As another riding season comes upon us, I feel that it would be an appropriate time to pick up where I left off in my ramblings. Mods
Like clockwork, people buy racy fast new sportbikes as their first bike and then immediately jump into which mods they want to make. Motorcycle forums experience a steady flow of inquiries such as (which exhaust is best for my bike? What tires should I get? etc.). We all know that people ride for different reasons, and therefore have different priorities (looks vs. performance, performance vs. longevity, comfort/practicality vs. performance, etc.). Doing away with the stock undertail is one thing. But ultimately, no matter what your 'riding values' are, the best investment you're ever going to make is in yourself.
I know several guys on bone stock sportbikes who frequently outride guys who have spent thousands of dollars making their bikes look and sound cool. Ironically, the guys on the stock bikes never crash either. With that in mind I make the following suggestions:
1. Accept, right now, that you WILL fall
. You are not invincible just because you are riding a more capable vehicle. We've all been there, and some have been there several times. It may not be this bike, it may be your next. You may drop your bike, you may lowside it, you may highside it ( in which case the 'falling' part is more of a 'thrown off'), it may happen 10 years from now, it may happen tomorrow; who knows but one way or the other it is bound to happen. This is not meant to scare you, rather it is meant to prepare you. The better prepared you are for the fall, the more likely you are to make a quick recovery.
With your head in the right place, and with a thorough enough understanding of the bike and it's feedback, you can SIGNIFICANTLY reduce the odds; and with the right gear you can mininize the injuries you can sustain. This brings me to one of my favorite subjects...
Everyone has an opinion on it. Mine? Buy it. Wear it. Understand what is out there and what is worth investing in.
1. Helmets: They don't have to be $600 to do their job. My $220 Scorpion EXO 700 kept my noggin' protected when I landed on it after a highside. Your helmet should fit snugly but not cut off circulation. The padding will break in and become looser, you don't want your helmet flopping around on your head.
Helmets are rated using various systems, in the U.S. the two most popular are:
DOT - Department of Transportation: their standards are pretty lax. This is the bottom of the barrel for safety certifications in the U.S. SNELL
- is the higher standard for motorcycle ratings. They are a non-profit organization that conducts their own helmet crash tests and either certifies or rejects a helmet based on the results. They update their ratings system regularly. The sticker you see on the back of the helmet will usually indicate the most recent certification system that they've implemented or that your partiular model of helmet passed. I believe the most current is 2010 but feel free to explore their site.
Our friends across the pond also have their own rating systems as well: SHARP
and ECE 22.05 for the folks in the U.K
AS/NZSE & CRASH
for the folks in Australia.
Some people might argue that the more expensive a helmet, the better its safety ratings, but as we see when we do our research that isn't always the case. Yes, to an extent you get what you pay for but it pays to do your homework. Just because our helmets don't bear the CRASH sticker, doesn't mean you don't see them being tested in other countries.
2. Jackets and Pants: Cowhide and Kangaroo, and Carbolex and Cordura; there are a wealth of materials out there that manufacturers use to create the most cutting edge protective gear. Many people have asked my opinion on what is better, Kangaroo or Cowhide? My response is always the same: It depends on the quality of the material and how it was chemically treated and stitched together. Leather products are typically sold with an indication of thickness. 1.2 mm and up is pretty standard these days. The idea is to make sure that your leather is not so soft (as seen in a lot of cheap cruiser outlets) that it disintegrates on impact, but also not so stiff that it is miserable to wear. You also want to closely evaluate the zippers (YKK is the norm these days) and then make sure the seams are bound with durable, high quality (usually nylon) threading and that seams are, for the most part, not in impact zones. CE armor should come standard in the knees, elbows, shoulders, and back but the latter should not be confused for a "back protector". A back protector is an aftermarket item that is heavy duty and protects your spine. Your gear should fit, armor should stay in its respective place.
I try not to wear anything bulky because in the event of a crash it can snag, tear, or your armor could shift and render itself useless.
Carbolex and Cordura are the most common fabrics used for "Textile" apparel. They are usually made from nylon/polyester fabrics. Because those materials are woven (as opposed to cowhide that is not) they measure their strength/thickness of the weave in "Denier." A few years ago Fieldsheer introduced some Carbolex and Carboflex materials that they claim to be 70% the strength of leather. I bought a jacket made of this and I am much more confident in its abilities than that of a traditional cordura jacket. Since then I've seen Dainese and Rev'it introduce apparel that is made of their own respective weave and materials technology. Like leather I would suggest looking at the thickness of the weave, and the composition (500D - 1680D). Think of it as the difference between wearing a wind-breaker and a military-grade Kevlar vest.
**** Rider Skills
1. Track Days and Track Schools - Earlier I mentioned that the greatest investment you can make is in yourself. I think this pretty much goes without saying across a broad range of contexts in life, but particularly so in motorcycling. Given that you are not riding a horse, with a mind of its own to throw you off when it gets spooked; we must accept the fact that the majority of the time if we come off of the motorcycle, it is our own fault. It is the result of some error that was caused by inexperience, panic-input, or mechanical incompetence.
All of these are excellent reasons to sign up for a track day or a track school. The 400 dollars that you want to spend on that yoshimura slip-on could have been better spent on a track school (or 2-3 track days) that will give you 10 times the experience in one day than you would gather in one season of trial and error on the street.
These skills can, and will save your life one day. I would say that is well worth the investment.
2. Reading/Instructional Materials - If you can't afford a track day, a school, or some other hands-on experience, find some good books on the subject. A Twist of the Wrist (the series) books and DVDs by Keith Code, and Total Control by Lee Parks, are two that jump out in my mind.
They are quick and easy to read with a lot of analogies that will help you better understand some of the basic concepts of riding a sport bike.
3. Riding Mentors - Not everyone can afford a track day. This is understandable. You may not even feel comfortable signing up for a track day, this is understandable as well. Track days can be intimidating environments that may even be poorly regulated depending on the level of involvement of the track day organization. If you are one of these riders that feels more comfortable on the street, I highly encourage you to find a riding mentor. Finding a riding mentor is not always easy. Especially when we are talking about approaching a random stranger. However, there are ways to meet riders who are experienced, mature, and willing to give you some pointers. Find your local riding meetups and strike up a conversation. The proper mentor will be experienced, mature (when mentoring anyway), identify YOUR pace and make the necessary accommodations to ride with you. Not the other way around.
As I mentioned before, if your riding buddies or mentors have a knack for pushing you beyond your skill level, you're better off riding alone.
If you've made it all the way through my second installment, then my hat's off to ya. You are clearly somewhat invested in going about this the smart way and if you keep your mind set in that direction, you will develop your abilities in leaps and bounds compared to your buddies. You will most likely crash less and if you do, you will spend less on medical bills. Spring is upon us here in the States, which means the roads will be filled with new riders, stupid drivers, and all of the obstacles and land mines you can imagine. Empower yourselves with knowledge and keep the shiny side up!