Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Appropriate Riding Gear 3

Well, so far we've covered heads and eyes, body and hands, and finally we'll discuss legs and feet! Anyone up for a round of "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes"?

When generally cruising around town at speeds of 55 MPH or lower in 75+ degree weather, you usually do not need to wear more than a good, sturdy pair of jeans. You definitely never want to wear a pair of shorts while riding. There are too many parts on the bike that get heated up while riding around for your legs to be safe, plus the possibility of "road rash" on your legs when you get into an accident. Just make sure you put on a pair of pants with thick, sturdy fabric - nothing light, or you'll find out quickly how hot chrome feels on your shins! Not that I've ever done that before or anything...

Those who are feeling more adventurous may want to invest in a good pair of leather chaps. They aren't just for cowboys and strippers anymore! Chaps provide extra protection at higher speeds - both in case of an accident as well as if you run into inclement weather. Chaps, or at least leather pants, are a must when riding in the cold. Just a side note for all of the leather items I'm suggesting: good black leather works well because it doesn't show dirt as much and is very protective without being too heavy. Note that if your leather isn't well-treated or if you run into especially bad weather, your leather can "bleed", leaving black streaks on your skin where it touches. This is especially true of brand new, unlined gloves.

Covering your feet, you want a pair of boots that goes over your ankles. Something with support. Seriously, these can save you from getting a broken foot if you should tip over. I made sure to wear my big black army surplus boots during my rider training class - when I tipped my bike over, I tripped a bit and twisted my ankle, but because I had those boots laced up almost to the middle of my shin, only my pride suffered in the fall. You do not need to spend $300 on your boots (although you can if you want - there are some pretty awesome-looking ones out there) - a good pair from any army surplus store will run you about $100 or so. Also make sure they are not fashion shoes with high heels. Heels can get caught on debris and other items on the road, or get you stuck on your foot peg while you're riding. It'd be pretty embarrassing to pull up next to a car at a red light, looking incredibly competent and fashionable, only to tip over because your foot got stuck.

Check back next time for Optional Riding Gear: those little extras that make all the difference.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Appropriate Motorcycle Gear 2

Aside from the necessary head and eye gear, two other items you will want to invest in are a good riding jacket and a pair of sturdy gloves.

A riding jacket is made of some solid, sturdy material, usually leather, though other synthetic fabrics are available as well. Not only will these jackets protect you from the elements, but they also provide additional protection in case of an accident. Working at a dealership, I can tell you we get a lot of people in here who were in minor accidents but suffered an injury called "road rash" - sort of like carpet burn, but it involves asphalt instead of carpet. A proper jacket will easily protect you from this! While not particularly severe in most cases, it can be quite painful, and it is so easy to prevent!

There are also jackets that have built-in body armor to protect against injury from more severe accidents. With all of the options available, it should be easy to find a jacket that is affordable and gives you all of the protection you want, plus still looks great! The nice thing about leather is that you can customize your jacket with stitching and patches if you find a leather expert near you!

Gloves are another important thing to add to your riding wardrobe. Most people decide to ride without them, especially on hot days, but if you are a beginner, it's important to have all of the protection you possibly can! A good set of sturdy, full-fingered gloves can protect your fingers if you tip over and you can't get your hand out of the way in time. They do not have to be especially padded, as long as the leather is still a little bit stiff. For early spring/late fall riding, I strongly suggest investing in a pair of large, insulated leather gloves, called gauntlets. They provide the most protection against the elements. Think about it: on a bike, your hands need to be on the controls at all time, away from the warmth of your body. You want them fully functional, which means keeping them warm! Good gauntlets will extend past your wrists and you will be able to tighten them a bit to keep the draft out. They will also have grips on the fingers and palms.

Many people will opt for fingerless gloves. These are more decorative rather than functional. I suggest having two sets of gloves when you first start riding: thin, sturdy, full-fingered gloves for general riding; and a set of padded gauntlets for riding in the elements.

Remember to ride safe!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Appropriate Motorcycle Gear

It’s important to wear appropriate riding gear whenever you decide to go out on your motorcycle. Specially designed clothing can provide you with protection from both the elements and severe injury if worn consistently and correctly. I’d like to present a series of short articles over the next couple of weeks covering these items. We will start with head gear.

