Friday, March 8, 2013

10 Common Motorcycle Myths

If you want to be fast, you need a dedicated sports bike

We’ve all heard this one. It’s one of the main selling points for sports bikes and a misconception that motorcycle manufacturers, and dealers for that matter, are quite happy to see persist. After all, it keeps the ‘revolving door sports bike buyer’ on the treadmill and that’s good for business.

The truth is, in most real world operations, dedicated, full-on sports hardware is not particularly suited to fast running. “Whaaat?” I hear you scream. “What the hell is he smoking?” Let me explain…

Race rep sports bikes are made to travel at very fast speeds on very good surfaces. They are bullet-like in a straight line, with prodigious power available on demand. In areas where the rider can clearly pick his/her approach to a corner, decide on his/her optimum braking point with certainty, see through the corner and apply maximum power at precisely the right moment, a sports bike will be gone before you’ve got your key in the ignition. But how many real roads are like that? And how important is straight line speed in the greater scheme of sports riding?

The truth here is that bikes like big adventure tourers – with their big and wide bars, huge bottom-end torque and lovely, compliant suspension – will give just about any race rep the heave-ho in twisty, unpredictably-surfaced situations. And doesn’t that describe most of our favorite roads?

Dirt bikes are useless on the road

Tall seat height, limited add-ons, narrow seat – how the hell could a dirt bike be any good for road riding? Well, it’s all there in that first sentence. Those three elements in themselves are real attributes when dealing with tight traffic.

Seat height? You have better visibility to gauge what is happening about you. Limited add-ons? This makes for agility and nimble operation – perfect for nipping through small gaps and making the most of limited opportunities when commuting and the like. Skinny seat? Once again, the bike’s as small as it can be, and tight spaces that a road bike can’t fit through are yours for the taking. You can also toss in how well a dirt bike copes with a small spill, too. You won’t be up for the exorbitant costs of new or repaired fairings and the like.

Of course, the bike needs to be fitted with road tyres (knobbies are plain dangerous for anything but limited transport sections on bitumen) and have all the road-going hardware that is needed to pass registration (blinkers, lights, mirrors etc).

It’s true there are some compromises to chooky-operation on the road. They are less comfortable and slower over long distances than a road bike; you can forget pillions; the carrying capacity is minimal. But for short-run, inner-urban use, the fact is a dirt bike is just about the most efficient choice there is. Want proof? Take a look at how many city couriers use them.

Premium unleaded petrol significantly increases a bike’s efficiency

All that lovely octane – it simply must make your bike more powerful and efficient, right? After all, oil companies spend a fortune advertising the fact. But is it true?

The fact is that high-performance bike engines are designed to operate with quite high compression ratios, and therefore require fuels of higher octane. It is a widely held falsehood that power output or fuel efficiency can be improved by using fuel of higher octane than that specified by the engine manufacturer. The power output of an engine depends in part on the energy density of the fuel being burnt. Fuels of different octane ratings may have similar densities, but because switching to a higher octane fuel doesn’t add more hydrocarbon content or oxygen, the engine won’t make more power. In short, all that premium fuel does is to resist ‘knock’ better. This occurs when the fuel in the cylinder ignites before the spark plug fires. It’s also known as ‘pre-ignition’. You really only ‘need’ premium fuel when your bike knocks without it.

If your owner’s manual suggests higher octane fuel, follow the advice. Usually this will be specified by manufacturers of high-compression, high-performance engines. If lower octane fuel was employed in these engines, performance would be lessened because the engine’s computer system would have to retard the ignition timing (reducing horsepower and fuel economy) to prevent knocking.

But wait, there’s more… The higher octane rating of premium fuel does not make it any cleaner than regular fuel. Oil companies, however, like to advertise that their premium fuels are ‘specially formulated’ to clean fuel injectors, improve output, and, they might just get you laid. Fact is, that any ‘cleaners’ are unlikely to be present in sufficient quantities to do a great deal at all.

A good rider can out-brake an anti-lock brake system

Let’s get one thing straight right here: anti-lock brakes may well be the biggest advance in motorcycle safety since the introduction of the compulsory wearing of helmets.

While you will hear stories that ‘so and so can stop a bike better than any ABS system’, that is comprehensive bull twang.

Extensive testing done over recent years has proved that ABS consistently offers shorter braking distances when a applied in an emergency situation. Even on clean, dry and flat surfaces, skilled, experienced riders (who performed hundreds of emergency stops for the testing on outrigger-equipped motorcycles) stopped in less distance with anti-lock brakes (ABS) than with conventional or linked-brake systems.

