Moto Mofo's guide to motorcycling in India
We can tell when we see talent and instantly welcomed Moto Mofo in our team. You can read more about him at the 'About Us' page.
In the meanwhile, to throw some more light on the erudition possessed by Moto Mofo, we urged him to impart us some of the basic things he thinks are absolutely important when getting into the world of motorcycling. What he then shared with us turned out to be quite an eye-opener even to our test riders.
So we thought there should exist a bike guide for the average Indian motorcyclist and compiled all that Moto Mofo had to say, in an article called "Moto Mofo's guide to motorcycling in India". Now we don't intend to turn this guide into a huge fountain of knowledge. We just intend it to be a good knowledge leak. Made to be the F8 button in your quest to becoming an 'informed biker' it was written keeping in mind the constraints of a Quick-help digest for the majority of riders out there.
This guide is not a Gospel..it's no Sermon and its definitely not a lecture. So let's treat it as what it is; a mere conversation between an average Indian motorcyclist and PTR's very own super talented biking superhero MotoMofo. How did it happen ?
That afternoon MotoMofo looked like this motorcycling badass we had just met on the Indian streets and he offered to answer questions thrown at him with the poise of an Oracle..a motorcycling Oracle. As we sat at the bar during a MotoGP race and indulged ourselves in a conversation with MotoMofo about his age and whereabouts, an average Indian Motorcyclist who was also present at the same bar, introduced himself to us as "Average Joe" and joined the table with an inquisitive gleam in his eyes, that of a new budding young kid wanting to be a part of the two wheeled world. Moto Mofo's guide to the world of motorcycling in India is nothing but excerpts from this conversation that took place between Moto Mofo and Average Joe that fated afternoon. Since Average Joe is a noob some of the questions he asked were equally noobish. The answers that MotoMofo however comes up with even to the simplest of questions, turn out to be pretty revealing even to us. Let's just face it...MotoMofo has an unbeatable style !
Through the course of this guide PTR intends to bring to you the most comprehensive one stop source for all the fun trivia tid-bits that you will need to know not just so you can brag about about them to your friends but also to help you to extract the most out of your motorcycle in terms of both performance and pleasure. When we asked MotoMofo why he often indulged himself and offered to compile a guide for us, this is what he had to say:
"It's quite simple, you give respect you get it back. Instead of having a go at the younger or the uneducated generation of bikers, try to engage with them and understand them better, only then we can move forward as a biking community. Lets not end up like others, hating and getting road rage and fighting with each other. We motorcyclists are better than that "
- Moto Mofo
If you are reading Moto Mofo's guide to the world of motorcycling in India this would be a good time to ignore the writing/ranting of various road bike testers that work for Fast/Performance Bike magazines including those who test and review bikes for PTR. Reviewers and testers consider any bike that is not as fast as last year's World Superbike winner as a DOG. This is simply not true. Each bike is designed with a particular market in mind and to use the 'performance' category as the only yardstick is ridiculous.
Chapter 1 : BUYING A MOTORCYCLE !
1.1 KNOWING WHAT YOU WANT
Recently a friend of mine 42 years of age bought a motorcycle for a large sum of money. He set about fulfilling one of his lifelong dreams - i.e. owning the Suzuki M1800R Intruder. The bike weighs approx. half a ton with the rider, has the world's largest rear tire (this was one of the reasons why he bought it) is shaft driven and the bike itself is larger than some of the moderately sized cars out there. No expense was spared in fulfilling his dream . . . he owned the bike..bought aftermarket accessories for it and went on rides until he sold it within a month. The bike was too heavy, too huge and too powerful for almost anything that he had ever planned on doing with the bike. Determined to find the right motorcycle he then bought another bike. Since money was never a problem he bought The Yamaha YZF R1 knowing that this was way lighter than his earlier bike..had a lot of power and was to be a lot more agile and easy to handle than the mammoth Suzuki Intruder. Needless to say he sold the R1 within a week. Guess all that money didn't help in knowing what he wanted.Is this a poor reflection on the make or model? Not at all. The disparity between what both the bikes delivered and what he expected from both the bikes was as huge as night and day. Just because the motorcycle is good to look at, has brilliant magazines reviews, has tons of your friends pledging to sell an organ for it, it still does not automatically become the right bike for you, your needs, lifestyle and expectations. You see when the magazines review or test a bike they do so assuming that you know WHAT YOU WANT. And it is here that we need education...to be able to decide what motorcycle you should be buying you first need to understand what you want the motorcycle to do. There are plenty of different motorcycles that ride differently and then there are plenty that overlap each other. The bottom line is that there are different types of motorbikes, each offering a different experience. Some motorcycles are so specialized as to offer no overlap with other types of bikes. It follows then that you need to identify exactly as to what you want from your motorcycle before you perhaps even learn to ride one.
Unless you are going to buy a motorcycle based on its colors only..you are going to come home every evening with a lot of brochures. The Brochures will be full of tables and the tables will be full of numbers. Numbers that should make sense to you. The horsepower and torque figures definitely make sense to everybody but the first thing we are found scouting for in those brochures and tables is the engine capacity of the bike.
