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Harley-Davidson recently introduced Flat-Track racing in India through an experience ride. A select few were invited to the John Singh Speedway on the outskirts of Jaipur to ride Harley-Davidson Flat Track motorcycles on dirt. The motorcycles were built by Rajputana Customs for the American Brand.
What Is Flat-Track Racing?
Flat Track Racing is a motorcycle racing form that first originated in Europe more than 100 years ago. However, it only grew in the 1920s when it became popular in America. It involves motorcycles being raced against each other on an oval-shaped dirt-track with two left-handed corners.
The track is almost-always flat. According to the American Motorcyclist Association Pro Racing, there are four classes of tracks on which flat-track racing is held. The Short Track is about 0.4 miles (0.643 kilometres) in length and allows single and twin-cylinder powered motorcycles to participate.
The Half Mile Track and Mile Track as the names suggest, are 0.5 miles (0.804 kilometres) and 1.0 mile (1.609 kilometres) long. There is also a different track specification for the TT series, where the oval track also includes a right-handed corners and also mounds and jumps. These three circuits are raced only on twin-cylinder motorcycles.
Harley-Davidson - Champions Of Flat Track Racing
Harley-Davidson is a manufacturer of cruiser motorcycles. Such motorcycles are generally expected to be seen on the highway and least expected on the dirt track, at least in India. However, Harley-Davidson is known as one of the dominant forces in the world of Flat Track Racing.
Harley-Davidson has won 680 races in its class at the American Flat Track Championship. The brand is currently in its second year as the official motorcycle for the Vance & Hines American Flat Track Twins Championship.
Harley-Davidson and flat track championships go way back to the 1930s when the brand started dominating the races held in America. Since then, Harley-Davidson has never stepped back from Flat Track Racing, winning several accolades over the last few decades.
Since Harley-Davidson has been so closely associated with Flat Track Racing, it only seemed right for it to become the first to introduce it in India as well.
Di Traverso Flat Track School In India
The Italian terms ‘Di Traverso' in English, means ‘Sideways'. Hence, the literal translation of ‘Di Traverso School' is, Sideways School. Well, that seems apt, since going sideways is exactly what the riding school in Italy was set up to teach.
The Di Traverso School is headed by several-time Italian Flat Track champion and International Flat Track legend Marco Belli. He is the man who introduced nine-time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi to the world of flat track racing. He is also the man behind the design of Rossi's well-known Tavulia Ranch in Italy.
The Di Traverso School is based in Varese, Italy. So how did we get to experience it in India? Well, Harley-Davidson decided to bring in Marco Belli and his co-instructor Alessandro Pagani to give a select few an experience of flat-track racing.
Harley-Davidson had introduced a purpose-built Flat Track racer at the 2017 India Bike Week in Goa. The Flat Track motorcycle was built by Rajputana Customs and almost everyone went gaga over it, especially when it was ridden flat-out by Vijay Singh Ajairajpura, going sideways.
Harley-Davidson then saw this as an opportunity and handed over four other Harley-Davidson Street Rod motorcycles to Rajputana Customs. Vijay Singh and his team of mechanics then turned the four motorcycles into full-blown Flat Track racers.
Rajputana Customs And John Singh Speedway
Rajputana Customs is a well-known motorcycle customisation shop run by Vijay Singh Ajairajpura. Vijay Singh's father also had a bit of land on the outskirts of Jaipur, which they decided to turn into a flat track.
Bulldozers and heavyweight rollers went over the track a few hundred times, and then 25,000-litres of organic oil was added to condition the loose mud surface. After more running of the rollers, the track was ready to go sideways on.
A select few from the motorcycling scene in India, including journalists, bloggers and professional riders were invited by Harley-Davidson India to get the Flat Track experience. Marco Belli trained the riders before sending them out on the track.
The Flat Track Experience!
Two contrasting words can be used to describe the Flat Track experience - Fun and Scary. Fun, because going sideways is always a thrilling and enjoyable experience. Scary because, well, there are no front brakes.
No, we aren't pointing to poor brakes, there literally is no front brake. According to Marco Belli, this is because the natural tendency of the rider to use the front brakes to slow down can be disastrous on loose surfaces such as this. The flat track experience for us was divided into two days.
Harley-Davidson Flat Track Experience - Day 1
The first day involved a lengthy classroom session with Marco to learn the theoretical part of flat track racing. After the theory came the practicals, and this was the tough part. Though it is fun getting the tail of the motorcycle out, sustaining a controlled slide makes it challenging.
A slalom course was laid out on one part of the track, and riders were asked to ride slowly between the cones. At the end of the slalom course was a sharp 180-degree left hander, which was initially the toughest part.
