When it comes to motorcycles, sharing life’s experiences is truly magical. Whether that’s hitting the highway for an extended tour, a night ride into the country, learning to do it in the dirt, or just a Saturday morning java run, it’s always better with buddies.
If you want to play an instrument well, how do you go about it? Focused academic study perhaps, or take lessons, join a band, watch YouTube, connect with friends – or maybe just muck about until something clicks. Well, the same might be said for learning to ride well. Some of the best racers and riders in history were essentially self-taught… especially prior to the industry becoming so specialized. But really, the best way isn’t through such trial and error – it’s formal training.
The United States is a big place with tons of states, but fortunately, the motorcycle licensing rules and requirements are similar in many of them. This can be true even from largest to smallest bike states. For instance, with nearly 1 million registrations, New York tops the list for “active” motorcycles, followed closely by California and then Florida in third. On the flip side, little Delaware and Rhode Island have only about 25,000 registrations apiece. Now, among these states, in California, fledgling riders can get a “learners” permit at age 15 ½, but in Delaware the rule is 17 years old. Other states may further differ, but likely not by much.
When learning to handle boats, bikes, and boa constrictors, as a universal truth it’s better to start off small and work up from there. That’s because skills build over time, and at first, smaller and lighter means easier to handle. Fortunately, in the case of motorcycles, there’s a lot to love in the small-displacement ranks. The ride experience is enchanting, and some models even share technology with image-leading flagships, including electric starting and fuel injection, liquid-cooling, and disc brakes with ABS.
The marriage of the early 20th Century “safety bicycle” and a simple engine created the motorcycle template as we now know it. As such, at their design core, motorcycles are simple, efficient devices, a trait they’ve possessed for over 120 years. But it takes more than efficiency to ensure the survival and evolution of any consumer product. The secret other ingredient is that motorcycles feed us on some essential levels, from the joy of being in motion, to rewarding us for problem solving, to promoting social interactions, to building a skillset that “normal” folks don’t possess. Read on for seven reasons you might want to ride a motorcycle.
Let us sing a song of praise to our motorcycle helmets! Their primary purpose is to sacrifice themselves to protect our noggins. When you bang your head, their outer shell crushes to spread out and lessen the force of the impact before the soft EPS liner compresses to mitigate G-forces before they reach your delicate brain. But that’s not all helmets do. They protect you from abrasion in a slide, keeping your face pretty, and they absorb all manner of small impacts from juicy or stinging bugs to pebbles that your riding buddy’s sticky rear tire kicks up to face level. On the inside, their padding helps keep you comfortable by wicking away sweat while doing its best to limit noise and protect your hearing.
As a novice motorcyclist, you’re already well aware that a motorcycle is inherently unstable, and if you don’t intervene on its behalf, it could end up lying on its side. So, what do you do when you find yourself riding on a windy day? With a headwind, you just suck it up and deal with it if you don’t have a windshield. You probably won’t notice a tailwind, but it will extend your stopping distance. You’ll need to learn how to dance with the wind when it blows from the side.
Many of us are products of MSF rider education courses and are quite familiar with the admonition to use all four fingers on the front brake for maximum control. While I support that rule for beginning riders, it is one that we quickly outgrow once we start logging miles out in the real world. I first began to notice the shortcomings of this rule when I anticipated in traffic that I might need to use the brakes. Covering the brake lever with four fingers makes it quite difficult to control the throttle. Then there were the magazine photos of all my heroes blatantly using two fingers on the front brake. Two-fingered braking appeared to address the problems I was encountering as an urban rider. (It was only later that I learned that it opened up a new world of braking techniques.)
Did you know Triumph Motorcycles run a state-of-the-art training and adventure experience center in south Wales? No? That’s the problem. Well, maybe not much of a problem for Triumph since they seem to be running at near capacity out of the space they’re in. Just outside Ystradgynlais (Welsh names and words make me happy this is written and not a video), just northwest of Cardiff, sits an unassuming world class ADV headquarters just a few miles from a rented forest in which Triumph runs its training.
