3 More Things that will Make You a Better Rider

Don’t bother reading this article if you are content with your riding level or if you have to ask why you should bother spending time and energy improving. However, if you want to increase your motorcycling enjoyment (and safety), then read on.

1. Surround Yourself with the Right people

Who you associate with matters!photo: Lance Oliver

Riding Companions

Align yourself with people who help elevate you to improve your skills rather than people who either stagnate your growth or hold you back. Some riders are not interested in growing, some are simply stuck in their ways, while others are unaware of the benefits of improving. Which people are more likely to help you become a better rider?

And associate with others who share the same level of respect for risk as you. Hopefully you cohorts wear protection and ride responsibly.

Internet and Riding Groups

Join groups that not only align with your riding philosophy, but also encourage and support skill development.

And make sure these groups share accurate information from reputable sources and the moderators aren’t afraid to correct well-meaning, but misleading or inaccurate information.

Seek additional sources to make sure group members know what they are talking about. If not, find another group.

Visit New England RIders

Inner Circle

These are your closest riding friends. These like-minded friends are willing and eager to talk about riding skills. Sure, they will talk about the latest bolt-on goodie or the newest model, oil or tire choice. But, at some point they will end up talking about what they recently learned about motorcycle handling, control techniques and the merits of a method they heard about but have not yet tried.

2. Look in the Mirror

The biggest roadblock to any growth is a lack of self-awareness.

Risk Tolerance

Maybe you like the feeling and danger that comes with having only basic riding skills, after all we don’t ride to be safe. But understand that the odds of you suffering the financial and personal costs is much greater than if your skills are advanced.

Ability to Recognize Mistakes

Blaming others is an impediment to growth. Even though “the other guy” may be legally at fault, ask yourself what you could have done to avoid being involved. Maybe nothing, but ask the question of yourself.

And remember that we don’t know what we don’t know. and that we are the worst judge of our true ability. The Dunning Kruger Effect says that the less experience you have at a task, the more you think you know. Don’t be caught out thinking you know what you need to know when you don’t.

Motivation

Hot on the heels of risk tolerance is motivation to grow. If the perceived reward of improved skill isn’t apparent, then motivation will be low. On the other hand, if you’ve been curious enough to discover just how deep the well of enjoyment is with the introduction of advancing skills, then you’re on your way.

Passion

Related to motivation is passion. It takes a lot of courage for beginner riders to make the leap into becoming motorcycle riders. The don’t exactly have passion yet, but they are motivated enough to spend the energy and resources it takes to get into this endeavor.

A certain level of sustained passion is one reason why people stick with riding over the long haul. But, at some point this passion will inevitably level off unless you seek out new opportunities…and growth is the more enduring.

Commitment

You have to be willing to put in some of your precious energy into making this growth happen. Read, watch videos and ask questions. In other words, seek to find out about what you don’t know.

You don’t need to spend money to get this process started, but at some point you should plan on setting aside money to take some training from professionals, which may include advanced parking lot, off-road, on-street or track day training.

Your Learning Style

Some people are impatient and want to cut to the chase, while others delve into the depths of learning something new. Some learn by absorbing information and then applying the technique, others learn best just by hitting the bullet points and then trying it out.

Whichever way you learn, understand that there are not any real shortcuts. Be patient.

3. Practice

Practicing is what converts theory into skills.

Knowledge is the first step, but knowledge alone will not make you a better rider! You must apply the knowledge by practicing.

Courage

You’re going to feel uncomfortable at first when trying something new. You may be afraid to fail or to look like a novice. This is normal. We all go through it. Back to my earlier point…find supportive friends and groups and get some training from a pro organization that has seen it all.

I know that many riders choose not to attend one of my courses or a track training day for fear of embarrassment. Remember, everyone is in the same boat as you. Sure, some will be more proficient or faster than you . So Relax.


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When a Rider’s Actions Make Matters Worse

The difference between a close call and a crash often points to the rider knowing the effect an action has on control. Unfortunately, a lot of motorcycle riders react incorrectly.

When faced with a life-threatening situation we will pull from our knowledge and experience to decide on a course of action. This means that the quality of your knowledge and experience directly affects whether you act correctly or not.

However, it’s important to note that avoiding an incident requires for you to also have sharp skills, well-developed habits and a keen sense of situational awareness to avoid being put into difficult situations in the first place. Without these important mental skills, you will continually find yourself experiencing close calls and poor outcomes.

Smart decisions prevent panic situations to occur in the first place.

Failure to Act

Excellent skills, effective habits and keen awareness still may not be enough. Even with these skills, it is likely that we will react to a life-threatening event with instinctual survival responses.

Human beings are hard wired to react to threats in a similar way our ancient ancestors did when faced with being eaten by a large predator. In this situation it was smart to freeze in our tracks to hopefully go undetected, and if that didn’t work we would run as fast as we could.

Motorcyclists who face a serious hazard often freeze. This can result in the rider acting too late, or not at all, does not lean the motorcycle further as needed to stay on the road when a corner tightens.

Incorrect Actions

After a moment of inaction often comes overreaction. A startled rider may overreact in a knee jerk manner by grabbing the brakes too hard or swerving in the wrong direction. Overreaction is often the root of many “I had to lay it down” scenarios. It’s common for panicked riders to stab the brakes when startled by a mid-corner problem, which can easily lead to a fall.

Oftentimes, there is no time to think. In this case, our mind does a split-second evaluation of the scene and signals the muscles and nerves to act. The action that occurs is not necessarily based on logic, and is surely not derived from thoughtful analysis about what is the best action to take.

Unfortunately, what the rushed and panicked brain concludes as a good idea is often a bad idea. Many riders who attempt to avoid a collision fail to execute the proper action. Often, a lack of mental foresight contributes to the poor outcome as your brain must use precious time to process the unusual event.

Target Fixation

It’s human nature for our eyes to fixate solidly on a hazard. This is called target fixation. Since we tend to go where we look, it is important to try to look for an escape, rather than at the threat.

Resisting the natural tendency to look at a threat is not easy. The trick is to condition yourself to look to the solution, not the problem. You do this by finding opportunities on every ride you take to train your eyes and mind to consciously look away from real or imaginary hazards

Panic braking can cause loss of control.

Panic Braking

One of the most common reactions when faced with the prospect of colliding with a car is to grab the brakes. While slowing down is usually a good idea, doing so by abruptly jabbing the brakes can lead to a skid and loss of stopping power and control.

A well-trained and practiced rider may be able to overcome the panic response and brake properly by applying the brakes fully without skidding. But, most motorcycle riders on the road are not that adept at emergency braking, because they don’t practice. This is why anti-lock braking systems are a good idea.

Read How Not to Suck at Braking

A lot of crashes that are the result of over braking occur in corners. This is because available traction is being shared between cornering and braking forces. It’s important to note that most ABS systems do not prevent a skid when cornering. However, bikes with the latest IMU technology take lean angle into account and is able to arrest a skid caused by overbraking while leaned.

Cornering panic is a very common crash scenario.

Cornering Panic

Cornering is one of the most challenging aspects of motorcycling. The act of leaning a heavy machine into a turn is something that challenges most people’s trust in physics. As humans, we are only comfortable leaning about 20 degrees. This comes from our built-in sense of safety.

Regrettably, many riders fail to fully train their brain to accept more extreme lean angles. These riders run off the road when a corner tightens more than expected, because they cannot force themselves to achieve the required angle of lean. Instead, they freeze and run off the road, or grab the brakes and skid to a fall.

