Know Before You Go
By Midwest Traction on June 21, 2018
Disclaimer: All riders should consult the owner's manuals and product specifications for their individual machine and components. Midwest Traction encourages all riders to seek professional training.
Your Motorcycle Attire
Before you check your bike, make sure you have the following items in your gear supply:
- Helmet - Protect that noggin! One with a visor is ideal for the added benefit of protection from debris, wind, pebbles, and bugs
- Eye protection if you’re foregoing the visor, goggles at the very least, though a full face visor is strongly encouraged
- Snug clothing - Loose or ill-fitted attire runs the risk of getting caught in or on things and obscuring your vision
- Jacket with durable, high-rated material for high-speeds to protect from the elements, bug splats, abrasions from flying debris, and road rash in the event you lay the bike down
- Pants! Yes, even in the summer. Those pipes get hot
- Boots designed for optimal grip on those pegs
- Gloves - Good for windy days and dampening vibration
- Earplugs - Check your state laws first. Protect your hearing from the wind, traffic and bike sounds
What Does That Part Do?
To understand how to best use your motorcycle, it's good to know how a few key components work. We've put together a short summary of some of the main parts.
Similar to cars, motorcycle engines have a head and cylinder block, pistons, and a valve train (along with many other parts). The spark plug gets things started by igniting a mixture of air and fuel that gets pushed into the combustion chamber. This force causes the pistons to move, which rotate the crankshaft, which causes the rear wheel to move, and off you go!
The capacity directly relates to your bike’s power output, which ranges from 50-1500 cc's. Lower capacity engines are slower, but offer better fuel economy, while higher engines are faster, but burn through fuel quicker. For something in the middle, look for something in the 100-200 cc range.
This includes your drive system, your clutch, and the gear set. A transmission is responsible for the transfer of power between the rear wheel and the engine. Many motorcycles utilize a chain drive system, which connects the sprockets of the output shaft to the rear wheel, but some use belt systems instead.
The clutch allows you to shift gears by disconnecting the crankshaft from the transmission. It’s a complex mechanism, but the gist of it is that when you engage the clutch, the pressure plates inside the clutch create friction between the crankshaft and the transmission causing them to rotate in sync. When you disengage the clutch, you disconnect the crankshaft and transmission, which allows you to shift gears while your wheels are still turning. So when the clutch lever is out, it is engaged. When you pull on it, the springs surrounding the plates compress to let the plates spin freely, and you can shift gears.
Inside the transmission, there are shifting forks, which allow you to change from gear to gear. Most motorcycles have 4-6 gears, though smaller bikes may only have 2. When you shift the lever, the forks move from gear to gear, which allows you to get up to speed or slow to a stop without having to turn off your bike.
The number and placement of these directly impact your engine’s function and ride smoothness. Motorcycles cap out at 6 cylinders per engine. Older models usually have 2 cylinders with 45* pistons, but most modern bikes have 4 cylinders to provide a smoother ride with more RPMs.
Your Motorcycle Tires
What stands between you and the pavement is incredibly important. Let’s make sure you know a few things.
This applies to tires that range from brand new to 100 miles or less. Why is this important? Because it's often overlooked in the excitement of having new tires!
During the manufacturing process, most tires are coated with a waxy substance called mold release, which prevents the tread grooves from sticking to the tire mold. Sometimes antioxidants are added to protect from oxygen degradation. Even if you’re using the same tire you ran before, a new tire is like a new pair of shoes; they always feel different when you first use them. Allowing for a break-in period to adjust to your tires while your slow, easy rides scrub off the wax is crucial to safe riding at high speeds.
Some manufacturers choose to utilize film separators or highly polished segmented molds instead of using a wax coating. Continental’s Conti Road Attack 2 boasts their lack of mold release in their tire production, as well as a pre-scrub to provide extra grip on brand new tires. Unfortunately, this is not the industry standard. Best practice for break-in period riding? Avoid sudden acceleration, strong braking, and hard cornering. Take easy, slow rides until your tires are no longer affected by the wax coating.
This one isn’t new - we talk about tire pressure all the time because it’s important. Improper inflation affects:
- Increases separation between tire and rim
- Uneven wear
- Reduces ride smoothness
The Motorcycle Industry Council Tire Guide recommends a pressure check at least 3 hours after your latest excursion. While you’re checking pressure, take a peek at your treads to make sure they aren’t worn past the wear indicator. If they’re getting close, it’s a good idea to order new tires now. This is also a good time to examine the carcass for bulging, cracking, or embedded objects.
Always refer to your manual for the correct pressure for your bike.
We're finally to the best part! Below are some riding tips for various types of weather and terrain.
When riding, always account for wind. Cross-currents help with lean-in and maintaining course, but watch out for gusts, especially when going over bridges, emerging from underpasses, or being passed by other drivers. It's best to avoid jerking motions, overcorrecting, or tightening your grip. Tensing up increases the likelihood of an accident. Stay calm, maintain your speed, and keep vertical tension by pushing your knees inward.
Riding your motorcycle in wet weather isn't ideal, but getting caught in the rain happens. It's important to focus on maintaining a smooth ride by braking and throttling gradually. But it's not just rain that changes how you handle your bike. These things apply for:
- Low Traction Surfaces
- Road markings
To handle these circumstances, we've got a list below.
- Slow down
- Stay steady
- Brake simultaneously but gradually and gently
- Avoid the center lane; follow tire tracks of cars instead
- Watch for oil
- Avoid shoulders
- Caution for black ice/dry patches
It's best to practice in various conditions under controlled areas. Think quiet side streets you're familiar with, empty parking lots, roads that don't see a lot of traffic. The more you practice, the more prepared you'll be if the weather takes a turn or you end up riding in an unplanned place.
Know Before You Go
Before you race out onto busy, high-speed roads, know the local and state laws. Are helmets required? What kind and how many indicators/lights do you need? Check your vehicle over one more time, ensure all the electronics function properly, and make sure to pack an emergency kit.
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