Adjusting to a New Bike- Part 3 – Power Delivery

This is number 3 in a series on adapting to a new motorcycle, whether that means borrowing a friend’s bike, swapping bikes on a ride, or adapting to a new bike. Please share your experiences in the comments section. If you’d like, read Part 1 and Part 2 to see what other challenges we often face when adapting to a new motorcycle.

Too much throttle, too quickly. photo by Tim Richer
Too much throttle, too quickly. photo by Tim Richer

You Can’t Handle all that Power

Testing the brakes is probably the first thing you should do when swinging a leg over a new bike. Many people think that power delivery is the most important thing to calibrate to, because acceleration is a more obvious and intimidating force…fewer people seem intimidated by brakes. Even though more people seem to get into trouble with unfamiliar brakes, plenty of people fail to consider what they’re in for when twisting the throttle.

Throttle Transitions

One of the most common issues I have when riding different bikes is how smooth or abrupt the power delivery is when transitioning from off-to-on throttle. This can be a serious control issue if I am at full lean. When I crack the throttle, I am looking for a smooth delivery of power. But, some bikes are not mapped (FI bikes) or jetted (carbureted bikes) correctly for a gradual, controlled transition. What I get instead is a lurch that upsets the tires and sends the bike off line. One of the worst bikes I’ve ridden was an early model Honda RC51. It took all my tricks to control that bike’s fueling (see below).
I had my mind set on buying a new Yamaha FZ-09, but after hearing about the abrupt throttle delivery, I decided on the Street Triple, which is know for decent throttle control and response. Although it could be better, IMO.
Manufacturers try to find the balance between meeting emissions requirements and acceptable performance, which means that the fueling is often too lean for good throttle control. This is where Power Commanders and other aftermarket products come in. With a little time and a laptop, you can adjust the fueling the way it should be for performance, at the expense of emissions…something the manufacturers aren’t allowed to do.

Getting on the throttle
Getting on the throttle
photo: www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

Throttle Response

Throttle response is another factor that varies from bike to bike. Throttle response is how quickly the engine responds to rider throttle inputs. A snappy response is good for sportbike riders that want immediate results to get the bike launched as hard as possible. This is especially desirable when riding on the racetrack. Many racers install quick-turn throttle housings to get to full throttle with as little wrist movement as possible.
Street riders usually want a less aggressive throttle response so that inadvertent throttle movements don’t result in unwanted acceleration. But, slow throttle response can make a bike feel sluggish, unexciting and lazy.

Managing All That Power

To get a feel for throttle response and power delivery, find a straight section of road and roll on the throttle gradually. Grabbing a handful of throttle grip could land you on your ass if the rear tire spins or if you loop it in a mondo wheelie. In either case, you now own a bike that some idiot crashed (you).
If you are testing a bike with multiple power delivery modes, you may want to set it to the “rain” mode to soften power delivery. After some time, you can try the full power modes. Apparently, the FZ-09 has acceptable throttle transitions using the least aggressive power mode, but what fun is that?

Keep your right wrist in a comfortable down position for better control.
Keep your right wrist in a comfortable down position for better control.

Throttle Tricks to Try

Here are some simple things to do to help manage throttle control:

  • Ratchet Throttle- Instead of rolling the throttle like a rheostat, move your wrist as though you are rotating through a series of “clicks”. This measures your throttle position better to help resist introducing too much throttle at one time.
  • Keep your wrist down- A comfortable wrist-down position “locks” your throttle in position and helps control throttle movements.
  • Relax- Arm tension transfers to the handlebars and handgrips.
  • Anchor your thumb- Stick your thumb out a bit to make contact with the handlebar control pod to lock your hand in place. This is especially useful when riding at slow speeds.

What experiences have you had with throttle characteristics on different bikes?
Part 1 can be found Here.
Part 2 can be found Here.

