Category Archives: how-to

How To Clean and Lube the Chain

This won’t be news for most of my readers, so…if you want to read it anyway…what you can do with this post is [a] try to guess what bike the above picture is of, and [b] post any other tips you might give to a new citybiker on basic chain maintenance.

Some people really like getting their hands dirty with motorcycle maintenance. I don’t particularly enjoy it, but there are some things you just have to do: and if you have a chain driven motorcycle (which is most motorcycles except BMW’s and some Harley’s) you have to clean and lubricate the chain. The truth is modern o-ring chains hold on to lubrication so well that they really don’t require too much fuss. Nevertheless we want to keep our bikes in top shape, and the only thing that’s more of a pain than cleaning and lubing a chain is replacing one. So here’s a quickie step by step you can do every couple of weeks or (if you’re riding long distances) every thousand miles or so… Continue reading


Riding Skills: Keep Your Head Up

One of the joys of driving a nice car is looking out at the road over a cool fighter-pilot inspired dashboard. Of course your eyes are on the road, but you can see the speedometer in your lower field of vision – always ready for a quick glance at the speed or rpms or navigation system. The problem is, this perfectly good practice of having the instrument panel in your field of vision when driving a car encourages a really bad habit for motorcyclists… In a car, you can see the instrument panel while seated in the proper driving position looking out at the road; but in a motorcycle, the only way to see the instrument panel is if you’re head is down looking at the front wheel.

This is why full race bikes do not have speedometers and many racing schools tape over the speedos of their school bikes. Because when you’re riding properly there’s no time to look down at the gauges… In the same way when you’re looking into a corner while turning, if you’re looking in the right place, you won’t be able to see the front of the bike: you shouldn’t be able to see the front wheel, or the gauges, or the mirrors (check your mirrors before you begin a turn) because you’ll be looking in a different direction entirely.

One of the reason people have trouble with sharp turns is because they’re not used to looking away from the bike deep into the turns. And one of the main causes of crashes is a rider being unable to turn the bike sharply (even though the bike is more than capable of the turn). Because the only way you’ll be able to (really) lean a bike over on its side is if you turn your head and look in that direction.

So here’s the tip: Eyes up here buddy! If you can see your speedo by just looking down with your eyes, then your head is probably in the wrong position. Learn to judge your speed with your eyes rather than using your gauges (that’s what the pros do)… Cheers!

Riding Skills: An Exit Strategy

Riding in and around NY is probably not quite like riding in other motorcycle towns. You don’t have windy roads with scenic outlooks, you have windy cabs with aggressive drivers on cell phones. The apex of a canyon turn never changes, but the proper line between an SUV, a cab and a delivery truck is constantly in flux. All the traditional advice holds true here: “ride like no one sees you”, “ride like they’re trying to kill you.” To which we can add one more: Always have an exit strategy! A VIABLE exit strategy…

How do you define a viable exit strategy? If any of the cars or trucks near you decided to suddenly come into your path, a viable exit strategy = having someplace to go and the time to get there. So if there’s a car ahead of you in your right lane, a possible exit strategies might include: [a] brake hard (if there’s no one behind you and you’re going at a reasonable speed); [b] swerve left (if there’s no one to the left or rear of you); [c] swerve to the right (to where the offending car came from). The point is that you should ALWAYS have an exit strategy should a driver decide to become inadvertently homicidal toward bikers. And it should be a VIABLE exit strategy meaning: Can you actually brake in time if that car decided to swerve (or are you going too fast)? Can you actually turn in time (or are you too close)? Can you actually get into that space if this truck decided to swerve for a pothole? Continue reading

Mastering the Mental Game

Yogi Berra put it well when he said “Ninety percent of baseball is all mental (the other half is physical)!” You can apply this to motorcycling… The difference between a safe fast ride and a slow dangerous one is not just a matter of skill, but of mindset…

I linked the MCN video here – you don’t have to watch it if you’re not into this sort of thing – but what’s interesting is on the laps where the rider was able to go faster, he actually felt like he was going slower. And along with that he felt more relaxed and less on edge, but he was actually going faster! Now this doesn’t mean if you relax you will automatically go faster around a track – but what it does point out the mindset of effective motorcycling… Motorcycling is like poetry in motion. It forces you to be relaxed (tension in the arms works against you on a motorcycle), to think ahead, and be fluid (stop and go and sudden throttle movements don’t help you on a motorcycle).

So relax. Don’t rush into turns or poorly planned positions in traffic. Think ahead. Be aware of your surroundings. Feeling rushed just works against you. Instead focus on effective throttle control (rolling on smoothly whenever you crack the throttle open), body position(s), braking (smoothly yet quickly) and your position in the traffic around you. A good ride won’t feel fast – it’ll feel relaxed and fluid.

Riding Tips: Which Leg?

Here’s a quickie that applies to all types of street riding, but is especially effective on lighter motorcycles and scooters… When you’re making a turn the right way (figure B), where should you put your weight? In the inner foot (the right foot in the diagram) or the outer foot?

Most people put their weight on the inner leg… But the key to bike stability (for light bikes) and proper riding position is to put your weight on the outer leg.

How come?  Two reasons.  One, in terms of handling it puts more of the weight in a spot where the suspension can handle bumps and lack of traction…  I don’t know exactly why this is the case…but you can try it out on spots like where the Grand Central goes to the Triboro Bridge – the grooves in the ground make lighter bikes and scooters chatter at speed.  But if you shift your weight to the outside, viola!  You probably won’t notice the difference on heavier bikes with better suspensions.

