Riding the Nürburgring

Warning: The Ring can be dangerous

Please read the warning page and associated pages on Ben Lovejoy's excellent Nurburgring web site. Knowledge is power and this knowledge might save a life. Please, read it before visiting the Nürburgring. Thank you!

Once upon a time

Since 1927 when the Nürburgring was built it has been known as a notorious place to race cars and bikes. Jackie Stewart calls the Nürburgring Nordschleife "The Green Hell" for a reason; Situated between the lush green treetops of the Eiffel Montains, it is close to hell to compete several laps around the 21km (13mile) long circuit.
I am by no means an expert on either riding nor the Nürburgring, but I do think I have a few tips to offer to you if you're planning on heading out there to catch a bit of "ultimate ride out". I stopped counting my laps once I reached about 300 (I just didn't see the point anymore), but there are many more experienced riders out there, such as Bren for example. Bren does thousands of laps per year, well he lives 15minutes away... B*&^ard.. :) I have full respect for these guys and their riding. I wish I could ride as much as they do. Amongst the people that I have met that ride the Ring, there's one common variable that we all share, and that's the attitude.

View over Steilstreke Kurve and the Karussell, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Breathtakingly beautiful; The Nurburgring situated in the Eiffel Mountain (Copyright unknown)

The biggest misconception - It's a track day.

Unfortunately this is a fairly common attitude by British riders. Many UK riders have been to organized track-days with their bikes. At these track days the leader rules, and you're supposed to find your way round the one in front of you. You tape up your headlights and remove your mirrors so you don't get distracted with what's behind you. Most short cirucits have very large run off areas with mile long sand traps. At worst you'll run wide and exit into the sand trap where your bike recieves some gravel-rash or even topple around a bit... You'll probably skid to a halt burning your skin through the leathers. There's marshalls everywhere and the session is immediately yellow- or even red-flagged. Oh, and naturally there's no cars on the track, and everyone who's actually on the track has been to the safety briefing before the start. As safe as possible. The Nürburgring Nordschleife is nothing like this.

The Tourist Rides on the Nordschleife are not track-days!

Compared to the short circuits, the Nürburgring is completely different. First of all it takes between 8 to 12 minutes to do one lap, this means that your focus and mental fitness is put to a completely different level. There are no real long straights where you can have a breather, so you better stay focused.
Then there's the lack of run-off areas. There's two sand traps on the whole circuit. You're extremely lucky if you manage to crash in one of those places. The more common scenario is between 2 - 4m of grass, and then Armco. The worst scenario is of course at Breidscheid where you have a concrete wall to battle with. Tip: Turn left. Marshalls?! Yeah, they're usually found at the start and the middle point (Breidscheid), somtimes they're scattered out along the track and quite often you see them driving around. In the later years you've seen the introduction of "Strecken Kontrolle" people; Bikers in yellow bibs (tweetie birds) who are experts at riding and that have had some first aid training, and of course, know th enumber toget the sausage van moving. If you manage to crash near these, you're lucky. Worst case you'll crash when there's low traffic and at a spot where you might not even be seen. Oh yes, and that's hoping that you don't get run over by another bike, or even worse, one fo the cars that are on the track at the same time as you are... Yes, that's right. On the Nürburgring there's no separate sessions, and any road legal vehicle that can manage more than 70km/h is welcomed onto the track. Bikes, cars, trikes, campervans, buses, recovery lorries and so forth. They're all there.
Which kind of brings us upon the next point:

The Nürburgring Nordschleife is a public road; rules apply.

Exiting Adenauer Forst on the Nurburgring., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Exiting Adenauer Forst - clear track ahead (Copyright Alexander Neuhror? I still want to buy the full size pic!)

Yes, that's right. None of that 'tape your headlight' malarkey, and keep your mirrors on; you'll need them more than you think! And your bike (and car) has to have a valid M.O.T, insurance and road tax, and road legal tyres too, and road legal exhaust. That means, no race bikes allowed (only Ring Toys).
Not only does your vehicle have to be road legal; you're going to have to behave that way too. As the normal rules apply, here's some that you should keep in mind.

  • Overtaking is only allowed to the left (drive on the right)
  • Accidents lead to police investigations
  • You'll be fined and/or jailed if you're found guilty to causing an accident
  • It's illegal to leave the scene of an accident (right, SB?)
  • Indicate when overtaking
  • Obey speed limits where applicable.

