A Cure for the Common Track Day

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With a couple caveats, I would describe the track day business model as heavily commoditized. That is to say, there is little to differentiate the track day of one organization from the next, which leaves most riders buying track time based on location, schedule, and price.

If you don’t give it too much thought, this concept shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, what riders are really buying is time on the race track, the conditions of which are relatively outside the purview of the organization hosting the event. This makes a brutal business landscape, and it is not surprising to see the space making a race to the bottom.

Now to be fair, some organizations run a tighter ship than others; some track day groups offer more instruction than others (especially for novice riders); and there are track days that offer more perks (lunch, photos, celebrity riders, etc) than others, but all-in-all the product is the same: a few hours of cumulative time on a race track.

In my 15 years of track riding, the biggest differentiation I have found between track day groups is the culture (or lack thereof) an organization has been able to infuse into its program. But, this only moves the needle a minuscule amount, and it shows in the ever-increasingly competitive marketplace that is motorcycle track riding.

This shouldn’t surprise us too much, I suppose. The motorcycle industry as a whole suffers from stagnation. It suffers from a business-as-usual approach that has become so common place in our sport that it permeates our culture, despite the world around us changing rapidly.

I started Asphalt & Rubber with a series that ran the title “Tradition is Not a Business Model” and it highlighted the changes that the Great Depression was forcing on the motorcycle industry, and how this stagnation was causing the motorcycle industry to be left behind.

Now facing the prospect of our next recession, I wonder how many more businesses, dealerships, manufacturers, and so forth we will see fall away – extinct like the dinosaurs that they have become. The outlook is grim, but as Joseph Schumpeter predicted in economics, where there is death there is also growth.

I thought about all this while sitting in a garage at the Circuit of the Americas, sweat dripping from my brow, as I watched the ballet of bikes being wheeled around the pit lane between track sessions.

What brought me out to Texas was the Proving Grounds track day put on by Eleven Motorsports, who are offering a different approach to running track days. While other groups are racing to the bottom, slashing prices to fill paddocks, Eleven is going the other way with its program.

The focus at Eleven Motorsports isn’t to replicate the same track model that caters to the masses, but instead aims to offer a premium experience aimed at more discerning riders.

The concept bares some merit, especially as the price of sport bikes has only risen over the past decade. For instance, take note that the price for a new Yamaha YZF-R1 has risen roughly 60% in 15 years, with the current YZF-R6 costing more now than the YZF-R1 back then. Chew on that thought for a second.

Manufacturers sit around talking about why the supersport/superbike markets are dead, and how no one wants to buy a sport bike anymore, but when the price of these machines out-pace inflation by almost 20%, the debate seems a bit moot to my eyes.

There is perhaps little point in debating the facts of the matter, but it is important to note that this has changed the sport bike market considerably, and this means that the sport bike demographics have changed considerably as well.

It is just a matter of time before we see the demise of a sub-$20,000 superbike, and when you get into this echelon of buyer, the expectations change, especially as the product starts to become the service. As such, the businesses around this segment need to change as well.

This is where Eleven Motorsports is innovating on the track day space, because they realize that it is not the track time that sets them apart from the competition, but instead the service they offer with their track day experiences.

#ShowUpAndRide is the hashtag that Eleven uses for its social media, and it encapsulates the concept quite succinctly. This is because Eleven Motorsports offers its riders track time without the hassle of the extras that come with riding on the track.

For a membership fee, Eleven Motorsports stores and maintains a rider’s motorcycle at their home track near Dallas, Texas, and one can get on the track with just an hour’s notice.

For away games, like ours at the Circuit of the Americas, Eleven Motorsports takes care of transporting the machine from Dallas to the venue.

There is even an opportunity for members to use one of the “house” bikes, ranging from a Ducati Panigale V4 Speciale, a Suter Moto2 race bike, a replica of Josh Herrin’s Attack Yamaha YZF-R1 race bike, and even a small army of BMW HP4 Race carbon fiber superbikes.

Upon arrival for the track day, each rider is greeted by their own workstation in the garage, complete with table, chair, helmet fan, and suit dryer. A team of mechanics split their time managing pit stands, catching bikes in pit lane, spinning on and off tire warmers, and making any mechanical changes the client needs – including crash repair.

