There’s nothing quite like a track day. We all know the bikes under us are capable of great speeds, exhilarating acceleration, and lean angles that would make a Michael Jackson “Smooth Criminal” dancer jealous. We also all know, or at least should know, that such things are not entirely legal, or safe, on the public roads.
But when a dedicated race track hosts a track day, or your motorcycle club rents out a track for a day of fun, you can finally twist the wrist all the way, push your bike the way it was meant to be pushed, maybe even drag a knee or two through some tight apexes. Of course, you need to be properly equipped for such a day: full race leathers, racing gloves and boots, helmet, and, of course… motorcycle.
Yes, a naked bike is on our recommended list for a track day bike, and let me explain why. Not everyone that attends a track day has been there before. Some riders may have just started their journey into our favorite hobby, and some may have been riding for years on the street but never on the track. So, more often than not, those riders have a street bike with some sporting ability and they want to bring it to the track to get a feel for if they want to do track days.
Anyone that knows, knows that the SV650 is one of the most highly recommended beginner bikes out there. It’s comfortable, lightweight, has a rev-happy, willing engine, and is incredibly easy to work on should anything go wrong. As well, it has the soul of a GSX-R650R pulsing about it, in a much easier to digest package.
For a novice track rider, the 2020 SV650 is a perfect all-around bike that can scream down a straightaway just as well as it can comfortably commute. On top of that, it’s a very inexpensive bike compared to many others on this list, so it’s also great for budget-conscious track day riders.
2019 Suzuki SV650 scraping the pegs a little on a twisty European road:
2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
The Kawasaki Ninja 400 is a great first pure track bike if you’ve tested the waters and want to get more involved in the track side of things. Like the SV650 mentioned above, it’s a great beginner bike, however unlike the SV650, the Ninja 400 is an out and out sport bike instead of a jack-of-all-trades naked.
The key difference lies in power delivery, where the Ninja 400 doesn’t really wake up as a track monster until you pass 6000 RPM. However, once into that powerband, and in the hands of an experienced rider, the Ninja 400 has been known to embarrass liter bikes.
In the hands of a beginner, it’s also incredibly forgiving, with lots of feel through the bike as to what the tires are doing, and has pegs high enough up the frame that you can get some pretty decent lean angles going.
While you won’t be setting any lap records at whatever track you visit, what you are sure to do with a Ninja 400 at the track is learn how to ride on the limit, which is much more forgiving on a 399cc instead of a 1000+ cc bike.
AchMoto on YouTube at Inde Motorsports Ranch:
2020 Ducati Panigale V2
As with most track days, there’s nothing quite like an angry Italian under your butt. The 2020 Panigale V2 is a motorcycle that begs to be taken to a track and let loose, but it is also quickly becoming known as a bike that doesn’t actively try to kill you when you do take it off the leash. This can be attributed to the fact that Ducati, in a very un-Italian move, held back.
Held back where, you might ask? In today’s world, it seems that most manufacturers are trying to squeeze every last single horsepower from the engine of a motorcycle, so much so that you have 1000cc bikes now with well over 200 HP. Ducati took a look at the Panigale V2, and said: “no, we’re not going to do that.”
Instead, they took the 955 cc engine from the outgoing Panigale 959 Corse, gave it a little massage to get 155 HP from it, and then adjusted its management system to give instant response but linear power across the entire rev range.
What results is a Ducati supersport that is eminently rideable, wants to be shown some corners in anger, and will still send your internal organs towards your spine at great speed, but is manageable and will still give you the thrill of the track without you having to meet the track facefirst.
In many reviews as well, it is being recommended as a great “second or third bike” if you like to ride the track.
44Teeth YouTube quick view on the track:
2020 BMW S1000RR
The BMW S1000RR is what you get when you let the M Division and the BMW Motorrad groups get together over coffee. Originally designed to be a homologation special in 2009 for BMW’s entry into the World SBK Championship, multiple years and multiple upgrades have brought forth a 2020 model that is more at home on the track than on the road.
The S1000RR produces 207 HP from 999cc, in a bike that weighs less than 440 lbs. It has a race mode in its driver aids controls that dials back the ABS, traction control, and stability control to let the rider feel more through the bike, while also kicking them into full power should it detect the start of a crash. It has a narrow, blade-like profile to slice through the air, coupled with aggressive air intake to ram as much air into the engine as possible.
And, of course, being a BMW, there is an M Sport package available for the bike if you order one new, which gives you the BMW racing team paint scheme, carbon fiber wheels, a lightened battery, M chassis kit with rear ride height and swingarm pivot adjustability, an M sport seat and an upgraded version of the “race” mode in the control system known as “Race Pro” mode.
2020 BMW S1000R M package track day from Makoni Pakoni on YouTube:
2020 Yamaha YZF-R6
This is the ultimate track day motorcycle. There, I’ve said it. And now I’ll justify it.
The true reason behind why the Yamaha R6 is the best lies in its history. While there are still many Yamaha models that are more sedate or better suited for specific day to day uses, the R6 was designed from the very start, in 1998, as a pure, uncompromising racing machine.
It was not built from cobbled together bits of other successful bikes in the Yamaha range, it was purpose-built from all new parts, on a new frame, with a new engine, and shares very little of that with its siblings in the R3, R1, and R1M models.
Through 8 generations, the R6 has always remained firmly in its place as the ultimate track day bike. It may not be the most powerful, making only 118 HP in the 2020 variation of the YZF-R6, but it is always the most purpose-built. It demands to be revved hard and high, as the torque doesn’t even really kick in until 8,000 RPM of its current 16,000 RPM redline.
It demands to be thrown into a crazy lean in order to corner, as it is light, weighing only 419 lbs fully wet. It demands precision, as it will twitch the rear wheel if you demand too much, too soon. But if you grab it by the scruff of its neck and ride the hell out of it, it is one of the most raw, visceral, feral, emotional motorcycles ever made.
There are no compromises. It is a race bike. With a license plate and mirrors, but it is a race bike. And that is why it is the king of track day motorcycles.
A 2016 YZF-R6 blitzing the Nurburgring Nordschleife, the ultimate track for an ultimate track bike: