Event Recap – Highway 2 Track Day

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The first time I ever went on a track with a big bike was at Utah Motorsports Campus for a Yamaha press launch. I was with a bunch of motorcycle journalists – including people who regularly club race and the current motorcycle record holder at Pikes Peak. Almost all of them were much faster than me, and even in small groups with our own dedicated pit crews the experience was quite terrifying. As such, I can very much sympathize with anyone who wants to try their first public track day but is holding back because they’re intimidated. If you’re in Southern California, a new event called Highway 2 Track is hoping to fix that.

Getting used to having a track all to myself for photography. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

My experience with big bike track days is also quite skewed as I’ve yet to join a public event: I’ve been very lucky to only be on race tracks as part of motorcycle launch events like the BMW S1000RR at Barber Motorsports Park or industry events like the Alpinestars Friends and Family Day. I’m actually about to do my first public track day in November with Let’s Ride at Buttonwillow – want to join? I’ll be there with Nathan and our buddy Kate from Beach Moto!

Event Recap – Highway 2 Track Day
Photos by Nathan May

I discovered Highway 2 Track (organized by the Chilao School) through a Facebook ad, and I was interested in seeing what a more casual take on a track day would be like. I think that the high speeds and Ricky Racers at full-size track days can discourage some riders (like myself) from giving it a shot, and that’s what makes the lower speeds, lower pressure, and focus on practice over winning appealing to me.

I originally considered a story of riding out and doing a trackday with the 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX, but Kawasaki’s rep said that Horse Thief Mile was too small for that. Alright then, Nathan and I decided we’d go with some small bikes for a small track.

Nathan brought the Yamaha MT-03 – a bike that I absolutely adored at the launch in Texas but he hadn’t tried yet. We had to return a R1M from our last video and Nathan said the faces on Yamaha reps when he told them he was swapping a R1M for a MT-03 to go to a track day was half shock/half disgust. Oops.

I went even smaller. KTM has just introduced a new member of the Duke family, and it’s the runt of the litter. I’ll get into more detail about the Duke 200 in a proper review (UPDATE: here’s that review!), but I find it fascinating because at first glance, I didn’t understand who it was for.

I’ve been having fun figuring it out, though!

While 200cc is big enough to legally go on the freeway, I noticed on short high-speed blasts that the Duke’s coolant temp gauge would get a bit too close to the max for my liking – plus it’s infinitely easier for Nathan to carry photo gear in the truck so we decided to trailer the bikes for a drive up to Horse Thief Mile at Willow Springs.

Willow Springs is best known for the big track, which is affectionately known as the “Fastest Road in the West.” Horse Thief Mile is more of a canyon simulator with 11 turns and some excellent elevation changes. I’m assuming you can guess how long a lap is.

Nathan being chased by an eclectic group of bikes.

The Rider’s Meeting set the tone for the day as the three organizers made sure to emphasize that this was not a race and that Highway 2 Track was all about “technique over speed.” The day was split into three groups with 20 minute sessions – A and B were allowed to pass on the corners (outside only, with at least six feet of clearance) while C group could only pass on the straightaways. I’d estimate that a third of the ~60 riders at the event were participating in their first track day, which was awesome to see.

Nathan was easy to spot in the previous photo…can you find him here? Photo by Corina Roberts.

Before we hit the track, everyone had to go through tech – inspectors are just ensuring that the bikes have good tires, no leaks, and taped lights. The MT-03 has one distinct advantage here – there’s barely anything to cover!

A quick look around the pits revealed a lot of Yamaha R3s and gigantic percentage of KTMs – some RC390s, some bigger bikes.

With that said, the thing that really blew me away from Highway 2 Track was the variety of motorcycles. A few people had dedicated track bikes, but plenty of riders were there to build skills on their daily riders. Look at the variety in the foreground of this one photo: a Yamaha WR250F supermoto, Kawasaki Ninja 400, Yamaha FZ-6, Husqvarna Vitpilen 701, MV Agusta Brutale 800, Suzuki Bandit 1200, and a Triumph Speed Twin!

Serious props to Jeff, the owner of the Vitpilen 701. I rarely see these out in the wild, and it was great to see an owner truly enjoying one.

I briefly spoke with the Speed Twin owner and he mentioned that this was his first track day. It’s his commuter and he was enjoying corners on Avon TrailRider dual-purpose tires.

Speaking of dual-purpose, this gentleman was on a BMW G310GS that was also rocking similar rubber.

Other personal highlights include a BMW R1200GS, Moto Guzzi V7 with a gorgeous chrome tank, and a bevy of supermotos. Bikes ranged from as small as a Yamaha YSR50 to as big as a Harley-Davidson bagger!

I skipped out on the first session to take photos of Nathan, then spent the second session learning the track, praying that I wasn’t holding everyone else in A group up because I had the smallest engine, and building heat in the tires.

After the third session I wanted to adjust the preload on the shock, so I popped the rear shock off to get to the tool kit. I was impressed – the $4,000 KTM comes with a more comprehensive tool kit than bikes that cost three or four times as much! I made use of the shock spanner wrench and then ditched the tool kit for the rest of the day – ditching that much weight must have saved me a second per lap, right?

Once on track, I was very comfortable with everyone in A group as there were no outrageously dangerous passes or anything that made me nervous – though there are some cracks in the pavement at Horse Thief that’ll give your suspension a shimmy if you’re not ready for them. Off the track, you’ll appreciate how friendly everyone is. Whether you want to walk around and chat with people or just keep to yourself, you’ll be all good.

If I’m being frank, there’s not much to say once you’re on track – and that’s a good thing. There wasn’t any drama, just corner after corner of practice, trying to see if you could hit the perfect line better than you did last lap. It was fantastic and I was truly impressed with how my budget bike performed – but more on that in the Duke 200 review.

Surprisingly good: the suspension, brakes, and tires.
Surprisingly bad: my tape job on the headlight.

Group C is mostly full of folks that are on track for the first time, which is why I was quite impressed that Highway 2 Track had worked out a sponsorship with New Century Moto and State Farm to provide 4 of the Group C riders a free day at the track plus feedback and mentoring. It’s perfect for someone who’s getting on track for the first time/just wants to practice riding.

One of the coaches is a gentleman named Tanner Alan Giao – he’s a club racer at the Chuckwalla Valley Motorcycle Association Expert level. He mentioned that Highway 2 Track started less than a year ago and it that it’s specifically catered towards riders trying to build their skillset. As he puts it, “at other tracks you’ve got some hotheads who think they’re Rossi.” We’ll come back to that later.

I asked Tanner what the most common issues he sees are and he had two answers ready to go: “vision and being too tense on the bars.” I took a moment to reflect and realized that I could definitely work on both of those themes, even though I call myself a somewhat experienced motorcyclist.

With that said, I think there needs to be a little bit more organization, such as having someone with a bullhorn giving out 5 minute warnings so groups know their time is about to start. I also think a little more structure will come as they put on more of these events, though I did like that it’s low key.

Near the end of the day, a supermoto blew a motor and dumped some oil on the track. Due to the time delay, the organizers had to cancel the individual 20-minute sessions for each group and instead had one final 20 minute session that was open to anyone that still wanted to ride. Unfortunately, one of the Rossi-inspired hotheads got a little too feisty – he passed someone on the inside but came in too hot and ended up standing his bike up, taking the other rider out in the process. This ended the day for everyone, and was hopefully a lesson for the organizers about the dangers of mixing skill levels. It’s also a reminder that safety is not guaranteed in our sport/hobby/passion, but Highway 2 Track was definitely safer than a day on the street at these speeds!

Corina Roberts is one of the organizers, and she sums it up better than I can: “our goal in putting on this track day is to have a bunch of fun, and to provide a learning opportunity for riders…a place where everyone is going in the same direction and with good intentions. A place where you can work on braking and turning and accelerating and building muscle memory. Organizing the event is still a learning experience for me. I learned a few more things this time. But what I remember the most is the overwhelming number of smiles I encountered throughout the day.”

If this event sounds like what you’ve been looking for to get a taste of what a trackday can be like, you’ll be glad to hear that they’re hosting another day at Horse Thief on Sunday, November 22nd. Click here for more information and to sign up – spots are $150.

When you’re done at the track, you have to raise your hand to signify you’re ditching into pit lane. Consider it the sign off to my story, as well!