9 Tips for Being a Perfect Passenger

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Being on the back of a motorcycle can be relaxing and fun, but make no mistake that being a passenger carries with it some significant risk and responsibility. Follow these tips to make the experience safer and more fun.

Insist on Safety

Before you decide to place your derriere on someone’s pillion you must make absolutely sure the person holding onto the handlebars is smart and skilled enough to keep both of you safe. I’d think twice about getting on a bike with someone who brags about riding fast, complains about close calls with “idiot cagers”, or seems to drop their motorcycle a lot. Tell him or her that you won’t play until their survival smarts, control skills and attitude toward safety improves.

ATGATT

You simply must dress for the crash. Even the best riders have mishaps. Always wear full protective gear no matter the temperature (even if your rider chooses not to). To keep comfortable, wear layers against wind chill and changes in temperature. More about riding gear here.

Mount with care

Before you get on the bike, make sure the passenger footpegs are in the down position and then wait until the rider says it’s okay for you to proceed. He should have both feet firmly on the ground with the front brake applied. If you’re tall enough you may be able to swing your leg over the seat with the other foot still on the ground. However, if you have short legs or the bike is tall, then you may have to use the footpeg to step up. This will throw the bike off balance, so make sure you step carefully and that the rider is ready.
Another method is for you to mount the bike first and then scoot from the rider’s seat backward onto the passenger perch. Make sure the bike is stable on its stand with the transmission in gear to prevent the bike from rolling. Try various methods until you find one that suits both of you. When it’s time to dismount, do so carefully so as not to unbalance the machine. Again, experiment to find the best method.

Be still

Once mounted, your job is to be as unobtrusive as possible so the rider doesn’t even know you’re on the bike. Try to relax to let the bike move fluidly beneath you. When riding at slow speeds be aware that even small shifts in body weight can cause balance problems. Also, keeping your feet on the pegs even when stopped makes it easier for the rider to maintain balance.

Hang on

Some riders ask their passengers to hold onto their waist, while others prefer them to use grab rails or a seat strap. Sporty riders may prefer one hand on the back of the fuel tank to brace for hard braking while the other hand grips a handrail. If your partner has a narrow enough waist you may want to look into tank-mounted passenger handle grips.

Anticipate and brace yourself

No matter your method for hanging on, you need to be attentive to what’s going on. Accelerating can cause you to fall backward and braking forces can slam you into the rider, so pay attention and brace yourself.

Lean with the Motorcycle

Motorcycles must lean to turn. Unfortunately, nervous passengers tend to sit upright, causing the rider to work harder when cornering. Instead, lean with the motorcycle. One helpful tip is to look over the rider’s inside shoulder.

Practice

Riding a motorcycle is challenging, which means that it takes practice to get it right. It’s smart to start your rides with a short warm-up session at a local parking lot. Practice braking and cornering to ensure you and your partner become unified teammates.

Say What?

Bluetooth communicators are great for sharing your excitement and alerting him or her of hazards that may not be obvious. Don’t be a backseat rider, but having two pairs of eyes on the job can be a good thing. Check out Sena Bluetooth and Mesh Communicators.

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8 Ways to Avoid Deadly Blind Spots

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Lane position is one of the top strategies a motorcycle rider must utilize to avoid the most common multiple vehicle crashes. Here is a common scenario that illustrates the need to be hyper-aware of blind spots.

Scenario

You and your wife gather your things and pack your bike for a ride to visit family. As expected traffic is heavy, but people are calmly rolling along at about 25 mph. You position yourself in the left portion of your lane to see past a truck in front of you, leaving ample following distance in case the truck stopped quickly.

Suddenly, an SUV just ahead and to your left moves right, into your lane. You have little time to react, but it’s too late. Your front tire makes contact with the right rear bumper and you are both thrown to the pavement.

As innocuous as the situation seemed, you still needed to be aware of the risks around you. The driver who crossed into your lane did so because she thought the lane was clear. She claimed to have looked in her side mirror and even glanced over her shoulder before turning, but saw nothing.

Yes, the driver is responsible for making sure the lane was clear, but you were riding in her blind spot. Not smart.

Here are some ways to help drivers see you easier:

  • Avoid lingering in blind spots. Drive through blind spots when possible (and safe) by traveling a bit faster than surrounding traffic. Filter or lane-split if you can (and if legal).
  • Ride in the driver’s peripheral vision, slightly ahead of the passenger or driver side door.
  • If that’s not possible, then drop back so the driver can see you in their mirrors and to place your bike out of harm’s way if the driver changed lanes suddenly.
  • Never “hide” behind other vehicles where it is nearly impossible for drivers to see you.
  • Position yourself at least 2 seconds behind vehicles you are following. More when following large vehicles.
  • Develop a sixth sense about your environment so you can respond before things unfold. Ask “what’s wrong with this picture”?
  • Predict what actions drivers are likely to make. Look for arm and head movements that can indicate an imminent lane change or turn.
  • Pay close attention to unexplained slowing, drifting or erratic behavior. I call this “vehicle body language”.

Environmental awareness and proper lane positioning are two of the most important strategies for being seen.

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Tips for Deciding Which Brake to Use

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A lot of riders ask about which brake is appropriate for what situations. The short answer is that it depends on speed, desired maneuver and available traction. Here, I’ll discuss proper brake use as it pertains to various situations. Let’s start by defining the characteristics of each brake.

Front Brake

Your front brake is your “power” brake. The front brake is designed to take the burden of getting the bike and you stopped ASAP.  The front brakes include components that provide maximum brake force…two large multi-piston calipers, large vented brake rotors, and brake pads designed to handle and dissipate lots of heat. Even the front brake components on smaller bikes and cruisers with a single front brake are more robust than the rear brake.

Rear Brake

In contrast, the rear brake is the “control” brake. It provides additional braking power at road  speed, but it is the tool you want to use to refine your speed and direction.

Which Brake and Why?

Now that we have an understanding of the basic characteristics of each brake, we can discuss the benefits or disadvantages of each brake in specific scenarios.

Normal braking (street)

When slowing or stopping normally, use both brakes. This shares the braking load between both tires and helps stabilize the chassis.

Emergency Braking

This rider has not practiced her emergency braking.

Use both brakes to get the most braking power for the shortest stop. The caveat here is that emergency braking causes the load to transfer to the front tire, reducing weight on rear of the machine. This means that it’s much more likely to skid the rear tire and is why you’ll engage the ABS on the rear tire first.

Control the Rear

So, how to get the maximum brake force without skidding? Reduce rear brake pressure as you increase front brake pressure. This isn’t easy to get perfect, but is worth practicing. If all you can manage in an emergency is to use one brake, use the FRONT BRAKE! That’s where the majority of your brake power comes from. Do it firmly and progressively for maximum effect.

Consider that short wheelbase sportbikes will pitch onto their nose earlier and easier than a long and low cruiser or a heavyweight tourer. This means that the rear brake is more effective on these machines in an emergency.

Passengers

The rear brake is much more important with a passenger on board.

The rear brake is much more useful and effective when carrying a passenger or heavy luggage, because of the extra weight on the rear wheel. This is true no matter what type of bike you ride.

Normal Stops at Intersections, etc.

For the smoothest, controlled “normal” stops, like at an intersection, taper off the front brake and finish with the rear brake. Reduce brake pressure and speed progressively. Avoiding abrupt stops is especially appreciated by passengers who hate having to brace themselves to avoid the unwelcome “helmet bonk”.

You can execute a smooth stop by using the front brake, but it takes more finesse and effort. Keep the right foot on the rear brake until completely stopped. This avoids rolling past your desired stopping point. This may sound obvious, but I see a lot of riders surprised when the bike keeps rolling.

Poor Traction Surfaces

Favor the rear brake on sketchy surfaces.

When riding on gravel, sand, wet leaves or slick construction plates, use the rear brake. This is because the powerful front brake is much more likely to skid when traction is sketchy and a skidding front wheel means a crash is imminent.Whereas a skidding rear tire is less likely to cause a crash unless it fishtails violently.

The MSF says to ride out a rear tire skid to avoid the rear tire hooking up when sideways and causing a highside. But, chances are that you’ll be okay if you release the rear brake before the rear kicks out too far. ABS reduces this risk significantly, but keep in mind that some less sophisticated ABS systems aren’t very effective at slow speeds, so you may end up with a skid that lasts a foot or two.

Slow Speeds

Use the rear brake only in slow speed turns

Favor the rear brake when creeping along in traffic, stopping smoothly from a slow speed and making tight u-turns. Be very gentle with the front brake, or avoid it altogether when speeds are below, say 8-10 mph; the front brake is too powerful for slow speeds and you risk stopping the bike abruptly which will cause imbalance. I like to lightly “dab” the rear brake as I make very tight u-turns. It gives me more speed control and feel.

Trailbraking

Trailbraking is when you carry some brake force past the turn entry to allow more time to refine your entry speed. Light trailbraking (and/or deceleration) also helps the bike lean into the curve. Read all about trailbraking here.

There is a belief that trailbraking is using the rear brake only. But, you can use front only, rear only, both brakes, or even strong engine braking (what I call “trail-deceleration”) to get the desired speed reduction and easy turn-in.

Tight, Slow Corners

I just described a simple use of trailbraking. However, a skilled rider can fine tune their speed and direction control with a finely orchestrated use of the brakes. Start by using both brakes to slow into the curve, but about halfway around (this varies depending on the radius of the curve) smoothly release the front brake but keep a bit of rear brake applied.

This helps “hook” the bike around the last section of the curve and helps refine speed. Ideally, at this point you don’t want to slow anymore, so brake lightly. For uphill tight turns where momentum is important, I often overlap acceleration against that last bit of rear brake force to execute the smoothest transition I can. A bit of late rear brake also helps manage the effects of gravity in downhill curves.

Linked Brakes

Some larger bikes, particularly tourers link the front and rear brakes. While this limits the proportioning the rider has control of, many manufacturers design their brakes to give more or less power to the front or rear depending on the input of the rider. In this case, thee techniques still apply, but the effect is lessened.

Racetrack

On the racetrack and when riding fast and hard, it makes sense to concentrate on using the front brake only. Yes, you’re giving up the advantages of the rear brake, but brake forces are considerably higher where the rear wheel is barely in contact with the surface.

Track days are excellent for skill development.

Professional-level racers develop their rear brake technique to help with direction control, but track day riders and amateur racers are usually better off keeping it simple.