Which kind of leads us onto a few "interesting" facts about crashing.
You basically get charged for everything. Ben has got a complete list of prices on his site. But here's an excerpt:

  • Removing and replacing of armco; 47E/meter, usually in 2x 3x or 4x heights.
  • Removing and replacing Armco post: 45E
  • Recovery truck: 175E
  • But most fun of all; circuit closure: 1,566E per hour

I think it's safe to conclude that you really do not want to crash at the Nürburgring. No, really. No crashes.
Just one more thing to notice; Racing is actually not allowed during Tourist days. It might seem strange, but if you're racing, you're out. You can go fast, but you can't race. After all, the official status of the Nürburgring is a "one way derestricted (where applicable) toll-road", i.e not a race track.

Therefore; Dispose of trackday attitudes.

With the facts from above, it's easy to see that if you approach the Nürburgring as "the ultimate track day" you're doing it wrong. Do not even compare it with a track day. Please don't. I'll give you two examples.

Example 1: Free guided tour

Exiting the infamous Karussell on the Nurburgring Nordschleife., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Exiting the infamous Karussell with the focus on the grin rather than the lap time. I sure was grinning! (Photo by frozenspeed.com)

This one time, at band camp, erhm, sorry, at the Nürburgring. It's quite common that riders with more experience offer to lead less experienced riders around the track. This can be especially valuable when "one-timers" show up. I.e people who are just travelling through and want to spend one lap or a day at the Nürburgring with no obvious intention to come back regularily. At this time, there was a bunch of "middle aged lads" who were on a tour of some type. We saw them rolling into the parking lot and we saw the excitement increase. As I was heading out the gate I saw these guys having passed the gates, pondering on what to do next. I offered to lead them around and looking at the bikes, these fellas weren't exactly newbies when it comes riding. They agreed and we head off. I was initially taking it quite slowly so that we would get some heat into the tyres. After a while I upped the pace a bit, enough for the ride to be interesting, but not dangerous. I got a bit worried; the further we went, the more mayhem there was behind me.
Going into Brunnchen 1 the thing I feared happened; the first one of them overtakes me, the next ones overtake me on the straight between Brunnchen 1 and 2. After Brunnchen 2 I slow down and let them go, hoping that nobody will get hurt, especially as the next corner is Eiskurve which can be a real surprise if you don't know it's there. Luckily a few of the lads stayed behind me and after a while we picked up the pace again and finished a very nice lap.Back in the car park, everyone was OK. Phew! It could have ended badly!

Example 2: We can't get past

BMW K1200R on the Nurburgring, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Pflantzgarten I, almost knee down... damn! hahaha! Photo by Frozenspeed.com

Another time, same place. A bunch of Ring "newbies" are at the scene. They go out in a swarm and they are racing, they're basically riding the 'Ring like a track day. They're overtaking and getting the wrong line, correcting the line due to "unforseen corners" (i.e don't know where the track goes). They are actually not that fast, well they're fast on the straights, but the laptime isn't very fast. So we catch them up about two thirds around and we can easily pick our way through the slower (saner?) ones of them, but then we get to the start of the bee swarm. These guys are all over the track, and each other. Sadly the track day mentality and their erratic riding means no brain activity is spared at looking into the mirrors. They simply can't see that we're following them corner after corner after corner. To us it's to dangerous to overtake, because we know that these guys don't know the proper line and can run wide/brake/accelerate at any point we're not expecting. This is now very scary. We're sandwiched in between about 8 riders, half of them behind us, half of them all over us ahead of us. If we pass, we might crash, if we don't we'll be overtaken by their mates. Mayhem. One of them nearly ran my girlfriend off the track. Very unpleasant. Back at the car park one from our group walks over to the lads and tells them that we were trying to get past for several several corners, but we couldn't because they didn't monitor their mirrors. The response he got was almost verbal abuse and words such as "I used to race the TT, I know how to ride a bike", and "It's not my responsibility to check what's behind me". This is really the wrong attitude. Having raced bikes carry practically no weight when you're riding the Nürburgring on a tourist day. This is a tourist day, and not a race. The ones that are coming up behind you are faster, and you should let them past.

Not all gloom and doom - The Ring is Fantastic!

If you first get rid of the trackday attitude you're halfway there. Then there's a few other tips that could make your riding much more enjoyable.