"We Indians can't seem to shake the old adage 'there is no replacement for engine displacement'. Engine size often reflects ones ego size. Unabated motorcycling fun can be had on any motorcycle irrespective of its engine size." - Moto Mofo
1.2 UNDERSTANDING CLASS/SEGMENT OF YOUR BIKE
Average Joe: I am looking for a 600 cc motorcycle. Do you know where I can get one from ?
MotoMofo: You are not looking for a motorcycle at all. You are looking for an engine size. Why fix the size of the engine when searching for a motorcycle. First let's have a look at what engine size you NEED.
What MotoMofo suggests seems to be making some apparent sense. Why do people talk about an engine size first when looking for a motorcycle ? That's because to most of us the cubic capacity of the engine equates power and we all want the most powerful thing out there...we all want to be superheroes. What we do however forget to realize when equating engine size to power, is the fact that although power is SOMEHWAT directly proportional to the size of the engine not all bikes are made to deliver power ALONE.
Since two different bikes with the same amount of engine displacement can very well have their engines in a different state of tune it isn't really a smart thing to look out for "xyz" cc bike. But that's not the only reason why looking for an engine size is a wrong thing to do. Other than the state of tune of an engine a 600cc motorcycle could be a cruiser, a sport bike, an endurance bike, dual sport or a sport touring bike. Knowing which one of these YOU want is of more importance than trying to figure what engine size you want in your motorcycle. What MotoMofo says definitely makes sense now.
Average Joe : What sort of bikes are there to choose from and how do I know which one is tailor made for my wants, needs and purpose.
MotoMofo : Here..take this tabulated response and meditate on it.
WANT / NEED/ PURPOSE
ü Is comfort for you and your passenger a big factor ? Do you want to travel long or short distances on 'kaccha rasta' ?...
ü Do you seek a general purpose bike with a traditional appearance ? A jack of all trades but master of none ? Good value for money while still offering power and speed? Easy DIY maintenance ? Want tried and tested technology rather than the hi-tech stuff ? Want the option of travelling distances by retro fitting tankbags and saddle bags to your bike ? Motomofo suggests that you lean towards a 'sport touring' or a 'touring' bike ! You want a relaxed riding position and want to be able to take pillion and ride around in charm and style ? When performance comes second to style. When efficiency and practicality come second to individuality.. When the grunty sound of the pipes, customization, style and attitude are everything to you..
Ø Motomofo suggests that you lean towards a 'sport touring' or a 'touring' bike !
Ø If you need your bike to be doing everything and be the jack of all trades you might want to consider going in for a general purpose bike.
ü You want a relaxed riding position and want to be able to take pillion and ride around in charm and style ? When performance comes second to style. When efficiency and practicality come second to individuality.. When the grunty sound of the pipes, customization, style and attitude are everything to you..To own a custom built cruiser aka chopper...cannibalize an available model or build your own with off-the-shelf components. Budget for accessories and individualization may exceed the value of the bike so stop giving that credit card to your wife years before you buy such a bike. You sacrifice on performance and efficiency but that special style and attitude that comes from riding a one-of-a-kind, customized and accessorized motorcycle may just more than make up for it if it's done well.
Ø MotoMofo swears by 'thumpers, cruisers and choppers' ! Some cruisers and thumpers make excellent tourers too. Pick out a bike with a relaxed laid back position. Decide on how much noise you are comfortable with. Take care that the weight is not too excessive. There are some very heavy cruisers out there. Some weigh half a ton.
ü Want country and city bike ? Is the trip more important than the speed. Want to explore on both tar and all types of sand roads and well defined paths? Comfort is a factor, also room for luggage, camping gear etc ?
Ø Dual-Sport motorcycles offer the best package when it comes to the delectable balance between the dirt worthiness and street manners of a bike. A close sibling of Dual-Sport class are the Enduro motorbikes. They have a more up-right riding position. Choose your tyres to match either "mainly tar" or "mainly sand roads" and you are ready for some of the finest motorcycling fun that can ever be had !
ü You feel like riding on a road is a waste of time? You wanna go play dirty and ride the landscape, explore in rough untamed conditions or participate in Motocross competitions ? You think it's a good idea to occasionally fly with the bike and bite the dirt ? Power and adrenaline off road is all you seek, comfort has never been a factor to you while riding. If your dream is to have a collection of sand dunes in your backyard you need nothing short of a true breed dirt bike.
Ø A Motocross (MX) bike is what you need. Around 300cc and less. Its the only type of bike nowadays that may still use a two stroke engine to save on weight. These bikes are not street legal as they don't come with turn indicators, stop lights or even headlamp ! The fuel tank capacity ranges from mere 5 to 7 liters. No it's not an outdated bike ! It's a tool to conquer the unknown by becoming an unstoppable force on rough terrains. It's a bike that can be dropped without pieces breaking off. Don't judge these bikes on their phenomenally low engine cubic size. These bikes have so much power from the word GO that in the hands of amateurs it's a lethal bone breaking machine.
ü You want an economical commuter with a payload and almost no power to spare ?
Ø You need a bike that has been a bread-earner for millions in the country. It's almost like it has contributed to the growth of the country. And it has ! These motorcycles are made to last till the end of the world and don't drink fuel by the drops but by the fumes.
ü Stylish and economical commuter with convenient built-in storage. Easy to ride and light weight. Protection from the elements. A bike strictly for town use and is merely used for transporting yours truly from one place to another.
