Royal Enfield Slide School: Sideways to glory
All success stories involve the protagonists sharpening their skills in something completely counterintuitive, which pays dividends in the final scene. Think the entire “wax on-wax off” montage from ‘Karate kid.’ But how does that translate to motorcycles? Well, how else do you explain going around sandy oval tracks on a heavy bike with a raked-out front and no front brakes (yup!) can actually help MotoGP champs hone their craft? And yet, from the early 1900s, flat track racing, from its home grounds in the USA, has been instrumental in churning out champs, from ‘King’ Kenny Roberts to, more recently, Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez.
The Indian connect
Back in 2017, the India Bike Week saw a custom Harley Davidson Street 750, piloted by gifted rider and bike builder Vijay Singh Ajairajpura (of Rajputana Customs fame), expertly thrown around an oval track. And now to make it more accessible, Royal Enfield joined the fray, showing off the FT411, the brand’s flat track-focused racer, built in conjunction with USA’s S&S Racing and Pune-based Autologue design at the Rider Mania. And when Royal Enfield invited journos for a chance to experience the bike, the track and the discipline at the Royal Enfield Slide School at BigRock Dirtpark, obviously I couldn’t hold myself back. It all boils down to the fact that while all the others are focused on speed, the slide school focuses on, get this, going slow to go fast, which ties in to the next noteworthy point which is…
No front brakes!
...and it’s not an inadvertent omission. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s first get to know more about the Royal Enfield FT411. S&SCyles and Autologue design have taken the Royal Enfield Himalayan and removed all unnecessary bits, including the front brake, headlight, seats and pannier racks fore and aft. Next, the Himalayan’s 21/17 inch wheel setup was replaced by 18-inch spoked wheels shod with flat track tyres developed by Timsum. Then comes the carbonfibre seat unit, helping shed more weight and aid the flat-tracking ergonomics, with a taller and wider Protaper bar replacing the stock handlebar. The FT411’s engine runs a Powertronic performance ECU with a dual map setting, there’s a new aluminium rear sprocket with a 40 teeth (two more than stock), with the gases escaping through a custom-built S&S silencer. The final product is a racy looking bike that’s a whopping 30kg lighter than the stock bike.
Diving right in
Before being shaped into the mould, we were first let loose for a few laps, to get to know both the track and the bike, while the instructors got a clearer picture of our skill levels. Once sufficiently at ease, we were instructed to drop a gear and use the rear brake to slow down on the turns, relying more and more on the way the bike broke and regained traction while cornering. All this, however, was only step one in our journey towards flat track expertise (er, acclimatisation).
Once sufficiently rid of the fear of high-siding, our instructor demonstrated the correct body position. You see, while offroading (the only, albeit distant, relative to flat-tracking) riders usually lean towards the tank, inner leg out front weighing up the forks, outer leg applying a counterweight on the footpeg, with the butt on the outer edge of the seat, somewhat similar to the preferred flat track riding position: butt half off the bike, elbows up, upper body parallel to the ‘bars. However, on a flattrack bike, the inner leg stays in the same plane as the body, skimming the surface and acting as an anchor to kick the bike back up when it feels like it’s about to wash out. Not many people got a hang of it right away, though the instructors were more than patient. Not to boast, but I was able to pick it up soon enough, moving me towards the next aspect which was…
Getting your lines right
But, you just said it’s not about outright speed. And yes, it isn’t. There’s no out-in-out here, despite which your vision is paramount. You’ll need to slide, but in controlled way, staying on the compacted sand and not straying into the soft area. Lap after lap, you’ll leave tyre marks, after which it’s a simple matter of “where you look is where you’ll go.” The last part of the puzzle, the launch, was admittedly the most difficult, as it was a delicate game of squeezing the rear brake while accelerating (to load the rear), before gradually releasing to dig into the earth, but not too much (you wouldn’t want the rear tyre getting stuck in the rapidly compacting sand), before pushing off the line with nothing more than a mild waddle. Phew!
Overall, the time I spent at the Slide School was an absolute eye-opener in terms of the quantum of information it provides and the potential it has at improving ones riding skill. For their part, Royal Enfield will compete in select flat track arenas in the USA, entering a variation of the Interceptor 650-based flat tracker in the Production Twin class. And, with plans to set up more such schools across India and to build and nurture this emerging global sport, I can imagine the next generation of road racers will be forged that much stronger. So book your spot at Royal Enfield’s SlideSchool, powered by BigRockDirtpark, and get your own dose of thrills, spills and loads of laughter all on two wheels!