And in terms of posture it allows you to find the correct position A or B (in the first diagram) and not C.  Most people do C (a little bit) without realizing it.  Even sport riders who are aggressively trying to hang off (figure A) are surprised to see pictures of themselves on the track “crossed-up” (doing figure C).  Because when you put your weight on the inside leg, you will naturally push up against the turn.  But if you look at professional motorcycle (and scooter) racers, their outside legs are clamped onto the tank, while the inside leg is free of weight (this might also be why it’s so hard to get your knee down at first – you don’t want to drag your knee when all your weight is on it…)

So how do you do this?  It feels funny at first.  But try doing your regular turns while just keeping your toes lightly on inner peg…  So make right turns with your right toe lightly on the peg, and your weight on the left.  Make left turns with your weight on the right foot and your left toe just lightly on the peg – making sure you are straight in line with your bike (and not doing figure C).  It helps to realize that the actual turn (no most turns in the street) only last for a second or two…  You won’t be able to do this as well with slow lazy turns – but that’s a discussion for another time…

So that’s the tip – take it for what it’s worth.  Cheers!

Three Ways to Make Motorcycles as Safe as Minivans

There’s something Darwinian about motorcycling that you don’t find with Minivans…” – Anonymous

In the end the death rate of motorcyclists and automobile drivers is and always has been 100%” – Anonymous

The problem with motorcycles (in the US) is that it makes up just 1% of the vehicles on the road, but 19% of the fatalities… So traveling by car is reasonably safe. And riding a motorcycle is still reasonably safe (compared to your odds of getting smoking related disease for instance); nevertheless you’re still 19 times more likely to be killed in a motorcycle accident than a car accident.

So what can we do to make motorcycles safer?

Get training and develop your skills – nearly half of all motorcycle deaths are in single vehicle accidents. And, along with that, half of all motorcycle fatalities happen while trying to negotiate a curve. Someone goes too quickly around a turn and winds up driving into a divider (for instance). These are the saddest kinds of accidents because they really don’t need to happen. With proper training and riding skills, and the wisdom to ride within one’s limits, there’s no need to be in a single vehicle accident… EVER…

I’m convinced that training is the key: It is very rare for a MotoGP rider to be killed in an accident…there has only been one in recent memory (and another Japanese rider who was killed in a traffic accident involving a truck). But NONE have ever been killed in a single vehicle accident. These are highly trained riders who take lots of risks. You too can be a highly trained rider – taking fewer risks – and eliminate your likelihood of ever being part of this unfortunate statistic altogether.

Wear a Helmet – You’ll find websites that argue against mandatory helmet laws… And they’ll argue that the number of motorcycle fatalities in helmet-law states are the same or higher than states that don’t have helmet laws… That may be true! BUT… Here’s the thing: 50% of all motorcycle fatalities are people who are NOT wearing helmets, with head trauma being the main injury (National Highway Traffic Administration). So whether or not it’s a law in your state, wear a full face helmet.

Don’t Drink and Ride – People often get by driving a little tipsy… You shouldn’t do it! But people do – and they get away with it for a long time… However, you absolutely cannot, and should not ever try to ride a motorcycle under the affect of any alcohol or drugs or prescription medicines… 31% of fatal motorcycle accidents involved riders who were intoxicated.  You can even do one better by not riding while exhausted…being exhausted or sleepy can be just as dangerous as being under the influence – mtorcycling requires too much concentration for that…

Notice – just by sticking to these three principles you can lessen the statistical danger of motorcycling to a level comparable with driving a car. Add to that some good safety gear, and a healthy does of common sense and you’re in suburban soccer-mom territory (with regards to safety). Accidents will happen, but with a little effort you can prepare for them and avoid the unnecessary risks that make motorcycle statistics look grim.

Best Practices: Xena Disc Lock

Hey we’re in the middle of the motorcycle theft season… So if you have a type of bike that’s often stolen (in NY that’s most sportbikes…) then you always want to make it a little more difficult for would-be thieves… My usual practice is…when I park my bike on the street over night I’ll usually chain up the front wheel to a post using two OnGuard Beast chains and locks and on the rear disc I’ve used a little Bully disc lock (these things are cheap – $16 – and work great).  But recently I got a Xena disc lock – and if I had known how nifty these things were I would have gotten one sooner!  So here’s a little mini-review of the thing…

It’s pricey for a disk lock (but cheap for an alarm) at around $70 for the XR-1.  This one has a 6mm locking pin that fits into the holes in the brake calipers on most sportbikes.  It’s also small enough to fit under the seat of my 600RR (the other models run around $100 and are a little bulkier).  These sometimes look a little flimsy in the pictures but when you hold one you can see how solid it is, it seems heftier than the Bully…and the polished metal is cool looking…

The alarm comes with two sets of batteries and a hex wrench to get at the alarm component.  It arms itself when it’s locked onto something.  There’s a sensor in the mouth of the alarm that senses if there’s something in the mouth of the lock which arms the alarm.  This way you can store the unit locked or hang it off your passenger pegs without the alarm activating… Just locking the pin doesn’t activate the alarm, there has to be something in its mouth… This is a great idea – on the one hand you’ll never forget to arm your alarm.  On the other hand, you won’t set off the alarm just carrying it on your passenger pegs or trunk.

The alarm is NOT terribly loud – much quieter than a car alarm (and less annoying), but I can hear it from my apartment if my bike is parked outside…especially at night when it’s quieter.  And it’s not supersensitive: the wind hasn’t set it off, but tilting the bike does…  Also you can use the disc lock without the alarm (or if the batteries die – they’re supposed to last 8 months), and according to the company you can replace the alarm without replacing the entire disc lock.

So if you’re looking into getting a little added security for your bike – I give the Xena two thumbs up…  If you are riding a high theft bike – get some chains, and if you have money left over a Xena for the rear…  If you are a more sensible type and ride a bike that isn’t a common target of theft – then a good disc lock is probably all you need – but the Xena might give you a little extra peace of mind.  Cheers!