Read How to Not Suck at Cornering

Swerving into Trouble

Swerving is a very useful maneuver for avoiding a collision. Unfortunately, well-executed swerves are not terribly easy to do, especially for new or untrained riders, because swerving requires the rider to act with confidence and authority.

Because swerving is an advanced skill that few riders are proficient at and because there is a great potential for error, it is often better to try and slow or stop before the hazard. It’s important to remember that swerving and braking don’t mix well.

Situational awareness is a key skill to master.

Expect the Unexpected

The best outcomes occur when the rider predicts that action is required before it becomes urgent. A rider who fails to predict that a car may turn left across his or her path at an intersection is at greater risk of having inadequate time to react appropriately to the situation.

In contrast, the rider who is continually on the lookout for the possibility of this scenario is already mentally and physically prepared and is more likely to act skillfully, and is less likely to act in a way that makes matters worse.


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Why Motorcycle Crashes Happen

Originally appeared in Motorcycle Consumer News in 2012

As I write this column, I am grieving from the loss of a friend and coworker, taken by a careless driver who ran a red light. Chappie was an avid rider of exceptional skill and was aware of the risks of riding a motorcycle. Many of us can name one or more highly skilled riders who were involved in crashes; some may have even succumbed to their injuries. I am reminded of Larry Grodsky, the safety columnist for Rider Magazine and founder of the Stayin’ Safe on-road rider training program. Larry died when he collided with a deer. Larry fully knew the dangers of animals and took all precautions to avoid being exposed to this hazard. However, circumstances required him to ride later into the evening than he wanted. The chances of encountering a deer may have been elevated, but the risk was probably acceptable. Fate stepped in with a different idea.

Read: When Motojournalists Die

Just last week, I answered two letters from readers looking for explanations to why they crashed or almost crashed. Both concerns had to do with traction loss in a curve. After reading each letter, it appeared that both riders were doing nothing that would have increased their risk and that each was fully aware of the long list of possible hazards before them. I answered their letters by mentioning the conditions that can exacerbate traction loss and how to spot surface hazards. What I didn’t include in these replies was a statement that sometimes crashes happen and that even the most knowledgeable, conscientious, and diligent rider can become involved in a mishap. Fatigue, a slip of concentration, or a slightly mistimed maneuver may be responsible, but sometimes the cause is a force or forces completely outside our control.

As someone who has dedicated much of his life to rider training, this does not sit well. Even though continual learning and purposeful practice improves my odds significantly, nothing can absolutely guarantee my safety.

Possible versus Likely

I do believe that “out of the blue” mishaps that befall alert, skilled riders are rare and that the vast majority of crashes are preventable. I also know that sometimes crashes happen, even when the rider has taken all precautions. To ride a motorcycle well we must ride with knowledge of this fact. We all must understand the risks we are taking by riding a two-wheeler so that we can do what is necessary to increase the likelihood that we live a long and healthy life. This means doing all we can to minimize the risks of riding.

The odds of getting hurt or dying as the result of a motorcycle crash are illustrated in statistics. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2010, there were 4502 fatalities nationwide with a fatality rate of 24.39 per 100 million miles traveled. In comparison, drivers of all vehicle types died at a rate of 1.11 per 100 million miles traveled. NHTSA summarizes by saying: “Per vehicle mile traveled in 2010, motorcyclists were about 30 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash and 5 times more likely to be injured.”

These statistics are upsetting. But, if this is news to you then you haven’t been paying attention. Motorcycling has always been riskier than driving a car. And it’s been riskier (statistically speaking) during some years and less risky during others. The reasons include: a surge of new riders during good economic times and/or when fuel prices are high; good weather that leads to more vehicle miles traveled; increases or decreases in safety initiatives at the government level. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

So, does that mean that the more you ride, the more likely you are to crash? Not necessarily. Statistics suggest trends, not absolute outcomes. The chance that flipping a coin will result in heads or tails is 50/50. But, you can flip a coin ten times and it’s possible to get heads all ten times. That doesn’t mean that the odds of getting tails have now gone up; it’s still 50/50. Let’s say the odds of crashing are 1 in 100,000. If we ride 99,999 times, does that mean we will crash on our next ride? No, because the likelihood of you crashing is not based on past rides.

It can be argued that the more you ride, the less likely you are to crash, because you’ve learned how to ride well. However, this only holds true if you have actually become more skilled, as opposed to simply having ridden more miles. It may be less likely that you will crash if you are skilled, but crashes still happen. The fact that we ride means that we are exposed to that risk. So, what can we do to reduce the chance of being involved in a crash? Excluding any mention of bad luck, or fate, or acts of God, we are left with our ability to manage the risk.

Why Crashes Happen

The reasons why crashes happen are not numerous: inattention, alcohol or drug impairment, lack of traffic-management strategies, poor risk perception, lack of mental preparedness and attention, and inadequate cornering, braking and slow-speed skills. Sure, there are other reasons we could add to the list, but you’ll find that this list covers a huge percentage of why crashes happen. You’ll notice that 5 of the 6 reasons I list are mental skills. Not being in the right mental condition to effectively and accurately evaluate the environment puts you at high risk of being involved in a crash.

The physical skills of cornering, braking and keeping a slow-moving motorcycle upright are also critical. It is necessary to have the highest possible level of ability to control your motorcycle, but often it is the lack of mental proficiency and good judgment that gets us into trouble. Poor mental skills require us to use superior physical skills to survive.

Single-vehicle Crashes

About half of all fatalities are the result of single-vehicle crashes and the vast majority of those crashes occur in a curve. Riders often fail to negotiate a corner because they enter the turn faster than they can handle (a lack of mental skill). This usually is followed by an inability to corner effectively at this higher rate of speed (a mostly physical skill). Had the rider used better judgment about entry speed, the corner would have passed without incident.

Single-vehicle crashes can also be the result of road surface hazards. Motorcycle stability relies on traction. Add sand, gravel, oil, anti-freeze, or water onto the pavement and you’ve got the potential for a crash. While the existence of road surface hazards are not in our control, we must learn to spot these hazards before they become a problem.

Car drivers do not need to pay any attention to trivial things like sand or gravel or tar snakes. That’s why many new riders crash as the result of surface issues. Veteran riders learned long ago the dangers of surface hazards and have developed a keen eye for spotting potential problems. However, even experienced riders can find themselves on the ground, having failed to identify a patch of sand or fluid spill.

Unfortunately, we can’t catch all potential surface hazards, but what we can do is predict the likelihood that sand or some other contaminant may be present. For example, riding near a construction site should prompt you to slow down and scan the surface more carefully. A wet road can make it nearly impossible to see a slick spot caused by oil, so it’s smart to reduce speed and minimize lean angle and brake force.

Low speed tipovers may not seem all that scary, but these seemingly benign mishaps can land you in the hospital with nasty fractures and soft tissue damage. Too many riders ignore their slow speed riding skills, partly because it doesn’t seem that important, but also because learning to control a motorcycle at walking speed can be rather intimidating. Stay tuned for an in-depth article on slow speed riding techniques in an upcoming issue.

The Other Guy

The other half of fatal crashes involves a second vehicle. Too many drivers operate their vehicles with ignorance, complacency, and carelessness. These drivers have no intention of killing anyone, but they do not consider that their behavior is putting all road users, not just motorcyclists, at risk. And it’s not just the victim who suffers. I’m sure the driver who took my friend Dereck’s life is living his own personal hell right now.

