Category Archives: Motorcycling

Biking 101: Decelerating

So far we’ve covered going faster and we’ve covered going around corners.  The last essential ingredient is of course, stopping (or just slowing down).  Motorcycles use two separate hydraulic braking systems which operate independently of each other and (for most cases) affect one wheel each.  The front brake is controlled by a hand-lever on the right hand side whilst the rear wheel is controlled by a pedal activated by the rider’s right foot. 

Ironically, my current motorcycle (a Honda VFR 800) uses a system that sends a differing proportion of the braking force to both wheels when using either the brake lever or pedal.  It does this in an attempt to make braking a safer venture than it may normally be in the hands of an unskilled operator.  The weight transference (towards the front of the motorcycle) that occurs when braking, adversely affects the amount of braking force that can carried out effectively by each wheel.  Some figures suggest in dry conditions as much as 90% of the braking force can be delivered via the front wheel.  The “linked brakes” of the VFR are Honda’s solution to removing this judgement from the rider.

When you look at the contact patch that the front wheel has on the ground, you begin to realise that there is a lot of momentum being shed through a very small area.  Motorcycle training will teach riders that they need to “set up” their braking: transferring weight progressively to the front and thereby compressing the suspension and tyre gently.  As this weight transfer occurs, the tyre is flattened out on the ground, increasing the size of the contact patch.  This in turn allows more force to be applied in a controlled manner. 

There is a theory in physics known as the “Conservation of Energy”.  It states that “energy can neither be created nor destroyed. – It can only be converted from one form to another”.  A motorcycle, or indeed any mass when moving is said to have “kinetic energy”.  The faster it goes, the more kinetic energy it has.  Therefore, stopping a motorcycle reduces the amount of kinetic energy the bike has.  But, because of the “conservation of energy”, we know that this energy hasn’t been lost.  What has happened to it?  Chiefly, it has been converted into heat energy.  – That’s what brakes do, they turn kinetic energy into heat energy.  This heat energy is then dissipated through both the air and the braking components, thus doing its own little bit to help keep the planet warm…

Now the astute amongst you may be thinking along the lines of “it takes a lot of power to accelerate a motorcycle quickly, how can I generate the strength required to stop it as quickly, simply by squeezing the brake lever?”  If this thought has crossed your mind: Well done!  It shows you’ve been paying attention…  The answer lies in the fact that you are utilising a hydraulic brake system.  In cars and some top-end motorcycles featuring ABS systems, the brakes include a mechanical/electrical system to increase the force you can apply to the brakes yourself.  I’m not going to go into how these systems work, rather, I’ll stick to a plain-vanilla style brake set up found on most “conventional” motorcycles.

Hydraulics work on the principal that you can’t compress liquid.  In our case this liquid is brake fluid.  At the lever (or pedal) end, moving the level pushes a piston, which in turn pushes the liquid through the brake line(s).  At the other end of the brake line is the “brake caliper” which contains one or more pistons of its own.  With nowhere else for the liquid to go, these pistons are now displaced too, which pushes the brake pad onto the brake disk.  The disk is attached to the wheel, and so is rotating, whereas the pads and caliper are fixed.  When the disk and pads come into contact, there is friction which converts the kinetic energy into heat energy and “voilà!” you are slowing down!  (Hopefully slowing fast enough to avoid a sudden impact with the scenery…)

This still doesn’t explain how you manage to provide enough force for the brake pads to grip the disk with the necessary bite to stop.  Well, the really cool thing about hydraulics is known as “Hydraulic Multiplication”.  If you change the size of the piston at one end, you can increase the force this piston pushes with.  If this sounds too good to be true, it isn’t…  Although you are gaining more force, the distance you are moving the piston at the other end is reduced.  Fortunately for us, we don’t have to move the brake pads very far to make them grip the disk.  For a more in depth look at how hydraulics work, you may want to look at the brilliant “How stuff works” page.

Ear plugs

I recently purchased a new AGV helmet. I’m either a sucker for propaganda, or acutely aware of the diminishing performance a helmet gives with the passing of time. Back in my younger days, where riding the motorbike was a daily occurrence, I tended to replace my helmets every couple of years to avoid the problem of compressing the lining. These days, I am more of a “weekend warrior” and hence only feel the need to replace the helmet after about five years.