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Adjusting to a New Bike- Part 2 – Unfamiliar Brakes

Brake control
Brake control

In Part 1 of the “Adjusting to a New Bike” series, I told about the challenges I faced transitioning from my trusty 2005 Kawasaki ZX6R track bike that I had for 5 years to my new-to-me 2012 Triumph Street Triple R.
You may wonder why I think “Adjusting to a New Bike” is a topic worth spending time on. The fact is that I’ve seen and heard too many stories of people getting into trouble while trying a friend’s bike or when riding a new bike.
In this post I will talk about an issue that can lead to a crash if you’re not careful – Unfamiliar brakes.
One story I want to share involves a well-known safety journalist who took a well know safety instructor’s sportbike out and promptly totaled it. By all accounts, the reason for the crash was not a lack of skill, per say, rather it was a lack of familiarity with the power of sportbike brakes.
All photos © Ken Condon

Yikes! These aren’t my Brakes!

The journalist’s brake hand (and mind) were calibrated to a large adventure bike, not the top-spec, radial mount, four piston anchors that the sportbike was styling. All it took was a driver pulling out in front of the journalist to cause the over-braking to happen. A skid ensued, followed immediately by the sound of plastic and aluminum grinding itself mercifully into the pavement. Luckily, the rider came out of it in better shape than the bike.Photo-3-Braking_Skid
I ride a lot of different motorcycles on the street and the racetrack, one of the first things I do is test the power and sensitivity of the brakes. I squeeze the front brake a few times with varying intensity.
I don’t ignore the rear brake as I press the pedal to see if it bites too abruptly and is prone to locking (many are), or is very weak, requiring significant pressure to get any useful brake force at all.
The Street Triple is a hybrid in that the rear brake seems to be weak initially, but then grabs. This is something I discovered the first time I descended my gravel and dirt driveway. Oh, and yes, I do use the rear brake. That’s a topic for another post.

Better Braking

Two fingers or Four? I say two on most sportbikes.
Two fingers or Four? I say two on most sportbikes.

practice makes perfect
Perfect practice makes perfect habits. And habits are what you’ll fall back on in an emergency.

Besides familiarizing yourself with the brake’s feel, you should also use good brake technique (always). Determine whether you should use four fingers on the front brake or if two fingers might give you better control.
No matter how many fingers you use, be sure to always SQUEEZE the front brake lever progressively. Grabbing a handful of brake lever will lead to nothing good. It will likely skid the front tire and you will be pile-driven into an unforgiving bit of very hard tarmac or dirt.
In most cases, this happens because you didn’t give enough time for the load to transfer onto the front tire contact patch. With little load on the front tire, the powerful front brakes can easily overwhelm the available traction.
Instead of a skidding front tire, it is possible to find yourself staring at your front wheel as you get flung forward. Or you may end up doing a stoppie. However, more times than not, the front tire skids before either of these occurrences happen. To prevent a skid, always squeeze and then squeeze harder if necessary.
Part 1 – New Bike
Part 3 – Power Delivery

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Adjusting to a New Bike – Part 1

