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On Track with Sam Hokin — Buying a Track Bike
Sam Hokin
So, you've done it.  You've taped up the lights on your road bike, taken it to the track, ridden it around for a day at high speeds, and now you want more.  Well, you could continue riding track with your beloved road bike - risking the possibility of a crash that would keep you off the road and cost you a fortune in expensive street bodywork.  Or, you could be a lot more sensible, and find a dedicated bike for use only on the track. There's no need to register it, no need to insure it, and if you damage it, you'll be dealing with vastly less expensive track bodywork and, hopefully, other parts if you're riding a popular track bike model.  So, this article is about finding a used track bike.

What makes a good track bike?

Pretty much any motorcycle is fun to ride around a track.  But certain sizes and models are much better for learning good riding skills, as well as being more familiar to folks at the track who can help you fix or upgrade it, and being popular so that used parts are cheap and readily found on places like eBay.  When you consider these things, track bikes really break down into two main categories: 600-cc supersports with water-cooled inline four-cylinder engines, and air or water-cooled twins in the 650-cc to 800-cc range.  (If you're considering a 1000-cc superbike, you shouldn't be reading this article.  There is no reason to have a bike that heavy and powerful when you are a track beginner.   After you get your lap times at Road America under 2:45 you can think about upgrading to a liter bike.)  When you look online for a used track bike, the majority will fall in these two categories, and will likely be one of the following models:

Inline Foursdry weight* Twinsdry weight*
Honda CBR-600RR
Kawasaki ZX-6R
Suzuki GSX-R600
Yamaha YZF-R6
341 lb
368 lb
355 lb
355 lb
Ducati 749
Suzuki SV650
410 lb
376 lb
*Dry weight is quoted for 2007 factory road models; track versions have lighter bodywork without lights or mirrors.

Any of these bikes makes a great starter track bike, and opinions vary on which is better than another.  I looked for any of these bikes in the listings, and ended up basing my decision on price and value.  Don't rule out another make or model, of course, but chances are you'll be looking at one of these six bikes.

Where to look?

The thing that drops the price on a potential track bike is its NON-street-legal character.   For a bike to be street legal, it needs to be registered, with a clear title, and subject to other constraints.  For a bike to be ridden on the track it just needs to run.  For this reason, used bikes at a dealership are more expensive simply because they're ready for legal road riding.  They have factory bodywork and lighting as well as a clear title and inspection.  All this tends to add roughly $1000 to the cost (and value) of the bike.  So, although it is useful to stop by at your local dealer to see what he's got on the used floor, and you may find a great deal there, you are best off looking at the online listings to find a track bike.  Since it is not prohibitively expensive to ship a bike, or go and fetch it, don't limit yourself to your local area, although you may certainly find a bike in your local area.  After looking at bikes from Madison to Milwaukee to Green Bay, and talking to guys about bikes in Florida and Alabama, I found my perfect track bike right here in Madison.

My Suzuki GSX-R600 track-ready bike the night I brought it home
My track-ready 2001 GSX-R600, just after buying it for $2000.
Craig's List has listings by geographical area, and they must be taken with a good grain of salt, but most bikes are typically listed there, often with pictures.  I found both my BMW road bike and Suzuki track bike on Craig's list, and both were fantastic finds with trustworthy local owners. But, as always, you want to check the background on bikes listed there and certainly give them a good viewing and test ride.  (Although a track bike isn't road legal, you're highly advised to take it for a spin around, say, a suburban subdivision, as I did for every bike I looked at, ready to explain to a curious officer that you're simply checking it out for purchase from the guy that lives right over there.)

The WERA forum may be the best single source for race bikes for sale.  There is a well-stocked Classifieds section, and the folks selling the bike are often known on the forum or the track, which makes them more accountable.  Here's a completely random post that I grabbed from the WERA forum on 6/15/2010, a 2006 Yamaha R6 in Fort Wayne, Indiana:

06' R6 race ready
$6,700 obo...... Fort Wayne Indiana 46804

06 R6.......less than 2,500 miles........
graves titanium exhaust
lindamin engeneering re-valved forks
ohlins rear shock
stainless carbo brake lines
DID 520 chain, down 1 tooth front sprocket, up 1 sunstar rear sprocket
valtermoto rear sets
graves case covers
power commander, ignition module, quick shift
woodcraft clip ons, extra set of tubes/grips
CRG roll-a-click levers
harris racing fairing stay
BMC race air filter
GPR steering dampener
Hot bodies Race plastics w/extra upper fairing
fully safety wired and race ready
clean title
includes factory rear tail section with passenger seat and foot pegs and tail light so its streetable, and a removable headlight/fog light wired in....

This is a fairly high-end track bike, at a substantial price, and no one has bitten yet after two weeks.  The post included three good photos.  Note the racing modifications that one often gets when buying a dedicated track bike.  In addition, notice that the bike has a "clean title."  This means that there are no liens on the title from an outstanding loan, and, often, that the bike's owners are on record back to the original purchase.  Since a lot of stolen bikes appear on the used market, it's good to have a clean title, a title with a clearly stated lien holder (lending institution) that you can contact, or the Manufacturer's Certificate of Origin (MCO) for a bike, like mine, that has never been titled.  (There is no chance a stolen bike would have an MCO.)  Without a title (which can be checked against state records) or an MCO (which matches up with the VIN on the frame as well as the engine number), you should probably not bother with the bike.

If you've decided on a particular make or model, you can join a make- or model-specific online forum to see what's available.  I was open to bikes from any of the four Japanese manufacturers, so I joined several forums:

There are many others out there, check Google.

How much to spend?

This is a tough question, of course, since it depends on what bike you get, what's been added to the bike, the age of the engine, the quality of the tires on it, etc.  But there are probably some good rules of thumb.  I think it's fairly unlikely that you're going to get a rock-solid track-ready racing motorcycle for much under $2000.  That's what I spent for my 2001 Suzuki GSX-R600, a fairly old bike in 2009, and considering that it had a reasonably low miles second engine, good Pirelli tires, with upgraded brake lines, rearsets, and suspension, not to mention excellent maintenance, that was a darned good deal, far better than what I'd seen to date.  On the other hand, $6000 will buy you a very good, modern 600-cc race bike.  (I expect the fellow in Indiana that posted the R6 on the WERA forum would have let it go for $6000.)  So that's probably the range, and you have to decide whether you want the latest, in great condition, with top-notch upgrades, or whether you'd like to get a starter bike and perhaps upgrade it as you go along.  I'd recommend the latter for track newbies, since after riding for a while and talking to other riders, your tastes, and budget, may change.  The less you spend on a bike, the more you have left over for track days (which run $150-200 a pop), tires and peripherals like leathers and other gear, a trailer, a canopy, etc.

Other Resources

I've already mentioned WisconsinSportBikes.net, but it's worth repeating that this is an excellent resource for riders new to the track experience.  You'll get great advice from WSB members, and you'll meet them at the track and further those relationships.  I honestly don't know where I'd be without WSB, it has been a very important part of my track day hobby!

Another great resource is Roadracing World's Track Day Directory.  I have a copy, since I'm a subscriber, that you're welcome to borrow.  You can read it online, but I'd recommend buying a copy from them, at $5.00 it's a screaming good deal, with lots of information on tracks, bikes, gear and everything.

Finally, of course, just take a ride down to Blackhawk Farms Raceway to talk to folks at the track.  There are a number of organizations that run track days at Blackhawk, including Motovid.com (usually Wednesdays), NESBA, STT (which also runs a couple Road America track days) and others.  It's free to simply spectate, and you'll find lots of friendly riders milling about between sessions, happy to get a new addict on the track!