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If You Think You Know How to Ride Motorcycles, Try Flat Track

Road & Track logo Road & Track 10/19/2021 Aaron Brown
Flat track racing is a whole different world of riding. © Kristen Lassen Flat track racing is a whole different world of riding.

I accepted that this would not go well long before I arrived at the track. My only goal was to not break anything. On my body, that is. I triaged the motorcycles as likely casualties. Somehow, the 411-cc Royal Enfield Himalayan and I finished the day with all of our appendages intact.

Ballet on wheels. © Aaron Brown Ballet on wheels.

As an outsider, flat track racing is terrifying. Riders launch their bikes around dirt courses at alarming speeds, throwing their body weight around, sliding rear wheels out as they drag their left foot to stabilize the slide around corners. It’s a manic art. I got to try it firsthand at Royal Enfield’s Slide School, thanks to an invite from the American Flat Track series.

The end result of my half-day school didn’t much resemble the racing seen by the impressive, professional flat-trackers teaching me. But, it did leave me with ample appreciation for the intense dance the riders do when sliding their motorcycles out of corners.

And it very much is a dance.

Lewis and his fellow racers provided live feedback while we were out on the Himalayans. © Kristen Lassen Lewis and his fellow racers provided live feedback while we were out on the Himalayans.

“I’m sitting what I call ‘crack on crack,’” school instructor and flat track racer Johnny Lewis told me. “Your butt crack is on the right side of the seat. You’ll really feel yourself sitting on the edge of the seat. It allows you to lean the motorcycle over a little bit more, and when you lean over, your body is going to stay upright. You’re not going to lean in like a road racer, because when you lean in, you’re taking weight off the tires, traction away, and the bike’s going to want to slide out.”

That was just one small part of how Lewis explained body positioning on a flat track motorcycle. Then, there’s what visually makes flat track instantly recognizable. You know. The whole foot-dragging thing.

The expert showing us how it’s done. © Kristen Lassen The expert showing us how it’s done.

“We put a foot out as a rudder. It’s what helps us turn,” Lewis said. “If the track is really hooked up and you don’t have to turn the bike much, guys aren’t sticking their leg way far out. If it’s a little bit slick and you really need to turn the motorcycle, you’ll see guys really getting their leg out… The leg is what turns the motorcycle when we really need to get that bike turned.”


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That’s all much easier said than done.

The closest thing the physicality of flat-tracking reminded me of is ballet. When approaching a corner and preparing for a slide, I had to make sure my left knee had the appropriate amount of bend in it, the foot under it ready to contact the ground with the right angle, and my right elbow pointing upward while attempting to counterweight the bike with the rest of my body. Oh, all while remembering to look where I need the motorcycle to be placed and modulating the throttle.

american flat track © Kristen Lassen american flat track

Imagine how it feels trying to manage all of that in your head when approaching a corner on two wheels on dirt at 50 mph. It’s a lot, and scary as hell. Then there’s the part of trying to figure out where the track goes and where the constantly changing grip is below your tires.

DSC09805.JPG © Aaron Brown DSC09805.JPG

“Most people get on the track and they just make a big circle,” Lewis said. “They don’t really figure out how to make straightaways out of the track, they don’t know the turning points. The fast way is trying to make as long of a straightaway as you can. Trying to figure out the track is the hardest thing. We know how to ride motorcycles. It’s just really trying to figure out these tracks. We’re thrown so many variables in such a short time.”

My biggest pain point was finding comfort with increased speed. For the class, we kept our Himalayans mostly in first and second gear. That doesn’t sound like much speed, but when you’re on an unfamiliar motorcycle with foreign tires and inconsistent levels of grip, those speeds feel intimidating.

american flat track © Kristen Lassen american flat track

When you get it right though, it’s an unbeatable sensation. I’d love more time to attempt to master my choreography on a flat track, but for now, I’m happy to admire riders like Lewis from behind the fence. And if you haven’t seen flat track in action, get out to an AFT race next year and change that.

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