Tag Archives: Tips & Tricks

Tech Q&A: Switching to Tubeless Wheels

Honda Shadow Aero

Q: I want to purchase a 2004-2006 Honda 750 Aero, with driveshaft and spoked wheels, or a 2004-2006 Yamaha 650 V Star, with driveshaft and spoked wheels. But I would like to change to tubeless cast wheels. Do you know who makes a tubeless wheel for either bike? I have been told to seal the spokes with either 3M tape or silicone. I do not know how safe that would be or how long that would last. Any info would be appreciated. – Rufus Deloach, Milton, Florida

A: Ralph, you don’t say why you want to go tubeless, but odds are you’re wary of tube-type tires’ rapid deflation when punctured and attracted to the slow leak-down and easy roadside fixability that a tubeless radial offers when it picks up a nail. You also get a lot more choice in terms of tread pattern and purpose when you switch to tubeless radials, but first your wheels need to be ready to accept them. Aftermarket cast hoops for either the Honda or Yamaha you’ve listed don’t exist as far as I’m aware. You may be able to retrofit something from a different model, but modifying the bike’s stock spoked wheels is probably easier. As you mentioned there are numerous DIY options, and any adventure-bike forum is liable to have a good rundown of techniques and outcomes. However, you should be aware that many tube-type rims aren’t meant to mate with the beads on tubeless tires, which could pose a safety hazard. I also feel obligated to tell you that you’re not supposed to switch between bias-ply tires (which is what likely comes stock on the Aero and V Star) and radials since the tires have different handling characteristics. With that caveat out of the way, I think your best option for going tubeless is to get a tubeless-type rim laced to your bike’s stock hub. A company like Woody’s Wheel Works (woodyswheelworks.com) should be able to take care of you, or at least point you in the right direction.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Tech Q&A: Magnetic Oil Drain Plugs

Motion Pro oil filter magnet
A Motion Pro oil filter magnet shown with an OE Kawasaki oil filter.

Q: Why don’t the manufacturers put magnetic drain plugs in motorcycle crankcases? They are in rear ends on shaft-drive bikes. I know rear ends don’t have filters but debris can still get in the crankcase between oil changes. One company does have them but not in a size to fit my Honda CB1100. Best I can tell it is a 13.5mm plug. – Ace Miller, Apollo Beach, Florida

A: You don’t see OEMs using magnetic drain plugs on the engine because they’re not necessary. On modern forced-lubrication motors the oil is pumped through a filter that removes particles as small as 25 microns. (For reference, a human hair is about 50 microns in diameter.) The filter scrubs the hard ferrous stuff a magnet would pick up as well as softer non-ferrous debris like aluminum, clutch-plate fibers, bits of carbon and other crud. That said, a magnet is effective at snagging all ferrous material regardless of size, but only if it’s in the right place. So rather than using a magnetic drain plug that just sits there at the bottom of your oil pan, you’d be better off using an oil-filter magnet like those sold by Motion Pro (motionpro.com). These thin, donut-shaped discs sit under your filter so they’re right in the flow of oil, ensuring they snatch up every errant particle. If you’d still prefer to put a magnetic drain plug in your CB1100, an M14x1.5 bolt will do the trick. 

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Level Up! Upgrading Your Riding Apparel Armor

Our riding apparel serves two major functions: it protects us from abrasion (sliding along the ground) and impact (hitting the ground or other objects), but in order to accomplish both missions it also needs to be constructed with the right materials and it must fit properly. All of the apparel that we test here at Rider is made by companies that specialize in motorcycle gear, and is made with abrasion-resistant materials like leather or Cordura (nylon), Kevlar (aramid) and other thick synthetic fibers, and it typically comes with basic armor at a minimum: shoulders and elbows for jackets, knees for pants. 

Sometimes, however, we may find that the fit is just a little off – sleeves are too baggy so the elbow armor moves out of place, or knee armor sits too high or too low – or we’d like to add the extra insurance of a back protector or hip and chest armor. And sometimes we love the apparel itself, but we want to “level up” our protection and comfort by upgrading the armor, say from CE level 1 to level 2.

