continually ask not where to get the bike, but how old is it, where to get one restored, and how much it costs. Slathered in gold paint, the vintage look is played up, but people are honestly surprised when you tell them it’s brand new; and for much less than they think. You can walk out the door with a brand new base Bonneville for $7699. However, all the good looks in the world are useless if the Bonnie is not an engaging ride. All other retro bikes lean on their classic looks to not provide a modern riding experience, but does the Triumph do the same?

Do the ton, eventually

Motivated by an 865cc parallel-twin, the Bonneville has the same type of motor as it did all those years ago, but with more displacement. The powerplant boasts 67hp, 50lb. ft. of torque attached to a five-speed transmission, but those are just numbers. In real life, this means more thrust than your average cruiser, but not enough to warp you into another dimension like the Diavel we just tested.

For all the heritage and history, though, the motor doesn’t want to remind you of any of it. It’s smooth almost to a fault, and with stock exhausts, much too quiet. Fire it up and you’d think you accidently got on somebody’s scooter. Get an aftermarket pipe and she’ll sing the song of the ‘60s all day, but in stock format, the motor has too little personality for what the looks promise.

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Ducati Diavel: Ride with the Devil

The cruiser of today is stuck in the image of the past. This means all cruisers must have chrome, retro styling and lolloping V-Twins, even if the rest of their lineup doesn’t fit that aesthetic. But what if the cruiser wasn’t stuck in the past? What if a brand wasn’t satisfied with the notion that comfort didn’t have to come at the expense of speed? Ducati, a brand built on their racing heritage, has decided to challenge the cruiser status quo with the Diavel. In the process, chrome has been replaced with carbon fiber.

When the Diavel first debuted, many people saw it as a brand expansion that had gone one step too far. Here was Ducati’s “Cayenne moment” – that moment in time where a brand sells itself on its image instead of its product. However, that would be true only if the Diavel was a bike that did not live up to Ducati’s performance heritage. And it not only meets the bar, but exceeds it. With the Diavel, Ducati has redefined the cruiser segment instead of the other way around, and created the essential urban assault weapon.

Devilish Looks

You can tell that this is not your grandfather’s cruiser just by looking at it. In pictures, the Diavel seems ungainly and large, but in person the size is compact and squat. On paper, it looks disjointed and wrong, but all the details look cohesive in person. The Diavel seems like it is bursting at the seams while sitting still; like a pit bull, all muscle and power. So it has the traditional cruiser aesthetic of looking tough while sitting still, but it does this with a completely modern design.

Not to mention that detailing is exquisite. On this Carbon model, the tank and rear seat cover is actual carbon fiber. Where one would find plastic on most bikes, the Diavel has milled aluminum. The Diavel also boasts Marchesini wheels that not only look good, but cut unsprung weight. And the rear wheel is showcased by Ducati’s hallmark single-sided swingarm. Everything on this bike not only fits the cruiser aesthetic, but helps the bike perform better.

The fact is that the Diavel manages to stand out, but looks like it belongs, in every place you take it to. I picked up the Diavel at Chicago Motoworks, a dealer in the heart of Chicago that offers Ducati, Triumph and Vespa scooters. From there, I was taken on a tour of the city from biker bars to upscale restaurants on the gold Coast, and everywhere in between. The feedback from others was always positive. Even a guy in a Prius shot a thumbs up. You can’t take a traditional cruiser into the heart of a modern city without looking a touch old-fashioned, but this is no problem on the Diavel. Conversely, showing up to a biker bar on a sport bike is a faux pas, but not on the Diavel. A cruiser is supposed to attract attention and the Diavel does so without conforming to the traditional aesthetic tropes that accompany the segment. Not to mention, with advanced electronics and impressive ergonomics, it’s actually comfortable in the inevitable city traffic instead of crippling.

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Southern Comfort: Bullz-Eye goes down south to sample Star’s metric cruisers

The South has played a large part in forging the identity of the United States. Its influences include BBQ, country music, NASCAR, and taking life a little bit slower than those in the north. It is the region of good times and good old boys. And if there’s one segment of motorcycles that defines the entire U.S. industry, it’s the heavy cruiser. Nowhere else do these big, bellowing beasts sell in such large numbers.

They’re so important, in fact, that 50% of all motorcycles sold in the U.S. are cruisers. And with all that money on the table, the segment is crucial for many brands to be successful in the United States. Yamaha knows this too. Since 2004, Yamaha’s Star brand has had a double-barreled focus on selling more metric cruisers. So here we are, deep in the heart of Dixie to test Star’s newest motorcycles, because if you find success here, you can make it anywhere in the U.S.

Origin of Star

Yamaha is not new to selling cruisers, and neither are their Japanese competitors. Termed “Metric Cruisers,” these Japanese bikes have been available for some time, but like the metric system as a whole, adoption has been spotty at best. Reason being, many of the metric cruisers didn’t have the qualities customers wanted. They may have been more reliable, but they looked flimsy, had plastic instead of metal in most places, and didn’t offer the attitude that cruiser customers wanted. Star’s goal is to create bikes that change those perceptions.

Since 1978, Yamaha has sold cruisers. However, customer research showed that this dissuaded many potential customers since they didn’t want to be associated with Yamaha’s supersport products like the R1. They were into style, not speed. So for their more basic tastes and needs, Yamaha branched out their cruisers under the Star banner in 2004. Star has its own team inside Yamaha devoted to giving their customers the experience they want: high style, large customization and a reasonable amount of refinement.

With this focus, Star has a full lineup of cruisers to fit a bike for every person and every need. From the starter bike V Star 250, all the way up to full baggers like the Stratoliner Deluxe, Star has a full portfolio that drives home their brand values. Star had all their products available to ride in Atlanta, but one stuck out in particular to show what they are trying to accomplish.

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