The most important item to wear while riding is a helmet. Many states have laws requiring riders to wear helmets, however several do not. Many feel that helmets are a personal choice. Regardless of how you feel about helmets, the proof is there: they greatly reduce the chance of severe injury or death from a riding accident. If you decide to wear one, make sure it is DOT (Department of Transportation) approved. There will be a sticker on the helmet indicating such.

Helmets come in many shapes and sizes. First you must decide if you want a half-helmet, a ¾ helmet, or a full-face helmet. Half-helmets cover the top of your head, but leave your eyes and ears uncovered. ¾ helmets come down to the base of your skull but leave your face exposed. Full-face helmets have visors and chin protection.

Many people feel that the full-face and ¾ helmets detract from their ability to hear while on the road. Regardless, they are still very popular, especially with people who ride sport bikes. The full-face helmets become especially useful during colder weather – they provide more protection from the elements and keep your face warmer while you’re riding. Many styles, colors, and sizes are available, so take the time to pick a helmet that fits and is comfortable for you. A correctly fitted helmet should sit firmly on the head and should not wiggle around. If you are able to slide the helmet back and forth on your head easily, the helmet is too big.

Eye protection is required when riding a motorcycle. Not only is it required legally, but anyone who’s ever tried to ride down the road at more than 25 MPH can tell you it’s impossible to see when the wind gets in your eyes. That and the possible road hazards – bugs, gravel, and other debris – that might damage your eyes are reason enough to always wear eye protection.

The options available for eye protection have greatly increased over the years. Ladies, you know those sunglasses with the giant frames and lenses that are so hip now? Well, if you can find a pair that wrap fairly closely to your head (just so they don’t get whipped off by the wind), those will usually do just fine! There are also many sleek and stylish options for goggles – either with stems that loop over the ears or with elastic to wrap all around the head. Some feel goggles provide more protection from the wind than regular large sunglasses. Fortunately you aren’t restricted to the giant nerdy goggles of days past!

You don’t want to wear your regular eyeglasses while riding – the frames of today are far too small to provide any real protection. I strongly suggest getting eye protection that has transition or removable lenses so that you can swap between dark lenses for those sunny days and clear lenses for riding at night. If you’re caught wearing sunglasses at night on a motorcycle, you could get ticketed or arrested.

Best of all, you really have so many options for stylish biker wear these days, you are sure to find something both fun and functional to wear while you’re out on the saddle!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Biker Glossary of Terms

Motorcycle enthusiasts tend to have their own language. This can be confusing for a beginner, so here’s some help in translating just what everyone is talking about! This list is by no means definitive, and I’d love it if people would post additions and keep the list going!

Bagger: Refers to touring-style bikes, which have extra luggage capacity; examples: Honda Goldwing, Harley Classic; luggage can include saddle bags, luggage racks, sissy-bar mounted bags, etc.

Carb: Short for carburetor. This is what blends air and fuel for an internal combustion engine. Most bikes have these, although newer ones are using fuel injection now instead.

Chopper: Refers to a special type of cruiser in which the bike has been heavily modified from its stock origins. Usually involves having raked out forks, custom paint, an unusually-shaped gas tank, a wide back tire, and any other modifications you can possibly dream of.

Crash bar: another word for an engine guard; an attachment that can be added to the front of the frame of your motorcycle that protects the bike and the rider’s legs if the bike should tip over.

Crotch-rocket: Another term for sport bikes. Typically Japanese in make, these include Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki. Sport bikes are typically lighter with a smaller weight-to-frame ratio, and are popular racing bikes. They are characterized by their notable riding position, with the rider sitting leaned forward towards the hand controls and the feet in a mid or back position, as well as their plastic farings.

Cruiser: Another term for so-called American-style motorcycles, made popular by Harley-Davidson. Characterized by a “cruising” position – a comfortable, upright way to ride. Bikes are often more customized than sport bikes, with chrome or custom paint available.

Dirt bikes: Smaller, more rugged motorcycles. Typically have a smaller, two-stroke engine.

DOT: Department of Transportation. Helmets must have a sticker with the letters DOT on them to be legally considered appropriate head gear in states requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets.

