Har­ley-David­son Flat Track

Flat track rac­ing comes to In­dia


One of the old­est forms of mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing comes to In­dia

Flat track mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing is one of the old­est forms of two-wheeled mo­tor sport and has been around for over a cen­tury. the sport has been ex­tremely pop­u­lar in the US since the 1920s and Har­ley-David­son have been at the fore­front of flat track events and com­pe­ti­tions in the States, prov­ing that their big V-twins are for more than just cruis­ing around.

the prin­ci­ple seems sim­ple enough: get a mo­tor­cy­cle around an oval dirt track as fast as pos­si­ble, but the low grip of­fered by the loose sur­face means that a con­ven­tional rid­ing style will just not do. Flat track rac­ers steer their mounts by lean­ing them over and then us­ing the throt­tle to in­tro­duce wheel­spin to ul­ti­mately swing the rear around, danc­ing on the edge of trac­tion and main­tain­ing con­trol of the mo­tor­cy­cle as it tries to slide out from un­der them. It is a spec­tac­u­lar sport to watch and the thought of slid­ing around on those heavy mo­tor­cy­cles is enough to in­duce but­ter­flies.

Har­ley-David­son In­dia and Jaipur­based ra­jputana cus­toms or­gan­ised a week­end to in­tro­duce a bunch of us mo­tor­ing scribes to the dusty world of flat track mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing.

With lit­tle or no knowl­edge of how to ride a flat tracker we needed some pro­fes­sional help and who bet­ter to show us the ropes than Ital­ian flat track racer Marco Belli, founder of Italy’s Di traverso flat track school. Marco is widely re­garded as one of Eu­rope’s top rac­ers and is the man re­spon­si­ble for de­sign­ing the track at Valentino rossi’s tavul­lia ranch, apart from giv­ing the Doc­tor him­self some tips on rid­ing in the dirt.

the venue for our first flat track ex­pe­ri­ence was the newly in­au­gu­rated John Singh Speed­way, built by ra­jputana cus­toms at their prop­erty near Shah­pura, near Jaipur. an early morn­ing bus ride from the ho­tel, and we were greeted by five Har­leyDavid­son Street 750 mo­tor­cy­cles, specif­i­cally al­tered by ra­jputana cus­toms to take on the dusty oval. all un­nec­es­sary bits, in­clud­ing me­ters and the front brake, had been taken off to save weight and the bikes got straight, wide han­dle­bars and longer seats that ex­tended on to the tank. the spoked wheels were shod with flat-track­spe­cific Shinko tyres that pro­vided un­be­liev­able grip on the dusty track and kept the front end planted through the cor­ners.

Marco started off with a class­room ses­sion to demon­strate the re­quired body po­si­tion, ex­plain­ing to us the ba­sics of flat track­ing, af­ter which we got com­fort­able with the ma­chines dur­ing a slalom drill set up with cones. Not hav­ing a front brake was im­me­di­ately an odd sen­sa­tion, but the fact is that if you grab a front brake on the loose sur­face, you can im­me­di­ately ex­pect to taste the dirt. the bikes are slowed by en­gine brak­ing when you roll off the throt­tle and this is sup­ple­mented by the rear brake. the rear brake is also used to get the rear slid­ing on cor­ner en­try, right be­fore you in­duce wheel­spin with the throt­tle on exit. the big V-twin feels just right for the task at hand, pro­vid­ing in­stant torque right off idle to get the rear to break trac­tion with­out the need to re­ally spin the en­gine up.

the ba­sic fun­da­men­tals of flat track­ing are ex­actly con­trary to the prac­tice of rid­ing con­ven­tional mo­tor­cy­cles on road or track. rather than shift­ing your mass low and to the in­side of the cor­ner so that the bike leans less and re­tains grip, here we were ex­pected to do the op­po­site, shift­ing our weight to the out­side and push­ing the bike down into the cor­ner so that the tyre gets on to its side and starts slid­ing the mo­ment you touch the throt­tle. In an ef­fort to keep weight off the rear, al­low­ing it to move around

un­der us, we had to get up on to the tank when go­ing into the cor­ners and then slide back once again on the straight to dig the rear in and en­sure suf­fi­cient for­ward drive with min­i­mal wheel­spin. Manag­ing trac­tion is the name of the game and my ini­tial ap­pre­hen­sion soon gave way to joy­ful smiles as I felt the rear step­ping out un­der me, but still stay­ing un­der con­trol through the cor­ner. By the end of the first day, I was com­fort­ably do­ing laps around the oval track, kick­ing the rear out at will and try­ing to adapt to this strange new body po­si­tion. the day drew to a close and we were fer­ried back to the ho­tel in Jaipur with ach­ing mus­cles and wide smiles, look­ing for­ward to an­other day of play­ing in the dirt.

On day two, things got se­ri­ous. af­ter a few more slalom drills we were paired off and pit­ted against each other, knock­out tour­na­ment style. although this was a friendly com­pe­ti­tion, or­gan­ised for fun, the com­pet­i­tive spirit in each of us rose to the chal­lenge and cau­tion was thrown to the wind as we at­tacked the track, at­tempt­ing to slide around faster than the other guy. I was off to an awe­some start and quickly knocked out my first two op­po­nents, mak­ing my way to the semi-fi­nals. the third race saw me and my op­po­nent neck-and-neck for the first two laps; with three more to go I got greedy with the throt­tle and had the rear end spin up and come around to over­take the front, throw­ing me off in a cloud of dust. With the rac­ing done, I was able to squeeze in a few more prac­tice laps be­fore we wrapped up for the day and headed to Jaipur air­port, leav­ing the awe­some John Singh Speed­way be­hind us.

Har­ley-David­son have for years pro­moted their mo­tor­cy­cles at such flat track events all over the world and we’re ex­tremely thank­ful that they have teamed up with ra­jputana cus­toms to bring this his­toric bik­ing dis­ci­pline to en­thu­si­as­tic In­dian bik­ers. I had an ab­so­lute blast go­ing side­ways around the dirt oval and although I may have got the fun­da­men­tals down, there’s still so much more to learn. look­ing for­ward to my next flat track­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The big V-twin feels just right for the task at hand

Marco shows us how to get up on the tank to ride these mo­tor­cy­cles

Vi­jay Singh Ajaira­jpura of Ra­jputana Cus­toms in ac­tion on his cre­ation All of the jour­nal­ists and in­flu­encers in­vited for the ride Marco gives us a quick demo

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