Practice

Like most skills, braking skill is perishable and needs regular practice just to maintain proficiency. You don’t need anything more than a large parking lot or a straight piece of remote roadway. Brake hard from speed to practice emergency stopping and work on trailbraking when in appropriate corners. However, the best place to improve all of your skills is at a track day.

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Review: Pirelli Supercorsa TD Track day tire

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At the beginning of 2019, Pirelli introduced a new track tire designated the “TD”, presumably an acronym for “Track Day”. The TD was developed with assistance of former AMA Superbike and AMA Formula Xtreme racer Jake Zemke.

The TD is exclusive to North America as a DOT legal, high performance track day tire. Think of the TD as a hybrid that sits between the Diablo Supercorsa race DOT and the Pirelli Rosso Corsa hypersport street tires.

From Pirelli:

  • This tire does not require tire warmers
  • D.O.T. street legal tread pattern
  • Pirelli performance in a D.O.T. street legal tire.
  • The ultimate evolution of our most successful Racing Super sport tire.
  • New generation profile designed to maximize the width and length of the contact area.
  • Optimized carcass to improve stability on braking and increase precision and speed negotiating bends.
  • Wider slick area on the shoulders to improve traction and stability.
  • Available in all common sizes

Street Use?

The TD looks exactly like a DOT Supercorsa race tire, but with a different compound (and softer carcass, I suspect).

The TD is DOT approved, making it appropriate for street use. However, keep in mind that the sparse numbers of water-channeling sipes (grooves) will likely make it a sketchy tire in wet conditions. On dry roads, I’m sure the tire will perform well.

Warm up time

One reason the TD can be used on the street is that it warms to its usable (if not optimal) operating temperature relatively quickly. Street riding puts little stress into a tire to bring a full race tire anywhere near its prime operating temperature, which is why using race tires on the street isn’t a great idea.

A street-oriented tire is designed to work at a cooler and wider range of temperatures, allowing you to jump on your bike in 30F degree temps, all the way to 120+F. A race tire wants to be within a narrow heat range that can only be achieved under heavy loads found at racetrack cornering and braking levels.

This is an area where I was able to confirm the quick warm up. The first day I rode on the TD was at Thompson Motor Speedway in Connecticut where the temps were in the mid 40sF. Freakin’ chilly, but perfect for testing.

I always take a couple laps to get some heat in the tires. I could actually feel the tires coming into their operating temperatures during the beginning of the second lap. Wow.

After the requisite two laps of progressively faster cornering and harder braking, I got to business. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to get my knee down on the third lap. Pushing on, I never had a slip, slide or pucker moment at the fast, but not blistering pace.

No Tire Warmers

The great thing about these tires is they don’t need tire warmers for the track. Frankly, I never use warmers at track days. A couple of careful laps does the trick just fine, although I understand why folks want the piece of mind that warmers give.

After 3 full track days

Wear

The TD promises to be more durable, providing improved longevity compared with the full race tire. I’ve had the TD on my 2011 GSXR750 for three full track days and the rear is just now showing enough wear to allow a guess at its lifespan.

Since the GSXR is a new bike to me and has about 25 more horsepower than my old Street Triple track bike, wear is a bit harder to judge. But, my rough calculations are that the TD will provide the same 5-6 track days for a rear and 7 or so for the front…but on a much more powerful bike! That’s damn good.

Keep in mind that this includes not only 4 expert level sessions, but also another 6 or so sessions per day at an intermediate pace while coaching. The intermediate pace is actually a bit rougher on rear tires since you tend to slow more so you accelerate more, which tears the tire.

Grip

Traction levels cannot be better. I rode as hard as I do on SC race tires and never once had a moment. The only thing that kept me from feeling as comfortable as on the race rubber is the lack of feel (see below).

Feel

One drawback I found is that compared with a true race tire, the TD doesn’t give the level of feel in the front. It’s not bad at all. And as a matter of reality, you’d only notice the slight numbness at expert lap times.

Also, I get a sort of “shudder” in the chassis over some surfaces that the race tire seems to ignore. Peter Kates from Computrack Boston thinks it may be becasue the carcass is a bit softer than the SC race tires. That makes sense as the softer carcass could transfer a frequency into the suspension. It makes sense that the TD has a softer carcass to help the tire warm up faster as it flexes more.

Sizes

Most of the common sport bike sizes are available:

110/70 x 17
120/70 x 17
140/70 x 17
160/60 x 17
180/55 x 17
180/60 x 17
200/55 x 17

Pricing

Great news here. The TD is significantly cheaper than the full-on SC0, 1 or 2 DOT race tire. You’ll save a cool $41.00 off a 120/70-17 front and $48.00 off a 180/60-17 rear. That’s $90 greenbacks that can go toward more track days. Sweet!

Buy your Pirelli Supercorsa TD tires from Motorcycle Gear and Tires (MTAG), one of this website’s strongest supporters.

The TD is a perfect choice for the track day rider who wants max performance on the track but still rides their motorcycle on the road from time to time and doesn’t want to spend the extra dough on race rubber that they won’t utilize at a typical track day pace. Sign me up.


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Review: 2018 Harley-Davidson Street Glide

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I recently spent a full day piloting a 2018 Harley-Davidson Street Glide. The Glide is The Motor Company’s sleek heavyweight cruiser. It features the Milwaukee Eight 107 engine, navigation, cruise control and all the other high end goodies…except ABS.

I rented the 2018 Harley Street Glide big twin while visiting an aunt in Phoenix through EagleRider at Desert Wind Harley in Mesa, AZ and rode about 250 miles from Mesa to Tortilla Flats and on to Roosevelt Dam and back.

My background as an instructor and journalist allows me to ride all kinds of motorcycles…including Harleys. That said, I don’t have as much saddle time on a lot of heavyweight cruisers as other types of bikes.

I’m more of a performance bike guy, so I tend to base my priorities on how a machine works for its intended purpose and put less weight on image and practically zero on lifestyle.

What this means is that this review is a general review of whether this machine does the job it is intended to do and where there may be room for improvement. Readers who are all about Harley may want to make constructive comments to fill in some gaps in my findings.

So, with that in mind, let’s get on with reviewing the Street Glide. FYI, my wife, Caroline, rode as passenger to give us a good idea of how a pillion does on the back.

The 107 Engine

Harley claims that the Milwaukee-Eight 107ci (1,750cc) engine is smooth-running with crisp throttle response. I agree that the 107 is smooth-ish, especially when compared with older versions of the V-Twin. But, compared with the other V-twins on the market, I wouldn’t exactly call it smooth.

Performance-wise, 111 foot-pounds of torque is very entertaining and provides plenty of get up and go to climb some steep hills at speed without a thought, even with a passenger.

The Brakes

The stoppers stopped fine and were pretty easy to control. The front brake can be a bit snappy at slower speeds, so tapering off the lever and finishing with the rear brake is a good technique for smooth stops.

The rear brake pedal is large, like all big cruisers, and provides good feel. But, the position was too forward and high for my tastes. This position makes it tough to drag the rear brake during slow speed u-turns.

This bike (despite the sales guy’s statement) did not have ABS; a disservice to H-D customers shelling out over $21k. I think it’s silly to have to fork over another $795  for the ABS option.

The Clutch

Stiff clutch pull. It’s good practice to remain in first gear while sitting at a stoplight, but the heavy clutch pull makes this noticeably unpleasant. If I had ridden this bike for a week, I’m sure my left arm would look like Popeye’s.

Clutch engagement could have been more linear as well. I had to be deliberate about easing the clutch slowly when getting underway. I got used to it quickly enough, but it takes some attention.

 

Transmission

Why do big V-twin transmissions always clunk? The Indian Chieftain I rode a couple years back also clunked. I’m pretty sure H-D can smooth the shifting, but I bet they’d get complaints. Heck, it even seems that Honda designs some clunking into their new clutchless DCT Goldwing. That visceral clunk gives the rider a familiar feeling of traditional gear changes, but I’d better appreciate a smoother cog-set.

Maybe I’m just being a conspiracy theorist and there really is no practical way to make these transmissions as buttery smooth as my old Triumph Street Triple, or Honda VFR or the BMW R1200RS I rode in the Alps. But, I bet there is.

Shift lever(s)

This particular bike had its heel-toe shifter adjusted so there is very little room to get my toe between the floorboard and the fat shifter rubber. This is adjustable (I assume).

I just don’t get the heel shifter. I know the reasons for it, like saving the top of your left boot from scuffing, or to have solid shifts. But, I never use it and it just gets in the way of positioning my foot on the back edge of the board. Personally, I’d remove it.

Switchgear

With the amount of Infotainment this bike has, the number of buttons on the handlebars isn’t terrible. The logic of the switches is fine, with the “home” and “select” button easy to use. The horn button is too high on the left cluster for emergency use, though.

Harley-splain this to me: Why in the world does Harley insist on the two switch turn signal system rather than one switch like the rest of the world? They work fine, but still.

Weight

Being used to performance bikes, an 800+ pound bike is not very fun to me. Sure, the heft disappears once underway, but the weight makes me feel like a rookie when it comes to slow maneuvering (especially with a passenger). I used all of my tricks to keep things under control at slow speeds and it got better after some time, but it’s just not fun.

Slow-Speed Handling

One reason the bike feels so cumbersome at slow speeds is the front geometry/tire size. Lean the bike slightly to the left and the front wheel wants to abruptly drop into the turn.

Making tight turns at slow speeds requires the front wheel to turn, but too much steering angle occurring too quickly causes imbalance. It takes concerted effort to hold the front wheel from over-steering and dropping the bike on its side.

Mid-Speed Handling

We rode up to Tortilla Flat on the twisty Apache Trail east of Phoenix. The road has several 15 mph turns that can be taken at 20-25 mph. At this “mid” speed, the same slow speed oversteer occurs where the front wheel wants to turn in. This countersteers the front wheel, causing the bike to stand up.

I had to wrestle the handlebars to keep the bike tracking precisely. And even though increasing throttle slightly through corners is good technique, this only caused the bike to stand up more. Add 5-8 mph and the tendency eases.

Higher-Speed Handling

At higher speeds, the bike is rock-solid and turns in fine, but it takes a fair amount of push-pull countersteering to coax it into a quick lean. Once the proper lean angle is reached, the bike behaves well…with one exception:

This bike had light, neutral feel when turning left. However, when turning right, this particular bike required a bit of constant pressure on the inside handlebar to keep it from standing up mid-corner. Not sure if this rental bike has an alignment issue, but this asymmetry was noticeable.

