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Archive for March, 2013

We’ve said it many times before, riding a motorcycle is one of world’s greatest pleasures, but it’s also one of the most dangerous ones – maybe it’s a pleasure because it’s so dangerous. You need to take some precautions when riding a bike. You do not need to dress up in an airbag balloon or some sort of a space suit. You don’t need to be looking like a mad person around you to see if there’s someone coming to kill you. But there are many points you need to look for when riding that will keep you safe. Some are common sense, some are built around experience.

Here are 20 pointers that may save you life. Read on, especially after point 1, a point many people’s eyes just glaze over.

  1. The most common one is wear a helmet, even when you are riding only 100 yards. A full face integral helmet is better than a half helmet. Just pulling up and having your foot go out from under you is enough to bang your head against the pavement.
  2. Learn the counter steering technique. In Europe it’s mandatory to learn and there’s good reason for it.. Counter Steering will enable you to quickly and safely avoid sudden obstacles on the road without falling. It should become second nature.
  3. Watch out of those white lines on the road, and watch out even more for those pedestrian crossing lines. White lines, although very visible, are very, very slippery. When it rains, avoid them at all costs. If you have to ride over them in a curve and it’s wet, straighten your bike while riding over the line. If not, your bike will go horizontal.
  4. When you cross a railroad track, cross it straight. Railroad tracks are slippery as well, and if you take them at an angle, your bike might go out from under you. This applies doubly when it’s raining.
  5. Tire pressure on a car is important, but on a motorcycle is essential. Read the owner’s manual to see what pressure under what circumstances. Riding 2 up, with cargo? You’ll need to adjust the pressure. I’ve put Dymo labels on the side of my bike giving me 3 numbers: Normal pressure, with pillion and pillion & cargo.
  6. Watch out when entering a place where there have been cars idling: gas stations, fast food drive-ins, toll booths etc. There’s always oil, gasoline and dirt. Watch where you put your foot.
  7. When following cars, trucks, trailers, etc, best is to stay behind one of the wheels. First of all, in the middle of the lane, that’s where you’ll find the most oil, gasoline and dirt coming from the cars. Also, if there’s something on the road, like roadkill, if you are riding behind the wheel of the vehicle in front of you, it’ll get squashed. If not, you’ll hit it and you don’t know what will happen then (I think I do). If you’re following a big truck, keep well away. Truck tires can (and do) shred regularly, leaving big bits of rubber flying. At highways speeds, if a large chunk of truck tire hits you, you’ll be badly injured, or worse.
  8. Always have the helmet visor down when riding, or have something to protect your eyes (like goggles or glasses). A bug that hits you at 60 mph is going to hurt, if it hits you in the eye, it’s goodbye eye.
  9. You know why fighter planes attack with the sun in their back? Because they can’t be seen. The same happens when the sun is in your back, low, you’ve become invisible for the cars driving in front of you. Even if they pay attention, they’ll not see you when you overtaken them. So watch out. The same applies when riding into a low sun. Drivers behind you will not see you. I often just nudge my brakes so that the brake light goes on, this way the car has a better chance of seeing you when they approach.
  10. If it’s warm drink plenty of water; if it’s cold, dress properly. Hydration and hypothermia are more dangerous than DUI.
  11. Road rage on its own is pretty bad, but having road rage on a motorcycle, especially against a car puts you in the danger spot. Unless of course you’re riding with the Hells Angels. Believe me, you’ll not be teaching car drivers a lesson, unless it’s cemetery ethics.
  12. Try to avoid the right most lane on highways, motorways and other fast moving roads. You’ll find that some soccer-mother driving a SUV forgot to take the off-ramp and will try to exit anyway. Don’t get in her path.
  13. If you’re having problems at home or work, taking the bike might not be a good idea. People think they’re clearing their heads, but in fact they’ll not pay as much attention as they should. One of the highest factors for motorcycle accidents is divorce. The next highest is getting fired.
  14. One of the old sayings for motorcycle riders is that your bike will go where you are looking. In a curve look as far as you can, not in front of you. If you see a pot hole, and you’re looking at it, you will ride through it.
  15. When you stop at an intersection or for traffic lights, keep your bike in first gear and keep a close look in your mirror until cars behind you have come to a stop. Keep your steering-wheel pointed in the direction of the first lane you will encounter (ie in the US, from left to right); This way, if you are “nudged” by a car behind you, your bike will go with the crossing traffic.
  16. When traffic is suddenly stopping or slowing down dramatically on a highway or interstate, ride in between the cars, even if your area does not allow lane-splitting. Cars coming up behind you may not have seen the slowdown or stoppage and slam into the rear of the traffic – you.
  17. When slowing down in traffic using your motorcycle engine (ie downshifting), best is to gently hit the brakes so that your brake lights go on. Remember that motorcycle engines usually have high compression and can therefore brake much harder with just their engine. Cars coming up behind you are going to be surprised (and so will you when they rear-end you).
  18. There’s no such thing as Green means Go, or a Stop sign that means other traffic will stop. Always assume that some idiot of going to run a red light, or stop sign and proceed accordingly.
  19. Motorcycles are small, and it takes an effort to be seen. Make sure you’re visible. Apart from high-visibility clothing, turn on your motorcycle’s lights. Even during the day. In many countries, it’s mandatory for motorcycles to ride with their lights on. You can guess why.
  20. Wear proper equipment. As mentioned helmets, but also gloves, jackets and boots. No one plans to leave their motorcycle while still riding, but if you do, best is be prepared. ATGATT is not just a saying, it’s vital. All The Gear, All The Time. Be a firm believer.