The experience is akin to being a factory rider for a race team, and that is the whole point of the process and the business model.

As you would expect, all of this pampering and special attention comes with a price tag, and that sum is not for everyone. A weekend at COTA will run you $1,500 and that doesn’t include the membership, bike rental, and transport fees, and consumables like tires.

But for Eleven’s members, the costs associated with the level of service are worth it. I hate to use a trite phrase like “time is money” but for the well-heeled – the budding demographic in the superbike space, I might add – the phrase is appropriate.

Time is a commodity in limited supply for Eleven’s members, which means there is a very real opportunity cost when it comes to maintaining one’s motorcycle and preparing for a track day (especially a track day at great distance from home).

Not all motorcyclists find a simple joy in working on their own bikes, and as superbikes become more dominated by electronics and complicated systems, the amount of wrenching the laymen can perform without expensive diagnostic computers is becoming limited.

What the manufacturers have unwittingly created is a new breed of motorcycle enthusiasts that differ from what this industry was built around.

This new rider has plenty of money, but little time, and the idea of spending hours in a garage working on their motorcycle isn’t the romantic thought that generally fills the motorcycle industry’s status quo.

For these riders, life already has too many distractions, and the appeal of a motorcycle is the idea of getting away from the onslaught of text messages, corporate emails, and business meetings. For the new modern superbiker, time on the track is zen, and any moments lost in that pursuit are preciously missed.

I can already hear the comments section rife with thoughts about how real motorcyclists work on their own bikes, and how (insert European motorcycle brand name here) riders only ride their uber-expensive motorcycles to coffee shops.

But, I see more and more expensive motorcycles at my regular track days, and at COTA there were no shortages of $40,000+ motorcycles being used in the anger their engineers intended them for.

While one can argue that the hipster lifestyle fascination with two-wheels rebukes the idea that motorcyclists are looking for more expensive and more complicated motorcycles beyond what the Honda CB350 has to offer, I would counter with what any local motorcycle mechanic can probably already tell you: these trendy cafe racers, Russian sidecars, and vintage hacks left a plethora of riders broken down on the side of the road, disenchanted with their newly found moto-life.

The unspoken secret about riding motorcycles is that our sport, and our lifestyle, is becoming increasingly expensive, and this is causing a demographic shift in our industry. The brains at Eleven Motorsports have already figured this trend out, and are capitalizing on it in Texas and the other venues they travel to.

What surprises me though is that no one else is catching-on to the business model. Why do we not see similar services from high-end dealerships?

They already have the clientele, and they already have the core components to run that kind of business. A track concierge service should be a natural extension for any premium motorcycle dealer.

Similarly, why aren’t the OEMs latching onto the motorcycles-as-a-service business model? We have seen the concept already explored in the four-wheeled space, and there is no shortage of car clubs that will offer you a piece of automotive exotica for use on the weekend, and yet this lacks largely in the motorcycling realm.

We use the phrase “race to the bottom” often when describing the US motorcycle industry on this website and on our podcasts, and it is a pointed reference to commoditization of our sport. 

However, after spending a weekend with the Eleven Motorsports crew, and thinking about the level service they provide their clients, I think they make a strong case about how we can begin to have a race to the top in the motorcycle industry.

The business is no longer the product, and the product is now the service. There is a famous Harvard business case study that examines how Ritz-Carlton became the gold standard in the hospitality industry, and the hotel chain did it by building a brand around exceptional customer service.

We need to be a bit more Ritz-Carlton, and a bit less Motel 6, in how we treat the modern motorcyclist, and it is the brands and business that truly understand that distinction that will survive the next generation of the motorcycle industry – of this much, I am sure.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying, however. This article isn’t building a case about how the motorcycle industry needs to pivot to only serving the top 1% of the population.

While there certainly is a demographic shift occurring in the industry, and brands need to take heed to this change, the real core of the Eleven concept is the emphasis put on exceptional service and how one can differentiate their brand by the added value it brings its customers.

As such, motorcycle industry companies should start asking themselves how their brands can bring a value-added experience to their customers, and how their companies’ services can help differentiate them in a tough economic climate.

Photos: © 2019 Eleven Collective – All Rights Reserved