I wrote this a couple years ago. There's a lot going through my head right now with what I want to do this season and which direction I want to take my riding so I thought I'd post this back up....
I’ve been roadracing and doing trackdays now for almost a decade. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of other riders come and go. This sport that we love so dearly has a high turnover rate. You meet people who absolutely live and breathe for riding their motorcycle around a racetrack, then suddenly they disappear. Why is that?
I’m sure the single most common reason for people to quit the sport is that it costs so damn much. But that’s not the only reason. Incurring an injury or the concern over the possibility of getting hurt can often play a large roll as well. There’s no denying that racetrack riding is a dangerous pastime. Children are often mentioned as having an influence on a rider’s decision to quit the track. How about free time? Preparing and maintaining a track motorcycle is a labor-intensive task. Don’t underestimate burnout. Sometimes enough is just enough and it’s time for something different. While my love for racing and motorcycles runs deep, occasionally I find myself pondering if I really want to stay.
First, let’s consider the money involved in racing or track riding motorcycles. I’m not going to display bar graphs or charts to illustrate how much money I personally spend every year on this sport. Frankly I don’t even want to know. If I ever really thought about it, that might be enough to make me quit! For the last decade, as long as my head’s been above water, the mortgage was getting paid and my bills were all up to date, I’ve been pretty content. Any funds beyond that have gone straight into the track pipe!
I suppose that there are people who set aside a budget for this sport but I’m usually just counting my pennies in hopes of making it to the next weekend. Once you reach a certain level, your tire bill alone can break the bank. If your motorcycle doesn’t have good rubber, why even go to the track? I’ve been pushing harder and harder lately, so I can’t go as fast as I want to without good traction. Sliding around on spent rubber isn’t fun or safe. Then there’s fuel, both for the bikes and the van. I can’t even head for the track closest to my house these days without dumping at least a C note into the van, gas cans and bikes. The cost of simply getting to the event is keeping many riders home. This season, I’ve been rolling into the driveway on fumes at the end of a weekend, with my wallet as dry as my tank
Even if you can afford the gas, tires and entry fees for your next trackday, there’s still the cost of motorcycle maintenance to overcome. Consumables like gaskets, clutch plates, bearings, brake pads and engine oil all cost money. What about gear? Without the proper protection nobody should be out riding at all, much less dragging a knee at 85mph at any race track. That nice five-year-old helmet may still feel ok but the fact is that it needs to be replaced. Those ragged boots with Velcro that doesn’t work and a hole burned through the side have no business on your feet when you’re blasting down the front straight at 150 + at Road America. Without a freshly shod, well maintained motorcycle and intact riding gear, your risk of injury skyrockets. Injury has its own costs, which are the next part of the equation.
Many folks quit due to injury or the fear of it. Since getting hurt interferes with your ability to earn money, there’s no wonder that it’s such a concern among racetrack riders. If you fall down, get banged up and can’t support yourself, was it really worth it? For me, the answer to this question is, “No, but….” No it’s not worth it if the worst happens but I love riding so much that maybe it is worth the risk. Catch my drift? It’s an addiction thing. It has to do with loving the rush of seriously hauling butt around a racetrack enough to ignore the possible consequences. Actually, you can compare racetrack riding to sex; both pose risks to your health that can range from minor to life-threatening, yet people are doing it anyway because it feels so good! Like sex, your best plan of defense as a track rider is abstinence. Failing that, wear protective gear and don’t do anything stupid.
Balancing a racetrack addiction with normal life is a challenge and that’s where time becomes an issue. It takes quite a bit of wrenching to keep a track bike in tip-top running condition. Some people pay professionals to do this work for them but unless you’re filthy rich, the money can be even harder to find than the time. This is how garage rats like me and my friends can afford to play but it costs us a big portion of our personal lives in the process. I’ve spent countless late nights working in the garage before track weekends to make sure everything was working properly. I love wrenching just about as much as riding and there’s a certain amount of pride involved in knowing that I’m willing and able to keep my bikes properly prepared and maintained. The problem is that there are only so many hours in a day. What about my family, my girlfriend and the lawn that needs to be mowed? It’s hard to realistically budget time when you’re feeding an addiction.
Is it time to try something different? It’s occurred to me. A different sport or perhaps just a different form of motorcycle racing could be a nice change. I’ve been thinking about trying kayaking or doing more bicycle riding. I’m really leaning towards more dirtbike riding though. It’s a far less expensive way to still be on a motorcycle and ride hard. Trail riding can be both relaxing and exhilarating in the same breath. There’s something about the adventure of going for a long trail ride on a dirtbike that I’ve loved since I was a kid. Sometimes I think I’m getting a little burnt out by the whole road racing and track day routine but my mind changes quickly if I’m railing through Dead Bear at Putnam Park bar-to-bar with a good friend. All of a sudden there’s nothing I’d rather do. It’s just that the money, the time and the worry of getting injured can all stack up together to make me feel that I might need to step away for a little while. There are times when it seems as if I need to let my love for the sport rekindle itself. Then the phone rings and it’s one of my pusher friends, saying, “Let’s go to Grattan this weekend. They’re short on coaches.” Wow, I managed to stay away from the racetrack for a whole three weeks!
The fact of the matter is that I’m deeply tied into this sport. It’s more difficult than I realized to just drop it and try something new. I’ve been riding the racetrack long enough to become good at it, something that’s hard to give up. In the process, I’ve developed a circle of friends who have become like family. Through coaching and helping newer riders, I’ve learned that I really enjoy seeing a student’s smile when I’ve helped them figure out how to put a knee down. It would be really hard to give all of that up and start over with something else. So how am I planning to stay in the game? I keep on telling myself, “Moderation.” If I can moderate my participation so I don’t burn myself out, I can continue to play this game for a long time.
Thanks for editing my thoughts and emotions K3...