Juan Toves: From the office to the track

Picture a man in a suit and tie. He’s 37 years old and goes to work during the week at a large IT firm in San Antonio, Texas. He’s an Air Force veteran turned network engineer, now managing a team providing IT, engineering and software development services for various military branches and three-letter government agencies. You might assume his office uniform tells you what you need to know about him, but, you know, looks can be deceiving.

Maybe it’s not his workday uniform that tells you what you need to know. Maybe it’s his weekend uniform that informs you of his deeper personality. If one of your uniforms is riding gear, you have more in common with this man than you might think. You put on your Aerostich or First Gear jacket and pants, mount your K 1600 GT or R 1200 GS and head for the nearest canyon or trail. He pulls on his sweat-stained, sunbaked MTech one-piece leather suit, climbs aboard his HP4 and tackles the nearest late-apex, off-camber hairpin turn.

“I’m out here on the weekends dragging knees around the race track,” says Juan Toves. “It’s hard for my coworkers to understand sometimes.”

Juan Toves
Mirrors aren’t usually standard equipment on a bike prepped for track days, but it’s essential that the coaches be able to see the riders behind them to set a proper pace and observe their riding safely – without turning their heads and upsetting their own center of gravity, which is critical to maintaining proper form and optimum bike geometry.

I caught up with Juan at Nate Kern’s Double R Fest, held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, at the end of October. Juan has ridden with Nate three other times at COTA, but this was Juan’s first time taking on the role of rider coach as Nate brought a well-attended track day weekend to one of the premier race tracks in North America, if not the world. Juan credits Nate’s knowledge and passion for both racing and BMW motorcycles for bringing them together a few years ago.

“I’ve been a BMW fan for a long time,” Juan says. “The S 1000 RR was my first test ride on a BMW motorcycle. When the HP4 Competition Pack came out, I couldn’t resist. What drove me to buy this motorcycle was the superior electronics package—the dynamic suspension system and the traction control. It’s far superior to any other brand and way ahead of its liter-class competition.”

Juan’s wife, Szu-Moy, who clued Juan into the potential of the S 1000 RR, is also an Air Force veteran; though she’s a fixture in the pit garage, she prefers driving cars to riding motorcycles. Juan says, “She has an M4, but the only time I get to drive it is when I take it to get it washed. It’s a quality vehicle, and a lot of the technology and advancements in the car transfer over to the motorcycles. I knew if BMW could make a car that superior, the motorcycles had to be on par with the cars.”

In the garage, an MV Agusta Brutale sat on race stands next to Juan’s HP4. “The MV Agusta is like night and day compared to the HP4,” Juan says. “No traction control, no dynamic suspension. It’s just a good old-fashioned inline-four, a beautiful Italian motorcycle. The weight difference is probably about 100 pounds if not more, and that affects transitioning in corners and the ability to get a good drive coming out of the corner. It has less horsepower than I’m accustomed to with the HP4. Hopping from that to the BMW is, well, it’s like driving a Fiat in Italy, then going up to Germany and getting in an M4. It’s a significant difference.”

Since he stopped racing competitively seven years ago, Juan discovered his passion for track days and coaching. He can offer a good bit of advice culled from both his own experiences and his time coaching with Nate Kern.

“The biggest mistake beginning track riders make is letting themselves get distracted by other riders, like being fixated on another rider and thinking they have the same ability. You have to control yourself, be mature enough to ride within your own means. It’s probably the biggest fault in a lot of the sportbike riders we see out here. If you can really focus on yourself and ride within your abilities, you can really hone in on areas where you can improve and focus on that throughout the day. You’d be surprised at how much better you’ll get.

“You’d be amazed at how fast you can get if you just slow down a little bit and focus on being smooth. Smooth is becoming fast, and sometimes you have to slow down—figure out where those brake markers are on the track, the 150-meter marker, so you know where to brake. Find those points on the track. If you’re going under a bridge and the Budweiser sign is still up on the bridge from the Formula One race, you know that you need to be under the ‘W’ when you’re making the right-hand turn into 16. Those little things like that, you’d be amazed at how they’ll make you that much smoother on the race track. Getting those points and hitting that smooth line every single lap gets you a lot more enjoyment and satisfaction. It’s about being smooth and knowing you’re hitting the same lines, the same marks every time. From there you fine-tune it—I braked last time at the 150 marker, let me see if I can start dialing it in towards the 200 marker. You find where your limitations are, and you can work on tuning your motorcycle and tuning your mind.”

Juan Toves
Juan preps his 2014 HP4 with fresh Pirelli tires for the second day of the track weekend.

When it comes to the beginning track rider—or any rider on any surface, really—Juan recommends physical fitness and preparing before you ever get to the track. “Track preparation happens well before the track day. A lot of people don’t get that. Racers don’t just show up to the track and win. They are prepping for months, prepping hardcore for weeks before a race. It’s no different for a track day.

“You have to come in physically prepared and mentally prepared for the track day. If you’re not, you’re at a disadvantage. Get your cardio up to speed and make sure you can last these 20-minute sessions—that’s 20 minutes every hour, all day. That’s tough! By the end of the afternoon, imagine how much fluid you’re going through to stay hydrated. As the track starts heating up, fatigue will start setting in. If you’re physically fit for the track day, for the race track, you’re going to have greater mental fitness for the racetrack as well. You’re not worrying about your forearm cramping up or being tired two or three laps into a 20-minute session. You’ll have a lot more fun if you’re physically fit, if you can move your body from side to side and hang off the motorcycle.”

As his parting advice for riding at a track day, Juan had this to say: “You have far more fun at the end of the day when you get to load up a motorcycle that’s in one piece. You’re going home with that satisfaction of the day, of those two days. Nate says, ‘How much fun are you really having sliding into a corner, front wheel skipping and your back end coming out?’ You don’t know if you’re going to make that corner or not! How much fun are you having then versus braking solid, smoothly hitting the apex nice every time. You come out with a smile on your face and have a lot more fun. The majority of the people out here, 98 percent of us, we don’t get paid to ride these motorcycles to the limit and win races. Most people here have to report to the office at nine tomorrow, make that money and put food on the table. Wrecking absolutely jeopardizes your ability to do your job come Monday morning.

“That’s something you have to remember on the track. You’re out here for fun – you’re not getting paid to push the limits.”