Living the Life of a Moto-Journalist

MotorcycleMagazine-coverEarly last February, I got a text from my newest best friend Steve Lita, editor of Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture asking me if I was available in March to attend a new bike launch. Um, sure. Tell me more.
It turns out that Steve and all of his go-to editors were previously engaged and he needed someone who can both ride and write. I can do that. A few more texts later, I learned that the press launch was for the 2015 BMW S1000RR uber-sportbike and was being held at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) world-class racetrack in Austin, Texas! Be still, my heart!
Since I write the monthly Street Savvy column for Motorcyclist Magazine, I wasn’t sure that Editor-in-Chief, Marc Cook would give his blessings. It took a tense 5 minutes for Marc to return my text giving me the okay! It looked like I was going to finally live my dream of being a motorcycle journalist who gets to ride other peoples’ bikes in cool parts of the world…and get paid to do it!

Living the Life

I’ve been writing safety/skills articles for 15 years for Motorcycle Consumer News as a freelancer, but this job never included riding new bikes in cool places. Like many of you, I always wondered what it was like to live the life of a jet-set moto-journalist. I was about to find out.

Pre-Event Nerves

Even though I have total confidence in my ability to ride, there was a part of me that couldn’t help thinking how much it would suck to either be the slowest guy on the track and/or crash a $20,000 motorcycle in front of the most well-known journalists in the industry.
As a track day instructor, I am often asked to give the newest model a few laps to see what I think, so I have a lot of experience riding other peoples’ bikes. I adapt quickly to new machines and have never had an issue with control. Except one time. I was riding Twisted Throttle’s brand new 2010 S1000 when I tucked the front tire on a cold and slightly damp turn 11 at Loudon. It took me months to shake off that embarrassment and I wasn’t about to let it happen again.
AGVIn the coming weeks, I read up on the S1000 and watched on-bike videos of COTA and waited for brand new leathers, boots and gloves from Alpinestars and an AGV Corsa helmet to arrive. Understandably, gear manufacturers are eager to have their riding gear on the cover and in the inside pages of national magazines whenever possible. Dainese sent me boots and gloves for the event, but didn’t have leathers available, so we went with the full A-Stars setup. Product reviews of the riding gear will appear with the S1000RR review.

The Junket

Apparently, not all press junkets are created equal with some little more than a basic track day or a street ride that includes lunch. The BMW S1000RR junket was going to eclipse these austere events in a big way. Arrangements were made for flight, hotel, meals, and airport drop off and pick up. No, I did not get first-class seats, but I did stay in the posh 4-Seasons hotel in Austin and ate very well.
COTA-ScheduleArriving in Austin, I was greeted by Matthew, my limo driver who handled my luggage. Thankfully, my Ogio gear bag appeared on the conveyor in no time and Matthew drove me to the hotel while I sat dutifully in the back seat where all self-important people sit. A porter carried my bags through the lobby and up to my room. He refused my tip, saying that BMW was taking care of everything. OK, I’m starting to get it.
Often, the marketing people from the bike manufacturer give out nice SWAG bags…not this time, but I did enjoy the gift basket. Yum…beef jerky. Seriously, not having sweet SWAG was fine with me. I was more than happy just to be treated to the venue and first-class treatment. Thanks, BMW!
I wandered around the hotel and then got ready for the welcome cocktail party. I nervously descended the stairs to find about 30 people sitting and standing around an outdoor patio open bar, chatting about this and that. Since many of these men and women are regulars on the bike launch circuit, they know each other well enough to ask about their spouses and kids and get caught up on recently discussed professional matters. At first I feared being the proverbial wallflower, not having much previous contact with these folks. But, a quick glance told me I would fit in just fine, being acquainted with maybe 6 or so others in attendance.

COTA-cocktail
Kevin Wing Photo

An hour or so later, we were escorted to another room where we sat for a presentation highlighting the notable new features for the 2015 RR. Some introductions were made, including the attendance of special guests; Keith and Dylan Code (California Superbike School), Roland Sands (ex-250GP star and custom bike builder), Jesse James (West Coast Choppers), and singer Lyle Lovett who would join us the next day.  Nate Kern, BMW’s S1000RR ambassador-extraordinaire, gave some insight into the significance of certain features that he wanted to make sure we paid attention to.
Dinner was then served in a private dining room. Ari Henning (Motorcyclist) and I had the absolutely delicious Salmon. Unfortunately, Ari had a rough night as his system struggled with the fish.
COTA-present-1
Kevin Wing Photo

After the presentation, the bar was re-opened, but I know better than to consume much alcohol before riding on the track so I went off to bed. I, thankfully, slept remarkably well.

Launch Day

We were instructed to be in the breakfast room early to grab some chow before getting on the bus to the racetrack. The bus driver was stuck in traffic, so we got a late start. After a 30 minute drive we were deposited in the paddock where our gear was moved to a changing area in the garages. The journalists were escorted to a classroom for the marketing/press briefings on the new line of BMW riding gear and another presentation on factory accessories available for the S1000. A fully-kitted RR was on display with over $11,000 worth of goodies.

COTA-present-2
Kevin Wing Photo

We were divided into two groups. Looking around, I could see that I was put in the “slow” group. That was fine with me…and understandable. As a first-time freelancer I’m an unknown quantity to BMW and it meant that I would be one of the faster riders on the track. Besides, it ended up that the guys in the other group were ripping faster than I was willing to go.

Suiting Up

LyleAfter the presentations, we got suited up. This is when things got a bit bizarre. Here I am wrestling to put on a set of brand-spanking new Alpinestars leathers when I glance over to see Lyle Lovett wriggling into his custom “Lone star of Texas” Vanson leathers. “Hey, I know you.” Lyle is world famous and one of my favorite all-time musicians, but today we were just two guys getting ready to ride.
Go-Pro was there loaning out cameras and attaching mounts to the bikes. There was also a drone hovering around with a camera as the first group set out for a session of follow-the-leader behind Nate Kern. All but two journalists had ridden COTA before, so we were mostly in the same boat.