One factor that leads to careless behavior is how some people treat other drivers when they get behind the wheel. It’s common for otherwise courteous and thoughtful people to tailgate, or bully, or intimidate other drivers when in traffic. There is something about the perceived safety of one’s own automobile and the righteousness of many drivers’ sense of entitlement that causes them to judge others as incompetent and in the way.

There is also the feeling of safety that many drivers of large vehicles feel as they loom over smaller cars and motorcycles. Their perception of personal risk is reduced and the motivation to drive aggressively when late for work can be difficult to resist.

When it comes to motorcyclists, there is a “de-personalization” that happens when we cover our head and face with a helmet and dark shield. Instead of being perceived as a fellow human being, we can be seen as an inanimate object. Even fellow motorcycle riders can fall into this unconscious misperception. I often start track day rider’s meetings by having the attendees introduce themselves to each other. Then I ask them to remember the people they just met and understand that the person they are sharing the racetrack with is just like them; someone who is here to have fun and has to be at work the next day. It sets a tone for safer passing and more courteous behavior.

Do riders who choose to not wear a helmet fair better, since their head and face is not covered? I don’t know of a study that can confirm that theory. However, there have been studies showing that drivers come closer to bicycle riders who wear a helmet compared to riders who don’t. I’m not suggesting we all ride helmetless so that drivers perceive us more as humans; that would be trading a sure risk reducer (head protection) for the hope that a driver will treat us with more courtesy (wishful thinking). However, it does point out that we are sharing the road with fallible beings whose perception of reality varies. Knowing this, you must take precautions that take these variables into account.

Imagine if this rider were wearing an open faced helmet or no helmet.

A World of Distraction

Another factor that can increase risk is distractions by electronic devices and other sources of stimulation. Music devices, cell phone use, GPS, and texting is at an all time high. It’s common to see drivers wait until they get into their cars before dialing their phone. Even though law-enforcement discourages distracted behavior, the trend of driving while distracted is increasing. More than once, I’ve even seen members of law enforcement chatting on cell phones while driving their police cruiser. What message does that send?

It’s not only electronic devices that distract. Alcohol is the most obvious cause of poor judgment, but there are conditions that we may not consider risky, including having the wrong person in the passenger seat. It’s easy to let a conversation or distracting exuberance lead to poor decisions. The number of teen fatalities with at least one passenger in the car is much higher than teen drivers who are alone. This is why several states allow teens to drive only with immediate family (no joy rides) for the first several months of learning to drive.

What to Do?

Yikes! With so many uncontrollable factors to contend with, it can seem foolish to ride a motorcycle at all. There is good news, however. We can train ourselves to reduce risk.

For instance, knowing that intersections are one of the most likely places where crashes occur, you must approach intersections with the alertness and precision of a hunted animal. Every sense should be heightened to spot anything amiss. Scan aggressively for movements from the side, front and behind that can signal a vehicle about to invade your space. Keep your brakes covered to minimize braking reaction time, and identify possible escape routes, just in case. To help drivers see you, make sure you are aware of lines of sight and use lane positions that ensure that drivers see you. I see too many riders who foolishly ride in drivers’ blind spots or “hide” behind other vehicles so that it is nearly impossible for drivers to see them until it is too late. You must develop a sixth sense about line of sight to ensure the highest level of conspicuity possible.

Another simple strategy is to wear bright colors. High-viz jackets and helmets are very popular lately. Unfortunately, high-viz is not the color of choice for most fashion-conscious riders. Okay, fine. If you choose to wear black, then be aware that you are increasing the risk of not being seen and don’t be surprised if drivers pull out in front of you more often than if you were to wear more conspicuous gear.

Hi viz gets attention- whether you want it or not.

By choosing lane positions that ensure good lines of sight and by wearing bright clothing, we can help defend ourselves from careless drivers who may not see us. But, sometimes crashes happen where neither party is clearly to “blame”. Human beings make mistakes and one or two seemingly small mistakes occurring at just the wrong time can suddenly lead to two vehicles coming together. Even though true “accidents” do happen, you should take solace in the fact that there is usually some control you have in preventing mishaps from happening. However, even the most diligent and skillful rider cannot control all situations at all times. We share the roads with people that do not take driving seriously and are often in a daze so that they see what they expect to see and not what is in front of their eyes. This means that we must take more responsibility for our own safety by doing all we can to not let a crash happen to us.

Broken Record

Here I go again touting the need for rider training. The reason is that rider training is the gateway to reduced risk. When I say rider training, I don’t only mean formal training programs. I also mean continual practice, whether that is in a parking lot or at a track day. It can also mean purposefully refining mental strategies and control skills while you are on a typical ride or when commuting to work. The opportunity to become a better rider is always present.

The biggest challenge to effective training is motivation. How many riders take advantage of training opportunities to learn new techniques and to brush up on old ones? Not many. I understand. Spending a weekend rolling around a parking lot instead of touring the beautiful countryside does not appeal to many. However, the time spent focusing on mental survival strategies and physical control skills can mean the difference between making it home and spending several expensive days in a hospital bed, or worse. Even a fractured ankle or foot can change your plans for the rest of the season.

Self-help training is just as valid as formal training, as long as your knowledge and control skills are solid to begin with. Get a copy of “Riding in the Zone” or “Total Control” and find the sections in these books that outline parking lot drills. Then find a clean parking lot to spend a half-hour to practice the skills you think need refinement. Make it a social event by inviting a couple of like-minded riding friends to join you (especially those who really need to work on their control skills). Self-help rider training lacks the feedback of a professional instructor, but the drills outlined in a good book can provide you with the fundamental information to help you raise your skill level.

Even the most proficient riders are involved in crashes. However, there is no doubt that we can tip the scales in our favor, if we become as skillful possible, both mentally and physically.

Training is one of the best ways to minimize the chances of a mishap

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How to Avoid Crashing in Corners

In this article, I will outline the cornering crash sequence that often leads to the dreaded single-vehicle motorcycle crash, aka “running wide in a corner”.

We know that proper lane position, effective visual acuity and strong countersteering skills are crucial for successfully negotiating a curve. However, once the crash sequence starts it’s difficult to halt the cascade of mistakes that lead to cornering mishaps.

Getting in over your head sucks!

The top 10 Cornering Crash Factors

Things often start out okay as you approach the turn, but any lack of cornering confidence sets up the typical cornering crash sequence.

Once the crash sequence begins, it is exponentially more difficult to execute the actions needed to negotiate the curve.

1. Too Fast Entry- You approach and enter the turn faster than your personal level of comfort with leaning or the capability of your bike. Don’t blame the corner. You messed up. Often, a more competent rider could have made the turn with no drama.

2. Poor lane position at turn entry- You enter the turn too close to the inside instead of the outside. Nervous riders who are afraid of running wide often approach corners in the middle-to-inside, making the turn sharper.

3. Narrow angle of view- An inside lane position also limits the view into and beyond the turn.

4. Poor turn-in timing- Countersteering too early or too late and with either too strong or too weak handlebar inputs leads to problems at the exit. (Nervous riders turn in too early).

5. Apex too early- Turn in too early and the bike will be pointed toward the oncoming lane or the edge of the road at the exit. This then requires a second turn input to stay on the road.

6. Mind freeze- When it becomes apparent that things aren’t going well, fear and doubt take over, leading to a shift into survival mode. (We can’t function well in this state).

7. Target fixation- Panic causes rider to look down and at the oncoming car or the guardrail. (Humans are programmed to look at what we fear).

