New to Motorcycling? Don’t fret.

Posted in Moto on May 17, 2010 by Carmen A.

Yes, you still have that big glaring newbie plate visible to the whole world, but there are legendary riders out there who can cover 20,o00km within the first few months of getting their basic (2B) bike license!

Staying safe can be a challenge when 70kph appears to be reasonably fast for you, fresh out of the driving school, when everyone else typically maneuver at three digit velocities on the open roads (don’t even mention performance vehicles on highways).

But with a few little pointers in the right place, you can enjoy the world of motorcycling at your own pace just like the rest of us. And more importantly, stay safe. One mistake (often NOT by you!) is all it takes…

Without further ado:

1. Get familiar with the bike. Doesn’t matter if its a big or small bike, you got to know how to maneuver in tight spaces (please don’t snap off a footpeg while parking!), what are your cruise RPMs, and when does the power actually kick in for decisive acceleration. Like it or not, you need to keep up with others.

2. When in doubt, go solo.

Friends can be a blessing or a curse. You got to know to trust your own knowledge, and your own instinct to finding and mastering a safe riding style. More skill and concentration is needed to coordinate your riding in formation with others. Whereas if you’re alone with an empty road ahead, it’s just you and your trusted (iron) horse.

3. Tag teaming.

See another car or bike traveling at a comfortable pace with you? Tag along with him or her for the ride and try to coordinate your lane changes and other maneuvers with the other vehicle. You’ll master formation riding in no time, when you can team up with the usual “racing GT” taxi drivers. They love it when a motorcycle “reserves” a spot for them to lane-change into, and they’ll let you tag along behind for maximum efficiency through city traffic.

4. An alert biker is a popular biker.

Like the above sentiment, you got to ‘show yourself’ to other motorists for them to recognise you. Don’t just look straight ahead, make a show of checking your mirrors, looking at other vehicles (try to anticipate their moves).  You’ll notice people will think twice about cutting into your path, if they see you’re alert.

Try to give way to other motorists. Get out of the way if you’re being tailgated, let that taxi pass ahead instead of blocking them when they signal. They’ll return the favour. Trust me, they really do after a while, as bikes and riders are highly recognisable.

5. Slow and steady wins the race.

Yes, it’s tempting to start racing away through the night, but what you really want is to progress incrementally. Get comfortable with road conditions, try keeping up with faster vehicles like Sonata taxis and performance cars.

If you want to “race” from stoplight to stoplight  just for the fun of it (excuse: I’m breaking in my engine), know when to back off. Speed and skill to max out in the corners come naturally with time. Don’t follow if someone else is aggressive towards you or other road users.

Safe motorcycling is never about doing what the Romans do, or trying to do everything by the rules. Both ways get you killed pretty darn quick, like it or not. You got to write your own book and live to tell the tale.

Happy riding, PK!

(This article was written by request)

Running In Your Engine – Really Necessary?

Posted in Engineering, Moto with tags , , , on May 10, 2010 by Carmen A.

Short and sweet reply: Yes.

That’s why I waited 6 and then some years to experience owning a rebuilt motor fresh from the shop floor, just to apply all my prior motorcycling experience into 3000kms worth of strict engine management, Victorian-esque route scheduling and other random facets of desperate housewifery.

That’s how important breaking in is. Your bike’s character for the rest of her life is determined by the first few thousand kilometres. You can run her slow and gentle and she’ll never be anything special, just something to sell away a year later, or you can run her hard, trusting  your automotive knowledge to develop maximum compression from your motor for superior efficiency and power. And you won’t need another bike for a long time to come.

There are two good things about a performance run in:

1. That extra power comes free of charge;

2.  I had a 125cc racing moped that does 0-100 in under 5 seconds, cruises at 130kph and doesn’t give me problems for 6 years.  Typical Yamaha 125Zs get less than 25km/l of fuel economy, mine does 37 whist winning the BKE Cub Prix anytime, anyday.

So I don’t want to hear about 125Zs having “no power” when carrying cargo or a passenger, okay? I achieved top speed when I had a pillion, not without!

Jealous?

Please be – because you can have that performance too.

If you decide to run your engine in the proper way, that is. Italian sportsbikes are renown for their performance because when they roll off the factory floor, they’ve to sing sopranos before leaving for dealerships worldwide. They’re not treated gentle; they’re run at maximum throttle not just as a quality control measure, but to help the piston rings wear in with the cylinder walls, seal, and develop maximum compression.

