The Cure for Riding Anxiety

Since few of us are masters of every aspect of motorcycling, we invariably experience bouts of low-level anxiety or even panic. Anxiety mostly sucks, but it can also be a useful tool for helping you be a safer and more proficient motorcycle rider…if you pay attention.
From my article published in Motorcyclist Magazine:
“The best riders frequently check themselves for signs of stress and then act to regain relaxed composure so they can enjoy a safer and more gratifying ride. With anxiety out of the picture, they can also identify where the stress is coming from, whether that’s a lack of confidence in their ability or trepidation about a particularly risky environment, such as a rain-slick corner or a route riddled with dangerous intersections. Whatever the source, these riders use their awareness of stress to recognize their comfort limit and then back off so that anxiety does not affect control, safety, or fun.”
Too bad I couldn’t follow my own advice.

My Story

Recently, I’ve had a series of off-road mishaps of varying levels of severity that have messed with my Mojo.

I figured perhaps upgrading to a more capable and lighter machine would help. So, I sold the sturdy and rider-friendly KLX250/351s and bought a beautiful KTM450 XC-w. I never intended to buy the KTM, but the price was right, it was in a nearby town and it was sexy as hell.

I knew from the day I bought it that the 450 was more bike than I wanted or needed. It’s not that I didn’t think I could manage the power or the edgy handling, but the fact that it was a less rider-friendly bike made my anxiety worse. Ugh.
So, I remedied the situation by buying a Honda CRF250x. It’s the bike I should have bought in the first place. It’s more like a play bike than the KTM, but more capable than the KLX. Let’s see if that was the cure.

The Test

With the confidence of a less intimidating bike I went riding with my friend Paul at his local dirt track. This area features a motocross-type sand section and some tighter technical trail stuff with some steep drops and climbs, as well as log crossings. The last time I was at his track on the bigger KTM I managed to overcome the challenging sections, but with difficulty. Going in, I totally expected things to go easier on the 250x.

Paul contemplates my plight.

Turns out that the cure was not a different bike. Sure, it helped, but the anxiety was still there. I stared at a particularly scary looking traversing hill wondering WTF? I got past it and tackled the hill several times, but was tense and on the edge of panic much of the time. The rest of the course was easier, yet I still felt anxiety.
Paul, being the supportive friend he is, told me to slow down and just roll around. I was trying to ride the way I am used to riding…sliding the rear and zipping at a decent pace. Well, that was just adding to the anxiety. Once I slowed down to a novice pace, I started having fun and things went sooooo much better.

Emotions trump Logic

So, why wasn’t I able to follow my own advice as outlined in the Motorcyclist article? Because emotions tend to trump logic. I wanted so much to overcome the fear that I pushed on instead of doing what I tell my students…slow down to reset your sense of confidence and competence.
I’ve never been as confident off-road as on pavement or on the racetrack, so I tend to think of myself as a rookie rather than the reasonably competent dirt rider I really am. By slowing down, I am reminded of my true competence. This reinforces the positive. And the more I ride this way, the faster I substitute anxiety with confidence.
By riding in complete control at all times I am (re)building a solid foundation that then allows me to climb out of this rut. If I were to fruitlessly keep pushing without stepping back, I would surely dig the hole even deeper and just reinforce the hold anxiety has on me.

The Cure

The CRF250x is more user friendly than the big KTM.

I tell my on-street studentsat the beginning of the day that we will be riding well within their comfort zone, becasue they can’t learn and build confidence if they are using all their attention on managing anxiety. And when it comes to my track day students, I tell them that they gotta go slow to go fast.

I believe that most anxiety can be traced back to just a few things…some are physical, like slow speed maneuvers or weak countersteering, but most are mental. Learning tricks to control the bike and read the road or trail with more confidence are keys.
 
Whether it’s street or dirt riding…Slow down so you can keep your eyes and attention well ahead of you. That way things are much easier to process. If you use too much bandwidth to manage anxiety you look down, tense at the handlebars and everything goes pear-shaped.
Of course, slowing down is only part of the cure of riding anxiety, but it’s an important place to start. You will likely also have to sharpen weak control skills that are adding to your anxiety.

Pressure to Measure

This is moments before I lost the front wheel over the high lip of a berm and gave myself some serious whiplash. I was pushing myself too hard trying to get past the intimidation I felt with the KTM.

This all sounds like solid advice, but I can tell you that it’s not easy to follow. If you’re like me, you have an established image of yourself as someone who can manage the challenges of a typical dirt (or street) ride and not be so slow as to hold up the group’s pace.
I’m also competitive, which doesn’t help. I tend to ride fast when the right thing to do is hang back and not feel compelled to keep up.
The takeaway here is to listen to your anxiety and respect it for its attempt to alert you to SLOW DOWN. Instead of forcing yourself to tackle challenges with abandon, take it easy to build back your confidence.
Ignore your anxiety at your own peril. As the saying goes: check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Share your experiences in the comments section below.


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Long-Term Review: 2016 Triumph Tiger 800 XRx

2016 Triumph Tiger 800XRx
2016 Triumph Tiger 800XRx

The 2016 Triumph Tiger 800 XRx has spent this past summer as my instructor bike (both on-street and off-road), sport tourer and general go-to machine. After putting almost 9,000 miles on the ODO since March, I can now offer an in-depth review of this bike.
As a contributor to Motorcyclist Magazine and lead instructor at Tony’s Track Days, I have the opportunity to ride lots of different motorcycles. However, I get only a short amount of time in the saddle of these bikes.
During a on-day press launch or track session I get immediate impressions of power delivery, suspension compliance, fit and finish and ergonomics, but that’s about it. After putting 9k on the Tiger in all sorts of conditions I can share a comprehensive review.

Why the Tiger?

dual-sport-static The Tiger is versatile! It is capable of crossing the country, commuting, scratching around at a track day and riding on some pretty gnarly dirt roads and trails. While the 800 is a Swiss army knife, it is a compromise. The Tiger is a fun street bike that can keep up with most supersport bikes in the hands of a good rider at reasonable speeds. It is also a comfortable traveler that can handle a decent load of luggage and even a passenger.
As an off-road mount, it is best suited to mostly graded fire roads, but is surprisingly capable managing rocky trails. As with all heavy ADV bikes, you’ve got to be smart about what you’re getting into. I tackled a rather steep and rocky bit of single track trail that I handle easily with my KLX250s, but was a handful on the Tiger. I made it, but it coulda been ugly if I had fallen, since I was alone with no cell service.
The Tiger encourages discovery. The Tiger expands the number of places I can ride, by a huge margin. The 800 is totally at home navigating the many unimproved roads and tight paved byways that snake through Western Massachusetts where I live. I can ride 100 miles of mostly dirt roads and stay within one hour of my house! Lucky me.
There are other machines that also fit the bill; the BMW F800GS, Kawasaki KLR, the super-sized BMW R1200 GS or the new and awesome 2016 Tiger 1200 Explorer.  I chose the Tiger 800 for it’s features, lighter weight and reasonable.

Why the Roadie Version and not the XCx?

Mitas-poseI debated getting the more off-road worthy, spoke wheeled and taller XCx. But, I opted for the Road version (XRx) because I thought the bike would be spending 90% of its time on pavement. I also knew that the XR would be more than capable of the dirty riding I planned to tackle.
Since I am spending more time off-road than I expected, I probably should have gone with the XC. The XC is perfectly capable of long street miles and more importantly, it comes with adjustable WP suspension. Also, the XC comes with many of the things I’m ending up buying for the XR anyway, including engine, sump and radiator guards. Also, the spoked wheels and the 21 inch front wheel are more off-road friendly and more durable. Although, I’m happy to not have tube tires.
Here’s a long video review of the Tiger.


Let’s break down the review into components.

Engine

I love the power characteristics of the three-cylinder motor (based on the Street Triple motor). It has a nice combination of spunk and character with just the right kind and amount of vibration that tells you you’re straddling a machine. The vibes are never annoying. As a matter of fact, the bike is surprisingly smooth…smoother than my 2012 Street Triple R.
The whistling/snarling sound of the motor is unique. While an aftermarket exhaust will decrease weight and make for a nice sonic impression, I am perfectly happy with the way the stocker looks and sounds. Besides, I’m a proponent of quiet exhausts and I have better things to spend my money on. Read about all the accessories I put on the Tiger.
The triple is a terrific street engine, but it’s not so well suited as an off-road motor. It’s a bit too RPM-needy compared to a twin, like a F800GS. While the motor is easily controllable, it doesn’t exactly plod along the way you need an off-road motor to do from time to time. I found the Explorer 1200 to be better at slow speed plodding than the 800, partly because the ample torque was always on tap, whereas the 800 needs some revs. I’ve gotten used to it, but it is the one area where a BMW might be a better choice.
The engine has given me zero trouble, and if my Striple is any indicator, it will be reliable as a stone.

