Category Archives: Motorcycle Riding

Ride Report: Rochester, NY to Allentown, PA: September 7, 2017


Introduction 

Yesterday I rode my Ninja 500 from Rochester, New York to Allentown, Pennsylvania. I lived in Allentown 2013-2014, and wanted to see it again on my way to this weekend’s MotoAmerica action at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey. It was the second ride on my little Ninja 500 loaded down with my full compliment of soft luggage (tank bag, tail bag, and saddlebags). Before the trip I had a new Kenda K-671 Cruiser tire installed on the rear. The previous rear was a Bridgestone Exedra that worn past the wear bars when I got home from Pittsburgh a couple weeks prior. I also had to play with the throttle cables as the throttle had too much play in it. They were still not perfect but I did not have enough time to perfect them before I left. While doing the throttle cable maintenance, I had the seat off and noticed that the Ziploc bags holding my sockets under my seat had been frayed and several of the sockets were missing. Off I went to Harbor Freight Tools to buy a new set of metric sockets before I shoved off. 

Route 

Since I wanted to avoid some tolls and take a more scenic route, I left Greater Rochester by heading south on I-390. There usually is not much traffic on I-390 and I enjoy its course through the Southern Tier foothills and mountains. I stopped for lunch at the Subway inside the Pilot Travel Center in Kanona, New York before continuing onto I-86 East to Binghamton. When I reached the nearly completely reconstructed “Kamazaie Curve” interchange, I headed south on I-81 to Clark’s Summit, Pennsylvania where I stopped at a Sheetz for lunch. I then took I-476 South (also known as the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike) to U.S. 22 on Allentown’s northwest side, where I got off the Northeast Extension and followed U.S. 22 to my accommodations off of Airport Road. 

Weather 

Overall the weather was relatively cooperative. I hit two patches of light rain. One patch was in and around Corning, New York. The other patch was on I-81 as I was approaching Scranton. Both rain showers were relatively light and short-lived. As I was riding I often saw dark clouds on either side of my route and was fortunate to not hit more of those rain pockets. The temperature remained constantly cool all day. I was glad I was wearing my extra layer, and wish I had not forgotten my second long-sleeve shirt was in my saddlebag’s outside pocket. The higher elevations were noticeably colder and windier than the valleys and plains.  

 Roads 

Road conditions were overall good for the entire ride. There is still a good bit on construction in Binghamton on the section east of Kamakazie Curve, as well as the southern portion of I-390. That construction appears to be coming to a close for the season, but also appears poised to resume next season on the oldest section of I-390 (Wayland to Dansville). The section of U.S. 22 that runs through Allentown could use some attention too. The very northern section of I-476/Northeast Extension had just been repaved and was a joy to ride through with some gusto.  

Analysis/Summary 

Overall it was a positive travel experience. It was great to see some roads that I used to ride a lot for work or to head back to Rochester through the Poconos, as well as ride through another former hometown in Binghamton. The progress on the Kamakazie Curve interchange is impressive and I am looking forward to the day when I-86 extends from north of Erie to Binghamton uninterrupted. The bike did well for what it is, but I still really miss the FJR’s heated grips, more spacious ergos, and better wind protection. They would have made the ride more enjoyable. What this trip and the trip to Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago have shown me is that the Ninja 500 is a very capable sport tourer, but only for shorter trips and with some add-ons. A new seat and heated grips or gloves would make the bike more user-friendly in colder conditions. I also really miss the FJR’s hard luggage. When traveling long distances alone, having to fit all of the heavy tools needed for potential roadside repairs in soft saddlebags is far less than ideal. It is very doable, but not very ideal.  

Ride Report: Final FJR1300 Ride, 4/22/17


Unfortunately, this is the last ride report I will be writing for a while. Usually writing ride reports is one of my favorite things to do. For me, it is basically a running journal of the places, roads, and people I get to learn about when I go out riding. Each journey, recorded on paper or not, becomes a small kernel of history that allows me to learn a little more about the world I live in. Unfortunately, like any other form of history, there are always dark kernels. April 22, 2017, was one of those dark kernels for me.

The plan was to head down to Circleville, Ohio and come back to Youngstown the same day to cover an Ohio Mini Roadracing League (OMRL) event being held at Circleville Raceway Park.  I headed out later than I had planned due to waking up late and the unseasonably cold temperatures. Once I was fueled up, I hit the road around 7am. Because I was running late I took the fastest route to Circleville, which is I-76 west through Akron to I-71 south to U.S. 23 on the south side of Columbus. I had already traveled all of those roads several times this year and found them to be in good condition. Since it was a weekend and early in the morning, the traffic going through downtown Akron on I-76 was very light. While the weather forecast has called for steady rain the entire ride, I did not encounter at all during the three hour ride.