Ø Welcome to the land of Scooties. Scooties can be great fun and are ideal learner bikes for us Indians. Automatic gearboxes and a low centre of gravity make them easy to ride. They are quick, trendy and have ample storage space under the saddle.. Buy them..stunt on them..customize them...thrash them. Rinse and repeat !
ü Do you seek to be a superhero or want to taste how it could feel to be a world champion? Do you seek absolute power, maximum speed and ever flowing adrenaline? You want Gods own hand to come down and shove you ahead on the road when riding a motorcycle ? The Superbike/Supersport segment of motorcycles is a segment that is perhaps one to be afraid of. Comfort for you and/or your passenger is not important here. Nothing is. Just Pure feeling of delivering millions of horses onto the tarmac.
Ø Caution : Extreme danger ! Supersport machines are tailor made for racing and are made keeping in mind that the one riding it would be a trained or an experienced rider. Modern Sportbikes are a combination of high revving engines and lightweight construction that can sling shot you into an orbit! You expose yourself to every bit of danger out there when riding bikes such as these. Distances per day usually should be limited under 200kms. No dirt roads please! These bikes don a racing appearance with full fairings, are physically compact and have close ratio 6 speed gear box for maximum acceleration. They are highly maneuverable at high speeds but can be sluggish at extreme low speeds, almost unstable.
1.3 CHOOSING THE RIGHT SET OF ENGINE SIZE AND CYLINDERS
Once you know what sort of a motorcycle you want you may venture into choosing an engine size. So what size is good engine size ?
Motomofo's golden thumb rule about engine displacement.
"Bigger capacity means big power, big weight, big fuel bill, big bucks and big responsibility... no matter what era you live and ride in.! " - Moto Mofo
Motorcycles usually range between 50cc and 1800cc ! Anything outside this range has never really been a large production motorcycle. On an average anything below 100cc is considered a small motorbike. Anything from 250cc to 650cc is mid range; 650cc to 1200cc is a big bike while anything bigger than that is a monster!
Bikes bigger than 300cc are not suited to radical off road conditions as they are too heavy. . For radical off road racing a bike of less than 400cc is needed. This is especially true the faster you want to go. Screaming, nimble performance is found between 650cc and 1000cc. You also find sport touring and relaxed touring bikes in the 650-1000cc segment. 1400cc Sport bikes are called as Hyperbikes and are more of an intercontinental ballistic missile...use them to tour across continents not countries. Anything bigger than 1500cc is all style and attitude and is only found in cruisers. In cruiser design, big engine capacity does not translate into huge power or acceleration
Average Joe : I have heard people talk about things like "cylinders" when speaking of an engine size. I am just curious..if I choose a bigger engine size will it automatically have more cylinders ?
MotoMofo : Ah Cylinders ! It's the cylinder like space in which the engines piston moves up and down. Think of it like this..every time the engine piston moves up and down (completes one cycle) you get power at the rear wheel which in turn surges your motorcycle ahead. It follows therefore that every motorcycle has at least one cylinder where the power is generated. Consider a cylinder as the heart of the engine. Every bike needs at least one heart to live and operate. A bigger engine size doesn't necessarily mean more cylinders but engineers usually tend to put in more cylinders because its efficient to generate power with multiple cylinders when the engine size increases.
So MotoMofo says that a cylinder is the heart of a bike. Clearly...it's the place where power gets generated and hence it wouldn't be of any harm if we try and understand how the whole "cylinder" thingy works. MotoMofo also says that engineers like to have multiple cylinders as the engine size increases. This is not a hard and fast rule and more cylinders or not, is a decision that the engineers take based on what purpose the motorcycle is going to serve. Let's talk of it with the help of an example.
example : A Royal Enfield Bullet 500cc classic motorcycle has a single cylinder. There is only one piston which moves up and down covering the 500 cubic centimeter volume of the cylinder it is in. A Kawasaki Ninja 250R on the other hand is just 250cc but has two cylinders and hence two pistons moving up and down in each of them. Each cylinder in the Ninja 250R is roughly half of the total displacement size of the engine.
Multiple cylinders means the engine is a high revving one while a big engine with only one cylinder means it's a low revving engine which delivers torque relatively low in the rpm range. The Ninja250R in the above example has twin cylinders as the engineers at Kawasaki had intended the bike to be a sport bike meaning it needed a high revving engine. Indeed..the max torque of 22Nm is delivered by the Ninja250R at 8500 RPM. The single cylinder Royal Enfield bike on the other hand is intended to be used at low revs and delivers the max torque of abc Nm at xyz rpm.
MotoMofos 'old as dust' thumb rules when it comes to cylinders in a motorcycle !
"You can either have the "growl,grunt and thump" or you can have maximum performance - but you cannot have them both. Fewer cylinders sound great and are associated with biker attitude and popular cruiser culture "
"The more cylinders there are, the more the bike is suited to long distances on tar road due to the increased smoothness of the engine. Vibrations generally decrease with an increase in the number of cylinders. "
"Screaming, howling performance is more characteristic of a four cylinder motorcycle where the engine is able to rev up to 10000rpm and beyond "
1.4 CHOOSING HORSEPOWER OVER TORQUE AND VICE VERSA.
Average Joe : Every time I read through motorcycle brochures and pamphlets there are numbers which do their inexplicable dance in front of my eyes like I were a dyslexic. The world tells me that the most important numbers are the horsepower and the torque figures but what do they mean for me and how far should I let these figures influence my decision making ?
