Sunday, March 28, 2010

Positives = Negatives!

In motorcycling most all positives have their own group of negatives. Here's an example. If you're practicing (like you should be) soon you will start noticing just how fast you can get your bike stopped. In fact you should be able to stop in half the distance of a car and even less than that for a truck. Now that's a major positive right? At least until that plumbing truck behind punts you into the county! This also illustrates the importance of perfect practice. As you practice your hard stops. Are you stopping at different speeds? Are you down shifting to first? Better be. Are you checking your mirrors? I sure hope so. Another example of positives = negatives. Your the lead vehicle at a light. Light turns green ya blow that seen! Right? I mean its easy. Your bike weighs so much less than all the cars that surround you That she'll pull away like the all new F-35 Raptor. A major positive! Except of course when you consider that guy. what guy am I referring to? The same guy that we've all been. The one that at this very moment is careening towards a traffic light near you. And though he's approaching that light way to fast his attention is not on the traffic that's waiting to cross his path. No its locked solid on the traffic light its self. It just turned yellow I can make it. Ok its red. But its only been red for a second! I've got a date! I'm late for work! I've got to get to court! See now you're on a vehicle that easily puts you in harm's way. So please, Take that extra second or even two to look for that guy. Remember a green light is nothing more than an invitation. So look twice and save a life. I'm talking about yours.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Winter/Summer, Street and Track... The Gear That's Right for You.

I often say "There's never been a better time to get into motorcycles!" No matter what type of riding or motorcycles you are into, the selection is huge. Well the same goes for gear. Whether you're a track junkie or a weekend warrior, a main street cruiser or an off-road explorer, there is plenty of selection for you.

The full-face helmet, through modern materials and technology (tested on racetracks, wind tunnels and labs around the world) has become a phenomenal piece of safety gear. The full-face definitely provides the most protection in the event of a crash. With anti fog lenses, better ventilation and aerodynamic wings these helmets are more comfortable to wear.

The modular helmet, or flip face, is probably the most convenient with the ability to flip up the entire front of the helmet. This is a really nice feature when it comes to slow speed operation on hot days or communicating with friends. Half shells are the smallest, lightest, and easiest to wear and there are plenty of designs and weights to choose from.

Virtually every type can be found with a retractable sunshade that hides in the top of the helmet. Super cool...Shark even offers a modular in which the chin bar opens and rotates over the top to become an aerodynamic hump on the back of the helmet. Also very cool...

With jackets, there's a plethora of options available as well. Winter coats with removable thermal liners and venting, summer jackets made with mesh and padding so you're protected yet the air passes right through. Both can be found with removable rain liners. These can sometimes be removed and stashed on the bike for when you're caught in the unexpected rain shower. And of course there's still leather, which is as popular as ever.

When gloves and boots are considered, remember that fit and comfort are of high importance. As with all gear, it is important to buy gloves and boots made specifically for riding. Glove will be made with pre-curved fingers and both gloves and boots will be reinforced in the areas that count.

Few riders get to experience the benefit riding pants bring to the table. Most of us figure our jeans work just fine, and for the most part they do. But riding pants, regardless of their material, will make a long ride much more enjoyable. And of course you have the added protection in the case of a fall.

Eye protection is crucial for those of you that don't wear a full-face helmet. I mean just keeping the wind out of your eyes makes the ride so much more enjoyable, and safer as well.

You can sometimes save money by ordering off the web, which is good. The negative is that if it doesn't fit well or look right they'll usually tack on a 20% restocking fee and shipping costs for returns. Wherever you buy, be sure to choose the gear that you love. If you choose gear because the salesman says it's the best, or your wife likes the way it looks on you it might remain in your closet after the new wears off...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Power of the Look

Motorcycles gravitate to where we look. It's a bit of a phenomenon, but a fact none the less. It is also sometimes referred to as target fixation. Target fixation can be a positive, but usually it is a negative because our natural reaction is to look at what we are trying to avoid. Whether it's a four door sedan or a 2 x 6 full of nails, as we stare at an object our chances of hitting it skyrocket.

I remember reading somewhere that breaking target fixation can be somewhat like pulling velcro apart or ripping off a band-aid. Quick and very deliberate. As you approach an object at speed your adrenaline grows and it becomes progressively harder to look away. Trying to build a habit of staring at your escape path or flat out refusing to look at what you're trying to avoid is a major positive. Especially when that flatbed ford pulls out in front of you, sees you at the last minute, and slams on the brakes leaving only a 4 foot escape path between him and the curb.

The look can also help in turning. For instance, decreasing radius corners have a tendency to sneak up on us and leave us running out of pavement. Increasing head turn and pressing on the inside handgrip (counter-steering) can sharpen that turn and send you safely on your way...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Counter Steering Dynamics and Execution

Want to go right? Press right!
Want to go left? Press left!

I get a lot of folks through our safety class, and a large amount of those that ride have never noticed counter steering. I use the word noticed because counter steering is something we learned back when we began to ride a bicycle. Problem is, it's such a small movement of the bars that it is easy to miss. We tell ourselves it's our upper body lean that creates the direction change, and therein lies the problem...Trying to use your upper body to change direction actually slows your ability to swerve or turn.