COTA and the S1000RR

This is getting mighty long (for the Internet), so I am splitting this into two parts. Read Part 2 where I will reveal my thoughts on COTA and riding the 199hp 2015 S1000RR.

Final Thoughts

In the end, this was a fairy tale experience. But like most things, there are ups and downs. Listening to the seasoned journos talk about their struggles with travel and time spent away from home, I realized that apparently it’s not all fun and games.
Watch this video interview of my new acquaintance, Jeff Buchanan, talking about what it’s like to ride for a living.

After all was said and done, I had a great time meeting new industry peeps, getting reacquainted with not so new acquaintances and living the life of a real moto-journalist for a couple of days. I hope people enjoy the article (look for it in a mid-summer issue of Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture). I also hope more offers to test bikes happen in the near future. It sure was fun. I’ll be awaiting your next text, Steve.


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How to Crash

J9_Crash
Faceplant owenstrackdayphotos.com

I sometimes get questions from students, readers and other fellow riders asking whether there are ways to minimize injury during a crash. I’ll give you the few tips I know, but realistically you don’t have too many options once you and your motorcycle part ways. In most cases you will not have any control of the situation to do much more than hang on for the ride.
Josh-crash-01
Sky, Ground, Sky, Ground photo: Josh B.

What Are The Options?

It’s not all bad news. Some “easy” crashes (like a low side on smooth pavement with plenty of runoff area) may allow you to exercise a few options.

  • Try to relax to make your limbs less rigid to minimize the risk of torn ligaments and broken bones (think cooked spaghetti).
  • If you’re sliding, extend your arms and legs to help slow yourself down and to spread the load so you don’t burn through your riding gear.
  • If you start to roll and tumble, tuck your limbs against your body…kinda like when you rolled down a hill as a kid.
  • Try not to extend your arms to break the fall. It’s human nature to extend your arms as you are falling, but this can lead to a broken wrist or collarbone. Even if you don’t extend your arms like Superman, a good whack on the shoulder can still snap a clavicle in two.
  • Let go of the bike! Hanging onto the handlebars will only make things worse. You want to be as far away from the bike as possible when it starts tumbling.
  • Don’t stand up right away. More times than not, you are still sliding even though you think you’ve stopped. Next thing you know you are seeing sky, ground, sky ground.
  • Remain flat on the ground. It’s better to have another bike behind run you over than hit you as you sit or stand up. If you crash on the street and get run over by a car, it doesn’t really matter.
  • Assess the situation and crawl to safety. You’re pumped with adrenaline and may not make good decisions, so look first and then move.

Remember, these are “shot in the dark” suggestions that may help, but may not.

Marc Marquez takes a big hit. We would all wish for his airbag race suit if we were to crash.
Marc Marquez takes a big hit. We would all wish for his airbag race suit if we were to crash.

To The Moon, Alice!

Adding throttle and increased lean angle at the same time is a bad idea.
A highside in progress.

If you’re particularly unlucky you’ll get to experience a highside. A highside is when your bike’s rear tire loses traction (usually while you are exiting a corner on the gas) and the rear of the bike swings sideways. Just then, the rear tire regains traction and immediately tries to realign with the front wheel. This turns your bike into a trebouche and you are the catapult’s fodder.
Your landing will be hard and what happens after that is anyone’s guess. I just hope you’re wearing good armor (and back protector) and have decent health insurance.

Crash Prevention

Instead of trying to control something that is not controllable, you’re much better off focusing on preventing the mishap from happening in the first place. Don’t drink and ride, don’t ride over your head, don’t ride faster than the environment can support, and become the smartest and most talented rider possible. Now, those are areas where you have some control.

Prepare For the Worst

Most crashes are preventable, but some aren’t, which is why it’s smart to be as protected as possible to minimize the damage. That means wearing a full-coverage helmet, sturdy jacket and pants with armor, gauntlet gloves, and boots that provide extra impact protection for your heel and ankles. Don’t leave home without it!

The Racetrack is Safer

Hopefully, any crashes you experience are on a racetrack where you aren’t likely to hit anything lethal (like unprotected guardrails and oncoming vehicles). If you end up hurdling over a car hood, I hope your affairs are in order because that rarely turns out well.
Have you crashed? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.
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Video: Ken Narrates a Track Day Session

Enjoy this video of Ken narrating a few laps of the Thompson Speedway, CT (Clockwise, short course) road course using a Sena GoPro Audio Back.

Here is another from Thompson Motor Speedway in Thompson, CT

Track day riders who sign up for Personal Instruction will receive real-time narration and coaching.
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The Real Value of Knee Dragging

Dragging knee is about much more than just looking good for the camera.
Dragging knee is about much more than just looking good for the camera. www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

The RITZ article on knee dragging is one of the most viewed posts on the website. I can understand why. Dragging a knee is a measure of sport riding accomplishment for many. Nothing says “sport bike hero” better than fully worn tires and scuffed knee pucks. Am I right?

Confidence

Those of us who drag knee certainly enjoy the sensation, but the real benefit comes from the added confidence it provides. Yes…confidence.
Touching your knee to the pavement is a definitive measure of your exact lean angle. Without this measure, you must rely on your eyes and inner gyro-system to help judge whether your lean angle is nearing your personal limit or the limits of your machine.
Knee dragging provides a way to tell you whether you are leaned a little or a lot. This information helps you determine whether you are pushing hard and nearing the limits, or riding at a conservative pace.
To most street riders, this may not seem all that important. But, it starts to make sense once you begin cornering very fast at lean angles that should only be attempted on a closed course. That’s when you really start to rely on the information that knee dragging provides.