Hang on, what exactly does “CE level 1 or 2” mean? CE is the abbreviation for Conformité Européenne, or European Conformity, and the CE mark, which can be found on everything from electronics to toys, indicates that the product is in compliance with the relevant European Union legislation for health, safety and environmental protection standards. It’s similar to the DOT sticker on your helmet or the FCC label on your iPhone.

CE level 1 vs level 2
As these two back protectors, both made by D3O, show, CE level 1 armor (top) is thinner and lighter than level 2 (bottom), but it also is less protective.

There are standards in place for all kinds of products, but the three relevant for motorcycle armor are EN1621-1 (which covers armor for the limbs, hips, shoulders and tail bone), EN1621-2 (back/spine) and EN1621-3 (chest). The standards are updated from time to time, and the relevant date is appended to the code, for example EN1621-1:2012 for limb armor, last updated in 2012.

To qualify for CE approval, armor must pass a test: a 5 kg weight is dropped with the force of 50 joules (approx. 37 lb-ft) onto the armor nine times, and the amount of force transmitted is measured. The less force that is transmitted, the more protective the armor, as you can see in the current standards:

(Limbs, Hips, Shoulders)

Level 1 – Average transmitted force of <35 kN; no single impact can be >50 kN Level 2 – Average transmitted force of <20 kN; no single impact can be >30 kN


Level 1 – Average transmitted force of <18 kN; no single impact can be >24 kN Level 2 – Average transmitted force of <9 kN; no single impact can be >12 kN


Level 1 – Average transmitted force of <18 kN; no single impact can be >24 kN
Level 2 – Average transmitted force of <9 kN; no single impact can be >15 kN

Some manufacturers go beyond impact protection to also certify their armor for temperature (extreme heat or cold).

Since we aren’t subject to EU regulations, some American apparel companies – but not all – use armor that’s described as “CE level 1,” but isn’t actually tested and certified. In these cases, it’s hard to know if what you’re buying has been independently tested, if it carries an outdated certification or if it’s just foam.

how to read a CE label
How to read an official CE label.

The best way to know for sure is to look for the CE label as shown in the graphic above. If your armor doesn’t have a CE label, even if it’s stamped “CE,” there’s simply no way to know if it’s been properly tested and certified.

As Matthew Dawson of Forcefield Body Armour explains, “Anything that carries the correct labeling must be tested and certified. Anything that doesn’t, cannot be classified as a CE motorcycle protective impact product. Any brand with the correct marking and labeling should be able to produce that certification on request.” 

Most casual street riding and touring apparel includes shoulder, elbow and knee armor, possibly with a foam back pad and hip pads; some products step it up with a back protector and hip armor. Racing or high-end sport riding gear often includes CE level 2 armor throughout, but even then back armor is usually optional. Some jackets don’t come with any armor at all, but there are pockets for it to be added.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that, like the EPS liner in your helmet, armor breaks down and degrades over time, so a good rule of thumb is to replace it every five years or so.

stock motorcycle apparel armor
Non-CE-certified stock armor is often made of inexpensive materials like stiff foam and lacks ventilation holes. And remember, even if it’s stamped “CE,” if there is no official label there’s no way to know if it’s been properly tested to the current standards.

In all of these cases, you might decide to “level up” your armor with lightweight, comfortable CE-approved products from a dedicated aftermarket manufacturer like Forcefield or D3O. These companies offer shoulder, elbow, knee, hip and back armor that is CE-approved to levels 1 and 2, and certified for temperatures from -10 to +40 degrees Celsius (14 F to 104 F).

Which level you choose is entirely at your discretion, and depends not just on how robust you want your protection but also comfort and fit. For example, you might prefer thinner, less bulky level 1 armor for your casual, street-oriented leather jacket, while your heavy-duty touring suit will comfortably accept thicker level 2 pieces. But either way the replacement armor will likely be more protective and more comfortable than the stock armor.

