Category Archives: new york

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

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Let’s Talk Motorcycle Jackets

[Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Orlando Bloom in their leather jacket glory…]

Okay so here’s the truth about leather motorcycle jackets… And this is directed mainly at the men – women already have a good handle on this… Hey buddy, I know you THINK you look really cool in your motorcycle jacket – or you think you WOULD look cool walking around in that jacket – but you’d actually look like a dork (or an a**hole or scumbag, or like you’re going through a midlife crisis). There I said it. Even rock stars and movie stars look like that way – it’s just that they (sometimes) have enough cool to overcome it. Leather jackets don’t t actually make you look cool – I know you think it does, which is why your friends have asked me to tell you. It’s kind of sad. So thanks for understanding.

Now with that out of the way we can talk about motorcycle jackets. They’re for safety, not glamour. So you might want to spend the money on the parts of the jacket that are really worth it…

Comfort

Usually, the lighter and more comfortable something is, the less abrasion resistance it has… So mesh jackets (generally) have the least abrasion resistance, thicker textiles a little more, and leather even more depending on the thickness. But the best protection won’t be any good if it’s too hot and uncomfortable to wear… And safety gear isn’t very safe if it gives you heat exhaustion sitting in traffic.

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NYPD Hard on Bikers?

From everything we can tell, the NYPD officially does NOT like motorcycles… Around this time last year, the NYPD initiated a crackdown towing hundreds of motorcycles for things such as improper licensing (not having a Motorcycle license) to loud pipes.  In their defense there’s no reason NOT to have your paperwork with you, and no reason not to be licensed… The way the department sees it – they’re saving lives by towing bikes…  But at the same time I think the strictness with which the law is enforced on motorcycles a bit unfair.  I’ve been pulled over in a car without my license, I was ticketed but not towed (I had to send in a photocopy of my license) – under normal circumstances I think that’s reasonable.  I’d hate to be towed simply because I forgot my registration in my other jacket when a simple radio check can verify my license and registration…

The NYPD has even gone so far as to violate a federal law which mandates that single motorcycle riders must be allowed in HOV lanes (the official NYPD policy is even motorcycles must have two up in order to rider HOV). So if you feel like the cops are giving you dirty looks – they probably are… That’s the official stance. However individual police officers vary – most of them are good and reasonable, just trying to do their job and help keep people safe. I’ve had police officers on scooters come up to me at a light and offer to race (in friendly jest).

Nevertheless what the official stance means for citybikers is: (1) Make sure you have your papers with you! Your license, registration, up to date insurance card… You are legally allowed to carry a photocopy of your registration card – however not all police officers seem to know this – so I try to keep the original with me in a plastic bag under the seat or in my riding jacket.

(2) Make sure your bike’s inspection sticker is up to date. They don’t have to tow you for something like this – and they could let you off with a warning – but they probably won’t. Go get it inspected. All you need are working lights, turn signals and at least one mirror to pass inspection…

(3) Check your pipes (or at least keep the revs down while you’re in the city). This one might be a problem for some of us. Technically it’s illegal to have aftermarket pipes that are louder than your stock pipes… The police don’t usually ticket you for having loud pipes, but they can. And last year in Greenwich Village they set up checkpoints and actually towed motorcycles with loud pipes! Lucky for us, many aftermarket mufflers are still quiet enough not to be noticed – but if you have straight pipes or D&Ds or an old muffler in need of repacking, now might be a good time to get it looked at…

If you do get busted for one of these – and the police want to tow your bike – see if they will let you tow your bike home. Getting towed home (and paying $150) is way better than having your bike sent to the impound and paying that amount… Better yet, be smart and have your license and paperwork in order… Ride safe!

Ducati-nomics: the Monster 696

One thing you’ll notice about Ducati’s new entry level air-cooled Monster is that no one tells you the price up front… Everyone mentions the $70k+ price tag of the Desmo RR and the discount prices of leftover 999’s – but you practically have to grab a reviewer by the ear in order to get the $8775 msrp price for the 696… Which doesn’t sound too bad for a sexy italian bike, but wait…did you say “entry level” “air cooled?” A comparable albeit much less stylish SV650 goes for $5899 msrp… and it has much better reputation for reliability, and less of a reputation for spitting up oil onto your pants… So how can we justify this (almost) $3k price difference?

Power – 80 hp at 359 lbs (dry weight) – that’s a respectable amount of power for an experienced rider, and more than enough for an entry level. It’s also amazingly light! It’s practically Ninja 250 light, but with more than twice the power. The SV650, by comparison is a little under 400lbs (more in the range of typical 600’s) with 7 fewer horses.

Replaceable plastic parts – Every Monster that I’ve seen parked on the street (for a while) have the handle bar dents on the tank from being knocked over. These are hard to fix and a fortune to replace. Alas, the tank on the new Monster is plastic on the left and right, covering the air intake and gas tank, and is easily replaceable (although I don’t know how much these things will cost). Brilliant! If I were buying one of these, I’d probably get a spare set just in case!

