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 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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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. 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.

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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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.

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. 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.

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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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.

Share your thoughts on knee dragging in the comments section.


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RITZ TV- Interview with author, Melissa Holbrook Pierson

In this episode of Riding In The Zone TV, I interview Melissa Holbrook Pierson, author of “The Perfect Vehicle” and “The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing“.

We talk about all manner of riding topics, including her love of riding, how she got into the sport, women and motorcycling, how she relates to motorcycling, and much more. Enjoy this thoughtful conversation.

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

Produced by Amherst Media

Episode Two: An interview with author and avid rider, Melissa Holbrook Pierson.


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RITZ TV- Interview with Moto-philosopher Adam Novitt

In this episode of Riding In The Zone TV, moto-philosopher and iconoclast Adam Novitt challenges established Motorcycling norms and beliefs. Adam is a former MSF instructor, vintage motorcycle restorer and collector, Moto-Giro competitor and one of the most interesting people I know.

We talk about all manner of riding topics, including traditions, trends, perspectives that challenge the world of motorcycling, and much more. Sit back and mull over these musings.

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

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Episode Three: An interview with motorcycle philosopher and avid rider, Adam Novitt.


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What you need to know about Throttle Blipping

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What is Throttle Blipping?

To execute smooth downshifts, it is important to match the engine speed with the road speed. You can do this by slowly easing out the clutch (after you slow).

But sometimes a rapid downshift is necessary. The problem is that releasing the clutch at the wrong time and too abruptly can lead to lurching re-engagement and a rear tire skid or “chirp”. This is where throttle blipping comes in.

Throttle Blipping is the term used to describe the rev-matching technique where the rider momentarily “blips” the throttle to increase engine rpm to better match the revs to the road speed when downshifting.

You’ve probably heard riders blip their throttle as they downshift while rolling to a stoplight. But, throttle blipping is best heard when a sport bike is decelerating and downshifting (and usually braking) from high RPM and high speed.

Listen to my friend Aaron as he demonstrates some of the quickest and smoothest throttle blipping I’ve heard (or is it the magic of modern sport bike electronics?). Listen at the end of the straight starting at 0:15:

Here’s another video showing my throttle hand as I blip the throttle. See 2:20. For comparison, I enter the same corner, but without blipping at 4:08.

Here’s another video showing me smoothly execute three non-blipping downshifts at around 4:15:

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

How to Blip a Throttle

The throttle blipping technique is done by quickly cracking the throttle open then closed (blip) while you simultaneously squeeze the clutch and click the gearshift lever. The point is to get engine RPM matched to the lower gear ratio before you release the clutch. The rapid blipping technique occurs within the span of about one-half second. The clutch is quickly squeezed and released as the transmission is shifted down and the right hand blips the throttle. This is repeated with every downshift, one gear at a time.

You can blip the throttle rapidly to reduce the time between gears, or you can be leisurely. High-performance riders blip the throttle very quickly when downshifting between gears as they set up for a corner. Street riders may choose to blip the throttle when downshifting. This is done more slowly when coming to a stop.

Blipping and braking smoothly takes practice.
Blipping and braking smoothly takes practice.

Brake and Blip

Oftentimes, you need to brake while downshifting, but trying to simultaneously brake while blipping is a difficult skill to master. The problem is that moving the right hand to blip also causes the braking fingers to move, which invariably changes brake pressure. Combining braking and throttle blipping can be done with less difficulty if you apply the front brake with your index and middle fingers while you close and open the throttle with your thumb and two outside fingers. Arching your brake fingers is also helpful in isolating throttle movements.

The point is to blip the throttle while keeping consistent brake lever pressure. This is most easily done when using very firm braking pressure , like when braking hard from high speeds where brake lever movements translate into relatively minor brake force changes.

Technology

Nowadays, you can get a motorcycle that will allow you to shift up and down without using the clutch. When downshifting, the bike’s electronics automatically blips the throttle perfectly as you downshift. Pretty slick.

Is Blipping Necessary?

Some motorcycles benefit from throttle blipping more than others. A big V-twin or single cylinder engine with a lot of engine braking can more easily lock the rear tire if the clutch isn’t released carefully, so blipping makes sense. But, for many bikes, especially ones with in-line 4 cylinder engines, it’s easy enough to quickly but gradually release the clutch  between downshifts. It’s what I do when I ride my Triumph Street Triple on the street or track (see video below). With the introduction of slipper clutches on many sportbikes these days, it’s even less necessary to blip the throttle.

Still, a lot of riders swear by throttle blipping. That’s fine, if you do it skillfully. I find that it just adds another thing to do while I’m screaming into turn 1 at over 100mph. Listen to my downshifts at the end of the long straightaway in this video from a recent track day, starting at 2:06 and then throughout the video. You can hear how I simply downshift and then ease out the clutch. It’s done quickly, but smoothly:

Engine Braking

One problem with throttle blipping is that it minimizes the stabilizing effect that comes from engine braking. Let me explain.

