Last week’s examples revolved around track riding and racing, but I’ve seen cold-tire crashes several turns away from Newcomb’s Ranch and The Rock Store back in my California days, and cold-tire crashes as riders left dealerships and bike shows trying to impress. The cold, unwilling tires have no idea if it’s on Mulholland Drive or Road America; they need heat to work. Let’s look at how to bring and retain the heat.
Process and Feel: Romo, Schellinger, Pridmore
Tire experts Tony Romo and Mark Schellinger have witnessed cold-tire crashes as top-level racers, tire-manufacturer employees, and winning crew chiefs. Jason Pridmore is an AMA national champion and World Endurance champion who, like me, Romo, and Schellinger, began racing before tire warmers. These riders know the problems and solutions. As they walk us through some processes, I will add some personal notes and thoughts.
Mark Schellinger ran America’s largest Michelin race-tire distributorship and is very clear about warming tires: “The quickest way to warm a tire is straight-line braking and accelerating. That flexes the tire carcass and flex creates friction which creates heat.”
This is something track riders can do in the empty part of a paddock after second call, even down pit lane if nobody is behind you; make sure you are off to the side of the pit lane and your left leg is off the footpeg to signal your intentions. This has become my habit on every street and track ride: accelerating and braking to warm tires, beginning gently at first and building pressures as the tires warm.
Mark Schellinger heats his tire quickly with straight-line acceleration and braking. 4theriders
“Weaving back and forth doesn’t put much flex into the tires, and most clubs have made rules against weaving because of the danger to following riders,” Schellinger continues. “In the bias-ply days we’d weave to remove the mold-release compound on the tires, but that is no longer necessary.”
Schellinger has worked closely with the MRA’s (Colorado) six-time club champion Ryan Burke. “We’ll set our tire pressures on the warmers at 200 degrees Fahrenheit,” he says, “and Ryan will start his warm-up lap aggressively, but not quite flat out. But by the end of the warm-up lap, he’ll be at 100 percent.”
Schellinger returned to racing recently on my CW long-term Tracer GT, and I watched him put his advice into play because he ran Dunlop Q4s with no warmers. He accelerated and braked as much as possible before the warm-up lap started, and built cornering speed all through the warm-up lap, while braking and accelerating very aggressively with little lean angle. He finished second in a field of race and race-replica bikes, much of it due to his confidence in his tire-warming procedures. Well, that and my crew-chiefing abilities… See video.
Schellinger adds, “Race tires need heat, and that makes them a poor choice for street riding. Race tires need tire warmers, and I view tire warmers as well-controlled warm-up laps. You can run race tires without warmers, but it takes time and diligence when you roll out on the track. Much depends on the ambient temperatures of the day, but I’d say three or four laps minimum to get an unwarmed race tire to begin to work. Luckily, almost every tire maker has high-performance street tires that are awesome on the track and don’t require warmers.”
Tony Romo is Dunlop’s roadrace technician with an impressive racing and tuning résumé; this expert stresses a very important point: “What so many riders overlook are track temperature, pavement condition, and temperature. On many cold-tire crashes I’ve seen, the track just wasn’t warm enough for the pace of the rider. We’ve got to let the track come up to the levels of the tire.”
Romo’s experience is vast and leads him to this insight: “Think about skipping the first session of the morning. We need to realize that the problems lie in the shadows, some morning dew under the bridges, and the cool edge of the track that is close to dew-covered grass.”
For years, Daytona International Speedway rookies have paid a price due to what Romo is describing. “Daytona is a perfect example of traction changes during the day,” he says, “especially in the Chicane. The Chicane is close to Lake Lloyd, has grass on both sides, and in the shadows for a long time. You just can’t run the speed and lean angle there in the morning.”
Look into Tony Romo’s eyes: They’re telling you that these rubber donut thingies work best when hot. Dunlop
Romo’s focus on track conditions is fascinating, and it led Dunlop to an experiment with MotoAmerica’s Taylor Knapp during a WERA race at Mid-Ohio. Knapp won the Open Superstock and Open Superbike (two of the premier classes) on Dunlop’s Q4, a street-legal trackday tire.
“Taylor won two expert races and ran within 2.5 seconds of the track record,” Romo relates. “It shows the importance of matching the tire to the track temperature. The hotter the track and ambient temperature, the more a race tire works. I see most high-performance street tires struggling in ambient temps above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), while most high-performance trackday tires will be good to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit), then it’s time for a race tire that even works above 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).”
Romo encourages track riders to pay special attention to warm-up procedures when track temps are below 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit). “You want to have warmers on your tires between 30 and 60 minutes,” he says. “I advise riders to not pull warmers at third call, but pull them when they hear bikes rolling onto the track. If you pull them and roll out at third call and there’s a delay, the heat comes out of the tires very quickly, especially on a cool day.” Romo geeks out on Formula 1 tire-temperature data and was shocked to see a blanket-heated tire drop 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) by the time the car arrived in turn 1.
Romo most often hears “I couldn’t get enough heat in the front” after a cold-tire crash. “Riders usually lose the front in a cold-tire crash,” he says. “That has prompted Dunlop to begin recommending our softest front slick (0516, usually a qualifying tire) for many of the Twins bikes that don’t get a lot of load in the front [due to chassis design and bike weight].” For all of us track riding, Romo is telling us to focus most intently on building and maintaining front-tire temperature. See last week’s article for more information on overloaded and underloaded front-tire crashes.
Romo finishes with, “There are guys who just never fall off on cold tires, and that’s because they just aren’t ripping around on tires and a track that aren’t ready for the pace.”