Not going quite fast enough to touch down.
Not going quite fast enough to touch down. www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

Consistency

To make the most out of what knee dragging can offer, you must develop a body position that is consistent lap after lap. Otherwise, you’re changing the metric with which lean angle is measured. Riders who have not yet solidified their body position may be inconsistent in how their body is positioned so that their knee may touch the pavement erratically. These variations make the knee dragging an inaccurate measuring tool that can give the rider false confidence that he or she can push harder.
An expert track rider pays attention to exactly when and where his or her knee touches down, lap after lap. They know when to expect their knee to touch and for how long it will skim the surface. Their body position is well-established so they know that the measuring tool is calibrated and will not change. With this awareness, they have a baseline for experimenting and refining technique and to determine how hard they are pushing.


Measure What?

The obvious thing measured by knee dragging is lean angle. But, what else is measured with the knee?

  • Your general pace: the faster you corner, the more you’ll touch down
  • Extreme lean angles are measured by how much your leg is forced to fold underneath the fairing
  • Pavement texture and traction potential
  • Line precision. Your knee should be placed in the same spot lap after lap
  • How quickly you are turning
  • How long you are at maximum lean
  • How soon you are picking the bike up
  • Overall level of confidence and comfort

Read More on Knee Dragging Here

The knee tells whether I can lean more to corner faster.
My knee tells whether I dare to lean more.

Don’t Rush It

Too many riders make dragging a knee a priority at the expense of body dynamics and cornering control. The result is usually not good.
Remember that knee dragging is the product of excellent cornering skills, effective body positioning and yes, corner speed. Work on that and it’ll happen, eventually. Sign up for on-track Personal Training to help get your skills in shape.
Sometimes, you have the skills and the body position, so all that is missing is speed. But, that is the topic for another article.
Share your thoughts on knee dragging in the comments section.


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Best Track Day Bikes

Here and SV650 parks next to a ZX6R and a few motards (dirt bikes with street-based tires).
Here an SV650 parks next to a ZX6R and a few motards (dirt bikes with street-based tires).

I often get asked from riders new to track days, what is the best motorcycle for riding on the track? In an effort to answer this FAQ, I decided to list some criteria for what I look for in a great track day bike. I’ll also list a few bikes I think are worth considering.
Ride what you own!
Ride what you own!

Almost Any Bike Will Do

Some people think that they need a dedicated track bike to do a track day. But, this simply isn’t true as long as you have a motorcycle that has a reasonable amount of cornering clearance. This includes most standard, sport, sport touring, adventure, and even touring machines. Cruiser motorcycles are probably the only machines that are not really appropriate for fast cornering and spirited riding.
What this means is that many riders don’t need to buy a new bike to enjoy the benefits of riding on a racetrack. Many track day organizations require minimal preparation, so even that should not deter you from considering signing up for a track day.
FZ-1s, VFRs, Ducati Monsters, ZRXs, all fit nicely at a track day. Even FJRs and Gold Wings show up from time to time.

Non-Sportbike Track Days

I helped start the non-sportbike track day trend in New England with Tony’s Track Days. These days are similar to regular sportbike days, but are geared more toward cruisers, ADV bikes and tourers. Read all about these events here.

Dedicated Track Bikes

That said, there are a lot of good reasons for buying a dedicated track bike. One reason is that you can set it up for track riding by stripping unnecessary lights and street paraphernalia and mounting inexpensive and durable race bodywork. You can also add performance bits that are intended for racetrack use only, such as race tires, low clip-on handlebars and rigid rearset footpegs.
Another reason is that you will feel free to push the limits, because you will be less concerned about potentially scratching your only motorcycle in a fall. See #5 below.

Criteria

Older 600s are cheap and reliable.
Older 600s are cheap and reliable.

What makes a good track day bike? From my perspective, the best track day bikes include the following criteria:

  1. Reliable- A machine that you can always count on to start and run reliably all day long, even at redline. This is why I don’t recommend dirt-bike based motards.
  2. Inexpensive- You don’t need a $10,000 machine to have a great time at a track day. As a matter of fact, if you spend all your money on your bike, then you will not have as much money available for track day registration fees and top-notch riding gear. Another criteria that makes track riding a whole lot less expensive is if you have a bike that is easy on tires. Also, forgo unnecessary bling and wait until you have at least a few track days under your belt before you make any performance modifications. Suspension and brake mods are acceptable at any time, though.
  3. 2003: Ken returned to racing once again on an MZ Scorpion 660cc single.
    Ken battles for the lead on a $2500.00, 48hp MZ Scorpion 660cc single among a gaggle of EX500 ninjas. Cheap and fun!

    Not very powerful- A moderately powerful bike is one of the most important criteria for novice and intermediate track day riders. Even advanced riders will benefit from a low horsepower machine. I raced a 48hp MZ Scorpion as an expert and had a blast. And it cost me $2500.00. Just sayin’. See the article on the detriment of too much  horsepower. See more below.
  4. Not precious- Many new track day riders suffer undue stress over the anxiety of crashing their beautiful, high-dollar, chrome and carbon laden street bike. Thankfully, it’s easy not to crash at a track day if you ride within your ability. So, if all you have is your pride and joy, go ahead and bring it to the track, but at some point when you start pushing harder, you may want a dedicated track bike that has less sentimental value.

Some Bikes to Consider

  1. This 500 Ninja was a blast to ride on the track.
    This 500 Ninja was a blast to ride on the track.

    Suzuki SV650– Inexpensive with plenty of V-twin power. Put some money into the front suspension and you’re ready to roll. A lot of fast racers choose the SV as a fun and competitive lightweight racing platform.
  2. Kawasaki EX500 Ninja– The venerable 500 Ninja has been a mainstay of lightweight roadracers in the Northeast for years. Really, really cheap. Just be sure you get a model with the 17′ wheels.
  3. Kawasaki EX650 Ninja– Similar to the SV650, but with a parallel twin motor.
  4. CBR600RR, ZX6R, R6, GSXR600, 675 Daytona, 675 Street Triple, and other 600-class bikes– The 600 class of bikes are the most prevalent bikes at a track day. They offer a good balance of power with very good suspension and brakes out of the box. These bikes aren’t the cheapest thing to run. They can eat up tires and crashing them can get expensive. Older CBRs, R6s, GSXRs and ZX6s can be had cheaply.  Note, that if you want a track-only bike with race bodywork, premium suspension and bike protection, it’s often cheaper to find a bike that is already prepared and outfitted for track use than to take a street bike and converting it to a track-only machine. Just be aware of their condition.
  5. 250/300 Ninja– These bikes are a hoot, are cheap and plentiful. However, you may outgrow the sub-20 hp and limited tire selection after a season…or you’ll go all in and race in the growing 300 class.