Engine braking (or rear brake force) causes the rear tire contact patch to drag behind the front tire’s contact patch. Think bungie cord. This pulls the rear of the bike in line with the front.

Blipping the throttle during downshifts minimizes engine braking compared to simply easing out the clutch. A little bit of engine braking still happens, it’s just not as much.

Practice

Throttle blipping can be a challenge to learn. But, here’s how.

Sit on your stationary bike with the engine idling and in neutral. Blip the throttle quickly (like a spasm) so the engine revs 600 to 1,000 RPM.

Next, simultaneously squeeze the clutch just as quickly as the throttle. Only squeeze the clutch in about half way. That’s enough to get the transmission smoothly into the next lowest gear.

The next part can’t be done while the bike is running, so shut it off and repeat what you just practiced, but this time press the shift lever down simultaneously with the throttle and clutch. All three controls are engaged at the same time, within the span of less than a half second.

Now go try it in a parking lot. I won’t be pretty at first, but stick with it. Good luck.

Do you blip your throttle? If so, or if not, tell us why?

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Mitas Sport Force + Tire Review

Photo- OTMPix.com

Originally published in Motorcyclist Magazine.

North American sport and sport touring riders have a relative newcomer joining the sport tire fray with the Mitas Sport Force+. It turns out that Mitas (pronounced me-tass) has been around for a while as a maker of agricultural tires, but also manufactures vintage, moped, scooter, flat track, speedway, street and off-road motorcycle tires. The Sport Force+ expands the Czech company’s presence into the modern sport tire category that includes the Michelin Pilot Power and Pirelli Rosso Corsa, among others.

Riding Impressions: Track
My first introduction to the Sport Force+ was on a damp, but drying racetrack at Palmer Motorsports Park in Central Massachusetts. The Mitas tires warmed up quickly and then stuck like glue. The tires helped the Z750S test mule carve the technical track with good precision and composure. The front tire profile provides predictable

Photo- OTMPix.com

response that allowed confident and precise corner entry. Turn-in was not terribly quick compared to a race tire, but just right for a street tire. The bike held its line while trailbraking into corners and stood up as expected when exiting hard on the gas. The moderately stiff carcass provides good feedback and great stability under hard braking.

The only negative I found was that feedback from the front tire became vague as I picked up the pace. Reaching knee dragging lean angles was not a problem, but it takes trust to get there. Once off the racetrack, these sticky the tires easily passed the universal “thumbnail test” for perceived grip potential. Curiously, the front tread area wraps far enough around the tire to leave a rather large chicken strip even after reaching knee-dragging lean angles.

Riding Impressions: Street
Maximum grip and stability are important features when riding hard on the racetrack, but a sport street tire must also provide predictable manners and a reasonably comfortable ride. In this area, Mitas manages to find a good balance. Grip is more than adequate for street riding and the tire rolls into corners consistently and predictably. The somewhat stiff carcass transfers a bit more harshness to the chassis than similar sport tires, but that rigidness also contributes to feel and stability when cornering and braking more aggressively.

Cornering characteristics are very good with moderate countersteering effort needed to initiate lean. A slight amount of oversteer happens at about 30 degrees of lean angle with the bike falling into the turn a tiny bit more than expected, but nothing of concern.

Cornering characteristics are very good with moderate countersteering effort needed to initiate lean. A slight amount of oversteer happens at about 30 degrees of lean angle with the bike falling into the turn a tiny bit more than expected, but nothing of concern.

Pricing is competitive, but not exceptionally cheap, so the reason to consider the Sport Force+ is for its ability to perform at a very high level in all conditions while also providing decent longevity. Our test set spent a half-day on the racetrack at a fast intermediate pace along with 1,200 street miles that included Deal’s Gap and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Considering the grip these tires provide, the lifespan is appearing to be surprisingly good. Of course, time will tell just how long they last.

Overall, the Mitas Sport Force + is a really good tire that compares well with the more recognizable sport tire brands. Sizing is strictly for 17 inch wheels and ranges from 110-120 fronts and 150-190 rears (You can find a 190 rear for sale HERE). Retail pricing is around $100.00 for fronts and $140.00 for a 180-size rear.


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Riding in the Zone Podcast Episode 1- Trailbraking

This episode is on trailbraking. What is it, what are the benefits and how do you do it?

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.

Also available to download on iTunes and SoundCloud

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Review: Racer High Speed Gloves

otmpix.com

I ride over 2,000 track miles every season. That means I spend a lot of time wearing road race gloves. I need high-performance gloves that are comfortable as well as protective.

Racer’s High Speed Glove is a premium CE certified, professional-level glove for road racers and serious track day riders. Racer says this is their best selling glove.