We were run through the slalom exercise time and again to get our bodies used to the position that we needed to take. The U-turn at the end of the course was designed to train us to look where we were going.
The absence of brakes at the front end was making most of us overshoot at the end of the course instead of taking the turn.This is when we began to learn throttle control - To let go off the throttle sooner than we were doing.
Then of course, there was the exercise of looking where we are going. If we looked where we wanted to go, we would go there easily. If we didn't, we ended up crashing into the bales of Hay lining the outsides of the track.
We were then asked to do the same course with just the right hand on the handlebar and the left hand on the fuel tank. In a nutshell, what we ended up doing the entire day was - unlearning whatever we had learnt over the years of riding on tarmac. It was quite the opposite and as the hours passed by, we started to slowly get the hang of it.
But we were nowhere close to being fast because, as Marco Belli mentioned during the classroom session, even after decades of riding flat track, he still learns something new every time.
So, we obviously weren't going to learn the tricks of the trade in just a day's time. Day 1 drew to a close and we returned to the hotel room, tired and absolutely covered in dust.
Harley-Davidson Flat Track Experience - Day 2
Day 2 was started off with the very same slalom exercise, except that the cones were further apart from each other. With the exercises done, we were allowed to run the entire track slowly.
Immediately after this, the competition started. Friendly races were organised between the riders with the winner being decided based on the elimination system. It was nerve-rackingly exciting, as we were the first bunch of people in India racing on purpose built Harley-Davidson Flat Track motorcycles, at a purpose-built flat track.
Since we were all amateurs at it, we weren't allowed to race head-on. Only two motorcycles were allowed at one time on the track, and riders were allowed to choose their preferred motorcycle of the five.
Two start/finish points were marked at the centre, on opposite ends of the oval. The racers would start at opposite ends and try to catch up with each other. It was simple really - Catch up with the opponent. We didn't even have to overtake. Each heat consisted of five laps.
A few heats and about 25 laps later, I had emerged the fastest among those from the media in my batch. A podium finish meant, I was handed over a Di Traverso cap, along with certificates and Di Traverso badges as well.
Flat Track Racing In India
Flat track racing has not yet made its debut in India as a form of motorsport. This was just a ride experience organised by Harley-Davidson to give a small taste of Flat Track racing to a select few. However, it definitely seems like flat-track racing could debut in India soon.
Peter MacKenzie, the Managing Director of Harley-Davidson in India and China was also present at the event. He took to the track and put in a couple of laps himself, and was quite good at it.
Peter MacKenzie said, "With this endeavor, we wish to garner more acceptance for this sport, encourage the setting-up of amateur flat-tracks around the country and continue to fulfil dreams of personal freedom through riding experiences such as this."
So what that essentially means is that, Harley-Davidson is looking at bringing flat-track racing to the Indian masses. Flat-Tracks require lesser resources to set up, compared to circuits and motocross tracks, and the bikes too are easier to build. This very well could be the beginning of a great motorsport category in India.
Indian motorsport enthusiasts could soon see a one-make series with Harley-Davidson as the main sponsor. Exciting times lay ahead!
Rajputana Customs built the first flat-track motorcycle for Harley-Davidson, that was displayed at the India Bike Week in 2017. It was based on a Harley-Davidson Street 750 and heavily modified to suit flat-track conditions.
The belt-drive was replaced by a metal chain and large sprockets. The fuel-injection too was tampered with. Other than getting rid of any unwanted parts, it sports flat handlebars, a chopped rear end, Shinko Flat-Track tyres, a shorter seat and a redesigned fuel tank.
The four other motorcycles modified by Rajputana customs were Harley-Davidson Street Rods. This motorcycle too uses the same 750cc V-Twin engine, but has different gearing since it uses the stock belt-drive.
Stephen Neil Thinks!
Well, the two days spent at the John Singh Speedway on the outskirts of Jaipur were probably the most fun two days of my life yet. We got to ride Harley-Davidson Motorcycles on the dirt, sliding them around and having fun. What made it better for me was the fact that I was on the podium. Certainly felt great.
Getting down and dirty certainly was a thrilling experience and I would be up for it anytime soon, again. Harley-Davidson's passion towards flat-track racing is something that has to be experienced.Just watching the Managing Director of Harley-Davidson India and China going sideways on the dirt is proof enough that this could be made a serious sport in India.
If all goes according to plan, we could very soon have quite a few flat-tracks across the country and Flat-Track Racing could appear on the FMSCI (Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India) calendar.
Flat-track racing skills are not good on just flat tracks, but also improves the road-riding skills of the rider to a great extent. So, I would sign off with what appeared to be Marco Belli's favourite slogan - ‘In Dust We Trust.'