Liter SuperBikes: Not The Best Choice for Novices

 Jeannine waiting to go out onto the track, NHMS.
An older ZX6R and an FZ1.

In many ways it’s great when a novice track day rider shows up with a brand new $20,000 rocket. We all love seeing riders who understand that these bikes are designed to be ridden on a closed course and often cause trouble when ridden on the street where their character begs to be ridden hard.
But, these bikes can also be a hindrance to stress free learning. Many new track day riders are better off with a simple, low powered machine that keeps them running a bit slower until they can get a handle on racetrack riding. One reason my friend Josh was having trouble at his first several track days is because he was driven to ride his GSXR1000 faster than he should have. Read about Josh’s mishap.
Of course, it doesn’t take a hundred-fifty horses to get into trouble. A well setup 70 hp bike like an SV650 can corner just as fast as a literbike, but the nature of the Gixxer liter bike often begs riders to unleash all the available horses. However, if what you have is a liter bike, don’t shy away from a track day. Just be extra aware of the temptation you can feel when piloting a hyper-superbike and keep the throttle in check.

Track Day Preparation

Read all about my own Triumph Street Triple R 675 track day bike and how I prepared it for the track.
Add your comments, below.


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Knee dragging 101: Fundamentals You Need to Know

Me and my ZX6 Turn 11 NHMS.
Turn 11 NHMS
owenstrackdayphotos.com

Most people have seen video or photos of motorcycle racers (or not very smart street riders) dragging their knee while leaned fully in the middle of a corner. Every motorcycle event photographer knows that the money shot that every track day rider covets is the one showing the rider’s knee puck solidly in contact with the pavement. It’s the shot that confirms a rider’s sport riding prowess and impresses even the most uninformed co-worker or family member. Showing this gem of a photo to non-riders usually congers a reaction that usually sounds like: “OMG, are you hitting your KNEE?”, “Doesn’t that hurt?”, and “You’re crazy”.
Even fellow motorcycle riders who are not attuned to performance riding may react in a similar way, not understanding the reasons behind what seems to be a stunt or party trick, rather than a useful tool. Read this Article about the Real Value of Knee Dragging.

Is it Safe?

Those who have never thought about it before may think that dragging a knee would be a foolish thing to do. Surely, no good can come from placing your knee on hard, rough pavement at a high rate of speed. They probably have visions of ripped flesh, torn ligaments and shattered knee and leg bone. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation certainly does not have it in their course curriculum (although some students do ask about it), so it must be unsafe, right?
So, is it safe? Yes and no. Knee dragging in itself will not cause injury. However, there are three situations I can think of where knee dragging can be hazardous:

  1. You inadvertently catch your knee puck on a curbing
  2. You ride faster than your ability allows in an effort to get your knee down
  3. You drag your knee on the street where the environment cannot safely support those kinds of lean angles.

That’s right. only three situations that I can think of. The curbing problem is easily avoided by raising your knee to avoid contact with a curb. The second situation is not as easily remedied. Yes, the easy answer is to not ride beyond your ability, but reason can be allusive to a novice rider who desperately wants to put “knee dragging” on his resume. And finally, attempting to drag knee on the street is not a great way to manage risk. There are too many variables on the street that make knee-dragging lean angles downright kookie.
To answer one of the most common questions laypeople have about knee dragging; “Yes, I wear a special knee puck made of plastic or nylon that is secured by a large panel of hook-and-loop material that skims smoothly across the pavement surface” … “and no, I don’t do it on the street”.


Badge of Honor

I don’t personally know anyone who would do this (as far as I know), but there are those who try to fool their peers by belt sanding a virgin knee puck at home. Believe it or not, I’ve also heard of riders selling used knee pucks on ebay for wannabes to proudly display as their own. I suppose there’s no harm in that. It’s better than the rookie pushing too hard and crashing his or her motorcycle. But, this hoax is rather pathetic. It goes to show how this ability holds a high honor among the sport riding crowd.

Why drag knee?

Me and the MZ in turn 2 at NHMS (Loudon), 2005. www.owensracingphotos.com
MZ Scorpion racebike in turn 2 at NHMS (Loudon), 2005.
www.owensracingphotos.com

It is true that one reason people drag their knees in corners is to say they can and to have the photos and scuffed knee pucks as evidence of their awesomeness. But, the real reason why knee dragging exists is to provide a lean angle gauge. If your body position is consistent from corner to corner, all day long, then you can reliably use your knee as a measuring device. Here are the various things you can measure:

  • How far over you’re leaned…sort of like a lean angle protractor.
  • As a quick-turn gauge: When you touch your knee can measure how quickly you are initiating lean.
  • Your corner speed: How long your knee remains on the ground measures your corner speed and the duration of your established lean angle.
  • How early you are “picking the bike up” as you exit the corner. This can also indicate how early and hard you are getting on the gas.
  • As a learning tool to become faster and more consistent. If you touch down earlier, this indicates that you are getting your bike turned quicker.
  • As a reference point measuring device. After you have a track dialed in, when and where your knee touches down should be consistent from lap to lap.

Another use for having your knee on the deck is to save a crash if your motorcycle starts to slide. I’ve rarely ever used this tool to save a sliding bike, but having a third point of contact can relieve the overtaxed tires enough to save you from a crash. It doesn’t always work, but it is certainly worth a shot.
Note that this article discusses the specific topic of dragging knee. It is assumed that you already know the purpose of hanging off the inside of the motorcycle. If not, please read this article before continuing.