The glove is made of cowhide with TPU hard protectors on the knuckles and there is an egg-sized protector on the outside of the wrist. The knuckles are covered with rugged SuperFabric®.  There is a wide gauntlet closure and narrow wrist closure using Velcro.

From the Knox website.

The High Speed’s palms are made from kangaroo skin with a leather grip patch and two Knox® SPS palm sliders (SPS stands for “Scaphoid Protection System”). As you can guess by the name, these sliders are designed to prevent scaphoid injuries by allowing your hand to slide rather than grab the pavement and stretch or compress the wrist.

The pinkie and ring fingers are joined with a piece of leather to prevent what Racer calls “finger roll”. I’m not sure what that is, but I imagine connecting your two smallest fingers together makes a single sturdier digit.  My Heroic gloves have the same feature.

The gloves are comfortable to wear, taking exactly zero minutes to break in. The fingers are a bit stiff, but nothing concerning. The leather is perforated and vented at the gauntlet and a little bit along the fingers. Airflow seems adequate, since I never felt that my hands got particularly hot during the hottest days on track.

Gripes? I wish the gauntlet were 1/2″ longer so it better covers the sleeves of my leathers. Also, I would like some more protection on the back of my hand, just above the wrist. My Heroic SP-R Pro gloves have a simple rigid panel that seems to be a good idea. Maybe the High Speed glove could be a bit more protective in a few places, but I bet these would do a fine job keeping my paws in one piece in a crash.

Likes? I like a lot. I like the hard Knox scaphoid sliders and the slider on the outside of the wrist. I also like the fit and comfort. The Kangaroo hide is very soft, but protective. These gloves are comfortable enough to be used on the street.

You can get the High Speed in either Black or White/Black for $280.00. That sound expensive? Well, it’s the going rate for really good gloves. Besides, your hands are damn well worth it.


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Review: 2017 BMW R1200RS

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After spending the better part of two weeks in the saddle of a 2017 BMW R1200RS riding the Alps and Dolomites of Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Austria, I have developed a pretty good idea of what this bike is about.

The R1200RS is Beemer’s sport touring bike that uses the ubiquitous 1170cc boxer opposed twin motor. The RS is essentially the faired version of the R1200R naked roadster. Similar bikes include the Ninja 1000, FJ-09 and Suzuki GSX-S 1000F. Or even the Motus or Energica E-bike.

You can familiarize yourself more with the specs and details of the RS at the BMW Motorrad website.

Pricing

The base price of the RS is around $15,000, but you’ll quickly find yourself nearing or exceeding the $20k mark after adding the Premium package and luggage.

The bike I rented from Moto Mader in Oberentfeld, Switzerland was equipped with the Premium package that includes among other things, Dynamic Suspension Adjustment (DSA) and Gear Shift Assist. The BMW site says the bike retails for $21,125 as it was equipped on my tour. See the screen shots for the price breakdown and a list of goodies you get for the extra $3k.

Weight

At 520 pounds wet, the RS is on the heavy side. That’s the same as the Ninja 1000 but is almost 50 pounds heavier than the Suzuki GSX-S1000F. Add another 30-40 pounds for luggage (and mounting hardware) and you’ve got a pretty hefty bike. Heck, the touring RT version is 600 pounds with luggage, so it’s not that much lighter than the full-on RT tourer, which is arguably a better package, especially with a passenger.

Engine Performance

The R1200 motor is a tractor. It produces 125 hp at the crank and 92 ft pounds of torque, so it’s no slouch. And it pulls from under 2 grand (rpm). The motor vibrates a fair amount at highway speeds, but it’s character is quite appealing. It was happy motoring down the Autobahn at 100mph, as well as pulling us up the first gear uphill hairpins.

The fueling from the ride-by-wire throttle was spot on, except for a little bit of “hunting” on deceleration on long downhills. It’s not as bad as on my Tiger 800, but I did notice it.

Shifting is reasonably smooth and the Gear Shift Assist allows upshifts without using the clutch or rolling off the throttle. The system worked great from 3rd-to-4th, 4th-to-5th, and 5th-to-6th, but was too rough when shifting in the lower gears. Clutchless downshifts are also rough, because it does not include the auto-blip feature found on the S1000RR. Still, it was nice to rip through the upper gears like a roadracer.

Handling

One word describes the RS’s handling: stable. But that stability comes at the cost of agility. The RS handles sweeping turns, both smooth and bumpy quite well, but when the it comes to tight, slow hairpin turns the RS felt cumbersome.

And slow speed maneuvers had the bike feeling unbalanced. It took me a few days to get used to the slow speed manners of the RS, which is about 2 and a half days longer than it usually takes for me to adjust to a new bike. To be fair, most of the time I had my lovely wife, Caroline in the passenger seat, which added to the unbalanced slow speed feel.

