Monthly Archives: December 2007

How-To: Tight Low Speed Turns

I’m the guy who puts his feet down and walks the bike around to make u-turns on narrow roads. So if you’re like me, you’re not comfortable with tight low-speed turns, maybe this video can help.

Moto-Myth #4: An $800 head?

[Brad Pitt on his Ducati Monster]

The saying goes something like this:

“You should only buy a cheapo $100 helmet if you have a $100 head.”

The implication being: Always buy the most expensive helmet on the market. Not surprisingly, many of the people who push for more expensive helmets are people who work at bike shops who benefit from the higher markups.

What they don’t tell you is that an $85 Snell (the premium US rating agency) rated helmet (like the HJC CL-15) will protect your head just as well as a $700 one. The same applies to ECE rated helmets (the European standard). That’s the purpose of these rating systems… Shockingly there is even evidence that “cheapo” DOT-only (the minimum US requirement) helmets can actually offer better protection in the majority of crashes (on the street), by transferring fewer g-forces on impact, than more expensive Snell and ECE rated helmets (read the article here). And of course, you know that when you pick you price point, you need to keep in mind that you will need to replace your helmet every few years, or if you happen to drop it …

But what about comfort? Aren’t the more expensive brands more comfortable? …For instance Arai has several different types of helmets to fit your head size…

Of course a helmet is no good if it’s uncomfortable and distracting to wear. And Arai makes good helmets… but you’d have to be a total biker princess to insist that only a $700 lid is comfortable enough. Some pricier models (cough AGV cough cough – some Shoei models) really aren’t known for being particularly comfortable…that’s not to say they are uncomfortable…they just don’t feel much different from some good lower-end helmets. I have a feeling that if HJC were an Italian brand, Rossi might wear an AC-12 (their race helmet) instead of a AGV Ti-Tech…

Now I have nothing against the premium brands – and they have nice helmets around the more affordable $200-$300 range, which I think can be reasonable depending on what that gets you. And I totally understand that some people might want to pay extra for other features… There’s more to a helmet than safety, you might like the style or the features, a limited edition paint job – or super light carbon fiber shell – or you just want the brand name that you see on celebrities or racers… And these things may be WORTH paying the premium prices for – but it’s NOT a safety issue.

Bottom line, if you get a helmet that is at least DOT, but maybe also SNELL or ECE certified – and that fits correctly – then you’re good as far as safety goes. It’s up to you how much you want to spend on other looks and features. Just because your head is worth a million bucks doesn’t mean you have to spend that much on a helmet.

Top 5 Sidewalk Parking Tips

In New York, one of the riskiest things you can possibly do on a motorcycle is…park it. There are many strategies to parking safely on the street: some things that look risky (like parking somewhere with lots of foot traffic) are really pretty safe; and some things that look safe (like parking on a with lots of cars but little foot traffic) are actually pretty risky. Today I want to talk about one particular parking strategy that is risky, but has a lot of benefits: sidewalk parking…

Ever since my wife got a Scooter, I’ve become a big fan of sidewalk parking. We can ride to just about any neighborhood and find a spot we can leave it for a few hours without worry: Usually we chain it up to one of those green mailboxes used to store mail for the carrier – that can usually be found mid-block on residential streets. This is a little more difficult with a sportbike (I wouldn’t recommend it at all for anything larger), but it’s still do-able.

On the sidewalk, you don’t have to worry about cars knocking over your bike, but you do still have to think about theft and the added concern of the ticket-people… Parking any motor vehicle on city sidewalks is unlawful and subject to ticketing and towing… But fortunately enforcement is spotty. Most ticket people will leave bikes and scooters alone, if they’re parked correctly and no one complains…

So how can we sidewalk park “correctly?” It’s an art, not a science. I’m no expert, but I’ve been lucky for the past year and half (although I park in between cars in many neighborhoods)… But here are my top 5 sidewalk parking tips:

Tip #1 – “Shorter is better”

The longer you park in any one spot, the more likely you are to get a ticket. The longer you intend to be there, the better the spot needs to be. If I can’t find a decent spot near where I’m going, but I’m only going to be an hour or so, I’ll settle for an out of the way mailbox or street sign.

Tip #2 – “Keep it hidden, keep it safe”

The more visible you are, the more likely you are to get a ticket. Do not park on the sidewalk during “no parking” times, or someplace where the sign says “no standing” (Although I do know people who park successfully on “Commercial Parking Only” streets on the sidewalk during the day…)

Also, try to find a spot where a parked car hides your bike from being visible from the street. But try not to get in anyone’s way – make sure you’re not blocking access to a car door or to an entrance, etc…

Tip #3 – “Chain me up!”

The real benefit to sidewalk parking is that you can chain it to something immovable. Street signs are okay, but they CAN be pulled up sometimes. The police won’t pull up a street sign to tow your bike, but thieves might. Make sure that the street sign hasn’t been tampered with already (that the base isn’t cracked or wobbly). Use a heavy duty chain. I use a couple of OnGuard Chains (with the 5+ rating) – I’ll write a post about these some other time…

On a side note, I’ve seen bikes parked (legally, between cars) on the street near a street sign locked up with a cable. This is not a bad idea either, but you need a longer chain or cable than most… All the people I’ve seen do this opt for a thinner-cheaper cable. This lessens the benefit of having a chain that can’t be easily cut…

Tip #4 – “Make friends”

If you intend to park someplace regularly, and need to leave it there for long stretches of time, you either need to park on the street in between cars, or make friends with the folks who run the buildings. The area directly in front of buildings usually belongs to the building owner (see the pic above). If you can chain your bike to a fence or gate on building property, you’ve got yourself a safe long-term spot. Just make sure the landlord is cool with it.

Tip #5 – “To have or not to have…a license plate…”

Here’s a sketchy thing some aggressive scooter parkers do – if you’re parking and chaining on the sidewalk anyway, some people take their license plates with them. You can stick velcro on your license plate mount and just take it with you when you go. A side benefit of that is, no one will be able to steal your plate…

Along with that, on a scooter, you can often “relocate” the VIN plate to someplace inside the storage compartment. This is a little more difficult with a motorcycle: the VIN number is usually on the frame near the front forks… An annoyed meter maid (with too much time) might ticket your VIN number… There are things you could do to hide the VIN number on the right fork (even just a little grease would be enough to make it unreadable) – the VIN on the left side is hidden when you use the steering lock, so you only need to obscure one – I’m not recommending any of this, I’m just pointing out what people sometimes do…but these are aggressive measures. I’d recommend you park in places you don’t need to resort to these shenanigans…

Have any more tips or experiences? Let us know!

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

Video of a Bike Theft

It turns out that bike theft is an opportunist endeavor. Just the way a thief might see a wallet sticking out of someone’s jacket and ‘go for it,’ these guys literally see bikes and think ‘why not?’ As a result I’ve become even more of a fan of chaining the bike to something rigid. Usually this means finding a quiet side street and parking on the sidewalk mid-block, preferably to non-opening side of a green mailbox (the kind the carriers use to store mail). If I’m going to dinner on a busy street and I find a good space between cars on the street, I’ll make do parking on the street with a disc lock. But if I’m going to work and won’t be seeing the bike for several hours, I’ll park somewhere I can chain it up.

Motorcycles Save Lives

Riders for Health uses motorcycles to transport doctors and deliver medicine in Africa.  Check out the promotional video with Valentino Rossi giving a plug a the end…on (the other) Times Online.  They recently raffled off Bono’s Ducati (formerly owned by INXS singer, Michael Hutchence).  Pretty cool.