Just keep your head screwed on your body, use it and ride safe. Enjoy your ride. Your best safety factor is you. The more miles you put on your bike, the safer you become.

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There are many types of motorcycles out there. Sports, dual-purpose, cruisers, customs, you name it. One style of motorcycle that became very popular in the 60’s, originally in London, UK is the cafe racer.

The cafe racer is in essence a motorcycle stripped down from cowlings and other items that make it heavy, and used to race between cafe and cafe on London. And with cafe we really mean bar.

Norton Cafe-Racer

Norton Cafe-Racer

One cafe that became very famous the world over because of the cafe racer culture is the London Ace Cafe. The Ace Cafe is an institution for bikers who visit London.

But there’s also another definition of cafe racer, that of the derogatory term thrown at motorcyclists who gather around these cafes and sit on their bike for the whole day, showing off, pretending to be hard-core bikers.

But whatever the origin of the term, the cafe racer motorcycle is unique and has a very special style. Cafe racers are identifiable, and since they are so special, you will often see them in movies.

The cafe racer style quickly spread from the United Kingdom to France, Germany, Italy and other European countries. A whole subculture came into existence because of the cafe racer; the Rockers (balanced by the Mods, a group of scooterist). Rockers were riding cafe racers, dressed in leather jackets, greased hair, and traveling from cafe to cafe usually making as much noise as they could. You can still see many movies about the two rivaling groups, the Mods & Rockers.

As far as style goes, the cafe racer is a motorcycle made for speed, not for comfort. You will not be riding long distances on a cafe racer. Fuel tanks were dented, allowing the knees of the rider to hold on tight, and the handlebars were usually very low, enabling the rider to sit in a very low and crouched position.

Norfield Cafe Racer

Norfield Cafe Racer

Often bikes from different manufacturers were combined, making funny sounding names like Triton (Triumph and Norton) or Norfield (Norton and Royal Enfield).

The first cafe racers, English tradition obliging, were British; Triumph, BSA and Norton were the order of the day, but quickly the other European manufacturers and the upcoming Japanese started producing cafe racer-like bikes. But cafe racers were “custom”, so even if it looked like one in the showroom, it could only be a cafe racer if you modified it yourself.

Cafe-Racer-Triumph

In today’s retro-world, where style from the old days is in again, cafe racers have made a comeback. It has much to do with bikers who raced cafe racers in the 60’s and 70’s, stopped riding to raise a family, and are now BAMBIs (Born Again MotorBIker).

Several web sites have specialized in depicting cafe racers, notably Bike-Exif.com or PipeBurn.com.