Turn 9 Loudon
Trying to figure out the Street Triple. Turn 9 Loudon
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Me and my ZX6 Monticello, NY.
My trusty and familiar ZX6R. Monticello, NY.
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I recently sold my trusty ZX6R for a more upright Triumph Street Triple R as my track day bike. I needed the more upright position as a way to help a chronic neck problem. The Street triple allows me to sit up when I’m working with track day customers at a slower pace. But, the upright and exposed ergonomics means I  have to hunker down to get out of the wind blast when I’m going flat out.
I’ve ridden all types of bikes on various racetracks  and usually acclimate myself pretty quickly to them. While some adjustment was not entirely unexpected, it did take a couple of sessions for me to start to get along with the ST-R.
The first track session on the Triumph was my first time riding the bike (I picked it up on my way to the track). The track was cold and a bit damp, so I took it easy. I came in at the end of that session not knowing whether or not I made a mistake buying the Triple.
The night before, fellow TTD instructor, Joel Allen helped me adjust the suspension to accommodate the bumpy Loudon circuit and then Peter Kates from Computrack Boston rechecked Joel’s work (spot on) the next day. Thankfully, I knew that suspension that is set up for going fast simply does not feel right when you’re not going fast. Riding at 60% made the bike seem like it wouldn’t hold a line. I kept hope and went out for another session. The track was warmer and so I got up to speed. Ah, that’s better. A smile was on my face at the end of that faster session.
The increased pace helped make the handling make sense, I then had to adjust to the upright riding position, which is not nearly as intuitive as a sportbike posture when riding fast. Sitting on top of a bike instead of low behind a fairing makes 120 mph a tiring experience. Transitioning my body from left to right at turn 7 and 8 at Loudon required me to use too much handlebar support while accelerating up the hill.
More rearward footpegs would be needed (I traded the stock rearsets for Daytona rearsets, which should help). Midway into the second track day of the 2-day event, I mounted Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa race tires so I could see what the bike was capable of. I was pleasantly surprised how well I got along with the Striple, with my lap times edging very close to my typical times on the ZX6R. Next stop, Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama in a couple of weeks. I can’t wait.

READ PART 2- Adjusting to a New Bike – Unfamiliar Brakes
Read all bout the track day preparation I have done to the Street triple R.

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The Top 2 Survival Tips That Will Save Your Life

Both speed was and lack of visibility caused this crash.
Both speed was and Lack of Visibility caused this crash.

I know what you’re saying. “You’re telling me that there are only 2 things I need to do to survive riding on the street?” You betcha. So, here is the caveat to this sensational statement; there are more like 1 Gazillion things you need to know to be the safest rider you can be. But, I don’t have that much time and you’d be bored by the time I got to number 15,000. So, I’m going with my top 2.
And with no further ado, here they are. The envelope. please.

#1 Being “Speed Smart”

#2 Being Visible

Of all the things you can and should know about riding a motorcycle, these two strategies will allow you to avoid 80 to 90% of the most common situations that lead to motorcycle crashes. I hear you yelling at your laptop or smartphone saying “What about [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE STRATEGY HERE]”. I understand… really. There is way more to know to avoid becoming roadkill than just these two strategies. But, I contend that most close calls and crashes can be avoided if you follow my suggestions and focus first on these two strategies. Let me elaborate.
All photos © Ken Condon


Top Motorcycle Survival Tip #1: Be Speed Smart

Jeannine being Speed Smart
Jeannine being Speed Smart

Being “Speed Smart” doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to the posted speed limit. I’m no angel when it comes to ignoring ridiculous speed limit signs, especially when the payoff is worth the risk of a ticket ( a great section of twisty tarmac with little traffic). No, I’m talking about being smart about when and where you wick it up. You can avoid a majority of close calls if you just keep the throttle under control. Here’s how.

Ride at “Expected” Speeds

It’s important to ride close to the marked speed limit when riding through town centers, and whenever you are near other drivers, especially when riding through intersections. Riding at a speed that is greater than is expected will likely result in the driver pulling in front of you, thinking he or she has time to go. This is largely because a motorcycle has a narrow frontal area, which makes it more difficult for drivers to judge your approach speed and distance.

Ride Slow in a Slow Environment

One of the most common reasons motorcycle riders crash is because they ride faster than the environment will safely allow. Riding at the speed limit makes total sense when there is a lot of traffic, but what about when the road opens up? It may be tempting to go WFO, but no matter how much you wish the road were a racetrack, it is not! You can get away with excessive speed for a while, but some day it will bite you. I can almost guarantee it. Really fast sport riding belongs on a racetrack, dummy.
Even if you are a racetrack hero, you must understand that the unpredictable nature of the street does not allow you to exercise your full cornering prowess. With hazards such as road surface hazards, unexpected changes in radius and camber, or other vehicles crossing into your lane you can easily exceed the limits of the environment even though you may be nowhere near your personal limits.

