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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
All,

I could use some pointers:

I have been riding street bikes since the '80s but my first time on a track was in October 2020. I then bought a 2018 Ninja 400 and have participated in track days at Barber Motorsports several times since in Novice. Also spent a weekend at Summit Point and got to ride Shenandoah and Summit Main on consecutive days. Moved up from Novice to Intermediate late in the day at my last Barber track day. Running right at 2 minute laps.

I am 58 years old and a total newbie to track riding, as I mentioned, only started in 2020. My 400 is stock except for a few odds and ends to reduce weight by maybe 8 pounds:
  • Remus Slip On
  • Tail Tidy
  • Reflectors removed
  • Removed left passenger peg bracket assembly and replace right assembly with a lightweight muffler hanger
  • Mirrors removed
  • Aluminum, adjustable side-stand
And engine wise:
  • ECU flash by Spears
  • Spears velocity stacks, but didn't cut the airbox
Suspension:
  • Totally stock, not even fork oil change.
  • As far as I know, factory height on fork.
  • Rear spring one below highest "preload" (Not sure if that is the correct term, but it is second from firmest if that makes sense).

I had my first track day low side at Barber about a month ago. It was a tight left hander (turn 5 / Charlotte's Web). I had passed a couple of early braking bikes and came in off my normal line (further inside), but was confident I would get through the turn fine... until the front end tucked and I saw sparks and went sliding. At least that is what I think occurred. It felt like the front went first. Was able to re-tech and continue the remainder of the day.

Tires:
  • GP300s with several track days. I think I was at 27 PSI Front, 31 PSI Rear semi-cold.
  • Tires felt warm upon exit from track, but not so hot that I couldn't leave my hand on them.
  • Outside temp was low 70's that day if I remember correctly

My weight: About 182 lbs. Add weight of track gear of course.

I have thought about the crash quite a bit. I am wondering if the front end could have bottomed out, as I was moving about the same speed as normal for that turn, but working a tighter line and quicker turn in.
  • Is this a reasonable explanation? Would welcome other opinions.
  • I plan to Track Day for the next couple of years, but no plans to ever race.
    • For a track day bike on a budget, what suspension mods would be most appropriate?

Much Respect to you guys, and Thanks in advance!




 

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It happens to everyone and usually in the slowest corners. There could have been a dozen different reasons why it happened. But that said there’s a good chance that with more track oriented tires it wouldn’t have happened. It’s hard to describe just how much difference good tires can make on track. Probably more difference than anything else you could do to the bike.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
It happens to everyone and usually in the slowest corners. There could have been a dozen different reasons why it happened. But that said there’s a good chance that with more track oriented tires it wouldn’t have happened. It’s hard to describe just how much difference good tires can make on track. Probably more difference than anything else you could do to the bike.
Duckman,
Thanks for the advice! I have been looking at tires, and do plan to upgrade this winter. I prefer to avoid tire warmers if I can avoid it. Based on searches and research including the well known video article by Ari Henning KTM 390 small bike tire shootout several years ago, I was thinking about Bridgestone Battlax S22s.
 

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If you’re buying mainly for the street with some track the S22 is a good tire and a step up from the stock tires. If you don’t ride much street in the rain the Dunlop Q3+ is another step up and nearly as good as track only tires requiring warmers.
 

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I'd definitely be blaming the GPR300's. Squirmy things at lean. No way would I want that tire on a track day. Definitely will hold you back as you get faster and sap confidence as it moves around.
I run S22's which have great dry grip. Performed well at the track. I got 5300miles / 8500km out of my previous set with spirited street use and 1 track day. They'll keep boosting your confidence no end.
Currently on my 3rd set.
My first set. Tire pressure woes, and high performance rubber...
 

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Get the suspension reworked. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, get the suspension done. Until that happens, every dollar you spend elsewhere on the bike is money pissed away.
On the front, springs, oil and emulators will be fine. On the rear, spend the money on a good shock. Very critical, find out what's a good length for the shock. Rear shock length is arguably the single most important parameter in setting up bike geometry, it affects everything.
Finally, I raced a lot of years, many crashes. Can't recall tires ever being the reason. All tires have limits, your job as a rider is to figure out where they are and get the most out of them.
 
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I disagree about spending anything on suspension. As far as getting faster, it's firstly all about good tires which keep pumping your confidence and secondly spending on track time.

No point spending on suspension until you're doing things like trail braking decently hard to the apex with your knee is still on the deck, floating the rear wheel into braking zones, and getting movement from the rear when transitioning from brakes to throttle at the corner apex. All these things can be done on the stock suspension. Until then, money spent on suspension is better spent on sticky rubber and track days.
It's common to race these bikes in classes prohibiting suspension mods. Too many people think stuff like the suspension is holding them back - meantime others who have just spent money on more track time, and high end tires, are far quicker than them.

