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The Why Behind Arai Helmets

The Why Behind Arai Helmets
Akihito Arai pictured at the Arai factory in Japan.

In 1914, a doctor practicing near the Brooklands racetrack in England first correlated the relationship between motorcycle accidents and serious head injuries. Dr. Eric Gardner went on to invent the first purpose-built motorcycle helmet. It wasn’t until two decades later, when a head injury resulting from a motorcycle accident took the life of Thomas Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, that the first serious studies were conducted into the efficacy of motorcycle helmets in reducing the severity of head injuries. Hugh Cairns, Lawrence’s attending doctor and a leading neurosurgeon, used his findings and influence to ensure that helmets would become obligatory equipment for British Army Signal Corps riders going forward.

Early helmets were mostly constructed from cork, leather, and sometimes wood, and remained so until post-war developments in synthetic materials lead innovators such as Hirotake Arai to develop an entirely new design. Arai, a keen motorcyclist, had retooled his family hat business to produce safety helmets for construction workers. Applying the same manufacturing techniques, he began making and selling the first Japanese motorcycle helmets in 1952. They were made from a fiberglass resin outer shell lined initially with cork, and later, expanded polystyrene (EPS).

Seven decades on, motorcycle helmets, along with a multitude of international standards, have evolved exponentially, as has our understanding of science. Nonetheless, the infinite number of variables existing in a real-world crash ensure that even the most sophisticated models used to gauge a helmet’s ability to absorb an impact will remain controversial. While tests aimed at appraising shell penetration, peripheral vision, and the strength of chin straps lend themselves more readily to laboratory observation, governing bodies are forced to compromise in the face of producing practical, repeatable tests that accurately simulate impact absorption.

The Why Behind Arai Helmets
An Arai factory engineer utilizing an ‘anvil test’ rig on a helmet shell.

An effective helmet design aims to minimize the energy reaching the wearer in a crash, and since much of the testing involves dropping helmets from a given height onto an anvil, passing the resulting standards can be as simple as thickening the EPS layer in all the right places. Arai argues that the resulting helmet would no longer possess the overall strength and durability afforded by a sphere and ignores the role a helmet plays in redirecting and absorbing energy. In the same way a stone can be made to skim across a pond, a round, smooth helmet will glance off a surface, redirecting energy away from the wearer.

Arai’s design philosophy first accepts that practical limitations on a helmet’s size and weight restrict the volume of protective EPS foam it can contain. Inevitably, helmets can’t prevent all head injuries. But, with the understanding that safeguarding a rider’s head goes far beyond meeting the demands of governing bodies, Arai applies the “glancing off” philosophy to design helmets that reduce the effect of impacts on riders’ heads. Given that most impacts are likely to occur at an oblique angle because motorcyclists are moving at speed, Arai’s design aims to maximize the ability of a helmet to redirect energy by glancing off an object. The design is a function of shape, shell strength, and deformation characteristics that absorb energy along with EPS.

The Why Behind Arai Helmets

Arai collects crashed helmets for analysis and data collection, and uses the information to continually refine their helmet design.

Arai has developed and refined its approach through decades of evaluation and experimentation. Its helmets are round and smooth, and any protruding vents or airfoils are designed to detach on impact. The shell itself must be strong and flexible, but it must not deform too quickly or it will dig in rather than glance off. Arai uses multiple laminated layers combining glass and composite fiber to produce a very strong but lightweight material, and areas of potential weakness at the helmet’s edge and eyeport are reinforced with an additional belt of “super fiber.” Arai says its shells can withstand much higher abrasion than what is mandated by standards tests, and in doing so, can retain its energy absorption properties for a second or third impact.

The Why Behind Arai Helmets
Every Arai helmet is still made and inspected by hand at the family-owned factory in Japan

While glancing off can redirect energy from the impact, a high-velocity crash may also require a helmet to absorb and distribute impact energy. Arai’s proprietary one-piece, multi-density EPS liner is made up of different sections of varying densities corresponding to the adjacent shell surface. This helps maintain the helmet’s spherical form and enhances its ability to glance off. In the case of a crash involving a slide along the ground and into an object, such as a curb or barrier, Arai’s helmets are designed to deflect the initial impacts with the ground with minimal shell deformation, saving its absorption properties for the rapid deceleration caused by impacting the object.

While glancing off can redirect energy from the impact, a high-velocity crash may also require a helmet to absorb and distribute impact energy. Arai’s proprietary one-piece, multi-density EPS liner is made up of different sections of varying densities corresponding to the adjacent shell surface. This helps maintain the helmet’s spherical form and enhances its ability to glance off. In the case of a crash involving a slide along the ground and into an object, such as a curb or barrier, Arai’s helmets are designed to deflect the initial impacts with the ground with minimal shell deformation, saving its absorption properties for the rapid deceleration caused by impacting the object.

The Why Behind Arai Helmets
Each helmet shell undergoes a series of quality control checks before continuing through the production process.

Many other helmet manufacturers and philosophies exist, and riders must make their own conclusions in the knowledge that certification requirements mandated by bodies such as the DOT and ECE only guarantee a minimum standard. Every Arai helmet is still made and inspected by hand at the family-owned factory in Japan; the only automated process is the laser cutting of the eyeports. Over its history Arai has built an enviable reputation for quality and attention to detail. As the saying goes, it is expensive for a reason.

For more information on Arai helmets, visit araiamericas.com.

The post The Why Behind Arai Helmets first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission

Honda DCT Dual Clutch Transmission cutaway
A cutaway of the Honda VFR1200F’s engine is color-coded to show the 1-3-5 gears, clutch pack and solenoid valves in red and the corresponding setup for gears 2-4-6 in blue. Dual clutches allow rapid-fire, nearly seamless gear changes. (Tech images/illustrations courtesy of American Honda)

The age of the Dual Clutch Transmission is not approaching, it’s already here. If you happen to be comparison shopping Ferraris, Lamborghinis, or McLarens to fill out your garage, you won’t find a stick shift in the bunch, just DCTs. But for now, Honda is the sole motorcycle manufacturer offering this option.

First introduced for 2010 on the VFR1200F, Honda’s 2021 lineup offers seven distinct models with an optional DCT: three versions of the Gold Wing, two versions of the Africa Twin, the NC750X, and the new Rebel 1100. For the 2019 and 2020 model years, across Gold Wing, Africa Twin, and NC750X models, half the units sold were equipped with DCTs. And when you include Fourtrax ATVs and Pioneer and Talon side-by-sides, Honda obviously has a whole lotta DCT goin’ on.