Today, a cafe racer doesn’t need to be made in the 60’s. You can make your own cafe racer using whatever motorcycle you want. And many do.

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Let me start with the short review. This is one seriously cool and well thought out backpack. Simply one of the very best backpacks you can use on a motorcycle especially a sportsbike.

So that was the short review. If you’re interested in more, read on.

Ogio No Drag Mach 5

Ogio No Drag Mach 5

The Ogio No Drag Mach 5 Backpack is a very sleek aerodynamic backpack, made for motorcycle riders. Its dimensions are Height: 20.5”, Width: 14.5” and Depth: 7”. So, it’s big but not cumbersome, an ideal size for any type of motorcycle, but specially for sports motorcycles.

The Mach 5 is aerodynamic, meaning you’ll not be pulled when riding, even in a crouched position. I tried it on my Ducati, and honest, you don’t feel any drag whatsoever. Empty, the Mach 5 bag weighs next to nothing, 3.7 lbs (that’s 1.67 kilos for people living in Europe and Asia). But we don’t use backpacks with nothing in them, so this is where the genius of the Ogio come in.

Ogio Storage

Ogio Storage

Storage

The Mach 5 has so much space in special compartments you’d think it would be heavier. There’s a special compartment for a 15” laptop, and the compartment is padded for extra protection. It’s always been a fear of mine that knocks onto the backpack will mess up my precious laptop, but have no fears with the Mach 5. There’s also an equally protected compartment for iPad or other tablets/e-readers, AND a compartment for smartphone.

But the Mach 5 has several other very nicely though out designs; there’s a special protected compartment for helmet visors (how many backpacks can you name that have that?), there’s even a compartment to put your street shoes in. Imagine the comfort of that. You ride up to your office using your motorcycle boots, and at your destination, you put on your street shoes. Very handy!

Ogio Straps

Ogio Straps

Comfort

I have to say, after 6 hours on the road on the Ducati, the backpack was still comfortable. The back is padded so it feels like a soft pillow on your back, and the straps do not bite into your shoulders; they are padded and can be fully adjusted.

The Mach 5 has a handle that is 1) aerodynamic and 2) concealed. At your destination, you can easily get at the handle and carry the pack. You can use the handle to hang up the Mach 5 on a coat rack.

OgioNoDragMach5Backpack-onThe Ogio is rainproof, close even to waterproof. So there’s no worries when it rains. One thing that’s always bothered me with backpacks on motorcycles is the hip belt. They often scratch my fuel tank when in crouched position. The Ogio hip belt can easily be removed, preventing scratching.

Despite being quite big myself, it wasn’t difficult to put the backpack on, and more particular, taking it off. I’ve had easier ones, but I’ve also have far more difficult ones.

Have a look at the video, you’ll be amazed:

You can’t go wrong, except maybe with the price, since it doesn’t come cheap; but quality and well designed products never do.

Click here to buy the Ogio No Drag Mach 5 Backpack (you will not regret it)

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Tennessee is going to be the 32nd state to pass a law that allows bikers to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, unless it gets held up at the last moment. But it’s not likely.

The new bill will allow bikers to ride in the fair state of Tennessee without a helmet if a) they have $25,000 in additional medical coverage, b) a minimum of 2 years motorcycle license, c) have taken a motorcycle training course and d) are at least 25 years old.

So bikers don’t just get to ride without a helmet, they need to fulfill a certain set of criteria. But is this good or not?

The helmet debate is a heated one in the USA (in most other countries it’s not a debate, since it’s mandatory), with as many pro-helmet and anti-helmets opinions. On one side, people say you need proper protection because if you don’t, medical bills for everyone will rise, and on the other side, people want to be left alone to decide themselves what they do to protect their own lives.

Total ATGATT

Total ATGATT

Myself I’m more in the you-can-never-protect-yourself-enough corner. No matter how experienced a rider is, an accident can quickly happened. It doesn’t need to be your fault, it can be anything from a SUV driver who is not paying attention to a bird hitting you in the head (I could say a helicopter crashing on top of you, but that doesn’t matter if you have a helmet or not, you’re going to be very dead).

