Steven Libby reviews his IAM Skills Day at Thruxton

When is a Track Day not a Track Day?

About five years ago I came back to motorcycles after a 30+ year gap, and have reached the point where I now want to pass my IAM advanced motorcycle test. I am doing lots of different things to get there and one very useful activity was going on an IAM Skills Day

Thinking about this, I recognise that I am much like Marc Marquez! Although he’s younger than me. He has more money than me. Better looking too. Gets paid to ride powerful motorcycles. Lives a jet-set playboy lifestyle. So, nothing like me! Except in one way. He works very hard at being the best motorcycle rider he can be: tiny advantages for him are the difference between winning and not winning. For me improving my motorcycle skills are about going home at the end of the day (not ending up in hospital!) and having more fun

An IAM Skills Day is not, in any way, a normal track day! As much fun as a regular track day is, the opportunities to improve your skills are minimal. I’ve been on several BMW track days (owning a Ducati is no bar to participation) and they do have instructors on hand to help but not in the way a Skills Day is run.

The Thruxton circuit

There is another way you can tell your Skills Day is not a normal track day. Thruxton does not, as far as I know, run motorcycle track days! So, this was a special opportunity to ride this track that I would not have otherwise had and to see for myself this very fast venue that I had only seen on TV

All motorcycles must be road legal and will be inspected on the day to be sure they are fit to be used on track. Track focused bikes are not to be used, and you will not find tyre warmers, race slicks, covered number plates etc! Take particular care with your exhaust systems, especially at Mallory Park. Noise checks are common and if you fail you will not get on track. This is not the IAM being difficult but the circuit having to comply with local planning restrictions. Baffles in please! There was a right mixed bag of bikes on the day I attended, from full fat sports bikes through to huge Harley Davidsons and on to much smaller capacity bikes. The smallest I saw was a KTM 390 Duke

Do not be worried about being out of your depth, scared by the behaviour of other motorcyclist or at certain risk of damaging yourself or your bike. Of course, there are new risks, (you’re on a racetrack after all) but these risks are minimised by the structured way the IAM run these events. One example – there is a speed limit for the day! You won’t find that on a normal track day. At Thruxton the limit was 90 mph (well, maybe 100mph!) but hopefully you take my point

On arrival there is a safety and orientation briefing. This is compulsory and you will not be allowed to continue the day without attending (you are issued with a wrist band that will be checked before you get on the track). At this briefing you will be asked to put yourself into one of three groups based on your ability and track day/skills day experience

image © IAM RoadSmart

Referred to as ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ (where ‘C’ is the least experienced group), each group is then divided into squads of four participants with an instructor. At Thruxton there were a total of 24 bikers in each group which leads to good separation on the track between squads and plenty of room for practice. Aim low is my advice: the object of the day is to improve your skills and if you are running at the best you can do just to keep up then there is no head space to work on your skills and improve

The six sessions through the day start very gently and each one focuses on one skill such as positive steering, braking, body positioning etc. As the day progresses the pace does pick up, but this increase in speed is a consequence of building skills and confidence not because your instructor is disappearing over the horizon and you are racing to keep up!

The pattern of activity through the day is for a 20-minute briefing followed by 20 minutes on track applying the briefing, followed by a debrief with your instructor. It is a very structured day but run in a relaxed and friendly manner. There is plenty of time for questions

A word of warning! You will get lunch. Of course, you will. Mostly it will be chips with whatever (pie, burger etc). All very nice but go easy. You may find the first session after lunch hard work (all your body wants to do is take a nap with a tummy full of chips) and this can mess up your day. Remember you have paid good money for the day, so do your best to get the most out of it

image © Wey Valley Advanced Motorcyclists

An opportunity to ride without: manhole covers, speed bumps, speed cameras, oncoming traffic, junctions, pedestrians, paint on the road, potholes & broken tarmac

An opportunity to ride with: time to work on your machine control skills, with instructors who know lots about motorcycling and want to help, with like-minded motorcyclists on a racetrack that you have only ever seen on the telly

My IAM Skills Day has made such a difference to my skills and confidence on the road. I can’t begin to express my appreciation towards the IAM for these days and cannot recommend them highly enough. Please give it a go: you’ll be a better biker for it