I don’t think I will ever be the sort of person who purchases a helmet on-line. I need to know that it will fit well and that things like the chin strap can be easily tucked away. Things you can only really tell by examining and wearing the helmet. The consequences of picking the wrong one on-line deter me from doing so!

Even though I prefer the “real life” selection process, the one question that always remains unanswered is: “Will this helmet be quiet?” I suspect I shouldn’t bother asking as the honest answer will always be “no”. It occurred to me as I was riding to the bike shop (to purchase “the new lid”) that when I first purchased my previous helmet, I found it disappointingly loud. However, on the trip I was taking to replace it, I didn’t think it was too bad. One could hope that as the helmet lining had compressed, it somehow improved its acoustic dampening, but I rather suspect years of ear abuse wearing the previous helmet has simply taken its toll on my hearing.

To over-simplify sound, its loudness is measured in decibels. db(A) This scale is logarithmic – as an example: an eighty decibel noise is ten times as loud as a seventy decibel noise. According to the dangerous decibels web-site once a sound reaches 85dB(A), permanent hearing damage can occur. The key thing then becomes how long you are exposed to the loud noise. For every 3dB(A) over 85, safe exposure times halve. (As a point of reference, eight hours is their suggested limit for 85dB(A) noise exposure.) Marcus, from headphones.com.au provide more generous figures, suggesting longer listening times are safe. He does work for a company that sell loud things you put on your ears, but I guess it is in his best interest to keep you hearing for as long as possible…

The Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, have recognised that noise levels whilst riding a motorcycle can be very high. Their research was carried out both in a wind tunnel and on the road. The provided measurements were hardly exhaustive, but they noted that different helmets and different motorcycles all affected the noise levels achieved. This included the revelation that particular helmets could be good or bad, depending on what model bike was being ridden. (This gives me hope, as my previous helmet started its active duty whilst I was riding my previous motorcycle!) :-)

A provided graph showed that if you discount illegal road use (i.e. over 110kph or around 70mph) the quietest scenario was in riding a BMW K1100LT with the adjustable screen up. Even it came in at around 88db(A) meaning it shouldn’t be ridden for more than around four hours. The simplest practical answer to reducing the volume of noise you are subjected to is by wearing ear-plugs.

If you have never considered wearing ear plugs before, I recommend you get several pairs of differing styles. There are different density foams as well as “putty” like materials that mould and shape in your ears. For my liking, I can’t go past simple foam plugs that are available in chemists. Even cheap foam ear plugs reduce the volume by around the 26 to 33 db(A) mark, It may take you some getting used to the feeling of foreign objects in your ears, but the long term benefits far outweigh this initial “unnatural” feel.

Some riders prefer to listen to music via an MP3 player fitted with ear-bud speakers. But, these in turn have to produce volume louder than the wind-noise generated by the helmet. Ear-bud speakers may look trendy in the Apple advertisements, but quite simply they are capable of loud volumes and therefore are dangerous to your long term hearing ability.

If you do want to listen to music on the motorbike, I’d suggest you look at spending some serious money and get a quality set of “canal-phones” that block outside noise allowing you to use lower volumes. Just remember that there are reports that ear-buds (and presumably “canal” style headphones) can be capable of producing in excess of 110db(A).

For my money, the 70 cents or so I spend on a set of ear plugs are the simplest way I can improve the quality of my ride whilst doing something good for my long term health and quality of life.

Biking 101: Accelerating

One of the amazing performance aspects of a sports motorbike is its ability to accelerate.  Standard 1/4 mile times and 0-100kph / 62mph times are staggering and leave all but the most exotic supercars lying in their wake.  Getting these sorts of figures is a test of courage as much as clutch / throttle control, but the potential is there if you possess the right qualities. 