Jason Pridmore is the type of rider Romo refers to because this roadracing champion and riding instructor has only fallen off on a cold tire once, when the tire warmer failed and was pulled with a gloved hand; see No. 9 from last week. Pridmore has ridden and raced thousands of laps on a variety of tires, always respecting tire temperature first.
“I do a lot of winter trackdays here in California,” Pridmore begins. “The main misconception I see is that tire warmers prevent cold-tire crashes. What happens is that a rider pulls the warmers on a cold day, then heads out on the track and rides like his tires are cold, rides like it’s a warm-up lap for the first few laps. During those slow laps, the tires are losing the heat the warmers put in them! Then on the third lap when he starts to push, he’s on cold tires and falls.”
Jason Pridmore insists that if you are on tires heated by warmers you must ride hard immediately to keep the heat in the tires. JP43 Training
Pridmore learned a lot about first laps on new tires during his endurance racing heydays because tires were swapped during every fuel stop. “It would be freezing cold in the middle of the night,” he relates, “and the team would wait until the last possible second to pull the warmers, they’d wait until my teammate was headed down pit lane. I had a habit of putting my bare hand on the tires to have confidence because I had to push hard the moment I cleared pit lane. Because I was in a race, I jumped over the common mistake I see: Not pushing hard on lap 1 to keep the heat in the [blanket-warmed] tires. It’s super important that you get going right away.”
The champion thought about the first few corners of each track. “If I exited the pits into long-radius corners,” Pridmore explains, “I knew I could build or maintain the heat because I had to use the edge for a long time. I remember that Magny-Cours was tough because the first few corners were short-radius.”
This is the level of focus champions put into the processes of gathering championship points. The first few corners of Pridmore’s first lap were examined for tire-temperature retention. He pushed immediately to not just win races, but to keep heat in the blanket-warmed tires. Pridmore proved the adage that “you win championships on the bad days”—the days when your rivals fall off a cold tire because they were not mentally ahead of the game.
Pridmore was speaking to me from trackside at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway where he was ready to roll out on ambient-temperature (no tire warmers) Dunlop Q4s, a high-performance track tire that is street legal, a product other tire makers have in their line. “I run these everywhere with no warmers,” he says. “By the end of the first lap, I’m pushing pretty hard. I remember being at Buttonwillow Raceway Park on a 50-degree (Fahrenheit) day and there were so many cold-tire crashes in the first right/left transition, but the high-performance street tires I was on (Q3+) were perfect for that situation. That’s an excellent example of getting the right tire, because riders were having trouble keeping heat in the pure race tires.”
Pridmore’s use of and belief in tires like Dunlop’s Q3+ and Q4 backs what we see at ChampSchool, and what Knapp proved at Mid-Ohio: they’re damn good and can eliminate the hassle/expense of warmers. But the message that must be remembered by all of us on race tires coming off warmers is Pridmore’s view of retaining heat on the first lap (usually the warm-up lap unless you’re endurance racing) by running a strong pace.
Notes to End
I won two No. 1 plates at Willow Springs back when we raced every month of the year and tire warmers were not yet invented. Since 1997 I’ve taught schools every month of the year on high-performance street tires with no warmers. My thoughts:
Feel this: As we develop the ability to relax at speed on the motorcycle, the tires will constantly inform us of their heat/traction levels. Right now readers are wondering, “How many turns until the tires are ready?” We want solid answers like “three rights and five lefts,” but that’s not how this sport works. As we learn to use our core and legs to hold ourselves on the bike, the hands and butt gain feel. All experts have this feel and know when the tires say, “OK, let’s push.”
Solar heated: On the next chilly but sunny day, put your bare hand on a car or bike tire. Feel the sunny part, feel the shaded part. Amazing difference. Now you know why experts’ bikes (without warmers) are parked in the sun if possible, on these chilly days. I’ll constantly roll my Q3+-shod trackday bike around to get sunlight on more rubber, concentrating on the front tire and the side of the tire that is least-used due to the track layout (more lefts than rights, for instance, means more sun on the right side).
This was 7 a.m., but by 11 we were riding on a cold, wet track and by 1 p.m. it was dry—but still cold. A trackday was enjoyed by all as we learned to adjust our riding to the conditions of the day. Yamaha Champions Riding School.
Wind shielding: If you run warmers on a windy day, add a second layer to insulate the warmers. Ideally this second layer is wind-proof and can be something as simple as a windbreaker jacket—anything to block the wind that’s taking heat off your warmers, tires, and wheels.
Second call: When possible, I’m suited up at first call and on the bike at second call, out in the empty part of the paddock braking and accelerating to warm the tires when I don’t have tire warmers. It’s good for my tire temps and good for my brain; we both roll onto the track warmer.
Habit: On every street ride I do two or three hard stops on the frontage road that follows the dirt road I live on. It helps me adapt to the day’s bike, but also allows me to put heat in the tires as quickly as possible. A quick check on following traffic is mandatory before these two or three stops. Try to do these stops early in your ride because you never know when you need warm tires.
Fast but not risky: At ChampSchool we interchange the words “lean angle” and “risk.” Our instructors run stunningly fast warm-up laps on ambient-temperature tires, but with minimal risk, minimal lean angle, when compared to hot-tire laps. We get to and from the corners quickly, using quite a bit of throttle and brakes when we’re relatively vertical, then tiptoe through the corners, relatively speaking; we aren’t asking the cold edges of the tires to do much at all. And how do we reduce lean angle even further? We are in full-GP body position from the moment we leave the pits.