Honda DCT Dual Clutch Transmission 2010 VFR1200F
Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission debuted as an option on the 2010 VFR1200F. (Photo by Kevin Wing)

In our road tests we’ve discussed the benefits of having a DCT along for the ride. Even if you absolutely insist on manual shift for your own machines, you gotta admit an automatic transmission opens the door to many new riders — and that’s always a good thing for our sport. Without clutch and shift levers, there are fewer controls to operate, allowing beginning riders to stay focused on throttle control, braking, leaning and staying out of harm’s way. They can also avoid the frustration of stalling or not finding neutral. Grizzled riders may scoff that such are the dues one must pay to learn to ride a motorcycle, but the fewer barriers to entry the better.

Honda DCT Dual Clutch Transmission
Illustration shows the shaft-in-shaft configuration of the dual clutches, as well as the odd (1-3-5) gears and clutch in red and even (2-4-6) gears and clutch in blue.

Since we’re only gonna find more DCT options down the pike, let’s learn more about how it works. First, understand that this system does indeed use two clutches rather than just one hanging off the end of the transmission input shaft. Honda’s DCT setup positions a pair of clutches in a shaft-in-shaft configuration: a hollow outer shaft and a second one that runs inside it (see illustration 1). One clutch carries odd-numbered gears (1, 3, 5, plus 7 on Gold Wing models) while the other carries even-numbered gears (2, 4, 6).

Honda DCT Dual Clutch Transmission illustration
On the Gold Wing models, the DCT adds a 7th gear as well as a reverse chain and gear.

In the accompanying color illustrations and cutaway VFR1200 engine image, the red parts are the 1-3-5 clutch pack and gears, while the blue parts are the 2-4-6 clutch pack and gears. This allows two gears to be engaged at the same time, so while one gear is busy supplying power to the rear wheel, the DCT preselects the next gear and it stays ready for immediate engagement when the clutches pass the baton. This is accomplished through the use of linear solenoid valves that send hydraulic pressure to actuate the clutches as directed by the ECU.

Honda DCT Dual Clutch Transmission Rebel 1100 left grip
On the Honda Rebel 1100 DCT’s left handlebar are the manual downshift (-) and upshift (+, on front of switchgear) buttons and emergency brake. Note absence of clutch lever. (Photo by Drew Ruiz)

In practice, a DCT-equipped motorcycle with the ignition off or at idle will be in neutral, so all DCT bikes feature a parking brake (above). Once the bike has been started, to engage first gear the rider presses the “D” (Drive) button on the right switchgear (below). The “A/M” button switches between automatic and manual modes, and the “N” button shifts the transmission into neutral (this happens automatically when you come to a stop regardless of mode). When Drive has been engaged, to pull away from a stop all the rider has to do is roll on the throttle, just like the twist-and-go convenience of a scooter.

Honda DCT Dual Clutch Transmission Rebel 1100 right grip
Right handlebar has the DCT mode buttons. (Photo by Drew Ruiz)

The default mode is Automatic, with shift points electronically programmed. For fuel economy, the DCT typically shifts into higher gears quickly, to keep engine speed low. On the Rebel 1100 tested in this issue, DCT shift points vary based on the riding mode: Standard mode has a middle-of-the-road shift schedule, Rain mode shifts earlier to keep revs low, and Sport mode shifts later to allow high revs. When the throttle is rolled on abruptly, such as to make a quick pass, the DCT quickly downshifts a gear or two so the engine can deliver power as needed. At any time, a rider can use the down (-) or up (+) buttons on the left switchgear to change gears as desired.

Honda has also tailored the DCT for different models. For example, Africa Twin DCT models have four automatic modes (Drive and three Sport modes with successively higher shift points), and Gold Wing DCT models have 7-speed transmissions with a reverse gear.

With more than a decade of proven performance in the books, the motorcycling Dual Clutch Transmission is clearly here to stay.

The post Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

How to Plug and Repair a Tubeless Motorcycle Tire

plug repair a motorcycle tire
Sacre bleu! The discovery we all dread, usually right before a ride. Don’t attempt to repair a severe gash or cut, or a puncture in the sidewall of the tire. Once you get the hole plugged, it’s off to your dealer for a new tire.

Considering how bulletproof the rest of our motorcycles have become, it’s ironic that it only takes a little 1 ½-inch box nail in a tire to bring the whole show to a halt. We’re fortunate today that tubeless tire technology prevents intrusions by nails, screws and other foreign objects from becoming catastrophic blowouts. The object usually stays in the hole, the only place from which the tire can lose air, so it deflates more slowly than a puncture in a tire with a tube on an unsealed spoked wheel (which can lose air through all of the spoke nipples and even the tire bead). But even if that pointy thing does stay put and flush with the tread surface, as it flexes back and forth in the carcass the tire will eventually deflate enough to become a problem. Hopefully you will have noticed its presence or even received a low tire-pressure warning before that happens.

Of course, if it doesn’t stay put or is large enough to stick out of the tire (like a 6-inch gutter nail — don’t ask), the tire will probably deflate rapidly enough to strand you by the roadside. Unless you’re lucky enough to be next to a motorcycle shop at the time, you’re going to need either a good roadside assistance plan or a tubeless tire repair kit. (We’ll cover tube-type tire roadside repairs in another installment).

plug repair a motorcycle tire
Once you’re sure your glue isn’t dried out and you have a way to re-inflate the tire, pull the offending object out. You may need pliers if it’s really in there.
plug repair a motorcycle tire
Use the reamer in the kit to enlarge and clean the hole—this is where large T-handles make the job a lot easier. Take some extra time if the tire has steel belts.
plug repair a motorcycle tire
Install a worm on the insertion tool — note that its tapered tip is split to allow the tool to pull free of the string once it’s well inside the hole.
plug repair a motorcycle tire
Put some rubber cement on the worm and a blob on the hole, too, and slowly insert the string in the hole about two-thirds of the way. If it falls inside the tire, just start over with a new string. Gently pull the insertion tool free, leaving the worm in the tire. Again, T-handles make this much easier.
plug repair a motorcycle tire
Use the knife in the plug kit or any sharp blade to cut the plug flush with the tread surface. Give it a few minutes to set up, inflate the tire and then spray some water or a soapy solution on the plug to make sure it’s holding air.

Here at Rider we’ve fixed enough tubeless punctures to appreciate that the most dependable tire repair kit you can carry uses rubber strings or “worms” for the plug that gets inserted into the tire, preferably the large red ones like those in the T-Handle Tubeless Tire Repair Kit from Stop & Go. There are more convenient plug types, but the strings rarely let us down. If you’ve had good luck with liquid sealers, installed either pre- or post-puncture, more power to you — we often carry Slime for tube-type tires on bikes that have tubes in the hope of avoiding a roadside tire dismount. But we change bikes too often to make using the pre-installed sealers practical, and prefer to avoid irritating the mechanic who has to change a tubeless tire on a wheel full of messy sealer.