Learning to Get a Knee Down

Here I am riding with my friend Paul who is helped get me fast enough to start dragging my knee.
My friend Paul helped get me fast enough to start dragging my knee.
photo by Ken Mitchell

“How do I learn to drag a knee ?” is the age-old question. The answer is that you don’t. Yes, there are body position techniques that need to be learned, but good body position is not unique to dragging a knee, or track riding for that matter. You will need to learn how to hang off a motorcycle properly (but that’s the subject of a future post).
The take away here is that you need to know the fundamentals of expert cornering before you can safely drag a knee. There are people with less than excellent cornering technique that can drag a knee, but they are usually unaware of how close they are to a crash, because they are using enough lean angle to touch knee, but don’t have the skill to ride at those cornering speeds. They are usually riding at near 100%, which almost always turns into 101% at some point and down they go.
The trick to learning how to drag a knee:

  1. Develop your cornering skill. Parking lot drills and track days will get you there over time
  2. Learn proper body position
  3. Do more track days, gradually increasing your cornering competence.

My motto is “Let the ground come to your knee, rather than force your knee to the ground”. Skill comes first, then speed, then knee dragging.
Your turn. What is your experience with knee dragging.  Why do you do it? What helped you?


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How to Not Suck at Cornering

This is a rider who sucks at cornering.
This is a rider who sucks at cornering.

Hot on the heels of the The Power of the Quick Turn article is this followup post about what happens after you tip into a corner. Too many riders struggle with cornering, not necessarily because they are afraid to lean, but becasue they do not understand how to properly complete a turn.

Cornering Basics

By now you know that motorcycles must lean to change direction and that leaning is done by countersteering. Read about countersteering HERE.
Once the bike begins to lean, countersteering pressure is reduced and other dynamics take over that cause the motorcycle to arc around the curve, including front end rake and trail geometry, as well as something called camber thrust. Camber thrust is the term that describes how a tapered object (a motorcycle tire leaned over) orbits around its axis when rolling along a surface (the pavement).
In other words, the rounded profile of a motorcycle tire acts like a tapered styrofoam cup when it’s rolled on its side. Give it a push and it rolls in a circle.
Here is how author and  fellow USCRA racer Tony Foale describes camber thrust:
“As the inside edge of the tyre is forced to adopt a smaller radius than the outer edge, then for a given wheel rotational speed, the inner edge would prefer to travel at a smaller road speed, this happens if the wheel is allowed to turn about a vertical axis through the point of the cone. Just as a solid cone on a table if given a push.”
For our purposes, all you really need to understand is that your motorcycle is designed to track around a curve with minimal effort once the bike is in a lean. Front end geometry (caster effect, rake,  trail, etc.) all make this possible. If you want to read more, go to Tony Foale’s website and learn all about it.
If your bike is properly maintained and has relatively new tires with nearly the original profile intact, you should be able to initiate lean and then maintain that lean angle without introducing any significant handlebar inputs. Problems occur when the rider messes this process up. Most bikes will track predictably and with little effort as long as the rider doesn’t interfere with the process or introduce counterproductive inputs.

Variations in Machine Design

Some riders insist that they cannot round a corner without using significant handlebar pressure to keep their machine on the desired path. Instead of being able to relax and let the bike carve the path, they fight the bars all the way around the curve. It is possible that the machine is to blame, but these days this is rarely true.
While I have ridden bikes with really bad cornering dynamics, the vast majority of modern machines offer balanced, neutral handling that requires little-to-no mid-corner intervention. The only reason for handlebar adjustments are because of mid-corner changes in turn radius, camber or surface condition. A smooth constant radius curve, ridden well, requires almost no additional handlebar pressure.
It’s important to note that different types of bikes handle differently. Sportbikes are responsive to steering inputs, while cruisers tend to be slower steering, but more stable. Still, if the rider does all the right things, then the differences in machine does not make that much of a difference. The trick is to have the knowledge and skill to complete a corner proficiently.
Basically, it’s usually much more productive to evaluate the user instead of blaming the machine.

User Error

To repeat…once the necessary lean angle is established, most bikes are happy to track around a corner with little effort. So, why do some riders struggle with this part of the cornering process? The answer lies in a few areas.

  1. Tension at the handlebars. The front of the bike needs to be free to move up, down, and side -to-side in response to both large and small changes in the road surface. Being stiff on the handlebars interferes with this motion and causes the motorcycle to feel reluctant to turn. It also asks the tires to work harder to stay in contact with the surface. Another problem with stiff arms is that you are inhibiting the slight countersteering corrections that may need to occur to deal with changes in camber or other variations in corner surface. Loose arms allow fluid reactions.
  2. Poor body position. Think of your bike as your dance partner who wants you to lead. In the case of the cornering dance, a slight dip of the shoulder to the inside of the curve will encourage smoother cornering. In contrast, a rider who stays upright or leans outside is stepping on the bike’s toes, causing it resist fluid cornering.
  3. Not using the Throttle Correctly. For the motorcycle to track around the corner predictably and smoothly, the suspension must be stable and in the middle of its travel. Smooth, gradual acceleration throughout the curve produces the best results. Be sure to slow enough at the beginning of turns so that you can comfortably roll on the gas all the way to the exit. Unfortunately, a lot of riders fail to use steady throttle in corners. This is a problem, because changes in speed and drive force alter the arcing path the motorcycle takes. Abruptly chopping on or off the throttle upsets this stability and causes the bike to lift and fall in and out of the established angle of lean and introduces forces that result in a wobbly or weaving line around the corner. Note that acceleration typically makes the bike drift wide and deceleration can either cause the bike to drop into the corner more or cause it to stand up, depending on how abruptly the throttle is chopped and how the machine /tire combo responds to this input.
  4. Not Looking through the Turn. You tend to go where you look, so look where you want to go! By keeping your visual attention through the turn and toward the corner exit, your mind is able to better manage the corner. The other advantage is that the landscape slows down when you look ahead. This reduces anxiety and helps complete the concerning process. Looking ahead will not suddenly make you a cornering master, but without habitually looking ahead, you will never become one. Keep your eyes up.
Practicing cornering technique. Look where you want to go!
Practicing cornering technique. Look where you want to go!