The OMRL event was great. They has 44 competitors turn out on a day when it was supposed to rain all day, compared to 51 competitors for the 2016 season-opener under near-perfect weather conditions. It was also great to visit with the Anthonys before Gavin Anthony made his debut as a professional motorcycle road racer at the MotoAmerica event at Road Atlanta the next weekend.

I left the event later than I wanted to (around 4pm) and was heading to Freddy’s Street Food in Delaware, Ohio for dinner when I was involved in a motorcycle accident. I do not want to go into details about what happened or my injuries at this time. However, my FJR1300 has been totaled and I will need to take some time to heal up before I can ride again.

I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the EMTs who responded to the accident from the Orange Township Fire Department. Several of them ride and did their best to keep me in good spirits. I would also like to thank the nurses and staff at the OhioHealth Lewis Center Emergency Department who tended to my injuries quickly and kindly.

 

Ride Report: I-76, I-71, and U.S. 30, Youngstown, OH to Beaverdam, OH


Ride Date: March 28, 2017

For the past two years when I lived in Delaware, Ohio, I would take my touring bike out on a test ride from Delaware to a Speedway gas station near the indirect interchanges between I-75 and U.S. Route 30. The ride was exactly 200 miles round trip, which was just under one tank of gas on my FJR1300. Even though I moved to Youngstown, Ohio last year, I decided I would keep the tradition going, even though the ride is twice as long. If clearing the old, Stabil-containing gas out of the tank with a one-tank trip is good, two tanks is twice as good, right?

In any event, I got a late start but headed out from Youngstown around 930am. The ride took me up I-680, to I-80 until it changes to I-76 at the Ohio Turnpike interchange. I continued on I-76 through Akron, where I-76 overlaps with I-77 for a short bit, onto I-76’s western terminus at I-71. I got on I-71 at Exit 209, and got off at Exit 176 onto the U.S. Route 30 highway. I stayed on U.S. 30 until its interchange with the Lincoln Highway (old Route 30), which provides indirect access to I-75. There is a Speedway gas station just west of U.S. 30’s trumpet-style interchange ramp, but east of the I-75 alignment. After getting gas, buying a snack, and chatting with a another rider, I got back on U.S. 30, this time eastbound. The very unusual ramp from old U.S. 30 to U.S. 30 eastbound, which loops in the median of the freeway, can be a lot of fun for the peg-scrappers out there. I essentially repeated my route on the way back to Youngstown, except I decided to use the I-277 bypass around downtown Akron to I-77 North, which took me back to I-76 East. I was feeling a bit tired early into the ride back, and stopped at an Arby’s in Bucyrus for a quick snack. Nothing like a corned beef slider detour. I got home around 515pm.

Overall, and despite the rough winter, all road surfaces were in good condition. During my previous rides on U.S. 30 between Upper Sandusky and the I-75 interchange, only portions of the eastbound lanes had been paved with an odd asphalt. Now both sides of the divided highway have received the asphalt treatment. The asphalt is very ridable, it just has an usual texture about it. It feels both slightly slick and abrasive at the same time.

The route is very rural and does not offer a lot of scenic viewing opportunities, unless empty farm fields are your thing. However, I enjoy this route because it is four-lane, divided highway (with intersections, however) and is not heavily traveled. It is very effective as a toll-free thoroughfare between Canton, Ohio and Chicago/Gary. The route is also very effective as a test route. It allows a rider to maintain a normal highway pace (65-75mph) with little traffic and ample shoulder space in case something does go wrong and roadside repairs are needed.

My FJR1300 performed very well with no mechanical issues on its first extended use of the 2017 riding season. This was despite a heavy crosswind that is typical of wide-open freeways that run through flat, un-forrested terrain. After a successful test ride I can now have confidence that, barring unforeseen problems, the motorcycle is prepared for what will be a very busy 2017 riding reason.

Cleveland Progressive International Motorcycle Show 2017 Highlights


This past weekend’s Progressive International Motorcycle Show at Cleveland’s I-X Center proved to be a little smaller than the previous year, but offered attendees a couple new vendors and a wide range of OEM displays. Here are some of my highlights from this past weekend’s exhibition:

 

(1) Dunlop: The most exciting story I was able to cover at the show is the upcoming release of Dunlop’s new Roadsmart III sport-touring tire. According to Dunlop’s representative at the show, the new Roadsmart III has been several years in the making. While the tire’s construction and rubber compounds are reported to have not changed dramatically, the Roadsmart III features an upgraded sidewall construction and a radically new tread design. The Roadsmart III will also feature the same dual-compound rear tire design introduced in the original Roadsmart tire.