Repair kits that use string plugs often come with rubber cement, which — depending on the string type — may not be necessary to complete the repair, but at a minimum it acts as a lubricant to ease inserting the plug, and seems to help vulcanize the plug to the tire. It’s important to keep your glue supply fresh (preferably unopened), or you may find that it has dried out when you need it.

plug repair a motorcycle tire
Stop & Go’s T-Handle Kit has everything you need to affect a solid repair. Just add pliers and something with which to inflate the tire (CO2 cartridges or a compressor).
plug repair a motorcycle tire
Stop & Go also offers a plugging kit that uses special mushroom-shaped plugs that don’t require glue, and the pocket version doesn’t take up any more space than the T-Handle Kit, so we often carry both.
plug repair a motorcycle tire
A portable mini compressor beats the heck out of CO2 cartridges if you have the space. Stop & Go’s is small, inexpensive and has a built-in gauge.

No matter what sort you use, any plug inserted from the outside should be considered a very temporary repair used to get you and your bike to the nearest replacement tire. Limit your speed per the plug kit instructions, and replace the tire as soon as possible. Special patch plugs inserted from the inside of a tubeless tire are certainly safer, but even if you can find someone who will install one for you, every tire manufacturer (and even those who sell patch plugs) recommend replacing the tire instead since it has to come off anyway.

The photos in this article cover the basic plugging process with rubber strings. Depending on the size of the hole, you may need more than one — I once used three in an ATV tire and it got me back to camp.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Carburetors and Ethanol

carburetor float bowl
This is what even relatively new carburetor float bowls can start to look like when left to sit with unstabilized fuel. Upon restarting that debris can loosen and clog jets, typically the pilot jet.

For better or worse, most of the gasoline you can buy at stations around the U.S. has been “oxygenated” with some kind of additive since a series of amendments were made to the Clean Air Act in the 1990s. The idea is to help the gasoline burn more completely, and thus cut down on harmful emissions. The latest additive is ethanol, which — without getting into the political and environmental debates about its efficacy — is fine for use in fuel-injected vehicles that are run regularly and designed to use up to 10% ethanol (85% in flex-fuel vehicles).

On the other hand, ethanol-oxygenated fuel is not so great for any vehicles that sit between uses, and/or carbureted engines, like the one in your dirt bike or older motorcycle. Ethanol is alcohol, and alcohol is corrosive to certain parts in older fuel systems. Alcohol is also “hygroscopic” and likes water, so when water gets into fuel during a fill-up or from condensation, it can mix with the ethanol, creating a chemical combo that causes rust, corrosion, acids and sticky varnish that wreak havoc in fuel systems, especially carburetors. Ethanol can even cause rubber parts and fuel lines to dry out, harden and deteriorate prematurely.

Alternatives are few — unless you’re lucky enough to have a fuel supplier or gas station near you that sells ethanol-free gasoline (see pure-gas.com or buyrealgas.com), or you’re OK paying $15-$18 per gallon for ethanol-free gas in cans from a dealer (see vpracingfuels.com), most of us are stuck buying gasoline oxygenated with 10% ethanol. Again, your modern fuel-injected vehicle that you store in a dry place and run at least twice a month is unlikely to suffer any ill effects, but what should someone do with their older carbureted bike (or boat, lawnmower, string trimmer, generator, etc.)?

The simplest, best advice I can offer is…don’t let them sit. The shelf life of unstabilized gasoline containing ethanol is about one month. Running your vehicles every week — or two maximum — until fully warm is the best way to prevent fuel delivery problems. When you can’t run them, here’s what I do to minimize (not eliminate!) problems with my small collection of bikes, and my generator, string trimmer and lawnmower, even spare fuel in cans.

VP Racing
Only a handful of states mandate the sale of 10% ethanol gasoline, and none we’re aware of specifically prohibit the use of non-ethanol fuel, like many of the blends you can buy from VP Racing and some gas stations.

Half Full, Half Empty

On carbureted bikes with steel gas tanks, half the fuel system should be drained, and the other half kept full. Carburetors and their tiny air passages and jets can become plugged with aged fuel that deteriorates into sticky varnish over time. Since carb internals are made of non-ferrous aluminum, brass, plastic and rubber that won’t rust, if it’s practical to drain them (shut off the gas manually first or look for a vacuum-operated-type petcock that is off whenever the bike is), this is your best bet for trouble-free operation when refilled. O-rings and seals have been known to dry out and leak when carbs are left dry for a very long time, but this is less likely than plugged jets or worse if they’re left wet.

Some carburetors have a drain bolt in the bottom of their float bowls, others have a drain screw. Don’t overtighten either one, and only drain carburetors (into something please, not just onto the bike and floor) when the bike is off and cold. Don’t run the bike until it dies to suck the rest out — this can draw dirt and debris from the bottom of the float bowl into the carburetor. I once bought a Honda multi that had been stored in a basement for 15 years with the carbs drained and stabilized fuel kept in the tank, and it was rust-free and fired right up without carb service. If you’re careful, there’s no reason you can’t return newer, clean drained fuel to the tank.

Steel tanks on carbureted or fuel-injected bikes can rust inside, so it’s best to leave them at least ¾ full of fuel to which you have added stabilizer (more on this later). Some newer models have plastic-shrouded aluminum or plastic tanks, in which case it’s up to you, but make sure you stabilize it if you leave fuel in the tank. In really humid environments I would still keep an aluminum tank full.

Fuel injection systems seem much less susceptible to the ravages of stale fuel, and once full of stabilized fuel are almost carefree. In fact, some manufacturers warn against running their EFI bikes entirely out of fuel.

If you can’t drain carbs, after adding stabilizer to the fuel in the tank run the bike long enough to insure stabilized fuel has filled them, then shut off the bike and petcock. I carry a small bottle of stabilizer with me when I take out one of my less frequently ridden bikes, and add it at the gas station before riding home. Err on the side of adding more stabilizer; you can’t overdose (within reason) with the products mentioned below. Stabilized fuel in the carbs does not guarantee that they won’t suffer from plugged passages or jets, however, and you should still run bikes kept this way at least every three weeks. More often is simple insurance that you won’t need an expensive service — compare the cost of non-ethanol race gas and/or stabilizer to that of a carburetor rebuild and the former start to make economic sense. Just make sure you run the engine until it’s fully warm (to burn off water and contaminants in the oil and exhaust). While you’re at it, pump the fork and shocks and work the brakes, clutch and shifter to keep seals flexible and lubricated.

fuel stabilizer
Fuel treatments and stabilizers are not a panacea for ethanol, but they can help in conjunction with regular engine running.

A Stable Relationship

A good ally in the fight against bad gas and fuel delivery issues is fuel stabilizer. They’re not foolproof, but three we’ve found to provide consistent results with motorcycles are Star Tron Enzyme Fuel Treatment, Spectro FC Premium Fuel Conditioner & Stabilizer and Bel Ray All-in-One Fuel Treatment. There are others, but we lean toward these simply because they include motorcycles in their literature and FAQs and that gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling. All make lots of claims about their effectiveness that we have no way of proving or disproving, so just buy some and use it, or spend hours online researching them before you just buy some and use it. All of them offer smaller bottles and/or containers with measuring devices built-in to make carrying and using it while out on the bike easier.