Unlike turning corners, accelerating doesn’t require any seemingly counter-intuitive input from the rider.  Having said that, there are some interesting points to make about acceleration*.   Under hard acceleration, the rear suspension of a motorbike becomes less compliantNewtonian physics states that an object at rest is inclined to stay at rest until a force acts upon it.  This is quite observable in everyday life – you can feel a weight transference when a vehicle begins to move.  This is because initially, this weight is at rest and until the energy is transferred to it, it will continue to remain at rest.  On any vehicle with sufficiently compliant suspension, this will cause the vehicle to “squat” at the rear when accelerating.   However, after an initial compression of the rear suspension, the motorbike appears to “stiffen up”.  Even though there is more suspension travel to be had, it becomes harder for it to use.  Here’s my explanation of this:

A chain driven motorcycle has a small amount of slack in the chain.  This slack is necessary, as the distance between the two sprockets changes as the swingarm moves up and down.  – This is because the front (drive) sprocket is not located at the pivot point for the swing-arm.  At rest, gravity ensures that this slack is present on both sides of the chain.

Image showing the slack in a chain

When accelerating, the chain is pulled through by the drive sprocket.  Due to the tendency of the rear wheel to remain at rest, this pulls the top part of the chain taut. 

Tensioning of chain 

The harder you accelerate, the greater the difference in inertia of the two sprockets.  As a result, the distance between the top of the sprockets is minimised.  This is achieved with the aid of the weight transference and the suspension squats.  Once this shortest distance has been achieved, further suspension travel requires the distance between the tops of the sprockets to be extended again.  It’s not that this can’t occur, it is just an additional force that needs to be overcome.  Any let-up in this force will see the suspension return to the state where the tops of sprockets are minimally spaced.  As such, under hard acceleration, the rear suspension becomes distinctly non-compliant.

The second point to make about hard acceleration is the tendency for the bike to “wheelie”(or “wheel-stand” if you prefer to sound like a boffin).  In its simplest explanation, this is just a characteristic of a large weight transference to the rear of the bike.  Normally, the speed of the sprockets at their outer radius is the same.  If you can increase the speed of the front sprocket such that it exceeds the rear, then the front sprocket will “climb the chain”.  This can be demonstrated with two pens and a rubber band:

  1. Place the rubber band around the two pens to represent the chain and sprockets of the bike.  Keep the rubber band under enough tension, to ensure it grips the pens.
  2. Hold one pen in your right hand on the surface of a desk.
  3. Twist the pen in your left hand anti-clockwise (or counter-clockwise if you live in the US!)
  4. If you’re holding the right hand pen still, the left hand pen will “climb” in a clockwise direction around the right-hand pen.

This characteristic also holds true in shaft drive motorcycles, but the right-angle gearing makes it more difficult to demonstrate with mere office stationery.

Modern sports-bikes and drag bikes run longer swingarms than older bikes.  This helps prevent the bike from wheel-standing, for the same reason that a fat kid needs to sit closer to the middle of a see-saw to balance a light kid on the other end.  That is, the amount of torque required to lift the front of the motorbike becomes greater, the longer the swing-arm.  If you don’t have offspring of wildly differing weights (or a see-saw) you can try my second desktop experiment.  For this one, you will need a ruler and a smallish weight.
1. Place the ruler on the desk, such that one end extends 5cm (2 inches) past the edge of the desk.
2. Place your weight on the opposite end of the ruler.
3. Now push down gently, on the end of the ruler that sits over the edge of the desk.
4. Move the weight closer to the edge of the desk, and repeat step 3.

You will note that as the weight gets closer to the pivot point, it becomes easier to lift. (By now, I expect most of you are going “well duh!”).  It’s this same idea that makes the longer swingarm a less wheelie-prone bike.  Like every element of design, there is a compromise that must be reached – as swingarm length increases, suspension performance is reduced as is the turning ability of the bike.  But that’s a story for another day.
* Like my previous entry on cornering, what I state here is based on my observations and my understanding of physics.  Please feel free to leave a comment if you think my statements are not correct.

Are you wearing a helmet?

If you live in a “western country” outside of the United States, you are probably required by law to wear a motorcycle helmet when riding a motorcycle. Australia is no exception to this rule. In Australia, this helmet must comply with Australian Standards AS 1698.