Dunlop’s stated goal at the beginning of the Roadsmart III’s development was to design a tire that would outperform the Michelin Pilot Road 4s, which Dunlop considers its strongest sport-touring competition. Internal testing by Dunlop showed that the Roadsmart III is on par with the Pilot Road 4 for comfort and dry weather performance, and substantially stronger in wet weather grip and cornering. Inadvertently, Dunlop retained the same independent testing firm that Michelin uses to test the new Roadsmart III’s longevity. That testing demonstrated that the Roadsmart III front and rear tires outlasted the Michelin Pilot Road 4s by several thousand miles.

Oddly, Dunlop is one of the few companies that does not have a GT-spec sport-touring tire for heavier sport-touring motorcycles like my FJR1300. If I can get a hold of a set, it will be interesting to see how well the front tires perform. Every other tire I have run on the front of my FJR has cupped early on despite running 40-42 psi.

 

(2) Kawasaki Versys 300: I was really excited to see the newest addition to the Kawasaki Versys lineup. This new model features the same 296cc, liquid-cooled, twin-cylinder motor as the immensely popular Kawasaki Ninja 300, along with a slightly longer wheelbase than its sporty cousin. The Versys 300 also features a 19-inch front wheel and dual sport tire sizes, and a super light 385.9-lb. wet weight.

Sitting on the bike, I was impressed by its light weight and spacious ergonomics. While the engine size yells beginner bike, new riders under six feet tall may want to try sitting on one before pulling the trigger on buying one. Unlike its sporty cousin that has a new rider-friendly 30.9-inch seat height, the new Versys 300 features a taller 32.1-inch seat height. An inch or so may not sound like a lot. However, to put my point in perspective, I am 6’2, and I was barely able to get both feel flat on the ground. There was barely any room between the seat and my nether region when I tried standing above the bike. While I did not have a chance to test ride it, I wonder how the power delivery will be from a sporty, high-revving twin compared to a single-cylinder engine. A side-by-side comparison between the new Versys 300 and BMW’s upcoming G310GS model is likely coming to a fine motorcycle magazine in the near future.

Overall, I was impressed by the little dual sport ninjette. For the experienced off-road rider who is new to road riding, this may be the perfect bike for getting to the trails, riding the trails, and then riding home. Just be aware that it is a new rider’s bike in every department but the seat height.

 

(3) Indian: While I am not much of a cruiser guy, I have been truly impressed with the job Polaris has done since it re-introduced a mass-produced Indian lineup in 2014. The motorcycling community seems to agree. There was a constant crowd around the Indian display both Friday and Saturday. I tired sitting on a Scout, and I have to say it was very comfortable and commanding. I am not a fan of forward controls (just a personal preference), but if I were going to a cruiser, the Scout 60 would be near the top of my list.

 

(4) Condor Lift Products: Condor is a brand that the TWPH has had the pleasure of doing a product review for last year, and it was great to see them at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show. The TWPH had a chance to talk with Teffy Chamoun, the owner of Condor Lift Products, about the garage motorcycle dolly that Condor was demonstrating at the event. Chamoun also indicated that Condor is developing a new product that will help lift a motorcycle. We will release more details on Condor’s new product as it becomes available. All of us at the TWPH are looking forward to working with Condor more in the future.

 

(5) Kawasaki Z125: While the Honda Grom has been the staple of the truly introductory motorcycle market the last couple of years, Kawasaki is making a bold statement with the introduction of its Z125. The Z125’s lines and styling are much sharper than the Grom’s, although its seat is almost two inches taller than the Grom’s. New riders tend to values a bike’s looks before any other feature. It will be interesting to see how much of the Grom’s previously unchallenged market share the Z125 can claim, and if any other OEMs enter the 125cc road bike war.

 

American Motorcyclist Magazine Full Interview


Back in August, I was asked by American Motorcyclist Magazine Managing Editor Jim Witters for a interview concerning my involvement in the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)’s EAGLES program. American Motorcyclist is the official magazine of the AMA, and I was delighted to see it highlighting the AMA’s political advocacy program.

The motorcycling lifestyle is under threat from several angles. Environmental  groups attempting to curtail responsible access to public lands. The sport continues to be damaged by a negative media image, and the sport touring segment continues to age without enough young people coming up through the ranks. Programs like the AMA EAGLES program are essential to combating those conditions and others that threaten the future of the motorcycling lifestyle. By equipping volunteer members who can advocate for the motorcycling community on the local, state, and national political levels, the motorcycling community is able to make its diverse community seen and heard.

I was one of several individuals interviewed for the article in American Motorcyclist. Due to space limitations, my full responses to Jim’s questions could not be reproduced in the article. My full, unedited responses can be read below.

How long have you been riding motorcycles?

I got into motorcycle riding a lot later in life than many of the other riders I know. I got my motorcycle endorsement in 2006, when I was 23, but did not start riding until Spring of 2007. I grew up in Upstate New York, and I took the MSF course in October (the weekend after a massive snowstorm). So I waited until old man winter had finished wrecking havoc before buying my first bike.