One highlight is the ESA- (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) feature. The dynamic ESA really works and makes the premium package worth considering.

I selected the “dynamic” suspension setting using the handlebar toggle switch and managed to stumble through the complex menu to select the appropriate mode for having a passenger. The bike comes with the typical rider modes (Rain, Road, Dynamic and User) which are easily accessed by a button on the right control pod.

Two-Up Performance

As I mentioned, I spent most of my time with a passenger on board. The bike has plenty of power to handle two people and full luggage. But, the RS is not the best bike for passengering. In contrast, the RT felt perfectly balanced with Caroline on the back. Go with the RT if passengers are your thing.

Riding solo, the bike is much more predictable and nimble enough for me to rip down the Stella pass with confidence. See the video below. But, the F800GT I rode would be my bike of choice from the Beemer lineup for the tight stuff.

Comfort and Protection

I chose the RS over the naked R for the extra wind and weather protection. This proved to be a good move, since we experienced some rather epic rain over five consecutive days.

The wide and relatively flat windscreen provides a decent amount of wind protection. It has a high and low setting that created little buffeting at slower speeds but was very loud at highway speeds at the high setting. Keep in mind that I’m 5’9″, so your results may vary.

The seat is quite comfortable, allowing me to be squirm-free for most of the day. I did need relief after long days in the saddle, but overall, it’s quite good. Caroline was happy with the passenger seat.

The heated grips were terrific when we encountered torrential rain and 49 F temperatures for hours on end. I envied the RT riders who also had heated seats and greater protection from the Alpine rain.

Luggage

The $1,100 optional side cases are standard BMW units that open sideways. They hold plenty of stuff and are waterproof. The latches are a bit cheap-feeling and a couple of the other riders had trouble with their topcase locks failing. We had no such problems.

Speaking of topcases, the small Beemer item was fine. But, at over $900.00 (I assume that includes the mounting hardware) I’d look for a bit larger Givi or Shad box for a lot less money.

The small BMW tankbag is secured with straps and costs a lot of bucks for what it is. It’s not waterproof, but has an inner drawstring bag to help keep things semi-dry. My recommendation: Get a SW-Motech /Bags Connection bag that is much sturdier and uses a slick locking ring system.

Compared with the RT

I switched bikes with another rider on the tour to see what the RT is like in comparison to the RS. I had been dismayed with the RS’s cumbersome two-up handling and was a bit apprehensive about riding the even heavier RT.

But, to my surprise, the RT was much more balanced. Slow speed maneuvers and negotiating the tight hairpins is a breeze. And seeing the way the solo RT riders were hustling their bikes around shows just how capable the RT is with or without a passenger. At least one rider plans to buy an RT after they got home. I can see why.

Niggle

One little thing I found perplexing is that the self-cancelling turn signals stay on too long. Long enough that I didn’t think the bike had the feature. Come on BMW.

The Takeaway

The RS is a beautiful bike, especially in the blue and white color scheme. I like the way the exhaust looks and the asymmetric headlights are cool. The bike sounds great and the motor is powerful and grunty.

I could definitely grow to love the RS, but would likely opt for a lighter weight FJ-09 with it’s raucous motor and cheaper price.

I enjoyed my time on the RS, especially after I got a better feel for it’s awkward slow speed handling. The bike rails through fast and medium-fast sweepers and hustles down the highway comfortably. And even though it’s not great in the hairpins I managed fine. Here is a video of me on the RS descending the Gardena Pass in Italy.

Tell us your thoughts below.


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Review: Energica EGO Electric Motorcycle

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The future of motorcycles? The jury is still out. But, the technology keeps moving forward. Battery range and charging capabilities are improving and you can expect usable performance. The weight issue still needs to be addressed.

Thanks to Adam at Rocket Moto in Nashua, NH for the loan.


Here’s a narrated video to see and hear what the bike sounds like. Details and more thoughts are below. Enjoy.


A few details:

$25,000 base price, $32,600 as tested – Price Reduced from original cost of $40k as tested!

MOTOR– Permanent Magnet AC, Oil Cooled

MAX SPEED- Limited at 240 km/h (149mph)

HORSEPOWER– about 135 hp

WEIGHT– About 580 pounds

TORQUE- 195 Nm (143 ft lbs) from 0 to 4700 rpm

RIDING MODES- 4 Riding Modes: Standard, Eco, Rain, Sport 1)
4 Regenerative Maps: Low, Medium, High, Off

PARK ASSISTANT- Reverse and Forward (1.74 mph Max Speed)

BATTERY CAPACITY-11.7 kWh

LIFE- 1200 Cycles @ 80% Capacity (100% DOD)

WARRANTY- 3 years / 50.000 km

RECHARGE- 3.5 h (0-100% Soc) Mode 2 or 3 Charge (220), 8 hours using 110,
30 min (0-85% Soc) Mode 4 Dc Fast Charge

The Energica website.