Throttle Control

The EFI works well. Once I calibrated my right hand to this throttle, all was smooth and predictable. Mid-corner maintenance throttle is great. ’nuff said.

Gas Cap

A chrome cover flips up to reveal the fuel cap. You then remove the cap and, um, put it somewhere so it won’t drop or where you’ll forget about it. Sorry, but it’s silly that I have to find a place to set down a gas cap while fueling. I’m pretty sure Harley can incorporate the chrome bling with a one piece sealed cap.

Wind Management

The non-adjustable “sliver” of a windscreen mounted on top of the Batwing fairing was not for me. Wind blast landed directly on my helmet so that even with earplugs, I had ringing ears at the end of the day.

And the buffeting became exhausting toward the end of our 250 mile ride. There is a toggle for opening a vent, but it didn’t help. I like looking over the screen so I wouldn’t put on a taller one on, so I guess I’d have to try it without any screen at all.

Ergonomics

The seating position reminds me of sitting in a car with feet forward and arms up. This position rounds my back and eventually wrecks my upper and lower spine. To make it work better for me,  I rode with the balls of my feet on the back edge of the floorboards for a more neutral and balanced position.

The wide seat was comfortable enough for the 200+ mile day, but I was starting to feel the burn at the very end.

Regarding passenger comfort, the seat shape is fine, but the seating position slid Caroline forward and prevented her from sitting up. The backrest is essential for keeping your pillion happy.

Conclusion

The Street Glide sure looks and sounds great. I can see why almost half of America’s motorcycle riders opt for the big twins.

It’s beautiful, has the visceral sensation of machines from the past, but with most of the expected modern amenities. It throbs along at highway speeds without a care in the world and commands attention wherever you go.

But, none of these qualities will diminish if H-D were to smooth out some of the rough edges.

My short time on the Street Glide was enjoyable. I looked past the quirky handling and nit picking and had a good, but not great time.

Much of the reason for my lukewarm reaction is simply becasue big, heavy motorcycles demand more physical and mental energy compared with a middleweight machine.

One man’s opinion.


 


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Product Review: Helite Turtle Airbag Vest

photo: Helite

I am a believer in managing risk. And one way to do that is to protect yourself in case you go down. Modern armor does a decent job of mitigating impact injury. But, as good as modern armor is, it can only do some much to minimize injury from a big impact. That’s where air bag protection can help.

I was given a black Helite Turtle Airbag Vest to use and test. The Turtle Vest I am reviewing here is the street rider’s version with a lighter nylon construction compared with the GP Track Air Vest. Read my review of the more robust GP Track Air Vest Here. FYI, I know many riders who use the Turtle version for both street and racetrack duty, and vice-versa.

After several street rides with the Turtle, I have a good idea of the pros and cons of the Turtle air vest. Here you go.

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Helite is an affiliate partner and supporter.

Helite Turtle Air Vest – Pros

  • Low Tech – Unlike high-tech, electronic GPS/IMU units, the Helite has a mechanical system with a simple elastic-nylon tether that connects the bike to a CO2 cartridge mounted in the front of the vest. When the rider falls off the bike, a steel ball is pulled away from the housing that holds the CO2 cartridge. And Bang!
  • Deflates Quickly – It takes a couple of minutes for the vest to lose its air once the vest deploys. This allows you to safely ride back home without restricted movement.
  • Easy and Cheap Recharges -Recharging the vest means simply replacing the $25.00 cartridge. Replacement takes 5 minutes. I keep a spare on hand.
  • Fits Over any Suit or Jacket -The correct size allows you to put it over a street jacket and the Velcro backed nylon straps allow a snug fit.
  • Sturdy Armor – The Turtle Air Vest has a quality, semi-rigid SAS-TEC back protector.
  • Heavy Nylon Construction – The Turtle vest is made from 600 Denier Textile with a mesh liner.
  • Free Movement – The large arm opening provide no restrictions in movement. The only restriction comes when getting off the bike.
  • Neck, Back and Chest Protection – The vest inflates to cushion your torso from impact and the inflated neck roll supports the head from hyper movement.

Helite Turtle Air Vest – Cons

photo: Helite
  • Have to Remember to Connect – The vest won’t work unless you clip the tether to your bike. I’ve had to pull over a few times because I forgot to clip the tether. To remind me to buckle up I have a piece of bright colored tape on the end of the tether, near the buckle. I also drape the tether across my seat.
  • Have to Remember to Disconnect – You have to disconnect the tether before walking away from the bike. A lot of people think they will deploy the vest by forgetting to disconnect before getting off the bike. But don’t worry. It takes a lot of force to deploy the vest. You’ll realize that you’re still connected well before you walk away. Watch the video below to see how hard the person has to pull to fire the vest.
  • Back Protector Interference – The top of the back protector sometimes bumps under the back part of my helmet, even on my upright Tiger 800 riding position. I may trim the protector a bit.
  • It’s Hot – Adding a thick vest over my vented jacket defeats the benefit of a perforated suit. But, it hasn’t been as big a problem once I get up to speed.
  • Another piece of gear – This isn’t unique to the Helite vest. But, it’s a pain having to put on another piece of protection. You’ll get used to it.
  • It’s Expensive – At $659.00, the Turtle Air Vest is not cheap. But, the argument about how much is your spine, neck, ribs, and guts worth comes into play. If you ride a lot (and especially if you race), it’s a good investment in your health.

     

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Too many street riders fail to realize that even though the odds of your skin meeting pavement is not all that likely in normal situations, we can’t control everything, which is why you need to wear protection. Consider investing in an air vest…before you need it!

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Review: Helite GP Track Airbag Vest

Riding a motorcycle on a racetrack at speeds exceeding 100mph is exciting and immensely satisfying. But, it can also threaten your well-being if things go wrong. Even the best racers and track day riders make mistakes or get caught up in unfortunate situations beyond their control.

That’s where personal protection comes in and riding at expert-level speeds, you need the best protection you can get. Enter the Helite GP Air Track Vest.

The GP Track Vest can be worn on the street, but the GP version is more robust and is designed to withstand the higher speed crash scenarios. For street riders, Helite makes the Helite Turtle Vest. You can read a review of the Turtle here.

photo: otmpix.com

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Helite is an affiliate partner and supporter. However, I bought this vest with my own money.

Air Vest Technology

photo: Helite

Race leathers and armor have come a long way since I was racing in the mid-eighties when back protectors, knee and shoulder armor and chest protection didn’t exist. Instead, double layers of leather with some foam padding was the norm. Eventually, plastic back protectors and more substantial armor became available.

Nowadays, armor is required for track riding. But, even the best quality leather suits and armor have their limitations; it’s tough to cover the entire body with armor and still be free to move and have the comfort to sustain a race pace.

To help solve that problem, Dainese and AlpineStars (and now others) developed airbag suits that use GPS and IMU sensor deployment systems. But these suits are expensive and need to be recharged after one or two deployments that require shipping to the manufacturer, rendering the suit out of commission for up to a few weeks.

These manufacturers are now offering vest versions of their airbag suits and I’m hoping they will come up with a less cumbersome and pricey way to recharge the suits and vests.

While the all-in-one race suits are an attractive option, I like the versatility of the vest option. But, it’s not perfect.

photo: Helite

 Helite GP Track Air Pros

Here are the reasons why I prefer the Helite:

  • Low Tech – Unlike the A-Stars and Dainese units, the Helite has a mechanical system with an elastic-nylon tether that connects the bike to a CO2 cartridge mounted in the front of the vest. The vest deploys when the rider falls off the bike, which then pulls a steel ball from the housing that holds the CO2 cartridge. And Bang!
  • Deflates Quickly – It takes a couple of minutes for the vest to lose its air once the vest deploys. This allows you to safely ride back to the paddock without restricted movement.
  • Easy and Cheap Recharge-Recharging the vest means simply replacing the $25.00 cartridge. Replacement takes 5 minutes. I keep a few spares on hand.
  • photo: Helite

     

    Fits Over any Suit or Jacket -The correct size allows you to put the vest over an existing street jacket or race suit. The cutout in the upper back fits around a race suit speed hump. The GP vest’s accordion side panels allow a snug fit.

  • Sturdy Armor – The GP Track Air Vest has rigid armor that surrounds the torso, eliminating the need for an additional back or chest protector.
  • Heavy Leather – The GP vest is made from 1.2mm cowhide with accordion expansion panels under the arms.
  • No Movement Restriction – I cannot tell that I have the vest on with no restrictions in movement. The only restriction comes when getting off the bike.
  • Neck, Back and Chest Protection – The vest inflates to cushion your torso from impact. And because it will also support my head from hyper movement, it negates the need for the Leatt STX-rr neck brace I used to wear.

Helite GP Track Air Cons

  • Hard to Put On (until you learn how) – When I first owned the GP vest, I had a devil of a time putting it on over my leathers without help. But, someone then showed me how. (See below)
  • Another piece of gear – It’s a pain having to put on all the gear necessary for protection, and the vest is one more piece. That’s the price for good protection.
  • No side air protection – The accordion panels are great for movement and comfort, but the airbags do not cover this area. This sucks, because I seem to always crack ribs and I’m afraid the vest won’t help prevent this injury.
  • Have to Remember to Connect – The vest won’t work unless you clip the tether to your bike. I’ve had to pull off the track after a lap because I forgot to clip the tether. That’s fine for a track day, but if you forget during a race, you’ll either have to ride unprotected, or  pull in and forfeit the race. To remind me to buckle up I have a piece of bright colored tape on my triple clamp. I also drape the tether across my seat.
  • Have to Remember to Disconnect – You have to disconnect the tether before walking away from the bike. A lot of people think they will deploy the vest by forgetting to disconnect before getting off the bike. But don’t worry. It takes a lot of force to deploy the vest. You’ll realize that you’re still connected well before you walk away. Watch the video below to see how hard the person has to pull to fire the vest.
  • It’s Hot – Adding a thick vest over my vented leather race suit defeats the benefit of a perforated suit. But, it hasn’t been as big a problem once I get up to speed.
  • It’s Expensive – At $919.00, the GP Air Vest is not cheap. But, the argument about how much is your spine, neck, ribs, and guts worth comes into play. If you ride on the track a lot (and especially if you race), it’s a good investment in your health.
photo: Helite

How to Put the Helite GP Air Vest on Alone

Putting on the vest like you would a jacket, one arm at a time is not easy. The vest is stiff and tight enough to not allow the second elbow to squeeze inside. You can get it on this way with help, but I don’t often have that luxury.