MotoMofo : This topic can get very scientific and hence becomes very discouraging to many. Without getting into reading torque curves and horsepower graphs lets understand what these two mean for day to day riding.Torque is the ability of the engine to continue to twist(rotate) the rear wheel with great force. Torque has nothing to do with speed. Horsepower is the ability of your engine to move your bike forward at a certain speed - the higher the speed, the shorter the time taken, the greater the horsepower needed..
What MotoMofo is trying to say to Average Joe can be summed up in the following scenario:
Say you have an important interview to attend. Your car breaks down and you have to ask your friend to push it. You are getting late for the interview so the friend agrees to push it to atleast 5 kmph so that you can make it on time. The force needed by your friend to push the car from 0 kmph to 5 kmph is torque. Once driving at 5 kmph though if your friend lets go off the effort and stops pushing the car, the car will eventually and very quickly come to a full stop again. To maintain the 5kmph speed your friend will have to continue exerting with a constant force. This force needed to maintain speed is called Horsepower. Your boss calls you saying he needs you at the meeting before it begins. You now need to increase your speed to 7kmph from 5 kmph. Your friend will now need to call upon more torque to change the cars speed to 7 kmph from 5 kmph and to maintain that speed he will need more horsepower than what he needed when maintaining the speed of 5 kmph. It's easy to see why high horsepower machines are one of the fastest ones out there. All superbikes and supersports are high horsepower machines and are used for racing. The cruisers or choppers on the other hand are high torque machines and can pull/push a freight train but aren't high speed machines.
Torque brings about change in speed. Horsepower makes sure that speed gets maintained.
MotoMofos 'old as dust' math trick for comparing bikes !
When you bring home brochures and pamphlets of different bikes to make comparisons between bikes look out for the bore and stroke figures. You don't need to understand them so just blindly note them down. Divide the bore by the stroke. If the resultant number is more than 1, then the bike is horsepower orientated and must be operated at high revs. If the number is less than 1 then the bike is torque orientated and is operated at low revs. (Bore is the diameter of the piston. Stroke is the distance that the piston travels up and down in a cylinder)
1.5 CHOOSING NOT TO BE CORRUPTED BY POWER.
Average Joe : Ok I now know what sort of a motorcycle I want and what I want from the motorcycle. But I want to buy the best motorcycle I want and I want it to be pretty powerful. My folks are worried about me riding something so powerful. Should I be scared of the power ?! I am not the kind to be racing on the streets, I respect the power and I know I won't be riding fast. I feel can handle the power. Also I don't want to waste money buying smaller engine size motorcycles only to have to upgrade in an year when I outgrow the power. What should I do ? Oh and I do know of some friends who bought a 1000cc superbike as their first bike and they are doing just fine.
MotoMofo : With all due respect..anyone who starts on a big 1000cc or an equivalent powerful bike is just a ticking bomb for the first 2 years of his riding. How many of those who know started on a Superbike are under 2 years yet ? Yes some will survive. They may have a sane head on their shoulder to thank for that. After all a motorcycle is only as fast as you throttle it to. It doesn't have a mind of its own so it cannot connive plans of killing a newbie rider. The problem is that a big powerful motorcycle just exponentially increases your chances of falling prey to being a Darwins Lab candidate ! There are plenty of people who have survived plane crashes or falls from great heights. Does that mean everyone who will be in a plane crash or fall off a cliff will be "fine"? A big part of the reason for learning to exploit a smaller bike's performance (as much as possible...it's not expected that everyone has to become the next Valentino Rossi) is not just for being able to go fast. It's for being able to have the skill to control your bike when something beyond your control (like a car pulling in front of you) occurs. Riding a big 1000 or a 600 supersport before you're ready won't grow and develop your riding skills because you'll always be tip-toeing around the engine's tremendous power. You won't learn the intricacies of working with an engine's power band, or selecting the right gear for a corner, because you'll always be rolling through in the lower rpms to keep the engine power from getting beyond your grasp (and if you try to step it up without the skills and experience necessary, more often than not you'll end up on the bad side of a mistake). You won't learn about proper braking and sensing your speed while slowing because you'll be too busy panicking to slow down every time you try to use any major portion of a literbike's substantial power that generates serious speed.
Motomofo makes a point that's hard to deny again. Many people know power corrupts. But the temptation presented by power is so huge that we knowingly choose to be corrupted by it. We give in.
Imagine if you will: you are a rodeo bull rider. You've just gotten into the sport and you are all excited. But when you meet with your instructor for the first time, he takes you over and puts you on a 2000 pound bull that could take a Greyhound bus for a hard ride around the block. This thing is gigantic and for sure will kill you in three seconds flat. It is there that the mistake is made in motorcycling. With your 2000 pound bull, you can visibly see he is twice the size of all the other bulls and you can visibly see he could crush a Volkswagon like a soda can. No wonder there is a mandatory graduating period to get to legally riding powerful motorcycles in many countries around the world. Bigger is not always better, but it will certainly cost you more money and may even cost you your life.