For many new riders, the thought of riding on the highway for the first time can be frightening – right up there with public speaking and bungee jumping. The higher speeds and sea of cars around you can seem intimidating, but riding on the highway doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, highway riding is probably safer than scrambling around on surface roads, since everybody’s going the same direction at more or less the same speed, and, critically, there’s no cross traffic to dodge. Before you go tackling the freeway with confidence, here are a few tips we’ve gathered over the years for how to ride on the highway safely.
Time and again, I’ve had people tell me that they are afraid to modify their bike’s wiring harness to install a new accessory. Upon a little digging, the bugaboo is usually fear of splicing wires into the bike’s harness. While cutting your motorcycle’s wiring harness is not to be taken lightly and should only be attempted when you are certain as to which wires should be cut – by, say, obtaining the factory service manual – the process isn’t really that scary.
Has it already been two years since I started at MO? Wild. Time flies when you’re having fun, I suppose. One thing I have been asking, begging, hounding even, of my bosses throughout those two years was for more track time. I’ve been able to run through two schools: Superbike Coach and the Rickdiculous program, both of which I am very grateful to have attended, but without having the time to get out and follow up on those skills learned, it’s hard to advance to the next level. There’s really no substitute for seat time.
Meanwhile on Facebook, where all us old guys hang out, the great Joe Gresh wants to know how best to clean this truly heinous carburetor from his Kawasaki Z1 project? He probably already knows, since Gresh is a master of many mechanical disciplines. Maybe master is the wrong word, but he seems to keep lots of old things running, builds plenty of new things, seems to understand electricity and pours many yards of concrete.
The price you pay for the extra performance and light weight of aftermarket-exhaust liberty is internal vigilance. You’ll need to repack your muffler with new, ahh, packing material now and then. Unlike your typical stock exhaust, which is built to last a lifetime with muffler baffles made of steel and other solid metals, most performance pipes are packed with fiberglass-like packing stuff that uses itself up over time, reducing performance as it gradually blows out the tailpipe, and producing more noise. I remember this full-race Akrapovic system being surprisingly quiet when we put it on here, how long has it been? About five years ago. Lately it seems like it’s gotten considerably louder, but that could be because all the new bikes I bring home seem to be getting progressively quieter? Anyway, repacking this thing is a good way to see how it’s done.
Back in the Dark Ages, a great way to increase your bike’s horsepower was to toss the stock airbox, install a set of pod filters, and rejet your carbs. Well, all that changed with the advent of ram air, which forces cool, outside air into the airbox. The faster you go, the more air forced into the mixers, giving the bike more power. One thing hasn’t changed, though. For your engine to operate at peak efficiencies, the air filter needs to be clean to allow maximum airflow. Even though your EFI’s oxygen sensor can adjust the air/fuel mixture to compensate for a clogged filter. If you let your filter get dirty, you’ll still experience power loss and reduced gas mileage. Regular – or at least annual – cleaning of your bike’s air filter is a simple way to keep it running great.
The worst-case scenario has just happened: someone has crashed their motorcycle. You’re the first (and possibly only) one on the scene, and not knowing what condition the rider is in, it goes without saying that every second counts. Do you know what to do? What follows are some general tips to follow in case you’re put in the scenario to potentially save a life. In this lawsuit-crazy world we live in we also have to clarify the Motorcycle.com staff are NOT medical professionals, and everything mentioned here is superseded by proper medical training. Which brings up another point – if you don’t already have basic medical training, get it.
Motorcyclists and leather go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Seriously. Ask any motorcyclist what it was like when they bought their first leather jacket, and you may see grown men cry as they reminisce about the new leather smell and how, over time, the jacket came to fit them like a second skin. Unfortunately, riding in your favorite gear subjects it to bug impacts, dirt, and even rain, which all take away its luster. However, quality leather can last a rider many riding seasons and maintain that optimal balance between broken in and factory new – if a few care procedures are followed.