Though the tests didn’t include samples on surfaces with slick, dirty or wet spots, ABS certainly would have performed even better under those conditions while eliminating much of the risk of crashing. The other cool thing about ABS on a motorcycle is that it allows a rider to safely practise panic stops without risking a crash caused by wheel lock-up. There is no instance we can think of where not having ABS would be preferable to having it. Yep, we’re huge fans of it – you should be, too.

If you ride a motorcycle, it’s inevitable that you will eventually crash

There is no doubt that the less experienced the rider, the greater the chance he or she has of hitting the deck – which is why, on a pro-rata basis, more riders come to grief in the early stages of their motorcycling lives. There is simply no substitute for training and experience.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s define ‘crash’ as a non-fatal fall. It is entirely wrong to accept crashing as a fait accompli just because you happen to ride a motorcycle. The fact is that you’re unlikely to crash your motorcycle, and it’s very unlikely that you will die as a result of a crash if you do have one – very contrary to what some complete jokes of government agencies would have you believe.

There are risks, of that there is no doubt. But being a good motorcyclist puts you in the business of risk minimisation. We are generally far more competent on the road than the average motorist; we understand the physics involved and operate our machines with far greater skill. So, why would we accept that we will inevitably crash? Okay, this one is a bit of a rant. But this myth perpetuates the mindset that motorcycles are dangerous death machines, and it needs to be smacked hard on the head.

Aftermarket exhausts always produce better performance

We all like it loud, don’t we? There’s nothing nicer than a booming, rich, note that announces our departures and arrivals like a modern-day royal trumpeter.

And, done right, your bike has every chance of being faster for the addition of an aftermarket exhaust system. Just bung it on and it will sound better, almost guaranteed. Fail to analyse how it affects your bike’s fuelling, however, and there’s every chance that although it sounds and maybe even feels faster, it might in fact have made your bike less effective.

You see, carburetors contain jets – tiny needle-like tubes that squirt fuel. When fitting an aftermarket exhaust these often need to undergo adjustment to cater for the characteristics of the new pipe. Engines can run either ‘lean’ (too much air and not enough fuel) or ‘rich’ (the opposite). This can vary throughout the rev range, so a bike can be running rich down low and lean at the top of its rev range. Adjusting the jetting (there are three jets – idle, pilot, and main) can work to correct poor fueling following a change of exhaust (which you will notice as flat spots in the bike’s acceleration).

A dynamo meter is a very sophisticated device that allows a mechanic to measure and analyze the horsepower, torque, and exhaust temperatures of an engine. The bike is placed on a rolling road in a dyno room and the engine is started and pushed through the rev range. Using a computer the mechanic can measure the power and torque the engine produces and also the air/fuel mixture, and make adjustments to the mix using the information gained. Fuel-injected bikes are fitted with small computers that govern the fueling. In most cases a fueling ‘map’ can be downloaded to suit a particular bike and pipe combination and uploaded to the bike’s computer. So, a loud can? Great. But don’t forget the follow-up work or you may be taking your bike’s performance backwards.

You’ll always save money buying a motorcycle privately

This sounds like it should be right, doesn’t it? After all, dealers buy at private prices and whack their bit on top, right? How can it not be cheaper to buy privately? Well, sometimes it is, but many times it’s not – and here’s why…

Dealers are often on-selling a trade-in. In many cases they will have picked that trade-in up at a pretty reasonable rate, and they really generally don’t love the idea of a showroom full of older kit. So, the bike will often have the cost of a roadworthy certificate thrown against it and not much else. That gives you the chance to buy the bike, often supported by a limited warranty, in roadworthy condition. How does that stack up against driving out to a misery suburb, talking with a bloke you will never see again and trusting him to tell you the truth about something he is pretty keen to be shy of, quick smart?

Good dealers (and yes, although fortunately rare, there are still some dealers that shouldn’t be allowed to open their doors) are very wary about having bad machinery for sale. It’s simply bad for business. The quick buck they may make moving a nail is quickly negated by unhappy customers on the primary level, while the word-of-mouth damage that follows hurts them on a secondary level.

In short, dealers want you back – for servicing, to buy apparel and accessories, or another bike, and with your mates. A crook private seller hopes he never sees you again. Now don’t get us wrong. We’re certain the majority of private sellers are honest and fair human beings, and buying privately is a legitimate and fun way to put a bike in your shed. No problem there. But, the myth is that you will always do better in the private market. And that is absolutely false.