Max compression means max torque and power, and it’s the piston RINGS, not the pistons themselves, that generate actual compression. A leaky piston ring literally loses power with every stroke, and allow combustion gases to contaminate the crankcase, spelling doom for long term reliability and engine oil longevity. Thus, it does hurt your wife/girlfriend/mistress if you don’t use her hard. And when you disassemble the engine, well yes, let’s just say you can tell a bike’s health by piston appearance.

Masochistic sentiments aside there’s really no risk to indulge in a routine of performance-biased run-in. Your engine is rated for many thousands of RPM and a certain number of torques and horsepowers. Again, you’re not doing anyone a favour by never revving the motor.

But if you just jump on your new bike, and rev away into the sunset like no tomorrow, you’re going to have major problems. Wife doesn’t like it and will break down really fast. Or throw a conrod at you.

Performance run-in is conversively, a delicate task. It feels the same as diving into a high-speed corner; slow and methodical (counter)steering and weight transfer. Feed in the power gently for a slight oversteer bias, accelerating smoothly out of the turn.

Italian superbike engineers may just jump on their bikes and redline them without notice, but they built those machines, you didn’t. You got to know what you’re doing, and have a clear objective of why you’re following some alien set of rules to achieve some vague benefit someone told you about.

There are just some key points to focus on when developing max compression:

1. Gentle on the power at all times. Let the engine pick up momentum by itself. Don’t short-shift, rev freely. Use downhill courses to assist you in this. Let the engine accelerate itself as you coast downhill!

2. Build confidence gradually. Don’t redline the engine the moment you leave the shop; imagine training yourself for a 100m sprint; you wouldn’t race off without warmup and you can’t beat the world record the first try. Pace yourself; if this week you’re doing consistently 15 seconds, aim for 14 seconds next week.

Drive up to 6000rpm today, 6500rpm next week, it’s that simple.

3. Vary the load on the engine continuously. Highway cruise doesn’t help seal the piston rings; varied loading, running through all the gears in a twisty, hilly course does. Don’t mash down the gas, open the throttle slowly and let her accelerate herself!

4. Engine braking works wonders to remove debris from the combustion chamber, and suck excess oil away. The vacuum developed by compression braking is a BIG help to sealing your rings. Roll down the spiral ramp of a multi-storey carpark hanging on nothing but engine compression. Your engine actually sounds and feels different after!

5. Since we’re talking about debris; change your engine oil frequently (perhaps every 500km for reasons of practicality – you don’t own a million gallons of oil), because the first few miles results the most wear within a newly rebuilt motor. You’ll want all that debris out!

6. Don’t just follow what you’re reading (: The techniques on the internet are there to be experimented with, and be improved upon! I did recommend semi-synthetic oil for Nabil’s CBR for a reason, despite MotoTune USA’s instruction to use mineral oil only.

7. Don’t use any engine additives, ever. Most of them are marketed by people who don’t know what their products even do. It’s the 21st Century and there’s even concern that superior synthetic oils protect too well for a decent run in!

Yes yes, there are people who go OMG you used synthetic oil you’re screwed! But let’s look at the facts. Oil is oil. Renown performance car manufacturers actually ship their greatest machines with synthetic oil in the crank! Synthetic oil protects better than mineral oil; that’s a suggestion to not ride like a wimp just because you’re “breaking in your engine”.

Have you looked at local riding conditions on small cc bikes? High temperature, high speed traffic, and RPMs that will not be out of place on a racetrack. You NEED some extra protection if you want to actually use your bike as transportation! And that’s why I used semi-synthetic. I’ve sheared down a mineral oil to zilch in under a thousand klicks before in tropical highway conditions.

8. Warm up your engine properly before putting your mistress through her paces. For obvious reasons; engine oil flows best at high temperatures. Breaking-in does not involve destroying your engine by saying ‘hi’ to your beloved by ill-treatment. Common sense logic. Engine oil may take up to 15 minutes to reach optimal temperature.

So where did I get all this nonsense?

1. MotoTune USA – Break in Secrets

Learn from an expert in race engine design and tuning. Register on his site to access the rest of his technical articles, the contents developed over 30 years of track experience.

2. Bikeadvice.in – How to “Run In” Your Bike

India may not be renown for 2-wheeled motorsports but have you looked at the motorcycle community in India? It’s huge, and they know what works and what doesn’t.

3. Experiment, listen, look, ride, rinse and repeat. Personal experience is the best teacher. Is my puny 200cc cruiser as underpowered as her specs look?

Quite the contrary, if such an underpowered bike is accused of illegal racing and other ‘highly dangerous riding’ related commentary!

Very dangerous indeed!

Why? Mototune USA.

There, I said it.

Because at the end of the season, you want the piston on the right.