Street Tested

The EGO is in its element on the sweeping, twisting rural roads near my home in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. The EGO may have felt awkward and even a bit slow on the racetrack, but it comes into its own at street speeds.

Power

The Energica rips! At least it does up to about 80mph. After that it starts to flatten out significantly. But you’ll get to 80 very rapidly with all 143 foot pounds of torque on tap from the get-go. The motor spins up quickly and can take your breath away at first. Thankfully, the ride-by-wire throttle is impeccably controllable. The rush is amplified by the almost angry whistling sound that builds to a crescendo.  It’s hard not to notice the contrast of speed and sound coming from a bike that a moment ago sat in total silence.

Rider Modes

The EGO has 4 rider modes:

  • Eco- This mode neuters the power to the equivalent of a 500 Ninja and limits speed to just over 55mph. That may sound sucky, but I would be glad to have it when there is no power supply nearby and I still have miles to go to get to one. Eco mode would be absolutely fine for any city or suburban riding, with plenty of git up and go. Just be sure to witch to Standard , Wet or Sport modes before hitting the highway.
  • Standard- Now we’re talkin’. Twist the grip in this mode and hang on. The bike sharply snaps to attention, but is quite controllable as the power builds in a linear manner.
  • Wet- From what I can tell, Wet mode is a softer sibling of Standard mode. It still jumps forwad nicely, but the torque seems slower to build. Sounds like a good thing to have in rainy weather.
  • Sport- Gitty Up! This mode is the E-ticket ride. Sport mode seems more urgent and angry compared with Standard mode. Like the other modes, power still flattens out at about 85mph. No problem. The rush of getting there is enough excitement for most.

Regenerative Modes (Engine Braking)

There are 4 modes to choose from that controls the amount of regenerative engine braking the bike produces.

  • High- Close the throttle all the way in this mode and you’re launched forward. The blue lights on the instrument cluster tell you that you’re recharging the battery when this abrupt deceleration occurs. That’s good, but I can envision times when having that much engine braking could cause loss of rear tire grip, so it’s smart to select a softer setting in the rain or on gravel. That said, It’s a great setting for helping to control speed on steep hills with hairpin curves thrown in. Uphill hairpins are better handled with the Low mode.
  • Medium- This mode is a good compromise between charging your battery and abrupt deceleration. his mode feels most like a conventional 2 cylinder internal combustion motorcycle.
  • Low- This mode was great on tight uphill hairpins where gravity already provides enough force to slow the bike. This mode feels most like a conventional 4 cylinder internal combustion motorcycle.
  • Off- You can turn off the regenerative feature, which would be my choice for slippery surfaces where it’s better to rely on the brakes to manage traction.

Brakes

What’s to say, except Brembo makes the best brakes out there. It’s good to have these babies on board to slow down this relatively heavy, fast machine. Feel is good and controllable. That is all.

Handling

Handling on the street is great. It’s stable and precise with no tendency to stand up mid-corner and when trailbraking. Keep the tire pressures at the 42/42 and you’ll be happy.

Ergonomics

The riding position is sporty like a small 1990s Ninja ZX-11. Or maybe a cross between a ZX-11 and my old 2005 ZX636. Yeah, that’s it. The bars are low and the pegs are high. The seat is hard, but not too bad for the amount of time and riding distance the battery will afford. It feels compact with the small windscreen that deflects wind only away from your mid-chest.

Battery Life

One thing you’ll have to get used to is energy management. Think about having a bike with a 2-gallon gas tank and then imagine not having any gas stations readily available. And then imagine needing hours to fuel the bike. That’s what you need to think about when you ride an electric motorcycle.

3.5 h (0-100% Soc) Mode 2 or 3 Charge (220), 8 hours using 110-  You can recharge if you carry the somewhat heavy charging cord with you all the time and can find an available 220 power outlet while you’re putting a burger in your pie hole at some rural lunch spot. But don’t rush because with a 220 charge, it takes 3.5 hours to get a full zap. Normal 110 takes 8 hours!

30 min (0-85% Soc) Mode 4 Dc Fast Charge- If most of your riding is in suburbia where you have Tesla charging stations hanging around, you can get recharged to 85% in about 30 minutes. Unfortunately, the are no Fast charging stations where I ride, so I’d need to carefully plan where to turn around to make sure I can make it home.

The range is claimed to be about 100 miles (120 on Eco mode). I did about 70 miles and used up 70% of the battery, so maybe that’s fairly accurate. To be fair, I did several full-throttle bursts and only a little Eco mode riding.

The Nutshell

I really enjoyed my day on the Energica. The more I rode it the more I like it. My neck and wrists were tired after using up 80% of the battery, but the buttery smooth power offset that discomfort. It’s a lot of jingle, but if you want a really cool looking bike that is unique and a ball to ride, maybe the Energica will charge you up.