But there are limits. We’re not going to ride with a metal suit of armor to protect ourselves, so how far are we planning to go to protect ourselves? If we really want total protection, drive an Abrahams tank.

And that is where opinions differ. For some, you don’t really need protection, for others it’s ATGATT.

The Tennessee helmet bill seems like a reasonable compromise. They’ll not let anyone ride without a helmet (particular youngsters), but if you want to, and fulfill the requirements, you can do so at your own (medical and financial) risk. But does that mean only wealthier or well-off bikers can ride without a helmet?

So what do you think? Should this no-helmet law be more widespread, or should it be more like the rest of the world?

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This is part 2 of a long review of the Scala Rider Q2 Pro Helmet Headset, a wireless communication device for motorcycle helmets. Click here to read part 1.

Music
I turned on the iPhone’s music. The Q2 Pro is equipped with the A2DP/AVRCP Bluetooth profiles, meaning you get a very good quality stereo, and it showed. The sound was excellent, close to being in a concert hall. It’s a very enjoyable experience, listening to music while riding. And if your music player doesn’t have Bluetooth, the Q2 Pro has a standard audio jack into which can plug your player.

The advantage of the Q2 Pro is that sound is priority driven, meaning that while you are listening to your favorite music, if your pillion starts talking to you on the intercom, or your riding partner does, or even if your GPS has navigation instructions to give you, the music is interrupted until the other party is finished. Then music is turned back on, and all this is done automatically.

Obviously the same applies to your phone. If someone rings, your music or conversations are interrupted, and you can talk to whoever is calling you. BUT, please pull over to continue your conversation. Talking on the phone while riding is VERY dangerous.

The Q2 Pro is also equipped with a decent FM radio with a RDS function (that’s a feature that bikers love, since if a radio station has different antennas located in geographically parts of the country, the Q2 will select the transmitter with the strongest signal; No need to “dial” the best station, the Q2 does it for you). 6 stations can be pre-programmed, and selecting the station is relatively easy, a question of pressing a button sequence.

Battery
The Q2 Pro battery is slated for a total of 8 hours continuous operations (and 7 days in standby mode). Our experience is more or less that. We did spend most of the day on the road, had lunch, continued riding, and in between we did turn off the units. So we can’t tell you 100% if the 8 hours were met, but if they didn’t, it was close. But do remember that the older the batteries become, the less long they go.

Charging the units takes about 3 hours, so easy and quick.

Scala-Rider-Q2-Pro-3

Summary
The units worked very well as advertised. Sound was crystal clear and loud enough at any speed. The intercom usage was great, even fun. Music was beautiful, the range of notes that can be played through the speakers was very good. It made the riding experience, whether riding with others or solo a more memorable experience. If you’ve never tried riding with music, TRY IT.

The Q2 Pro can be used with other Scala Rider units, which is an advantage; It means if you buy it, you can continue using it even if your friends have upgraded to more advanced Scala Rider units.

On the downside of the Q2 (and other Scala units) is that using the models requires you to memorize button sequences (it does have voice commands, but it’s not very practical). Often it’s not a question of pushing one of the four buttons, but a sequence. And that makes it more difficult when riding, when your brains are focussing on the road, it become difficult to remember what to press.

My suggestion to Scala is make a remote control unit that gets placed on your handlebars (like the Parrot SK4000), or maybe even an application for the smartphone to control the units.

But for the rest, I really liked the Q2 Pro. And for the price, you can a full biker entertainment & communication system. What’s there not to like in that?

Click here to buy the Scala Rider Q2 Pro.

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There’s something to be said about riding your motorcycle with only the sound of your throbbing engine, wind blowing over your helmet and the whistling of the tires on the road. You’re on your own, and nothing and nobody to bother you in the solitude of your ride. But then there are times that you would want to communicate with someone while riding.

Many of us bikers ride with pillions or with other bikers. During the ride we do want to talk to them. For example with your pillion; “do we stop now”, “should we go left here”, etc. Same with your riding buddies: “watch out for that SUV!”, “I’ll wait for you at the gas station”.

There’s also a large population of bikers who like listening to music while riding. Many bikers can blast music through rainproof speakers, but that’s not very friendly towards other people who are sharing the road.