Good suspension is always going to help, but it's down the list.
I've had to max my rear shock preload to stop pogoing between front and rear. If you are bottoming out the front forks under brakes, you will need tougher fork springs etc. But I wouldn't worry about it at this point.
 

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^^ +1
OP is new to track days. It may have been just a mistake. Maybe he braked too much, or leaned too much.
Best plan for me is to have decent tires, make sure the springs don't bottom up, learn well what you're supposed to do on the bike as body position, race lines, throttle control, ecc, and have as much seat time as possible.
 

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Another vote for tires. Today I rode a stock 400 (besides exhaust and flashed ECU) at the track. I was just testing out some stuff and it wasn't my bike so I didn't go nearly as fast on it as I normally would on my own bike, but I felt fine on the stock suspension, despite being a heavy guy. However I had no confidence in those stock tires and that's really what kept me from trying to go faster. Could they have handled more? Absolutely. But I didn't want to take a chance.

I also have a friend who has one expert club races on a 400 with stock suspensions and he was lapping within about 2-3 seconds of what the top Jr Cup kids were lapping at that track in MotoAmerica. Tires are definitely more important.
 

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Another vote for tires. Today I rode a stock 400 (besides exhaust and flashed ECU) at the track. I was just testing out some stuff and it wasn't my bike so I didn't go nearly as fast on it as I normally would on my own bike, but I felt fine on the stock suspension, despite being a heavy guy. However I had no confidence in those stock tires and that's really what kept me from trying to go faster. Could they have handled more? Absolutely. But I didn't want to take a chance.

I also have a friend who has one expert club races on a 400 with stock suspensions and he was lapping within about 2-3 seconds of what the top Jr Cup kids were lapping at that track in MotoAmerica. Tires are definitely more important.
You're confusing two very different things. One is outright speed in the hands of a good rider (and yes, for that tires are paramount) and the other is what's most important for a new track rider to have enough confidence to push and to learn.
Suspension that's too soft, with inadequate damping, that's pogoing and bouncing around over bumps mid-corner is not going to help a new track guy learn, no matter how incredible the tires are.
Good suspension, that gives stability and consistent feedback, is what you need to get up to speed rapidly.
 
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You're confusing two very different things. One is outright speed in the hands of a good rider (and yes, for that tires are paramount) and the other is what's most important for a new track rider to have enough confidence to push and to learn.
Suspension that's too soft, with inadequate damping, that's pogoing and bouncing around over bumps mid-corner is not going to help a new track guy learn, no matter how incredible the tires are.
Good suspension, that gives stability and consistent feedback, is what you need to get up to speed rapidly.
But same can be said for tires. You can have WSBK spec Ohlins suspension on your bike, but if you're on shitty stock tires, a new rider will either crash because they don't understand the limits of said tires, or just won't have the confidence to push. Personally, I can ride around poor suspension better than I can ride around bad tires. I would agree with your logic if it was an extreme case, like a 275+ lb guy on a stock ninja 300. But an average sized guy on a stock ninja 400 that's new to the track, won't even realize that it's the suspension holding back his pace. It's not tires either at that point though....it's just lack of skill/experience. Ideally one should improve both. No need to buy the best slicks right away, and no need to spend $3000 on suspension right away either. I would recommend a combination of the two personally, especially if they're on a budget....upgrade tires to a more sport oriented street/DOT tire, get a better shock (literally anything better than the stock one) and if you got some spare change, Traxxion Dynamics AR25 kit for the forks. But if one is REALLY on a budget and can't afford all of that, I would always suggest better tires at first.
 

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But same can be said for tires. You can have WSBK spec Ohlins suspension on your bike, but if you're on shitty stock tires, a new rider will either crash because they don't understand the limits of said tires, or just won't have the confidence to push. Personally, I can ride around poor suspension better than I can ride around bad tires. I would agree with your logic if it was an extreme case, like a 275+ lb guy on a stock ninja 300. But an average sized guy on a stock ninja 400 that's new to the track, won't even realize that it's the suspension holding back his pace. It's not tires either at that point though....it's just lack of skill/experience. Ideally one should improve both. No need to buy the best slicks right away, and no need to spend $3000 on suspension right away either. I would recommend a combination of the two personally, especially if they're on a budget....upgrade tires to a more sport oriented street/DOT tire, get a better shock (literally anything better than the stock one) and if you got some spare change, Traxxion Dynamics AR25 kit for the forks. But if one is REALLY on a budget and can't afford all of that, I would always suggest better tires at first.
Sigh...you're still not getting it.
What makes the bike more predictable and makes the limit (whatever that limit is isn't really important) easier to find? Because that's what going to help someone learn and get better. And it's going to be more fun for them also.
Suspension is the answer to that question. And it doesn't have to be $3000, or anywhere near that. Springs, oil and emulators up front, a good shock in back. $1200 probably.
I don't know about you, but I'd much rather do a track day on a bike set up like that, with sport touring tires, than I would on a bike with stock suspension and the latest/greatest racing slicks. (And yes, I've done both.)
 