Average Joe : What if I decide to take it very easy and learn the right riding technique on a big bike before I start riding it fast ? I know for sure that I will enroll myself into riding schools and learn everything that there is to learn. After all, I have a girlfriend I don't want to miss if I die besides thinking that it will be pretty boring to be dead.
MotoMofo: You don't learn to juggle chainsaws by saying "I'm going to properly learn technique and all that jazz"...you're still juggling chainsaws, and your first mistake could be your last. You start off by learning on something less demanding. Throttle control when turning a powerful motorcycle or when in a corner not something to be taken lightly, too much and you high-side, too little and you go down. There's a fine edge there, only when you have got the 'feel' can you do it right, and only for a few times in a row before you have an 'ooops' moment. Unless you have a lot of skill and everything going your way at that moment, that ooops moment is going to cost you time and money. At the same time modern motorcycles come with hi tech gizmos to make riding safe for you. C-ABS, Power modes, traction control to name a few. The question, is how much risk are you comfortable with? How much risk SHOULD you be comfortable with? The simplest mistake (e.g. target fixation) can be the demise of the both experienced and inexperienced riders. I've seen many people go down on 600cc and 1000cc race bikes, from various riding skill levels. Some even die from their injuries. Bottom line, whatever you end up getting, never ride above your head. Any bike can be fun as well as dangerous. Don't be persuaded to get a bigger displacement bike because you feel like the smaller bike is weak or not enough. Get the bigger bike because you have graduated in skill and are ready for a new riding experience, which will include increased risk. If you are ready, get the tools to be safe. Get geared up with a proper helmet, gloves, footwear, jacket and leg wear. 600cc/1000cc race bikes are neither for beginners nor for the uneducated.
MotoMofos 'old as dust' advice for riding powerful motorcycles
In motorcycling, as is the case with everything in life, lot is about education AND safety. Ride defensively ! When on two wheels you are already involved in a high-risk activity. Attempting to justify a completely ego-based decision to substantially increase that risk will be a pretty empty search. Pilots are not trained on billion dollar Sukhois and F16s...they get to these monsters after years of training on smaller aircrafts. You have to be a common scholar before you can be an uncommon scholar so don't jump onto big bikes..there will always be plenty of time left to discover fast motorcycles. Ride Proud, Ride Safe, Have Fun !
Chapter 2 : BUYING SAFETY GEAR
When you want to buy motorcycle riding gear, what are the requirements? What are the different materials and what are the differences?
How do you protect yourself against cold, heat and rain?
Average Joe: I am buying a motorcycle ! I want the joy of motorcycling to be a prolonged one. I want to be safe ! Can you throw some light on the safety gear I need once I buy my motorcycle ? Oh and since I am a beginner I have decided to buy a not so powerful motorcycle. Do I still need all the safety gear ?
MotoMofo : Great to hear you want to have safety gear. Always make this your mantra "All the gear all the time" also called as ATGATT in riding fraternities around the world. Also remember that level of skill or power of a motorcycle doesn't determine the gear that you should wear. You are of course free to take some balant liberties when riding around the town on your scootie but even then a Helmet is an absolute must.
MotoMofo is an absolute believer in safety gear and we at PTR agree with him. Better to sweat than to bleed. Professional racing leathers, boots, spine protector and gloves are the last word in protective clothing. Maximum safety comes at a huge cost but the cost of safety gear is no excuse to have no safety gear at all. There is a plethora of choices when it comes to alternative non branded safety gear which is absolute value for money and most importantly..it protects.
MotoMofo's 'old as dust' safety gear mantra when short on cash !
- What you pay is what you get in motorcycling riding gear ! Buy the best you can afford. Not wearing any gear in the prospects of saving up for a good brand of gear is a fool's errand. As with bikes..start with the basic gear and look forward towards upgrading in future. When choosing less serious motorcycle protective gear (other than the helmet) here is a handy rule. Buy gear that offers superior protection to areas of the body where the bone is just below the surface of the skin e.g. knuckles, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. Injuries that occur in these areas can take up to 2 years to heal properly as the skin being so thin has difficulty regenerating itself. Look for garments with thick soft body armour stitched into these key areas.
Average Joe : What is the most absolute essential when it comes to motorcycle riding clothing. What should I be buying first.
MotoMofo : You can expand your safety gear wardrobe in the following sequence
Spine protector (optional)
Leather Suit (optional but offers maximum protection)
A Helmet is an absolute must. There is a funny example doing the rounds on the internet which stresses on the importance of a Helmet. It goes something like this : bang your head against a wall at 5 kmph. It hurts ! Now imagine doing this at anything close to even 50 kmph ! Its gonna hurt real bad. A helmet not just protects you at high speeds but also protects the rider in case of a poor low speed spill. There have been rider deaths due to head injury even in a pit lane of a racetrack just because they thought they can ride around helmetless at low speeds.
MotoMofo's 'old as dust' advice on buying a Helmet.
- Choosing the right helmet size is of paramount importance when buying a helmet. A good helmet should be a snug fit..It should move around with your head inside it and the right size is always a little effort to get off your head.
- Other points to factor in when buying a helmet are wind noise and cushioning around the ears.