Riding a motorcycle on the street after you’ve become comfortable and proficient with its controls comes with its own set of obstacles and challenges, which are endless really, due to the constantly changing and/or unpredictable situations that can arise. There are a million different things a new rider will encounter on their motorcycle, but the most important thing you can do is be aware of your surroundings, pay attention and don’t let yourself get distracted. There’s too much at risk. The whole point of this New Rider: How To is navigating blind turns safely, and we’ll start with left-hand turns first.
When it comes to textile motorcycle gear, there’s a fine line between looking well-traveled and being just plain dirty. If you don’t notice when you’ve crossed that line, usually a riding buddy or someone close to you will let you know. For example, when I returned from my four-day Gold Wing Tour ride from Austin, TX, my wife wrinkled her nose and said, “That jacket’s filthy…and you kinda stink.” So, instead of ending up in a pile on the floor where I wanted to drop it after my 600-mile day (with a 102° fever), I carried my Spidi suit outside to my garage office and hung it up where it wouldn’t offend her delicate sensibilities. The things we do for love.
The sad truth about motorcycles is that they need special treatment if they’re going to sit for even just a few weeks. The gas in the tank and the chemicals storing electricity in the battery are the first to suffer, and both of those are important for getting your bike back underway. However, many other things can accelerate the wear on your motorcycle if you don’t take care of them before an extended hibernation. Unfortunately, many riders don’t winterize their bikes for the off season and are greeted with an ugly surprise come springtime.
Modern sportbikes are impressive handling machines. While their rigid chassis and weight distribution have a lot to do with this, the fully adjustable suspensions can take much of the credit, too. Although many stock suspension components offer quite a bit of adjustability, many aftermarket units will give you even more flexibility. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, the plethora of suspension settings can be a double-edged sword that turns your state-of-the-art machine into a bucking bronco if you make ill-advised adjustments. Because of this, you will want to keep a record of any changes you make any time you step away from the manufacturer’s recommended settings. You’ll want to be able to go back to previous settings if you make changes you don’t like.
Lots of motorcycles now come with the full complement of adjusters on their suspension. However, even the most basic bike will let you, at the very least, adjust the rear preload. Let’s take a look at how you can set your bike’s suspension sag to get the most out of their damping capabilities.
Calipers aren’t the only part of the brake system that will need to be rebuilt occasionally. The master cylinder, which powers the entire hydraulic system, needs attention from time to time. If it has a problem, you won’t get full performance from your brakes. The most common issue is a piston with a worn primary or secondary cup, which allows hydraulic fluid to flow past the seal, resulting in low braking power or leaking at the brake lever. The master cylinder also has several tiny orifices that, if they clog, can prevent proper operation of the brakes. If you have gone through the trouble of rebuilding the calipers, you should spend the extra time to clean and inspect the master cylinder.
Fitting a set of braided, stainless-steel brake lines to your motorcycle can have a dramatic effect on its stopping performance. The initial onset of braking will be much quicker since stainless lines don’t expand. Also, because the lines are sheathed in metal (usually with a protective plastic outer coating), you don’t have to worry about stainless lines cracking from age and exposure to the sun. Additionally, the teflon interior is less prone to becoming brittle than rubber. So, a trip to the aftermarket will give you better braking and longer-lasting lines, to boot. Let’s not discount how cool they look, too. That’s why you’ll find them on a ton of cruisers and not just sportbikes.
Remember when having a quick-shifter on a production motorcycle was a Big Deal? Now, the top-of-the-line bikes have both upshifting and downshifting covered with the auto-blipping throttles. So, where does that leave those of us with unassisted shifting on our motorcycles? Do we have to go buy gadgets like a HealTech Quick Shifter Easy? Of course, the answer is no. You just need to perform proper clutchless upshifts, like performance riders did for generations before quick-shifters became available. When it comes to downshifting, you’ll still have to use the tried-and-true method of matching the engine speed with the throttle while you manipulate the clutch.
