Learning To Ride Flat Track
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing held an introduction for its 2019 flat-track team at Perris Raceway in Southern California. In addition to announcing the two-rider lineup of Dan Bromley and Shayna Texter, both of whom will contest the American Flat Track series in the 450cc Singles class, KTM also gave us the opportunity to try flat track for ourselves.
The bikes prepared for us were 2019 450 SX-F Factory Editions, the same machines we rode just a couple of weeks earlier on a motocross track but with modifications to make them suitable for flat-track riding including no front brake, 19-inch wheels front and rear, and lowered suspension. According to KTM Flat Track and Road Racing Manager Chris Fillmore, on average, the suspension is lowered anywhere from 75mm to 115mm in the front and 10mm to 50mm in the rear.
KTM had four bikes on hand and split journalist into groups of three for five-minute sessions. I went in the third group and used that as an opportunity to watch the other editors give it a try, some for their first time, and see what I could learn watching from the fence. One rider high-sided, another tucked the front end on two separate occasions in the same corner, both of which put a small hole in the ground where the handlebar impacted with the ultra-smooth surface. Both riders were all right and only minor bike repairs were needed. I laced up the steel shoe I borrowed from my colleague, Michael Gilbert, who is the road test editor for Cycle World.
When initially hopping on the bike, the first thing you notice, unsurprisingly, is how much closer you are to the ground with the lowered suspension. Not having a front brake was strange at first too; I’m so used to having my index finger on the front brake at nearly all times, but I got used to it after a few times around the track. KTM recommended we stay in first gear for the first session. I used those slow laps to get used to the bike, due to concern of overshooting a corner and crashing.
In the second session and onward, I left the bike in second gear the entire time, which proved to be ideal. Another setting I experimented with was the two handlebar-mounted maps and traction control that come stock on the bike. I hopped on a bike Fillmore had just ridden and noticed he ran map 2 with traction control on. I used that setting the rest of the night as it had good low-end power, yet maintained a smooth delivery and remained easy to control.
I focused on my cornering position by sitting onto the very edge of the seat and leaning the bike into the turn as much as possible. As I spun more laps, I began to feel confident sliding the rear end out slightly, which was an awesome feeling. I quickly learned that body position also plays a large part in riding flat track, as leaning your head and torso forward or back has a significant effect on how much traction the bike gets, especially when on the gas coming out of corners.
I also found the transition between on-throttle and off-throttle played a notable part in keeping the bike settled. There were a few occasions where I hit the rev limiter while still sliding minimally, and chopping the throttle brought the bike back to a straight up and down position somewhat abruptly. After realizing this, I focused on having smooth throttle control while rolling it on and when letting off.
I had a few instances where I came into the corner faster than I planned on, mostly when trying to pass another rider, which got my adrenaline pumping as I drifted outside toward the wall trying to slow down. Luckily, none of those resulted in an impact or crash as I was farther from the wall than I anticipated, but the lack of an option to grab the front brake made the situation seem direr than it really was.
Prior to riding flat track, I had high hopes of how much fun it would be, and I am happy to say it surpassed my expectations. I had an absolute blast trying a new form of riding and feeling my progress as the night went on. If another rider opted out of a session, I volunteered to take their place and rode until the track closed that evening in an effort to get as many laps in as I could because of how much fun I was having. If you ever get the opportunity to give flat track a try, I highly recommend it as it’s not only a great time, but also a good way to cross-train for motocross or off-road.