Let me state upfront: I have not read AS 1698. I am not a lazy person, but from my “Internet research” it appears reading standards is not a right of all, unless they wield a credit card… Besides, it wasn’t actually AS 1698 that interested me for the sake of this post.

From my understanding of AS 1698 and various reading I have done over time on the standards, it’s one of the better standards motorcycle helmets are tested against. It includes an element of destructive testing which (from memory) includes “batch testing”. In other words, it isn’t a “pass once and you are free to sell all you want” standard.

The standard covers all sorts of aspects – some fairly obvious, some less so. Things like:

  • How much energy the helmet is capable of absorbing. (In other words, making sure your head isn’t subjected to a 300G impact.)
  • Making sure a three kilogram spike does not penetrate the shell.
  • Testing that the strap adequately holds the helmet to your head.
  • Ensuring that the helmet permits a suitable range of peripheral vision.

In the eyes of the law, if your helmet does not have the official AS 1698 sticker, you are not wearing a helmet! So, if you feel the really cool graphics of your helmet clash with the sticker: “suck it up, buddy!”. But as I said earlier, AS 1698 is not what this post is all about.

I want to blog about AS 1609. This is the standard that covers motorcycle helmet visors (and other things like visors for race car drivers). Like AS 1698, if your visor does not feature the standard’s sticker, you are considered to not be wearing a helmet. This standard too, has its intentions on protecting the wearer. As such it features things such as protection against corrosive materials, stability of the material at adverse temperature ranges, strength of the material and optical clarity.

Put simply, it is the last point that I take issue with. It’s not like I ride around with my eyes shut – so optical clarity is important to me too. But currently, there are no tinted visor sold in Australia that pass this standard. But what aspect of the standard do they violate? If it’s the optical clarity – then I can live with that. I always carry a clear visor with me (complete with AS 1609 sticker!) Modern helmets make light work of changing visors, so the inconvenience of travelling with a bum-bag is something I can live with. I am not so sure I want to ride with a visor that may shatter if it is struck by a small stone. The standard is too encompassing. It is my opinion that it would be better for visors to pass two standards – one dealing with strength and another to do with optical clarity. It would be more informative to the wearer than this leaflet that came with a tinted visor I recently purchased:

Blanket disclaimer of unsuitability

So, when riding in sunny conditions, what are your choices? The way I see it, you have three:

  1. Wear sunglasses and use a clear visor. I used to do this a lot and don’t recommend it. Helmets don’t accommodate glasses particularly well. If you need to wear prescription glasses, make sure you test the helmet fit and comfort when wearing them, prior to purchase. The other reason I don’t recommend wearing sunglasses is that if they are not a well-fitting pair of wrap-around glasses, there is the chance for sunlight to get in behind the lenses. When this occurs, all you tend to see is your eyeball staring back at you! This is mildly disconcerting at the best of times and inappropriately distracting whilst travelling on a motorcycle.
  2. Squint. What would those optometrists know anyway? This raises another point. Sunglasses sold in Australia pass yet another Australian Standard: AS 1067. Maybe tinted visors should be subject to this standard conformance too?
  3. Break the law. Ride with a tinted visor… you rebel, you!

Technically, even though I carry a clear visor with me I am breaking the law by wearing a helmet fitted with a tinted visor. At times I have been booked or pulled over for random breath testing / licence checks whilst wearing a helmet fitted with a non-approved visor and I have yet to come across an officer who has even commented on it. Put simply, police officers are people too and are quite capable of applying common sense. If you are riding in conditions where “optical clarity” is unlikely to be an issue, I suspect it would take a fair degree of provocation on your part to provoke the officer into handing over a ticket for not wearing an approved helmet… But don’t count on it!