Outing Report Saturday, May 8

Posted in Moto, Outings with tags , , , on May 9, 2010 by Carmen A.

Became a taxi driver for Nabil whose iron horse had fainted on the highway yesterday.

Piston jammed due to overheating in HTHS conditions; he managed to contact a great friend who managed to get immediate rescue despite Nabil’s phone battery going dead prematurely.

Although the on-scene mechanic was a competent bloke who approached Nabil’s CBR with utmost professionalism and was able to pinpoint what needed repair with surgical precision, the bill and unwanted advances from pushy salesmen of useless engine additives didn’t make for a pretty sight.

Regardless, we took my Phantom to catch the latest Bollywood film, HouseFull, successfully evading an incoming rainstorm by racing into an underground expressway “pwning” the local traffic all the way!

Who ever said small cc bikes were slow and boring, eh!

Later in the evening we enjoyed copious amounts of high-calibre Bollywood action with the arrival of Sujak’s Honda Fireblade that stormed through highly congested and dangerous Little India with impunity.

We called it a night close to 1am after a video run (Sujak may be forced to let go his amazing red devil at the end of the month), Arabian styled dinner and a date with a hookah lounge and an encounter with an actual belly dancer *swoon*

Riding home stoned is such a novel experience. Carmen got so many smiles from envious passersby this evening :3

Pictures and other media to follow.

All About Windshields

Posted in Engineering, Moto with tags , , , , , on May 5, 2010 by Carmen A.

Aerodynamics is such a touchy thing on motorcycles; it’s very easy to say that the better your aero, the more efficiently your vehicle cuts through the air.

The best motorcycles, aerodynamics wise today, are none other than sportsbikes with their full fairings and hunkered-down riding position. However, in terms of practicality, they score quite low. Outside of track conditons and W.O.T. runs on the open highway (that acronym means wide-open throttle), there can be very few occasions indeed to maximise the aerodynamics of a race replica bike.

Infact, most sportsbike riders on the street can be seen sitting upright in what may pass for an “aerobraking” posture on the track, ruining the point of investing in a sportsbike for the factory-optimised aerodynamics.

And on that note we may commence Lesson One in this episode of Coffeeshop (Kopitiam) Engineering Excellence. Wind resistance plays a large influence in the world of aerodynamics. A ‘naked’ bike is a very inefficient shape, blundering through the air with all the elegance of a stack of bricks.

That’s why long ago there used to be ‘dustbin’ style fairings, and even fully enclosed streamliners. They’ve passed into ancient history long ago for various reasons, but a windshield for your bike still remains a significant addition.

Many think windshields ruin the aesthetics of a street-fighter or cruiser motorcycle design. As illustrated above. the naked, muscular look of a Super Four type brawler is one of the prime reasons behind the CB400’s popularity on Singapore roads.

Others think the additional aerodynamic drag caused by a lump of Lexan mounted up front would ruin the fuel economy.

And if you want aerodynamics, why not just get a damned sportsbike instead?

All are correct, in their own way.

But many old-timers of the biking world think differently.

To them, it’s common sense to note that a rider in an upright posture adds a significant amount of drag to a motorcycle travelling at highway speeds, especially on a cruiser-type where for reasons of common sense, you don’t see anyone hunkering down over the fuel tank. Ever tried resistance training with a parachute strapped to your back? That’s more or less what the motorcycle’s engine feels with you adding a metre squared (or two) of non-aerodynamic stuff on top of the machne, albeit in a smaller degree.

It’s also common sense that if you reduce the drag caused by the rider’s upper body by diverting air around or above him or her, the benefits more than pay off over the expense of fitting an aftermarket windshield. Less drag means automatically better fuel economy, the weight added is negligible, and looks wise just pretend you’re on some sheriff’s patrol bike from your favourite movie.

But enough of the technobabble, how does it work in reality?

Case Study – Myself

I’m 6ft4 with a little bit of room to grow, add an inch or so for the type of shoes I fancy, and I ride a small cruiser motorcycle. The bike sits pretty low on the road, compared to typical modern commuter and street-fighting designs common in Asia, but me sitting upright on her means I am a main source of aerodynamic drag.

I’m subjected to pretty significant windblast at speeds above 80kph and it’s quite obvious I’m wasting fuel going any much faster based on the air resistance, easily felt in such a scenario. So with that thought I have been riding on the highways during the usual night outings in a posture more suited for racing motorcycles. Which is kind of awkward and uncomfortable over any sort of significant distance. No point telling me that a Phantom can go 130-150kph without major modifications, I didn’t buy this bike to ride at W.O.T. all day.