8. Muscle paralysis- Panic leads to ineffective or non existent countersteering and the bike feels like it won’t turn. (It’s common to put pressure on both left and right handgrips as you brace for the worst).

9. Ineffective body position- Poor body position isn’t the most significant cornering failure, but relying on your body to turn the bike (without countersteering) is disastrous. Some riders lean in to try and coax the bike to turn more, while others counterweight for fear of leaning beyond their comfort level.

10. Panic braking- With panic comes the unwillingness to lean more. In response, humans tend to grab the brakes when panicked. Adding significant brake force when leaned leads to traction loss.

What to Do

So, there you have it. Of course, there are other factors that may come into play that aren’t listed here, but this is the most common cornering crash sequence. You can also overly this same sequence to most other crashes where one domino falls and others tumble quickly.

Understand that arresting the sequence is quite difficult once it has been activated. So, enter turns a bit slower and continually learn and consciously practice expert cornering techniques on every ride to prevent this from happening to you!

How to Corner Better

There are several ways to become better at cornering to reduce the likelihood of crashing in a corner. Here are a few options:

Non-Sportbike Track Training Days and regular Sportbike Track Days

Advanced parking Lot Courses

Parking Lot Practice on your own.


This is a rider who sucks at cornering.

Read more:

How not to Suck at Cornering

How not to suck at braking

Vision-Facebook Live

How to Avoid Cornering Panic


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7 of the Best XT250 Modifications

I always thought of the XT250 as a beginner dirt bike. It is an old-tech machine that hardly turns heads. I have owned several “real” dirt bikes, including a Honda CRF250X, DRz400, KDX200, KLX250s and KTM450 EXC. So, why is the only dirt bike in my garage a lowly XT?

Why an XT250?

Why would I go from a “real” dirtbike to what many would call a beginner’s bike? One reason is that I needed a bike that would fit in the 6.5 foot bed of my F150 with the tailgate closed. It turns out the XT is short enough when positioned at a slight angle.

Another reason is that as I hit my 60th birthday, I am tired of very tall bikes. The XT is quite low, almost too low for my 5′ 8″ height and 32″ inseam. But, it allows me the confidence to dab through the most challenging terrain.

Surprisingly, this simple bike is quite capable. I had no trouble whatsoever hanging with the big boys while riding at the West Virginian Hatfield McCoy trail system. See this video.

Enjoy some trail riding on the XT.

Of course, such a budget dirt bike benefits greatly by select modifications. The mods increase usability, durability and capability.

Notice that I didn’t say “performance”? That’s because I find the single cylinder air-cooled motor quite adequate for the type of riding we do here in the rocky, rooty and tight New England trails. But, the bike does just fine on faster two-track trails and dirt roads.

Modifications

Handlebar & Grips

The stock handlebars are too low for standing. Some riders install bar risers, but I opted for a taller bend handlebar from Mika. I’d never heard of Mika, but the $60.00 price point was hard to beat.

I ordered the “Mini Low” bar but discovered that it was no taller than the stock bar. So, the fine folks at MotoSport initiated a return and replacement for a “Mini High”. The extra 23mm is just the ticket for being able to stand comfortably without bending over. Here is the Mika bend fitment chart.

The handlebar is really nicely finished and I can attest to its durability. A pair of Pro Taper Pillow Top Grips improved comfort and feel.

Mika Mini High handlebar and ProTaper Pillow Top Grips.

Barkbusters Handguards

Protection is super important when attacking the gnar. Handguards protect the levers, but also your hands. The bike came with a flimsy pair of hinged Acerbic brush guards that were totally inadequate for hard duty.

The Barkbusters Jet guards have a sturdy, full wrap aluminum backbone with a color-matched plastic brush guard. Installation is simple enough, but there is some fiddling that needs to be done to position the inner mount.

These are some of the toughest guards around and are a must if you’re going to venture beyond the gravel roads.

See the installation video below.

Mirrors

If you’re planning on doing any real off-roading, you’re better off putting the stock mirrors away and mounting some good aftermarket units. I chose the Doubletake mirrors. These are mounted on a B349-U RAM ball and medium length RAM arm.

You’ll notice that I drilled three holes in the post of the mirror because I used the mirror on the racetrack when instructing and the mirror would fold at 100+ mph. This mod is not needed on the street or trails.

Barkbusters Jet Handguards and Doubletake mirror mounted on a RAM ball and arm.

Skid Plate

The XT does not come with a skid plate off the showroom floor, which seems to be a big oversight in my eyes. I remedied the situation by installing a Moose skid plate to protect the underside of the engine and frame when surmounting rocks and other bits of nature.

The Moose plate is super sturdy and is reasonably priced at $130.00 US.

Moose skid plate

Suspension

The XT’s weakest link is the suspension, particularly the front forks. The problem is that the forks can’t keep up with choppy terrain at higher speeds.

So, I installed upgraded fork parts from Cogent Dynamics. The XT250 kit includes .40 or .44 fork springs, fork oil and their DDC cartridge valves that rest on top of the damper rod assembly.

At $376.95, the kit is reasonably affordable fork upgrade. Installation is easy for anyone who is reasonably comfortable with spinning wrenches.

Cogent Dynamics DDC Fork kit

The upgraded forks performed well, although at first I didn’t notice a whole lot of difference until I picked up the pace on the rocky, choppy terrain where the stock forks fell short. I also noticed a general sense of increased confidence climbing and descending more technical stuff. A good upgrade. Predictably, now the stock rear shock feels inadequate.

Check out the video.

Tires

The stock Bridgestone Trailwing tires are great if you pretty much ride pavement with some intermediate off road thrown in from time to time. But, for the gnarly New England trails, I needed something more aggressive.

Enter the venerable Dunlop 606 rear and Pirelli MT-21 combination. Word is that the Dunlop front and the Pirelli rear aren’t as good as this combo. And I must say that I’m quite pleased with the performance of these tires, both off and on road. Both tires are DOT legal, too.

Dunlop 606
Pirelli MT-21.

Footpegs

The stock XT footpegs must have been made for little people. Standing for any period of time becomes uncomfortable, but these tiny pegs also inhibit control.

After some research, I found the DMO Specialties footpegs for the XT. Look at the photo to see the difference between stock and aftermarket. The sturdy construction is impressive and at $56.00, this mod is a great deal.

Installation is simple enough for anyone who can handle a pair of pliers.

The stock peg on the left. The DMO Specialties peg on the right.
https://youtu.be/aSVybkpxZNI
Enjoy this video of the XT in action.
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How to Avoid Cornering Panic on a Motorcycle

Cornering is one of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of motorcycling. The act of leaning a heavy machine into a turn is something that challenges most people’s trust in physics.

Why is Cornering so Exhilarating…and Scary?

According to Bernt Spiegel in his weighty book, “The Upper Half of the Motorcycle“, humans are only comfortable leaning about 20 degrees due to our built-in sense of safety. 20 degrees is our maximum lean angle when running around a circle at full speed without slipping. Anything more than that and our survival senses trigger our panic response.

Image Courtesy of Bernt Spiegel’s “Upper Half of the Motorcycle”

This is why novice passengers panic when first experiencing significant lean angles. They often stiffen and lean in the wrong direction in an attempt to overcome the overwhelming sense of falling.

The act of leaning into a corner stimulates this primal fear, which can either be terrifying or exhilarating, depending on your personal risk tolerance or level of training.

You may think that miles in the saddle is what you need to build sufficient cornering confidence. Sure, over time, the mind and muscles begin to trust that the tires will grip and that the motorcycle will remain rubber side down. But, the level of trust many riders possess is not sufficient for more challenging corners.