Cornering Correctly: Slow in, Fast out

The vast majority of single-vehicle crashes are the result of riders failing to negotiate a curve and a common reason for this is a rider entering a corner at a speed that is too fast for the conditions or for the rider’s ability. The best strategy is to slow to a conservative speed and then gradually accelerate when you are sure it is safe to do so. Keep in mind that you can always get on the gas, but you can’t go back in time to enter the turn at a slower speed.

Respect Time and Space

Still not convinced just how significant speed is to keeping you safe? Then consider the timing and circumstances of a typical 30 mph crash. At that speed you are traveling at 44 feet per second (1 mph = 1.47 ft/sec). Getting a motorcycle stopped at 30 mph takes just over two seconds and requires about 35 feet of space. But, braking distances include more than just the time and space to physically stop your motorcycle. It also includes “thinking time” and “reaction time”. At 30 mph you can count on using about .7 seconds or 31 feet to realize that there is a problem. It then takes you another .3 seconds or 13 feet to react by rolling off the throttle and reaching for the brakes. That means you traveled 44 feet before even touching the brakes. Finally, it takes you about 2.2 seconds or 35 feet (with a typical deceleration rate achieved by the average rider) to bring the motorcycle to a halt. Add this “braking time” to the “thinking time” and “reaction time” and you’ll need a total of 3.2 seconds and 79 feet with which to stop.


Top Motorcycle Survival Tip #2: Be Visible

"SMIDSY"= "Sorry Mate, I Didn't See Ya"
“SMIDSY”= “Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See Ya”

The most common phrase uttered by drivers who are involved in a motorcycle crash is; “I didn’t see him”. It’s easy to blame the driver for being inattentive. After all, texting, NAV systems, and other distractions are vying for drivers’ attention…you know who you are. While this is a reality on today’s roads, too many riders fail to recognize their role in being visible, choosing to wear dark colors and riding in a way that hides them from other drivers.
Even being seen is not as reliable as we would like. Most motorcyclists have stories of drivers pulling out in front of them even though the driver was looking directly at them. What would cause a driver to proceed if the rider was in plain sight? It’s common for a driver’s brain to dismiss the appearance of a relatively insignificant (small) vehicle (motorcycle) on the roadway and pull out without ever “seeing” the motorbike.

Use Effective Lane Positioning

In traffic, it’s important to constantly evaluate your ability to see and for others to see you. Poor lane position is a factor that can prevent you from being seen and seeing hazards. This includes not having sufficient following distance. Ample following distance provides a wider angle of view to see past the vehicle and allow other drivers to see you.
Proper lane positioning also includes your location within the width of your lane. Motorcycle riders have the option of riding in the left, center or right portion of the lane. This gives you the ability to place your bike where you can see farther ahead and where other drivers can see you. Exactly what is the best lane position? In many situations, riding in the left/center of your lane makes the most sense. This position allows you to see past the vehicle ahead and gives you a good angle of view of the oncoming lane.  Certain situations require you to alter this position, such as an oncoming vehicle threatening to cross the centerline.
Lane position changes continually depending on the road surface, other drivers, and your angle of view.

Loud Pipes

Basic science says that sound is not a reliable source of information. Sure, loud pipes increase the likelihood that drivers will know you are in the vicinity, but don’t be fooled into thinking that sound will help a driver locate where you are in traffic. This is why installing loud pipes is not a great strategy for increasing safety.
A much more reliable strategy is to be more visible. A driver who sees you and is able to accurately judge your speed and distance is much less likely to pull out in front of you. The importance of using strategies for being seen cannot be overemphasized. Unfortunately, too many riders don’t seem to understand this.


There are lots of other tips that are important for surviving on a motorcycle like don’t ride drunk or stoned, be attentive, etc. But. if you can follow these two strategies I outlined, you are well on your way to making it home at the end of a great day of riding.

OK. Now it’s your turn.

I know you’ve been chompin’ at the bit to tell the world what you think is the most important tip for surviving. So, let’s hear your comments.
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