Is you riding mostly street or off-road?

I have been a strictly on-road rider. While I originally got into motorcycles after seeing what my friend’s Yamaha YZZF600R could do, I did not have the money for a true sportbike and ended up with a 1982 Honda CB450T for my first bike. I started riding back roads just to learn how to ride better, and gradually got hooked on doing longer distance rides rather than trying to ride at break-neck speeds on public roads. I am working on building a track bike to appease the speed demon in me, but am primarily a long-distance/sport touring road rider for now.

What is your current bike(s)?

My road bike is a 2003 Yamaha FJR 1300 that I bought in January 2015. The only real farkles I have added are a Sargent World Sport Seat and Spiegler brake and clutch lines. Since 2009 when I bought my previous bike (a 1998 Suzuki Bandit 1200S), I have been averaging 10,000-15,000 miles a year.

When did you decide to become more politically active in motorcycling issues? What prompted that decision?

It has been a gradual decision due to my life-long interest in politics and public policy. One of the first things I did when I started riding was join the AMA. At the time, I was trying to learn more about the sport, and the information for new riders on the AMA website proved to be very important to getting me into motorcycling the right way. As I read the American Motorcyclist magazine and reviewed the AMA’s position papers on motorcycling issues, it became apparent to me that motorcycling is facing tough challenges in the public policy arena on several fronts. For years I had used my knowledge of both motorcycling and politics to develop ideas about how to confront the motorcycling community’s public policy challenges that were both technically feasible and politically viable. When I became aware of the AMA EAGLES program, and immediately realized the potential opportunity to put my ideas into action with the support of the AMA.

Were you politically active before that on non-motorcycling issues?

Not particularly. I keep abreast of a wide range of political issues as part of my interest in the political arena. I have also done a couple minor volunteer things (e.g. door to door campaigning) for friends’ causes. That said, have shied away from direct involvement due to some of the goals I have set for my future political career. I have long been disenchanted with what I observe as the diminishing quality of what I see coming out of Washington, DC. However, when I see stories about drivers who injure motorcyclists being shown leniency, or have been stuck in the queue for a motorcycle-only checkpoint, or am forced to buy an original equipment exhaust system because an aftermarket exhaust system (that would pass the AMA’s SAE-approved sound meter test) would mean risking getting a ticket for an equipment violation, it is apparent something has to be done.

Is your EAGLES participation prompted by your desire to become more politically active? Or just to help out the AMA as a volunteer?

It’s a bit of both. Once I get my Ph.D I will become very politically active and will begin my career in elected politics. However, the more important issue here is furthering the AMA’s goals of protecting our freedoms to both ride and race. We, as a community of riders right across this country, are faced with a wide range of challenges. Many of those challenges are from sources that do not hate motorcycling, but simply do not understand it. Environmentalist groups who want to practice conservation of open land are laudable. However, those same groups need to understand responsible off-road riding on those lands, in general, does not pose a threat to their conservation practices. Similarly, towns and villages that pass so-called “bike bans” need to be educated about motorcycling, and provided with counsel about developing policies that address the issue of excessive motorcycle noise without punishing all motorcyclists for the actions of a few riders.

Have you taken direct political action on a motorcycling issue? If so, please explain what the issue was, what you did and why? What was the outcome?

Not as of yet. A college I was attending appeared to have a somewhat hostile attitude towards motorcyclists. While many of us who rode into campus parked on sidewalks and were not ticketed, the “official” motorcycle parking area was on the far end of campus, and only four spaces were provided. I ended up leaving the school before I took action. However, I had drawn up plans for something I called a “ride-in.” If my efforts to lobby on behalf of the motorcycling community at the college had failed, I was going to contact the AMA and other motorcycling organizations I am involved in and organize a protest event. Basically, the plan would have called for a large of a group of riders  to meet at a designated off-campus location, then ride into the campus area together and take up as much of the on-street and visitor parking as we could. It would be a great demonstration of both the unity and diversity of the motorcycling community. I still keep that idea in my back pocket just in case I run into a similar situation one day.

What are your plans for becoming more involved?

The first steps I plan to take are coordinating my efforts with the AMA’s needs and building up my contacts in the political arena. Based on my unique background and knowledge of public policy, I want to coordinate my efforts to make sure my talents are making the biggest impact they can for the motorcycling community. As a future politician, this is also an excellent opportunity to begin networking with elected and appointed public officials who I will be working with on a wide range of issues in the years to come. As the Road Racing Reporter for iHeart Media’s Two Wheel Power Hour Motorcycle Show, I have built up a list of contacts within the motorcycling community. By developing a presence in the political arena, one of my goals is to bring together members of both communities, on an as-needed basis, to foster the development of effective public policies that affect the motorcycling community.

What would you say to AMA members who may want to get involved, but are hesitant?