Power Delivery

As far as power delivery goes, the ride-by-wire throttle is super-light and takes some getting used to. When I first got the bike, I struggled to calibrate my right hand to keep the throttle steady. I’ve since learned to manage the sensitive throttle just fine, but I wish there was a simple way to increase throttle tube resistance.
Part of the reason the light throttle isn’t a big problem is because the fueling is very good. One of my pet peeves is snatchy fueling and this is a big reason why I rejected the FJ-09 as a contender. One area where the Tiger’s fueling falls short is when descending long hills, the fueling “hunts” while decelerating under engine braking. It’s not that bad, but it annoys me.
The Tiger comes with Traction Control (TTC) that can be set to either “Road”, “Off-Road” or “Off”. Road mode enables full TTC, whereas Off-Road mode allows more wheel slip. Sometimes even the Off-Road TC can intervene too much when climbing rocky or washboard surfaces. Thankfully you can turn it off. See more about Rider Modes below.

Clutch and Transmission

The clutch is light and progressive for easy launches and the transmission is flawless (it is sourced from the Daytona). I can launch smoothly from a stop and perform clutchless upshifts with ease. The ratios are just fine for street riding with the engine spinning around 5k in top gear at highway speeds, allowing plenty of zip when accelerating. The clutch lever is adjustable and neutral is easy to find. Not much more to say.

Brakes

The twin piston Nissin brakes are nothing special. They aren’t radial mount 4 piston units found on higher end machines like the Street Triple R, so they don’t provide exceptional feel and aren’t terribly powerful, but they don’t need to be. Instead, they are well-suited for the mission of slowing a 500 pound ADV bike with predictability and control.
The Tiger comes with ABS that can be set to either “Road”, “Off-Road” or “Off”. Road mode enables full front and rear ABS, whereas Off-Road mode disables ABS at the rear wheel and allows more wheel slip in the front. I don’t fully disable ABS. I like ABS.
The front brake lever is adjustable for reach and of course you can rotate the perch on the tubular handlebar to get the right angle for your primary use. I position my lever slightly low for street riding (sitting), but it ends up being a bit too high when standing off-road.
The rear brake has decent power and control and the pedal has a step up on the inner edge to allow easy use when standing up. Just rotate your right foot inward (pigeon toe) to use the tab.

Foot Pegs

The Metzeler Tourance Next tires did okay on the track.
The Tiger did great on the track, especially after I took off the peg feelers.

The foot pegs are positioned perfectly for sitting and standing. The peg size is broad enough for reasonable comfort and stability when standing. The rubber inserts can be removed by simply pulling them off. This helps for off-road conditions where you need the metal serrated teeth to grip into your boot soles. Getting them back on takes some fussing.
The Tiger has one strange design flaw. Surprisingly, the passenger pegs are mounted to frame brackets that are welded to the non-removable subframe. This means that a tipover or crash could break the bracket and ruin the whole frame. The Explorer 1200 has bolt-on passenger peg brackets.
The pegs are located low enough for all sensible street riding, but are a bit low for more extreme cornering. I rode the Tiger at a track day at Loudon and after a few sessions of grinding the peg feelers, I removed them.

Suspension

The forks are the weak link in this bike. As I mentioned earlier, I really wish I had the adjustable WP suspension. It’s not that the non-adjustable upside down Showa forks are lousy, it’s just that I’m a bit of a suspension princess and non-compliant suspension really annoys me.

Yankee Beemers grass Moto-Gymkhana
Yankee Beemers grass Moto-Gymkhana

The bike manages bumpy roads and off-road surfaces just fine and is always stable, in control, and handles nicely in corners. So, what’s the problem? Well, the forks tend to jackhammer over ripples and small bumps on smooth pavement. Either the forks have a lot of static friction (Stiction) or the compression damping is too high to allow the forks to respond to these small irregularities.
Off-road, the suspension is great. It manages sharp rocks fine at a moderate pace and handles front wheel lofting, but expect serious bottoming if you plan to do any sweet jumps. At the Yankee Beemers Rally, I participated in the grass Moto-Gymkhana where the fast perimeter course included a jump and the inevitible landing. Also, the landing off the teeter totter resulted in significant seismic activity.

Rider Modes

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-9-49-41-amI mentioned ABS and TC settings above, but there are also Power Delivery (MAP) Modes to discuss. The Tiger has 4 MAP Modes: Rain, Road, Sport and Off-Road. See the pages from the Owner’s Manual on the right for details about how they differ.
To change various modes you have to reach to press the “M” button on the dash and then close the throttle and squeeze the clutch for it to take. FYI, the off-road mode will revert back to the last road mode if you turn off the key, which is why I often shut off the bike using the kill switch if I’m going to stop for a minute to, say, take a photo.
screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-9-49-51-amFrankly, I could do without the MAP modes. Sure, there is a slight difference between each mode, but it’s subtle. I tend to keep the bike in Road Mode most of the time, even in the rain, and the Off-road MAP seems no different than the Road MAP. The fueling on the Tiger is so well sorted that I find it unnecessary to switch to a “softer” setting.
And the “Sport” MAP is not really that much sharper than the road mode. I would not consider the base XR, because I couldn’t do without adjustable/switchable TC for off-road riding.

Comfort

The Tiger features the ideal comfort package; high tubular handlebars that are adjustable for angle and height; a “Comfort” seat that is one of the best I’ve used; great legroom. Yet, I’ve never had more trouble being comfortable on a motorcycle.The thing is that I get a nasty cramp between my shoulder blades almost immediately.
I added Rox risers, rotated the bars in every conceivable way, with no improvement. It was only recently that I determined that it is my personal anatomy to blame. Not only is my hunchback posture a likely problem, but also I broke my collarbone last year which seems to have messed up my symmetry enough to cause this cramping. The cure is to stretch the pecs to regain the symmetry and strengthen my upper back. Stay tuned.
When standing, the side panels at the rear/bottom of the tank cause my knees to splay out more than I like. This causes a slight imbalance that I have to make up for with my arms and back, which is tiring after about 6 or 8 miles of rough off-road terrain. The Explorer 1200 is better because the area where the seat meets the tank is narrower.
The Tiger 800 is a tall bike. Its adjustable seat height is 33″ at its low setting and 33.8 ” at the higher setting. (a Low seat version is available with a range of 31.1″ and 31.9″). I am 5′ 9″ with a 32″ inseam and am able to touch with both feet touching.

Miscellaneous

Electronic cruise control is cool. It’s useful on highway trips and when I want to zip a vent with my right hand without stopping. However, I don’t use it as much as I thought I would. It’s very easy to use and works perfectly, though. Pro Tip: use the rear brake to disengage the cruise control to avoid the abrupt deceleration that occurs if you twist the throttle off to shut it off.
The Adjustable Windscreen works really well for me. Some people complain that it wobbles a lot and doesn’t manage wind as well as they’d like. I have no problems at all with the stocker. The screen is moderately adjustable, but not too much, so I added an adjustable MRA Spoiler blade, which makes the stock shield more versatile.

Accessories and Luggage

I wrote an article on accessorizing the Tiger. Read it Here.

Tires

tiger-mitas-oem
Mitas 50/50 tire on top. Metzeler 90/10 tire on bottom.

The stock Metzeler Tourance Next tires are fine for most people. I did a track day on them and they stuck, but delivered very little feel. This is expected because a 90/10 tire is designed to handle the rigors of rocks and such and is typically stiff with less emphasis on pavement performance.
For the last 6,000 miles, I’ve been rocking the 50/50 Mitas E-07. I wrote a review of the Mitas E-07 50/50 tires. In a nutshell, these tires are great and allow me to go places I never thought I could. For the Tiger Roadie, order the 110 front tire to avoid the ridiculous oversteer. Order the standard (not Dakar) version for the 800.

How is it to Ride?

Slow speed Maneuvers
The Tiger is mostly easy to ride but is cumbersome at a standstill. Once you get the bike rolling at about 5 mph, then all is well, but as soon as you go below that speed, the bike turns into an awkward, top heavy beast. Unlike ADV bikes with a lower center of gravity, the Tiger carries it’s weight up high. The engine is mounted high to give ground clearance. Mounting the 5.3 gallon fuel tank on top of that doesn’t help. This all makes for a bike that wants to topple over at standstill. It doesn’t help that I have a top box and tankbag.
That doesn’t mean the bike can’t do tight U-turns. It absolutely can. You just have to get up to at least 3- 5 mph and keep it there. 7 mph is better. The higher speed means you have to lean the bike over more to tighten your arc without slowing down. Learn how to ride slowly by reading this article.

Steep, slippery and rocky...a bit difficult for the Tiger.
Steep, slippery and rocky…a bit difficult for the Tiger.