Anyone who has witnessed a washing machine walking its way across the basement floor can understand how important balancing the load on rotating objects can be. Some people mistakenly think that, because modern wheels have gotten so much lighter and better balanced, they don’t need to balance wheels when fresh tires are installed. This is wrong. Even the smallest difference in weight is amplified many, many times as the wheel rotates. Also, your tires will wear more evenly and your bike will be more stable with balanced tires.
Why would anyone want to change their own tires? Isn’t it hard work that usually involves at least one bleeding knuckle? Don’t the tools cost a small fortune when you consider that shops only charge about 25 bucks for the service? Well, some riders don’t live within a few miles of a bike shop. And some folks, well, they’ve always got to do things themselves.
Lubing your motorcycle’s cables should only take a few minutes, but it pays dividends every time you operate a control. For the throttle cables, unscrew the throttle housing on the grip and adjust the cables for maximum slack. After you release one of the cables, the other will slip right off. For the clutch cable, screw the adjuster all the way in for maximum slack but line up the slot in the adjuster with the slot of the lever holder. You should be able to pull the end of the cable free of the adjuster and release the cable.
We recently covered how to check to see if your coolant is in good enough condition to protect your bike during its winter hibernation. Even if your coolant can handle the temperatures of winter, most manufacturers have a recommended service interval of two years or so between coolant swaps.
If you read our recent Battle Of The 125cc Ankle Biters, Part 1, which included the Kymco K-Pipe, you know that it had some front brake issues that “Guns” Roderick decided to use as an opportunity to work on his arm strength via repeated hand motions – namely bleeding the bike’s front brake hydraulics. While the brake’s power was improved, it never reached the performance level we felt it was capable of achieving. Naturally, the topic of brake bleeding technique came up. This oft-neglected maintenance task is fairly easy and should be done to replace the hydraulic fluid at the intervals recommended by your bike’s manufacturer.
VerticalScope’s VP of Sales, Jason Brilant, has lived a variation of this scenario first-hand. While riding on a rural highway in the Allegheny National Forest, he encountered gravel on the road and low-sided his 2012 Ducati Monster 1100 EVO at about 50-60 mph and slid into a grassy ditch. Jason and his bike were banged up but not badly broken, and he was able to ride his cosmetically injured Duc the 220 miles back to his Toronto home. Functionally, the only impairment was a broken gear-shift lever that eventually and painfully wore its way through his boot during the ride home.
Walk around at any motorcycle gathering and count the bikes with limp, sagging chains. Often, the worst examples also are bone dry with rust and/or crud built up on them. Since you’re a MO reader and regularly clean/lube your chain, you’re ahead of the game. However, you still need to make sure that the chain’s slack is within specifications. If you lube your chain regularly, you will probably not need to adjust it every time you return from a ride, but as a chain nears the end of its usable life, you will need to adjust the slack more and more frequently.
With the exception of the most enthusiastic mechanics, cleaning a motorcycle’s chain ranks right up there next to scooping out a litter box for most riders. It’s a messy-but-necessary task that, while it doesn’t stink of cat pee, scores really low on the chore/payoff ratio. Most chain lubes give dirt and dust a great place to latch on to the chain. These abrasive particles can wear out the O-rings prematurely, shortening the chain’s life. So, along with regular lubrication, your chain needs to be cleaned periodically. This is also a good time to take care of the mung that builds up on sprockets, too.