Once again, it is a very small movement of the bars, and it requires time. The dynamics involved are such that pressing forward on the right handgrip will turn the bar to the left. This creates the lean to the right, and the lean is what makes us turn. Once practiced and then mastered, you'll learn the value of knowing this technique. You'll also learn how powerful it is.

Continuous practice of the counter steering process is crucial because your mind will tell you to press the opposite direction at first. That train of thought needs to be broken. Also, it requires a great deal of finesse. Start out in an empty parking lot, and practice until it becomes natural. Then, bring it to the street when traffic is light and practice by using it to change lanes or avoid debris in the road. Ideally it should become so natural that when the inevitable happens, your swerve should start before your thought process does.

You should also learn that during a corner, gently increasing pressure on the inside handgrip will tighten your line or help you to corner sharper. Remember that your upper body for a swerve should remain upright and independent of motorcycle lean. Let that bike do all the moving around underneath you. After all, that's what bikes do...

Now press right and go right.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Modifying Pros and Cons

As some of you probably know, I ride a ZX-10R, and she is my baby! We met in the spring of 05. She was mine the very next day. Over the years I've bought a few odds and ends to help her appearance, but now I'm about to get serious. Phase II is all about performance:

Racefit Exhaust $800
Power Commander $350
BMC Race Filter $90
Velocity Stacks $250
Brisk Plugs $80
Pro Flo Reusable Oil Filter with Coder $100
Heat Tape for Header $80
New Chain $170
Front Sprocket $40
Rear Sprocket $80
Bragging rights along with a well-stroked ego $Priceless!

Upon completion, my kitten will purr at idle. She'll have an ominous growl at 6000 RPM, and well she'll flat out scream anywhere above 8... Another advantage is the deep loud exhaust note and the consistent notification to other motorists of my whereabouts. Loud pipes save lives, right?

In the words of Ed Bargy at my son's race school..."All a complete waste of money."

The funny thing is that I agree with him, albeit for different reasons. See, Ed elaborated that modern day sportbikes are an absolute marvel in speed and control, and that some upgrades to the suspension would further enable the pilot to exploit the power, balance, and control that comes stock on these awesome bikes. I think Ed Bargy has spent most of his life involved in racing at some level or he would know.

Unfortunately, Ed and I are on a different page. Maybe like a different book! As a matter of fact, as I wrote that part about exploiting the power that comes stock on modern motorcycles, I could hear a certain ZX-10R that was sitting quietly across the store from me start to snicker...Usually she is sweet but sometimes she's just plain mean...

One thing I have learned over multiple visits to the track is that my skill, confidence and ability to control panic and knee-jerk reactions grows exponentially with every trackday. This helps both in avoiding crashes on the street and being faster on the track.

So, for the $2040 I'm going to spend on the outright performance on a bike that already out-performs me by tenfold, I could have an additional 15 full trackdays. Now, the skills that I would build through 15 extra days at the track would most likely not be enough to exploit a 163 HP machine, but the stress-relief and enjoyment would be immeasurable...Back to loud pipes save lives. I know this to be true. However, they also alert police officers to your whereabouts and what you are up to.

Now, if I could just take my own advice...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Front or Back, Which One is Best?

One of the most important parts of riding is the building of proper habits...

And using both brakes for every stop is one way of achieving this. When we use both brakes, not only are we creating good riding habits, but we are also learning what each brake is capable of. How much play is in the lever? How much pressure should be used for each individual stop? How is the application of each brake modified from leisurely stops to hard stops?

Knowing each brake inside and out is crucial when the city street starts throwing you the curve ball. For instance, the 70 mph-screaming in your helmet-I don't want to die-hard-stop calls for a perfect balance between a serious and progressive pull on the front lever and enough finesse to keep the front wheel from locking up. You're probably going to lock the rear wheel, which is ok as long as you don't release it. If the rear brake locks, the bike will feel a little squirrely. Don't allow this to take your attention off what is important: 1. the front brake 2. keeping your eyes locked solid on your escape route or the place with the most stopping room. Continuous practice of hard stops at different speeds will help you to get this right so it's there when you need it.

However, knowing the rear brake is equally important in other situations, such as driving off the road at speed. In the dirt, pumping the rear brake as you down shift seems to be the best approach. I've personally driven off the track at Jennings GP at turn one at over 100 mph twice, and this technique saved me from going down both times.

The type of bike you ride plays into this as well. If you ride a big cruiser you're going to get as much as 30% of total stopping ability from your rear brake. Practice will enable you to account for this during your stops. With sportbikes, however, your rear brake is more of a stabilizer during hard stops and should be used as such. Either way, keeping your eyes up and on your escape path is crucial. The harder you stop the harder it is to keep your eyes up. So practice!

Finally, don't forget your downshift. Getting stopped in time is only part of the battle. If that step van behind you can't get stopped (and he probably can't) you'll need to get out of his way. This won't happen if you're stopped in 4th gear or sitting in neutral.

So, use both brakes and downshift to 1st gear during all stops. And practice.