If you are riding at night or in dimly lit conditions, you can probably expect less favourable behaviour from a police officer, even if you are riding with the visor up, as Jeff Anderson found out:

…I was recently pulled over for wearing my tinted visor at night. The visor was up and not in use as it reduces vision. the officer said that it was illegal even though it wasn’t in use…

Jeff was writing on a forum which featured a section where you could ask an “an active serving motorcycle police officer. Interestingly enough in the response “Hubie” (the aforementioned police officer) mentions a rumour of an upcoming photochromic lens style visor, which is expected to pass the Australian standards testing. I can’t imagine that one will be cheap!
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Biking 101: Turning corners

Believe it or not, riding a motorbike and knowing how one turns are two different things.  Professional rider training organisations will introduce you to the concept of “counter-steering” and some may even attempt to explain how this phenomenon works, but, you don’t have to understand it to ride a bike.  Here’s the briefest summary I can give you on what counter-steering is:

If you want to turn left, you turn the front wheel to the right. 
If you want to turn right, you turn the front wheel to the left.

After you’ve read that, I think you’ll understand why the technique is called “counter-steering”.  What’s more is, it actually works!  Here’s my attempt at something between a layman’s explanation and the physics nerd’s explanation.  The explanation given is based off my understanding and what I’ve observed first hand.  I promise I won’t go close to using mathematics in my explanation!

The gyroscopic effect of the turning wheels is what holds a motorcycle up once it is moving at any sort of speed.  (Say around 20kph / 12mph).  The two wheels on the bike have different roles to play.  If we discount the effect of suspension travel, the rear wheel remains with its axis fixed relative to the rest of the motorcycle, whilst the front wheel allows its axis to pivot left and right (when viewed from the rider’s perspective). 

The rear wheel is responsible for keeping the motorcycle moving in the same direction of travel.  The front wheel is responsible for changing this direction of travel.

Lets look at the rear wheel effect first:
If you spin a gyroscope where the top of the wheel is not centred above the bottom, it will maintain this angle, providing the gyroscope does not lose momentum.  Given the freedom of being able to move, it will circle in the direction matching the side the top leans to.  Therefore, once a motorcycle is leaning, it will move in an arc in the direction of the lean. 

Figure 1: Trajectory of leaning wheel 

Once the rear wheel is spinning with a fair degree of velocity, the weight of the rider and motorcycle become insignificant compared to the gyroscopic effect of the rear wheel.  Although you can use your body-weight to lean the motorcycle into a corner, it’s a slow and arduous process unless you can influence the direction the front wheel is pointing.

Here’s where the front wheel comes in:
Forcefully altering a gyroscope’s orientation will cause it to behave in strange ways.  This is best demonstrated with a loose pushbike wheel.  Spin the wheel up whilst holding the ends of the axle. 

A badly drawn arrow indicating a spinning wheel

Push the left end of the axle “forward” and pull the right end toward you.

Oh look, now there are dodgy green arrows as well! 

You will feel the wheel “react” to this movement and the wheel will lean to the left. 

Dodgy red arrow removed to make blue arrow easier to spot

The easiest way to return the wheel to the vertical plane, is to reverse the action you just did.  That is: pull the left hand toward you and push away with the right.

Putting it all together:
With our increased understanding of what is going on, we’re ready to “hit the road”.  (That should be taken as a “figure of speech”, rather than a “literal interpretation”)

  1. Travelling forward on the bike we push the left handlebar away from us.  As explained above, this will cause the front wheel to lean to the left.  The rest of the motorcycle will follow, resulting in both wheels now leaning to the left.
  2. We stop pushing the left handlebar, allowing it to resume a “neutral” position.  It requires some force on our part to remain at this current lean angle, as the gyroscopic effect of the front wheel will now make it “want to” turn in more.
  3. Because the wheels are leaning, the bike travels in an arc.
  4. Once the joy of turning left has worn thin, we need to stand the bike back up.  So, we reverse the process and push the right handlebar forward.

And that’s the simplified version of turning corners on a bike!  I will leave “turning right” as “an exercise for the reader”. 

Some points in closing:

  • I’ve heard it claimed that the Wright brothers (as in the bicycle makers who forgot that push-bikes weren’t meant to fly) noted that you counter-steer bikes.  Later observations (such as “look, my brother is flying”) seem to occupy most text that you see written on the duo.
  • Whilst counter-steering works for push-bikes, the relative weight of the rider compared with the bike means it is much harder to observe the effect.  Body weight / balance play a bigger role.
  • Rider training will teach you to push  the bars, not pull  on the opposite bar.*  I believe this is taught to stop you gripping the bars too tightly.  A loose relaxed grip with your hands is a safer way to ride.
  • Throttle control also plays a large part to how well you can ride around a corner, but that is a story for another day. 