When installing it, be sure the pocket seals close securely (most use hook-and-loop fasteners) and that the armor sits where it’s supposed to. The easiest way to make sure aftermarket armor will fit is to measure the stock armor’s length and width; the replacement should be that size or just a bit smaller.

proper fitment motorcycle apparel armor
Make sure your upgrade armor fits properly; D3O’s smaller Type A protector fit in my jacket’s shoulder pocket (left), but the larger Type B protector was too large (right). Measure your stock armor before you order replacements, and if necessary call or email the retailer to get the new armor’s dimensions. Properly fitted, the hook-and-loop will close securely and the armor won’t move around inside the pocket.

That said, sometimes replacement armor will be difficult or impossible to fit into the pockets of your apparel, and this is especially common with back protectors. It seems there are as many back protector pocket shapes as there are jacket styles, so if you’re having trouble finding one that fits your jacket – or you’re looking for even better protection – strap-on back armor might be your best option. Options range from a simple spine protector to one with an integrated kidney belt to a complete torso armor package that also protects your chest and ribs.

back protectors
Back protectors come in many shapes and sizes. These two CE-certified back protectors are from Forcefield (top) and Spidi (bottom, which I added to my 4Season Lady suit).

Going a step further, companies like Bohn Body Armor (check out our review here), Forcefield and Fly Racing (see image below) offer armored base layers that provide complete protection from shoulders to shins, and these can be worn under just about anything – including your favorite old (un-armored) leather jacket. Just remember the second function of our apparel: abrasion resistance. Your armor will protect you from the impact, but cotton jeans or a thin jacket will shred uselessly; layer up appropriately.

In today’s world of distracted drivers and ever more crowded roads, protecting yourself is more important than ever. Leveling up your apparel’s armor is an easy and inexpensive way to ensure you’re safe and comfortable every time you swing a leg over the saddle.

Fly Barricade armored shirt
Armored base layers like this Fly Barricade keep the armor exactly where it should be and can be worn under just about anything.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Stayin’ Safe: Countersteering

This exaggerated static demonstration illustrates the countersteering effect. The rider presses forward on the right end of the handlebar to make the bike lean right and go right. He presses left to make the bike lean and turn to the left.

Conversations about steering a motorcycle inevitably come around to “countersteering.” You may have even taken a rider course where they taught, “press left, go left” and “press right, go right.” Even so, you may be among the population of riders who still don’t quite get the left and right of it all. Countersteering remains, well, counterintuitive.

Without getting into a physics lesson, the thing to know is when a motorcycle travels at any speed above a walking pace, if the handlebar is turned, the chassis will react with a counter response. In other words, the handlebars, fork and front wheel will be pointed slightly “counter” to the direction the bike is leaning and turning.

I find that riders get a better understanding of how countersteering works when they try a throttle-hand-only exercise. In an open parking lot, establish a straight line and steady speed of about 15 mph. Remove your left hand from the handlebar while keeping your right hand on the throttle. With throttle steady, press forward and pull back slightly a few times. Notice how the bike responds. Press forward and the bike immediately leans and turns to the right. Pull back on that throttle side (equivalent to pressing forward on the left end of the handlebar with your other hand) and the bike leans and turns left. Experiment with different amounts of pressure. Got it?

Now repeat the same straight-line exercise with both hands lightly on the handlebars. Take turns pressing forward on each end of the bar independently with the palm or heel of your hand. The bike will always lean and turn toward the side that you pressed. The more firmly you press, the more pronounced the turn will be.

Continue to practice until the behavior becomes comfortable and you can execute it with confidence, knowing exactly how the bike will respond. You’ll soon join the riders who’ve come to view countersteering as something they count on during every ride.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Tech Q&A: Replacing Riding Boots

old riding boots

Q: This question is short; I hope the response is longer. When is it time to replace riding boots? – David Fulmer, Punta Gorda, Florida

A: Boots, like brake pads and tires, are consumable components. Unlike those hard parts, however, there aren’t factory service limits to tell you when your kicks are kicked. According to Bill Berroth, president at MotoNation, the most common issue with old boots is worn-out soles. “Cheaper boots use wrap-around glued-on soles that can’t be replaced,” says Berroth, “but with quality boots like Sidis and Alpinestars you can get replacement sew-on soles, and either send the boots in to the manufacturer for service or just take them to your local cobbler.” Anthony’s Shoe Repair or MX Boot Repair and Resole (shoerepair.com or mxbootrepair.com) can probably help as well. Busted zippers are often an easy fix, too.