The way to put the vest on alone is to:

  • Hold the vest in front of you with the inside facing up and both wrists inside the arm holes.
  • Flip the vest up and over your head, letting vest hand on your shoulders.
  • Once on, pull the Velcro panel across your chest so the red Velcro is completely covered. Then secure the two leather “tabs”.
  • Connect the plastic clip on the vest tether to the lead on the bike and you’re done.

Now, just becasue you’re better protected from injury, doesn’t mean you can ride like an idiot. Be smart and get training. 

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5 Ways to Prevent Motorcycle Theft

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Place disc locks against the underside of you brake caliper to prevent accidentally riding away and then coming to an abrupt stop.

It sucks that motorcycles are such easy prey. Keeping possession of your machine requires deploying layers of theft deterrents that keep these lowlifes from riding your bike away or heaving it into a waiting van. But even with our best efforts, a determined criminal will still succeed. Let’s look at some strategies that can discourage thieves so they seek an easier target.

Locks Lower the risk of your bike being ridden away by locking your forks and deploying a disc lock. To prevent the bike from being hoisted into a van, snake a beefy cable lock through the frame and then around a strong, immovable object. An alternative is to lock multiple bikes together. And keep the cable tight and away from the ground when possible to make chiseling more difficult.

Park Smart- It’s smart to park your bike so thieves look elsewhere. Use a busy, well-lit parking spot. A conspicuous security camera is a bonus. Another option is to hide your bike so it won’t be seen in the first place. Thieves often troll the streets seeking specific makes and models, making a bike cover a useful tool.

Alarms and Electronic Devices Motion alarms can stop a crime from progressing, but can be overridden and are often ignored. But for the best criminal suggestions, criminal defense attorneys for property crimes is the best to hire! Many modern bikes come with immobilizer keys that prevent a would-be thief from easily starting the bike If they want your bike bad enough, they will get it. In this case a GPS tracking device can help with recovery. While talking about crimes, defending against sexual crimes also plays an important role. 

Scam Alert Another way to lose a motorcycle is when a crook takes advantage of your trusting nature. Be street smart when trying to sell your bike to a stranger. It’s easy for a posing buyer to ride away with your bike during a test ride or rendezvous with a nearby conspirator ready to toss your machine in a van once out of sight. Don’t allow a test ride without full cash payment first. And have a friend of large stature present for the meeting.

Valuables Securing your valuables is tricky unless you own cavernous hard luggage that accommodate your helmet, riding gear and valuables. If you don’t have locking hard-sided cases you can secure riding gear by threading a cable lock through your helmet’s faceshield opening, jacket sleeves and pant leg and then around grab handles or other frame member.

Coverage When all of your efforts aren’t enough and you discover a sickening void where you motorcycle was once parked you’ll be glad you had insurance coverage. Comprehensive insurance can be expensive enough that you may be tempted to take your chances, but if you live or work where crime happens, think again.



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10 Ways to Tell if You are a Good Rider

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What exactly is a “good” rider?

The majority of motorcycle riders do a decent enough job of keeping their bike on two wheels. This simple fact can give the self-perception of proficiency. Perhaps their skills are decent, but it’s hard to know, becasue we as humans suck at measuring our own abilities.

This is so common that two researchers named Dunning and Kruger created the Dunning–Kruger effect that describes how average people suffer from the illusion that their ability is much higher than it really is.

Science also uses the term “Illusory Superiority“. In a research study, a group of Swedes and Americans were surveyed, asking them to compare their driving skills with others. 69% of the Swedes said they were above average and a whopping 93% of Americans believed they were above average! Yeah, right!

Knowing this, is it possible to measure your level of proficiency with any real accuracy? Inaccurate perception of ability is a problem when judging risk tolerance and acceptance. It also leads to complacency in attention and skill development.

What is a “Good” Rider?

Skillful cornering requires knowledge and practice.

The first place to start is to ask what makes a rider “good”? Is it someone who displays impressive control skills on the racetrack or canyons, someone who can do a lengthy standup wheelie, or is it someone who can maneuver an 800-pound motorcycle within tight confines? Certainly, these riders deserve to be recognized for their abilities. But, when it comes to describing a “good” motorcyclist, we must place the ability to make it home every day at the top of the list.

Measuring Competence

Here’s a quick list that may indicate whether you’re a good rider or if it’s time for some immediate change.

You may be a good rider if:

  • You rarely experience close calls. Good riders are able to predict threats before they materialize and take appropriate action to “not let it happen to them”.
  • You have good visual habits. Most new (and many veteran) riders do not look far enough ahead to see and then prepare for what’s next. You must be able to scan a scene and determine the likelihood of a problem developing. Related article
  • You rarely have pucker moments when cornering. Cornering mistakes account for about half of all fatalities. Anxiety when cornering is the first sign of trouble. Related video.
  • You are an expert a reading the road. It’s not enough just to look well ahead. This is especially important when riding on twisty roads with blind curves. Good riders consciously look for specific visual clues to create a snapshot of the radius, camber of a corner even before they can see around the bend.
  • You have had professional training. Like most endeavors that require some semblance of strong coordination, timing, visual acuity and foresight, high level of skill development comes from learning from professional instructors. Sure, your Uncle Joe might be an accomplished rider, but few people know how to teach motorcycling. Training options.
  • You ride smart. Good riders train for the threat, but ride smart enough to rarely need their superior training. Even the most skilled riders will get into situations they can’t handle if they ride stupid.
  • You understand the risks. Many riders jump on their bikes without thinking much about the true risk they are taking. Most people ride for fun and would rather not think about the possibility of injury. Good riders understand that if they get seriously hurt, it’s their family and friends that will also pay. Related article.
  • You accept the risks. Even with an accurate perception of risk you still choose to ride. Cool. We don’t ride to be safe, after all. But, don’t let the thrill of adrenaline get the better of you. Good riders know when and where to wick it up. I highly recommend the racetrack for sporty riders.
  • You wear protection. This alone does not mean you’re a good rider, but it does indicate that you respect the risks and strive to minimize serious skin abrasions, broken bones or head injuries. Just don’t be fooled into thinking you can ride riskier becasue you’re better protected. Related article.
  • You have fun while also being safe. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. Yes, getting training and wearing protective gear is inconvenient and expensive, but it’s time and money well spent. The satisfaction of riding well and with high confidence increases enjoyment.

Getting Better

Advanced training pays big dividends.

No matter how “good” a rider you think you are, it’s likely that you have at least a few bad habits, risky attitudes and dangerous perceptions that develop over time without you knowing it. A lot of riders think that seat time is the answer to being a better rider. But, it takes knowledge and purposeful practice to become as good as you think you are.

Change starts with awareness. Take some time to evaluate your current habits and assess whether you harbor unhelpful beliefs and unconscious attitudes. A bit of reflection and purposeful training increases satisfaction, reduces risk and increases enjoyment. It’s true.

Start by opening to the idea that you don’t know all you need to know and evaluate your personal strengths and weaknesses. Don’t allow yourself to brush off incidents as an insignificant misstep that is quickly forgotten. Even small mistakes can be a sign that you need a bit more work.


WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE SESSION ON PERCEPTION

WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE SESSION ON BREAKING HABITS


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What You Need to Know Before Riding in Europe

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Have you ridden a motorcycle in Europe? If you have then you’ll probably agree that not much beats experiencing Europe’s history, culture, food, foreign languages and epic scenery. Riding the mind-spinning Alpine passes and ancient cobblestoned village streets is life changing.

If you haven’t ridden in Europe, then you really should try. Traveling in a foreign land expands your experience like no other.

Let’s take a look at a few ways to tour Europe by motorcycle.

Ways to Go

There are lots of ways to travel abroad, including renting motorcycles, booking hotels and devising an itinerary on your own. Coordinating all the pieces of your trip is certainly doable and will usually save you some money. But, this requires planning for things you probably won’t know about if you’ve never been to Europe before. The success of a self-guided tour depends on you’re level of adventurousness and ability to handle stress.

Hybrid Tours

Another option is to sign on with someone who knows the ropes and does all the heavy lifting for a fee. My first long tour was with Ironstone Adventures, run by a longtime colleague and friend Joe Proia. Joe is paid $500 to arrange for rentals, hotels and guiding the tour. You then pay the hotel, restaurant and rental bills yourself.

Joe has been doing informal tours for a long time and usually fills his slots with friends and friends of friends. In 2017, Caroline and I were joined by former RITZ students and acquaintances of mine from New England Riders.

The week-long trip with Joe was a ton of fun. We rode many of the most notable passes; Stelvio, Gavia, etc. He knew where to stay and had friendly connections at hotels along the way.

We followed Joe like ducklings through the Alpine passes and villages. This is how many tour companies manage their tours. The problem is that you’re stuck riding the pace of the leader and the group. You can usually pick a slower or faster group, but there is no guarantee there is a group suitable to your ability or goals. Some people want to stop often to sight-see, whereas others want to just ride big miles and see the sights from the saddle. It turned out that our group was well matched.

Beach’s Motorcycle Adventures

Then there is the established tour companies, like Edelweiss, Ayers and Beach’s Motorcycle Adventures

*Disclaimer: I participated in Beach’s Italian Idyll tour as a resident riding coach. Many of my expenses were paid and I am hoping that some of my readers will join me when I go again. See more information about the training feature here.

The Italian Idyll is a two week tour of central Italy. The tour starts in Florence and makes a 2,600 km (1,600 mile) loop through Tuscany and Umbria, to the Adriatic before looping south and west to Rome and then to Sienna on the way back to Florence.

What’s great about this tour is how Rob and Gretchen Beach encourage you to set off on your own or form a small group. You certainly can follow behind the Beachs, but don’t miss the opportunity to explore at your own pace. There is no need to fear getting lost. Beach’s provides GPSs pre-loaded with at least three route options that end at the next night’s hotel.

Our group mixed it up quite a bit. I rode with Rob and Gretchen (who ride two-up) and most of the group for several days. But I also rode alone and with one or two other riders when they were students. We had a couple on two bikes who often took of on their own to explore side areas along one of the routes. They essentially customized the tour.

The bikes we rode are brand new BMWs; I rode a R1200GS with full luggage. Not only are the bikes top shelf, but so is the lodging and food. I never expected to stay in a medieval village or renovated monastery or villa. And the food! Amazing variety and quantity.

It isn’t all riding. We have double overnights along the way where we explored the sites each region has to offer. During these free days you have the option to strike out on your own, take a walk in the city or village, or just chill at the hotel.