One way of doing all of the above is by using a special headset that gets fitted into your helmet. The unit communicates with other devices, including music players, without any wires. The wireless technology is called Bluetooth, something most modern smartphones are equipped with, and many electronic devices use as standard.

One of the undisputed leaders in the field of biker wireless communications is Scala. They have a range of Bluetooth headsets called “Rider”. For this review, I decided to try out their best selling Q2 Pro model.

Scala Rider Q2 Pro

Scala Rider Q2 Pro

Before you begin using the Scala (or any other manufacturer’s model) you need to install the unit inside your helmet. Most of them are stereo, so you’ll need to fit two (usually very flat) loudspeakers, a microphone (make sure you’re ordering the right one for your type of helmet) and the control unit/battery. For some it’s going to be easy, for others it might be more of a problem.

Test Ride
For the review I went for a ride with Jake, who was on his Harley. He has a similar Scala Rider Q2 Pro fitted in his helmet (NOTE: Bluetooth communications devices will only work with other units from the same manufacturer, not with other ones; you can not mix & match units from different manufacturers).

Both units were paired to each other (pairing is a way to inter-connect units to each other and to other devices, and it basically involves pressing a button sequence), and my Q2 was paired with my iPhone. My iPhone has, obviously, music in its “iPod” part and a TomTom GPS navigator software. All these items can be accessed through the Q2 Pro, including the phone.

Scala Rider Q2 Pro Devices

Scala Rider Q2 Pro Devices

Bike-to-Bike/Intercom
The bike-to-bike communications function is billed to work up to 2300 feet, but that’s the theoretical range, not the real working range. The real range will depend on where you are riding and what the atmospheric conditions are. In our case, when we had an open road with little traffic the range was pretty good, some 1900 feet, which is pretty impressive. In the forests, range dropped to 1300-1500 feet, and in the city we would be lucky with 900 feet. But despite the range being lower than what it’s billed for, it’s still very good. It beats shouting.

Talking to each other is a great way of riding. Sharing the fun is twice the fun. Sound is loud & clear (you can turn the volume up sufficiently), and the communication with Jake, even at the limits of the range, was very good and clear at all times The noise cancellation microphone works very well. Not a single time did the communication channel get opened because of outside noise, something older units suffered from.

An important aspect of Bluetooth communications is that it’s not like the good old CB radio or walkie-talkie days. It’s not one person talking and then saying “over”. The transmission is full duplex, in other words, both parties can talk at the same time.

The Q2 Pro will only handle one intercom; your pillion or your riding partner. If you need to handle multiple bikers, either go for one of the bigger models (and more expensive), or get a Bluetooth equipped walkie-talkie.

That ends part 1 of the review. Click here for Part 2.

Click here for more info on the Scala Rider Q2 Pro.

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For those of you who use protective clothing when riding your motorcycle, one of the latest advances in safety technologies comes from D3O Labs.

D3O is a material that you will find more and more in all sorts of clothing meant to protect the person dressed in them. It is not only for the motorcycle world, but in any activity that exposes people to sudden shocks (snow sports, horse riding, military, etc). D3O is also know as dilatant non-Newtonian fluid (like a liquid metal), a material that hardens when exposed to a shock.

D30 example

D30 example

What this means, is that the D3O material, an orange putty-like material, is placed in areas that need to absorb a shock. The material itself is soft and deforms easily when moving around. You can barely feel the resistance, in sharp contrast with material like Kevlar.

But when exposed to an impact, for example if you are ejected from your motorcycle and hit the pavement, the D3O material instantly becomes hard as metal and in the process, absorbs the shock. Moments later, it returns to its original soft state.

D3O is slightly more expensive than materials like Kevlar, but because the flexibility and lightweight of D3O, it’s much more usable then other types of protection. You will find D3O nowadays in gloves, jackets, pants and even back packs. Myself, I have a D3O protection for my iPhone, and after having dropped it several times, I’m happy to report that the protection works.

Click here to see all the D3O equipped materials we offer.

If you’re interested in more information about the making, and the usage of D30, here’s a short video that explains it all.

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