If you’re considering buying a dedicated track motorcycle for thundering around your local circuit on a track day, then we’ve got some great advice for you. If you’re prepared to part with your hard cash you’d better do your research. For most riders out there, you probably don’t even need a special bike to give you a thrill on the track – in most cases, any bike will do. You see, most motorcycles are built with acceleration and cornering in mind save for the odd few cruisers that aren’t quite designed for it, and almost any type of motorcycle will put a smile on your face when you give it some around the track.
In fact, the best track motorcycle options for beginners aren’t what you’d expect. Before we get stuck into what we consider to be the best track bike choices, we’ll take a quick look at a few things to consider if you’re new to the whole scene. Let’s look at the novice track motorcycle criteria.
The Novice Track Bike
While it might seem like the right idea to turn up with a top-of-the-range sports machine, you’re probably better off riding…your usual motorcycle. If you’re comfortable on your faithful commuter Suzuki SV, or feel more at home on your urban focused Ducati Monster, then that is the motorcycle you should take on your first track day. It doesn’t take much to prep them for track use, usually just removing your mirrors, taping up your lights, and making sure it doesn’t leak fluids – but track requirements vary, so do your research.
Even if you think your day-to-day ride isn’t track material, you may be surprised at just how well it can perform when you’re allowed to give it some. Ideally, you should wait until you’re really comfortable on the track and are familiar with how to make the most of what you’ve got, how the track works, and you’re confident that a dedicated track motorcycle is worth the money before you decide to take your riding career to the next level. And even when you’ve convinced yourself that you want to get more involved in track day racing and feel like you’ve “completed” your current ride, buying a brand new ZX-10R is still a terrible idea. And here’s why.
Buying A Dedicated Track Motorcycle
Cheap, reliable, underpowered, and something you really don’t care about – these are four important things to keep in mind when you’re considering your track motorcycle. Firstly, it needs to be cheap because you’re not backed by a multinational company, and other stuff like quality leathers, decent helmets, tooling, and track fees are expensive. Secondly, it needs to be reliable, and that means it needs to start on command, won’t blow itself up, and doesn’t leak. Next, you need to measure yourself realistically. While throwing around 180 hp figures is fun, do you really have what it takes to make the most of them? Probably not yet. Keep your power figures reasonable and learn to ride a slow motorcycle fast, rather than ride a fast motorcycle slowly – you can have a lot more fun with 50 hp than you think.
Lastly, and most importantly, you don’t want to fall in love with this track motorcycle. Ideally, you won’t crash it – but the possibility is always there, and if never make a mistake, you’ll never make anything. If you’re riding a brand new motorcycle that you really care about, you’re not going to ride it properly because you’ll be scared of crashing it. That piece of crap, bargain basement Honda with scratched plastics and rattle can paint job though…now that is something you can throw into a corner properly without fear of costly reparations. And that’s what you really want. Cheap, reliable, underpowered, and unlovable – these are things you should consider for your first dedicated track motorcycle.
The Top 10 Bargain Track Motorcycle Options!
This list is geared towards to those who have already got a taste for track riding and want something to throw around their local circuit, and while we’re taking great care to include “cheap” and “reliable” we’re not going to concern ourselves with the underpowered or unlovable parts. While we’ll always insist that a smaller motorcycle is the best way to learn how to race properly, you might have better luck finding larger budget motorcycles for a more appropriate price, so we’re just going to list our favorite track bike options that are easy to find, guaranteed to be cheap, will be as reliable as sin, and will give you plenty of track thrills…so here we go.
#10. The Suzuki SV650
Let’s start with the obvious: the first generation of Suzuki SV650 machines, specifically the the S version. When it first rolled onto the scene in 1999 it quickly became a track favorite all over the world, with riders appreciating the v-twin’s competent mid-range, agile handling, and sporty feel. The half-faired version didn’t arrive in the USA until 2000 though, but after seeing the demand for a sports-oriented SV, Suzuki finally began selling them in the USA, complete with the low handlebars, bikini fairing, high footpegs and sporty screen that track enthusiasts had been raving about in Europe and Canada. Thanks to its cheap price tag, it was a great track motorcycle and subsequently gave birth to a racing class in its own right. It was cheap then, so you can bet you can find one for even cheaper right now. Boasting 64.2 hp and 42.3 lb-ft of torque, the early Suzuki SV650S models are seriously worth investigating.
