Tag Archives: Tips & Tricks

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

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