Cornering Technique

Okay, so let’s break it down.

  1. Look well ahead.
  2. Countersteer to initiate lean for the corner.
  3. Crack the throttle as soon as the bike is leaned. Use gentle drive at first and then progressively feed in more drive force. Roll on with more authority as lean angle is reduced near the corner exit. Steady drive creates steady cornering.
  4. Relax! If you established the correct angle of lean for the turn, the bike should require only slight adjustments in handlebar pressure. Corners that tighten will require you to press more on the inside bar to lean the bike more, but keep the throttle as steady as possible.
  5. Finish the turn. You’re not done yet. Keep looking toward the corner exit and roll on the throttle a bit more to let the bike drift toward the outside of the curve. This facilitates the “outside-inside-outside” cornering line, which I will discuss in a future post.
  6. Rinse and repeat for the next corner.

There is so much more to learn about the cornering process, but this is a good start. Implement these steps and you’re well on your way to becoming a cornering master.
What tips can you share that help you to corner with more confidence?


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Guest Writer: When Do You Lean?

The ability to lean a motorcycle with confidence is a fundamental part of riding. Unfortunately, humans do not come hardwired to lean much more than about 20 degrees, which is the lean angle where we start to lose traction  when we run in a circle on grass or dirt. Motorcycle riders must get beyond this lean angle limit for even basic maneuvers. This requires a leap of faith that the tires will grip. Practice is important to train your mind and muscles to lean beyond your comfort zone so you will be able to lean more if necessary. Once greater lean angles become more comfortable, the next skill to refine is timing so you reach maximum lean angle at the right point in the corner.


 
Paul Duval at full lean.www.otmpix.com
Paul Duval at full lean. www.otmpix.com

Meet Paul Duval

Paul Duval is the latest RITZ guest writer. Paul is a fellow track day and MSF instructor, former Loudon Road Racing Series 125 GP Champion, and professional educator. Let’s listen to Paul’s take on the importance of accurately timing maximum lean angle.


Timing Maximum Lean Angle

After many years of racing and instructing on the racetrack, there is one persistent mistake I see riders make when trying to ride faster: Using too much lean, too late in the corner.

Who is making this mistake?

Everyone is susceptible to this problem. Novice and intermediate track day riders often make the mistake of  increasing lean angle late in the corner in an attempt to get their knee down. Especially vulnerable riders are those with a lot of “natural talent” who got fast so much more quickly than everyone else. They end up riding fast, but without the knowledge and precision necessary to manage that corner speed.

What’s the Problem?

Adding throttle and increased lean angle at the same time is a bad idea.
Adding throttle and increased lean angle at the same time is a bad idea.

You may say, “What’s the big deal, I’m knee down and cranking?!” Yes, you may be fast, but this mistake WILL eventually lead to a crash, and probably a BIG one.
The problem with reaching max lean angle well after the apex of a turn is that this is precisely where you want to be on the gas.  Other riders will be already picking the bike up and driving hard.  This will encourage you to match their drive, but you are still adding lean angle.
Remember this:  Adding lean angle AND throttle at the same time is how high sides happen. The opposing forces of changing direction and accelerating can easily exceed available traction and will cause the rear tire to slide.   When this happens, slides are extremely quick, unpredictable, and hard to recover from.  All of your momentum is going exactly the wrong way.

Why do I keep doing this?

There are a few reasons people make this mistake.
Weak countersteering skills:  Newer riders haven’t yet mastered the “quick turn” technique of using counter steering to get the bike leaned over.  They bend their motorcycle into the turns gradually and often pass the apex entirely before the bike has changed direction.  Now they are running out of real estate and HAVE to lean it over to finish the turn.
Lack of reference points:Beginner and Intermediate track riders often use other riders as their reference points. This leads to a lot of crazy entry lines, none of which help the rider get the bike to change direction before the apex.  They commonly ride around the entry point as well as the apex, then crank the bike over to finish the turn.
Charging the corners:  Faster riders who make this mistake are at the most risk.  They rush into the corner at a pace that does not allow them to consistently hit their marks.  They will blow by a tip in point, drift wide past the apex, and then attempt to recover to get back on the “fast” exit line by adding a little more lean and a little more throttle.
Even with all this effort, they wonder why the faster guys are still pulling away.  They aren’t even cranked over like I am!!!  Hmmmm???  You may get away with late lean angles for a while, but eventually, you will push this mistake too far. Highside city.

The Solution?

The correction for all these riders is pretty similar.  And it’s not what they want to hear:  SLOW DOWN your corner entry to a speed that you can actually handle.  I mean a speed at which you can identify reference points, and ride an accurate line from tip in to apex that allows you to OPEN the corner after the apex, rather than tighten it up.  You need to learn to time your throttle inputs and your lean angle so that as you drive out of the corner and standing the bike up progressively as you roll on the gas.  BRAAAAP!  Wheee!


A quicker turn allows early direction change and less risk of an on-throttle highside.
A quicker turn allows early direction change and less risk of an on-throttle highside. copyright Riding in the Zone.

Ken:
Thanks Paul. Paul mentioned the importance of being able to turn quickly. By being able to countersteer with authority, you are able to get your motorcycle from upright to leaned so that the majority of the direction change is complete BEFORE the apex. With the change in direction mostly complete, you can reduce lean angle as you roll on the gas. Traction is managed and all is well. Post your comments below.


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Track Day Bike Prep-Triumph Street Triple R

The Patient:

I recently sold my trusty track-only 2005 Kawasaki ZX6R for a more upright track /street bike. I thought I would buy a new Yamaha FZ-09, but I talked with Dave Searle from Motorcycle Consumer News who told me that the FZ needed a lot of work to make it track worthy, so I opted for a slightly used 2012 Triumph Street Triple R. I rode it at a track day the day I picked it up and it performed very well in stock form. But, as a track day junkie and instructor, I needed more precise handling and I need to make sure a tipover will not keep me from continuing with my day.
Besides doing the track day stuff, I also Accessorized the Street Triple with some street-oriented stuff. You might want to check that out later.