Off-road
The Tiger is an absolute hoot on dirt roads and dual-track trails. I’ve done some bony hill climbs and rocky descents and tackled terrain I didn’t think possible on a 500+ pound motorcycle. But, the sheer size of the bike makes me a chicken when riding in sand, slimy muck and deep loose gravel. The fact is that the high weight causes the front tire to plow into the soft surface. The solution is to be on the gas. That’s why big ADV bikes tend to struggle when descending and are better at ascending where you’re on the gas.
The problem is that all that weight has inertia that will get you into trouble real quick if it starts heading in the wrong direction. A mistake on a 250 pound dirt bike can go almost unnoticed, but not with these ADV beasts.
Stay away from really mucky, loose terrain and you’ll have a blast. Oh, and be sure to ride with friends in case you get horizontal. And learn how to pick up your bike by yourself, as well. I strongly recommend you get some off-road training before venturing off road on your ADV machine.
Corner Scratching
The Tiger is a little bit dirt bike and a little bit sport bike. Even with the 50/50 tires, I can pretty much keep with any sportbike ridden by an average rider. I had a great time on Deal’s Gap and at a track day. While it has it’s limits, the bike railed through the turns with good stability and decent precision. The 19″ front wheel helps with high speed pavement stability compared with the 21″ front wheel on the XC.
Traveling
The Tiger is a champ on the highway. I rode the lower half of the Blue Ridge Parkway and put on several highway miles. Mount a tankbag, sidecases and a windscreen spoiler blade and off you go.
The Tiger 800XRx has proven to be a terrific motorcycle that has expanded my riding immensely. I hunt for roads that I’ve always wondered where they went; roads I never would have ventured on with the Sprint.  I’m happy that I own the Tiger and will always have an Adventure bike in my garage.
I did a bit of two-up riding with my wife, Caroline while in NC. We decided to spend a day doing the “Gravelhala” that mostly parallels the Cherohala Skyway. Since her z750s wasn’t a great off road bike, she jumped on the back and we took off. Overall, Caroline liked the flat, wide seat and the large grab rails. The rubber footpegs we nice, too. She really enjoyed having the top box to lean against for the bit of road riding we did together. Overall, it’s a good mount for a passenger.


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Adventure Accessories for the Triumph Tiger 800

Mitas-bike-2The arrival of the newest addition to the RITZ garage is a Phantom Black 2016 Tiger 800 XRx. The Tiger has proven to be a true all-arounder. I have toured on it, done a track day, conquered Deal’s Gap and navigated some pretty gnarly roads and single track on the Tiger.
See my LONG-TERM review of the Tiger 800 XRx
I bolted on some accessories (“farkles” to you ADV guys) to help increase the Tiger’s versatility. My friends at Twisted Throttle took care of getting me all the best accessories I needed. They have some of the best Adventure bike accessories. Here is what I installed.

Bike Protection

SW-MOTECH Crash Bars
SW-MOTECH Crash Bars

SW-MOTECH Crash Bars
SW Motech is a German company specializing in top-shelf bike protection. Their crash bars are seriously beefy compared with others I’ve seen, including the Triumph branded bars. The trade off is weight. The SW bars add some pounds to the bike, with much of it held high where the upper loop is located at tank level.
The advantage of the high loop is the protection offered to the fuel tank. But, realistically, a low bar that protects just the engine is a fine option, partly because if the tank makes contact with the ground, it is the plastic side panels that get nailed, and those are only about $60.00 to replace. An good engine guard alternative are the R&G Engine Guards.
Another problem I found with the high SW bars is vibration. It seems as though the setup acts a bit like a tuning fork. Although I noticed the vibes on my first ride with them installed, I no longer notice it at all so this should not be a deal breaker. If you want maximum protection, the SW-M bars are the way to go.
Skid Plate/Sump Guard
SW-MOTECH Skid Plate/Sump Guard

SW-Motech Skid Plate (Sump Guard)
The Tiger comes with a decent plastic skid plate, but it is not beefy enough for the type of abuse the bottom of the engine and frame will be exposed to so I ordered the SW-Motech skid plate. It mounts easily and covers much more of the vulnerable underparts not protected by the OEM plate, including the oil filter, lower exhaust canister and frame rails. It’s quite satisfying to hear the sound of rocks pinging off it’s surface. Money well spent.
R&G Radiator Guard
Putting a hole in a radiator from an errant stone  will end your day real fast and is an expensive repair so I installed the R&G rad guard. R&G makes a heavier duty stainless steel guard, but I went with the lightweight aluminum unit. It installs easily and looks great.
I need a Hugger
R&G Hugger

R&G Rear Hugger
A Hugger is a rear fender that mounts close to the rear tire to help keep your rear shock clean. The R&G hugger bolted on perfectly and gives a custom look to the Tiger’s rear end.
Pyramid Fenda Extenda
The Fenda Extenda mounts to the bottom of the front fender to help keep crap from flying onto the front of your engine and radiator. It requires some drilling, but is easy enough to install.

Luggage

Side carriers and crash bars
Side carriers and crash bars

SW-Motech Hard Bag Sidecarriers
I already owned a set of DrySpec D20 drybag saddlebags and wasn’t planning to buy hard cases until I realized that the soft saddlebags needed to be supported by a side carrier to avoid drooping under the rear fender and seat. I went ahead and bought the SW-Motech side carriers for use with the D20s but then decided to go for some side cases after all (see below). These carriers are awesome. They quickly release from the bike with just a twist of 4 Zeus fasteners. And the quality is top-notch. They carry all brands of side cases with the proper adapter kit.
The Givi E-22 side cases look good and are narrow and light.

Givi E-22 Side Cases
There are a lot of side cases to choose from, including the Trax Boxes and cases from Givi and other manufacturers. But, I chose the most lightweight and inexpensive hard case option; the Givi E-22. The 22 is an updated version of the basic E-20 that has been around for years. The new shape looks great and it is just big enough for my needs. Their small size means that the width of the bike when they are installed is fairly narrow.
The cases open at the top so my contents don’t go spilling onto the pavement when I open them. At the low price of less than $250.00 for the SET, you don’t get premium construction, but they have held together just fine and I expect them to perform well for many seasons. FYI, I mount mine backwards from what is intended because I like the way the rearward slop looks on the Tiger.
Bags Connection City tank bag with Quick release ring.
Bags Connection City tank bag with Quick release ring.

Bags-Connection City Tank Bag
The BC tank bags are pricey, but are also well made and highly functional. The quick-connect tank ring is really easy to use and is totally secure. I ride the roughest roads with the small City bag and it has never flown the coop. For Tiger 800 riders, you want to mount the top ring as far back as possible on the bag so it doesn’t interfere with your man (or woman) junk when standing, especially on uphill climbs.
You can opt for the electrified tank ring version that gets power inside the bag just by mounting it to the special tank ring. I chose the non-e setup and feed a Euro plug-to-SAE cord a SAE-to-Cigarette socket through the front cord port to get power from the Triumph power socket to the tank bag. I charge my phone, Interphone Bluetooth Comms and whatever else needs juicing up during a ride.
tiger-steelrack
The SW-MOTECH Steel rack mounts over the stock luggage plate.

SW-Motech Topcase Steel Rack
I already had a Coocase topcase from my last bike, but I needed a way to mount it to the Tiger. I could have drilled the OEM luggage plate and rigged up the Coocase to it, but I decided to do it right by buying a SW-M Steel rack. The rack is super-strong and mounts over the plastic Triumph plate for a rugged mounting solution. You can opt for the slightly lighter Alu-Rack, but I like the look of the Steel rack and the lower price.
BDry Spec Drybag saddle bags with SW-MOTECH side carriers and City tank Bag.
Dry Spec drybag saddle bags with SW-MOTECH side carriers and City tank Bag. The Coocase top box is mounted to a SW-MOTECH Steel Rack.

DrySpec Saddlebags & DrySpec Duffle
A lot of ADV riders opt for Hard Cases, like the SW-MOTECH Trax Boxes or the GIVI Trekker Cases. I went with more street-oriented Givi E-22 Side Cases for road and touring. But for real off-road trips, I opt for soft side luggage for two reasons. One, the DrySpec Saddlebags will not get damaged in a fall, and two there is no risk of getting a leg crushed underneath the boxes in a fall or having my calf come in contact with the front of a box when I have to dab my foot while in motion.
The DrySpec Saddlebags & DrySpec Duffle are both totally immersible and sturdy enough to over-pack. They are small, but that just forces me to pack light. The integrated mounting straps are really secure and easy to install.
Tool Tube
Tool Tube

Tool Tube
The space between the side carrier and the right side of the Tiger is occupied by the exhaust, but there is lots of space on the left side for something. That something I chose was a Tool Tube. I put extra tools, a small can of chain lube and a few other items in their for safe keeping.

Comfort

MRA Spoiler Blade and GPS Mount.
MRA Spoiler Blade and GPS Mount.

MRA X-creen Sport Clamp-on Air Spoiler
I get a ton of questions about the spoiler blade I have mounted on the Tiger’s stock windscreen. A lot of people have replaced the stocker screen with MRA or Givi screens, but I like the look of the stock screen, and with the addition of the adjustable MRA X-creen spolier blade, I am perfectly happy with the way it manages wind. I wrote a complete review of the MRA X-Creen earlier when I first mounted one on my Sprint RS. A great option.
roxROX Bar Risers
Standing is a big part of off-road riding. The stock bar mounts were okay, but the reach when standing was a bit far and I was also hoping to find a better bar position that alleviated the cramp I get in my upper back. The ROX risers are nicely made and offer a wide range of adjustability with two points of rotational movement. Now, I can stand naturally when riding off road, but the back cramp is still there. I just can’t seem to find a position that helps this problem. I will continue to work with the ROX risers to find that solution.