A chase van means you don’t need to carry gear.

At around $8k, the two week tour ain’t cheap. But you get top shelf accommodations, great food and a GPS equipped BMW. Oh, and a chase van is there to schlep your belongings from one hotel to the next. And you get a super-duper gear bag and tour book.

Rob and Gretchen hit the road about 9:00 after breakfast. But, you have the option to leave later or earlier. The days range from 150 to 170 miles and we usually arrive at the hotel around 4:00. That may not seem like a lot of miles, but the roads are rural and curvy and we stopped every couple of hours for an espresso or gelato in the small medieval towns.

Plenty of time to sight see
This tour is all about riding and sightseeing. You will see such a wide range of Italy. We literally rode by and through over a hundred medieval towns perched on hillsides. And we stopped at the most interesting ones. Mmmmm Gelato.

Take a look at these two videos to get an idea of some of the roads.

I’ve done my share of riding in Europe and this tour was the most comprehensive in terms of quality riding, accommodations and food. I’m a frugal Yankee who doesn’t usually spring for such quality hotels and food. But, this has sold me on the value of getting what you pay for.

It’s a lot of money and is not affordable for many, but if you want to treat yourself and your partner to the best, then Beach’s is worth serious consideration.

Plan Now

A motorcycle trip to Italy or Europe is no trivial matter. It’s expensive, even when you do it yourself. Shop around to see which way is best for you. But, go! We Americans tend to stick close to home, becasue we have so much to see in our great land. But, visiting other cultures is priceless in expanding our tolerance and understanding of the world. And to do it on a motorcycle is a special bonus.

Bone Up

Depending on what part of Europe you are planning to ride, you’ll have a more enjoyable and safer time if you get some professional training before you go. It’s not unusual for Americans to become a bit overwhelmed with the technical nature of the roads, especially when riding in the Alps.

Two of the attendees on the Ironstone Adventures Alpine tour scheduled a training day with me that prepared them for the rigors of riding relentless twists and turns.

Several attendees on thew Beach’s tour took advantage of the available coaching that helped them negotiate the challenging central Italian tarmac.

Reading List

You may benefit from reading this article about surviving hairpin turns.

You may also want to read this article I wrote for Motorcyclist Magazine about Riding the Alps.


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RITZ TV- Interview with “LongHaul Paul” Pelland

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In this episode of Riding In The Zone TV, I interview long distance rider Paul Pelland, aka “Long Haul Paul”. Paul travels the country as an advocate for those challenged with Multiple Sclerosis.

We talk about Paul’s motorcycling history and how his struggles with Multiple Sclerosis brought him to become a motorcycling advocate and inspiration for MS sufferers, and non-MS sufferers. Visit Paul’s website.

Stay tuned for more episodes. Subscribe to learn when new episodes air.

Produced by Amherst Media

Episode Four: An interview with Long distance rider and MS advocate, Paul Pelland.

 


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Wilkins Harley-Davidson Podcast Interviews Ken

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Wilkins Harley-Davidson invited me to join in on their Behind the Bars Podcast. Take a listen.


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Tips for Surviving Alpine Switchbacks on a Motorcycle

This article was originally published in Motorcyclist Magazine.

photo Caroline White

Their names are infamous; Pordoi, Sella, Gavia, Gardena, and of course Stelvio. These are just a few of the mountain passes that snake up and over the mighty Italian Alps and jagged Dolomites. Riding these epic roads is not for the faint of heart or the weak of skill. Riding the steep hairpin switchbacks isn’t fundamentally different than riding any other twisty motorway, except these roads are turned all the way up to 11. But with a little knowledge and pre-trip cornering practice you can tackle the wicked Alpine passes with enthusiasm, rather than dread.

Sharpen your cornering skills – You’ll need to be really good at looking well ahead, judging entry speed, selecting effective cornering lines and leaning the heck out of your rental bike. You also need to understand techniques for managing both uphill and downhill hairpin turns. Article Link

Keep your momentum up hill. photo Caroline White

Maintain uphill momentum – On the way up the mountain gravity works in your favor to help slow for turns. But, slow down too much and the bike will want to fall over. Minimize instability by getting on the gas early, but not so early so you run wide.

Control speed going downhill – When riding downhill gravity works against your attempts to scrub speed. This means you need to brake with greater force. To be safe, brake earlier so you can brake with less intensity.

Trailbrake – Get the bike slowed and help it to turn by braking past the turn-in point and then taper (trail) off the brakes as you lean more. Hold light brake pressure until the bike is pointed around the turn before fully releasing. Article Link

Use the rear brake – Apply the rear brake just before the front to minimize forward pitch and keep the wheels in alignment. Maintain light pressure on the rear binder for a moment after releasing the front brake to help “hook” the bike around turns.

Use Effective Cornering Lines – Enter from the outside or middle of your lane and don’t turn in too soon. Aim for a “delayed apex” that is about 3/4 around the curve so you’re pointed safely down the road and not at the oncoming lane or outside edge of the road. Cornering Lines Article

Drive out of each corner –Gradually accelerate as soon as the bike approaches mid corner to maintain speed and stabilize the chassis. Well-timed acceleration ensures a predictable path of travel.

Look where you want to go! Ken Condon photo

Use smooth brake-to-throttle transitions – Smoothly release the brake while simultaneously rolling on the throttle to avoid abruptness that can squander traction and cause your bike to exit wide.

Practice slow speed turning – You will need excellent slow speed control to prevent mid-corner tip-overs on the countless tight “slower than first gear” switchbacks. Maintain stability using steady clutch and throttle control. The tightest turns may require some rear brake and counterweighting. Article Link

Look where you want to go – The eyes are a powerful tool for helping direct your motorcycle. But, too often when we are anxious we look down and toward what we fear, which increases the likelihood of a mishap. Look at the solution, not the problem! Article Link

Dealing with tour buses and bicyclists is part of riding the Alps. photo Caroline White

Watch for buses and bicycles – If you ride the Alps someday, you’ll be sharing the ridiculously narrow Alpine passes with tour buses and bicycle riders. Look well ahead and plan accordingly to avoid a collision. Expect to stop and wait until it’s safe to proceed.

 

Do yourself a favor and bone up on your cornering skills before you hit the Alpine switchbacks. You’ll have a more enjoyable and safer experience.

Some related Videos:

Discussing Hairpin Turns during Street Training


A ride down the Gardena Pass in the Dolomites in northern Italy.

Listen to the Trailbraking PODCAST

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.


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Review: Leatt STX-RR Neck Brace

Ken_Leatt_STX-RR-croppedI’ve had several people ask about the Leatt STX-RR brace that I wear on the racetrack. Well, here is my review.

Here's the illustration Leatt publishes on their website arguing for the use.
Here’s the illustration Leatt publishes on their website arguing for its use.

Should You Wear a Neck Brace?

I decided to invest in a Leatt STX-RR neck brace after a recent medical scare prompted me to do all I can to protect my neck from trauma. But, is the Leatt STX-RR neck brace a worthwhile investment for you?

A neck brace is not a piece of equipment that many motorcycle riders consider. However, it’s common to see motocross and off-road racers wearing neck braces. Do they know something we street riders and roadracers don’t?

While many people claim that there is not enough evidence saying they are effective, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from off-road racers that neck braces work. That said, there are stories around of broken collarbones that may have been the result of contact with the brace. Even if these stories have some truth, I’ll take a broken collarbone over a broken neck anytime. And it is better than a bad injury, getting personal injury claims in Lacey, and running behind treatments.It is not that claims are ineffective, but why take a risk when you can prevent it. 

Another reason few road riders wear a neck brace is that they are expensive (See below).

The Carbon Leatt STX-RR
The Carbon Leatt STX-RR

 

The Leatt prevents hyper-extension and hyperflexion in a crash.
Click the photo to see an animation showing how the Leatt prevents hyper-extension and hyperflexion.

How the Leatt STX-RR Works

The RR brace rests on the shoulders and features two scapular wings in the back that straddle the aero hump on my racing leather suits. There is also a hinged sternum support wing at the front that allows me to tuck behind the windscreen.

During a crash, the brace prevents the head from snapping forward, back and sideways to a point where neck injury can occur and according to Car accident Lawyers in Houston, if you need help with such injuries, you can contact legal professionals. It is essentially a table surface that the bottom rim of the helmet contacts during a crash. When the helmet contacts the brace, the energy from the head and helmet is redirected to the shoulders, upper back and chest to protect the cervical spine. People can check injury attorneys help from The Galvan Law Firm, PLLC, if they get involved with injuries. 

More About the Leatt STX-RR

The STX-RR is the racing version of he STX Road model. The road model can be used on the racetrack, but the RR has a few features that make it a better choice for track riding.

The STX-RR is made from superlight carbon fiber and weighs only about one and a half pounds, compared to the less expensive and heavier fiberglass STX Road model . The RR version also differs from the STX Road model by utilizing a solid fixed ring setup with two emergency releases, which requires the rider to slip the brace over the head. The street STX Road features a locking hinge design that allows the rider to fit it by clamping it around the neck.

The RR uses a lighter, simpler spacer fitting system compared to the street version, which comes with several different sized inserts to customize fit. Both models come with optional straps for securing the brace in place. I used the straps for several track days, but it takes more time to attach them. Besides, I feel confident that the brace will stay in place without the straps.

However, the most significant difference between the RR and the Road versions is that the RR model has a lower profile, which means that it is farther away from the base of the helmet. This reduces effectiveness somewhat compared to the Road version, but the lower profile, in conjunction with the hinged front wing, allows the rider to move more freely when going from hanging off in corners to tucking fully behind a windscreen on the straights.

Maybe MM93 should consider a Leatt brace?
Maybe MM93 should consider a Leatt brace?

Fitment

Fitting the brace properly requires adjustment of the swiveling scapular wings, which are marked for precise degree adjustment, as well as removal or placement of front, rear and side spacer pads. Measuring the distance from the bottom of the helmet to the top of the brace is important for the brace to be most protective and comfortable.

After a session on the racetrack, I determined that the brace was sitting too close to my helmet, preventing me from turning my head fully in certain corners. Removing the shoulder spacer pads solved the problem. The combination of light weight and proper fitment means I can ride without noticing that I even have the brace on.

Amazon labels the RR as being size Large/XL. But, it appears that here is only that single size. Leatt says the one size fits riders from approx. 140 to 225 pounds. That is the size I wear and I am 155 pounds and 5′ 10″.