Faring: Non-clear pieces on a motorcycle that act to block the wind. A front faring is usually attached to the handlebars in some way, and may or may not have a windshield attached. Farings can also be positioned in front of the legs (popular on sport bikes, also can be seen on Honda Goldwings and Harley UltraClassics).

Forks: Refers to the front part of the bike that holds the front wheel in place. If a bike has “raked out” forks, it means the forks are extended and the angle between the frame of the bike and the forks is larger than usual.

Forward controls: referring to the position of the feet on the motorcycle.

Full Dresser: See “bagger”

H.O.G.: Harley Owner’s Group. A club you can join for a fee associated with Harley-Davidson. The national organization offers discounts to members at the various dealership locations, as well as patches, pins, and magazine subscriptions. The local chapters act as social gatherings for its members – they organize rides, help out at the Harley dealership they are affiliated with, and participate in other events.

Kawa: Short for Kawasaki.

Mid controls: referring to the position of the feet on the motorcycle. If the foot pegs sit so that your feet are beneath your hips and your legs are bent at an approximately 90 degree angle, these are mid controls.

One-up: Refers to a style of seat or riding in which there is only room for the driver, no passengers. Sometimes people have been known to sit on the back fender of a bike equipped with a one-up style seat. This is dangerous.

Poker Run: A biker activity. All the participants will usually gather at one starting point, then travel to 5 different points within a reasonable distance throughout the day, collecting cards or tokens as they go. At the end of the poker run, the person with the best poker hand wins – usually a raffle prize of some sort. Often used in conjunction with raising money for charities or other general promotions.

Saddle bags: Luggage that attaches to your bike much in the same way bags do on horses – by the saddle. Can either be mounted on special attachments on the sides of your bike, OR you can get different kinds where you remove your seat, sling the saddlebags over the frame, then re-attach the seat over the top.

Sissy-bar: The passenger’s backrest on a motorcycle. Makes for a safer, more comfortable ride.

Two-Stroke: Refers to a type of engine. Have a simpler design than a four-stroke engine and have a higher power-to-weight ratio. Popular in dirt bikes. The process mixes the fuel and engine oil.

Two-up: Can refer to either a style of seat in which there is room for the driver and a passenger, or to the style of riding two-up.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Bike Review: 2007 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy

The first thing I noticed when I sat down on this bike is the handlebars. They sit much wider than any of the other bikes I've ridden so far, and I personally found this very enjoyable. I felt like it was a more natural riding position for me. It felt a bit more like a steering wheel. I think someone with shorter arms might have some trouble with this setup, however, so if you fall into that category, you may want to look into something a bit more brushed back so they are easier to reach.

The second thing I noticed was the seat. Honestly, it was pretty hard, and after riding for a few minutes I felt my back start to fatigue. I think that would be the first modification I'd make if I owned one of these. I also noticed the detachable sissy bar was a bit wobbly - I let my boyfriend take the bike out for a spin with me on the back and while the bike was a bit roomier than I'm used to (he normally takes me out on the back of his Sportster), I didn't like the sensation of sliding around very much. On the plus side, I was elevated pretty far above his head, so I got a good view and could look around at all of the lovely scenery while we were riding!

One of the things I really liked was the height of the windshield. So far, on every bike I've ridden that has a windshield, the edge has always been inconveniently right in the middle of my line of sight. I either had to sit up very straight to see over it, or slouch a bit to look right through it. I find the line distracting. The Fat Boy had a slightly higher windshield compared to where I was on the seat, so I was able to look through it without difficulty. The only issue would be if it got too dirty to see out of, but fortunately I didn't have that problem!

The bike does not handle as well as its Heritage brethren, though the stock pipes had a bit of a nicer sound to them. It is still quite a comfortable ride, it just doesn't seem quite as balanced as others in its genre. It also had a jumpy start, though that might just be the particular bike I was riding.

All-in-all, I'm very impressed with Harley's line of Softails. I think I've become a bit spoiled, as I enjoy having the saddle bags so I can cart all of my stuff around, which is deterring me from branching out a bit to the Dynas. I'm planning on trying out at least a Deluxe before the end of the riding season!

Does anyone else favor a particular make and model of bike they'd be interested in sharing? I'd love to hear about some of the Japanese bikes out there! They've become much more popular recently. Let us hear about your experiences!