The instructions for each will tell you how much to use, how long the fuel is usable when treated, etc. There are some consistent rules of thumb. You generally only need to stabilize fuel if you won’t use it all up within two months (but carbureted bikes should still be run every couple of weeks as described above). Adding a little new gas or stabilizer to old gas won’t renew it, nor will adding more stabilizer to old stabilized gas extend its usable life. Overdosing is not an issue (unless you drink it, duh), and in my experience none of them will cure a plugged-up carb no matter how much you add to the fuel. Your best bet is to avoid plugging it in the first place.

Good luck, and please write me with any questions, comments or dissimilar experiences! [email protected]

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Best Budget Brake Mods

motorcycle brake hacks and tips
Your motorcycle’s brakes are one of the most important components, and routine maintenance is essential to keeping the braking system operating at its best. There are also a few easy hacks to improve braking performance, like replacing stock pads with aftermarket sintered pads and swapping rubber OE lines with stainless steel. Photos by Spenser Robert.

We all like to talk about our motorcycle’s acceleration and handling capabilities, but when you really think about it, being able to stop efficiently is probably the most important thing your motorcycle has to do. Your brakes are critical, but unfortunately brake componentry is often where manufacturers skimp on quality to help keep a motorcycle’s MSRP down. The result can be a soft lever, poor initial bite, crummy modulation, fading under hard use or just plain lack of stopping power.

Not all issues are caused by less-than-ideal componentry, however, which is why the first suggestion for addressing underwhelming brake performance is to bleed the system.

Bleeding your brakes is actually just regular maintenance that your owner’s manual will probably suggest doing every 24 months, and if you ignore it then brake performance may suffer as a result. That’s because over time, brake fluid will absorb moisture out of the atmosphere and air can creep past the seals, making the fluid more compressible and lowering its boiling point. Both of those are bad things for your brakes and can lead to a brake lever or pedal that feels squishy or cause the brakes to fade as they get hot.

So if you’re not satisfied with your bike’s brakes, it might just be time to bleed the system. Make sure you’re using the appropriate DOT fluid — it’ll be printed on the master cylinder lid — lay down plenty of paper towels to protect your paint, and keep pumping that lever until every last bubble is pushed out and you see fresh, clean brake fluid.

If bleeding the brake doesn’t do the trick, the next step is to start replacing parts. And the easiest components to upgrade are your brake pads. Many stock pads are of the semi-metallic variety and designed for general use with a gentle bite for a friendlier feel. That’s fine if you’re primarily commuting or touring, but if you ride your bike hard on twisty roads and want more bite and power when you pull the lever, upgrading to sintered pads is going to increase the friction rating which will net a strong initial bite, more stopping power and better resistance to fading. For more in-depth info on sintered pads, check out DP Brakes’ website. It specializes in sintered pads and has a robust FAQ section online.

OE vs sintered brake pads
Many motorcycles come stock with semi-metallic brake pads (bottom). These pads offer a gentle bite, quiet operation and a progressive feel. They’re good all-around pads, but don’t have as strong an initial bite or as much stopping power as sintered brake pads (top).

Sintered pads will likely be a little pricier than OEM replacement pads, but they’re a simple upgrade and easy to rationalize if your stock pads are worn out. It’s always a good idea to scrub your rotors with 400-grit sandpaper or Scotch-Brite pads before installing new brake pads so the friction material has a fresh surface to bed into. Also keep in mind that new brake pads will need to be broken in with a series of progressively harder stops over the course of 50 to 100 miles.

cleaning brake rotors
It’s important to clean your rotors any time you install new brake pads. A pulsing brake lever — often caused by material buildup on the discs but frequently misdiagnosed as a warped rotor — can also be easily remedied with a quick scrub-down with 400-grit paper.

Another potentially beneficial mod is installing adjustable brake levers. The more the piston in the front brake master cylinder strokes, the more pressure is applied to the back of the brake pads. Installing an adjustable-reach front brake lever can enable you to reposition the lever for increased lever stroke as well as a more comfortable reach. Installing a matching set (brake and clutch levers) boosts your bike’s aesthetic as well as your comfort on the controls.

adjustable brake lever
More lever stroke means more brake pressure, so an adjustable lever with greater reach can net you better braking. Adjustable levers also offer more comfort than non-adjustable stock units, as well as a lot more style and refinement.

After bleeding your brakes, swapping pads and upgrading your levers, things start to get increasingly expensive and complicated. One popular modification is to replace OEM rubber brake lines with braided stainless steel hoses, but you’re not likely to notice any improvement unless you regularly brake in the 90th percentile. Riders that say stainless lines made a big difference are usually just experiencing the benefits of having fresh, bubble-free fluid in the brake system. Additionally, brake lines can be a pain to install, especially on bikes with ABS which often have complicated hose routing.

rubber vs stainless steel brake lines
Stainless-steel brake lines (bottom) don’t flex under pressure and are impervious to heat. However, you’re not likely to benefit from a set unless you are seriously aggressive on the brakes. Replacing the hoses on modern bikes — especially those with ABS — can be a pain.

Likewise, you can upgrade your master cylinder to one with a larger, radial piston or slap on some full-floating rotors, but those are pricey parts, and probably not a good investment for most street riders.

One final — and free — recommendation for squeezing more performance out of your brakes is to practice squeezing the lever — hard! The fact is, lots of people don’t know the limits of their bike’s current brakes, which — even if the lever feels squishy or there’s crummy feedback — are likely pretty powerful if you really bear down on them. So go find a clean, dry parking lot and practice some hard braking. It’s great training and a good way to learn what your brakes are actually capable of.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Group Riding Best Practices

motorcycle group riding
Riding in a group, especially in busy urban areas, can be either fun and empowering or stressful and even dangerous. Follow the guidelines in this story, and hopefully your next group ride will be an enjoyable and safe experience.

For some, group riding is a quintessential part of the motorcycling experience, a rolling social gathering that happens as naturally as a family party. It’s a fun way to keep a group together when traveling, and modern communication technology has only made it easier. Yet even seasoned riders, if they spend most of their time solo or don’t know the others in the group well, can feel a bit unsure about the rules, expectations and etiquette of group riding. So to help you navigate the dos and don’ts of riding in a group and become the person everyone likes to ride with, we’ve put together this handy primer.