I would tell them that they do not need to do that much to make a big difference. A former classmate of mine in graduate school had a saying, “Each one, reach one, teach one.” I had adopted a similar mentality toward the discipline of professional motorcycle road racing in the U.S.. Wayne Rainey, Chuck Aksland, and Richard Varner have done a phenomenal job with developing the MotoAmerica brand. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of rebuilding the sport. What the sport needs is each fan do just a little to help the series grow. Whether it is volunteering at a MotoAmerica event, providing sponsorship to a MotoAmerica rider, helping a family afford getting their kids into racing, or just inviting friends to come with them to events, if we each move the sport forward one inch, just one inch, there is no telling how far and how fast we can move the sport forward, together. It is the same with motorcycling in general. You do not have to be a big name lobbyist in Washington, DC to make a difference on the issues that affect the motorcycling community. If we can grow the AMA EAGLES ranks and equip more AMA members with the knowledge and skills to advocate for motorcyclists’ interests, and we can each make even one inch of progress on the issues the motorcycling lifestyle is facing, just imagine how fast and how far we can advance and protect our freedoms to ride and race.

What else would you like to get across in this story?

I would say one of the biggest challenges the motorcycling community faces is the image of motorcycling. Walk up to random people in your local shopping mall and ask them what comes to mind when they hear the word “motorcycle”. Chances are they will say biker gangs, kids popping wheelies down the freeway, or stunts in movies. A lot of times when I talk to non-riders about motorcycling, I feel like I am having to work hard to show I am neither a cautionless thrill-seeker or a juvenile delinquent. While we, as a community, cannot directly stop those who propel the prevailing negative media image of motorcycling, we can do an awful lot to advance a far more positive image of it. Sometimes I am rushing while I am touring, trying to get to a destination on time. But when I stop at an Interstate rest area and someone asks me about riding, I always take time to answer their questions and be friendly. Should I have to do that? Probably not, but I realize the importance advancing a more positive, friendly, safety-conscious, inclusive image of the sport. I think it is important that groups like the AMA and MotoAmerica work together to positively challenge the negative media stereotype of our community. In the public policy arena, people come up with brilliant public policies all the time that are never adopted. Real progress on public policy issues, motorcycling-related or otherwise, is a product of consensus. For us, the motorcycling community, we need to gain the support of the non-riding community on many of our issues in order to have a more effective voice at the state and national level. However, it is impossible for someone to effectively support something they do not understand. This is not to say we need to make every American a rider (though that would be great). What is needed are two things: (1) A better, general understanding of our community and chosen lifestyle, and (2) a better realization that our freedom to ride is tied to a culture of personal freedom. We need to do more to invite non-riders into our community. This is not meant to be a method of recruiting new riders, but rather recruiting new supporters. Those who want to curtail our freedoms to ride and race often know very little about our lifestyle or passion. Often they are trying to solve a problem they do not fully understand. It is important that those individuals are given the opportunity to learn more about the motorcycling community, so that they can understand how much some of their ideas or policies may unintentionally harm our freedom. We, as a community, may also want to look at building alliances with other groups whose freedom is also under attack. We absolutely need accountability with motorcycling to ensure the freedoms to ride and race are not abused. However, as I am fond of saying, accountability is a method of ensuring freedom; not unilaterally suppressing it. The freedom to ride and race and fundamentally part of a culture that promotes individual liberty and accountability over high-handed micro-management by government.

I would also like to make a particular note about getting young people involved in advocating for the motorcycling lifestyle. As a member of the up-and-coming generation, we have by-and-large become disenchanted with our Western existence. While we are blessed with a quality of life many do not have access to, it has been opined countless times that the later Generation Xers, Generation Yers, and Millennials are very apathetic toward politics and public policy. I would argue differently. Look at some of the politicians that have struck a chord with my generation. Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and even Donald Trump have, on the average, better engaged younger people than more traditional politicians like John Kerry and Mitt Romney. My theory for this is that the traditional political marketing techniques, which center around repetition, targeted personal attacks, and appealing to deeply-held values, are a turn off to the best educated and economically depressed generation in American history. Many of us grew up following what we were told to do: Go to school, get good grades, and you’ll get a good job and you will find economic security. The reality has not matched the bedtime stories for many of us. It is nearly impossible to convince this generation of the reality of the American Dream when many of us are living at home or move in with our friends to dingy apartments while working retail jobs and volunteering to try and get experience. We are also a tech-savvy generation that is not as wowed by marketing schemes. In the YouTube world we now, and for the foreseeable future will exist in, young people now have access to far more of the reality of so many parts of the world than what the 30-minute evening news could ever deliver. Our difficulty to impress with fancy, inauthentic marketing gimmicks and our financial struggles have made us a very cynical generation, and for good reason.