 First, Some Video

Below is a video showing a couple of laps of me and the Striple at Loudon. I’m in the red vest. The Street Triple fun starts at 7:10.

At Barber

At Thompson, CT


Bolt on Bike Protection

You are not required to have frame sliders or any other type of bike protection at most track day events. But, it is smart to protect your motorcycle in the event that you go down. I ride on the racetrack as one of my jobs, so I do over 2,000 track miles per season. Even though My crash rate is very low, I have been known to make a mistake or two. An investment in bike protection (as well as rider protection) can mean the difference between ending your day early or getting back out on the track to finish your day on two wheels. I also carry some spare levers and foot pegs, just in case.
Here are some images of the work I’ve been doing to my 2012 Triumph Street Triple R. It is serving as my track bike and as an occasional street bike. I focused first on bolting on some engine, frame and exhaust protection. I work for Twisted Throttle, so it made the most sense that I use products that they import and sell. The stuff from R&G Racing and SW-MOTECH are top shelf, IMO and I would consider using their products even if I didn’t get the employee discount. Click the links to see all of the Twisted Throttle products for the 2012 Street Triple  and 2008-2011 Street Triple.
A few notes (see photos below):

  • Wired oil filler and dipstick caps: I leave more wire at the ends so I can simply unwind the tail end, pull it through the hole and then reuse the wire after an oil change.
  • R&G Racing swingarm spool and protector, in combination with the Woodcraft spool and protector: I have both of these swingarm protectors because I have seen too many swingarms get damaged when the threaded swingarm spools break off in a crash. I decided to add the axle spools/protectors to try and give a second point of contact to hopefully prevent the threaded boss in the swingarm from getting damaged. Another reason to have both spools s because you can’t use the rearward R&G spools to support your bike with a race stand for removing the wheel, because they must be removed to take out the axle. So you need the other spools as well.

Peter Kates from Computrack Boston works his magic.
Peter Kates from Computrack Boston works his magic.

Suspension

Penske 8389 remote shock
Penske 8983 remote shock

The suspension was upgraded over the winter to include Penske fork valving, a .95 fork spring swap and a Penske 8983 with a remote reservoir. The stock suspension is very good, but at the level I need to ride when instructing for Tony’s Track Days, I need a bit more adjustability than the stockers can provide. The remote reservoir was a bit difficult to locate, making the extra cost of a piggyback worth considering. But, it works great.
The highly regarded skills of Peter Kates from Computrack Boston were employed. PK has been around the Loudon paddock for years and is the go-to guy for suspension and chassis tweaks.After some compression and rebound damping tweaks and a change to a 750 pound spring, the shock is now setup for serious lap times. What is interesting is that the suspension now doesn’t work as well at slower speeds. It’s a bit busy UNTIL you turn up the speed and then it all makes sense (like most race setup suspension).
Forks recessed into the clamps adds sorely needed trail. And the Scott's damper is a nice thing to have for cresting hills at speed.
Forks recessed into the clamps adds sorely needed trail. And the Scott’s damper is a nice thing to have for cresting hills at speed.

One other thing I had Peter do was measure the chassis to get the rake and trail to be set at the optimum numbers for fast riding. This means increasing trail on the Triumph 675s. Many Daytona riders opt to replace their triple trees with one with less offset. this gives them the trail needed for mid-corner stability and cornering feedback. The Street Triple is closer than the Daytona in regards to trail, so instead of springing for the $800.00 triples, Peter slid the fork tubes down inside the top clams as far as possible. It looks weird, but it did increase mid-corner feel at speed without slowing turn-in.


Tires

Pirelli Supercorsa on 2012 Triumph Street Triple R after 2 sessions at NHMS (Loudon) runing in the advanced group.
Pirelli Supercorsa on 2012 Triumph Street Triple R after 2 sessions at NHMS (Loudon) running in the advanced group.

People have a lot of questions about tires. I have done track day laps on all kinds of tires, including basic OEM rubber, Sport touring tires, sporty street tires, and DOT race tires. Believe it or not, most all are capable of keeping you on two wheels when ridden at a novice, intermediate, or a slower advanced group pace. I have used Michelin Power One race tires for the last few track day seasons and loved them, but this year I am switching to Pirellis. The reason is that I always liked the feel of Pirelli tires and it doesn’t hurt that TTD is supported by Motorcycle Tires and Gear (MTAG), who also supplies Pirelli tires to the Loudon Roadracing Series.
My Street Triple comes stock with Pirelli Rosso Corsa, which is a proven track day favorite with many of the TTD staff, including my daughter, Jeannine. I rode the first 3 session at Loudon on the Rossos and had no sense that the tires were limiting me in any way. I changed over to Pirelli Supercorsa race tires after lunch so I could compare the differences and so would have fresh rubber for the track day that Tony and I will be attending at Barber Motorsports Park in November.  I got along with the Supercorsas just fine, thank you. I immediately braked deeper, accelerated stronger and cornered harder to a point where I approached my best times I typically do on my ZX6R. I was impressed.
Does the average track day rider need race tires? No. Most modern sport-oriented tires that are relatively new will do just fine. It comes down to whether your level of riding is good enough for you to actually use race ribber. Most people have a long way to go before the answer to this question is yes. Run what ya brung, mister.


Daytona Rearsets

2007 Daytona rearsets mounted on my 2012 Street Triple R

The stock Street Triple rearsets are very comfortable for street riding, but are too far forward and are a little too low for aggressive track riding. I dragged my toe slider before I was dragging my knee, which is no good, as I use my knee dragging to measure my lean angle. And without that tool, I am not able to monitor lean angle with the same level of confidence I like. The stock footpegs are also too far forward for moving from side to side without pulling on the handlebars. Footpegs that are further rearward allows me to use my legs to support my torso when flopping from left to right, especially when doing so uphill, like what happens at turn 7 and turn 8 at NHMS.
The 2007 Daytona rearsets bolt on easily with no issues whatsoever. I could even use the stock shift rod. The rear brake light switch needs a bit of adjustment, but that’s really easy to do.The Daytona pegs could be even further back for my taste, but it’s a big improvement at 1″ further back and 1/2″ higher compared to the stocker STR rearsets. I also think the Daytona rearsets look great.


