Category Archives: biking

Moto-Myths 3: You are going to Crash

People often say:

“There are two types of riders in the world, those who have crashed and those who will crash.”

“You’re going to crash a few times as you learn to ride.”

Crashing (or even just dropping your bike while learning to ride) is NOT inevitable. You don’t have-to crash. Especially if you ride smart (start off with an MSF class, start with a smaller lighter bike, and practice your skills regularly)… The danger of this moto-myth is that it sets people’s expectations too low.

The Facts – Single Vehicle Crashes

When most people talk about “crashing” a bike they’re really talking about single vehicle accidents. Taking a turn too fast, hitting the brakes too hard, etc. These single vehicle accidents account for 25% of all motorcycle related accidents (according to the old Hurt Report, the last major study of motorcycle accidents, which is a bit dated, but still relevant). And out of these 25%, weather, mechanical malfunctions, and road conditions, were NOT a significant cause of the accidents. In other words, “Why do 25% of riders crash without anyone hitting them?” The answer is rider error. The lesson is, you don’t have-to crash. And your expectation should be that you should develop your riding skills, hone them and continually improve them so that you do not contribute to this 25%

Car-Bike Accidents

The other 75% of the motorcycle accidents have to do mainly with passenger cars. Anyone who has ridden a bike or scooter around the city knows that (although the majority of drivers are relatively careful around bikes) some drivers are careless and dangerous to be near. You can’t do anything about that right? Wrong. The statistics show that although motorcycles may not be the cause of the accidents with cars, rider experience and caution can improve one’s chances significantly.

As a result, “Motorcycle riders between the ages of 16 and 24 are significantly overrepresented in accidents…” Riders between 30 and 50 are underrepresented. Also, here’s the kicker: “92% [of those in motorcycle accidents] were self-taught or learned from family or friends.

Some more statistics: (cut and pasted from the Hurt report summary)

  • More than half of the accident-involved motorcycle riders had less than 5 months experience on the accident motorcycle (meaning on that particular bike even if they’ve been riding longer)
  • Motorcycle riders in these accidents showed significant collision avoidance problems. Most riders would overbrake and skid the rear wheel, and underbrake the front wheel greatly reducing collision avoidance deceleration. The ability to countersteer and swerve was essentially absent.
  • Motorcycle riders with previous recent traffic citations and accidents are overrepresented in the accident data.

So you don’t have to crash. Learn to steer and control your bike. If you’ve never taken any classes, and have been riding for while, maybe go for the advanced rider course.

Having said all that, you can learn a great deal from crashes.  Racers crash on the track all the time as they push their bikes (and their skills) to the limit – and usually they get right up and walk away or start their bikes up and keep going.  But just the way you don’t need to have a life-threatening disease in order to be a good physician…you don’t necessarily need to crash in order to learn some important lessons about riding.  Of course, you can’t always control “accidents” (otherwise they wouldn’t be called accidents) but you don’t have to accept them as inevitable either.  Cheers!

Top 5 Cold Riding Tips

It’s that time of year that separates the recreational rider from the die-hards. Personally I don’t feel right on the bike after just a few days of not-riding, I can’t imagine what it’s like going through the entire winter without it. I actually hate cleaning the bike in the cold after riding it on wet roads, but if the streets are reasonably dry I’m out there… So how do we winter-bikers do it? Here are my top 5 tips for riding in the cold – check it out and give us your top tips in the comments section!

#1 – Wind Proof Parka

Cold weather riding is all about cutting the wind. Look at the gear people wear in Antartica, it’s not that bulky, you don’t see wool coats and scarves, instead you see bright colored parkas and active-wear. Throw a wind-proof parka (NorthFace or Columbia, LL Bean, etc) over your leather jacket. There’s no need to buy expensive winter-riding jackets if your summer jacket is comfortable enough to wear under a parka. If you don’t have a comfortable hot-weather jacket with CE rated protection, then buy one in the winter (on sale) and wear it under a shell type jacket. Even a light “mountain climbing” style parka will do as long as it can keep the cold air out. Cinch up the waist and wrists to keep the cold air out, and the upper half of you will be good to go. Continue reading

Bikes are Dangerous…(but maybe not as dangerous as you think!)