Electronics

RAM Mounts and X-Grip Phone Holder
RAM Mounts and arms reliably hold my GoPro, iPhone and GPS. There are so many options that it forces you to get creative about where to mount the RAM ball and then which RAM arms to use for your particular needs.
The X-Grip has proven to be a secure and easy mount for my iPhone 5 and 6, even when riding single-track trails on my KLX. Just be sure to use the RAM Tether on rough terrain.

GPS Holder with RAM ball.
GPS Holder with RAM ball.

SW-Motech GPS Mount
This Mount positions your GPS (or other device) right smack dab in the middle of the windscreen, just above the instruments using custom bracket and a RAM ball and arm. It’s a perfect solution to prevent having a GPS cluttering your handlebars. It is high quality and mounts easily.
Tank Bag Power
Click the title link to see various electrified tank bag options. I mentioned the tank bag system I have that uses a Euro plug-to-SAE cord a SAE-to-Cigarette socket to power the tank bag. Either option is a good one. Having power in your tank bag is a necessity in today’s e-world.

Tires

tiger-mitas-oem
Mitas 50/50 tire on top. Metzeler 90/10 tire on bottom.

Mitas E-07
I wrote a complete review of the Mitas E-07 50/50 tires. In a nutshell, these tires are great and will allow you to go places you never thought you would. For the Tiger Roadie, order the 110 front tire to avoid the ridiculous oversteer. Order the standard (not Dakar) version for the 800.
Mitas Terra Force
I have not mounted these 90/10 dual sport tires yet, so keep an eye out next year for a full review.
 


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Product Review: Mitas E-07 Dakar Dual Sport Tires

Mitas-bikeMy 2016 Triumph Tiger 800 XRx has proven its awesomeness, both on the street and off-road. To gain even more confidence in rough terrain, I swapped the stock Metzeler Tourance Next (90% road/10% off-road) tires for a set of Mitas E-07 Dakar Dual Sport/Adventure bike 50/50 buns.
Mitas (pronounced Me-tass, think “Meet us”) has been around for a while as a maker of agricultural tires, but also manufactures vintage, moped, scooter, flat track, speedway, street and off-road motorcycle tires and is now becoming one of the go-to tires for Adventure (ADV) bikes.
Since I have not tried the most well-known players on the ADV/DS tire spectrum, I cannot make a direct comparison. So, the review is of my impressions of this tire only.
Disclosure: Even though I bought the first “Dakar” set from Twisted Throttle, MotoRace/Mitas generously supplied me with the second “Standard” set so I was using the correct tire for my weight and bike. See more about the different versions below.

The OEM Tire

The Metzeler Tourance Next tires did okay on the track.
The Metzeler Tourance Next tires did okay on the track. www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

On the street, the Metzeler Tourances were fine, but felt numb. This became even more apparent during a track day where the Tourance tires could not communicate well enough to instill much confidence. Grip was good though; I managed to corner hard enough to mangle both of the Tiger’s footpeg feelers.

Why the Tire Swap?

The Metzelers were also fine for the easy packed and semi-packed graded roads, but the lack of feedback made me wonder whether I was about to push the front tire right out from under the bike on gravely surfaces like I did on the Multistrada last year.
Another reason for the swap to more off-road worthy tires was for an intermediate-level ADV course I was taking with Jimmy Lewis at the Dirt Daze rally in Lake George.
After talking with knowledgeable ADV friends, I decided on the Mitas E-07 50/50s. Reviews suggest that they would provide good mileage, fine road handling and wet weather traction, as well as really good off-road capabilities.
standThe aggressive tread suggests that they will climb anything I plan to tackle, but I wondered just how good they’ll be on the street. I had them mounted just before I was to take a 1500 mile trip to North Carolina, so I was about to find out.

Pavement Performance

The wandering feel of a knobbie-type tire on pavement takes some getting used to. I ride my KLX 250 on the street at a sporting pace with full knobbies, so I am comfortable with how an off-road tire feels when cornering on the road. Despite the usual weird sense that the tires are about to slip out from under you (they won’t), the E-07s provide plenty of grip on both dry and wet pavement.
I did 1400 miles through VA and NC, including a run of Deal’s Gap and the Cherolhala and had a blast. That was with the bike being loaded with camping gear. No, the E-07s aren’t as sure-footed as a road tire and I wouldn’t do a track day on them, but they were absolutely fine as a street tire.
Whine and Vibes
One thing you will notice when riding with these tires on pavement is the high-pitched whine and the added vibration caused by the aggressive tread. I like a quiet tire, so this was a compromise I was going to have to tolerate in order to enjoy the more capable off-road qualities. It turns out I got used to it pretty quickly.
Oversteer
However, it took me longer to acclimate to the abrupt turn-in and oversteer. To keep the bike from dropping too quickly and too far into a lean, I had to countersteer on the outside handlebar. Mike, a student of mine, also commented on the quick steering characteristics after he mounted E-07s on his Super Tenere.
This quick-turning behavior is to be expected from an off-road tire where nimble maneuvering is a priority over stability. There is always a compromise.
The remedy is to mount a wider front tire: I inadvertently ordered a 110 front tire from Motorace instead of the stock 100 size tire. This proved to be a very good thing as the wider front tire took care of the annoying oversteering problem. So, Tiger XR owners, order the 110 front!
Stiff Ride
If you mount dual sport tires, whether they are 90/10 or 50/50, you will have to endure a stiffer  ride compared to a street-only tire like the Dunlop Road Smart. The carcass has to be stiff to handle rocky and rough terrain you’re likely to encounter. Again, compromises must be made.

Riding Off-Road

Mitas-bike-2My first off-road excursion with the E-07s was, um, interesting. Here I had a set of very aggressive tractor-like tires, yet the Tiger’s traction control kicked in almost as soon as I tried accelerating up the first gravel hill. Okay, I had forgotten to switch to “Off-Road” mode, so the TC was on full “nanny”. But, still. The 90/10 Metzelers would have at least allowed me to make it up the hill. Switching to the correct mode helped, but the TC was still going nuts.
I now realize that the Tiger’s TC electronics must have needed to re-calibrate itself for the new tires. I never had that problem again.
I can tell you with great confidence that these tires rock off-road! The Mitas tires give me so much more confidence that I now tackle some pretty gnarly terrain that I never thought I’d experience on the Tiger. This is good…and bad. Bad because it would be easy to go places that the tires can handle, but that the bike may not. Easy there, Tiger.
In New England, most of our ADV-type riding consists of packed dirt, lose gravel, rocky outcroppings and mud. We don’t have a lot of sand, so your results may vary in those conditions.

Pressures

I experimented with tire pressures to try and help soften the rough pavement ride from the stiff Dakar carcass. I also wanted to find a pressure that will balance road wear and off-road grip without needing to air-down for dirt and then air-up later for pavement. The stiffer Dakar tire did well when set at mid-to-high twenty pounds of pressure. I expected the tire to wear faster, but the ride was better and off-road traction was great.

Wear

wearWith all this awesome off-road grip, you’d expect the Mitas E-07s to wear quickly on the street. Well, you’d be wrong. I hear that the Conti TKC-80s only last about 3,000 miles. In contrast, I put 4,500 miles on the Dakar set and there was at least another 2,000 miles left when I decided to change the rear. See photos.
I changed the rear before it was completely worn because the flattened profile became annoying enough that I made the swap to a new rear. I would have been happy enough riding these things down to the wear bars, but I had a new rear in the garage, so made the swap early.
When new, the E-07 has a stabilizing bridge that wears down flush to the center strip in about 1500-2000 miles. The 150 section Heidenau also has a center strip, but it is much wider than the Mitas, making the Heidenau not as good for climbing once the center lugs wear flat to the bridge bars. In contrast, the Mitas has great centerline grip throughout its whole life.
Note that the wear bars are NOT at the center of the tire. The wear bars are the deeper bars that are off center (see photo).
Update: The rear tire now has 6,500 miles and still has meat left on it for another 1500 miles, I bet. The front tire is at the wear bars at about 7,000 miles and the blocks have worn unevenly and cupped. That’s at 28 pounds front and rear.

Dakar versus Standard Versions

When I bought the first set of tires I did not know the difference between the Dakar and the Standard model. The Dakar version has an additional belt to add more durability and stiffness, which makes sense for heavier riders on big(ger) ADV bikes, like the R1200GS who mount hard luggage and load their bikes to the hilt. That’s not me.
The “Standard” version makes more sense for a lightweight rider on a Tiger 800. That said, there is an argument for mounting the stiffer tire on bikes with cast (as opposed to spoked) wheels to protect them from getting damaged over sharp rocks.
NOTE: Twisted Throttle has only the “Dakar” version of the E-07 in stock as of this writing, but I’m sure they will get you the “Standard” version if you ask.