* Personally, I find it easier to feel the gyroscopic effect of the front wheel by pulling on the bars, probably because my arms are tense when doing so.  From changing between the two techniques, I find pushing the bars easier to control.

“Everybody’s lost, but me!”

I think I need a GPS…  I was leading some friends on a ride today.  I had been keen to go for an “exploratory ride” by myself, to familiarise myself with the roads around the Glasshouse Mountains.  There are a lot of forestry roads, some sealed, and a lot dirt.  I didn’t promise anyone an exciting ride, as I knew a lot of the terrain was flat and bordered pine plantations.  Those two combinations tend to add up to straight, dull roads… 

I had spent some time scouring Google Maps and Google Earth, attempting to work out how to stay on the bitumen and how to find some windy bits.  But my plans still quickly unravelled.  My ancient book of maps (circa 1992) has always proved to be hopeless and inaccurate once you get down to these sorts of roads.  For the sake of anyone outside of Australia reading this, allow me to paint you a picture:

We are not talking “out back” here…  The roads I was on today are less than an hour’s drive from Brisbane (population approx 1.5 million people)  As I mentioned, these roads traverse through pine plantations as well as other farms (namely pineapple)  But, they don’t get much traffic.  Side roads don’t tend to be terribly well signed and I don’t recall passing a car going in the opposite direction for the period of about 20 minutes as we rode along Twin View Road and others.  – So, if you know where you’re going, you will be fine!

As an exercise for the reader, follow along my intended route on Google Earth or, directly in the Web browser if you’d prefer:

  • Head roughly NNW along Old Gympie Roadout of Caboolture.
  • Turn left onto Twin View Road. – I’d already got lost before getting this far!  The main road deviates to the right and becomes Smith(s) Rd.  This takes you back into Elimbah, but, from my map study, I knew I could rejoin Twin View Rd there… Until I’d arrived in Elimbah, I’d no idea I’d left Old Gympie Road!
  • Stay on Twin View Rd as it deviates from Scurr Rd.  – I missed this one too, and gave up at this point.  Following “the main road” takes you along Scurr and then Newlands Road back to Wamuran.  At least I then knew where I was, so stuck to tried and tested roads…
  • If I’d still been on-track…  Turn right onto Raaen Rd.
  • This road merges with the Glasshouse-Woodford Rd.
  • Take that road back to Old Gympie Road, turn left and head for Beerwah. 

The more I look at that with Google Earth, the more convinced I am that we would of traversed lots of dirt roads.  If you use Google Earth, with the “roads” option on, you see a fair degree of approximation between reality and the way the roads look in real life:  Going back to my first missed turn you will see that the “roads” indicated a straight path.  The maps on whereis.com(Search for “Smith Road | Elimbah | Qld”) has a much better indicator that you will need to turn left, to stay on Old Gympie Rd.  Search again in Street Directory and you get even more detail!  I guess “local knowledge” counts for something.

My point is, not all mapping tools are created equal.  As far as I am concerned, a GPS unit is only as good as the maps you get in it.  All the fancy features in the world aren’t going to do you any good, if it can’t pinpoint you and know when you will need to veer down the side road to stay on course.  (Of course, you would expect any GPS to tell you to do a U turn after you failed to correctly navigate the last intersection but that’s still only secondary to getting it right in the first place)   

Ride safely

2007 was a a bad year for motorcycle related deaths on Queensland roads.  It truly is a tragedy that anyone dies in a vehicle accident and if you’ve been personally affected by the loss of a loved one I extend my condolences to you.

I used to summarise motorcycling as “Not dangerous providing you don’t hit something or fall off” and I still believe that thought has merit.  In the event of an accident, your chances of being seriously injured or killed are greatly exaggerated on a motorcycle (when compared to a car) and if you’re riding but not admitting this to yourself, you are probably doing yourself an injustice.  It’s this realisation that can help motivate you to go to the extra effort to keep yourself safe. 