#09. The Yamaha YZF-R6
While the first Yamaha R6 models to roll out of the factory in 1998 were great, for a good track motorcycle we recommend the next generation instead, but any early and affordable R6 will do just fine. Lightweight, aggressive, and fast, the R6 was designed for racing on the track. Luckily, despite their racing pedigree, these old carbureted R6s sell for pretty cheap and if you look hard enough, you can probably find a few that have already been converted into dedicated track motorcycles, often boasting complete exhaust overhauls, proper suspension, and upgraded brakes. Don’t be disheartened by the age of the bike either – because these things absolutely rip, and they still look fresh too. If you were tempted to get a newer R6 instead, you might find that these older ones are a little easier to get your bearings on, so don’t discount them because of their age.
#08. The Triumph Street Triple
While it’s not a conventional choice for a track racer, the Street Triple is a great option – in all of its bug eyed glory. Does it come with a conventional race fairing? No, but it has more than enough bite to give conventional 600cc supersport machines a headache. And while we like the new Triumph Street Triple, we think the earlier first and second generation machines would make for ideal track motorcycle projects (circa 2007 – 2012). Thanks to the 675cc triple cylinder engine which boasts around 91 hp and 44.4 lb-ft of torque at the wheel, combined with a chassis that makes for light, nimble handling, these things are absolutely brilliant on closed circuits – and though they’re an unconventional choice, if one comes up within your budget, we recommend you investigate. Make sure it has been taken care of though, and if it’s a non-runner, walk away because it could be a lot of hassle to fix.
#07. The Honda CBR600F
Unlike the “RR” designated 600s from Honda, the CBR600F models generally come up cheaper on the bike lists. They might not be as sports-oriented but they are an absolute blast to ride on the track. Older models are generally quite cheap to buy, built to last and boast fantastic reliability, have enough poke to keep things interesting without completely overwhelming you, and since they’re a dime a dozen and pretty soulless, they’re hard to get attached to. And they have the added benefits of being capable and versatile every-day rides should you need to keep your track motorcycle in road-legal “Plan B mode of transport” trim. Since they’re quite popular motorcycles, there’s a good chance you can find one for sale that has had some work done to it, with upgrades like new braided brake lines, a revised exhaust system, and improved brakes for little bit more cash. Naturally, if you can find a CBR600RR within your budget that suits your needs better, then that’s another fantastic option – but they don’t go as cheap, usually.
#06. The Kawasaki ZX-6R
Depending on your abilities, there are plenty of ZX-6R models to choose from. If you’re willing to go cheap, don’t mind being quite underpowered, and can live with the dated looks, a late 90s – early 00s model could be exactly what you need. Having said that, if your budget allows for it, we’d recommend spending a little more on a second generation 636 (’05 – ’06). The engine is better, the slipper clutch is useful, the brakes are better, the exhaust definitely looks racier in that underseat configuration, and boasting around 110 hp (about 10 hp more than the regular ZX-6R of the time), you can see why we’re crazy about it. Again, it’s very likely that you stumble across a track prepped model for a little more money, with steel brake lines, steering dampers and maybe an exhaust upgrade and Power Commander if you’re lucky.
#05. The Honda CBR900RR
While we have nothing against an old school 900RR from the early 90s, we think you should spend a little bit more and get one a little newer…but still old – does that makes sense? If you can pick one up from the early 2000s for a reasonable price then you’ve got a fun track motorcycle on your hands. Granted, it will not be as fast or powerful as other Japanese bikes of the same size and age, but it you’ll learn quite a lot about how the fastest bike isn’t necessarily the best. When the original 900RR was being drawn up by Tadao Baba, his mission was to combine a decent sized engine into a lightweight chassis that handles better than bigger, faster motorcycles – and he succeeded. With 170 hp on tap, you’ll have plenty of fun. As for the build quality and reliability, that’s not even worth asking – it’s a Honda…just turn up and go.