The best way to solve this issue of mine is of course to get a piece of plastic called a windshield. There are many pieces of plastic available across Singapore, some are large enough to use as a serving tray for a family of 4, some are small and cute and attach to the top of the Phantom’s headlight.

A big windshield of course is super in terms of ballistic protection. It’s after all made of Lexan, which is used in police riot shields. But it’s aerodynamically very unsound, causing considerable drag on the upper front of the motorcycle (which causes light steering at high speed) and makes one very vulnerable to air turbulence and the like.

Many of these huge things are locally fabricated as cheap aftermarket accessories, and it wouldn’t be very well balanced, and may lead to issues of severe vibration.

Image courtesy of Singapore Bike Forums

On the other end of the spectrum, small windshields look pretty as cosmetics but are entirely useless as aero-aids and protection for the rider. Most of these are mounted straight up (as in perpendicular to the airflow) making them, as common sense dictates, like airbrakes to cause yet more drag and turbulence to slow you down with. Why bother?

As always, the middle ground always provides the best solution. Givi is a well reputed manufacturer of quality and “universal” motorcycle accessories for bikes large and small. I was offered a low price for a mid-sized Givi windshield but the workshop never actually produced me one so I went bargain hunting for a suitable windshield for my baby cruiser that’s typically ridden at the upper edge of what passes for road legal speeds.

I didn’t really care for cosmetics because aero-efficiency is and should be the main motivation of a windshield. Comfort is a not so big second for me, since I was perfectly comfortable being a large airbrake for much of my 7 years on motorcycles.

This is what I found in a pile of parts destined for the scrapyard.

Right, so the headlamp looks a bit small all of a sudden, but there’s nothing a good bout of Coffeeshop Engineering can’t solve in future. Besides, the benefits were tremendous enough to warrant a bit of cosmetic oversight:

1. Appearance. With that luggage rack and set of panniers the motorcycle looks a fair bit more balanced. It’s always mistaken for a larger vehicle at a distance especially where I’m always sitting straight up like on parade.

2. Stability. The sense of speed has reduced somewhat with that thing in front but that’s only because the motorcycle feels like it’s serenely coasting through the air, instead of battering through it. The lack of feedback causes that sensory black hole which gives you that magical sense of serenity.

There also isn’t supposed to be a discussion on this topic (not in this manner) but some form of aerodynamic downforce is generated. Perhaps that gap below the windshield causes it to act like a “wing” with high and low pressure zones instead of merely a wind-deflecting spoiler.

I know that because the front end feels weighted down at speed (notable by the way the typically rock-hard forks are now absorbing bumps on the road, not bouncing over them transmitting the shock to my hands), and where I was very cautious in the long sweeping corners of highway interchanges, I now don’t really give a damn now about gliding into them faster than most other (road legal) vehicles.

It’s like going to war on my Yamaha from Hell again. And that says a lot considering the Yammie is less than half the weight of the Honda and far more nimble.

3. And the most important benefit of all is that the motorcycle seems to accelerate much more eagerly at highway speeds. Say what you will that such a minor modification should not change the bike’s character this drastically, but I don’t ever have to haul on the throttle to maintain highway speeds no longer. She just glides along with no more than a cursory twist of the gas, begging me to change out the sprockets to something befitting her newly found long legs.

All that from a junk windshield I got for dirt cheap off someone’s bin of unwanted parts. I did spend about half a month looking for a suitably shaped piece of Lexan, and my does patience (and some homework) pay off!

The Biking Clique

Posted in Media, Moto with tags , , on May 1, 2010 by Carmen A.

You’ve seen and heard many of these before, from “Live to Ride” to “You meet the nicest people on a Honda“.

They have had been revolutionary once, even inspirational, but in these days of 24/7 convenience stores and being able to shop online from your iPhone, most people seem to treat motorcycling as a necessity rather than a passion. Bring them out to a group outing and these people would ask you “what do we do”, stare blankly around, and disappear home the next opportunity.

That is, if they even turn up without being 40 minutes late. That’s just horrible. I mean, come on, look at the following image and tell me what you think we should do with our motorcycles!

Motorcycling is not about spending 2 hours at the roadside coffeeshop gossiping like bored old secretaries at the photocopier machine. Just get on the bloody bike and RIDE.

And then we’ll start to notice that statements such as “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” does actually hold a snippet of uncanny truth… That’s because for the past 7 years I’ve been riding a Yamaha and I’ve never once had the opportunity to participate in a session of healthy motorcycling friendship. But that’s a story for another place and time…

Check out one of our first group riding videos here. And a night photography slideshow and stills.

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