These are the riders who panic and run off the road when a corner tightens unexpectedly, because they cannot achieve the required angle of lean.

I Don’t Need No Stinking Training

We tend to train to the level we feel is adequate for our needs, which is measured by how we typically ride. Minimal corner training may seem adequate if all you do are easy rides on familiar roads with few significant curves. But, what about when you venture off to where the pavement twists and turns more than you’re accustomed? This is where trouble lurks.

And what about when you daydream your way into a blind, decreasing radius turn too fast? Will you respond correctly to stay on two wheels and in your lane? Trained riders are much more likely to do the right thing and ride it out. Chances plummet for average riders with minimal training.

Throttle and Speed Control

Correct throttle timing and control is another important aspect of cornering control. When we sense danger it’s natural for us to decelerate. But abruptly “chopping” the throttle upsets stability by compressing the suspension at a time when you need all the grip and ground clearance you can muster.

In extreme conditions, abrupt deceleration can cause hard parts to touch and the tires to get levered off the ground. This affliction happens mostly to low-slung cruisers.

Instead, try to keep the throttle steady throughout the turn to avoid spikes in tire load and to keep the suspension in the usable range to maintain stability and ground clearance. Easier said than done when panic is flooding your system.

You Can Always Get on the Gas

One of the simplest ways to reduce the risk of corner crashes is to enter turns at conservative speeds, especially in blind corners. That way, you are less likely to need to pull off superhuman maneuvers if a hazard appears or the corner tightens.

There is really no penalty for approaching a corner a little too slow, becasue you can always accelerate a bit earlier to make up for a too slow entry. The best advice is “Slow in, faster out”.

Target Fixation

Target fixation is another significant problem when cornering. Since you tend to go where you look, it is important that you keep your eyes and attention pointed toward the corner exit.

This is tough to do because we instinctively target the object with our eyes. It’s okay to glance at what you must avoid, but then look away to an escape route around the hazard.

Look where you want to go!

Foresight is Right

It’s not feasible to expect an untrained rider to magically lean the bike to extreme angles if they’ve never done so before. Instead, they freeze and run off the road, or grab the brakes and skid to a fall.

Be on the right side of the equation by learning to lean your motorcycle beyond your comfort zone. Some purposeful parking lot practice will condition your mind and muscles to become accustomed to more extreme lean angles. Do it now before you need it!

How to Corner Better

There are several ways to become better at cornering to reduce the likelihood of crashing in a corner. Here are a few options:

Non-Sportbike Track Training Days and regular Sportbike Track Days

Advanced parking Lot Courses

Parking Lot Practice on your own.

Non-Sportbike Track Training Days will give you more confidence!

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Aprilia Tuono V4 APRC – Track Day Bike Prep

After a full season owning a 2011 Suzuki GSXR750 track day bike, I decided to take a different route and grabbed a 2013 Aprilia Tuono V4 APRC.

Check out the article I wrote about some things I discovered about the Tuono.

The bike was setup as a street bike, but with a lot of little goodies already installed by the previous owner. Many are items I don’t typically spend money on, like an aftermarket exhaust and sexy cosmetic changes. But, they are cool!

Below, I describe the modifications I did to make the bike more track worthy and also list the stuff the previous owner installed.


The first thing I do with any bike I plan on taking to the track is to bolt on engine and frame protection. Twisted Throttle is a sponsor of this website and sell R&G and SW-Motech accessories that work really well and are reasonably priced. Click here or on the Twisted Throttle logos on this page to buy accessories and help support the site.

Frame Sliders

There is a debate about whether frame sliders are a good thing or is they actually cause more damage. Sliders are great for minor drops, but can also catch a curbing or edge of the track and cause the bike to flip. This happened to a ZX636 I once owned. I decided to take the chance and install some R&G Aero Frame Sliders.

R&G Aero Frame Sliders

These sliders are high quality, with a robust two-location mounting block. The pucks are the usual Delron nylon units. To reduce the chances that the slider will catch when sliding, I cut the pucks down by about 1-1/4 inches. So far, I haven’t put them to the test.


Engine Case Covers

Protecting expensive engine cases is of primary importance. I have used Woodcraft products, but like the full coverage of the R&G covers. These British Superbike approved race-spec covers are made of tough plastic and include replaceable sliders. I bought the complete kit which includes both left and right covers. Buy the case covers here.

The racing version includes replaceable sliders
Installing the covers is quite easy.

Installation is easy. All you have to do is remove a few of the case bolts, locate the cases and replace with the supplied bolts and spacers. One small issue was that the opening around the oil fill cap wasn’t quite big enough, so I trimmed it with a file.

A little trimming was necessary to clear the oil fill cap.

Exhaust and Protector

The Arrow exhaust is a work of art. And it sounds awesome, especially without the db insert. However, one of the racetracks we frequent has a decibel limit and I am not willing to take the risk of getting dinged.

Besides, the exhaust still sounds great even with the insert…like a hot rod.

The R&G exhaust protector is a nice piece that straps onto the exhaust can using a hose clamp. There is a rubber protector strip to keep the clamp from marring the exhaust.
Buy one for the stock exhaust here.


Front Axle Sliders

R&G also makes axle sliders to help keep the forks and brakes away from the ground. The only thing is that you have to take them off to get the axle out to remove the wheel to change the tire. Not bad, but it adds time. Buy axle sliders HERE.

You can also note in the photo below the zip tie around the fork tube. This slides down to indicate how much fork travel is being used. Also note the torque spec is written in Sharpie for easy reference.

Regarding the brakes, they could use improvement with some higher performance brake pads. They are very good, but I’m used to more sensitive brakes; these are just a bit less powerful and slightly numb.


Levers

One accessory I think is worthwhile are aftermarket levers. Not only do they hold up better in a crash, but they give better feel and they look trick. I’ve had cheap Chinese knockoff that work okay, but these adjustable ASV levers are much nicer. They are pricey though.


Gas Cap Mod

The Aprilias are known for leaking fuel around the gas cap when full, especially when braking hard. I would find a fuel stain along the top of the tank, that is disconcerting to say the least. I can imagine fuel dumping in a crash and setting the bike on fire.

The problem is that the gas cap gasket doesn’t sit tight against the fill opening. The fix is to place an O-ring between the gasket and the fuel cap. Measure the gasket and buy a few different size o-rings to see which one fits and allows the gap to lock. I got mine at a hardware store.


Turn Signal Removal

Removing the turn signals is easy enough. All you need to do is unscrew the lens from the housing, unplug the two wires and pull the wires out from the stalk. Then tuck the wires securely under the side fairing.


RSV4 tail conversion

This is a popular mod among Tuonoistas. The stock Tuono tail looks just fine and as a bonus, has a passenger seat. Because the RSV4 tail has no accommodations for a pillion, the passenger pegs were removed and the exhaust hanger connects to the right peg mount.

You can see in the photo that I put some electrical tape on the pointy parts to prevent the tail from getting scratched as I swing my leg over the bike when mounting.


MRA Windscreen

The bike came with a taller MRA windscreen, which certainly makes riding long miles more comfortable, but it also helps with neck fatigue when ripping down a straightaway at 140mph. And the smoke version looks great.

MRA windscreen photo: otmpix.com

Tires

My track day organization, Tony’s Track Days, has a regular Pirelli dealer which makes using that brand a no brainer. Even so, I totally love the feel of the Pirellis, whether the Supercorsa or the race slick. Since I had some 180/60/17 SC1 rear slicks hanging around, I mounted them up and they are working great. I’ll be putting on the spec 200 tires when I’ve used up the 180s.