Living with the Leatt

I’ve used the Leatt for most of the track day and racing season. People often ask me whether the brace restricts my head movement. I ride a Triumph Street Triple R as my track day bike. The upright position of the Striple means I have little issue with restricted movement. Only in very tight corners do I feel the brace make contact with my helmet. However, when I ride a supersport motorcycle, I find the brace to be more restrictive. But, I suspect that with further fiddling with the adjustments, it can work on nearly any bike.

The one thing you need to consider when investing in any protective gear is that it won’t work unless you actually use it. Putting the brace on is very simple, but there were several times when I forgot to slip the brace over my head before strapping on my helmet. Once I realized that I forgot the brace I had to take my helmet off, put the brace on and replace the helmet again. Grrrr.

The Leatt STX-RR
The Leatt STX-RR box

Cost

The Leatt STX RR retails for $549.00, which is $150.00 more than the STX Road, but the lightweight carbon construction and articulating sternum section make the RR a better choice for track day riders and roadracers.

So, you have to determine for yourself whether a neck brace is worth the cost and inconvenience. Knowing that the neck is vulnerable to all sorts of loads that can lead to lifelong injury or death, I think it’s worth considering.

Update

So, I was riding my KTM dirtbike on a friend’s mini motocross track. I had been using the Leatt while riding trails and it worked out well with the scapular wings straddling the hydration pack. But, I didn’t have it this time.

I landed a jump and banked into a tight right turn, but failed to get the bike turned. The front wheel climbed the berm, causing me to fall with my head snapping as I landed about 40 degrees upside down. My neck hurt immediately. I turns out that the whiplash I suffered lasted a few months and the tinnitus in my left ear hasn’t gone away after a year.

I’m convinced that having the Leatt would have saved me from this injury. I have since bought a dedicated off-road neck brace and wear it all the time.

Have you crashed while wearing a neck brace? If so, how did it work?

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10 Truths That All Motorcycle Riders Need to Know

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Here is a list of the top 10 things riders need to know (but often don’t):

1. Traction management and direction control are directly affected by load transferring to the tires.

2. Timing of deceleration, braking, countersteering and acceleration directly affects traction, direction control (line) and where the bike is pointed at the turn exit.

3. Intensity of brake and throttle application and handlebar inputs directly affects traction, chassis stability and direction control.

4. Specific Visual targets help to accurately read the road and minimize overspeed corner entry.

5. Dynamic Lane positioning is a critical tool for maximizing angle of view and conspicuity.

6. Trailbraking done correctly, maximizes stability, manages traction and refines corner entry speed and direction control at mid-corner and exit.

7. Even the best riders get into trouble if they don’t respect environmental limitations.

8. Electronic rider aids help manage traction; they do not create more traction.

9. Proper riding gear minimizes the risk of injury, but does not make you “safer”.

10. Reading lists like this can make you smarter about riding, but only application of knowledge can make you a better rider.

 
What would you add? Share your comments below
 
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The Real Value of Knee Dragging

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Dragging knee is about much more than just looking good for the camera.
Dragging knee is about much more than just looking good for the camera. www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

The RITZ article on knee dragging is one of the most viewed posts on the website. I can understand why. Dragging a knee is a measure of sport riding accomplishment for many. Nothing says “sport bike hero” better than fully worn tires and scuffed knee pucks. Am I right?

Confidence

Those of us who drag knee certainly enjoy the sensation, but the real benefit comes from the added confidence it provides. Yes…confidence.

Touching your knee to the pavement is a definitive measure of your exact lean angle. Without this measure, you must rely on your eyes and inner gyro-system to help judge whether your lean angle is nearing your personal limit or the limits of your machine.

Knee dragging provides a way to tell you whether you are leaned a little or a lot. This information helps you determine whether you are pushing hard and nearing the limits, or riding at a conservative pace.

To most street riders, this may not seem all that important. But, it starts to make sense once you begin cornering very fast at lean angles that should only be attempted on a closed course. That’s when you really start to rely on the information that knee dragging provides.

Read more – Fundamentals You Need to Know about Knee Dragging
Not going quite fast enough to touch down.
Not going quite fast enough to touch down. www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

Consistency

To make the most out of what knee dragging can offer, you must develop a body position that is consistent lap after lap. Otherwise, you’re changing the metric with which lean angle is measured. Riders who have not yet solidified their body position may be inconsistent in how their body is positioned so that their knee may touch the pavement erratically. These variations make the knee dragging an inaccurate measuring tool that can give the rider false confidence that he or she can push harder.

An expert track rider pays attention to exactly when and where his or her knee touches down, lap after lap. They know when to expect their knee to touch and for how long it will skim the surface. Their body position is well-established so they know that the measuring tool is calibrated and will not change. With this awareness, they have a baseline for experimenting and refining technique and to determine how hard they are pushing.

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

Measure What?

The obvious thing measured by knee dragging is lean angle. But, what else is measured with the knee?

  • Your general pace: the faster you corner, the more you’ll touch down
  • Extreme lean angles are measured by how much your leg is forced to fold underneath the fairing
  • Pavement texture and traction potential
  • Line precision. Your knee should be placed in the same spot lap after lap
  • How quickly you are turning
  • How long you are at maximum lean
  • How soon you are picking the bike up
  • Overall level of confidence and comfort
Read more – Fundamentals You Need to Know about Knee Dragging-
The knee tells whether I can lean more to corner faster.
My knee tells whether I dare to lean more.

Don’t Rush It

Too many riders make dragging a knee a priority at the expense of body dynamics and cornering control. The result is usually not good.

Remember that knee dragging is the product of excellent cornering skills, effective body positioning and yes, corner speed. Work on that and it’ll happen, eventually. Sign up for on-track Personal Training to help get your skills in shape.

Sometimes, you have the skills and the body position, so all that is missing is speed. But, that is the topic for another article.

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

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10 things you need to know about Trailbraking

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Trail braking can be very useful for street riders. Downhill corners is one example.
Trail braking can be very useful for street riders. Downhill corners is one example.

Trailbraking is often misunderstood, causing many riders to avoid learning the techique. I often hear people say that they think trailbraking is a technique used only by performance riders and road racers. Not true.

This braking technique is actually quite important for safe and skillful cornering. The first rule for safe cornering is to enter a turn at a safe speed.

What exactly is a “safe” speed? It is a speed that allows you to negotiate the turn comfortably while applying gradual acceleration without the need for deceleration or mid-to-late corner braking. Steady acceleration keeps the bike stable and makes the bike corner predictably, so entry speed should allow for this steady drive through the curve.

The amount of brake pressure needed to slow the motorcycle is directly dependent on the approach speed and the point where you begin braking. Braking earlier means you can use less brake force and braking later requires more brake force.

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

Trail Braking Defined

Sometimes delaying your braking can be a useful tool. Trail braking is a technique that is done by continuing to brake beyond the turn-in point. You then gradually “trail” off the brakes as you lean until there is no brake pressure by the time you are at full lean. Trail braking is most useful for tighter turns with a relatively high approach speed and for downhill hairpins.

On the racetrack, trail braking is typically done using the front brake only, although trail braking can be done with either the front only, rear only or both brakes. It can be argued that engine braking is also trailbraking. I’ve actually coined the phrase “trail-deceleration” to describe the timing of when to initiate engine braking and when to begin accelerating again.

As I mentioned earlier, trail braking is a technique associated with racing as a means to keep the competition at bay. But, it is also useful for street riders. Let’s see how.

*Contrary to what I say in this 2008 video, I have come to believe that trailbraking is very useful on the street to manage corner entry speeds. It is one of the skills we work on during on-street training.


1. Helps Refine Entry Speed

Trail braking is done all the time when racing to keep the competition at bay.
Trail braking is done all the time when racing to keep the competition at bay.

One advantage of trail braking is that it allows the rider to extend the time and distance used to establish entry speed. This can be a real advantage if a bit more braking is needed for a tightening turn or to avoid a mid-corner obstacle. By entering a turn with light brake pressure, you are less likely to upset the chassis if you need to slow a bit more. For minor speed adjustments, simply remain on the brakes a bit longer.

Staying on the brakes past turn-in allows more time and space to get your entry speed just right. On the other hand, if you release the brakes completely before leaning, you have committed to that entry speed. If you need to slow more, you’ll have to begin braking again, which can easily upset the chassis and stress the tires. To prevent front tire traction loss, you must avoid increasing brake force and lean angle at the same time.

For those of you who use the quick-turn method of initiating lean (an excellent thing to learn and use) understand that it isn’t often conducive to trail braking. Most times you will ease into the corner more when trail braking. To turn quickly, you will release the brakes quicker, immediately after turn-in.

Dragging the rear brake a little longer after releasing the front brake is useful for further refining entry and mid-corner speed. Being a weaker brake makes the rear brake easier to introduce smoother braking forces.

2.It Helps the Bike Turn

Trailbraking puts more load onto the front tire for increased traction to handle countersteering inputs. It also steepens chassis geometry as the forks compress to help the bike change direction. It’s important to know that as you begin to release the brakes, you must also relax your arms to let the front wheel track freely through the turn. Follow with a smooth transition to the throttle for a predictable line toward your exit (see #8 below).

Dragging the rear brake is also useful for helping the bike to “pivot” around the center of gravity by “pulling” the rear contact patch rearward.

3. It Enhances Stability (when done right)

Trail braking is also used as a way to enhance stability and control. Trail braking helps minimize forward and rearward chassis pitch that occurs when applying and then releasing the brakes. When the front brake is applied the forks compress, and when the brakes are released they rebound and extend. The forks compress once again when the bike is leaned into the curve. When trail braking, the forks remain compressed as the bike is leaned and the “off-brake” rebound action is eliminated. This also steepens the front end geometry for easier turning. The suspension stays compressed as the bike leans and then rebounds gradually as the brakes are released and the throttle is rolled on.

Trailbraking with both brakes helps slow, but also increases stability even more. The rear brake also increases stability by “pulling” the rear contact patch in line with the front contact patch, controlling any side-to-side fishtailing effect.

4. It Can be Risky (when done wrong)

Trail braking is a technique that combines both cornering and braking forces, which means that you must use light brake pressure otherwise you can lose traction. This is why it is best to get most, if not all, of your braking done before the turn. Because trail braking can be risky it should be used judiciously and should be avoided when traction is limited. However, trail braking is an advanced technique that can be useful for all riders.