Next up, Berroth suggests keeping an eye out for material failure at stress points. “Whether the boots are made of leather or something synthetic, look for cracking at the shifter area, at the heel and other crease points,” says Berroth. Once cracks start to form, the material is compromised and the boots can’t be trusted to fend off bad weather, impacts or abrasion. Speaking of abrasion, any boot that’s been crashed should be given a thorough inspection. Look for torn stitching, chassis material that’s been worn thin and other signs of damage that might compromise the boot’s integrity.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Stayin’ Safe: Fueling Risk

gas station
With multiple entrances and vehicles constantly flowing in and out, a busy gas station is one of the most foreboding intersections a rider will encounter.

Intersections are the most common sites of motorcycle crashes involving other vehicles. You probably knew that. Oncoming vehicles turning left across the path of the unsuspecting motorcyclist and drivers pulling into the rider’s lane from a side street are serious risks to the street rider. The astute motorcyclist approaches intersections with anticipation and minimizes risk by adjusting position and speed to create precious space and time.

But what does an intersection look like? Not all traffic junctions are traditional four-way crossroads. In developed areas, the local gas station may be the busiest and most frenetic intersection in town–especially those biggie-sized gas/convenience stores popping up everywhere.

Unlike the traditional intersection where vehicle drivers have limited turning options, the gas station has multiple entrances and exits as well as undefined paths of travel within the fueling compound. This creates a free-for-all and challenges the rider to determine where any given threat may come from.

Avoidance begins before you get there. Look for gas stations in the distance. Actively scan for vehicles on the highway that may turn across your lane, while also scanning for vehicles moving within the fuel stop that could present a moving threat.

Be aware there are multiple things demanding a driver’s attention near gas stations. Other vehicles entering and exiting, the flow of highway traffic and even intangibles like concerns of being late for work. All of these make a rider even less noticeable to motorists.

Consider the busiest times of day for gas station traffic. Early morning can be particularly hectic as folks fill up on fuel and coffee on their way to work. As vehicles move in and out of traffic, be aware that the sun can be blinding when it’s low in the sky, potentially hiding your bike in the glare.

Just passing by? Anticipate ingress and egress movement and have an escape plan. Slow your approach and, when safe, accelerate out of the danger zone. When turning into a station, assess the scene and plan your clearest path in and around the pumps, parked cars, fuel puddles and plodding vehicles before you get into the middle of it all.

By pumping a few gallons of high-octane strategy into your ride and topping up your awareness level, you’ll be able to safely manage one of the busiest intersections found on any ride. Isn’t that a gas?

Source: RiderMagazine.com

How To Back Down An Incline With Your Clutch

backing a motorcycle down a ramp
Backing down a steep incline or slippery slope can be intimidating when the front tire loses grip. Using a technique to emulate rear-wheel braking is the magic solution.

There are countless YouTube videos showing epic failures of riders attempting to back their motorcycles down ramps from trailers or truck beds. And I’ve personally witnessed numerous riders at motorcycle gatherings and in campsites lose it as they tried to back down damp, grassy slopes. I’ll even admit to having a very awkward moment of my own a few years back in front of dozens of my fellow riders when I nearly dominoed a row of parked BMWs because I couldn’t keep the front tire from sliding as I rolled and slid backward down a steep gravel driveway. Not pretty.

The problem presented to riders when backing down a slanted surface is that the motorcycle’s weight shifts to the rear, simultaneously lightening the front wheel. Not a problem if the rider could maintain use of the rear brake, but both feet are needed on the ground to walk the bike backward and keep it upright. That leaves the rider with only the use of the front brake to keep the machine from rolling rearward too quickly. Unfortunately, with less weight on the front end, the front brake provides very limited grip, especially the steeper and the slipperier the surface. So what’s a rider to do? Here’s the perfect technique to use in a clutch.