Regarding wear, I am getting an impressive 6-7 days at a combination of intermediate (when instructing) and expert pace. That’s not what I expected when I first got the bike. I get even more from the fronts, of course.

Pirelli SC1 race slicks are the bomb.

That’s it for now. I’ll update this post as I make more modifications.

Check out the Street Triple modification and Street Triple Track day prep articles.



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10 things You Should Know about the Aprilia Tuono V4

Now that I’ve ridden the 2013 Aprilia Tuono V4 APRC for a full season of track days, I feel it’s time to share some thoughts. You can read about the modifications I did and the accessories I installed HERE.

photo: Tim DeLorenzo

First thing I learned is how to ride the bike the way it wants to be ridden. Don’t fight your bike, learn about its wants and needs.

1. The Tuono turns in great, but doesn’t hold a line mid corner without some effort. To remedy that, I need to get a lot of weight over the front end. Much better. I ended up lowering the front end (by sliding the forks up by 3mm in the triple clamps, which cured much of the mid corner effort.

2. The Tuono feels a bit cumbersome at half pace. Like a lot of harder edged sportbikes (and race set ups), it can be tough to get the Tuono to change direction (even with the tall bars). However, pick up the pace and all is well. Also, lowering the front helped. as well.

3. The stock suspension is soft, even for my 150 pound physique. Thanks to Peter Kates from GMD Computrack Boston for adjusting the Sachs suspension to the best it’s going to get. A lot more preload helped settle the bike in the fast transitions. But, even though the suspension is “busy”( moves around at full lean over sustained bumps). I’d surely need to spend some bucks on better boingers if I want to go much faster with less effort.

4. I tend to drag my boots in corners with mid-corner bumps. Not becasue of low footpegs, but becasue of the soft suspension. More preload and more aggressive body positioning helped.

5. If you have not ridden a liter bike at a track day, then you probably haven’t had to think about “big biking” people who are on slower bikes whose rider is faster in corners. It’s courteous to be aware that you may be holding up someone. Be kind and ease up on the straight every once and a while.

6. The Tuono puts down about 150hp. That’s great, but having power can fool you into thinking you’re fast. Sure, my overall lap times are better, but my corner speed is about the same as on the 130hp GSXR and even the 95hp Street Triple.

7. High handlebars suit my riding style. I never felt as comfortable on the GSXR as I have on the Street Triple or the Tuono. Riding a high handlebar bike fast requires you to hold the inside grip like a screwdriver to allow your upper body and elbow to dip low inside for the most effective body position.

8. Tire wear has been surprisingly good. I thought the bike would eat rear tires, but it’s been fine. I strive to be smooooth and the Tuono gives me more confidence to open the throttle early so I spread the drive over the whole edge-to middle part of the tire, instead of lifting before triggering the 150 hp. See photo.

9. Traction control is quite abrupt. I was exiting turn 3 at Thompson Speedway when I thought the chain had jumped a few sprocket teeth. It turns out I had inadvertently hit the TC button located on the left control pod and increased the setting to 5, causing intervention. I thought this indicated a spent rear tire, but putting it back to the less intrusive #3 out of 8 (1 being least intervention), the tire was fine.

10. The Arrow exhaust (with db insert) sounds amazing. But, it’s rather quiet compared with a lot of other track bikes. And I’m okay with that. The V4 still sounds like a hot rod.



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Tips for Using the Throttle in Corners- Webinar

Join Ken in this Facebook Live seminar.


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Learning precise throttle control when cornering is critical for maximum control and safety.

Emergency Swerving on a Motorcycle

Swerving is necessary when a car pulls out in front of you and you don’t have time to stop. Or when an obstacle appears and you need to go around it. But, most riders really, really suck at swerving. So much so that some experts recommend that average riders not even attempt it and just concentrate on stopping.

That’s because untrained riders do not understand countersteering or cannot countersteer with authority. These riders give up slowing or stopping, but aren’t able to get the bike moved over in time (and collide at a higher speed than if they slowed). Even if they do avoid the hazard, they often fail to recover and as a result, run off the road or into another hazard.

That said, a rider trained in swerving has a distinct advantage in that she can choose to swerve, or brake and swerve if necessary. Like in most critical situations, untrained riders better have their life insurance paid up. Just sayin’.

Ask yourself ‘What if?’

Sometimes, you need to decide if swerving is the right choice. Let’s say you are approaching an intersection with a truck in the opposite lane waiting to turn left across your path. What would you do if the truck were to suddenly turn? Where would you go? Would it be better to swerve, stop, or accelerate?

Imagine the scenario in detail and solve the problem several different ways. Then ask yourself whether you have the skills to execute all of the maneuvers required to avoid a crash. If not, then you would be wise to overcome your weaknesses so that when these skills are needed you will be ready.

How to Swerve

A swerve is essentially two consecutive turns; one to avoid an obstacle, the second to recover. One thing to consider is that you must find a safe place to swerve. Look for an escape route. Then execute.

  • Firm push/pull countersteering by pushing and pulling at the same time Read this if countersteering isn’t fully understood.
  • Keep your body upright to let bike flop beneath you. Leaning with the bike will slow the swerve.
  • If you must brake, separate braking from swerving.
  • Brake then swerve
  • Swerve, then brake

Swerving Practice

The only way to increase the likelihood that a swerve during the heat of battle will be successful is to train and practice. Like the military, we train for the worst. We rarely need the advanced training…until we do! Be ready for the time the enemy strikes.

  • Find a clean and open Parking lot
  • Visualize (or place) an obstacle in your path
  • Countersteer with authority! Read this if countersteering isn’t fully understood
  • Keep your body upright let bike flop beneath you
  • Practice in a parking lot first
  • Practice at speed on an empty, straight road using the dashed lines as cones.

Remember that swerving is often more dangerous than emergency braking and can lead to an off road excursion…unless you are trained. So, get to it!


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How Aging affects the Motorcyclist-Live Seminar

How does aging affect our riding? I share my thoughts in this Facebook Live session.


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Dirt Riding Gear Choices

Here’s a little tour of what’s in my dirt riding gear closet. Maybe this can help you decide what gear is right for you. Please, please, please protect yourself when riding off road.



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How to Brake in a Corner on a Motorcycle

Braking while leaned in a corner is usually something you want to avoid. That’s because there is a limited amount of available traction that needs to be shared between both cornering and braking forces. This means there may not be enough traction to brake and a corner at the same time. It doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t brake in corners, you just have to do it with care.

Just how much traction you have to work with depends on several factors, including your speed, lean angle, tire condition and the quality of the pavement. Basically, you won’t be able to brake very much if you’re cornering hard or if the surface is dodgy.

One common scenario where corner braking may be necessary is when you round a blind corner and spot debris in the road. You quickly determine that it’s not possible to maneuver around the hazard, so you decide to slow down, reduce lean angle and ride over it. You apply the brakes deftly and maintain control by managing available traction. With speed and lean angle reduced, you safely ride over the debris.

At some point you’ll encounter an emergency that requires you to come to an immediate stop while in a curve. If you panic and abruptly grab the brakes, you’ll likely skid and fall. But, panic can be avoided if you practice your corner braking options.

Brake While Straightening

The first option for stopping quickly in a curve is to brake moderately at first and gradually increase brake force as lean angle is reduced. You can apply the brakes fully once the bike is nearly upright. This option is used when there is a decent amount of time and space to stop.

