Sunday, May 20, 2007

Audio Mixers

Audio mixers can sometimes be used as the core of a motorcycle communication system if you do a little bit of 'home brew'. Here are links to a couple of major players (and one inexpensive smaller player who's very amenable to customization*) in the motorcycle sound mixer market.

Mixit Products -
xma3 from Tesseract -
* -


Here are links for motorcycle communication systems. Remember, you get what you pay for. Cheaper products deliver less than the more expensive products. Search the web for feedback on these. If you know of any others, let me know in a comment.

Autocom -
Starcom -
Baehr -
J&M -
Chatterbox -

For what it's worth, I prefer hand signals......

Sunday, May 13, 2007


I'm not going to repeat the pages and pages of information available on the net about suspension setup. Dozens of people have written complete tomes with details and explanations of the how and why. Here's a good example:

But I'm going to render an opinion about suspension that's obviously contrary to what most people think is the objective of suspension setup.

The objective is to make the suspension COMPLY with the surface of the road. COMPLIANCE is the key, the objective, the goal, nirvana.

Compliance happens when the tires follow the complete surface of the road, never leaving, always in nicely planted contact, regardless of how the road heaves, buckles, or bumps.

Perfect compliance is impossible, but improvement is relatively simple to attain.

So I'm going to start with a visualization. We've all driven empty pickup trucks. They're stiffly suspended in back so they can haul big loads, but when they're unladen, they handle like crap. The back end bounces all over every bump and it's obvious that the rear wheels aren't complying with the road surface. There is very little compliance when it's needed.

So why do so many people set up their motorcycles to be stiffly suspended? 99.9% of the time you're on your bike, you're not headed for Road Atlanta's old "Gravity Cavity" at 150 miles an hour! You're in a world where you don't have to worry about bottoming out both ends of your machine at the same time!

And so, I say "let your suspension work". You should set up your bike so the suspension actually moves. If the manufacturer gave you 4" of travel up front, then you should be using 3.9" of travel when you do a stoppie! If you got 6" of travel in back, you should be using 4" (yes, only 4) when you're under full acceleration! (Leave 2" for a passenger.) You should never "bottom out" unless you're goofy enough to do a stoppie into a chuck-hole, but for heaven's sake, use what you've got!

Suspension travel is a gift. Use it.

On the subject of ride height, pitch, static sag, and front / rear balance, tire profile and height, I leave you to the internet. It's such a subtle science and so highly personal in its acceptance and results, it's not worth going into here. As an example of how exotic this pseudo-science is, I give you any set of race results. Take two racers on similar bikes..... one does well and the other does poorly from the same stable..... Is it the bike? The rider? The setup? Is the setup actually "the bike"? Isn't the rider responsible for determining setup? Did he read the calibrations on his ass correctly for his seat-of-the-pants testing runs?

See what I mean? It's not always something you can write in stone. There are lots of facts and there are a thousand opinions on each of those facts.

So my bit of 'wisdom' for you is simply to use most of the suspension travel you're given. Go for compliance and then always be smooth. Your ass will thank me and your results should improve on both the street and the track.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What is a track day?

What's a track day? Let me start this whole thing off by saying, "A track day is whatever you want it to be."

First, let's examine the simple facts. A track day takes place on a closed circuit course. Generally, these are called racetracks, but in a technical sense, the course where you took your first motorcycle class was also a closed circuit course. I only mention this to help you understand that a racetrack doesn't have to be a scary place.

Track days are supervised events. Crew, corner workers, staff, and safety personnel are all there for the participant's benefit.

Each individual signs up and participates in specific group sessions at the track. Most track organizations allow each group to circulate the track for a period of 20 minutes, after which, the participants get a 40 minute break.

Most track days have groups divided into three different levels of participation.

A) The highest group would be an open class / racing type of event with very few limitations on speed, passing, or other regulations. This is NOT an environment for anyone without real racing experience.

B) The intermediate group is designed for participation by those with a reasonable amount of experience at the track. Passing is allowed under certain circumstances in the corners and is always allowed on the straight parts of the track. Participants in this group tend to be those who want to improve their skills and speed in a less restrictive environment, but without the free-for-all of the open class group.

C) The safest group is organized for those who want the opportunity to ride as fast as they feel comfortable, and without any pressure from other riders in the group. There are generally some strict rules that prohibit passing in corners, and anyone who exhibits agressive riding in this group is generally moved into the intermediate group for everyone's benefit.

From a speed standpoint, the safest group is generally no different from a group you might ride with on the street. However, there's a huge difference in safety between riding at the track and riding on the street. Road hazards are highly unusual at the track. You won't find gravel in the corners and squirrels don't generally leap out at you from the bushes. Further, there are no grannies in Buicks or cellphone-using minivan moms on the track. Finally, there is always an emergency crew at the track. This means the response time for an accident is at least 10 times better than one might experience on the street!

So, I'm not going to beg you to go to a track day, but I'm going to ask some questions you have to ask yourself......

1) If I go out to ride in the hills with my buds today, what COULD happen?
2) If I go to a supervised track day with my buds today, what COULD happen?

And finally, 3) Why haven't we been doing track days for years?

