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