- Most people think that it is the helmet's outer shell that protects the head. (If this were the case we would all be wearing steel army helmets from World War II). Instead, protection is provided by a combination of 'crumble zones' involving both the outer and inner layers. Therefore a helmet is actually a fragile item designed to break on impact.
- Once on, it will still feel a bit too small. People new to biking will naturally want to choose a helmet one size too big as they are unaccustomed to the closed-in sensation. This sensation will go away!! The soft inner of the helmet will mould to your head and face over time - this is why it is important to choose a snug fit when you purchase it.
- Wearing ear plugs on long high speed tours is essential. With the 'wrong combination' of windshield and helmet, wind noise through your helmet can and will cause hearing damage over a long period of time e.g. tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears)
- A correctly fitted helmet will start directly above the eyebrows.
- Once on, grasp the helmet with both hands and try to move it side to side and up and down. Your skin should move with the helmet.
Let's set the record straight. A helmet protects the rider from danger in many different ways . . .
- It prevents collisions with flying insects that could cause loss of control
- It keeps stinging insects like the infamous African bee away from sensitive areas like your neck and eyes
- It makes riding in rain possible
- It makes a large contribution to maintaining the bodies core temperature during icy conditions
- It helps control sunburn
- It protects your eyes from the blast of moving air and dust
- It is your final barrier of protection when all else has failed you.
You may be lucky enough to never have your helmet protect your nut from violent impact, but it will serve these other roles every time you ride.
2.2 RIDING GLOVES
Riding Gloves should be the next in your kitty ! Every time you have the ill fate of taking a spill your natural human tendencies are gonna make you stretch your hands out to brace yourself from the impact. You will try to stop your fall with your hands. That's what everyone does because that's human survival reflex. A good pair of gloves go a long way in ensuring that your hands don't get skinned like meat does at a butchers shop. There is only one story with gloves and that is . . . .protection, protection, protection.
MotoMofo's 'old as dust' advice on buying Gloves.
- The skin around the fingers and knuckles is thin and does not heal easily. Maximum protection for high speed riding means only one thing i.e. gloves with hard Kevlar panels.
- You also need protection against the type of cold weather you are likely to expect at that time of the year. Cold hands do not give your brain the feedback it needs to control things like hard braking on slippery surfaces.
- Conversely desert riding in hot weather with warm gloves can drive you nuts with the heat.
- This means owning two or three pairs of gloves i.e. a winter and summer pair and possibly a thin pair of inner gloves if you live where it gets really cold
2.3 RIDING JACKETS
When choosing your motorcycle jacket you will be faced with the decision of synthetic or leather. That's the first hurdle when wanting a riding just for your needs. Figuring out what you need here can make or break your motorcycling experience. Buy the wrong one and you will either be freezing when riding because you didn't factor in the wind chill effect or you will be baking yourself to dehydration by wearing a non air flow jacket on a hot summer day !
Average Joe : I don't know if I should buy a leather jacket or a textile/synthetic jacket. Does a textile jacket protect as much as a leather jacket or is it all show but no go ?
MotoMofo : If you use your bike a lot, travel at reasonable speeds and live in a hot climate you need to invest in an air flow jacket. This is a synthetic jacket made of a mesh-type fabric that allows air to penetrate. Modern textile/synthetic products have good protective armour and offer good crash and slide protection. The level of protection may never be at par with leather but modern material research laboratories are closing in on leather pretty fast. Leather is excellent in the way it offers abrasive protection. Leather products also last longer and can take a lot of dirt before they look old.
MotoMofo doesn't say leather is superior to textile/synthetic jackets or vice versa. What he rather points out is the fact that one needs to wear the right one for the right weather and the right requierement. Leather vs Textile has been an age old argument so let's draw a table to compare the pros and cons for the two options that a rider faces when in the market for a riding jacket.
LEATHER JACKETS :
|Can last multiple generations or atleast 30 years with minimal care.||Is black/dark in colour and hence will usually hamper visibility.|
Has an attitude, history and tradition that is hard to beat
Heavier in weight. Not as waterproof.
|Offers excellent protection. Does not show the dirt.||Feels more restrictive and heavier at first. Not as warm as a synthetic jacket with a winter lining. Hot and uncomfortable in very hot weather.|
TEXTILE/SYNTHETIC JACKETS :
|Brightly coloured, often with reflector strips||Does not last as long.|
Almost totally waterproof thus making it an excellent choice for touring.
Styling becomes dated
|Many have a zip-out lining to cope with changes in weather.||Cannot usually be worn as a regular garment|
|Special 'airflow' fabrics that allow the moving air to penetrate the jacket and keep you cool.||
Cleaning can be a complex process
* Some leather jackets are fashion garments and should not be used for serious biking.
2.4 RIDING PANTS
Riding Pants need to offer crash and sliding protection. Most bikers wear denim jeans but studies have shown that cotton is not resistant to the abrasive forces in a motorcycle accident. Wearing your daily jeans doesn't protect at all...no matter how expensive and thick you think your jeans is. As is the case with Jackets here too you have the luxury of choosing between leather pants and textile/synthetic pants. If you are into touring make sure you get one with a million pockets too. Good riding pants are designed especially for crash and slide scenarios. They are lined with heat and abrasion resistant Kevlar Fibre padding.