1. Learning the Ring takes time

First of all put into perspective how long it takes to "learn" the Ring ("learn" used loosely). You'll have to do about 50 laps before you even know your way around (i.e can do a mental lap when you're not riding). It'll take 50 more laps to achieve some sort of good line to ride on. Then you'll spend the rest of your life trying to perfect that, should you be inclined that way. Point is; you'll probably not learn to find yourself around even during a long weekend without closures. Just accept that and ride with a keen interest to be better the next lap. Forget about mastering the Ring. Very few people can claim that (I can't).

2. Your mirrors are invaluable

Then learn how to keep looking in your mirrors. It's incredibly important. It took me a long time to figure out when to check your mirrors and when not. Now I know to check my mirrors half way through a straight, i.e when you can relax a bit. Then I check them again when I'm moving around on the bike to prepare myself for a corner. I then focus on the corner and when getting back into straight-line position I check the mirrors again. Why this many times? Well, the answer is simple; Cars, or more specifically, fast cars. A bike will usually not pester you too much, at worst it'll probably scare you when it comes whizzing past from nowhere. A car however is slower on the straights, but much faster in the corners, they also stop much quicker. This means that you should check to see if there's a car chasing you when you're going down a straight. If you can see it in your mirrors half way down, you'll know that it'll be going around the next corner about the same time as you because it'll brake later and less. Usually ending up staying on your behind all the way through the corner. That's why checking before and after a corner is important. The car might not be there when you enter the corner, but it might just be there when you exit it. If that's the case, just ease off on the acceleration and let it past on the straight. If it's not a car with huge top speed, remeber that all you have to do is stay behind it till the next corner upon which it'll loose you quite easily.

3. A lap is long - make the most of it

During a lap you'll overtake many cars/bikes, and you'll probably be overtaking a bunch of cars/bikes. Should you however be stuck in traffic, remember that you don't have to do much to get a clear run. Just slow down a bit. Instead of focusing on the speed, focus on your line through the corners. It can be very difficult to hit the right line, even when going slowly. Let the traffic slip away, and enjoy the corners. When you're in the clear, you can up the pace again.

4. Avoid peer pressure

Most dangerous situations arise when you're competing with someone, and usually that someone is someone you know. For your first visits, try to stay away from "racing with your mates". Go out on your own and focus on the track, the corners, and the generic customs of the other riders/drivers. If you must go out with someone; ask an experienced rider. You'll learn the line better and he'll (she'll) keep an extra eye out for fast traffic approaching from behind. If you really really need to go out with your mates, try to go out in pairs, or perhaps three at a time. Don't go out in a big bunch.

5. Know the customs

It's customary to indicate to pass, that'll be indicate left. It's also customary to indicate that you've seen a car/bike that's approaching from behind by indicating right. If you pass a car/bike that has been courteous, it's only polite to thank that vehicle; by raising your right foot off the peg.

6. Smile - you're riding the best road in the world

Just remeber to take a relaxed attitude to the Nürburgring Experience. It's not a race (repeat that at least 100 times). It's the best piece of tarmac in the world. It's your favourite country road and there's no police to bother you (if you behave). Ride the bejaysus out of your bike, but respect the track; anything can happen so stay within your margins. There's no prizes for being fastest, so why not focus on riding like you want (maintaining respect to other track users), wave to the crowds, display spectacular sparks with titanium knee-sliders, pull a wheelie here and there. But above all; Enjoy your day out on the bike; it's priceless.

7. Timing isn't everything

This isn't comedy, so you can forget about timing. I rode my first 200 or so laps mainly on my own without any company or a stop-watch. I'm glad I did it this way. The Ring is demanding enough as it stands. There's no need to complicate it by tying to achieve a faster lap time. There's no prizes, remember.
Today I use a stop-watch, but not to try to achieve a faster time, but so I know how to read the "feeling" I get from the lap. Sometime you think the lap has been sedated, but it's fast, sometimes you overwork yourself and you have a slow laptime. I think my riding is improving if I know these facts. (NB; I never look at the time during a lap)
If you're just starting out, forget about the lap timing; focus on the smile, the road ahead and your mirrors.

8. Use the existing wisdoms

There are many guys at the Ring who don't mind helping people along with their Ring-experience. Ask if you can follow a lap or two. Ask about the bends, etc, or just listen. You might just pick up something really useful.

BMW R1200GS in Breidscheid, Nurburgring, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

It's not what you ride, it's how. The BMW R1200GS might not seem like the obvious Ring toy, but it performs remarkably well.

So there you have it

Riding the Nürburgring isn't as dangerous as many want to portray. The big secret is in what attitude you adopt for your riding. Be safe out there, and stick to the black stuff. Smile!