High-performance sports tires give the best grip on the road

A few years ago I owned a pretty hot Honda CB1300. It had all the right go-gear fitted and I loved it. In order to see what it was capable of, I signed up for a ride day at Phillip Island. Of course, because I was going to spend the day on the track, I fitted some super-sticky sports rubber to the bike. The tires were billed as ‘for street use’ but they featured the most aggressive compound the brand made. They cost plenty, too, but only the best was going to do. After all, I didn’t want to spank the lovely black beastie, did I?

After happily setting off to cover the 130km from my place to the Island, I was about a kilometer from home and gently leaning the bike over to negotiate a roundabout, when – lo and behold – there was the rear wheel, at around a 70-degree angle from the steering head. ‘This is not good,’ I cleverly gleaned. Yes, a dirty big slide. ‘Heavens to Betsy,’ I thought (or something along those lines). ‘That never happened with my old sports touring tires.’ And yes, the new ones were scrubbed in and set to go. What the hell happened? Temperature, my friend, temperature. It was a cold day, the road had very little heat in it and my ride was young. Put simply, very sticky sports rubber doesn’t get sticky until it reaches a decent working temperature, and road riding – with all its stops and starts, in addition to lots of straight-line running – doesn’t allow enough heat into an aggressive sports tire.

Running a pure sports tire, without the constant hard braking and cornering required to achieve and retain its ideal operating temperature, can seriously reduce grip compared to running a sportstouring tyre. In the same sense, running a sports touring tire if you use the bike solely for track day sessions is also a no-no. The right tyre for the right task makes a huge difference to any number of aspects of a motorcycle’s performance, from stopping distances to maximizing cornering grip.

The latest is always the greatest

You’d think that if you are buying the latest model of a particular bike, you’d be getting the best that particular brand and/or model has to offer.

Thankfully design errors are few and far between these days, but there have definitely been models introduced over the years that aren’t as good as their predecessors.
Let’s take Yamaha’s YZF-R1 as an example. The 2002 Yamaha YZF-R1 received fuel injection for the first time, employing a ‘suction-piston-type’ EFI unit to allow better fuel/air mixture at low revs. A new two-stage EXUP valve contributed to the resultant boost in torque. The all-new Deltabox 3 frame was claimed to be 300 percent stiffer.
Owners suggested the bike was demonstrably more comfortable than previous offerings, giving the bike a thumbs-up as a distance weapon.
Also on the plus side of the ledger was the fact that mechanics said the model was the pick of the R1 bunch as a used-bike purchase, as it generally had very few recurring problems.

Then a completely new model was released in 2004 boasting a 1:1 power-to-weight ratio – 172hp (128kW) and 172kg (dry). Problems included plastic fairing screws that loosened and fell out, radiator hoses that softened at the clamps and leaked, and a rear brake reservoir that was heated by the exhaust and cooked the rider’s bum. There was a recall for the Throttle Position Sensor, which was reading incorrectly and sending false messages to the ECU.
This could cause the engine to cut out at very inopportune moments.
Now that’s one example, and space stops us from pointing out more, but history is littered with motorcycles that were lesser bikes than the models that came before them.
Another reason to think long and hard about buying an all-new model is the lack of proven reliability. Of course, it’s lovely to have an entirely new bike, but be sure it doesn’t have an entirely new bunch of issues to go with it.

Cheap helmets aren’t as safe as expensive ones

Fancy lids look great and usually offer greater comfort, washable linings and higher quality fittings, so there is a good case for spending a bit more on a nicer helmet. But they are not, as a general rule, any safer than cheaper helmets.

To get a better handle on this, let’s get some idea of the construction of motorcycle helmets…

The greater majority of motorcycle helmets on the market today are constructed primarily using one of two materials: injection-moulded thermoplastic or fibreglass and/or carbon Kevlar composite. Both types, of course, are capable of meeting the essential AS1698 Australian Standard. For a helmet to be legal for use on Australian roads, it must have an AS1698 sticker (as should your visor, too).
This means the helmet has undergone and passed testing for strength of the retention system (usually a chin strap), resistance to penetration and impact absorption, while also offering sufficient peripheral vision.

There is even a train of thought that thermoplastic helmets may offer some safety advantages over helmets of a more expensive construction. One view posits the theory that, because thermoplastic construction offers a softer outer surface, there is a degree of ‘give’ that absorbs a portion of a given impact.
While we’re not going to get involved with that political hot potato, the fact is cheaper helmets will have passed the same testing regime as the dearest available.

Story courtesy of Motorcycle Trader

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