Monthly Archives: May 2007

Time Waster: The Electric R1 Future?

You’ve probably heard of the Tesla sport-electric by now. Instead of making street-going golf carts, they developed on the performance advantages of electric motors. Performance advantages?!?! An idea previously unheard of in the world of electric cars – the main performance advantage of an electric motor is torque. All torque, all the time, no power band to worry about because all the power is right there at the flip of a switch. Granted this idea hasn’t fully materialized into a daily driving automobile yet, but, I think, it’s finally on the right track. But what about motorcycles? Enter the Lightning Motors Lithium Poweres Sport Bike (not the same as the video above – click the link the see it). Now this R1 is clearly not ready for prime time – at least not without a lot of work – but you got to hand it to these guys…this is not Honda or Yamaha, these are small “shops” taking available technology and doing something useful (ie, burning rubber). But this electric R1 gives us an idea of what sportbikes might be like in 10-20 years… No clutch or shifter, no exhaust sound, just a 100hp motor ready to unleash everything instantaneously at the twist of a wrist. All they need to do is raise the top speed by 50%, extend the range to 130-150 miles, and you can sign me up!

(Note: Yep, you can buy electric conversions to fit into any motorcycle right now, like in the video above.)

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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!

Riding Tips: Throttle Control


This week’s things to remember – something that most newer and intermediate street rider struggles with, “throttle control.”

Here’s a little test to see if you get the basic concept: let’s say you’re going around a corner at a nice 30mph, you get on the throttle and as you do the rear end starts to slide out. What do you do?

  • [a] back off the throttle,
  • [b] gently use the rear brake,
  • [c] use the front brake,
  • [d] roll on the throttle.

I’ll tell you what all of us would want to do instinctively, we want to back-off the throttle to try to control the slide, but motorbike guru Keith Code points out that’s just about the worst thing we could do…and almost surely leads to a high-side. (Even expert riders have to unlearn this instinctive reaction to back off the throttle). Because two things tend to happen when you get off the throttle, one the rear will stop sliding and begin catching the pavement again, only the bike is now faced in a different direction that its momentum is carrying it (resulting in a high-side)…but before that happens, when you get off the throttle, the bike slows and more of the bike’s weight transfers to the front making the slide momentarily worse before the rear wheel catches. What needs to be done in a rear wheel slide is to stay on the throttle, or even roll it on a bit! Easier said than done! Here’s the master, Gary McCoy sliding into turns. Stunters do this just for the sake of burning rubber. But for those of us who don’t race professionally (and who want to keep their bikes and headlights intact) it’s not so much a matter of mastering the slide, as it is mastering throttle control.

The basic rule of throttle control is: “Once the throttle is cracked on, it is rolled on evenly, smoothly, and constantly throughout the remainder of the turn.” In fact the “ideal line” according to Code, is the line in which you can employ the throttle rule…rolling it on evenly throughout the turn.

What this means for new riders is, this is where having a lighter bike with manageable power comes in really handy… Throttle control is a million times easier on a Ninja 250 or 500 than it is on a supersport. For street riders this requires discipline in setting up reasonable corner speeds so that there’s plenty of margin for safety, but also a reasonable enough speed so that you can roll-on the throttle rather than just cruising through the turn. The slight acceleration that comes from rolling-on the throttle is what stabilizes the bike (even in a turn where the rear loses traction). Just remember we’re talking about a smooth and gradual roll-on and not just whacking open the throttle (and then letting go)…otherwise you’ll wind up like the guy in the video.

Now if you ride in the rain in NYC (or any of the boroughs), or even after a rain…which is bound to happen sometime – you will probably get the bike sideways at some point.  Anywhere buses and trucks dare to travel (even occasionally) is likely to have oil feels like ice to motorcycle tires.  But good throttle control will stabilize the bike even at low speeds and help keep the shiny parts off the ground.  So the key is to “practice practice practice” with every turn.  Set the appropriate (safe) entry speed for a turn in advance, and instead of cruising through the corner, crack the throttle early and roll it on throughout the corner using the throttle to pick up the bike from its lean.   Do this, and when you hit the occasional slippery spot you’ll be able to power through it and feel like a pro!

Reasons to Gear-Up

“Tom Cruise doesn’t gear up, why should I?” Okay let’s not disrespect any member of the motorcycling community here, but Tom has more than one questionable idea in his head… Getting back to motorcycles: The cool thing about motorcycle gear is that it actually works. MotoGP riders fall at incredible speeds only to get right up and continue riding (usually the riders survive crashes better than their bikes). I believe the statistic is that there has only been one MotoGP fatality on the track (in modern MotoGP racing) which is amazing [corrected!]! On the other hand motorcycle fatalities are on the rise: more people are taking to two wheels and crashing.You know the feeling: it’s a beautiful day, warm, a little sticky, and you want to go for a ride… Just a quick one. You don’t need all your gear right? Are boots and gloves and jacket really necessary? C’mon other states don’t even require helmets!

Gloves can save your fingers, foot injuries are the most common motorcycling problem that quality boots can practically eliminate, and motorcycle jackets and pants can allow you to take a fall and get right back up again (as long as you don’t hit anything stationary). CE rated armor is cheap and low profile (as long as your jacket fits correctly) – and we don’t even need to talk about helmets here… Here’s a link to a post that’s been going around.

If you ever need extra motivation to gear-up, try this link from Urban Moto [WARNING: pretty shocking! Not work safe, or home safe, or normal person safe…]

What makes a Good Starter-Bike?

This question comes up quite a bit, so here’s my personal opinion on the age old question: What’s a good first-bike? The best answer (as far as I can tell) is: “it depends.”

The problem with a lot of (otherwise good) advice on first-motorcycles is that it’s like trying to give directions to someone without knowing where they’re coming from… You can’t tell someone to make a left unless you know which direction they’re coming from…In the same way there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to motorcycles. Something else we must keep in mind is that there is no such thing as a “safe” motorcycle for beginners on the streets of NY. A crash on a 250cc is just as bad as a crash on a supersport. And on congested city streets, a person who lacks the sense to learn safely on a 600 will not be safe on a 250. However there are principles and needs that can be understood and addressed to benefit new riders while increasing chances of safety developing motorcycle skills. So here’s a quick rundown of some basic needs new riders have along with some principles to apply in choosing a first motorcycle…

Weight

Honda CB500

Unless you balance refrigerators and washing machines for a living, you probably don’t have innate the skill to balance a motorcycle well. For an experienced rider, weight can add to a bike’s stability but for new riders bike weight (and the added power that usually goes with it) magnifies every mistake making riding more precarious.

Read the rest at www.citybikerblog.com!

Time Waster: DMV Road Test

Whenever a young hot shot asks about the DMV or MSF road test, I like to point them to this video.