Brake while you straighten if you can’t straighten first.

Straighten Then Brake

If the situation is urgent, you’ll need to use option two. To get the motorcycle stopped ASAP, immediately reduce lean angle (by pushing on the upper handlebar) to make traction available so you can apply the brakes hard. The problem with this option is that straightening the bike will cause you to shoot to the outside of your lane.

This is especially bad if the road is narrow or if your tires are already near the centerline or edge of the road. In this case, you must either use option one or straighten the bike as much as practical and then apply the brakes as much as the tires will tolerate.

Straighten and then brake for the most rapid stop

Saving a Blown Corner

The same techniques can be used if you enter a turn too fast. Many (dare I say most?) times, it’s best to “man up” and lean more to match your corner speed. If you simply can’t muster the courage to lean more, are already dragging hard parts, or are sure you can’t make the turn even with increased lean angle, then you’re probably better off trying to scrub off some speed with the brakes.

If your speed is only a little too fast, you may be able to get away with smoothly decelerating and applying light brake pressure. If your entry speed is way too fast and you’re dragging all sorts of hard parts, your best bet is to quickly straighten the motorcycle enough so you can brake. Once speed is reduced, countersteer to lean the bike and complete the corner. Hopefully there is enough room to stay in your lane.

If this sounds complex, that’s because it is. Even if your timing and execution is perfect, there is no guarantee you won’t crash or go off the road. Extreme lean angles, sketchy pavement and marginal tires all play a role in whether there is enough traction to introduce even the slightest amount of brake power. The real solution is to avoid this situation in the first place by choosing conservative corner entry speeds. Remember that there is no safety penalty if you enter a turn slowly. But, there sure is if you enter too fast!

Technology

If you’re fortunate enough to own a modern, premium model motorcycle, you may have “cornering ABS” made possible with the latest Inertial Measuring Unit (IMU). This device communicates with the bike’s computer to measure not only variations in wheel speed, but also the side forces.

This data allows the unit to prevent skidding while leaned by limiting brake power. I had the pleasure of reviewing this technology on a Multistrada at the Bosch Proving Grounds a few years ago and I can tell you that the system works quite well. Still, it’s best to use proper technique and let the advanced technology lurk in the background as a safety net.

So, train yourself to not need the technology and instead become familiar with these corner braking maneuvers. A little effort practicing in a parking lot or at a track day will reap big benefits. Do it!

You may also like:

How not to Suck at Cornering

How not to suck at braking

Vision-Facebook Live

How to Avoid Cornering Panic


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Breaking Habits-Facebook Live

We all have bad habits. Find out some of the most common ones.


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Getting You and Your Motorcycle Ready for Spring

As predicted, Spring has begun to awaken as it has every year. This means that it’s time to dust off the bike and head back out onto the road. But, before you strap on your helmet and thumb the starter, there are a few things you must first take care of.

Hopefully, you put your motorcycle away so it takes minimal effort to bring it to life after its long winter nap. If not, you may be in for some frustrating downtime.

Performing Maintenance

With the help of a motorcycle owner’s manual, someone with moderately competent mechanical skill can perform most of the tasks we are about to discuss. For tasks that are not covered in your owner’s manual, please consult your dealer’s service center.

Fuel System

One of the most common pre-season mechanical problems involve the fuel system. This is caused by riders parking their bikes without adding fuel stabilizer to the gasoline. The problem is that old fuel turns into a gooey varnish that can clog the small passageways in the fuel system. This is a significant problem on motorcycles with carburetors, but even fuel-injected bikes can be affected. The use of Ethanol makes the problem even more likely.

If you neglected this task you may be looking at the time and expense of a thorough fuel system cleaning. If the gas in your tank is old it’s best to resist starting your motorcycle. Instead, drain the old fuel from the tank (and drain the carburetors if applicable). This can prevent stale gas from circulating through the system. If your bike runs poorly even after draining the gas, consult a mechanic and store your bike properly next time.

Air Filter

Check your air filter, as rodents seem to be particularly attracted to building nests in air boxes, which is cozy place with nest building filter material handy. Remove any debris and replace the filter if it’s been chewed or looks particularly dirty.

Tires

Tread wear indicators can be found in the bottom of the tread.

Tire pressure will drop significantly over the winter and nothing affects handling and wear more than very low tire pressures, so be sure to put a gauge on those stems before the motorcycle rolls out of the garage. If the tread is worn near the tread-wear indicators or if the tires show any signs of rot, now’s a good time to replace the old tires with new rubber.

And check the date code found in an oval stamp with 4 number indicating the week and year the tire was manufactured. 5 years is a good guideline to follow even if the tires look okay.

Drive Train

Pull the chain away from the sprocket to check for wear.

While you’re down there, check drive train wear. Sprockets should show no significant signs of hooking and the chain should not pull very far away from the back of the sprocket. Replace the chain and sprockets as a set if necessary. If all looks good, then check the adjustment and give the chain a good lube. Hopefully you lubricated the chain before storage, which means no rust should be present. If this duty was neglected, give the chain a cleaning and lubricate it before the first ride, then perform a more thorough lubrication after the chain is warm.

Engine Fluids

Check your oil level, or better yet, change the oil and filter if you didn’t do it before tucking your bike away last fall. Old engine oil contains acids that are best removed. If your bike is liquid cooled, check coolant levels, including the fluid in your overflow tank (see your owner’s manual).

Brakes

Change brake fluid if it looks darker than apple juice or hasn’t been changed in a couple of years.

Brakes are obviously an important system to maintain. Squeeze the front brake lever and press on the rear brake pedal to feel for a firm application. Look in the sight glass or at the brake master cylinders to see that brake fluid levels are good and plan to replace the fluid if it is the color of apple juice or darker.

Grab a flashlight and take a close look at your front and rear brake pads to see how much material there is remaining. Most brake pads have a notch cut into the pad as a wear indicator. If in doubt, have the pads replaced. It’s cheap insurance.

Brake pad wear indicators

Battery

Weak or dead batteries are another common mechanical issue that can stand in the way of reviving a motorcycle after a long period of dormancy. Hopefully, you kept your battery charged. I use a Battery Tender Junior. If not, then you will likely have to charge the battery before it will start the engine. If it will not hold a charge, then a new battery is in your future.

Lights, Cables & Fasteners

Once your battery is good to go, be sure to check that all of your lights are operational. Check that both front and rear brake light switches illuminate the brake light. Check turn signals, tail light and headlights (high and low beam) to make sure they work.

Confirm that the throttle, clutch and brake cables (if applicable) operate smoothly before heading out. Finally, go around the whole bike with a wrench and screwdriver, tightening any loose fasteners.

Awakening the Rider

Cornering practice

Now that you’ve taken care of the motorcycle you can think about your first ride. But, before you press the starter button, keep in mind that your likely a bit rusty, too. Spending many months in a car can cause you to become oblivious to motorcycle issues like visibility or road surface hazards.

Some riders begin your season by taking a refresher course with their local motorcycle-training program or from an experienced instructor who offers on-street or track day training (like me).

It’s also smart to take some time on their own to brush up on your emergency skills in a parking lot. Whether you choose to attend a formal rider course or go it alone, we recommend that every rider practice the critical skills by performing some cornering and braking drills.

Spring Roads and Inattentive Drivers

There’s a lot to look for on the street.