#04. The Aprilia RSV Mille
Aprilia make some of the best track motorcycles in the world, with their small capacity RS125 and RS250 models being popular machines for budding racers, but what about something bigger for those of us who have zero chance of racing professionally to have a blat on? As the RSV4 is quite obviously out of range, the older v-twin RSV Mille isn’t a bad compromise. It might be large in the cubic-centimeter department, but the power output is tame enough to be realistic, and of course, unlike the rest of the list so far it’s a v-twin. The 998cc v-twin mill produces a modest 110 hp and 68 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel, boasts a top speed of 168 mph and to make thing interesting it came with an odd slipper-clutch kind-of-thing which makes it a fun choice. They might not be as popular as the likes of the Japanese bikes above, but they don’t command bank-busting resale values either and have been known to sell for cheap prices – and with race-oriented add-ons like forged wheels and upgraded suspension as part of some deals.
#03. The Ducati 900SS SuperSport
If you need an Italian v-twin but don’t fancy the Aprilia, there’s always the Ducati SuperSport. No, not the new one – the old one. Manufactured between 1998 and 2002, the Ducati 900 SS is an ideal bike to seek out right now. Not only is it a great choice for a track motorcycle, they generally sell for quite cheap and will probably increase in value if you don’t slam into a tire wall. A lot of older Ducatis are becoming popular again, no doubt because of the designer label, but the 900 SS prices aren’t growing in value like that of other older models…yet. But we’re here to talk about track days, and the Ducati 900 SS can be quite the demon, boasting 80 hp from its v-twin lump. Don’t be put off by the old Ducati horror stories – if you can find one for sale today for under $5000 in running order, most of the old Ducati issues have more than likely been fixed – but look out for dodgy electrics and other old Ducati issues.
#02. The Yamaha R1
Ok, we said that going big isn’t the wisest idea, but no list about track motorcycle options could be considered proper without the mention of the ultimate track motorcycle: the Yamaha R1. Which year? Whichever one you can afford – providing it hasn’t been thrashed too badly already by over-zealous wheelie enthusiasts. The first year the Yamaha R1 came out, the world stood still – it was a revolutionary motorcycle – and even today it will give anyone riding one of the old ’99 models a huge smile. Obviously, the newer you can afford to buy, the better, but don’t discount those old beasts. You can pick up a 2000 Yamaha R1 for a laughably cheap price; a motorcycle with 126 hp at the rear wheel, that was designed to kick the sh*t out of anything that was foolish enough to have a go. While it’s definitely not a track motorcycle for a newbie, if you’ve already cut your teeth on the likes of a 600 and want to try something a little different, then the R1 is a fantastic choice.
#01. The Suzuki GSX-R750
Remember the logic behind the CBR900RR: a large displacement sports engine mated to a lightweight, agile chassis more commonly found on a 600? Well, it’s the perfect partnership for a track motorcycle, and as luck would have it, the Suzuki GSX-R750 is the perfect example of it in action. And to make things even sweeter, they’re cheap, widely available, and easy to procure. For the budget conscious track racer, you can find yourself a 2001 or 2002 model in good condition for less than $3,500 (in fact, we just saw a great one in mind condition sell for $2,500). If you feel like spending a tiny bit more, you can pick up a far superior ’04 model, which weighs much less than the previous editions, comes with an upgraded ECU, Tokico brakes, and 127 hp at the wheel, for about $1,000 more. Beating a 1000 with an old 750 is an incredibly rewarding experience that we highly recommend.
At the end of the day, whatever you’ve got to ride is more than enough to enjoy a track day. The newest and biggest bikes aren’t always the best, and sometimes an old piece of trash in the right hands is just what’s required. Save you dollars for better training and proper gear for now – you can treat yourself to an expensive track motorcycle later.