First Sportbike, First Trackday

Right On Track: Turning 50 and checking off some major ride-related to-do items.

Some men mark midlife by buying a bright red sportscar, while other men buy a bright red Triumph and take it to the track.

I recently had the opportunity to check off some major “Turning 50/Bucket List” items. It’s been a dream of mine for years to: 1) Own a sportbike. 2) Ride that sportbike around Road Atlanta. And 3) “Do The Ton,” i.e., exceed 100 mph (legally, of course). I can now say proudly that I’ve done all three.

I grew up around motorcycles . My father owned a series of old Triumphs , and my brothers and I grew up throttling minibikes and Yamaha YZ80s through the woods behind our north Georgia home. You could say that motorcycles are in my blood.

I’ve been riding cruisers for years, but I didn’t catch the sportbike itch until recently. Call it a midlife crisis, whatever—I just wanted to stretch my motorcycling legs with new experiences and expand my riding skills beyond the casual lope of cruising. Since childhood, I’ve desired a Triumph. When I found this 1999 Sprint ST, I discovered I could fulfill both dreams—owning a Triumph and a sportbike—at once. Here we go.

Encouraged by my friends Jonathan and Brian, I joined NESBA (formerly the North East Sport Bike Association, now known as N2) and signed up for a trackday at Road Atlanta. I bought the appropriate gear, got the Sprint prepped for the racetrack, and began to study the track map and YouTube videos. By Saturday morning, I felt I knew that track like my own street.

I registered in the “novice” group. The weather, rainy all week, closed over again, and the downpour began as soon as I pulled into the paddock. I grew anxious, tense, and a little afraid. I didn’t want my first experience to be on a wet track. I had undergone a cervical spinal surgery just eight weeks prior to repair two collapsed disks in my neck. My wife thought I was crazy to even be at the racetrack. Now, I was worried her concerns were well founded.

Finally Jonathan and Brian arrived, and as we got our tents, bikes, and gear situated, the rain subsided. During the riders’ meeting the sun broke through, and soon the track was dry enough to ride. The advanced group went out first, followed 30 minutes later by the intermediate group then, finally, the novices, with several control riders mixed in.

As we began to loop around the track, my anxiety was replaced by focus. Up the backstretch, I came upon pieces of fairing strewn across the blacktop, which I dodged with little effort. “Interesting start…” I mused. Immediately a control rider came up on my right and gave me the thumbs-up. I nodded to signal I was fine, and he sped on past. At the next corner station the yellow caution flag was out, but the debris was quickly removed without slowing anyone down—save the poor sap who lost his bike!

With each subsequent lap I relaxed more, increasing my speed, working on my body position, and cornering sharper and quicker. I was by no means fast, but I was improving my skills, growing in confidence, and flat-out having fun. Several riders overcooked corners and ran out into the gravel, but I just focused on riding my own ride. I broke 100 mph on every lap and topped out at 130 by the end of the day. The bike was capable of more, but for my first time that was plenty for me. Maybe 150 next time?

For an old guy with a titanium plate in his neck and a neck brace under his helmet, I felt great. What an exhilarating experience! I’m hooked on speed now—hitting The Ton is certainly addictive. Every rider should take the time and make the investment to ride on a racetrack at least once. There is simply no better way to improve your skills and confidence. It’s worth every dollar. And don’t ever think you’re too old for this—at the big 5-0, I’m in my prime!