Buy These Tires…If You Can Really Use Them.

Mitas-ZThe Mitas E-07 looks tough as nails, rides well on both wet and dry pavement and does really, really well off-road. I didn’t think I’d like them as much as I do. I say, go for it!
But, before you decide to buy these or any 50/50 tire, be realistic about whether you really need this level of off-road capability. Sure, they look cool, but if your riding is 95% road, then the 90/10 tires will likely suit your needs just fine and be more pavement-riding friendly.
TT_Homepage_logo
Buy your Dakar versions tires from Twisted Throttle and help support this blog. They also have quality luggage & racks, riding gear, electronics, auxiliary lighting, bike protection, and much more. Happy shopping!


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Product Review: TCX X-Desert Boot

TCX-X-Desert-1After riding in a pair of vintage Fox off-road boots for several years, I decided it was time for an upgrade. Enter the TCX X-Desert Gore-Tex boots.
The X-Desert name suggests a hard-core boot intended for super-rugged adventures far from home. In reality, the X-Desert is a kinder, gentler boot for less daunting conditions. As a matter of fact, TCX categorizes the X-Desert as a Touring/Adventure boot that is found under the “Touring Line” section of their website. And this makes sense. Even though the X-Desert looks burly it is made for street riders who want the look and near protection of a full off-road boot, but with the comfort of a touring boot.
And this is why I chose them. While I ride hard in gnarly conditions, I’m tend to mostly ride on fire roads and intermediate-level trails. Also, it’s not unusual that I need to stand and walk for a period of time, which makes these boots a good fit for me.
Speaking of fit, I wear a size 9.5 or 10 street shoe and the TCX 44 fits great. My feet are on the narrow side so their “normal” width is a bit too roomy, but not a problem.
To achieve this level of comfort, TCX foregos the ski-boot stiffness found in true off-road boots for a flexible carcass and sole. The X-Desert is indeed a lot more flexible and less protective than a fully dedicated off-road boot, like the Pro 2.1. The X-Desert toe box is rigid, but the middle part of the boot is not, so a well-placed rock or stick will hurt.
Dual-sport-HomeI’ve worn these boots in a wide range of conditions, including a two-day MotoMark1 Overland Confidence Course in and around the Great Smoky Mountains. I give them high marks for comfort and looks (when clean) and they were great for both paved and dirt riding. While there, I tested the waterproof claim by standing in a small pond up to my ankles for a few minutes and my socks remained dry.
The only criticism I have is that the flexible sole does not offer the support needed when standing on gnarled footpegs for long periods of time. A traditionally stiff off-road boot provides a rigid sole that spreads the load across the whole foot. But, that’s a small trade-off for being able to walk like a normal person.
I’ll be using these boots for ice riding in a few weeks. I expect the Gore-Tex to keep my feet dry and comfortable and the lighter weight should allow my legs to withstand hours of leg-out riding.
The X-Desert’s durability has so far been good, with all fasteners and buckles holding up fine. Time will tell whether the plastic receivers for the aluminum buckles will withstand the rigors of use, but so far, so good.
The X-Desert are a great touring companion and are a perfect choice for the ADV rider who has no intention of jumping their 600-pound GS over boulders or fallen trees. If you do plan on tackling more advanced conditions, you will want to consider a boot with more protection (and stiffness).
Recommended!


From the Revzilla product page:
TCX-X-Desert-boxFeatures:

  • Full grain leather with GORE-TEX® waterproof membrane
  • PU ankle protection with carbon look insert
  • PU gearshift pad
  • PU shin guard
  • Suede heat and wear protection on inside calves
  • Reinforced PU heel
  • 3 adjustable aluminum buckles
  • Anatomical and replaceable footbed
  • New Enduro sole with specific profile for maximum grip

This is NOT a paid post, but I am writing this review to thank Randy and Dave from Velocity Sports Group for hooking me up with these boots.
Velocity logo


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KLX250s: Upgraded & Accessorized

KLX-pose2The Kawasaki KLX250s is a versatile combination of playbike and full-on trail burner. Right out of the box, the KLX is a willing companion, both on the dirt and on ice! It is an un-intimidating ride with a well-balanced chassis and handling. But, like many bikes, a few accessories and upgrades go a long way to improve an already good machine.
Most of the parts I installed are available from Twisted Throttle. If you decide to buy any of the items I mention in this article, please buy them from Twisted by clicking on the links on this page. That way, I get a small affiliate payment that helps me continue to write and share helpful articles like this. Thanks.

Bike Protection

Falling down is often a part of off-road riding, so it makes sense to protect the bike from damage. It’s bad enough to bend a lever or handlebar, but it’s worse if the damage strands you out in the Boonies.

SW-MOTECH radiator guards
SW-MOTECH radiator guards

Radiator Guards
Here is a part that is vulnerable to damage and expen$ive to repalce. Kawasaki thinks that the plastic fins are good enough to thwart an attack by a roosted rock or an errant stick or keep a radiator from being smashed in a fall, but they aren’t…trust me. I toasted a radiator on a KDX200 many years ago during a routine tipover and learned my lesson.

The radiator guards I installed are made by SW-MOTECH, a German company known for high-quality products. These aluminum beauties replace those flimsy plasti-fins and installation takes only minutes.

SW-MOTECH skidplate
SW-MOTECH skidplate

Skidplate
SW-MOTECH also made the skidplate that I installed to replace the OEM plate. The SW plate is made from a 4mm-thick aluminum base plate and 3mm-thick side plates. I’ve whacked some seriously solid rocks with this plate with no consequences whatsoever (see photo).
Barkbusters Handguards
Handguards should be at the top of the list for things to install. Not only do they protect your vulnerable metacarpals, but they also keep your levers from bending or breaking when you fall or rap a tree.
The Barkbusters are the original handguards and come with various shaped plastics. The VPS plastics with upper wings provide good wind and brush protection without being too large.
dual sport grips, Pro taper handlebar, and folding mirror.
dual sport grips, Pro taper handlebar, and folding mirror.

Handlebar

Yes, the KLX comes with a handlebar. But, it’s a P-O-S. It will bend the first time you tipover…guaranteed. The ProTaper bar I installed has taken two significant hits and they are still like new. There are many bends to choose from, but the Henry/Reed bend is just right for me.

Dual Sport Grips

Dual sport grips provide a balance between comfort and grip for all-day control. These grips lack the ridges that are found on most off-road grips (including the stockers). Even though they aren’t as secure, I like the comfort these provide (See photo and link).

Folding Mirror

The stock mirrors are easily damaged in a tipover, so you may as well put them away now and buy an inexpensive folding mirror that can be tucked away when you don’t need it and extended when you have to do some pavement riding to get to the next trailhead.

Tires

My tires of choice for both off and on-road are Pirelli MT-21s (frontrear). They aren’t the best off-road tires and are full knobbies so they aren’t really made for pavement, either, but offer a great (90% -off road/10%- on road) balance. (See links below)

Fredette Canadian style Ice Tires

The Ice Tires I use are Fredette Canadians. These are the best combination of grip and slip so you actually learn about traction management…as opposed to the Marcel tires which grip so hard that you can throw the bike in without a care. (aka, Cheater tires)

Big Bore Kit

OK. As great as the stock KLX is, it became apparent that it could use more power when it struggled to ascend a particularly steep and rocky trail at Hatfield McCoy. The power challenge became even more of a hindrance when I started riding on ice where the vast expanse of frozen water begged for maximum drive. While I had a boatload of fun on the rock hard ponds and lakes with the stock motor churning out every bit of its 17hp, I decided to install a 351cc big bore kit from Blue Bill.

That's what the difference between 250 and 351cc looks like.
That’s what the difference between 250 and 351cc looks like.

The reasonably priced $535.00 kit includes a new re-bored cylinder, piston, rings, wrist pin, and gaskets. Of course, I could have sold the KLX and bought a bike with more displacement, but that would have certainly cost a lot more money. Besides, I like the KLX’s character, so I went for it.
Horsepower and torque increase is modest at somewhere in the 5hp and 6 ft lb range, but that is a 30% and 40% increase from stock (I suck at math, but that’s close enough). The result was noticeable once I went through a short break-in period and was able to open it up. I can now whack the throttle open and the bike responds briskly.
The Build
Installing a big bore kit isn’t very difficult, but it takes some mechanical inclination that consists of more than remembering “lefty loosey, righty tighty”. I’ve done my share of moto-surgery, so I knew what I was getting into. Still, it’s unnerving to remove the head, camshafts, cam chain, cylinder and piston ,and then get it all back together again without any important parts leftover.
Grease Monkeys
Grease Monkeys

I disassembled the bike following the Kawi shop manual and all went well. I removed all the leftover gasket goop from the case with an oiled Scotchbright pad and was ready for my friends Adam and Jay to show up and give me re-assembly help. After 4 hours or so in a cold garage, the motor fired up and sounded good. I was scheduled to ride the next day on the ice in New Hampshire, so I would soon know if we did things right.
Jetting and Exhaust
Waiting for an infusion of power.
Waiting for an infusion of power.

