Everything I've learned (and done) racing motorcycles on a track — cheaply.

Racing motorcycles on a budget - getting started cheaply

For years people have been telling me to race motorcycles on a track rather than on a street. They say I'll learn faster, ride better, be more safe, and have so much fun I'll wonder how I ever didn't race on a track.

But to this day I haven't done it because it seems so daunting. I don't know anyone who races motorcycles and so am going alone in this journey, just googling things and reading on Reddit. Also, racing motorcycles is so expensive that I wanted to do it right!

So here's everything I've learned so far, and what I've done to get myself set up for my first track day.

Summary — The Bare Minimum You Need to Race Motorcycles

The bare minimum you need is

  • A motorcycle you can race and learn on and maybe crash
  • Leathers & all the other appropriate protection
  • A track that provides training or "track day" events
  • Some way of getting to the track (either a roadworthy/registered motorcycle, a truck, or a trailer)

Let's go through these one by one!

Motorcycles to learn to race on (that you can crash)

The first thing is to get a cheap motorcycle that isn't your primary pride and joy.

I graduated myself years ago to fairly big motorcycles. My first big love was a Ducati Monster 900. It didn't cost much - maybe US$2500 all-in — but it was expensive to service and maintain, even if I did my own work (in that case, it was expensive with my time, having to inspect valves every 10,000 kms/6,000 miles).

My current steed is a 2006 BMW  R1200S. It isn't really expensive, but it would be if I crashed it.

I’m not going to race this motorcycle, a BMW R1200S
I'm not racing my BMW R1200S just yet. Not until I can afford to crash it.

So, get a cheap motorcycle. The goal is to have something you can learn on, maybe crash without freaking out, maybe get to the track with (unless you have a truck or a trailer, or can borrow one).

The ideal first track motorcycles are a 250/300 cc motorcycle, or at most one of the 650 class.

  • 250/300cc class: A used Kawasaki Ninja 300 or Yamaha R3 are the premium picks. These will cost you about US$2,500-3,000 used in good condition. But you can do just as well on a Ninja 250 or a Honda CBR250R. If you really shop around, you can find these for US$1,000-1,500. These all produce between 30-40 hp and rev to around 10,000 rpm.
  • 650 class: By this I mean the middleweight motorcycles that are not the 600cc supersports. The most common would be the Suzuki SV650 or the Kawasaki Ninja 650 (EX650). They produce around 65 horsepower. They're a little heavier and less ideal for racing, but they're also better on the road if it's one of your only forms of transport. They're also bigger (and more comfortable)
A great track motorcycle - the Suzuki 650S
A red, stock 2nd generation Suzuki SV650S - a great first track motorcycle

People who take their 600cc or 1000cc-class motorcycles to track day events regularly say things like "I had a lot of fun, but I was too scared to rev it all the way or really lean in to corners. So people on 250cc motorcycles kept whizzing past me."

On the other hand, if all you have is your liter-class motorcycle, by all means take it and have a blast! You'll be miles ahead of your friends who have never done the same.

You can afford to get a motorcycle that's slightly ratty, but remember, you're going to have to sell it again once you "graduate" from this class (if you ever do). Of course, you might crash it, and that's goodbye, motorcycle!

In general, I'd really spend less than $2,000 on a motorcycle. Try to spend around $1,000, spending the rest on getting it ready for the track (freshening up tires, brakes, chain, and so on).

Get leathers and appropriate protection

The majority of beginning riders don't even have a full set of gear — much less a set of racing leathers.

Racing leathers can be very expensive — like, over $1,000 for a shiny set of new Dainese leathers.

Luckily, just like you, people come and go from the racing scene all the time! On top of that, people change their suits, or upgrade, and so want to sell their old ones.

I looked on Gumtree and found a full set of Dainese leathers with one broken zipper for A$300. You should be able to find similar deals.

The best places to find racing leathers are

  • Craigslist/Gumtree/Facebook marketplace
  • eBay — but don't buy anything new (you may get ripped off, see below!)
  • Local motorcycle clubs/garages that act as community centres (like MotoGuild in San Francisco)

Warning: Be aware of "fake" leathers on eBay. If you see anything about "Dainese" or "Alpinestars" leathers on eBay and notice they're absurdly cheap (and some story about them being made in the same factory etc.) be aware that they're going to be flimsy and fall apart.

If you've never even seen leathers before, go to a shop and have a look at them. You don't have to try them on. But see how they feel and get a sense for what genuine ones look like. After that you can go and buy second hand easily.

You also need

  • Boots
  • Gauntlet gloves
  • A full-face helmet

So if you only have street gear — might be time for an upgrade.

Again, you can get second-hand boots and gloves. But don't get a second-hand helmet unless the buyer is your family member or good friend.

Tracks/Organisations that provide "Track Day" events

There are various kinds of track events, ranging from race training through to "track days".

There's no harm in starting with any of them. But track days are the most fun! You basically get open access to a race track that people normally use for racing.

The way this normally works is

  • A track exists, and is owned by a track operator
  • A training organisation leases the track for a day, to provide either training events or track day sessions
  • That training organisation then charges people like you and me to attend their track day

In some circumstances, the track may have a direct relationship with the public.

In Australia, a few organisations that provide training or track day are:

  • MotoDNA
  • Toprider
  • Superbike School
  • HART

These don't all provide the same services in all locations, but they're reputable schools worth checking out. More on them in a subsequent post.