To simulate the use of the rear brake without actually requiring a foot on the rear brake pedal, follow these clever steps. With the bike’s transmission in first gear, turn off the engine (engine cutoff switch is simplest) and ease out the clutch lever. The engine’s compression with the engine off will hold the bike in position on the hill—no need for brakes at all! To back down the slope with complete control, slowly pull in the clutch into the friction zone. This will partially disengage the engine and transmission from the rear wheel, allowing the bike to drift backward. Control your speed with the clutch position, releasing the clutch lever slightly to slow more or squeezing it in slightly to allow more speed. With a little practice, you’ll have the confidence and control to back down virtually any angled surface like a pro. Just don’t forget to restart the engine before you attempt to pull forward again!

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Motorcycle Chains 101: The Sealed Deal

motorcycle chains
Chains are not only cheap and reliable, they’re the most efficient form of final drive for a motorcycle. When you boil it down, chains come in two varieties: standard (or unsealed), and O-ring (or sealed). Photos by the author.

Take a look around any dealership floor, bike night parking lot or race paddock, and the vast majority of motorcycles will be wearing a chain and sprockets for their final drive. Belts and driveshafts have their perks, but chains are the dominant drivetrain thanks to their low production cost, efficient power transmission and easy gearing changes and component replacement.

Chains basically come in two categories: unsealed or standard roller chain, and sealed or O-ring chain. Unsealed chains are commonly found on vintage bikes, small-displacement economy rides and off-road motorcycles. They’re what you see on bicycles and conveyor belts, and even the treads on a bulldozer are a type of unsealed chain. Standard chain is just a series of plain bearings made of metal links and nothing else. That means it’s up to you to apply lubricant to keep the parts from grinding themselves into dust, and you have to do it every few hundred miles. Even then, reducing friction between high-wear components like the link pins and bushings is difficult, and as a result unsealed chains wear quickly, necessitating frequent slack adjustments and replacement.

Sealed chains, as the name suggests, have rubber seals sandwiched between the side plates and inner links, sealing in grease that’s sucked in around the pins via vacuum when the chain is manufactured. The O-rings seal the grease in and keep dirt and water out, ensuring the pins and bushings are bathed in lube, which greatly reduces wear and extends the life of the chain. This arrangement also means less frequent and lighter applications of chain lube, since all you’re doing with that can of aerosol is keeping the O-rings moist and pliable and preventing the metal links from corroding.

sealed chain diagram
Having trouble visualizing the layout of a sealed chain? This oughta clear things up. By retaining grease right where it’s needed, a sealed chain’s most vulnerable components are always properly lubricated.

Sealed chains were introduced in the late 1970s and revolutionized chain maintenance by greatly reducing the need for lubrication while simultaneously increasing the life of the chain by up to tens of thousands of miles. More recently, other seal styles have been developed, most notably the X-ring. Here’s the idea: When that chubby little O-ring gets squeezed between the plates, it creates a fair amount of surface area that results in a small amount of drag every time the chain link pivots. That drag saps power getting to the rear wheel. With an X-ring chain, the sealing ring’s profile resembles an “X”” The X-ring is more readily compressed between the plates, and its shape provides four sealing surfaces around each link pin (instead of two), but with less total surface area, resulting in less drag.

If evaluating the drag on your chain seems like the kind of obsessive minutia only a racer would think about, you’re right. X-ring technology was developed for the track and adapted for the street, where the better sealing of the X-ring helped increase chain life even more. As a track-bred product, X-ring chains are typically made from harder, stronger metals and may have weight-reducing features like hollow link pins and thinner side plates. With all those virtues, however, comes a higher price.

how to tell if you have a sealed chain
Not sure if your bike is running a sealed chain? Odds are it is, but if in doubt just take a close look. If you see some rubber bulging out between the plates, you’re riding with permanently lubricated links.

Generally speaking, the better sealing (and thus service life) a chain offers, the more expensive it’s going to be. That being said you may be tempted to slap a standard unsealed chain on your bike because it’s cheap, but the upfront savings simply isn’t worth the cost of increased maintenance and more frequent replacement. Unsealed chains still make sense on smaller, less powerful machines that will log fewer miles, but for regular road use a sealed chain–whether it’s an O-ring type or some other variety–is definitely the way to go.