Some jetting was needed to manage the extra displacement. I added two washers underneath the needle clip to raise it and replaced the 118 main jet with a 125 and changed the slow jet from a 35 to a 38. The air screw is turned out 2.5 turns (you have to drill out the EPA plug the get jet access). That combination worked great right out of the box using the stock exhaust.
That’s right, I’m sticking with the stock exhaust for now. I value a very quiet bike, especially when riding off road. Yes, the heavy stock can and header pipe is certainly holding back the power potential, but I’m okay with that for now. I’m told the hot setup that is also reasonably quiet is the FMF power bomb header pipe in combination with the FMF Q4 muffler.
Verdict
I made sure to warm the bike thoroughly in the 10F temperatures before taking the bike for its maiden voyage on Hoit Pond. It felt good, but the instructions were to keep it at below half throttle for 100 miles before going WFO. Using conservative throttle, I immediately felt the increase in torque, but not much in the hp department. That would come later.
I managed 4 sessions (about 40 miles) at no more than half throttle before I slowly began opening it up to break it in the way racers do: hard. It ran great and pulled strong. I was pleased. The additional power meant I could use different techniques for getting the bike turned; namely whacking the throttle mid corner. This would hook the bike up nicely to finish the corners. The old motor couldn’t manage this feat. Cool beans.

Why a KLX?

My previous off-road bike was a 2000 DRz-400e. The DRz was a great bike; it had lots of rear tire spinning, wheelie-inducing power, but was a beast, especially in tighter trails. I now know the benefits of a more docile bike with a lower seat height and civilized manners. The KLX is a great platform that just needs a bit of love.
The bike protection goodies are a must-do if you don’t want to damage vulnerable parts and possibly become stranded in the middle of the woods. And the Barkbusters are critical to protect your hands and levers. The stock handlebar will likely bend if you look at it wrong and the mirrors will break if you scream too loud. So, get those things taken care of ASAP.
As far as the power upgrade goes, I think it is a worthwhile way to spend some money. The stock motor is reliable, but barely adequate when the going gets tough. It’s a great motor for any around town riding and level off roading. If you are a fast off road rider you won’t be looking at a KLX, so no need to compare this bike with a KTM or CRF-X.
No, this is for the person who rides both on and off road and wants a bike that is easy to ride and instills confidence. This bike is still too tall for a lot of riders, but is perfect for most middle to light weight folks of average height.


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Ice Riding Basics: Winter Moto-Fun

photo: Jeff Vader
Leaning like this on ice? Are you kidding me? photo: Jeff Vader

Okay, so I’m an idiot. Not for the multiple reasons that my wife might list, but because after 50-plus years living in the Frozen Northeast, I have just now discovered the awesomeness of riding a dirtbike on ice. Add to that the fact that I have lived on a perfectly good lake for the last 25 years and you can see the reason for my self-criticism.

Am I Crazy?

Okay, I can probably be forgiven for not riding a motorcycle on ice, after all, it does seem a little crazy. And I’ll admit to being super-intimidated the first time I rolled my 2010 Kawasaki KLX250s onto the previously liquid, but now molecularity-hardened surface in front of my house.
But, I’d seen the photos of others leaning at insane-degree angles on frozen bodies of water, so I figured that with my newly-mounted Fredette Canadian ice tires, I just might be okay.

My first time on the ice: scary and exhilarating.
My first time on the ice: scary and exhilarating.

And so I was. As a matter of fact, I was more that okay, I was absolutely beyond okay! After a few tentative laps around the rock-hard lake, I was giggling like a schoolgirl on Nitrous.
Photo: OwensTrackDayPhotos.com
Ice riding will make rain riding even more fun. Photo: OwensTrackDayPhotos.com

Pavement & Dirt Training

So, as much fun as ice riding is, it also offers big benefits to my off-road riding, as well as my street and racetrack pavement riding.
Here are some of the benefits that I found:

  • Becoming more comfortable with managing variable amounts of traction.
  • Learning to look through turns even when traction is breaking loose beneath you.
  • Seeing just how much throttle control affects traction.
  • Understanding the importance of proper body position for off-road riding.
  • Learning to relax even when you’re on the edge of control.
  • Feeling more and more comfortable “backing it in”.

Crash Dance
Crash Dance

Each of these things apply to general motorcycle riding, with some lessons being more applicable to dirt riding and ultra-fast racetrack riding. As a street rider, ice riding widens experiences and expands the margin of error for those times when the unexpected happens and survival means keeping your cool.
Backing it in! photo: Jeff Vader
Backing it in!
photo: Jeff Vader

What I Learned: Basic Technique

Ice riding is a lot like dirt riding especially, flat track, and is all about taking advantage of the grip the tires offer.
Lean the Bike Beneath You: Ride on top of the bike when cornering, sitting on the upper edge of the seat with the bike leaned sharply underneath you. Avoid leaning to the inside like you might do when street riding, track riding, or roadracing.
Arms: Extend your inside arm while keeping your upper elbow up high and bent. This is tiring and hard to remember, but really helps with front tire traction and control. This arm position means you will hold the throttle like a screwdriver when making left-hand turns (most ovals go counterclockwise, like flat track racing).
Sit forward: Sit on the very front of the seat so the bike’s pivot point is centralized.
Feet: Weight on the outside footpeg to maximuze traction. Drag your inside foot on the ice as a third contact point. Be careful not to put too much weight on the foot to avoid hooking it on rough ice and cause it to get trapped under the rear tire. Ouch!
Look: Keep looking through the turns even when it feels like all hell is breaking loose. Like all other motorcycle riding genres, this helps you relax and let the bike sort itself out.
Steer with the Rear: As you get faster, you learn to back the bike into the turns. This gets the bike turned with the rear, rather than “steering” with the front, which can increase the risk of the front sliding out. Steering with the rear can be done by using a bit of rear brake as you enter the turn, or by downshifting and dumping the clutch. If you are going real fast then a hard countersteer will break it loose. Whether you use the brake or not depends on the amount of grip the ice has.

Bike Setup

To ride on ice you need a dirtbike and off-road knobbie tires with screws in the tread blocks. You can do this a few different ways:

  • Buy a few bags of special screws from a motorcycle or ATV retailer and spend time with a cordless drill installing hundreds of those little buggers into your knobs. One popular brand is Kold Kutters.
Fredette Canadian style Ice Tires
  • Buy already prepared ice tires. The ones I have are from Fredette Racing Products. They sell tires with “AMA approved” screws, as well as the more aggressive Canadian type.
  • Buy tires pre-made by local ice riders. Ask around.

The Canadian tires I have mounted carved right down to the hard icy surface on powder snow and are pretty decent even after the ice becomes shredded into fine chips.

Almost crashing on AMA tires in accumulated ice chips.
Almost crashing on AMA tires in accumulated ice chips. photo: Colin Samuel

The AMA tires don’t have nearly as much grip on soft surfaces. I know this from riding a borrowed 125 motocrosser with AMA tires (see photo).
You’ll want to get some tire wraps  to keep the screw’s sharp when rolling the bike around the garage and loading in your truck or trailer… and prevent bloody hands.
My bike is a bone-stock KLX250s, which handles just fine for fun, but needs more power, especially for the larger lake ovals. I’m about to install a 351 big-bore kit to solve this problem.
More serious riders set up motocross bikes with ice fenders and lowered suspension.

Rider Preparation

What to wear? I saw all sorts of riding garb when I recently rode in New Hampshire with a group of friends. It was 10 degrees F, so naturally we were bundled up. Some riders wore dirt riding pants and regular winter jackets, some wore Carhartt jackets and pants or snowmobile gear.
Helmet: I wore both my spare street helmet (full-faced, of course) and dirt bike helmet with goggles. Shield fogging can be an issue, but cracking it open a bit solved the problem…mostly. Snowmobile shields are another option. A skull cap under the helmet helps keep the head warm.

photo: Jeff Vader
photo: Jeff Vader

Boots: Some people wear heavy winter boots and some wear off-road boots (including me). One thing to consider is that you need boots with soles that are durable enough to slide across rough ice all day long. Wear warm socks.
Gloves: My hands are susceptible to the cold. On days that are a bit warmer, I rode with insulated mechanics gloves. However, on the 10-degree days, I wore my insulated street gloves with glove liners. Note that wearing gloves that are too thick can lead to arm pump.
Layers: Wear layers! You will get warm enough to sweat and will want to shed a layer or two as the day goes on. I wear three or four layers of performance nylon shirts under a street riding jacket.
Pants: I wear an old pair of MotoPort overpants over jeans with motocross knee armor underneath.
Armor: Speaking of armor, I highly recommend you get armored-up. That ice is hard! In addition to knee armor, I have elbow guards, hip pads and my Impact Armor back and chest protector that I use for roadracing and track days.

