Flat-tracking is the original extreme American motorsport and is possibly the oldest form of motorcycle racing still in existence. When road racing started to gain popularity there in the mid ‘70s, the numbers that poured in to watch the older sport diminished but the last few years have seen something of a renaissance. Royal Enfield wants in on this and has very recently partnered with American Flat Track (AFT) to promote itself in the US.
Much closer to home, the manufacturer has already stepped into action in India with the Slide School. This is an initiative that gives just about anyone access to a flat track, as well as guidance on how to go around one as quickly as possible. I was invited to experience the inaugural edition of the Royal Enfield Slide School at the Big Rock Dirtpark in Bengaluru. Guiding us through the day’s proceedings was Johnny Lewis, AMA Pro racer and founder of Moto Anatomy, one of the most reputed flattrack schools in America.
The coaches talk us through body positioning.
We started out with a ‘classroom’ session on the basics of riding a flat-track motorcycle, which in this case was a modified Royal Enfield Himalayan developed with input from S&S Cycle in the US. It sports the 18-inch wheels from the 650 Twins that have now been shod with special tyres from Timsun and have a diagonal tread pattern. Next, part of the subframe has been chopped off and the stock seats have been replaced by a minimalistic, yet very efficient piece of foam atop some custom body panels. It also benefits from an aftermarket exhaust, a different sprocket to suit the length of the track at Big Rock, and has lost all road-going lights and also its front brake, which is the flat-track way.
The first drill we were asked to work on was vision and follow the lines shown to us. “Look where you want to go” is the thumb rule of vision in any form of riding. To get our attention, there were smiley-face cut-outs placed along the inner edge of the corners, and my experience from the racetrack meant that this wasn’t too hard for me to do. However, step two wasn’t as simple. It involved rolling off the throttle and immediately leaning the bike into the corner, with me sitting almost upright on the outer edge of the seat, or “crack on crack” as Johnny likes to say. You know you’ve got it right when your inner arm is almost fully stretched at the apex. It didn’t help that, unlike the apex I’m used to, this one lay towards the centre of the track. Once I got the hang of that, the next step was to stick my leg out and use it sort of like a third wheel – feel the movement of the bike and push down on the ground to hold the slide. This is easier said than done, because the longest slide I managed was only a couple of metres long. Interestingly, there’s almost no rear brake used to get the bike sideways. I found out that it’s a combination of the lean angle and the rear wheel playing catchup with the front that causes it to swing around. The rear brake is mainly there to help you shed speed, not lock the rear wheel.
American Flat Track racer Johnny Lewis was our head coach.
Those were the basic actions we had to work on and Johnny, along with Bhima and Nelly, the two other coaches from Big Rock, insisted that it was a matter of stitching them together perfectly that constituted the ‘perfect’ slide.
I really enjoyed the format of the Slide School. One, because the coaches were spectacular; and two, because of how much knowledge was imparted thanks to the short loop format. It meant you’d pass one of the coaches every few seconds and they’d either pull you out to tell you what to work on, or just yell it out loud enough for you to hear it. Mostly, it meant that we got to ride a lot!
The best part though, is that this is accessible to anyone, and Royal Enfield is working towards setting up similar facilities in different parts of the country. For Rs 1,500, you can take any motorcycle out on the flat track at Big Rock. Rs 2,000 will let you rent one of the Himalayas there and Rs 2,500 will get you riding the FT411. This extremely reasonable fee includes exactly what we got to experience – a little theory, lots of track time under the watchful eyes of Bhima and Nelly, and bucketloads of fun.