Even if you and your bike are fully ready for the new season, remember that the roads may not yet be motorcycle-friendly. Traction-robbing road salt and sand are used extensively in snowy regions to keep roadways ice-free. Keep your eyes peeled for these surface hazards. In many towns and counties, the road sweepers will eventually take care of the majority of the excess sand.

Roadways take a lot of abuse from snowplows scraping the surface and from the effects of repeated freezing and thawing. Expect surface hazards during the early spring until the earth thaws and the road crews can repair the scars.

And remember that drivers aren’t used to seeing motorcycles on the road, so be extra vigilant when riding in traffic.

Your owner’s manual can help you perform these routine tasks so you are prepared for the upcoming season. Taking the time to prepare for the upcoming season can ensure that it is a safe and enjoyable one.


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Motorcycle Sidecar Essentials

I never really understood the draw toward a “motorcycle” that didn’t lean. My mentor, David Hough has been a sidecarist for many years, actively lobbying for the recognition of sidecars and trikes in safety programs.

He gave me my first ride in a borrowed Hannigan rig at Americade back in 1999 and later taxied me around his hometown in his beautiful BMW K1 outfit.

The ride was a lot of fun, but I wondered what the practical aspects of hack ownership were. Here is a list of the essentials you need to know before considering a hack.

Advantages

  • Three-wheelers will not fall over, making slippery surfaces and slow speed riding situations much easier.
  • The sidecar driver doesn’t need to put a foot down to support the motorcycle when stopped, making it possible for short riders and disabled riders to not fear dropping the bike.
  • Carrying a child is less risky, where you can enjoy the piece of mind that they are secure. They may also enjoy the ride more if they can read, color, or play video games.
  • The possibility of riding year-round even in northern climates,
  • The ability to carry a pet,
  • Increased carrying capacity.
  • Sidecars are fun!

Disadvantages

With all good things come some bad and this holds true with three-wheelers, too.

  • Extra weight and girth that effects acceleration, stopping and maneuverability.
  • Novice sidecar drivers fail to “remember the car”, running over various obstacles and curbs before learning to allow more space.
  • Parking may be easy as far as stability is concerned, but a sidecar or trike will take up most of a full-sized parking space.
  • More wear and tear on many of the motorcycle’s components– the frame, engine and brakes must withstand greater stresses.
  • Significant modifications are usually required to obtain a good-handling outfit, including a subframe to provide sidecar attachments, changing the front-end geometry to make steering easier and fitting wheels that will take automobile tires.
  • Converting back and forth is impractical once the motorcycle has been modified to handle well as a three-wheeler.

Hack School

With the inherit stability of a sidecar rig, it’s easy to think that riding one is easy. But attempting to drive a rig for the first time will quickly convince you that a sidecar outfit requires special skills. I decided that the best way to learn how to operate a hack would be to sign up for a sidecar course.

Hack school

The one-day sidecar course was for experienced riders. The course began with sidecar-specific information, such as motorcycle/sidecar attachments, and demonstrated the basics of sidecar operation, including body position, and throttle/ brake techniques.

I realized there was more to riding a rig than I previously imagined. The training company provided Honda 250 Nighthawks outfitted with Velorex sidecars. I learned that sidecars need to be matched by size and weight to the motorcycle to help keep the outfit stable. In general terms, the sidecar should weigh approximately 30% of the naked motorcycle.

Steering

One thing I learned right away is that a rig steers “backwards” from a two-wheeler. While a rigid sidecar outfit corners “flat” like an automobile, it has one less wheel to help resist a rollover, especially in right-hand turns when the car has a tendency to lift off the ground.

There are differences in turning techniques between two-wheelers and three-wheelers. Sidecars turn using “direct steering” (turn left to go left and turn right to go right) as opposed to countersteering for two-wheelers (turn right to go left and turn left to go right).

This 3-wheeler steering process is similar to driving a car, once you get the right messages from your brain to your hands. For an experienced rider, the sensation of cornering without leaning was odd at first, but became familiar within only a few minutes.

Even though countersteering isn’t part of normal sidecar operation, there are circumstances when a sidecar operator will countersteer. Motorcycle control reverts from direct steering to countersteering when the sidecar is “flying” and only two wheels are in contact with the ground.

Throttle

As with two-wheeled motorcycle operation, the sidecar outfit turns more easily and smoothly with some throttle application. Throttle can be tricky while cranking the handlebars from side to side, but the results are quite noticeable. I even started playing around with the throttle a bit more aggressively and spinning the rear tire to help the rig turn the corner. “Drifting” sure was fun!

We also learned some expert sidecar skills, such as simultaneously rolling on the throttle and dragging the front brake, to help control the rig and keep the car on the ground in right-handers.

Body Position

We repeated the exercise, but this time we learned to hang off the seat toward the inside of the turn to help prevent a rollover. It worked like a charm. We were able to negotiate the course with more speed and stability.

Braking

Braking technique is very similar between two and three wheelers– apply both brakes, squeeze the clutch, downshift, eyes up, no skidding– with the exception that you don’t have to put your foot down when you come to a stop.

I noticed with my first practice run into the braking area that the training rig pulled to the left under braking. The trainer I was driving didn’t have the sidecar brake connected. A brake on the car’s wheel can minimize this effect.

I also noticed how much brake pressure was needed to stop the rig. Sidecars add a lot of weight to a motorcycle and that weight adds a lot of braking distance to a stop. This is a good reason why a sidecar operator must recognize hazards early and maintain a greater following distance. Of course, the big advantage is that if you manage to skid the front tire, you don’t fall down.

When a front tire does skid, the rig will continue in the direction it is traveling even though the rider may attempt to change direction by turning the front wheel. If the front tire regained traction while the wheel is turned, the rig would suddenly follow in the direction the front wheel is pointed, possibly veering into traffic.

If you do skid the front tire you have the option of either keeping it locked­ or releasing and re-applying the front brake. If you decide to release the front brake, it’s important to make sure the wheel is pointed in the direction of travel!

Learning to Fly

One of the most fun parts of driving a sidecar is learning to “fly” the car. At first I thought this was more of a show-off technique than something useful. But it actually teaches the important skill of switching from direct steering to countersteering and back.

And there may be times when a hack driver needs to lift the car wheel over a pothole or curb. You want to be able to lift the sidecar wheel about a foot off the ground for extended periods by carefully balancing throttle and steering.

Swerving

Controlled flying is enjoyable, but uncontrolled flying when swerving can be hazardous to your health. Swerving a three-wheeler is not unlike swerving a two-wheeler– two consecutive steering inputs, one to swerve and the other to recover. However, a sidecar needs direct steering and dramatic body changes to keep the rig from flipping.

The driver needs to quickly move body weight from one side to the other just before the steering input. Initiating a right-hand swerve and recovering after a left-hand swerve caused the car to lift into the air even after hanging my body as far over the sidecar as I could reach.

The other issue with swerving a sidecar is that the operator must remember just how wide the outfit is. This requires a much more dramatic swerve so the car can clear the obstacle.

A Unique Experience

As a longtime rider, I’m always looking for more experiences with motorcycles and was glad to have experienced the world of sidecars. If you get the opportunity to drive a hack, just remember that operating a sidecar is not as easy as just throwing a leg over the seat and driving away. But ilike always, a bit of training is worth the effort.

United Side Car Association

The USCA is an enthusiast organization, publishing a bi-monthly magazine, The Sidecarist. The USCA holds an annual rally that is an excellent opportunity to view sidecars and talk with owners. Ask nicely and you’ll probably get a ride, too. www.sidecar.com


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