Moto Mofos 'old as dust' advice on crashing and sliding
- You need to access all your riding gear in terms of a crash and slide accident. Will your pants, jacket and gloves stay where they are meant to be or will they slide up (or down) as your body slides along the road? This means that all cuffs i.e. wrist and ankles must be securely fastened. Also the belt and Velcro fasteners (if any) around the midriff area are tight enough to keep the jacket down.
- Sliding across the road on your butt causes a huge amount of heat to be generated. This means that any garment that can only take a cool iron (110 degrees C) will melt if it comes into contact with the road surface. If the fabric is also against your skin it will melt right into your flesh and make your road rash even worse.
2.5 RIDING BOOTS
There is a simple formula when it comes to riding boots. The more professional the riding boot, the less comfortable it is to walk in. In the event of an accident you want a boot that will brace your ankle and a hard sole that will not bend, twist or collapse thus preventing your foot from being crushed. Remember that in non fatal accidents the most common permanent, debilitating injuries are to the feet, ankles and lower legs so riding without Boots is a strict no no ! Full length racing boots or MX boots offer maximum protection while the ankle length can be used for daily riding in and around the town.
CHAPTER 3 : Primary Safety aka Active Safety
Learn to differentiate between primary safety and secondary safety. A lot of people get a false notion of safety when wearing the riding gear. Good riding gear may compel oneself into believing that one is now invincible. Needless to say, nothing is further away from the truth. You cannot suddenly start undertaking more risks just because you are wearing your riding gear. When talking about enhancing safety and fostering safe riding, most people think about helmets, boots, jackets etc. Discipline yourself to think of the primary safety first. Riding gear is secondary safety. The most direct way of enhancing your safety is by doing everything possible to avoid an accident (primary safety), or by making sure that the damage, in case of an accident, is as minimal as possible (secondary safety). If you realize the importance of primary safety you will realize that when riding a motorcycle safety is in YOUR OWN hands. Managing risks has to be (click here for primary safety and risk management when riding) a full time activity when riding a motorcycle. Follow traffic rules and adopting a defensive riding style
Fortunately, motorcycles are very good at primary safety: you need much less space to escape a dangerous situation but unfortunately they are pretty bad when it comes to secondary safety (the big difference between driving a car and riding a motorcycle, with respect to safety, is that in cars the secondary safety is enormous (it indeed is a cage)
Motorcycle technical problems have lead to less than 1% of the accidents that occur to two wheelers. Also to be noted is that tire issues fall under this 1%. It's clear then that the real reason for accidents on motorcycles is the nut riding it and not the motorcycle itself.
3.1 Avoiding accidents: active safety
Average Joe : The word 'skills' gets thrown around an awful lot but I don't even know what elements go into the making of a 'skilled' rider. How do I become skilled ?
MotoMofo: The first and the foremost element that constitutes towards the making of 'skill' is experience. But to gain experience you have to survive that long. How do we achieve that ? Look and anticipate. When riding a motorcycle you are like a chess player. You have to be way ahead of your escape routes and alternative plan of action should an emergency on the road call for it. The soft side of riding a motorcycle riding skills is looking, anticipating and paying attention. Attention needed on our Indian roads when riding big fast bikes is so huge that half a second lapse in concentration to think of your girlfriend and you may not live to think of her again.
MotoMofo seems to have hit the nail on its head again. Look and predict what you cannot see. Resort to what experience has taught you when you are falling short of data to know what could be behind a particular truck. Know the roads for that. Is there a school or a hospital on this road ? Could there be a school kid playing behind this bus ? Is this a blind dip in the road ? Keep asking yourself questions. Some experts say that talking to yourself when riding a motorcycle helps immensely when trying to get an overview of what's happening around you. Keep glancing in the mirrors. Create a bird's eye view picture in your brain so that you are aware at all the times of all the things that are around you. This will help you immensely should you get yourself in a tight spot because of someone else's mistake. It is also important to anticipate on errors of others. When riding, you will often find yourself taking a judgment of someone else's judgment. That's a necessary survival tactic. Be very careful of dips in the road('dips' are stretches on the road that are below your point of view due to the elevation change in the road). Some of them are blind until the last moment
3.2 Practice braking
Average Joe : So If I master anticipation will I become a safe rider ?
MotoMofo : You will defintely become a safe rider once you start anticipating things on road. But anticipation doesn't always work. There will be times when you will have someone or something suddenly pop right in front of you..almost magically. This will call for emergency braking. The problem with emergency braking is you dont have time to think about anything at all. You may make a list of things to do when braking but in the split second time that you have to avert a collision under emergency braking you wouldnt even have the time to remember that you have made such a list. What you need then is 'muscle memory'
'Muscle memory' ! A brilliant point by Moto Mofo.
The single most reason why emergency braking is risky and dangerous is because when we panic we grab a fistful of brakes. What happens if you grab a fistful of brakes is very pellucid. You end up not stopping but locking your wheels. On a motorcycle locking either of your wheels is the most dangerous thing to do. Both the wheels when in motion are making sure through the gyroscopic nature of theirs that the motorcycle is stable and keeps moving in a direction. The moment you lock your wheel the biggest gyroscope effect is lost and your have subscribed yourself for a crash.