All mechanics, even casual ones, should have a torque wrench – or two. Why? Because if you don’t torque a fastener down tight enough, you risk having it vibrate loose. Go too far when tightening something, and you’ll strip the threads or break the fastener. Torque wrenches come in a couple varieties. The least expensive (and least useful) is a wrench that has two bars. The first is the hand grip and the second is the pointer. As you tighten a bolt you bend the bar with the handle, moving a gauge under the pointer. Don’t waste your money on this type. Not only is it not terribly accurate, but also it requires that you be able to look at the wrench while using it. The tight spaces of motorcycles don’t always allow this to happen.
One thing that many riders fail to consider when changing brands or models of tires – even those marked as the same size – is that the new tire will often alter the outer diameter of the complete wheel assembly. So, if you’ve meticulously set up your bike’s ride height to tune its handling or if you’ve just been happy with the turning characteristics of your motorcycle with the old tires, you might want to account for the change in tire diameter so that you can maintain the same chassis attitude.
Experienced riders have a ritual every time they get on a new bike. They adjust the mirrors and levers before they even start the bike’s engine. Having a bike set up to fit your preferences can make a big difference in how easy it is to operate. One area that is often overlooked is the gear shift lever. Having the shifter in the proper position makes it possible to change gears with the minimum foot movement possible. Also, in some instances, without the proper adjustment shifting is almost impossible. We’ve seen cruisers with the shifter so far out of adjustment for the forward controls that it felt like we needed an additional ankle joint. Similarly, on a sportbike, if the shifter is too high or low, the ease of shifting is drastically reduced. What’s the proper position? The one that suits your riding position and the size of your feet.
Modern motorcycles are incredibly reliable, but they still require you to check a few things in order to keep them running at full potential. The engine oil is one of those items you should never neglect. After all, you don’t want to run your high-revving, manufactured-to-aerospace-tolerances, and extremely-expensive-to-replace engine without the proper lubricant, do you? Additionally, an engine’s oil can reveal a good bit of information about the condition of its internals to even a novice mechanic armed with a little information.
OK, I know, checking a motorcycle’s tire pressure is super easy. All you do is take out your handy tire gauge and apply it correctly to the wheel’s valve stem. Well, yes…and no. Tire manufacturers recommend that you check your bike’s air pressure when the rubber is cold – meaning at ambient temperature. If you’ve ridden your bike in the last few hours or have parked it in the sun, where the tires can absorb heat, the pressure will read artificially high.
Brakes perform a critical job on a motorcycle, which means you should pay special attention to the condition of your bike’s pads. So, plan on replacing your pads when a minimum of 2mm of the pad material remains. Even with 2mm of pad material left, your braking power could be compromised under heavy braking, like at a trackday or a panic stop. Yes, if you like to gamble, you could run them to the absolute limits of their service, but why roll the dice on such an important safety feature.
Changing your motorcycle’s oil is one of the most important – if not the most important – maintenance tasks you can perform for its engine. All those expensive moving parts within your engine won’t last very long without a coating of quality lubricant preventing metal-on-metal violence. If you’re new to wrenching, an oil change is the perfect confidence builder. It’s almost impossible to screw up and requires very few tools: sockets or allen sockets to remove bodywork, a wrench to remove the drain plug (ultimately, you’ll really want to use a socket and a torque wrench to get it tightened to factory specs on reassembly), an oil catch pan, and rubber gloves. Don’t worry about voiding a new bike’s warranty. Just save your receipts and keep a record of the date and mileage of each change.
Spring is here. The sun is slowly warming the earth and the snow is melting fast. It’s time to get your ride out of storage, tuned up and on the road, and grab some refresher lessons. Great riders never stop learning. But maybe you don’t have your license yet, and you’re not sure if this is the year you take the plunge. Maybe you’re content to sit on the sidelines and watch your friends head out on their bikes for heaps of adventure and thrill seeking, always putting it off until next season because…what’s the point? You can’t get your license and go on the epic trips with them in one season anyway – or can you?