Learning how to trail brake starts with overcoming the anxiety that the tires will slide. To prevent “tucking” the front tire and lowsiding, you must use light front brake pressure and understand that increased lean angle requires decreased brake pressure. Once this fundamental level of trail braking is learned, then you can use the technique.

5. Help Salvage a Blown Corner… I Suppose

Remember that trailbraking is a planned technique to refine cornering control and should NOT be confused with salvaging a blown corner entry (that’s called screwing up a corner becasue you didn’t judge entry speed correctly). That said, we all make mistakes and knowing how to trailbrake can be used to fix a mistake. One of the most common reasons for crashes in corners is when a rider enters a turn too fast and lowsides or goes off the road. Most untrained riders panic and either stand the bike up and leave their lane or grab the brakes and lowside. If you are adept at trailbraking, then you can brake past the turn entry while still maintaining a relatively relaxed composure (depending how overspeed you are). To reiterate…trailbraking is not technically “braking to save a blown corner”.

6. You Must Get a Feel for it

To brake effectively you must develop a feel for how much brake power is possible without losing control. Brake feel is a learned skill that includes understanding the dynamics of load transfer on traction as well as developing a feel for how your motorcycle’s brakes respond to subtle inputs. This knowledge is necessary if you are to learn to use brake force to maximum advantage.

One way to help refine the trail braking technique is to use two fingers on the front brake. This allows the use of both the brake and the throttle, which is useful for transitioning smoothly between braking and acceleration. The advantage of two-finger braking is that it allows the two remaining digits to remain on the throttle grip (usually the ring and pinkie). This is useful when implementing advanced throttle/brake techniques such as brake and throttle overlapping or throttle blipping (to be covered in a future post).

7. Trailing off is as important as Trailing on

Getting the right brake pressure applied is critical when trail braking. Progressively squeezing the brake transfers weight gradually and avoids spikes in tire load. But, it’s also important to release the brakes progressively to prevent abrupt rebound of the suspension, which can cause the tires to lose traction, especially when at full lean. Even if you don’t lose traction, the extended forks can push the bike into a wider line than desired.

8. Use the Thrake/Brottle Overlap Technique

The throttle/brake overlap technique (Thrake or Brottle, get it?) is how you smoothly transition from brakes to acceleration while leaned fully in a corner. Begin throttle roll-on just before completely releasing the brakes to smooth the transition from braking force to driving force. See me use this technique through turn 1 at Loudon in the video

The brake/throttle overlap technique takes some practice. One technique that is helpful is if you curl your fingers over the front brake lever as you squeeze, then simply straighten your fingers to release brake pressure as you roll on the throttle. You can practice this technique using Brake Drill #4 in Riding in the Zone.

9.Timing is Critical

How long you remain on the brakes is determined by the curve. Imagine yourself barreling dwn a tight downhill hairpin and need to scrub of, say 15-20mph. You trailbrake into the turn, but then release the brakes well before the middle part of the turn. What then happens is gravity “accelerates the bike at a time when you haven’t gotten the bike turned enough. The result is a too wide line that needs another turning inpt to stay in your lane.  By hanging onto the brakes a bit longer, the front wheel is pointed more toward the corner exit and not toward the outside of the turn.

10. Brake Pressure is Critical

The right amount of brake pressure (force) will preserve traction (see #4) but also help the bike turn more easily (see #2). At some point in the trailbraking process, perhaps 1/3 around the curve, you are no longer trailbraking to slow down, rather you are using the brakes as a tool to help get the bike completely turned and pointed safely toward the exit (where you can then transition to the throttle (see #8). Brake too hard and the bike will likely stand up instead of lean in…not what you want at that point.

Trail braking Takes Practice

Trailbraking requires expert-level brake and corner control, which means that most people should be careful with this technique until they become proficient through practice. Once a rider is reasonably proficient at both braking and cornering, then he or she should start to explore the benefits of trailbraking, because one day, they’ll need this skill.

How to Practice Trail Braking

The practice drill diagram found in Riding in the Zone.
The practice drill diagram found in Riding in the Zone.

By mastering trail braking, you can train your mind and muscles so that you believe it is possible to slow the bike down even when leaned and stay upright. This mastery tells you not only that it’s possible to salvage the corner, but also tells you just how much braking force can be used without sliding the tires. If you think this skill will magically appear when you need it, you are dead wrong! You must practice to make this important tool available to you. How do you practice trail braking? Start in a clean and clear parking lot (see the video above) And then practice on the street where no surface hazards are present. Then refine and solidify the technique by going to a track day and asking an instructor to help you work on this technique.

Braking is one of the most important skills to learn. Regularly practice emergency braking and refine your corner braking technique so these skills remain sharp.

Listen to the Trailbraking PODCAST

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5 Tips for Surviving Intersections

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Intersections are very dangerous places to be. The reason drivers collide with motorcycles is because they either don’t see us or they misjudge our approach speed or distance. Here are some tips to help you become more visible at intersections.

  1. Don’t Hide. Select lane positions that put you in open view so drivers can see you. This means not tailgating the car or truck in front and riding in the left or right portion of your lane to make sure drivers waiting to turn into or across your lane can clearly see you.
  2. Move within your lane. Even if you are in plain sight, don’t assume drivers see you. People see what they expect to see and a motorcycle may not register in their consciousness, even if they are looking at you. Another reason drivers can look at you but not “see” you is because of “motion-induced blindness” where stationary objects disappear when surrounded by a moving background, such as busy traffic. Realize that you appear stationary if you approach a driver straight on. Even if drivers do see you they may not be able to accurately judge closing speed and approach distance because of your bikes relatively narrow frontal area.One trick is to move across your lane as you approach drivers at intersections to visually “present” the broader side area of your bike. For a more dramatic display, weave back and forth in your lane to “sweep” your headlight across drivers’ field of view. You don’t need to go crazy; swerving a few feet left and right a couple of times should do the trick. And weave only if it’s safe to do so.
  3. Be Bright. It’s smart to wear brightly colored riding gear that gets attention and separates you from the busy background. This includes wearing a light-colored helmet and jacket or vest, as well as putting reflective material on your bike and riding gear for being seen in low light situations.
  4. Don’t rely on noise. While loud pipes get attention, sound is not reliable for telling drivers exactly where you are. Not only that, but loud pipes direct most of the exhaust noise rearward rather than forward where the majority of dangers materialize. Selective use of an aftermarket horn is as effective and a lot less annoying to others.
  5. Be ready. Even after using these measures you will likely encounter drivers who invade your right or way. Being mentally ready makes you more likely to approach cautiously and respond skillfully when someone cuts you off. Being ready means actively looking for trouble, slowing down and covering your brakes before approaching intersections even when everything looks to be in order.
But, don’t be a victim. Instead, reflect on your part in any close calls. You may find that (if you’re truly honest and willing) most times you can identify at least one thing you did or didn’t do to prevent the incident.
 
The best riders predict that a driver might cut them off (or whatever) and are already prepared by covering their brakes and positioning themselves to give maximum time and space to respond.
 
All the best practices in the world sometimes cannot prevent some crashes. We can’t change the behavior of careless drivers. All we can do is minimize the risk. And wear good protection in case the unavoidable happens.
 
 
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Are Loud Pipes an Effective Survival Strategy?

copyright Ken Condon 2018

Like politics and religion, it’s usually a very bad idea to bring up the Loud Pipes debate in mixed company. But, this website is here to discuss such topics, because your well being is at stake.

Before you assume this is an anti- or pro-loud pipes opinion piece, rest assured that I am sympathetic to both sides of the argument and you will discover here which tells more about the best pipes durability and performances. I’ve had bikes with loud exhaust and stock exhaust.

My intent for writing this article is to shed light on the effectiveness of certain strategies for surviving the streets on a motorcycle, including loud pipes.

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

Sirens, and Horns

First, let’s discuss whether noise is effective at getting drivers’ attention. Before that can be answered fully, we must first define “attention”. A loud noise intended as an alert, such as a siren (EMS or law enforcement), a fire alarm, or a horn is perceived as something that requires attention and triggers immediate response.

The appropriate response depends on the noise. A siren heard while driving means you need to pull over. A blaring horn means you may be about to collide with another car (or the other driver is just being a dick). Either way, you snap out of any stupor you may be in and frantically look for the problem.

A siren blasting from a municipal building means a risk to the public, like an approaching weather or seismic event. Even this depends on where you live. In Kansas it’s likely to be a tornado. In California, think earthquake. It also depends on where you are. In a movie theater this may mean fire. You get it.

An Example

Did you know that drivers colliding with stationary construction crews is a big problem? Hard to believe, but I guess it’s a thing.

Several methods have been tried to mitigate this all-too-common problem with the latest being sound. An article from the Iowa DOT talks about their trial using audible attenuators to alert drivers of construction crews in the roadway. Read the article here.

Below is an accompanying video demonstrating the attenuator. Take a look. I’ll wait.

Loud Exhaust

Many of you will take this attenuator solution as justification to run loud pipes.

But, hold on. There are differences between this system and loud motorcycle exhausts.

Noise Direction
Considering that exhaust noise is directed rearward, is a loud exhaust more effective in this situation than being seen?

 

One big difference between the attenuator and loud bike exhaust noise is that the attenuator is directed toward the driver and is accompanied by bright flashing lights. The sound from a motorcycle exhaust is mostly directed rearward.

Sirens and horns are pointed forward for a reason. And when you consider that most multi-vehicle motorcycle crashes come from in front, not behind, you can see the argument against loud pipes being responsible for saving lives.

Also, sound bounces off buildings, etc and is absorbed by vegetation, etc. This means that locating the source of the sound is tough. And the time it takes for a driver to identify your location could be way too late.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Modern cars are well-insulated from sound.

Another argument against loud pipes is that even the loudest exhaust may not be heard and then responded to in time. This is because cars are sound-insulated to the degree that moderately loud music or an AC fan on high can mask, mute or muffle the sound until it is just part of the background noise.

An open window certainly helps in this regard, but almost every vehicle on the road today has efficient air conditioning, which means fewer and fewer people drive with windows open.

Loud pipes are seen (and heard) on sport bikes, as well as cruisers.

OK. Let’s assume that your loud pipes alert a driver that you and your bike is in the vicinity. But, to avoid a collision requires the driver to know exactly where you are. Knowing you’re in the vicinity isn’t enough.

An example is a driver traveling in the same direction (you’re not riding in a drivers blind spot, right?) not being able to see you and then cutting you off. Unfortunately, your loud exhaust noise won’t tell him or her whether they can change lanes or not. They may look first, but maybe not.