[Okay we're back from our blogging hiatus! Too many nice riding days, and too much work to crank out to be sitting behind a computer screen. Hope you're doing well and riding safe!]

Most bikers have heard about the Hurt Report. It gave us useful tips like how weather and road conditions were not a factor in 98% of motorcycle accidents, and how 92% of those in accidents had no formal training (so take your MSF and ride in the rain!) But what it doesn’t tell us is exactly how dangerous is motorcycling?

Here are the numbers (for 2004) from the NYS DMV:

  • There were 256,571 licensed motorcyclists (in 2004) in NY State
  • 4,588 motorcycle accidents,
  • 148 of which resulted in a death

That means 1.79% of motorcyclists were in an accident in 2004, and 0.06% were killed. Just to put this into perspective, the percentage of people in the US who died of cancer in 2004 was 1.87% (most of which is tobacco related).

As a motorcyclist, you are almost three times less likely to die of a motorcycle accident this year than dying of cancer. The odds are actually a little better than that if you take into account nearly half the motorcycle accidents are by unlicensed riders (but I couldn’t get the exact numbers on that from the DOT).

What this means is, if you have a choice between riding a motorcycle and smoking cigarettes, your odds are slightly better on a motorcycle. Fortunately there are no DOT statistics for smoking cigarettes WHILE on a motorcycle, but I’m sure that pretty much means instant death. j/k!

Cheers!

[PS - the graphic is from the ICBC Insurance web site - no help for us here in the US, but neat graphic nonetheless]

Time Waster: The Non-Biker Biker

It’s not any desire for speed, just mobility… Traffic…is really terrible, and this allows me to get around much more freely. I can get to twice as many appointments as non-bike-riding designers.” — Tom Dixon, Designer

There are biker-types and non-biker types… A common reaction I get is, “I would never have guessed you rode a motorcycle” indicating that this person is NOT the biker type. For some people the biker-type means black leather, sunglasses and bandanna – for others it means wild racing leathers and multi-colored Suomy helmets… If you don’t happen to fit into either of those categories people probably tell you, you’re probably a non-biker biker. Now I have nothing against any of the biker types, but this is a salute to those who don’t fit that mold…people who, for whatever reason, don’t have the time or ability to be part of a mainstream biker subculture – but nevertheless love to ride (and even have places to go at times). In a way, this is what CityBiker is geared toward… Don’t get me wrong, we love motorcycles – cruisers, supersports, and everything in between – but we want to keep in mind that the point of riding is living, and not the other way around. Okay – enough of the mumbo jumbo – the next post will be about bikes, the whole bike, and nothing but…

To read the Times article about Tom Dixon, London designer and veteran city biker, click here. To see what Tom does when he’s not on his motorcycle, check out his web site.

Riding Tips: Finding the right Position

Experienced motorcyclists are sometimes the worst people to ask about riding techniques and positions. Complicated things, like countersteering and body position, can become so second-nature that they will wind up saying things like “just relax…” and “steer with your shoulders…” “Just look in the direction you want to go and the bike will do it.” Yeah, ok. They say these things because the actual mechanics have become second nature to them (and so are any bad habits they have acquired). But for those to whom the mechanics of riding aren’t second-nature, or who want to hone their technique, there are three basic principles to body position and riding a motorcycle…

Now the particular body position that is right for you depends on two things: your shape and size, and your bike’s shape and size… In particular, where your torso and arms are in relation to the bars when you are seated square over the footpegs.

