Steed: Built to Ride

Dangerous Curves: How not to end up like Jackass G

Tech Tip Index

Danger surrounds us. Every evening on the news we hear about impending doom, violence, Amber alerts, drunken politicians and bishops killing innocents with their cars, and general threats to our American way of life. So, if youíre like me, thereís a high probability that you purchased your motorcycle to escape the everyday pressures consuming your brainwaves.

"Live to Ride, and Ride to Work" is the motto, I think? So this month, Rumble has decided to jump on the jeopardy bandwagon and issue a few more "Danger" warnings, so youíll have more stuff to worry about while on your bike. Great. Letís get one thing straight, right out of the chute; everyone knows that riding a motorcycle is a dangerous undertaking. The one thing many people donít realize is modifying their motorcycle can add hazards that they might not have considered.

This month weíre going to do our best to point out a few of the hazards associated with modifying your bike, so you donít end up like Jackass-G in the photo. Since Iíve had my shop here in Scottsdale, Iíve seen many bikes that have wound up sliding sideways down the road. Many times the rider blames the bike for the loss of control, when itís actually the riderís responsibility to know the limits of his or her machine, and ride within those limits. Many times modifications, such as lowering a bike, or adding or omitting certain accessories can seriously affect the stability and safety of your original machine.

Factory built motorcycles are required to meet NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) safety standards, whose catchy slogan is "people saving people." These guys from the government are actually out to help you by setting standard operating equipment specifications. This is where your tax dollars are spent to protect you while youíre riding on your chosen method of transportation before thereís a mishap.

If there is a series of attention getting accidents, the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) gets involved. These are the same guys that investigate everything from train, plane and shipwrecks to find out what went wrong, then hopefully suggest guidelines to correct equipment issues to avoid similar accidents.

Some of the equipment that the government requires on motorcycles are complete no-brainers, like footrests for both riders and passengers, seats for riders and passengers, front and rear brakes with minimum stopping distances, minimum lighting and standard controls for typical operations. As obvious as it seems, Iíve seen bikes built that ignore these simple features.

One of the most dangerous equipment omissions Iíve regularly seen on home built or custom bikes are the lack of a kill-switch on the handlebars. Even if youíve got the trickest set of billet handlebar controls on your bike, take the time to wire in a kill-switch accessible to your right thumb when youíve got your hand on the throttle. If thereís no quick way to shut off the power to your machine in an emergency the possibility for major physical injuries will increase substantially.

Just last fall we had a customer who lost control of his bike on a mountain curve. When he went off-road and his throttle stuck open with no accessible kill switch, he couldnít shut off his bike. Talk about dangerous curves; what a horrible feeling that must have been to realize that you canít stop your street machine from entering the Baja 1000. He was ripping across the desert full throttle out of control. He was ejected off the bike; thankfully he lived to talk about it. Guaranteed, when heís recovered and ready to get back in the saddle again, his bike will have a kill-switch located by the throttle, within reach of his thumb.

Another modification that can create a hazardous situation is modifying a motorcycleís original suspension without understanding the limitations incurred. Most Harley-Davidson motorcycles have 5 to 6 inches of ground-clearance under the frame rails. By modifying and lowering the rear suspension by just an inch and a half, front and rear, youíve greatly limited the lean angle and cornering ability of your bike. If youíre accustomed to riding your stock height bike and then lower it, youíll quickly find out exactly how much closer to the asphalt your foot pegs, exhaust, and kickstand are. The shower of sparks and that "rock in your gut" feeling appears when youíre digging into a corner and realize that youíre in it just a little too fast. If you like to do more than ride to the pub once a month, you might reconsider "slamming" your bike. Look again at Jackass G in the photo and think how cool his bike looks lowered to the ground.

Another accessory Iíve seen limiting your cornering lean-angle are those big oversized sculptured kickstands. They look really cool when your bike is parked, but Iíve seen the damage resulting in 'high-siding' your bike. Imagine the feeling of sitting at a stoplight, waiting for that moment to turn left. The opportunity arises; traffic opens up as if youíre Chuck Heston parting the Red Sea. You goose the throttle; lean your bike left into the turn and then your back tire lifts off the ground. The goofy oversized sculptured side-stand stuck into the tarmac and caused your bike to pirouette in the center of the street; not a good time.

Speaking of high siding, the combination of low bikes and non-folding foot-pegs on some custom forward controls can have the same unnerving effect in right or left hand turns. Instead of the peg hinging up if your footrest contacts the road, it becomes a mini bike lift and can result in another bad day on the bike. Thereís a wide selection of superior quality billet forward controls that offer hinged foot pegs. They may cost a few extra bucks upfront to purchase, but itís worth it in the long run.

Last but not least, motorcycles are required by the Fedís to be equipped with minimum standards of lighting equipment. Factory turn signal lights can be very bulbous and unattractive. There are a variety of choices available in bright marker lights that can clean up the appearance of your machine without sacrificing visibility. The latest improvements in lighting are the halogen bulbs, which are very compact and almost obnoxiously bright. The new LED technology available offers yet another durable and attractive choice in motorcycle safety illumination. Thereís really no reason to ride or build a bike with substandard lighting. "See and be seen" is always a life saving ethic to maintain while youíre out exposed on two wheels.

Motorcycling is dangerous enough, thereís no reason to set yourself up for unnecessary risks by modifying your machine in ways that can ultimately lead to injury or disaster. Use a little common sense. Attempt to understand the reasons behind the governmental regulations before you start to customize your machine. Most importantly, be aware of how the modifications will change the way your bike functions. This is still America, the land of the free. The goal, as always, is to have fun on your bike and make it home in one piece so you can ride another day.

Keep the rubber side down.
- John at Steeds

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