When you practice braking everyday you basically go exploring the limits of your bikes braking abilities; and your abilities too. Brake until you hear the front howls slightly...that's the point where it's about to lock up. With a lot of practice your hand muscles get into the habit of giving only as much braking force to the wheel as is necessary to stop in the shortest distance without locking the wheels. This is called 'muscle memory' and comes in great stead in an emergency situation where you will just hit the brakes in a panic. With the right muscle memory you will come to a screeching halt without having to think about the list you made in the split second time that you have..
Why is braking such a big skill and why do you see racers out-brake each other and pass each other in corners purely on brakes ? Some experts say braking is the single most challenge in the art of riding that can never be perfected. It's a lifelong pursuit. Braking is more important and is more of a life saving skill than knowing how to throttle. So how does braking work in short ?
Moto Mofos 'old as dust' explanation for understanding braking
- Braking has to do with grip, and grip has to do with your tires and the weight that presses on the tires.
- The more weight on a tire, and the stickier the tire, the harder you can brake.
- Therefore, the weight of the motorcycle itself doesn't matter: on a lighter motorcycle, the tires have to do less work to bring the motorcycle to a stand-still, but at the same time, the lesser weight makes that the tires *cannot* work as hard as on a heavier motorcycle.
- So, the weight of the motorcycle itself doesn't matter, but the distribution of the weight does.
- On a downward slope you only have to touch the rear brake slightly before the rear wheel locks: there is so little weight on the rear wheel that a little bit of braking stops it completely.
Another point to be noted is that during braking the weight of the bike and the rider transfers/travels to the front wheel and hence it is important to start your braking with the front brakes. Many are under the impression that the front wheel locks sooner than the rear wheel. It's definitely a myth. Use of front brakes effectively stops your bike better and in a shorter distance than the use of rear brakes alone. In fact the only reason why using rear brake feels comfortable is because a sliding rear is easier to control than a sliding front. True that. But the idea is never to slide when braking. So the front it is. Now if you are riding a cruiser or a chopper it might be a good idea to use your rear brakes in conjunction with the front brakes as there is considerable weight on the rear wheel due to the geometry of the bike. This is needed because cruisers or touring bikes don't get all the weight on the front wheel during braking, so the rear brake really helps there.
Braking in a corner isn't a good thing to do. The tire is already struggling with traction when in a lean and asking the tire to brake when in that position is asking for too much. Unless you are a top racer racing for big bucks you should get all your braking done before entering a corner. Expect big crashes if you are in the dirty habit of braking when in a corner. You could have managed to survive with this dirty habit till now but it's only a matter of time and you will be hitting dirt before you know what happened. 'Trail braking' or braking when in a corner is being a ticking bomb on a motorcycle. Get rid of that habit asap.
3.3 The "I do have ABS, don't I?" Syndrome
Average Joe: What if I get a motorcycle with ABS. Do I still have to learn how to brake or can I now go faster thinking the ABS will take care of all the braking.
MotoMofo : Lets understand what ABS does. We spoke of grabbing a fistful of brakes under emergency and locking either or both the wheels. What ABS does is it prevents these wheel locks. A locked wheel is no good. ABS knows that and offers to help there. In case you haven't sharpened your muscle memory ABS performs the job for you. It will cut the excess braking force to the wheel and/or distribute the excess force to the other wheel. When both the wheels are on the brink of locking up ABS system completely cuts off the braking force to both the wheels. You may be pushing in the brake lever but since that would be erroneous on part of the rider the system steps in and prevents the wheels from a lethal lock-up. There are various ABS systems and different manufacturers have different technologies that go into the making of these complicated systems. But the idea remains the same. ABS only has advantages for your safety when you ride as though you don't have it!
MotoMofos 'old as dust' advice on ABS on bikes
If you have this tendency of increasing your speed, it only succeeds in diminishing your safety! Most people have a tendency to increase their speed (especially in rainy conditions) when they have ABS. A false notion again. The ideal way is to ride an ABS equipped motorcycle like it were not equipped with it at all. ABS is no substitute to learning how to brake and acquiring it as a skill.
3.4 Create Space
Another way to increase your own safety is to realize that you are responsible to maintain space around you.
You may use that space to have room to brake, to swerve, or just as extra time to decide what to do.
Keeping space around you is something that is easily forgotten, especially when you are trying to pass a truck. But even then, passing is done more easily when you maintain distance between you and the truck, until the point that you can accelerate to pass.
It's *your* space, and you can use it in an emergency, so look well after it...
Create a dynamic picture of what's around you all the time and make sure you have enough space to react to others mistakes all the time. Manage your risks well...ride defensively...live to tell you helmet stories to grandkids !
Monday, 17 September 2012 00:23
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Excellent write up. Congratulations on the excellent website.
I can see you are from Mumbai, also many of you must have traveled abroad and would have had experience with protective gears. An article about branded and non-branded riding jackets, pants, gloves and helmets which are currently available in India would be very helpful.
Some guide on what is actually available at different price points would be awesome. I hope it won't be too much of an ask. There is information available in other online resources but it is not at one place and unorganised. After reading mofos guide to motorcycling, I think this would be a logical addition to the resource.
Thanks and ride safe