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I just think it needs tires, but an adjustable shock is nice. Cornering felt amazing after increasing 5mm in the rear. Use a proper tire gauge too. Those cheap gauges can be uncalibrated and your tire can be overinflated.
 

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Sigh...you're still not getting it.
What makes the bike more predictable and makes the limit (whatever that limit is isn't really important) easier to find? Because that's what going to help someone learn and get better. And it's going to be more fun for them also.
Suspension is the answer to that question. And it doesn't have to be $3000, or anywhere near that. Springs, oil and emulators up front, a good shock in back. $1200 probably.
I don't know about you, but I'd much rather do a track day on a bike set up like that, with sport touring tires, than I would on a bike with stock suspension and the latest/greatest racing slicks. (And yes, I've done both.)
Sigh… dude, you’re the one that’s not getting it. It doesn’t matter how much money you put into the suspension or motor. You’re still going to end up crashing on those crap stock rim protectors that come on the bike. And yes, a set of Pilot Road 5 touring tires would be a big improve over them.

Now, when someone reaches the point of moving to real race tires or even the best sport street tires and is fast enough to keep heat in them, then suspension and setup gets real important. Critical in fact because of the loads you’re then putting into the chassis.

Crashing not only sucks but it gets expensive in a hurry. $3-400 for a good set of tires is a no brainer.
 

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Sigh...you're still not getting it.
What makes the bike more predictable and makes the limit (whatever that limit is isn't really important) easier to find? Because that's what going to help someone learn and get better. And it's going to be more fun for them also.
Suspension is the answer to that question. And it doesn't have to be $3000, or anywhere near that. Springs, oil and emulators up front, a good shock in back. $1200 probably.
I don't know about you, but I'd much rather do a track day on a bike set up like that, with sport touring tires, than I would on a bike with stock suspension and the latest/greatest racing slicks. (And yes, I've done both.)
Sigh… dude, you’re the one that’s not getting it. It doesn’t matter how much money you put into the suspension or motor. You’re still going to end up crashing on those crap stock rim protectors that come on the bike. And yes, a set of Pilot Road 5 touring tires would be a big improve over them.

Now, when someone reaches the point of moving to real race tires or even the best sport street tires and is fast enough to keep heat in them, then suspension and setup gets real important. Critical in fact because of the loads you’re then putting into the chassis.

Crashing not only sucks but it gets expensive in a hurry. $3-400 for a good set of tires is a no brainer.
Exactly what Duckman said. It's not that I'm "not getting it". I just don't agree with you. I've been doing this a long time, I've seen plenty of novice track day riders crash and it was never because of suspension. There is a reason every track day organization has "good condition tires" as one of the tech requirements, but nobody has "good setup or aftermarket suspension" on their list. I'm not disagreeing that suspension is not worth upgrading, especially on cheap entry level bikes like the 400, as I said in my previous post...just that if you have to pick between the two tires are of a higher importance in my opinion and can potentially prevent a crash. Now with the more expensive bikes, like modern 1000s, those already come with better tires, brakes and suspension from the factory. If a novice rider had a bike like that, I wouldn't even suggest any upgrades...just seat time/training.
 

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This is all good stuff! I think the current plan for the off-season is:
  • Q3+ tires
  • Traxxion Dynamics AR25
  • Rear shock with piggyback reservoir
  • See what else can be done to reduce weight of the bike
  • Play more racquetball and lose 5 pounds of me.
Then hit the tracks in Spring/Summer/Fall for more fun!
Dunlop Q3, Q3+, Q4, "I run 'em and they're awesome"

Traxxion Dynamics AR25 FTW, awesome mod, probably the best one! In my personal track bike forks!
Rear Shock- Gixxer 600/750 https://www.norton-motorsports.com/product/adapter-kit-gsxr-shock-to-kawasaki-ninja-400-z400/ On my bike as well!

Full Exhaust system- saves 5+lbs I bought this one 12mos ago, open box, missing one washer for $475 YOSHIMURA Alpha T Race Series Full Exhaust Kawasaki Ninja 400 2018-2020 | eBay

Do NOT run Aluminum rear sprocket, it will last about 6.5hrs of racing.
 
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