Just FYI - track day promotors allow visitors to show up and watch for free. Find out when there's a track day in your area and just go watch. You'll see it's a pretty calm and tame affair.

I hope to see you out there some day soon. Oh, where do you find out about track days in your area? Ask your local motorcycle dealer or use that thing they call the INTERNET. ;-)

Monday, May 7, 2007

Quick Tips Bundle!

This is a group of Quick Tips I wrote for a motorcycle group in Dallas several years ago.

Lubing your Chain
Whenever you return from a ride on your motorcycle, grab your can of chain lube and shoot the visible part of the chain at the back of the sprocket. Chain lube works best on warm chains. If you get in the habit of doing this after every ride, your chain will stay lubed all the way around and you won't have to hassle with lubing the complete chain all at once.

Polishing your Motorcycle
For years, motorcycle dealerships have used Pledge™ spray furniture wax to keep their showrooms shiny. It's easier and cheaper than most commercial motorcycle polishes. The wipes are also handy to keep under your seat or in your bike's luggage! Certainly Honda Spray works well too, but it's supposedly not produced any more, so if you find a can, BUY IT.

Parking on a Hill
Most people know this already, but when you park on a grade, you should back your motorcycle into position, letting gravity help you. If done correctly, you can simply ride away when it's time to leave instead of having to back the motorcycle uphill. On the same note, I always park my motorcycle with the transmission left in first gear. This prevents the motorcycle from rolling forward and falling off the sidestand.

Parking on Hot Asphalt
Hot asphalt is a very weak support for your expensive motorcycle. If you use the sidestand on hot asphalt during the summer, you risk the chance of returning to a motorcycle that has fallen over. The solution is simple. Find something to put under your sidestand so that the size of the head is increased. This could be a soda can you've crushed underfoot, or any other piece of detritus laying around on the parking lot. Many places sell steel plates designed for this purpose, and you might want to buy one of these if you park in spotless areas. If all else fails, simply carry a piece of steel about the same size and thickness as a credit card.

Tankbags and Saddlebags
Make sure your bike is clean and freshly waxed, then put a clean towel or felt fabric between your motorcycle and any tankbags or temporary saddlebags you're using. This will help prevent microscopic scratches that will dull the paint.

Disc Locks
Many of us use disc locks to protect our motorcycles from theft. The downside to these locks is that forgetting to remove one before riding off can be expensive or painful. A bit of yarn or a rubber band serves as a nice reminder that you have to unlock the lock. Simply put the rubber band or yarn around the throttle as a reminder. When you take the lock off, the rubber band or yarn can be stored around the lock.

Washing your Helmet
Besides the obvious hygienic issues, a stanky helmet is uncomfortable to use and won't last long before the foam and materials start to disintegrate. Here's how I wash mine.

Close all the vents in the helmet and put the visor down if it has one
Turn the helmet upside down in the kitchen sink
Turn on the water and fill the helmet as much as possible
Add regular shampoo (without conditioner)
Swish, swirl, and scrub the oils and salts out of the fabric
Pour the helmet out, then rinse thoroughly by the same method
Dry the helmet in the oven at a temperature not exceeding 120 F.

You might wanna wait a while and let the helmet cool before you stick it on your noggin. 120 degree buckles might leave a mark!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Finding gear.

This is just a thought.... something that might be helpful for those trying to acquire gear that works while motorcycling:

Consider camping and hunting gear. In fact, consider anything that's outdoor related. Campers, hunters, sportspersons, and athletes often have the same issues we have. We're all exposed to the elements and we all enjoy a bit of comfort.

So, some ideas......

Underwear - a subject very few of us broach, but you'll find it's a highly discussed topic among long-distance riders. In general, it should be supportive but not too tight. Ideally it will have no seams you have to sit on. For comfort, it should wick moisture away from your skin quickly. Cold weather or hot, your underwear is the foundation of your layered clothing package.
  1. Some types of baseball shorts are lycra based, highly supportive, and come with hip pads sewn into them. They're relatively inexpensive and are available at most sporting goods stores in the spring and summer.
  2. Silk, lycra, or merino wool longjohns are options that should be considered for every rider in every environment. UnderArmour makes "Heat Gear" designed to keep athletes cooler and these can be worn underneath full race suits to considerable advantage. Merino wool longjohns help keep a rider warmer without bunching up in the middle like a two-piece.

Rain suits and rain gear - These don't have to be motorcycle specific, but in all honesty, it helps. I can't think of another sport where the rain comes at you with such speed and always from a singular direction. Alternatives will work in the short-term, but a moto-specific suit will generally be better suited for our application.

Ski gear, such as balaclavas and neck protectors - These are generally grafted into service for motorcycles. I'm not aware of a single company that sells its head and neck products exclusively to the motorcycle market.

Gloves, boots, leathers, and helmets - This is a tender subject because these things are pretty exclusive to our sport. Is there another sport where you might possibly put your body on the pavement at 100 miles an hour? In any case, this kind of gear is expensive. On the other hand, this kind of gear is a super bargain when compared to skin grafting or death. Do the research and buy what you want. There are way too many options and possibilities for me to discuss them here. If you can't afford basic protective gear, you can't afford motorcycling.