Tracks

So, where does an ice rider ride? In New England, there are people who make the effort to drive their plow trucks to the lakes to clear ovals and road courses of various distances. And I’m sure there are plenty of places in other parts of the Northern U.S. with dedicated riders willing to clear lakes and ponds for others to ride.

Get online to find out where ice riding is available in your area. Please be considerate of those who do this fine work. Ask if it’s okay to ride before showing up and be sure to clean up after yourself.

Ice Racing

If you’re the competitive type, you can always step up your game and go racing. I’m not a resource for ice racing, so do a Google search and ask around at dealerships and on Facebook.
You experienced ice riders, please share any more tips below.
Good luck and Back it in!


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Top 16 Off-Road Riding Tips

Fun and challenging!
Gettin’ My Mud On!

I recently returned from an epic dirt riding trip. But, instead of boring you with details about where I went and what I ate, I’m going to share some tips about how I survived the slimy, rocky, ascents and descents of the Rock House section of the Hatfield McCoy trail system in West Virginia.
smallrockhouse copy
Ken, Tony and the guys at Hatfield McCoy
Ken, Tony and the guys at Hatfield McCoy

It all started when a group of us from Tony’s Track Days arrived at the small town of Gilbert, WV to ride up and down some of the slimiest and rockiest terrain I’ve encountered.

Check out the video:

You’ll hear me talking while I slip, slide and bounce along the trails, because I am using Interphone brand Bluetooth communicators with my friend, Tony. I can’t recommend using communicators enough…it makes off road riding even more enjoyable and allows the person in the lead to warn about particularly gnarly hazards. I’m on a Kawasaki KLX250s.


Some hills are just too tough.
Some hills are just too tough.

Slippery, Slimy Mud on hard packed rock.
Slippery, Slimy Mud on hard packed rock.

Why Do That?

To understand some reasons why I ride off-road (and why you should, too), you may want to read the blog article “10 Reasons Why Street Riders Should Ride in the Dirt” . Sure, riding off-road makes anyone a better street rider, but I also do it because it is challenging and fun, fun, fun.
I talk about “riding in the zone” as it pertains to street riding and even track riding, but off-road riding brings the zone experience to a whole new level of alertness.  Any significant lapse in focus could mean careening down a steep slope with the only thing stopping me from a long descent are stands of trees.

Fun and challenging!
Fun and challenging!

Tips for Surviving Mud, Rocks, Hills and Other Off-road Encounters

I’m no off-road riding expert. But, I know enough to share some tips that can help you survive your next off-road riding experience. With no further ado, here they are:

  1. 1. Manage Your Speed: Nothing increases risk more than a too fast speed for your ability and/or the conditions. Keeping your throttle hand in check is fairly easy to do, but managing speed on a steep, muddy downhill trail is tough. The trick is to see the problem well before you get to it and slow down to a crawl so you aren’t trying to scrub off speed where gravity and almost zero traction create the equivalent of a slip and slide.
  2. 2. Keep Your Eyes Up: We look down when we are scared or tired. The problem is that as soon as you look down, you’re unable to deal with the terrain that is suddenly under your front wheel. This problem compounds until you are so far behind what’s going on underneath you that you get more scared, look down more and eventually crash. This pertains to most athletic activities, including street riding.
  3. 3. Use Momentum: When traction is limited, you must rely more on momentum. This means keeping your eyes up to see what’s coming and getting on the gas before you are on a surface that has little grip.
  4. 4. Believe You Can Do it: If you hesitate, you will likely not make it up that steep incline. So, go for it! That said, avoid terrain that is over your head.
  5. 5. Stand Up, Sit Down: It’s nearly impossible to ride an off-road bike well if you aren’t good at riding while standing. It’s also important to know when it’s best to stand and when to sit. In general, stand for any significant bumps so your legs absorb the impacts and sit for corners, especially corners with berms so you can load the rear tire for the drive out.
  6. 6. Find the Center: Whether sitting or standing, you must find the spot where your body’s mass is located for optimum maneuverability and fluid control. This means sitting forward on the seat and standing so your belly is over the steering stem.
  7. 7. Bent Arms: The bike is going to move up, down, left and right at great frequency. Yet, you must hold onto the handlebars and operate the controls while the bike is jerking around. Bent arms allow the bike to move as necessary and for your hands to still control the throttle and brake with precision.
  8. 8. Counter-lean: This is something street riders have a hard time with when they first start dirt-riding. If you lean with the bike (or low and inside) then the bike will slip out from under you. The bike must lean to turn, but if you stay on top of the bike, your weight keeps the load pressing vertically to allow the tires to grip the terrain.
  9. 9. Forget the Clutch: Forget using the clutch for upshifts. There is usually no time to go for the clutch lever when you’re accelerating out of one rocky, muddy mess into another one.
  10. 10. Use the Clutch: On the other hand, you want to use the clutch to control drive as much as possible. By slipping the clutch you can stay in a taller gear to avoid excessive shifting and control your speed with greater precision.
  11. 11. Use the Rear Brake: On muddy terrain, you’ll rely heavily on the rear brake. Skidding the rear tire is not usually a big deal, but skidding the front will quickly toss you on your head.
  12. 12. Use the Front Brake: Yeah, I know what I just said, but when there is traction, you can (and should) use both the front and rear brakes when descending hills. This may sound tricky, and it is. But, sometimes you need all the slowing power available, just learn to apply the front brake carefully.
  13. 13. Learn to Wheelie and Jump: Not so you can be a squid, but so you can get over fallen trees, big rocks and to jump whoops like Pastrana. If you can’t wheelie, then at least learn to loft or bunny-hop over obstacles.
  14. 14. Steer with the Rear: When you don’t have a lot of grip, trying to steer with the front tire is a bad idea. Instead, get the bike turned in the general direction, but get on the gas to prevent a front tire washout.
  15. 15. Make sure Your Bike is Ready: It sucks to be stranded in the woods.
  16. 16. Take Breaks: Off-road riding uses a lot of physical and mental energy. If you get tired, you will start looking down and your timing will become imprecise. Before you know it, you’re on the ground.

Okay. It’s your turn. Please use the comments area below to share your favorite tips for riding rugged and muddy off-road terrain.


 

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10 Reasons Why Street Riders Should Ride in the Dirt

A fun way to become a better rider.
A fun way to become a better rider.

You’ve probably heard people say that dirt riding can help improve a road rider’s skill, but can it really make you a safer and more competent street rider? The answer is yes.

1. Improved Traction Sense

One thing you'll learn is traction management.
One thing you’ll learn is traction management.

Managing traction is one of the highest priorities for any motorcycle rider, whether on street or off-road. Dirt riding provides ample opportunities to learn about traction management as the tires hunt for grip on unpredictable surfaces.
Having your motorcycle move around beneath you is disconcerting for street riders who are new to this sensation, but it helps you learn about traction management, including which inputs help and which hurt traction.
And this experience translates to street riding. Imagine yourself suddenly feeling your tires sliding as you roll over a wet surface or a bit of sand in a corner. Imagine your bike feeling like it is falling out from underneath you. Most street riders will panic, flinch and tense on the handlebars. This often makes matters worse.
With dirt riding experience, you are more likely to recover from a relatively minor slip instead of panicking and gripping the bars in fear. Previous experience can allow you to stay composed and relaxed so your inputs remain fluid, allowing the tires a chance to regain grip.

2. Clutch and Throttle Control

You're going to get dirty.
You’re going to get dirty.

Throttle, clutch and brake control become very important when your tires are skipping over tree roots and wet rocks or through deep sand and gravel. But, you may not realize just how important fine clutch and throttle control affects a street rider’s confidence.
By perfectly timing clutch release and throttle application, you manage lean angle, traction and direction control. This is especially noticeable when downshifting as you enter a slow turn. If you downshift as you begin to tip into a turn, you must feed the clutch out smoothly to avoid abrupt driveline lash that can disrupt traction and direction control.

3. Slow Speed Skills

Off-road riding typically includes a lot of slow speed maneuvering, which means that your sense of balance at slow speeds will increase greatly. Maneuvering slowly over rough or loose terrain requires steady, smooth power delivery. This often means slipping the clutch to control the power and prevent instability and unwanted direction changes. Yet another reason why masterful use of the clutch is so important for precise control of forward drive, both on and off road.

You learn slow speed maneuvers and balance.
You learn slow speed maneuvers and balance.

4. Balance and Body Position

Because a lot of off-road riding is done at slow speeds over uneven surfaces, maintaining balance is a constant issue. The technique for maneuvering any motorcycle at slow speeds is to counterweight so that the motorcycle leans independently of your upper body. Counterweighting keeps the center of gravity over the tire contact area to maintain grip when traction is low.
Riding a lightweight dirt bike means that much more of the steering is done with the footpegs and body. By positioning your body forward, rearward and side to side, you influence direction control.
You’ll need to learn to ride while standing on the footpegs to allow your legs to act as shock absorbers. This can be tiring at first, until you learn the proper “neutral” position that keeps your bodyweight over the balance point of the bike, usually over the front of the fuel tank, knees slightly bent and elbows out.
On the street, you use many of these techniques as you cross speed bumps, railroad tracks or when ascending or descending steep hills at slow speeds.