The Basics

Staggered formation. You’ve probably noticed how groups of riders space themselves out within their lane; we call this “staggered formation.” The purpose is pretty simple: it allows each rider a clear view ahead, along with space to the side for any quick or sudden maneuvering in the case of road hazards like potholes, rocks, critters, debris, etc. The leader is typically in the left portion of the lane, rider No. 2 is in the right portion, rider No. 3 in the left and so on. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation recommends spacing yourself so that there is a two-second gap between you and the rider directly in front of you (see graphic below). As speeds increase, that means a longer distance, and at slow speeds (especially in heavy traffic areas) that means closing ranks and tightening up the formation.

Who rides where? Put an experienced, responsible rider in the lead position. The leader should obviously know the route you’re taking. The least experienced rider in the group goes next, in the No. 2 position behind and to the right of the leader. The last position, also called the “sweep,” should be another highly experienced rider. The sweeper should carry a first aid kit and tools, and should also know the route in case the group gets separated.

MSF staggered formation
Staggered formation is fundamental to group riding. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation recommends maintaining a two-second gap between you and the rider directly in front of you, and roughly a one-second gap between you and the next rider in the formation. At slower speeds, that means tightening the ranks. Graphic courtesy the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

Group size. Try to keep your group manageable — between five and seven riders is a good size. If necessary, break up large groups into smaller ones. 

Lane changes. Good leaders will be watching their mirrors, and will wait until there is a large enough space for the whole group to move over. Sometimes that’s just not possible, in which case the riders make individual lane changes, returning to their positions within the new lane. Maintain your speed when changing lanes! Remember that there are riders behind you who need to move over as well.

Communication. This is especially important in a group. The leader will often activate his or her turn signals early; following riders should also use their signals, essentially passing the message back. Some groups also like to use hand signals for upcoming turns: left arm straight out to the side for a left turn, left arm raised at a 90-degree angle for a right turn. There are a few other “universal” hand signals in the moto world: extending a hand down and opening and closing your fist tells another rider their turn signal is still on, and sticking a foot or hand out indicates a hazard in the road on either the left or right side. Below is a chart from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation showing some other common hand signals. Each group has their own way of communicating, so don’t be afraid to ask before you leave!

MSF hand signals
This chart from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation shows common hand signals used in group riding. Still, you should always check with your group to see if they use any special signals or ways of communicating.

Curves. When the road gets twisty, throw the staggered formation out the window. Forming a single file line gives you the space you need to lean and adjust your line if necessary. Remember this might also mean giving the rider ahead of you some extra space. 

Passing. Never blindly follow riders ahead of you when they pull out to pass a car. Move over to the left portion of the lane and wait until you have a clear view of the road ahead. That may mean waiting until the rider in front of you is safely back in the lane ahead of the vehicle you’re passing. Then check your mirror to make sure another speed demon isn’t trying to make the pass from behind you.

Being passed. Being passed by a single vehicle is easy: just let them go. There may be times when the vehicle doesn’t have the room to get around the whole group in one go. Don’t take offense, even if they’re obviously just being impatient. Open up a space and let them back in. There’s no sense in riding too close and putting yourself and the rest of your group in danger. 

But what if it’s another group of riders passing yours? Well, first off get in the habit of watching your mirrors (see Advanced Course below). That way you won’t be startled when riders start blasting past you. As the sweep rider, if you see another group approaching from behind, move to the right and wave them past. This lets them know that a) you see them, and b) you’re going to maintain your position to the right to safely allow them to pass. As a mid-pack or lead rider, keep an eye on your mirrors. If the headlight of the bike behind you moves to the right, look for passing riders and move right as well, waving them by. This can take time as the second group filters past, but just hold your right-side line and give your fellow riders a wave as they move on.

Staying together and on-track. Each group has its own procedure for this, and it’s something that should be discussed before you leave. Some groups prefer to stay in a pack at all times, with the leader pulling over immediately if you get separated, for example at a red light. Others, especially on long trips or when riding off-road, use the buddy system or back-marker technique. When approaching a turn or confusing intersection, check your mirrors. If you don’t see the rider behind you, pull over and wait. Basically you’re making sure that each turn is marked, and the sweep rider can pick up any stragglers.

Advanced Course

Now that you’ve got the basics down, let’s talk about being a better group rider. Instead of blindly following the tail of the rider in front of you like a bored packhorse, being aware and proactive will make you a more proficient, safer rider with whom others want to ride!

Awareness. This is something you should be practicing anytime you’re on the bike, not just in a group. You’re always scanning ahead, checking your mirrors and watching the patterns of other drivers, right? Don’t get lazy just because you’re surrounded by your “pack!” Watch your leader. If your group is stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle and the leader starts to peer around them, you can guess that a pass is imminent. Be ready to change lanes or pass quickly, safely and efficiently, keeping the whole group moving. If you’re on a multi-lane highway, the sweep rider could move over early and “set a pick” for the riders ahead, keeping the lane open for them to easily slide over.

Look farther than 20 feet ahead of you. See that “stale” green traffic light that could be getting ready to turn yellow? Be prepared for the rider in front of you to hit the brakes if the light changes. See the guy in the SUV in the next lane over, slowing down and looking over his shoulder? He likely wants to change lanes — keep an eye on him, and consider slowing to let him in, especially if your group is a large one.

Go with the flow. Group riding rules are not always black and white. For example, on long highway stretches it’s common for the group to spread out as everyone finds their own pace. Just be sure that you follow your group’s established procedure for back marking at turns. In areas of heavy traffic and slow speeds, try to keep your formation tight. Don’t be “that rider,” who dawdles and allows large gaps to form between you and the rider(s) ahead, then bolts through yellow lights at the last second, leaving those behind high and dry or forced to attempt to make the light. If your group hits some twisties and you find that you can’t keep up, don’t worry, just ride at your own pace. Wave the rider(s) behind you past if they want to go faster; at minimum, the sweep rider will stay with you and the rest of the group will wait for you to catch up ahead. This is part of the fun of group riding: you know your “pack” will take care of you.

Try to be consistent. It’s a lot easier to ride with people who are predictable. Hold your line, be smooth and steady with your speed and pay attention to your surroundings. Your fellow riders will thank you!

Final Exam

No, there isn’t actually a final exam, but I do want to leave you with this parting advice, and it’s the most important: ride your own ride.

Ultimately, we are all responsible for ourselves and only ourselves. Even though you’re in a group of other riders, you alone are in control of your bike and are therefore on a solo ride. If the group is doing stuff that makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. Ride your own pace, don’t run the red light even though the two riders ahead of you did, and if you need to take a break, signal to your group and pull over. And don’t attempt an unsafe pass — your group won’t leave you behind.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Storm Chaser: The Dangers That Follow Heavy Rains

Flooded street
Rising water during an isolated storm floods the road and drags gravel, silt and debris onto the roadway.

The sun may be shining now, but the dangers associated with that recent downpour may still be lingering around the next corner.