On the surface, this makes the outlook for the motorcycling lifestyle and the advocacy for it appear bleak. A generation that does not have the disposable income previous generations have had, and a lack of enthusiasm or even distaste for what is commonly viewed as a stale, ungenuine political system does not appear to be very reassuring. However, to me, the very core of what motorcycling is is what will make the difference for us. For those of us who ride, what is more real than the feeling of riding? The freedom, sensation, and adventure that gets our souls revved up every time we put the kickstand up is about the most authentic thing I have ever experienced. Motorcycling is also very personal. Unlike so many corporate goods and services we can obtain in a shopping mall or a big box store, each motorcycle and rider is a unique pairing. Whether it is the type of motorcycle we buy, the accessories we put on it, the roads we chose to ride, or the places we chose to travel to, each pairing is a unique, exciting, authentic story unlike any other. What we need to do is not try to tell the up-and-coming generation to ride. Rather, we need to share our experiences and lifestyle with them, and show them that our community and lifestyle is all about what they are all about. As for advocacy, we are a resourceful, creative, motivated, and compassionate generation. Thanks to the likes of social networking outlets, we are staying close to friends and family that in generations past would have been long forgotten. We are interacting with more other members of our own generation that generations past. With each of those interactions, we are learning a little more about each other and the many cultures and places we all come from. So when it comes to advocacy for the motorcycling lifestyle, I firmly believe this up-and-coming generation, with our strong sense of connection with each other, mastery of technology, intolerance for the inauthentic, and ingenuity is primed to promote and protect the motorcycling lifestyle in new, creative, and more effective ways. This generation has shown itself to be one to stand up for a good cause. We only need show them just how much the freedoms to ride and race are worth standing up for.

 

The New Rider Advice New Riders Hardly Every Receive


If you are going to ride like you have something to prove, please do not ride 

One of the biggest problems motorcycling as has faced for a long time is its hooliganistic image. Try walking up to three random people in the mall and ask them what is the first thing that comes to their mind when they hear the word, “motorcycle.” Chances are it will be Harley (not a bad thing), biker gangs (not a good thing), kids popping wheelies down freeways (really not a good thing), or loud exhaust. Without opening the cans of worms that is exhaust noise, two of those four things are examples of the wrong reasons to ride. It is because some riders allow their ego to overtake their judgment that the American Motorcyclist Association is constantly fighting bike bans (as in you cannot legally ride a motorcycle in a village or city), motorcycle-only checkpoints, and the like. It is because of such riders that myself and countless others get followed around by law enforcement, feel less welcome in some establishments, and have parents usher their kids away from us.

I have has several former co-workers who did not want to buy a bike that was too small to keep up with their friends who rode back roads at 140mph. More on engine size can be found in the next section, but for those individuals, the problems was not that they wanted a big bike. Rather, they had the wrong mentality towards riding. They were too interested in fitting in, and not interested enough in what was safe or what was best for them in the long-term. Riding is your own adventure, not someone else’s. Too many riders get into riding to feel accepted or to prove how brave they are, only to find themselves in traction, in a casket, or back on the couch all weekend. We are all ambassadors of this sport the moment we swing our leg over a motorcycle. We have a responsibility to ourselves, as well as each other, to not ruin someone else’s time on a motorcycle. This includes not letting our insecurity get the best of us. If you want to get into riding but do not feel comfortable riding with your family or friends, contact the author. I will help you find the right group to ride with. Motorcycle riding can be one of the most positive or destructive forces in one’s life. What makes the difference is the attitude we bring to riding. Just like shouting out the ending before a movie begins, please do not ruin riding for everyone else. Don’t be that person.


 

Size doesn’t always matter, but you don’t need a big one to have fun

Back to those co-workers of mine who did not want to buy too small of a bike. The truth is even 250cc motorcycles are much higher performance that your average saloon car. A Scion TC averages 6.8-7.3 seconds 0-60 ($21,300 new). A Subaru WRX STi ($38,995 new) is around 5.0 seconds 0-60. A used Kawasaki Ninja 250 (model years 1987-2007) has a 5.75 seconds 0-60 ($1,500-$3,000 on Craigslist). A 1999-2001 Suzuki SV650 has a 3.2 second 0-60 ($2,000-$4,500). As one can see, you do not need a big motorcycle engine to obtain superior performance. If you are worried about riding 140mph, not only are you missing the point of riding, but you will not enjoy it as much. When you highside for the first time and realize just how much power you have between your legs, you may not want to go back to riding. When you have a little less power that you can learn to manage, you will soon leave your friends in the dust when you hit the twisties. Moreover, a new rider needs a bike they feel comfortable maneuvering in an emergency. You cannot power your way through that deer that jumps out in front of you.