Tighter Turn Ratio – realizing that many Monsters spend their lives weaving through traffic, the Ducati designers gave the bars a few extra degrees of turn… Brilliant!

Tubular Frame – and although I don’t know if I’d risk scratching the bright red paint on the aluminum frame, here’s one frame you can actually put a chain through! Perhaps in the future motorcycle engineers will realize that bikes need better ways of being locked up – it’s too easy to remove a wheel (front or rear) and carry bikes away wheel barrow style… But until then the most secure solution is to throw a chain around the frame – good luck doing that on a GSXR or Ninja… Here’s a bike you can really keep locked up… Although if you’re the alarm (or LoJack) customer – I don’t think you’ll find a secure place for one of those…

Style – last but not least, the 696 is probably the sexiest entry-level motorcycle ever designed. Monsters have taken over the streets of Europe, and the hearts and minds of Yuppies all over Greenwich Village. Most people get tired of their first bikes after a year or so (including SV’s) – but the 696 could quite possibly be a practical entry-level bike that you’ll want to keep around as a daily rider for a LONG time…

For those of us who are not willing to pay the Ducati premium (you can get more motorcycle for the buck elsewhere) – we will have to console ourselves with knowing that our Honda’s and Suzuki’s will probably never spit oil onto our pants (as air cooled Ducatis sometimes do), or become prone to broken speedo cables and shifters in the first few years… But I assure you – none of us non Ducati riders would turn our noses up at a riding one of these around for a few months…and we would miss it when they took it back.

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!

Reponsible Motorcycles

a good use of parking space

Motorcycles have long had a rebel image associated with it – and even scooters in NY are, to some extent, part of a non-establishment counter-culture. Your grandmother wouldn’t like the idea of you riding either… People think of two wheeled vehicles as suitable only for pot smoking daredevils or badass biker boys. And unfortunately there are many of those – along with many who just want to dress the part… Nevertheless I’d like to propose something very different…I propose that motorcycles (and scooters) are actually the most responsible form of personal transportation available…for at least the following reasons:

First, motorcycles and scooters use less fuel than even today’s most advanced hybrids! At around 60mpg for my sportbike and 100 mpg for scooters they use less fuel than than a Toyota Prius. It does this even though the scooter is carburated – meaning it would be possible to get even better fuel economy. It also contributes less to landfills and does not contain toxic substances (the way electric car batteries do). If you were really serious about the environment and gas prices, you would support the two wheeled vehicle industry…

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The Greenest Alternative

What would you say if I told you there was a two seater that got around 100mpg in the city, and had the magical property of being able to breeze through the worst Manhattan traffic (at a reasonable 25 mph)… And that you could buy a brand new one for $3,200 out the door? Perhaps a better question is: if this existed, why doesn’t everyone have one? It costs less than an upgrade package on a luxury car…

Scooter may not be the most macho form of transportation, but in the old days they kept pace with classic motorcycles… A Buddy 125 has a top speed of 55-65 (depending on which way the wind is blowing on its 9hp engine) while carrying a passenger. I’ve seen a Vespa 250 (which is arguably the Lexus of scooters) hit 75 on the 59th Street bridge… The Buddy 125 (which my wife bought in the Fall) gets 90-100 miles on the gallon which is good considering it has a one gallon tank. My wife’s weekly commute costs in the ballpark of $3 in gas…a little less depending on where we ride out for dinner.

I wasn’t making up that part about traffic either… Have you ever heard of a scooter traffic jam? There are like a billion scooters covering every square inch of Asia and not one traffic jam – okay so maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit… But where my sportbike gets behind a car or at an intersection, the scooter travels with ease.

Now I don’t think scooters are for everybody. If you love motorcycles, you probably wouldn’t want to trade one in for a scooter – you can’t really go on the highway and the small tires make Manhattan potholes seem like the Grand Canyon. But if you wanted a second bike – or were averse to the noise and difficulty of motorcycles, the scooter is an alternative that I think ANYONE could ride and love…

How can I know if a scooter is for me?  If you can ride a bicycle and drive a car, and are tired of paying $50 to fill up your car with gas, then you will LOVE the scooter.  You will need to get some protective gear (at least a helmet, gloves and over the ankle boots) and you will need some practice, and you will need to get a motorcycle endorsement on your driver’s license (take the written learner’s permit test at the DMV, then when you’re ready take the road test on your scooter).

Question, “But won’t girls think I’m a dork?”  What are you…in high school?  And the answer is – I don’t think so…  Most over high school age girls are a bit risk averse, and would think twice about jumping onto the back of your Ducati (that even sounds like a dirty euphemism!)  But even Audrey Hepburn wouldn’t think twice about getting onto your scooter…provided you had an extra helmet and gloves (which stow under the seat in the trunk – of which my 600rr is deathly jealous).

So there you have it.  If you want to ride a motorcycle – go ahead, a scooter will never satisfy that itch the way a cost efficient 600 can…  But if you like having fun and want to get around Manhattan – then for the sake of the planet – get out of your Hummer and onto a scooter.  Cheers!