Many of the roads we love most meander along streams and rivers. During a storm, those ribbons of water often flood the adjacent roadway and then recede, leaving a mess of trouble for the rider. Even in areas where no stream is nearby, rushing water can instantly appear as storm runoff descends from hillsides, sloping yards and steep driveways during a heavy downpour. The waters rage across the road surface, dragging rocks, sticks, tree branches and an abundance of mud.

None of us likes to ride in foul weather. But, while we may be mindful of danger when dark clouds and lightning appear, we often forget about risk once the sun emerges and the road surface dries. When rain has moved on, it’s easy for us to move on as well, picking up the pace and riding as if everything is normal. But road conditions are often not back to “normal” in the hours — or even days — following a severe storm.

dirty road surface
Just a few hours after the storm, the sun shines and the road dries, but dangerous silt and debris can catch the unsuspecting rider by surprise.

Look for uneven color on the road. Light tan areas on the surface may be fine silt that has been washed onto the road by recent flooding. It is usually seen in low spots on the road and can be particularly slippery, especially in the middle of a turn. Be even more vigilant to look for dark areas that may indicate remaining damp areas — especially in the shadows. These dark spots can be as slippery as grease and could put a rider down instantly if the bike is leaned or if brakes or throttle are applied while riding through it. If you can’t avoid it, coast through with no throttle or brake adjustments while staying as upright as possible.

Notice unusual collections of gravel, dirt and debris at the road’s edge. That’s a sign that water has crested above the road level recently. And a good indicator there may be large areas of debris up ahead.

While you’re at it, scan side roads and gravel driveways for ruts and washouts that may suggest debris has washed out onto the road surface up ahead.

We’ve all heard talk about the calm before the storm. But for the rider, it’s the calm after the storm that we need to be extra mindful of.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Clearing the Air: Air Filters 101

types of motorcycle air filters
Effective air filtration is critical to your engine’s survival. When it comes to removing debris from the air you can rely on OEM paper (right), oiled cotton gauze (middle) or oiled foam (left).

The air filter is the unsung hero of every engine on the road. Without it, dust and debris in the air would wear down your piston rings and cylinder walls like a storm erodes a coastline. As the filter does its job it gets loaded up with dirt, and a dirty filter is going to rob your engine of power and put a dent in your fuel mileage. That’s why you’re supposed to replace the filter every 10,000 to 15,000 miles. And when it comes to replacement air filters, they come in three flavors: OEM paper, oiled cotton gauze and oiled foam.

Most OEM filters are made of cellulose, or paper, like a coffee filter. Tiny pores in the paper let air through but keep the vast majority of dirt out. Many modern OEM filters even have a viscous coating to help trap fine dust. The problem is, paper filters are restrictive and those tiny pores plug up quickly. So to get more flow and increase the filter’s dirt-holding capacity, the element is pleated, like an accordian. It only takes up a little more space than a flat filter, but has vastly more surface area and thus more pores, more airflow and a longer service life before it gets stopped up.

OEM motorcycle air filter
Paper filters are considered surface filters, because they block debris right on the face of the element. That limits their total debris load, which is why paper filters feature so many pleats.

OEM filters are very effective, but their priority is filtering particulates and protecting the engine, not maximizing air flow. So a big downside is that they’re restrictive, at least compared to “high flow” performance filters. They’re also disposable, as in once it’s dirty, you throw it out and replace it with a new one that may cost $20 to $40.

Aftermarket filters are appealing for two reasons. First, they can offer increased airflow, which could make more power — more on that in a minute — and second, they’re almost always reusable.

OEM motorcycle air filter
Old-school paper filters were white, but most modern OEM filters are either green or red due to their viscous coating. This sticky substance helps the filter capture fine dust.

K&N is probably the most well-known aftermarket filter on the market. It resembles an OEM paper filter, but the pleats are composed of layers of oiled cotton gauze, not a single sheet of paper. The gauze is more porous, so it flows more air. In fact, if you hold it up to the light you can actually see through it, which doesn’t seem like a great characteristic for something that’s supposed to keep dust out of your engine. Luckily, the filtering material is oiled, so as dirty air swirls through and around the fiber filaments, the oil grabs and holds the grime. And a K&N style filter can hold a lot of dirt, which often means more miles before you need to wash it.

You’ll see all the crud the filter collects when you wash it out. And that’s a key benefit to oiled-gauze filters — you can reuse them over and over. A K&N does cost more than an OEM paper filter, usually about 50% to 100% more, and you’ll need to buy the $20 cleaning and re-oiling kit, but in the long run it can save you money, not to mention save trash from going to a landfill somewhere.

K&N motorcycle air filter
Oiled-gauze filters like this (used) K&N are made up of several layers of cotton fabric sandwiched between metal screens. A loose weave allows air to pass through easily.

Next up is oiled foam. You see this style of filter stock on off-road vehicles because oiled foam can hold a lot of dirt while still flowing well, so they’re well-suited to super dusty environments where a paper filter would clog up quickly. They also function when wet since the foam and oil aren’t absorbent. Get an OEM paper filter or gauze filter wet and the fibers will swell, strangle airflow and possibly stall your engine.

Oiled foam operates on the same dirt-capturing principle as the K&N, but it’s thicker. In fact, it’s what’s known as a “depth” filter and is typically an inch thick. Air has to wiggle and wind its way through the foam, which is not only layered coarse to fine, but saturated in a super-tacky oil that grabs and holds grime. It’s a very effective means of filtration as long as there’s still oil available to capture dirt.

foam motorcycle air filter
Foam filters are common on off-road vehicles. They perform well in dirty and wet conditions, though they require frequent washing and re-oiling.

When a foam filter gets dirty enough that all the oil dries out, it’s possible for dusty air to make its way through the foam and into your engine. That’s obviously bad news, which is why oiled-foam filters need to be washed and re-oiled as often as every ride, and it’s a messy procedure. Servicing the air filter that frequently may be OK for a dirtbike or quad with an easy-to-access airbox, but any sort of accelerated maintenance schedule is going to be hard for street riders to swallow, no matter how good the filter is.

foam motorcycle air filter
Foam filters are made of open-cell, reticulated material that’s coated in a tacky oil. The foam acts as a maze for dirty air and the oil grabs and traps grime as it passes by.

Another, often predominant reason riders install an aftermarket filter is to get more power out of their engine. However, a noticeable power increase is highly unlikely without complementary modifications. An engine is an air pump and it can only inhale so much air, so unless you’ve done something to take advantage of a freer-flowing air filter — like installing cams or a race exhaust, and definitely tuning your fueling — you’re not going to gain any perceptible performance from dropping in an air filter. In fact, if you neglect to tune your bike’s fuel, either with a re-jet on carbureted models or a remap on EFI bikes, you’ll likely experience running issues.

foam motorcycle air filter
This cross section of a used CRF450L filter reveals its thickness and the different density foams used in its construction. Dirt has not even begun to penetrate to the finer interior layer of foam.