5. Throttle and Brake Steering

Another important thing to learn when dirt riding is how to use the throttle and rear brake to change direction by breaking the rear tire loose under acceleration or when braking. It’s scary at first, but once you learn these techniques, your confidence will grow quickly.
On the street, you will have a better sense of how the throttle can help “finish” a turn or how deceleration and brake force can alter your cornering line. Motorcycle dynamics are similar enough between lightweight, off-road bikes and heavy street bikes for this skill to transfer.

6. Improved Brake Control

The front brake offers the most braking power whether riding on or off road, however the rear brake becomes more important when riding in the dirt. When traction is low, the amount of brake force is minimized and load transfer that pitches the bike forward is reduced, which means that the rear of the bike remains more planted for more effective rear brake power.
Another reason to favor the rear brake is to avoid a front tire skid, which must be avoided if you want to remain on two wheels. Loose surfaces are unpredictable, so it’s best to apply more rear brake pressure and modulate the front brake to avoid a skid.
On the street, you learn that there are times when you favor the rear brake a bit more. Riding with a passenger and descending a gravel road are two instances that come to mind.

7. Improved Visual Skills

Off-road riding requires keen vision. One of the keys to a successful off-road outing is the ability to identify the best line through a rocky or sandy trail or fire road so that you find the best available traction. A common problem that new riders have is their inability to keep their eyes well ahead, scanning for the ideal line.
This translates directly to street riding. Nervous riders look down, which leads to higher perceived speeds, and more panic as hazards seem to appear “out of nowhere”. Eyes Up!

Fitness is a must.
Fitness is a must.

8. Better Fitness

Riding on the street can be tiring and can make you sore. But, that doesn’t mean you’re getting into shape. If you want to increase muscle tone and strength, get yourself off-road. The act of balancing a motorcycle over rough terrain is one of the best workouts you’ll experience. Bring a hydration system…you’ll need it.

9. Learn to Fall Down

You won’t likely become a texting teenager’s hood ornament when riding off-road, but there is still significant risk.
Even though crashes are usually less serious, the frequency of tip overs tends to be higher when off-road riding. Typical injuries usually consist of bumps, bruises and perhaps a torn ligament or broken bone if you’re unlucky. Because of these challenges, you should not ride alone without the help of someone to come to the rescue if necessary.
Learning to fall is not usually something I emphasize. Instead, I prefer to teach people how NOT to fall. But, there is something beneficial about being familiar with hitting the deck that can potentially help you if you were to crash on the street, such as trying to relax (yeah, right) or keeping arms tucked in if you tumble. Think of sports players who learn to fall without injury; that’s the theory.

10. Gain a New Respect for Riding Gear

Whether riding on the street or off-road, it’s important to reduce the likelihood of injury and this means wearing protection. No sane person I know would hit the trails without full protection. I’ve seen too many riders fall down and get a rock in the ribs or a stick in the chest to not wear full gear. Not to mention bruised ankles and nasty rash. And that is falling at under 20 mph. You know what happens if you were to hit pavement at 40 mph with inadequate clothing…not pretty. ATGATT, people.

There's nothing like being in nature while learning to be a better rider at the same time.
There’s nothing like being in nature while learning to be a better rider at the same time.

Get Dirty, Skillfully

With good skills, falling can be minimized. But for many, tipovers are a reality when riding off-road, which means you must manage the risks. Don’t take your safety for granted. Learn to ride well! Prepare your mind with an attitude toward reducing risk and protect your body with proper riding gear.
There is a lot more to learn about off road riding. Understand that just because you can ride a street bike does not mean that you can swing a leg over a dual-purpose bike and safely hit the trails. But, it is well worth the effort.
What are your experiences with how off-road riding helps your street riding?


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Riding the Zero Electric Motorcycle

Ground control to Major Tom.
Ground control to Major Tom.

I’ve ridden all sorts of motorcycles, from Harleys to sidecar rigs, to all manner of sport and touring machines. But up until a couple of weeks ago, I had never had the chance to ride an electric motorcycle.
Thanks to Eugene Morin of Seems Electric Vehicles, I was able to cross that off my bucket list. The bike Tony (Tony’s Track Days) and I rode was the Zero “FX” , which is the dual-sport model. This particular motorcycle is outfitted with police lights and siren for the Block Island, Rhode Island Police Department. Eugene has outfitted machines for the Newport, RI men and women in blue, as well.

How Long Will it Go?

The number one question I get when I tell people that I rode an electric bike is how long will it run on a charge? According to Zero’s specifications for the FX, it can go for up to 35 miles with a single battery configuration, or 70 miles on a dual-battery setup. This is for what they call “city” riding. 70 mph highway riding causes the battery life to plummet to only 15 miles with the single battery and 30 miles with the dual battery.
But, this dual-sport model is perfectly suited for the job it is intended for: curb jumping, rock hopping and general shenanigans, and not for droning on a highway.

Eugene brought the magic machine from Rhodie.
Eugene brought the magic machine from Rhodie.

What About the Power?

The Zero FX puts out 70 foot-pounds of torque from the moment you twist the throttle. The unit we rode had just a single battery, but a second battery is available that provides more horsepower (but the same torque). With 70 foot pounds of torque from the bottom, the bike jumps to life, reaching 60 mph in 4 seconds! Yahoo!
However, once underway you quickly find the top end of its 27hp (44hp with two batteries). Max hp is reached at just 3,750 rpm. Flat out, baby.
Tony and I took the little FX in some dirty parts of Thompson Speedway’s infield, dodging construction equipment and roosting the rear tire to see what the potential is for trail riding. In four words, “it is a blast”. This is more of what the FX is made for.
There is no gearshift lever or clutch to modulate, just twist the throttle on and off to regulate speed and power. With fully- adjustable suspension, the bike will handle most anything you toss in front of it.
On the racetrack, it was lively, but ultimately, it fell flat once you got the motor wound up. Max speed is 80 mph, but I wasn’t comfortable going much over 60 on the dual-sport tires. The bike only weights 240 pounds, so it was light and flickable. Perfect for off-road or city riding, but out of its element on a pavement racetrack (or extended highway riding).

The dash was spartan, but has plenty of ways to customize power delivery.
The dash is spartan, but had plenty of ways to customize power delivery.

We didn’t mess too much with the power modes, but there are some. One mode delivers a mellow power delivery, while the other snaps to attention with a bit more authority. There is much more to learn about all the settings. I can see the potential for some riders to just hit the “easy” button and ride happily for weeks.

What’s It Like To Ride?

Riding the Zero FX was a pleasant surprise. I expected scooter-like sensations. What I got was the power and responsiveness of a real motorcycle. It’s combination of liter-bike torque with 250 Ninja horsepower is something I’d have to get used to. But, that torque is enough to satisfy me and make me want to ride the Zero more and more.
The other observation that stands out when riding the Zero is that something visceral is missing…sound. What you hear when the bike is stationary is complete silence. Tony had to ask whether the bike was “running” or not. It was. There is an ignition key and some safety switches to prevent accidental launching, which is a good thing, because it is impossible at a quick glance to know whether the thing is loaded or not. Until you get used to the immediate torque and the safety systems, it’s probably best not to point it at any solid objects before you’re ready to roll.

Can I Live With One?

Tony
Tony

Electric bikes are definitely something I am interested in. I can imagine stealthily working my way through the woods or traffic with just the whistle of the wind, the whine of the tires and the whirring of the Z-Force® 75-5 passively air-cooled, high efficiency, radial flux permanent magnet, brushless motor to remind me that I’m on a motorcycle.
The range may be a problem, but not if you use it for what it’s designed for. A bike like this would be a great trail bike and commuter. I would keep my Triumph Sprint for long-haul duty and my Street Triple for the track.
The street versions offer more power and range and a more streetbike-like experience, or so I’m told. (Try 106 foot pounds of torque for the Zero SR!) Thankfully, Eugene promises to bring a handful of Zero Electric Motorcycles to a few Tony’s Track Days events for us to try (yes, customers can ride them, too). Join the TTD mailing list to stay informed.
For you loud pipes folks, I never believed that loud pipes save lives, so I am not concerned about any safety deficit. And even though I love the sufficiently muffled, but booming sound of a V-Twin, or the music of a spinning triple or in-line four in my ears, I can equally appreciate the silence of an electric motor. My neighbors will, too.
Imagine eliminating all the problems off-road and paved racetrack owners have now with neighbors who complain about loud motorcycles. Silence is golden, people.

Cost

Unfortunately, prices are still a bit high for my personal bank account to endure.  The FX retails for $9,500.00 with a single battery or $12,000.00 for the two-battery setup. What you get is a unique, quality-built machine that happens to get the equivalent of 470 mpg (city).
Prices should continue to fall, so I suspect we will be seeing more and more electric bikes in the woods, on the street, and on the track in the near future. One may even appear in my garage before the next decade rolls around. But for now, I’ll have to stick to fossil fuel-consuming road burners.

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