Updates

Energica reduced the cost of the EGO significantly since I tested this bike. The base price is now $25k with the premium Ohlins suspension, carbon kit and OZ wheels upping the price to $32,600. Still a lot of money, but not out of line with other premium models still being propelled by internal combustion engines.

Also, Energica announced that they will be the sole supplier for the upcoming FIM Moto-e World Cup starting in 2019.

Track Tested

I was able to do a couple of laps on the Energica Ego. The bike is a terrific street bike, but felt heavy at track speeds. Part of the issue was that I lowered the tire pressures to a typical 30-rear/30-front and the bike didn’t like it. The bike handled better with 35 pounds, but would have been even better with the full street pressures that would better support the weight.

Also, I apparently used up enough juice to limit the top speed from the 110 mph of the first session to a maximum of about 80 mph during the second session. A recharge is needed to keep access to the top speed.

Besides that, the bike was a hoot to ride. Take a ride with me:

 


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Video Lesson: How to Manage Downhill Turns

IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR THE ENERGICA REVIEW, CLICK HERE. SORRY FOR THE MESS UP.

There is nothing like video to help demonstrate cornering techniques. Ride along with me as I explain cornering and the nuances of managing a downhill turn, including trailbraking.

This is the sort of cornering techniques we work on during on-street training where student hear my comments in real-time using Bluetooth communicators. If you’re in the Northeast, consider signing up for a private training day or a group training tour. I bet I can help you with your cornering.

-Ken-

I have a lot of other videos on my YouTube channel.

Share you thoughts and comments below.


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Video Lesson: Cornering Finesse

There is nothing like video to help demonstrate cornering techniques. Ride along with me as I explain cornering and show some of the nuances of body position, cornering lines, countersteering and visual skills.

This is the sort of cornering detail we work on during on-street training where student hear my comments in real-time using Bluetooth communicators. If you’re in the Northeast, consider signing up for a private training day or a group training tour. I bet I can help you with your cornering.

-Ken-

I have a lot of other videos on my YouTube channel.

Share you thoughts and comments below.


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Long-Term Review: 2016 Triumph Tiger 800 XRx

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2016 Triumph Tiger 800XRx
2016 Triumph Tiger 800XRx

The 2016 Triumph Tiger 800 XRx has spent this past summer as my instructor bike (both on-street and off-road), sport tourer and general go-to machine. After putting almost 9,000 miles on the ODO since March, I can now offer an in-depth review of this bike.

As a contributor to Motorcyclist Magazine and lead instructor at Tony’s Track Days, I have the opportunity to ride lots of different motorcycles. However, I get only a short amount of time in the saddle of these bikes.

During a on-day press launch or track session I get immediate impressions of power delivery, suspension compliance, fit and finish and ergonomics, but that’s about it. After putting 9k on the Tiger in all sorts of conditions I can share a comprehensive review.

Why the Tiger?

dual-sport-static The Tiger is versatile! It is capable of crossing the country, commuting, scratching around at a track day and riding on some pretty gnarly dirt roads and trails. While the 800 is a Swiss army knife, it is a compromise. The Tiger is a fun street bike that can keep up with most supersport bikes in the hands of a good rider at reasonable speeds. It is also a comfortable traveler that can handle a decent load of luggage and even a passenger.

As an off-road mount, it is best suited to mostly graded fire roads, but is surprisingly capable managing rocky trails. As with all heavy ADV bikes, you’ve got to be smart about what you’re getting into. I tackled a rather steep and rocky bit of single track trail that I handle easily with my KLX250s, but was a handful on the Tiger. I made it, but it coulda been ugly if I had fallen, since I was alone with no cell service.

The Tiger encourages discovery. The Tiger expands the number of places I can ride, by a huge margin. The 800 is totally at home navigating the many unimproved roads and tight paved byways that snake through Western Massachusetts where I live. I can ride 100 miles of mostly dirt roads and stay within one hour of my house! Lucky me.

There are other machines that also fit the bill; the BMW F800GS, Kawasaki KLR, the super-sized BMW R1200 GS or the new and awesome 2016 Tiger 1200 Explorer.  I chose the Tiger 800 for it’s features, lighter weight and reasonable.

Why the Roadie Version and not the XCx?

Mitas-poseI debated getting the more off-road worthy, spoke wheeled and taller XCx. But, I opted for the Road version (XRx) because I thought the bike would be spending 90% of its time on pavement. I also knew that the XR would be more than capable of the dirty riding I planned to tackle.

Since I am spending more time off-road than I expected, I probably should have gone with the XC. The XC is perfectly capable of long street miles and more importantly, it comes with adjustable WP suspension. Also, the XC comes with many of the things I’m ending up buying for the XR anyway, including engine, sump and radiator guards. Also, the spoked wheels and the 21 inch front wheel are more off-road friendly and more durable. Although, I’m happy to not have tube tires.

