Monthly Archives: October 2007

Moto-Myths, Part 1 (Size Matters?)

There are a few common (and understandable) misconceptions both new and old riders tend to have about our favorite pastime…ahem, I mean, responsible means of transportation… Here, the first in our mini-series is the question of engine size…

“How Big is Your Engine?”

Pop quiz: True or False

  1. A 650cc motorcycle is faster than a 599cc,
  2. A 800cc will easily outrun a 250?
  3. A 1200 Harley has more power than both a 600 and 1000cc sportbike…

The correct answer to all of the above is…”False!”

Most 600’s are much faster than most 650’s; Ninja 250’s post very similar times to 883cc Harley Sportsters; and a 1200 Harley twin (which puts out 70hp).

Just the way you can’t tell how sporty a car is by the “cc’s” of automobile engines, you can’t tell how fast a motorcycle is by its engine size…(think about it, most minivans have “bigger” engines than a Lotus Elise)

“How come? ” Like automobile engines, motorcycle engines come in a variety of different configurations… For example a 599cc (we round up and call then 600’s) sportbike is usually a high revving in-line 4 cylinder that produces over a 100hp. But 650cc bikes are usually low-revving v-twins that produce a little over 70hp (comparable to the output of Harley 1200cc cruiser engines).

Not only are there different engine configurations, but motorcycles can also drastically differ in weight. A 250 weighs around 300lbs, whereas a Harley Sportster weighs aroung 600lbs… You can do the math. Even though a Ninja 250 has less than half the horse power of an 883, it also has half the weight which makes up for its lack in power. I’m not saying the Ninja 250 is “better” than an 883 Harley, it’s not…but it’s just as fast. And if you had to take them to the racetrack, I’d put my money on the 250. Also, this is why, even though you can buy the flagship Kawasaki 1400cc (190 hp!) sportbike, or a 1300cc Hayabusa for the street – the fastest MotoGP race bikes manage to do more with 500-990cc (over 250 hp!)…

So let’s put this Moto-Myth to bed – especially for street bikes: it’s not the number of cc’s, it’s what you do with it. Really.

Time Waster: Which is faster?

Ah…the age old question: Which is faster, a car or motorcycle?  Here are two takes on this…

Ducati v. Lamborgini

Porsche Carrera 4 v. Yamaha R1 (with snarky comments from the Top Gear host)

Riding Skills: What to do?

Everyone’s probably heard about the recent spill Hollywood cool guy, George Clooney, took while riding a rented Harley in Jersey. It’s unfortunate, but accidents happen, and luckily both riders were (pretty much) okay, although breaking anything is no fun! But this gives us an opportunity to raise a hypothetical question: Let’s say you’re you’re travelling 40-50 mph down a single lane road. A car ahead of you slows while approaching an intersection and appears to be turning left. You move to the right to pass him when he suddenly turns right into your path. Now what most of us would probably do in that situation is endeavor to crash as gracefully as possible. But since this is a hypothetical situation, we can get a little more creative and consider our options… What could you do?

Option 1 – BrakeHard!!!

This may sometimes be your best option. Especially if you’re in the habit of practicing emergency braking. You might even be smart to make the most of the rear brakes, especially if you have a passenger…

The main problem with this, however, is that braking is where motorcycles are weakest compared to cars; you can’t swerve while braking, and it’s very easy to lock up the wheels in a surprise situation. In real world driving cars can brake faster with fewer consequences than motorbikes. As a result option 1 is very likely to bring you to a crash – but you may be able to scrub off enough speed so that the crash is not too severe.

Main Difficulty – It’s easy to lock the brakes (especially the rear) in an emergency – a locked wheel doesn’t brake as efficiently…

Option 2 – Swerve Right!

If you’re a quick turn guru on a supersport, this would be your best bet. Most sport bikes can out corner cars going half their speed. The only problem is this is easier said than done! Your body has to be in the right position for a sharp turn -(i.e., low to the tank, or hanging off to the right) not to mention your passenger! This also depends a lot upon the type of bike you’re riding; good luck trying quick-turn an 800 lb Harley.

Main Difficulty – Emergency situations cause target fixation – it’s hard to tear your gaze away from the car.  You need to quickly look in the direction you want to go and counter-steer aggressively to move in that direction…

Option 3 – Brake then swerve!

Scrub off some speed, THEN go for the quick turn. Unless you can get off the brake and get on the gas, there’s a good chance you’ll low side – but scrubbing off some speed may make the turn more manageable. But a note of warning for arm chair throttle jockeys, switching from hard braking to a sharp turn requires a great deal of skill.

Main Difficulty – You have to get off the brakes and on the throttle before turning.  Not doing this will lead to a low-side (which might sometimes be a reasonable alternative to a head on crash).  Once you’re off the brakes you need to look in the direction you want to go and aggressively counter steer in that direction…

So which is best?

Any landing that you can walk/limp away from is a good landing, but strictly from a theoretical perspective, the best option is #2, then #3, then #1… Why?

Even though motorcycle tires have less traction when leaned over, turning helps take that perpendicular momentum and redirect it. So instead of asking your tires to bring you from 50 to 0 in 20 feet (which is pretty much impossible), by turning the bike instead, in the same distance, the tires only need a fraction of the grip to bring the perpendicular speed (from point A to Point B) down to 0.

Now this is theoretical, in real life you have leaves and gravel and pedestrians – but it pays to consider your emergency options… Even if you are unable to clear the offending automobile with a combination of turning and braking, a collision at less than 45 degrees can greatly reduce the amount of impact of a straight collision. (I had a surprise run-in with a cab changing lanes, once, and managed to stay upright at around 35 degrees – my foot pegs gave the cab some nice scars too…)

Of course there’s one more option we haven’t mentioned: Option #4 – steer clear of these situations by being wary of drivers. Cars frequently turn left before turning right (seems to be a strange psychological tic people get from pendulums) or signal in one direction before changing their minds – these are precisely the moments when people aren’t aware of their surroundings… So option 4, the best option by far is to be aware and avoid these situations.

There are a million variables that could go into a real world situation – I only addressed a theoretical one.  What would you do?  Ever have this happen to you? Share the wealth and let us know…

[Good luck and a quick recovery to George and Sarah – hope we see you on the road soon!]