One scenario that was pointed out to me that may justify loud(er) pipes is when in very slow traffic (think L.A.) and you are lane splitting. At these slow speeds it’s possible that a driver could hear a bike approaching from behind and will think twice about changing lanes. But, thankfully most riders don’t have to endure (or at least avoid) that extreme traffic situation, which brings us back to questioning th validity of the loud pipes strategy.

Mixed Meaning

Let’s assume that loud exhaust systems can get attention. But what exactly is the noise conveying? It’s not telling drivers’ to pull over or run for cover, so what do we expect drivers to do exactly?

A Reliable Solution: Be More Visible

If your real goal for having loud pipes is to get drivers’ attention so they don’t cut you off or crash into you, then the arguments made in this article suggest you’d be wise to consider other (or additional) strategies. Here are some suggestions that are likely to be effective.

Bright Clothing

Now, I know that hi-viz jackets, vests and helmets may not be your thing. But, you don’t have to go all HAZMAT to become more visible. Harley-Davidson predictably sells mostly black jackets to satisfy their traditional customer base, however look beyond the badass blackness and you can find a few more visible options.

Those of you not as encumbered by traditional style requirements have many options available to you, including the aforementioned hi-viz, but also white or bright colored gear that looks both sporty and stylish…and helps you be seen better in traffic. Check out this Scorpion jacket at Twisted Throttle.

Lane Positioning
Lane position strategies are effective for helping drivers see you.

One of the MOST effective tools for being seen and avoiding crashes is effective lane positioning.

Select lane positions that put you in open view so drivers can see you. This means not tailgating the car or truck in front and riding in the left or right portion of your lane to make sure drivers waiting to turn into or across your lane can clearly see you. It’s up to you to select lane positions that put you in plain view.

Even if you are in plain sight, don’t assume drivers see you. There’s this thing called “motion-induced blindness” where stationary objects disappear when surrounded by a moving background, such as busy traffic. Get drivers’ attention my moving within your lane. You can simply change lane positions, or do a slight weave as you approach.

Horn

Perhaps a train horn will do the job. Notice the motor mounted behind the backrest that powers the horn.

You can rightly argue that a horn is in the same category as loud pipes. But, there is a difference. Unlike loud exhaust, a piercing horn has a more commanding meaning than the noise from loud pipes (yes, even from a “barking” throttle blip). Remember earlier when I talked about how the types of sounds communicate different meaning? Yeah, That.

The horn on most motorcycles is anemic at best and unless you fit an aftermarket blaster on your bike, you can only rely on this being effective at low speeds. Check out aftermarket horns at Twisted Throttle.

Your Choice

Before you get all cranky thinking I’m not on your side. I believe that any added tool for being seen is worthwhile.

However, (you knew this was coming, right?) loud pipes can’t be relied on for adding the kind of conspicuity necessary to avoid collisions…visibility. People have to see you!

I’m no scientist, and this is not based on empirical evidence, but experience and logic suggest that relying primarily on loud pipes for visibility is a weak strategy. Does it help? To a degree. But, in my opinion, the effectiveness is trumped by the risk of discrimination from authorities, the disdain from your neighbors and the perpetuation of the outlaw image puts us in risk of heavy handed regulation.

Of course I know that this won’t convince anyone already enamored with the badass sound of their bike to dig up the stock exhaust from the basement. However, I hope this article gives you pause before you repeat the old saw “Loud Pipes Save Lives” without at least considering that this strategy may have a relatively minor effect on preventing crashes.

Admit it…loud pipes make your bike sound better and is a way to experience the raw, visceral power of your awesome machine. But, ask yourself if perhaps they aren’t as effective as most people think at saving lives.

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Product Review: Mitas TerraForce 90/10 Dual Sport/ADV Tires

The Tiger on track with Mitas TerraForce tires. otmpix.com

My 2016 Triumph Tiger 800 XRx has been a reliable machine both on the street and off-road. The Tiger came with Metzeler Tourance Next (90% road/10% off-road) tires which I promptly swapped for a set of Mitas E-07 Dakar Dual Sport/Adventure bike 50/50 tires to explore more adventurous terrain. But then I had a summer of mostly pavement riding ahead of me, so I decided to try the TerraForce tires.

Mitas (pronounced Me-tass, think “Meet us”) has been around for a while as a maker of agricultural tires and is now becoming popular for Adventure (ADV) bikes.

Note: Since I have not tried the most well-known players on the ADV/DS tire spectrum, I cannot make a direct comparison. So, the review is of my impressions of this tire and how it compares to the Metzeler.

OEM Tires

The Metzeler Tourance Next tires allowed peg feeler grinding.

The OEM Metzeler Tourance Next (90% road/10% off-road) tires were fine on the street, but felt numb. This became even more apparent during a track day where the Tourance tires could not communicate well enough to instill much confidence. Grip was good though; I managed to corner hard enough to mangle both of the Tiger’s footpeg feelers.

One thing that was a big negative was the crazy handling these tires gave after about 3,000 miles. The flat spot on the rear wasn’t terrible to look at, but this caused the bike to fall in terribly when initiating lean. And I had to put pressure on the upper handlebar to keep the bike from continuing to fall into the turn (oversteer) more than I wanted. I don’t recall the Tourances dong this when new.

I rarely toss a set of tires that still have life in them, but away they went. I’ve read that lots of people like the Tourance Next, but this sucked.

From www.mitas-moto.com

Enter TerraForce

The first impression I had of the TerraForce was the increase in vibration. It seems that the very open sipes create as much or more vibration as the 50/50 E-07s.

The tires handled fine. Considering how poor the worn Metzelers handled, it was no surprise the bike felt worlds better. The bike felt neutral, unlike the oversteering the worn Metzelers produced.

Tire “feel” is a big contributor to rider confidence and the TerraForce delivers reasonably well at street speeds. However, push hard and the tires go numb. I don’t get a good sense that the tires are hooking up the way a 100% street tire does, and nothing like a supersport tire.

But, that’s no surprise since the intended job of the TerraForce is to endure sharp gravel and the occasional impact with a log or rock. This requires a measure of carcass stiffness as well as a harder compound for both pavement and gravel endurance.

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Warm and Dry

I took the Tiger to the racetrack for three days. The first two days were dry and sunny. I was instructing in the novice group so I was more or less rolling around, not getting much heat into the tires. And little heat kept the tires numb and made me apprehensive about pushing harder. Bummer.

The second day was also warm and dry. One of my other instructors needed to borrow a bike to work with his assigned group at the Non-Sportbike Track training Day, so I lent him the Tiger. At lunch I asked Pete what he thought of the bike. He said it did well as a street bike and was better tn he expected for a tall ADV machine. Cool.

Pete, poised to put the TerraForce to the test.

But, he added that he had gotten his knee down in several corners! Whaaaa? Here I was thinking the TerraForce tires were a significant limiting factor for going quick and Pete goes and drags his knees …on my bike! For perspective, Pete is one fast expert racer who regularly challenges for the win on his SV650 at Loudon. But, I couldn’t let that stand, so I reclaimed the Tiger and headed out to see how the heck he did this.

Sure enough, the tires had decent feel. This obviously came from the heat Pete put into the carcass. Knowing that Pete pushed to knee-dragging lean angles gave me confidence to push harder and harder until I too got a knee down in a few corners. I had to hang off like a carnival monkey on the tall Tiger, but I did it.

Even more important was the fun factor. The tires gripped tenaciously, making this the most fun session I had all weekend.

What I learned is that if you get the tires nice and hot, they transform into a decent sporty tire. Caveat…you will not likely get the tires (or any tires) this hot at sane street speeds. But, as a street tire, the TerraForce gives plenty of grip, even if they don’t give great feel when cornering.

Zipping around in the rain on a wet racetrack.

Wet and Cool

The third track day was wet and cooler. The forecast was for rain on this day, so I brought the Tiger as my rain bike, leaving my Street Triple track bike for the dry sessions. I know that street tires are a better choice than supersport race tires because they warm up faster and the rubber compound has more silica for better wet grip.

And yes, I felt confident riding in the rain to a point where I was able to ride at a very entertaining pace. It took a few laps to get some confidence, but once some heat was generated, I was good to go. See the video below.

Off-Road

The TerraForce isn’t great in the mud.

After replacing the 50/50 E-07s with the 90/10 Terraforce, I wasn’t  sure whether off-road performance would hold me back. It turns out that the 90/10s handle the rocky terrain just fine. As a matter of fact, they gave me zero problems when climbing a somewhat steep hill with some large ledge rocks.

Mud is another matter. I was with a student in the unmaintained forest roads where I conduct the Adventure/Dual-Sport bike courses when I ended up in a decent mud hole. With some momentum, I was able to get through the muck, but the tires couldn’t gain any traction and spun mud all over.

If your riding includes the occasional off-road adventure, then I wouldn’t hesitate with the Terraforce. Just know the limits.

Wear

Mitas TerraForce Rear at about 5,000 miles. Notice the “cooling ribs” and zero chicken strips.

My first set of TerraForce tires had about 5,000 miles on them before I had a puncture in the rear tire. I could have plugged the hole, but decided instead to get a new set because I was heading on a long trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway and didn’t want any trouble. In my estimation, the tires had about 4,000 miles left in them. Do the math and I bet you can get a solid 10k out of the rear and perhaps 10k from the front. Your results may vary.

The front tire at about 5,000 miles. The tread blocks wear a bit unevenly.

However, the large blocks seem to wear unevenly in the front. Not bad, but still this could be the determining factor in replacing the tires and not tread depth. See photos.

Wide, Open Sipes

As I mentioned earlier, these grooves tend to cause vibration and some noise and that the big blocks tend to wear unevenly.

One unique feature of the TerraForce (and the Mitas SportForce) is the little cooling ribs at the base of the open grooves.

The plugged puncture in the thin part of the carcass. Wide grooves make the tire vulnerable.

The one thing to consider is having such open grooves makes the tire vulnerable to punctures. I had a rear flat while with street students, becasue a sharp stone penetrated the thinner part of the carcass inside the groove where the rubber is thinner. The rock was the size of a pea…small enough to get inside the groove, but big enough to puncture. Keep this in mind if you ride a lot on gravel roads with small stones.

www.mitas-moto.com

Sizes

See the chart for available sizes.

Go For It

The TerraForce are a great  90/10 tire that will likely suit your needs just fine for pavement and some off-road. Click this if you want to visit the Mitas website.

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