So for example, many people think sportbike riders lean forward for a tucked-in position in order to be more aerodynamic… The truth is, that is the only way to lock-in on a sportbike and steer quickly. Here’s what I mean, there are three basic parts to your body position on a motorcycle:

Seating. The purpose of your seating is to lock you onto the bike so that you can turn and brake and accelerate while seated in a stable position. You should not need your arms to at all to stay on the bike once you are seated properly. How do you know you’re seated properly? On most standards and sportbikes, proper seating means you should be able to stand straight up on the pegs and balance yourself…then sit straight down…wherever your butt winds up sitting straight down is the basic seating location for you on that bike. For larger cruisers (where the foot pedals are in front of the seat) it’s even easier. Wherever you can sit and reach the pedals easily while still bending your knees slightly, that is generally the correct sitting position/location for you on the bike.

Arm position. Notice the pivot point on a motorcycle’s handlebars. Many novice sportbike riders sit tall above the bars and hold the bars on a downward angle (note: this guy in the pic is just sitting on a bike at the dealership…but many guys ride like this). The proper arm position for any bike involves having your elbows at or slightly below the level of of the handlebars… So that your forearm is parallel the ground (or bent slightly upward). This is the position in which you have the most control, and the least resistance, where the bars feel lightest and respond most accurately to your steering inputs. (Check out the top pic, Leno has it right).

Torso. So once you are seated properly and have your arms in the right position, the last part of body position should come naturally…your torso position. You should be holding up your torso without putting any weight on the handlebars… You can’t steer something accurately while using it to hold yourself up at the same time. And you will exacerbate steering problems like headshake…not to mention get sore wrists from riding…

Most people can get by with bad riding habits…but what the proper riding position offers is direct control over the motorcycle… When you are locked in the correct position on a motorcycle you can swerve left or right or make emergency maneuvers without having to brace yourself or change your body position… Steering becomes a simple matter of pushing left, to go left, pushing right to go right…this way you can focus on your driving without struggling with your weight or balance.

Now advanced motorcyclists and motorcycle racers on the track do much more with their body positions than just lock-in. They hang off sometimes, tuck in sometimes, etc… But if you study these guys carefully, what you’ll notice is, even though these guys move around on the bike quite a bit, they’re not just moving around… There are three or four basic positions that they lock into for different types of turns or straights. They lock-in to these positions way before entering the a turn, and once they lock-in they don’t move around much until it’s time to lock-in to another position. For street riding there is only one position you need to lock into. Sportbike riders or riders who have clip-ons will have a low (belly on the tank) riding position…Why? Because you need to get your elbows at (or just slightly below) the hand grips in order to be in proper position. Standard and cruiser riders will be able to sit taller in order to have the proper position for their taller bars. But don’t just take my word for it, examine the geometry of how one steers a motorcycle, watch the top riders (not the almost-top riders or the fastest squids in your neighborhood) in action, and experiment for yourself. Cheers!

For more tips, archived articles, and plain ole’ citybiking fun, click over to our new URL: www.citybikerblog.com!

30 Minute Rides: Good Eats in Queens

“If all else fails, we’ll just go tear it up in Queens like we always have…” - Vince (fictional character), Entourage

Every time I mention one of these places (to guys) the response seems to be, “My girlfriend’s been trying to get me there…” or “My wife has been wanting to try that place.” The secret is out, you don’t need to travel the world to sample try all the food, you just need to ride out to Queens. Now from a motorcycle perspective there’s not much to enjoy riding in Queens. There’s lots of traffic (which you can get past by lane splitting) and loads of traffic lights. You might even catch a little of the local biker culture: squids riding up on one wheel with their feet in front of the handlebars…or the leather and tattoo biker guys having a BBQ at the LIC Harley dealership. So why would I want to go there? Freedom. Riding’s about the freedom the move about the city, and two wheels is the fastest way to get around. Scooters are fine in Manhattan, but leave your Vespa at home, they’ll run you over in Queens.

To get to Queens you take the 59th Street Bridge… It’s easier to take the lower level when you’re heading to Queens, but on the way back you MUST take the Upper Level – the view going back into Manhattan by itself is worth the ride out. But pay attention, some of the turns getting to the upper level are pretty tight.