 

Develop your (real) riding skills

Sure, there are the skills that you consciously use to ride a motorcycle. Practicing your steering, braking, and accelerating are all very important (more on these in the next sections). However, there are lots of other skills and senses that riding a motorcycle requires. The sharper those senses are, the faster, smoother, and safer you will be able to ride confidently. Most important among these is what I call “eyework.” Nick Ienatsch has a great chapter on this topic in his book, “Sport Riding Techniques (1).” Some of the following section is borrowed from that book, and it is recommended that new riders read it in its entirety.

The first example of eyework is practicing looking through the corner, and looking as far up the road as possible. This was one of the hardest concepts for me to grasp when I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF)’s Basic Rider Course (BRC). It felt very unnatural at first. Honestly, I did not really understand where the instructors wanted me to look. Why would I want to look at the exit of a corner just as I am turning into it?

But once I got used to it, it was more than worth it. I could navigate corners much more quickly and sharply than when I first started riding. This was because I felt more balanced, and I could better tell exactly where I was in a bend. On long, straight roads, look as far down the road as you can. When there is something lying in the road that could put a gash in your tire, it will give you the most time to react to it. This is not to say a rider should ignore what else is going on in front of them. A safe rider keeps their eyes moving, constantly scanning for threats in the road and alongside it. That said, looking down the road helps you “slow down” what you are seeing, giving you a feeling of even more time to react. When you come over that crest and there is a critter in the middle of the road, you need all the reaction time you can get.

For cornering, I will look down the road in the direction of my braking marker, then look to the apex of the corner (what I am turning toward) as I initiate my turn-in. As I begin to tip in, I quickly change my glance to where I want to exit the corner, or as far ahead in the corner as I can see. As I progress my eyes through the corner, I scan the road surface for anything that could cause an issue (gravel, dead animals, crack sealer, etc.). The hardest part is learning to not overreact if you do see something in the corner. Our instinct is to look at the obstacle and try to maneuver around it. Motorcycles are so sensitive to their riders, that such a reaction will often result in a collision. To practice avoiding such hazards, focus your eyes on the solution (a path around the obstacle) and not the obstacle itself. Go to a parking lot and practice turning. As you are turning, start changing only your gauze and see how the motorcycle reacts. Then pick a couple points in the parking lot (maybe where parking lines cross) and pretend they are objects. Start turning toward them, then change your focus to a line around them. Vary your speed to get a better idea of how your particular motorcycle will react to different inputs at different speeds and lean angles.

In addition to making sure you are focused on the right points on the road, it is just as important to “see” what you are not focusing on. If all obstacles were immobile like gravel or a dead animal, motorcycle safety would be orders of magnitude easier to achieve. Sadly, inattentive drivers, live animals, falling debris, and the like do not always cross out direct line of sight or stay in one place. In order to deal with such hazards, one must practice keeping their eyes moving when riding, as well as strengthen their peripheral and other visual skills. Our peripheral vision is probably the most important of these skills. Just because a rider is focused on the path around a hazard does not mean he or she does not need to be able to see what the hazard is doing. If a deer suddenly starts crossing the road, one needs to both focus on a path around the deer as well as be able to see what the deer is doing. If the deer suddenly turns around, a rider will want to see that and adjust their line and speed through a corner. To develop this skill, try watching TV while looking only at one of the four corners of the screen. You do not have to miss your entire favorite show while doing this. However, you will be impressed with how much of the show you will be able to “see” the more you do it. For more techniques and information on this issue, see Ienatsch’s book referenced above (1).


 

Go back to the course, and often

As you begin to master the vision skills discussed above, apply them to the same drills that you did during your MSF BRC. While some ranges are not open to the public, many of them are located in parking lots at community colleges, career centers, motorcycle dealers and the like. Here in Columbus, Ohio, the Iron Pony has a range painted in the outer part of its parking lot. You may not find yourself using all of the skills that the BRC emphasized in your everyday riding. However, those techniques are like tools when your bike is broke down on the side of the road: Better to have them and not need them, than need them and not have them. If you do not have a range around you, use an empty parking lot. Parking spaces are usually 18’x8′. Use this links to practice guides prepared by the Idaho STAR Motorcycle Safety Program to see some of the ways a rider can use a parking lot like an MSF range:

https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=9B7F8C9FBADF30FC!209755&authkey=!AFjXhAIM-rU5HRo&ithint=file%2cpdf

http://idahostar.org/resources/practice-guide


 

Gear up

New riders are statistically predisposed to crashing at a much higher rate than more experienced riders. While no rational rider plans to crash their bike, new riders all too often find themselves doing some soil sampling due to entering a corner with too much speed. Another common accident is a car driver turning left in front of a motorcycle. In light of the probability of a crash and the severe injuries that can result from one, it is best to be prepared for the worst. As a lot of veteran riders told me when I started riding, “Dress for the crash.”