We last left you hanging November 1 with Part I of our Evan Steel Performance-built 2000 Yamaha R1 project bike, wherein ESP took our hard-knock $1,500 Craigslist R1 and turned the old girl into, if not quite a beauty, a liter-bike packing enough performance to run with a much younger crowd. A little cylinder head work and a little bump-up in compression, a little crankshaft lightening, a little expert Dynojet carb-kitting and Akrapovic race-pipeage – nothing really radical, in other words – and here’s what we’ve come up with.
I bought my $1,500 mongrel 2000 Yamaha R1 during a sad period of my life when people weren’t giving me new motorcycles every week or two, and I needed a project I could ride. A couple years later, I bumped into Evan Steel ( evansteelperformance), who trained under the great Kaz Yoshima of Ontario Moto-Tech fame, and worked with Jeremy Toye at Lee’s Cycles in San Diego for some time. A few years ago, Evan and business partner/ fellow moto-wiz Phil Allison (Toye’s ex-Superbike mechanic) set off to open their own shop in Tucson, Arizona, where they love the warmth. More recently, Evan has been off in Italy tuning Aaron Yates’s EBR World Superbike, yet another thankless task … Before all the EBR stuff transpired, though, Evan said I should drop off my old R1 at his shop so he could build a beast like the first-gen R1 he and Kaz and Phil built for multi-time Willow Springs Champ Curtis Adams back in the Formula USA days. Why not? By then, people were giving me new bikes again, thank God.
Previously, I covered how to install a Powerlet accessory electrical socket. While having access to constant power for accessories is convenient (particularly for maintaining your battery with a smart charger), it has a major drawback: If you leave your electronics on when you shut down the engine, you can easily kill your battery. The best way to prevent this from happening is to make the socket switch itself off with the ignition. Although the task is fairly simple, you’ll need to perform a little detective work before you start.
Only a few years ago, about the only thing that required electricity on your motorcycle was an electric vest. Now, with the proliferation of GPS, smartphones, and other power-hungry devices, you might find yourself needing to plug in while you’re out on a ride. Or perhaps you don’t get to ride your bike as much as you’d like to and need a way to connect to your smart charger. Accessory wiring company Powerlet has created wiring sockets that can be used to power just about anything you could want to mount on your bike. Powerlet’s systems range from simple bar mounts to bodywork mounts to custom brackets for a wide range of motorcycle models. Once you mount Powerlet’s socket on your motorcycle, simply plug in the appropriate adapter for your device.
Alain Bernard is French, but he lives in South Florida. His shop is named Santiago Choppers, and while he has built custom choppers and trikes, Bernard’s fame stems from meticulously designed and crafted café racers. The Santiago name originates from a shop he owned while living in the Dominican Republic’s capital; Santiago.
In the last six or seven years, I have managed to be a very good boy and have gotten no traffic tickets, none. And by bragging about that to a few people instead of clamming up, I knew I was asking for it. Last April I got it, riding up the 110 freeway in L.A. on my way to Corsa Motoclassica on a shiny new FJR1300.
While in Germany for the unveiling of the BMW nineT, BMW arranged for the five attending journalists to spend a day at the Hechlingen Enduro Park and experience how BMW has partnered with the school to deliver a first-class riding experience. Although most of the riders who visit the facility are from Germany, many do come from the rest of Europe with a smattering coming from as far away as the United States.
One of the hallmarks of proficient motorcyclists is the smoothness with which they apply the controls. Downshifting and braking are two of the skills that require the most finesse. Get ham-fisted with either, and you will display (and anyone riding with you will see) the telltale bobbing of an unsettled chassis – or worse, crash. This is why novices are recommended to master the basics of both braking and downshifting separately before trying to cram them together while rushing headlong into a corner.
Being smaller than the majority of road users is both an advantage and disadvantage of riding a motorcycle. However, many riders don’t give much active consideration to how they can apply a motorcycle’s advantages to help mitigate its disadvantages. Thanks to lane positioning options afforded by a bike’s small size, we can take proactive steps to keep those big, lumbering cars from becoming overly intimate with us.