I’ve been riding motorbikes on the road for around fifteen years now – and have yet to have an accident.  I refuse to be superstitious about this (by adding a “touch wood” style comment) – and I still remind myself that it’s not beyond me to have an accident.  Do I have the definitive secret to riding safely on the road?  I can only wish!  Ask enough riders how they keep safe and you will probably end up with a conflicting set of answers.  But I refuse to believe that “luck” needs to play any part of it.

I’ve raced (and crashed) motorcycles on a race-track.  To quote a fellow racer “I never set the world on fire” in terms of my on-track performances, but it did teach me a few lessons.

  1. Motorcycles are harder to crash that you might imagine.  Providing you’re getting gyroscopic effect from wheels turning they are incredibly stable.  In the event that you lock a wheel on the motorbike, the quicker you can get it turning again, the quicker stability returns to the bike.
  2. The biggest issue working against you keeping the motorbike upright is usually yourself…  “Panic” suppresses your ability to deal with an emergency situation.  If you can recognise the on-set of it, you may have a fighting chance of dismissing the panic and saving the situation.

On the road, these points still apply, but can be rather academic if your scenario includes other vehicles.  Road position / covering brake levers / situational awareness and many other factors all help improve your chances but these can best be summarised as “Concentration on the job at hand”.   Don’t ever allow yourself to think that it couldn’t happen to you…  Ride safely and enjoy the sense of freedom only motorcycling can offer.

Don’t take my word for it!

Let’s get one thing straight.  I am a computer programmer.  It’s what I do for a profession.  I am not a motorcycle mechanic, nor am I a motorcycle instructor.  My comments on motorcycling, and any mechanical advice should be taken as “just someone else’s opinion”. 

If you choose to follow my advice, you do so at your own risk! 

It is your responsibility to seek out the proper opinion of professionals.  By reading my blog, you agree to indemnify me from any civil or legal action arising from any damage to you, your belongings or any third party.

Fitting Leo Vince exhausts to a VFR

Before we proceed, please read my disclaimer

As far as mechanical skills go, if you can assemble Lego, or maybe an IKEA desk, then you will be able to install your own pipes on the VFR.  Here’s a walk-through of me fitting my Leo Vince pipes.  I would describe the process as “easy” and if your bike has never witnessed you holding a spanner, then this is an ideal first project.  I’ve written this walk-through in a fair amount of detail to try and give the wary and mechanically timid a good indication of what they will be up against. 

You will need:

  • One sixth generation VFR.
  • One set of Leo Vince exhausts.
  • One 3 mm Allen key
  • One 5 mm Allen key
  • One 6 mm Allen key
  • One 13 mm Ring spanner (or “wrench” if you speak with a funny accent)

Optional stuff that can make the job easier:

  • WD40 (or similar)
  • Needle nosed pliers
  • Small flat head screwdriver
  • Multi-grips
  • Spirit level

So, here’s the bike in question, in stock trim:

And here’s what you (should) get in the box. 

The exhaust even comes with its own miniature coat hanger!

Trap for young players: Ensure you have all the parts and tools required before pulling your bike apart – especially if it is your only means of transport.  Having to put everything back together half way through so you can go source extra pieces can be quite annoying!

I was very impressed with the overall build quality of the Leo Vince exhausts.  All the insides of the pipes appeared to have been machined and there were no welding dags in the joints etc.  The fit and the look were also first rate.  Having said that, there was one shard that was in the splitter pipe which was easily removed with a pair of needle nosed pliers.

OK Let’s get going!
First job, remove the seat and grab rails.  – There are plastic caps covering the four 6mm Allen key bolts.  Once these are removed the grab rails lift straight off.

Now, there are four Allen key bolts holding the duck-trail to the bike.  Two mounted horizontally near the front of the duck-tail (where the pillion peg bracket mounts to the sub-frame) and two mounted vertically just near the grab rail handles.  The duck-tail also has two plastic pegs seated in rubber grommets meaning it needs to be pulled straight back.  Undo the four bolts and slide the duck-tail straight back a few centimetres.
 