Even though I am an “all the gear, all the time” (ATGATT) rider, I am not here to tell you what to wear when you ride. As long as you do not take me out if/when you crash, it is not my skin and bones on the line. If you want to ride in a t-shirt, gym shorts, and flip flops just like your riding buddies, just do a quick Google image search for “motorcycle road rash” before you do. It is hard to conceptualize what it feels like to slide on hot asphalt. You are tough, right? You will get right up, rub some dirt in it, and feel fine. Unfortunately it is not that simple. If you would not want to run an electric belt sander over your skin, riding without gear might not be for you.

I realize riding gear is not inexpensive. Plus, it does get hot outside in some parts of the U.S.. However, personally, I would rather be soaked in sweat for an afternoon than covered in skin grafts for the rest of my life. Just ask yourself before you ride if it is worth blowing your entire health insurance deductible on something that could be prevented with $300-400 in riding gear and drinking a couple extra bottles of water? Skin grafts are not exactly easy on the eyes, and quite painful to have done. Do yourself a favor and Google image search those too. From experience seeing several people crash without riding gear, it is hardly worth risking so much to “fit in.” The most memorable of these was watching my best friend crash in front of me. We went over a set of train tracks and he tucked the front. He was coming past me to lead us back to his house, and instead almost took my bike out. He is an Iraq veteran who was in a number of firefights and hand-to-hand combat scenarios. Even after all of that, he confided in me that the most painful thing he has ever experienced was scrubbing the polyester out of his road rash wounds. His shirt had literally melted into his skin. Think about your family, friends, and significant other, and ask yourself if it is worth the risk. If you still think it is, I will not do anything to stop you or change your mind.

For those of you who have decided to change your mind, there are plenty of options for sturdy and relatively inexpensive riding gear. Start with a good helmet. While a full-face helmet offers the best protection, a number of three-quarters helmets with face shields also offer a strong level of protection for the entire head. While some brands are of a higher quality than others, it is more important to make sure the helmet has the proper safety certifications. All on-road riding helmets must have a DOT-approval sticker on them (usually on the back of the helmet). A Snell 2010 or later rating is also highly recommended, as it means the helmet has passed another rigorous set of safety tests. Also, if you do happen to have an unfortunate crash, be sure to get yourself a new helmet before swinging a leg back over a bike. Chances are the helmet is fine, but is it really worth the risk? For more information on helmet technology and fitment, please visit The Service Pavillion’s website: http://www.theservicepavilion.com/

In addition to a helmet, a riding jacket, pants, gloves, and boots complete the riding wardrobe. The jacket and pants can be made of leather or a motorcycle-specific textile material. What is important is that it is an abrasion-resistant material. Denim-based garments like jeans and denim jackets are really just plain cotton. While they may seem study on a work site, they shred very easily in high-abrasion situation like a motorcycle crash. While a great many riders wear riding jackets, far fewer wear riding pants. In reality, the legs are far more susceptible to injury in a motorcycle crash. Between contact with the road surface to the motorcycle coming down on top of them, a rider’s legs are in great peril when the shiny side goes down. Motorcycle-specific riding pants are usually equipped with armor and/or padding to protect the legs in a crash, and sometimes have extra padding in the rear for those longer rides. Similarly, motorcycle-specific gloves have curved fingers for gripping the handlebars and have extra protection in the parts of the hand the usually make contact with the road during a crash. While racing style motorcycle boots generally are not necessary for the street, and sturdy set of over-the-ankle work boots will help keep your foot attached to your body if you should go down. If you have more specific questions about riding gear, please do not hesitate to ask the author.


 

Don’t be afraid to get wet

When I was a graduate student, I used to ride my motorcycle to my part-time job rain or shine. When my co-workers would ask me if I had lost my sanity, I would respond, “There are only three ways to improve at riding in the wet: Practice, practice, and practice.” When I first got into motorcycle riding, I was a fair weather rider. That all changed after I got stuck in the rain a few times. Meteorology, despite its name, is not exactly an exact science. Like other riding skills, it is far better to have strong wet weather riding skills you never have to use than to put yourself and your bike at risk in wet conditions. Sitting under a bridge on an interstate highway is actually quite a scary experience.

When I decided to get into long-distance riding in 2009, I knew this was an area I needed to improve on.  So I rode every chance I got in the rain. Today, riding in the rain really does not phase me at all. In reality, riding in the rain is great training for all sorts of low-traction conditions. Whether it is rain, gravel, sand, crack sealer, or a combination of the above, riding in the rain will improve your chances of successfully navigating any less-than-perfect riding surface. A lot of motorcycle riding gear (which is discussed in the previous section) is waterproof (or relatively close to it). Riding gloves tend to be the exception to this. However, rain gloves are relatively inexpensive, and easily double as cold-weather gloves.

 

(1): “Sport Riding Techniques: How To Develop Real World Skills for Speed, Safety, and Confidence on the Street and Track” by Nick Ienatsch