Here’s a long video review of the Tiger.


Let’s break down the review into components.

Engine

I love the power characteristics of the three-cylinder motor (based on the Street Triple motor). It has a nice combination of spunk and character with just the right kind and amount of vibration that tells you you’re straddling a machine. The vibes are never annoying. As a matter of fact, the bike is surprisingly smooth…smoother than my 2012 Street Triple R.

The whistling/snarling sound of the motor is unique. While an aftermarket exhaust will decrease weight and make for a nice sonic impression, I am perfectly happy with the way the stocker looks and sounds. Besides, I’m a proponent of quiet exhausts and I have better things to spend my money on. Read about all the accessories I put on the Tiger.

The triple is a terrific street engine, but it’s not so well suited as an off-road motor. It’s a bit too RPM-needy compared to a twin, like a F800GS. While the motor is easily controllable, it doesn’t exactly plod along the way you need an off-road motor to do from time to time. I found the Explorer 1200 to be better at slow speed plodding than the 800, partly because the ample torque was always on tap, whereas the 800 needs some revs. I’ve gotten used to it, but it is the one area where a BMW might be a better choice.

The engine has given me zero trouble, and if my Striple is any indicator, it will be reliable as a stone.

Power Delivery

As far as power delivery goes, the ride-by-wire throttle is super-light and takes some getting used to. When I first got the bike, I struggled to calibrate my right hand to keep the throttle steady. I’ve since learned to manage the sensitive throttle just fine, but I wish there was a simple way to increase throttle tube resistance.

Part of the reason the light throttle isn’t a big problem is because the fueling is very good. One of my pet peeves is snatchy fueling and this is a big reason why I rejected the FJ-09 as a contender. One area where the Tiger’s fueling falls short is when descending long hills, the fueling “hunts” while decelerating under engine braking. It’s not that bad, but it annoys me.

The Tiger comes with Traction Control (TTC) that can be set to either “Road”, “Off-Road” or “Off”. Road mode enables full TTC, whereas Off-Road mode allows more wheel slip. Sometimes even the Off-Road TC can intervene too much when climbing rocky or washboard surfaces. Thankfully you can turn it off. See more about Rider Modes below.

Clutch and Transmission

The clutch is light and progressive for easy launches and the transmission is flawless (it is sourced from the Daytona). I can launch smoothly from a stop and perform clutchless upshifts with ease. The ratios are just fine for street riding with the engine spinning around 5k in top gear at highway speeds, allowing plenty of zip when accelerating. The clutch lever is adjustable and neutral is easy to find. Not much more to say.

Brakes

The twin piston Nissin brakes are nothing special. They aren’t radial mount 4 piston units found on higher end machines like the Street Triple R, so they don’t provide exceptional feel and aren’t terribly powerful, but they don’t need to be. Instead, they are well-suited for the mission of slowing a 500 pound ADV bike with predictability and control.

The Tiger comes with ABS that can be set to either “Road”, “Off-Road” or “Off”. Road mode enables full front and rear ABS, whereas Off-Road mode disables ABS at the rear wheel and allows more wheel slip in the front. I don’t fully disable ABS. I like ABS.

The front brake lever is adjustable for reach and of course you can rotate the perch on the tubular handlebar to get the right angle for your primary use. I position my lever slightly low for street riding (sitting), but it ends up being a bit too high when standing off-road.

The rear brake has decent power and control and the pedal has a step up on the inner edge to allow easy use when standing up. Just rotate your right foot inward (pigeon toe) to use the tab.

Foot Pegs

The Metzeler Tourance Next tires did okay on the track.
The Tiger did great on the track, especially after I took off the peg feelers.

The foot pegs are positioned perfectly for sitting and standing. The peg size is broad enough for reasonable comfort and stability when standing. The rubber inserts can be removed by simply pulling them off. This helps for off-road conditions where you need the metal serrated teeth to grip into your boot soles. Getting them back on takes some fussing.

The Tiger has one strange design flaw. Surprisingly, the passenger pegs are mounted to frame brackets that are welded to the non-removable subframe. This means that a tipover or crash could break the bracket and ruin the whole frame. The Explorer 1200 has bolt-on passenger peg brackets.

The pegs are located low enough for all sensible street riding, but are a bit low for more extreme cornering. I rode the Tiger at a track day at Loudon and after a few sessions of grinding the peg feelers, I removed them.

Suspension

The forks are the weak link in this bike. As I mentioned earlier, I really wish I had the adjustable WP suspension. It’s not that the non-adjustable upside down Showa forks are lousy, it’s just that I’m a bit of a suspension princess and non-compliant suspension really annoys me.