Once you get to Queens, your first stop is Long Island City (LIC)… It’s where the Pepsi sign stands on the East River, and Silver Cup Studios (famous for filming Sex and the City, or the end fight scene of Highlander, depending on your taste…) LIC was the Detroit before Detroit…the industrial center of the US before highways meant you could build factories in the mid-west. If you want to stage a mob hit-scene, or film a gritty urban drama (e.g., the Black Donnelly’s – or some scenes from Spider Man, Raising Helen, etc…), this is the place to be. So here are some hip stops on the (other) island…

“Natural Tofu” 40-06 Queens Boulevard (by 40th Street) in LIC - REVIEW, MAP

This place became well known when MOMA opened up a temporary gallery down the street. The menu is small, the food is cheap, and service is good (the waiters won’t come to you unless you call them, but when you call they get to you pretty quick). Their main dish is a spicy tofu casserole Korean dish called “Soon Dubu.” They also serve Pho and Kalbi (Korean shortribs with rice). For some reason I see a lot of bikers stop there… It could be because it’s so close to Manhattan, with enough decent parking… There’s Muni-Parking for cars on Queens Boulevard and a couple of spots that are too small for cars (there’s one across from Burger King on 41st) where motorcycles can park for free. As always, you can park between cars if there’s enough space – but I wouldn’t recommend hopping up on the sidewalk there unless you go a couple of blocks north on a side street.

The area around Natural Tofu is called “Sunnyside” – it has some good Romanian and Turkish food as well as great Irish pubs, a $4 movie theater, and too many other things to mention here…

Donovan’s, 57-24 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, (at 58th St.) REVIEW, MAP

If a hamburger is more your speed you can follow the 7-train a little further and try “the best hamburger in NY.” You can get some Shepherd’s Pie and a pint while you’re at it… Donovans is a good ole Irish Pub you can take your family to – it’s not Corporate ala Applebees, this is the real thing. Last I recall it’s cash only.

Sripraphai, 6413 39th Ave, Woodside – REVIEW, MAP

If you want the best French food in the city, you’ll probably stick to Manhattan. But if you want the best Thai food in the city, you need to come out to Queens… Come any day of the week for authentic Thai – any day except Wednesday (when they’re closed). As for parking, I usually park on the side walk near a meter…so far the meter maids have left me alone.
Jackson Diner (Indian Cuisine), 37-47 74th St., Jackson Heights – WEBSITE, REVIEW, MAP

If you welcome globalization for its good curry, the last stop on our Queens eating tour (for now, there’s too much on the island to cover!) is in Jackson Heights. Jackson Diner used to be a neighborhood diner until an Indian cook bought the place and started making authentic dishes…they never changed the name. They used to make the best authentic Indian food in the city! Now that mantle has passed on, but what Jackson Diner still does well is good Indian food to suit a variety of pallets. Indians and non-Indians both make up a large portion of its clientèle’s. Many come for the lunch buffet… Once again, cash only.

Motorcycle parking can be tricky – the metered spots are pretty close together. If you don’t find something right out front, you can find a little safer parking in the residential area around 35th Ave.

An Almost-NY Moment: Ad for the new BMW Supersport

A nice leisurely ride through Budapest. The only thing comparable is an early morning ride through Manhattan on a Saturday morning – the best time to ride through the city! Enjoy the great weather this weekend and ride safe!

Riding Tips: Taking a Passenger

Everyone who aspires to ride a motorcycle dreams of riding off into the sunset – or at least a nice dinner and a movie – with a friend or a date riding on the back. Unfortunately reality is never as easy as fantasy. Many motorcyclists think riding two-up is simply a pain. Many passengers think riding two up is scary…and a pain. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Gear

Some things are a bit of a pain, but they’re for your own good…such as gear. A passenger needs the same level of gear on a motorcycle as you do. That means helmet, gloves, jacket, boots. If you’re just going local around the city, the only exception I might make is boots: sneakers or shoes might be okay for short local trips as long as they’re not loose fitting or slippers (don’t even think about flip flops!) But that’s just my personal opinion, so take it with a grain of salt and think for yourselves when it comes to your passenger’s safety.

