In Australia later this year I'll do some track days. Having lived in the US for a while, I'm aware of the usual suspects people refer to on Reddit as a good first track day motorcycle — the Kawasaki Ninja 250, the Suzuki SV650, or anything else you can get for less than US$2,000 and not fall in love with.
But I want to fall in love. Why not?
First — what's a track day, and why do one?
A "track day" is a day when a race course becomes open to the public, for riders of all skill levels.
It's a great idea to do one because
- You can drill your cornering ability on a closed course, going over it over and over
- Race tracks are safer then public roads, because the tarmac is high quality, with no loose gravel, there are no cars on it, and you can run wide without hitting a tree or barrier (or going off a cliff)
- You can go fast legally! (probably not so much on a small motorcycle)
They're kind of expensive, though. They wear through tyres, you need a lot of gear, and you should do a bit of prep of your motorcycle just to do it. Ideally, you go with a trailer.
Or — alternatively, you can get an "all inclusive" package where they also lend you a motorcycle.
But if you want to buy your own motorcycle and thrash it, here's the guide below!
Characteristics of a first track day motorcycle
A first track day motorcycle is
- Cheap. You are going to learn on this motorcycle, then sell it (with new tyres on it). If it has been a track motorcycle, then all the better. Also, you need extra budget for all the other expenses of track days: tyres, servicing your motorcycle, and of course all the right protective gear — you usually need to wear leathers.
- Crashable. This is related to "cheap". Ideally you don't want to crash. But if you do, you don't want to feel like you just lost your life savings, or your pride and joy. (Scratch the Ducati 916SPS you have your eye on.)
- Light. You're going to learn cornering. So it should be something you can easily push into turns. The ideal weight is under 180kg or 400lbs wet (it's easier to stats in imperial units, quite often).
- Controllable. It shouldn't be a motorcycle you feel is way beyond you, which basically means anything in the 600cc "supersport" category or above. 50-70hp is a top end maximum, and you can probably learn faster on a 30-50hp 250cc motorcycle.
For me, this essentially means just a few modern models, like the Kawasaki Ninja 400, the KTM RC390 and so on. These produce a healthy amount of horsepower, are light-weight, reliable, and handle well.
The problem is, they have boring sounding engines. They all are parallel twins or even just single cylinder (like the RC390). They're very easy to ride, and ultrareliable. But... not that fun.
What's fun is a four-cylinder 250cc motorcycle that makes 45hp and revs all the way to 20,000 rpm. But do those even exist? Well, they used to...
Models to choose: Four Cylinder 250cc Motorcycles
All of the below are Japanese motorcycles with four cylinders. They're quite rare in the US, but they're more common in Australia (though also becoming rare there).
With all of them, the best years are before 1993. From 1994 onwards, Japanese regulations enforced 250cc learner-class motorcycles to be less than 40 PS (or hp, roughly). Most of these made around 45 hp before these restrictions went in place. Given they're all old, a low-mileage, pre-1993 four cylinder is best!
Honda CBR250RR (MC22) (1990-2000)
Ah, the CBR250RR FireBlade, also known as the "Baby Blade".
Specs for the MC22 CBR250RR FireBlade:
- Engine: 249cc 4-cylinder DOHC 4-valve 4-stroke engine
- Power: 33 kW (45hp), with a 19,000 rpm redline
- Wet weight: 165 kg
The CBR250RR was only made up to 1996 (over two decades ago), but was sold up to 2000 in Australia. It's much more rare in the US. It's most well known for having an absolutely screaming red-line of 19,000rpm. It makes most of its power above 15K!
The CBR250RR is not totally gutless down low. It'll pull you around, but won't be anywhere near as fun as when it's high in the rev range. The zero-100km/h (or zero-to-sixty) is around seven seconds.
A few things to note when buying a used CBR250RR
- Make sure you're getting an MC22, not an MC19 (also known as a CBR250R). They're very similar, but the MC19 only has one front disc brake, so half the stopping power.
- Fairings are commonly replaced because the originals are both old, and were very thin. This is OK. A common swap is for Repsol fairings.
- Nearly all will have been sitting. Make sure you check tyre age, carburettor status (it will need a clean), and battery/charging system.
Kawasaki ZX-2R (aka ZXR250) (1988-1998, but get pre-2003)
The Kawasaki ZX-2R was another four-cylinder 250cc motorcycle that's a scream to ride around with the engine singing.
It's a lot more rare than the Baby Blade, however. So finding one nearby in good nick will mean you'll have to set up a bunch of search alerts.
Again, this is much more common in Australia (or Japan). In the US, it's extremely hard to find one, and so probably not a good idea for a machine that you'll definitely drop.
Kawasaki ZX-2R specs:
- Engine: Four-cylinder, DOHC, 4-valve per cylinder 249cc engine fed by four carburettors
- Power: 33 kW (45 hp) @ 15,000 rpm - red-line 20,000 rpm
- Brakes: twin front discs
- Wet weight: ~160 kg (dry is 141 kg)
Like other models, the power went down after 1993 by 5hp, so get the ones before.
The Kawasaki ZX-2R is quite rare but you can typically get them for under A$2,500 in good condition.
Suzuki GSX250 Across (1990-1998 — but get 1990-1993)
The Suzuki Across is much easier to find, but generally considered a less aggressive motorcycle than theother two. It only has two carburettors. But it still produces all the power you need!
It was more comfortable than the CBR250RR and the ZX-2R, and thus was pigeon-holed by some as a "sport touring" motorcycle. This is helped bythe fact that there's ample storage in the rear, able to carry a full face helmet!
The main reason you can never call this a sport-tourer is it can only go about 130km (80 miles) before the fuel light comes on. That's avery short tour...
It's also slightly heavier thanthe others, because of its steel frame.
However, it's common, it's high power, and sounds great.
Key specs of the Suzuki Across GSX250
- Engine: 248cc, 4-cylinder, 16-valve (DOHC) with CDI and twin carburettors
- Power: 33 kW @ 14,500 rpm (red-line 16,000) from 1990-1993, reduced to 29 kW from 1994 onward
- Brakes: Dual piston, single disc
- Wet weight: 172 kg (373 lb)
An alternative to buying a track motorcycle - Get an all-inclusive track ride day
Some track day organisers offer packages where they'll rent you a motorcycle, gear, and even give you training. It's not cheap — bike hire is typically around US$250 or A$400, but that gets you a late model 400cc motorcycle.
A few examples are