Yankee Beemers grass Moto-Gymkhana
Yankee Beemers grass Moto-Gymkhana

The bike manages bumpy roads and off-road surfaces just fine and is always stable, in control, and handles nicely in corners. So, what’s the problem? Well, the forks tend to jackhammer over ripples and small bumps on smooth pavement. Either the forks have a lot of static friction (Stiction) or the compression damping is too high to allow the forks to respond to these small irregularities.

Off-road, the suspension is great. It manages sharp rocks fine at a moderate pace and handles front wheel lofting, but expect serious bottoming if you plan to do any sweet jumps. At the Yankee Beemers Rally, I participated in the grass Moto-Gymkhana where the fast perimeter course included a jump and the inevitible landing. Also, the landing off the teeter totter resulted in significant seismic activity.

Rider Modes

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-9-49-41-amI mentioned ABS and TC settings above, but there are also Power Delivery (MAP) Modes to discuss. The Tiger has 4 MAP Modes: Rain, Road, Sport and Off-Road. See the pages from the Owner’s Manual on the right for details about how they differ.

To change various modes you have to reach to press the “M” button on the dash and then close the throttle and squeeze the clutch for it to take. FYI, the off-road mode will revert back to the last road mode if you turn off the key, which is why I often shut off the bike using the kill switch if I’m going to stop for a minute to, say, take a photo.

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-9-49-51-amFrankly, I could do without the MAP modes. Sure, there is a slight difference between each mode, but it’s subtle. I tend to keep the bike in Road Mode most of the time, even in the rain, and the Off-road MAP seems no different than the Road MAP. The fueling on the Tiger is so well sorted that I find it unnecessary to switch to a “softer” setting.

And the “Sport” MAP is not really that much sharper than the road mode. I would not consider the base XR, because I couldn’t do without adjustable/switchable TC for off-road riding.

Comfort

The Tiger features the ideal comfort package; high tubular handlebars that are adjustable for angle and height; a “Comfort” seat that is one of the best I’ve used; great legroom. Yet, I’ve never had more trouble being comfortable on a motorcycle.The thing is that I get a nasty cramp between my shoulder blades almost immediately.

I added Rox risers, rotated the bars in every conceivable way, with no improvement. It was only recently that I determined that it is my personal anatomy to blame. Not only is my hunchback posture a likely problem, but also I broke my collarbone last year which seems to have messed up my symmetry enough to cause this cramping. The cure is to stretch the pecs to regain the symmetry and strengthen my upper back. Stay tuned.

When standing, the side panels at the rear/bottom of the tank cause my knees to splay out more than I like. This causes a slight imbalance that I have to make up for with my arms and back, which is tiring after about 6 or 8 miles of rough off-road terrain. The Explorer 1200 is better because the area where the seat meets the tank is narrower.

The Tiger 800 is a tall bike. Its adjustable seat height is 33″ at its low setting and 33.8 ” at the higher setting. (a Low seat version is available with a range of 31.1″ and 31.9″). I am 5′ 9″ with a 32″ inseam and am able to touch with both feet touching.

Miscellaneous

Electronic cruise control is cool. It’s useful on highway trips and when I want to zip a vent with my right hand without stopping. However, I don’t use it as much as I thought I would. It’s very easy to use and works perfectly, though. Pro Tip: use the rear brake to disengage the cruise control to avoid the abrupt deceleration that occurs if you twist the throttle off to shut it off.

The Adjustable Windscreen works really well for me. Some people complain that it wobbles a lot and doesn’t manage wind as well as they’d like. I have no problems at all with the stocker. The screen is moderately adjustable, but not too much, so I added an adjustable MRA Spoiler blade, which makes the stock shield more versatile.

Accessories and Luggage

I wrote an article on accessorizing the Tiger. Read it Here.

Tires

tiger-mitas-oem
Mitas 50/50 tire on top. Metzeler 90/10 tire on bottom.

The stock Metzeler Tourance Next tires are fine for most people. I did a track day on them and they stuck, but delivered very little feel. This is expected because a 90/10 tire is designed to handle the rigors of rocks and such and is typically stiff with less emphasis on pavement performance.

For the last 6,000 miles, I’ve been rocking the 50/50 Mitas E-07. I wrote a review of the Mitas E-07 50/50 tires. In a nutshell, these tires are great and allow me to go places I never thought I could. For the Tiger Roadie, order the 110 front tire to avoid the ridiculous oversteer. Order the standard (not Dakar) version for the 800.

How is it to Ride?

Slow speed Maneuvers

The Tiger is mostly easy to ride but is cumbersome at a standstill. Once you get the bike rolling at about 5 mph, then all is well, but as soon as you go below that speed, the bike turns into an awkward, top heavy beast. Unlike ADV bikes with a lower center of gravity, the Tiger carries it’s weight up high. The engine is mounted high to give ground clearance. Mounting the 5.3 gallon fuel tank on top of that doesn’t help. This all makes for a bike that wants to topple over