This means you need a spare helmet that will fit your passenger (and stay on in a crash). If you know who’s going to be riding with you regularly, it makes sense to get a good helmet for that person. But even if you don’t, and you want to take passengers, you’re going to need a spare helmet (or two! Depending on the sizes of the people you date!) There are many good brands (like HJC) that sell good helmets (in terms of safety and protection), at outrageously low price points – (the CS-12 is a good full face that can be found for under $50!) You’ll also need a spare set of motorcycle gloves and a good textile motorcycle or cow-hide leather jacket. If your date owns a leather jacket, that will do for city-trips as long as it’s made of thick cow-hide (or something equally durable) and not some soft fashion leather (e.g., lamb skin). But just in case, you might want to pick up a second riding jacket for yourself that you can wear and use for passengers (textiles and mesh riding jackets can be just the thing for summer months). You’ll also need a bungee cord to wrap all this onto the back seat of your bike when you go pick your date up.

The Ride

The part many motorcyclists don’t like about carrying passengers is not the extra gear, but the actual riding itself. It can be a major drag (and even a danger) carrying an inexperienced passenger on the seat. But you can help fix this with a little pre-ride communication and practice (both for you and the passenger). What many people don’t realize is that it’s hard being a passenger on a motorcycle – and the sportier the bike, the harder it is! It not only requires attention and balance, it requires a great deal of trust in the driver. This is great stuff for couple’s therapy!

The first time you hit the brakes (even if you’re reasonably smooth) carrying a passenger, chances are they will slide forward and push you up against the tank (and probably knock helmets as a result). The very first thing a passenger needs to learn is how to center him/herself on the bike so that doesn’t happen. Ask them to use their legs to squeeze, but also to put weight onto the pegs to help keep in place (this also helps to lower the center of gravity on turns and braking). On most bikes you can ask the passenger to stand straight up on the pegs for a moment, and then sit straight down – this will help the passenger find the proper sitting position. Also tell them to put their weight on the pegs when going over bumps and while braking. This will help the passenger to keep from smacking into the back of your helmet or pinning you up against the tank.

Some bikes have a grab bar behind the passenger seat. Although some riders recommend that their passengers not-use the grab bar, it works for many people. For sportbikes, some passengers reach around and hold onto the tank when braking, to keep from pressing up against the driver… It depends on the size and shape of your bike to see if that’s feasible: it doesn’t work on most naked bikes and standards, but works fine on smaller sport bikes with big tanks.

Anyway, the point is, the passenger needs to develop some riding skills in order to stay on the bike and ride safely.

  1. Here are some tips for the passenger:
  2. Wait for the signal before getting on or off the motorcycle
  3. Keep your feet on the pegs at all times (be careful not to touch the hot exhaust!)
  4. Sit still as possible, especially when stopping or turning
  5. During turns, lean with the motorcycle. Look over the inside shoulder of the operator during a turn.

Even more important, however, is your skill in operating the motorcycle. Competition racers can smoothly take passengers around the racetrack – upshifting, downshifting, and hard-braking beyond anything you would encounter on the street (Jason Pridmore is known for this… See video of Chris Ulrich).

So here are some general tips for riding with passengers (ala MSF):

  1. Be extra smooth in braking and accelerating (it can be harder for passengers to hold on)
  2. Take turns slower and use less speed/lean angle. The extra weight works the suspension much harder and diminishes the handling of your bike.
  3. Give yourself extra room for turns – the bike will feel quite different!
  4. Communicate with your passenger (at stop lights) to make sure they are comfortable and okay
  5. Take it easy on the speed (if you ever want the person to speak to you again) – don’t exceed the passenger’s comfort level – don’t do this.

With a good passenger, and good communication, riding two-up can be even more enjoyable than riding solo – it can also make you a better rider…but it requires a bit of teamwork and trust… Which may be good things to look for on a friend/date anyway.