So, which filter is best for your bike? It really depends on your application. If you’re a street rider who logs lots of miles and wants maximum protection, you can’t go wrong with an OEM paper filter. The extended service interval alone is appealing, particularly when the airbox is hard to get to. If, however, you ride in especially dusty conditions, have a modified engine, or simply don’t like the idea of a throw-away air filter, an oiled-cotton or oiled-gauze element is a great option. Each style of filter has its pros and cons, and now that you know what they are you can decide which type is right for you.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Before Help Arrives: Being Prepared in the Event of a Motorcycle Accident

During the first few minutes after TJ’s crash, he was woozy and in some pain. Once the adrenaline wore off, his condition became more serious. But without first aid training all we knew to do was call for help.

Like it or not, accidents happen. Fortunately, they tend to be rare events, and when they do happen they’re often minor, such as a parking lot tip over that does more harm to our pride than our body or bike. But sometimes accidents are more serious. Sand or gravel may cause us to lose traction. We may overcook a decreasing-radius corner. Or we may have a close encounter with a car or a leaping deer.

As responsible motorcyclists, we owe it to ourselves, our friends and our loved ones to be prepared in case an accident happens. If we’re riding in or near an urban area, then we can usually count on having a cell signal, the ability of first responders to access the scene quickly and the proximity of a hospital. But even in urban areas it could take up to 30 minutes or longer for an ambulance to arrive on the scene.

What should you do until help arrives? And what if the accident happens when you’re riding out in the country or other remote area? Those are exactly the sort of places we love to ride, where we can escape from the city or suburbia to enjoy winding roads and off-the-beaten-path scenery. How would you call for help? And even if you can call for help, how long will it take for an ambulance or helicopter to arrive?

A few years ago, during a dual-sport ride with friends, our buddy TJ crashed his GS on a downhill, landing on his right shoulder. He was woozy and in pain, but he was able to get up, remove his helmet and speak coherently. After a few minutes, TJ told us his fingers were numb, his arm felt cold and he had a history of heart problems. We were lucky. We had a weak cell signal and were able to use my GPS to provide precise coordinates to the 911 dispatcher, and an off-duty paramedic and a nurse happened to be in the area and attended to TJ while we waited for a helicopter. TJ was airlifted to a hospital where he was treated for a dislocated shoulder, a chipped bone in his upper arm and a bruised collarbone. 

We were relieved that first responders were able to provide assistance and evacuation so quickly, but what struck me about that incident was my ignorance of what to do other than dial 911. Recently I completed a weekend-long Wilderness First Aid course put on by NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School. Aimed at those who recreate outdoors where emergency medical response can be expected in less than eight hours, the course teaches the Patient Assessment System, basic first aid and how to make evacuation decisions.

As luck would have it, members of the Pathfinders militia were training in the area, and a nurse and a paramedic from the group attended to TJ until a helicopter arrived. Since help is rarely available in remote areas, it’s good to be prepared with first aid training, a first aid kit and a reliable way to contact first responders.

One of the teachers was Dave Craig, a Senior Instructor at NOLS who is a Wilderness EMT as well as a motorcyclist. He enjoys long, exploratory rides on his Suzuki DR650S throughout Arizona and down into Mexico. When I asked Craig how wilderness first aid applies to motorcycling, he said, “When it comes to first response to a motorcycle accident, whether in remote areas or not, there are several important elements. First, secure the scene to prevent further injuries.” This is the first step in the Patient Assessment System (see sidebar below). If the accident occurs on the road or a popular trail, enlist friends or bystanders to control oncoming traffic, and beware of other potential hazards. If the injured rider is trapped under his or her motorcycle, make sure the bike is picked up safely without putting you or others at risk.

“Second, you should be prepared with training and materials to attend to threats to life,” said Craig. “Take a first aid/CPR course and always carry a first aid kit with medical gloves. For the injured rider, first assess the ABCs — Airway, Breathing and Circulation, and check for serious bleeding. Next, evaluate D — Disability; in particular, do you need to protect the spine? And E — Expose any injuries so they can be examined.” This is part of the initial assessment in the Patient Assessment System, which is the first priority after the scene has been secured.

Many believe you should never remove a motorcyclist’s helmet if he or she has been in an accident. However, a full-face helmet’s chinbar covers the rider’s mouth, making it difficult to check airway and breathing. (A flip-up or modular helmet allows a rider’s face to be exposed without removing the helmet.) Also, if the accident occurs in a remote area where it could be an hour or longer until help arrives, removing the helmet allows the rider’s head to be examined for injury and helps keep them cool and comfortable. Whether or not the helmet is removed, ensure that the rider’s head is supported to protect the spine. 

“And third, after completing a thorough patient assessment, you need to have a way to contact emergency services in the areas in which you ride,” Craig said. At a minimum you should carry a cell phone, but a satellite communicator, such as those made by Garmin or SPOT (see Resources), is a great backup because they work anywhere and transmit precise location coordinates to first responders. Be sure to keep your phone and/or communicator in your pocket rather than on your bike in case you and your bike go separate ways in an accident, particularly if you’re riding solo.

Accidents are emotionally charged situations — for the rider(s) involved and for bystanders. If you witness an accident or are one of the first to arrive on the scene, it’s important to stay calm and help keep others calm. Assess the situation before diving in; help secure the scene and act in a thorough, deliberate manner. Just as motorcycle skills training prepares us to be better riders, hands-on first aid training prepares us to act with confidence so we can assist the injured as well as first responders. Always have emergency contact and personal medical information on your person in an easy-to-find location, as well as a first aid kit, a cell phone and, if traveling in remote areas, a satellite communicator.

Roadguardians.org offers an 8-hour Accident Scene Management Bystander Assistance Program for motorcyclists.

Patient Assessment System

Scene Size-up

Identify hazards to self, other rescuers, bystanders, patient.

Determine mechanism of injury.

Form a general impression of seriousness.

Determine the number of patients.

Protect yourself with body substance isolation (e.g., wear gloves).

Initial Assessment

Obtain consent, assess for responsiveness and protect the spine.

A – Airway: Open the airway; look in the mouth and clear obvious obstructions.

B – Breathing: Look, listen and feel.

C – Circulation: Check pulse at the neck; look and sweep body for severe bleeding.

D – Disability: Decide if further spine protection is needed.

E – Expose and examine major injuries.