This gives you room to disconnect the turn signals, brake, tail light and licence plate light wires at their junction points.  (You should do so now)

Trap for young players: Never use force to pull wiring plugs apart.  There’s often a clip that is easily prised up with a flat head screwdriver.  If you’re having to force it, you’re probably doing it wrong!  If the bike is in poor condition, consider using WD40 spray on the connectors before attempting to disconnect them.

Now remove the rear fender.  There are four bolts accessed from the top and two accessed from underneath the bike. 

Tip: You may find it makes life easier to remove the right pillion peg and bracket.  This is held in place by two 8mm allen key bolts

Now the fun begins.  Loosen the clamp bolts at the bottom of the exhaust pipes where the pipe joins the catalytic converter.
Then remove the two bolts where the mufflers attach to the subframe.

Tip: If you can’t get enough leverage on the allen key to turn these bolts, you can use a ring spanner on the end of the allen key.

Carefully lower the pipes (remember that they are still attached to the catalytic converter) 

There’s a graphite gasket that seals the pipes to the catalytic converter.  This is what is currently holding the pipes on.  With enough care, you should be able to wiggle the pipe free without damaging the graphite seal, but remember that it is extremely soft compared to the metal its attached to.

With a bit of wiggling the pipes come off:

Hmm… must remember to check the car tyre pressures at some stage…

Fit the Leo Vince mufflers and pipes loosely.  They were all a good fit and didn’t require any silicon to seal them.  Leave everything loose to allow for minor adjustments. 

Don’t worry too much about getting things level yet.  We need to attach the springs first. 

(See it was a spring puller, not a coat hanger!)

Near as I could tell, the short spring goes to attach the left muffler to the pipe. 

All the other springs are the same length and secure the various join pipes together.

You can rest a spirit level across the pipes to make sure they sit level.  But if you do this, check that the sub-frame is level too! (in case you are on a slight slope and the bike is leaning)

The roly-poly cat thought I might need a supervisor…

…but quickly tired of the role and went to do something more interesting, such as stare at the wall:

Attach the supplied carbon fibre heat shield.  There were four soft washers and four metal washers.  The soft washers protect the finish of the carbon fibre and the heat shield.

Once you’ve got the set up level, tighten up the brackets and clamp and reassemble the bike.

No dodgy home-job is complete without having bits left over:

The bracket is meant to help secure the pipe to the pillion peg bracket.  But there was no way it was going to reach.  I could have futzed around with positioning the pipes such that it did, but the pipes would not have fitted so neatly and not without putting undue strain on the rest of the mounting points.  So, it stays off for now until I custom make a bracket, or modify this one to suit.

Edit: In case you were ever following me and frightened the exhaust system would fall off; you will be pleased to know that I have used a round file to elongate the hole in the bracket.  This has allowed me to use the bracket to help secure the exhaust to the pillion peg bracket.  To keep the pillion peg bracket square against the sub-frame, I needed to use an additional washer on the front bolt.

As far as I could tell, the four alloy spacers were meant to replace the standard rubber mounted ones where the pipe clamp bolts attach to the sub-frame.  The rubber washers were glued to the sub-frame and no doubt help dampen any vibration that travels through the sub-frame.  The standard set up didn’t seem worth disturbing.  The fitting instructions were very generic and the picture supplied was so small, it was useless.  However, even without IKEA quality instructions, I would still rate the job as “easy”.

Hello world!

I’m new to this blogging game and don’t intend on making a huge habit of it.  I will be aiming for one post a week.  But I am a realist, so I guess what that means is don’t be surprised when I fail in this objective.  The two areas where I feel opinionated enough to write down my rants and express myself are quite disparate: Motorcycling and Computing. 

I’ve read that one of the key elements to a successful blog is to introduce yourself to your audience.  I’m using my first post to do just that!  My name is Andrew Napier, I live in Queensland, Australia and I am a computer programmer / nerd / motorcyclist (not always in that order).

As I’d like to include a picture in my first ever post, and me typing away on my laptop is not exactly enthralling, I will leave you with a shot of me and my wife on my current motorcycle, a Honda VFR 800.

The bike a mere 24hrs after purchase!