Sealing lube in around the critical wear components of the chain has taken what was already a practical, reliable and efficient drivetrain and made it even better. No wonder the majority of motorcycles rely on links and sprockets to get down the road.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Stayin’ Safe: Riding Like Heinz

Improving slow-speed stability can be fun. No, really.

This “slow race” broke out after lunch with fellow riders and was just for fun. But it’s actually a great way to build skills.
This “slow race” broke out after lunch with fellow riders and was just for fun. But it’s actually a great way to build skills.

More than any other skill, riders tell me they wish they had better low-speed control. And no wonder; a bike is unstable and heavy at low speeds. It’s a skill riders want to improve, yet most avoid practice. Why? Probably because we tend to avoid things we hate. Unfortunately, we can’t avoid slow-speed riding altogether.

For me, the trick to developing skills has always been to make practice fun. So, let’s play a game or two. But first, let’s consider the basic techniques of slow-speed riding. Sit straight up with eyes looking to a distant target. Place the bike in first gear, raise the engine rpm slightly over idle and ease the clutch into the friction zone. Once rolling, place your feet on the pegs and apply a little rear brake. Modulate your speed by applying more or less rear brake (no front brake!). Those are the basics of slow riding. Now, let’s have some fun.

When riding with friends, try an impromptu “slow race” at one of your breaks. Line everyone up side-by-side at one end of an open parking lot, all facing the same direction and with sufficient space between bikes. This will be your start line. Pick a finish line a few yards away or so (not too far). On the “go” signal, each rider starts toward the finish, riding as slowly, but as stably, as possible. The last one to get to the finish line wins. The first one there buys lunch.

Once comfortable with straight line slow-speed control, try introducing a game with turns. A favorite of mine is to pick another willing rider and begin riding in a circle together at slow speed. Let the bike lean beneath you as you stay upright. Keep eyes up and looking at your buddy across the circle. As you get more comfortable, the two of you can tighten the circle to challenge each other. End the game by steering out of the circle, away from your buddy.

Then there’s the two-wheeled version of follow-the-leader. With riders in single file, one rider leads the group around the lot, making random combinations of right and left turns and even large circles, while keeping speeds slow enough to require the clutch to remain in the friction zone.

With such games, you’ll spend more time enjoying yourself than being intimidated by the bike’s slow-speed behavior. And before you know it, you’ll be riding like Heinz ketchup: smooth and slow.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Tech Q&A: Radial vs. Axial Brakes

Radial front brake system.
Radial front brake system.
Axial front brake system.
Axial front brake system.

Q: What is the value of radial-mount brake calipers over the normal “old-fashioned” fork mount? All I’ve read is that radial mounting makes it easier to service the brakes on race bikes.

Tom Sanor, Roswell, Georgia 

A: The difference between radial- and axial-mount, or “old fashioned” brakes as you call them, boils down to how they’re mounted to the fork. Radial calipers are secured via bolts that run parallel to the discs, while axial-mount brakes are held in place with bolts that are perpendicular to the discs, parallel to the axle. 

That’s a seemingly trivial difference, but radial mounting yields some important benefits. For starters, radial-mount calipers provide better caliper-to-disc alignment since the caliper body is centered over the disc using locating dowels rather than sliding pins as on an axial setup. Radial calipers are also more rigid since the caliper is secured at both ends rather than at just one end as is common on axial calipers.  That improved alignment and rigidity can provide better bite, more stopping power and improved feel under aggressive braking, which is especially important stuff to roadracers. 

As you surmised, radial-mount technology was born on the track and trickled down to the street, and as you mentioned mounting calipers radially makes it easier to change disc sizes since all you need to do is swap out the caliper spacers to accommodate larger or smaller discs. MotoGP racers may run 320mm or 340mm discs depending on the track, conditions and rider, and swapping out those pie plates wouldn’t be nearly as quick and easy with axial-mount calipers. 

Source: RiderMagazine.com