Secondary Assessment

Head-to-toe examination (look, listen, feel, smell, ask)

Measurement of vital signs (responsiveness, heart rate, skin, respiration, temperature, pupils)

Medical history (chief complaint; SAMPLE — Symptoms, Allergies, Medications, Past history, Last intake/output, Events)

Source: “NOLS Wilderness Medicine, 6th Edition” (see Resources below)



Accident Scene Management Bystander Assistance Program for motorcyclists; 8-hour course; visit roadguardians.org 

American Red Cross Adult First Aid/CPR/AED Course; 6-hour course (certification valid for two years); visit redcross.org 

NOLS Wilderness First Aid Course; 16 hours over two days (certification valid for two years); visit nols.edu

“NOLS Wilderness Medicine, 6th Edition,” by Ted Schimelpfenig (Chapter 1 covers the Patient Assessment System in detail); $16.95, visit store.nols.edu

First Aid Kits/Supplies

American Red Cross’ online store sells a variety of first aid kits, supplies and instructional books; visit redcross.org/store

NOLS Med Kits are made by Adventure Medical Kits and range from the basic, 3.7-ounce Med Kit 1.0 ($16.95) to the well-stocked, 25-ounce Med Kit 5.0 ($84.99); resupply packs and individual supplies also available; add a NOLS Wilderness Medicine Pocket Guide for $4.99; visit store.nols.edu

Personal Medical Information

Smartphones typically have easily accessible medical information and an emergency contact, as well as the ability to dial 911, directly from the home or lock screen. Look up the details for your device and fill in the forms as completely as possible.

Rescue Facts Emergency Pack, which attaches to apparel or helmet with hook-and-loop, contains a rewritable medical information form so it is easily accessible by first responders; $10, visit aerostich.com

Satellite Communicators

Garmin makes several products with inReach technology that allows two-way text messaging and S.O.S. signals via the global Iridium satellite network; starting at $349.99 plus required service plan; visit garmin.com 

SPOT makes one-way (Gen3) and two-way (SPOT X) satellite communicators for sending text messages and S.O.S. signals; starting at $149.99 plus required service plan; visit findmespot.com

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Electrical Accessory Installation Best Practices

Should you crimp or solder your connections? A reliable joint can be made with either method if the proper technique is used. Soldering kits are cheap and the process is easy to master with some practice. Photos by the author.

Adding electrical accessories to your bike is an age-old custom for street and touring riders. Heated grips, fog lights, USB charging ports, GPS systems, sound systems, gear-position indicators and auxiliary brake lights all add to our comfort, enjoyment and safety out on the road. All of these devices need power, however, and it’s important that any electrical connections you make are done properly and that your bike’s charging system is up to the task.

Before you ask anything more of your motorcycle’s electrical system (it’s already supporting a headlight and taillight, fuel pump, gauges, an ignition system, and the occasional turn signal, brake light and horn) you’ll want to verify the health of your battery. A good place to start is by checking the resting voltage with a multimeter. Despite being a “12-volt” battery, it should actually show closer to 12.6 volts when fully charged, with 12.0 volts correlating to an unhealthy 50-percent state of charge.

Proof that Iron Butt Rally riders are either completely loco or some of the most resourceful long-distance strategists on the planet. This rider has used the Farkleshelf for the Honda GL1800 Gold Wing from Firecreek Accessories (firecreekacc.com) along with some ruthless ingenuity to connect and support a redundant array of GPS units, satellite communicators and half-a-dozen electronic devices we can’t even identify.

Modern absorbed glass mat (AGM) and gel batteries have a lifespan of about four to seven years, so you would be wise to swap it for a fresh one if it’s getting on in years. If there’s any corrosion on the terminals, remove the battery and scrub the lugs with a wire brush and a one-to-one solution of baking soda and water. It’s important to keep those terminals nice and clean to reduce resistance to current flow.

Next, you’ll want to make sure your bike’s charging system is doing its job by checking the voltage at the battery with the bike running at about 3,000 rpm. You should see 14.4 volts or more. Verifying that your charging system has enough surplus wattage is a good idea if you intend to run especially thirsty accessories like head-to-toe heated apparel, but alternator output can be an elusive or nonexistent spec in the owner’s manual. Thankfully, most modern charging systems have plenty of strength to support your bike’s vitals plus another 100 or so watts’ worth of accessories.

If your new farkle is a factory part, it’s possible that the manufacturer has already provided an electrical plug to power it. Check your fuse-box lid for an “aux” circuit and reference your owner’s manual for the plug location. (Hint: It’s often under the seat or behind the dash.)

Without a factory connection, the easiest way to power your new gadget is to tap right into the battery. While this may be convenient, bolting up to the lugs poses two major problems. For starters, there’s only room for a few ring terminals before those battery bolts run out of thread, so if you’re aiming to add more than one or two accessories you may not have room. Second, there’s the very real possibility of draining every available volt out of the electrolyte if you were to say, leave your heated grips on accidently after parking the bike for the night. You think you’ll never forget to turn ’em off, but when you eventually, inevitably do, your battery is going to be as useless as a brick when you come back to the bike.

A better alternative is to use switched power, so current only flows when the key is on. Tapping into the headlight or taillight wiring will work for low-draw items like a cellphone or GPS charger, but if you ask too much of an existing circuit you’re liable to blow a fuse.

So why not run dedicated, switched, fused circuits for accessories? The best way to do that is with a relay and a fused distribution block, both of which can be sourced at your local autoparts store or purchased as a single, integrated unit from companies like Twisted Throttle, Aerostich, Centech and others. With a relayed setup your accessories will only pull power when the key is on, and using a distribution block allows you to easily add or remove accessories, consolidate wiring and keep your battery top tidy.

However you decide to pull power, it’s critical that the new component be fused to protect both the accessory and your bike’s wiring. Push too much current through an unfused connection and things may melt or even catch fire. Good grounding is another key consideration for any electrical component. You can connect to the main chassis ground, tap into the wiring harness or connect directly to the battery’s negative terminal.

It’s gotta be fused! Fuses are a critical safety feature that protect your bike’s circuits from being overloaded. Every accessory you install should incorporate a fuse of the appropriate amperage.

Speaking of the negative terminal, disconnecting it is the first thing you should do when working on your bike’s electrics and the last thing you should reconnect when you’re done. With the negative terminal unplugged there’s no risk of a sparks show if a live wire touches the frame or your wrench slips while fiddling with the positive terminal.

Finally, it’s important to ensure that any electrical connections you make are secure and well insulated. Shield bullet and spade connectors with rubber boots or plastic covers, and use heat-shrink tubing for any soldered joints. Don’t be tempted by electrical tape — the adhesive often fails after just a short time, exposing wiring and making a sticky mess.

Vampire clips (top) and Posi-Taps (bottom) are two common ways to tap into wiring. Posi-Taps, while usually a special-order part, provide a more secure connection and are less likely to sever the wire.

Electrical accessories can keep you warm when the weather is miserable, provide a soundtrack for your journey, make you more visible on the road and improve your riding experience in numerous other ways. Outfitting your motorcycle with the latest farkles is a time-honored tradition, and if you follow these tips and precautions you’ll be powered up in no time.

Source: RiderMagazine.com