Levers

I installed some shorty levers, which are more adjustable than the stock ones and are less likely to break in a crash. The short levers also accommodate two finger use and they look cool. I’ve used ASV levers before and really like them, but a lot of racers use the cheap knock-offs from China, so I’m giving them a try. I installed the levers and they seem fine. Perhaps they aren’t as nice as the expensive ones. but they are good looking and work great. I have to get used to the shorties after always having standard long versions.


Tank Protectors

Like a lot of sport bikes these days, the tank on the Street Triple sticks out on either side, enough to cause serious damage in a crash. The latest R6 tanks are known to puncture where the tank sticks out. I opted to mount the R&G Racing tank sliders on the Triple. They are glued on using Aquarium sealant. I asked R&G whether this sealant will harm paint and they say that it will not. They look a little to Squidly for my tastes, but they will do the job if I were to crash.


R&G Tail Tidy keeps the turn signals out of the way and save a ton of weight.
R&G Tail Tidy keeps the turn signals out of the way and save a ton of weight.

R&G Tail Tidy Fender Eliminator

The R&G Tail Tidy allows my bike to be ready for both track or street. The fender eliminator save a lot of weight and keeps the turn signals tucked in in case of a fall.
Click the link below to view the Twisted Throttle product page for the Tail Tidy.


Tiger 1050 Throttle tube and grip

I just installed a Tiger 1050 throttle tube, which has a larger diameter cylinder that the cables run on. This means that the distance (and time) it takes to reach full throttle is reduced.  Racers install quick throttle tubes as a matter of course so they can get to full throttle in an instant. Motion Pro makes a throttle kit that includes several cams to suit the rider’s preference. The 1050 tube is cheap and is a stock item that is an intermediate upgrade without going the full race route.
The installation of the throttle tube was easy. However, I read about the throttle housing c=screws being easy to strip, so I grabbed my impact driver and with a few whacks, loosened the screws. Another slight complication was that the throttle wouldn’t snap back with the larger diameter throttle tube. After some investigation, I discovered that the throttle cables needed more slack… piece of cake, since the “pull” adjuster was about 6 inches down the cable from the throttle grip. Now it’s perfect.
I took it for a short ride and I love the feel of the throttle. It seems more responsive and shifting is even smoother. Two thumbs up on this cheap modification. ($17.00 shipped from Bike Bandit)


This is where the gear shift sensor is located. The wire goes to the unit that is behind the plastic countershaft sprocket cover.
This is where the gear shift sensor is located. The wire goes to the unit that is behind the plastic countershaft sprocket cover.

Gear Position Sensor Failure

The old gear shift sensor.
The old gear shift sensor.

It seems that the Triumph 675s are notorious for having bad gear position sensors. The symptoms are a Check Engine Light (CEL) and any manner of numbers appearing in the gear indicator area of the speedo/tach instrument cluster. I bought the Tuneboy ECU reader and after many attempts to get the software to work (thanks Paul) I managed to confirm that the CEL was the result of the gear shift sensor going bad.
Some people have had good luck cleaning the old one, which worked for a while on my bike. But, in the end, the CEL kept coming on. What’s the big deal? you ask. Well, the bike ran fine, but the Tuneboy data shows that different fuel mapping occurs with the different gears. That means without an accurate indication of which gear you are in, the ECU can’t trigger the correct map.
The sensor is located behind the plastic countershaft sprocket cover with the connecting wire underneath the tank. You have to remove the gear shift rod. Hint: The small c-clips that hold the shaft onto the pivot balls poke into a small hole on the side of the shaft’s ball ends. Prop up the tank using the rod that is stored under the seat to get to the wires.
The newer version kit has a 8 inch jumper harness that plugs two of its leads into the Throttle Position Sensor located on the right side of the injector bodies.
The newer version kit has a 8 inch jumper harness that plugs two of its leads into the Throttle Position Sensor located on the right side of the injector bodies.

The new “kit” that was indicated for my bike included the sensor with a wire plug that does not fit the old plug from the bike’s harness. The kit includes a 8 inch jumper harness that plugs into the old harness, the new sensor at one end and the other ends plug into the Throttle Position Sensor located on the right side of the throttle bodies. The wire is long enough to cross underneath the fuel tank. Some say it may provide a power boost. We’ll see. At least the ECU will know what gear the bike is in.
After changing the sensor, the CEL went out after three startups. I am taking the bike to the track again in a week and I’ll see if any power advantages occur because of the new harness and sensor. Stay tuned.


General Track Day Bike Preparation

Oil filter and drain plug wired to keep fluids where they belong.
Oil filter and drain plug wired to keep fluids where they belong.

Preparing a motorcycle for a track day doesn’t have to be a big deal. Some people are under the impression that they have to drain fluids, wire bolts and tape every light in sight. While some track day organizations do require race-level preparation, many do not. Tony’s Track Days (TTD) requires very little prep. (See the video
below for requirements). Many people don’t have access to a truck or trailer and ride to the track on their street bikes. They remove their mirrors and licnse plate (if necessary), disconnect or cover the brake lights, lower their tire pressures (30,f, 30 r is a good starting place) and they are ready to go through tech inspection. Staffers are there to help with any issues. Motorcycle prep should not be a reason for not attending a track day!
One thing that seems to stump a lot of riders is how to secure a spin on oil filter. It’s as simple as getting a 4″ hose clamp from your auto parts or hardware store, slip it around the filter and rotate it so it hits a solid part of the engine or frame to prevent the filter from spinning off. If necessary, wire the clamp to a solid object (see photo).


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