Ever since I got my first taste of flat track fun at IBW in Goa, I have been raring to get back on the dirt oval and kick up some dust for a while. There’s just something so enticing about sliding a bike around a track. Like the feeling of power that stems from being able to overpower the rear wheel’s urge to grip, while simultaneously fending off the open arms of gravity. The art of controlled chaos, as far as I am concerned, is one of great beauty, and flat track racing is an emerging canvas.
To understand the level of enthusiasm with which I wanted to get back on the dirt, let me tell you how things played out. I had just returned from Chennai after a long and tiring event at the Madras International Circuit, reached home at midnight, slept for three hours, woke up, repacked my bag and set off for Pune. I was running on a full tank of enthusiasm, which was supplemented by a lot of caffeine. I met up with our friend Yogi and hitched a ride with him the rest of the way to the Autologue Ranch. Driving around in a pickup truck with two dirt bikes loaded up in the back is a whole vibe in itself.
We made a quick pitstop at the food mall on the expressway for a quick bite, where we ran into another group, who were coincidentally also headed to the Autologue Ranch for a flat track session themselves. After a top-up of caffeine as well as fuel, we were on our way once again and managed to arrive right on time. Our photographer Kaizad had arrived before us, and was soaking up the morning sunlight as he waited. We hopped out, made introductions and quickly suited up for what we had really come for. The flat track was calling, and it would be no less than a sin to keep it waiting any more.
But not so fast, we had an initial classroom session to attend before we could be unleashed on the track. Our instructor, Suraj Giri, made sure of it that we knew what we were doing before sending us out. Right from enlightening us on the history of flat tracking, to the basic physics behind how the whole thing works, we were recipients of the whole package. He explained to us why the track was oval, and answered any subsequent questions that we came up with. We also found out why we were to ride anti-clockwise and not the other way round (and no, it’s not because it is inauspicious, I asked).
Next came the motorcycles that we were to ride. Specially modified Royal Enfield Himalayans with 18-inch spoked wheels shod with block-tread rubber. Other changes included weight reduction wherever possible, which meant that the tail end had gone through flat-track specific customisations. There were no lights or indicators, and more importantly, no front brakes. The seat was just a layer of foam stuck onto the tail cowl unit, because one doesn’t really sit on it, but rather, locks onto the bike at an odd angle, so no complaints there.
It was now time for the track walk, and Giri gave us the low-down on braking points, entry and exit lines and specific instructions regarding throttle management, all while sizing up the track on foot. The track was lined with hay bales around the inner and outer circumferences, in case of any overenthusiastic incidents. There were also six hay bales placed strategically on the track to act as our guide points. We were to religiously stay within these lines if we were to do it properly.
Finally, it was time for us to put what we had learnt in the classroom to the test. We pulled onto the dirt, cautiously at first, after which we slowly picked up a bit of speed. Yogi was a much faster learner than any of us, and he soon started riding circles around us, not to mention that he was probably the fittest among us all. In a while, the heat coupled with slight aches and pains started setting in and our batch was called back in after completing the initial 50 laps. No surprise that Yogi quickly went, unloaded his dirtbike and started tearing up the dirt track, while we were left trying to catch our breaths.
This is when I was reminded that physical fitness is a must in physically demanding sports such as these. It doesn’t have to be that we should go to the gym every day, but rather to get enough exercise, and be active enough to not be huffing and puffing at times like these. The second round started soon and we were back at it, kicking up enough dust to reduce visibility to a haze. I can’t forget Giri constantly reminding me to get my back straight, head pointing towards the corner and to get my right elbow up. ‘Hold the throttle like you would a screwdriver’, was one of the most helpful suggestions, and it made a world of change.
We were soon going pretty fast, bikes leaning in, left foot dragging and steering locked in the opposite direction. With every lap, we were building our muscle memory to carry out everything subconsciously. We fell, dusted ourselves off, picked up the bikes and carried right on. Eating a bit of dirt isn’t bad at all, but rather takes the fear out of falling, and with that gone, it is just one less thing to worry about. Live feedback and corrections from Giri saw us improving at a good pace.
On the whole, flat tracking feels like we’re on an IV line of adrenaline, all while staying within the confines of that oval dirt track. Learning to push the bikes into a slide and control how it behaves sure is fun. Now I am properly addicted, and I doubt that anyone with the smallest craving for excitement on two wheels could pass up on this experience. I shall be back on the flat track soon, and in the meanwhile, I suggest that you guys check it out.