Accessory Necessities

by on September 17, 2006
in Commentary

by Janet Green, Editor, Biker Chick News
copyright 2006

The more you ride, the more you’re going to notice “little things” that need to be addressed with further modifications to the bike. Fortunately, there are “after market” parts for every problem you’ll experience. Here are a few of the more common post-purchase “mods” you might want to make!

Problem: You feel like those cows in the movie “Twister.”
When you’re ready to hit the highway, the first thing you’ll notice is how windy it is out there and how much you feel like you and your bike are being tossed around, even on a day when the treetops aren’t swaying in the breeze. That’s aerodynamics at work: you on your motorcycle are meeting air as you travel, and the fact that you’re basically a squared off, upright object is causing the air to hit you head-on in a most un-dynamic way. The need for protective eyewear quickly becomes apparent, and if you’re wearing a helmet you’ll notice that the force – even on a calm day – can push your whole head backwards as the air tries to make a kite out of your visor.

Solution: Add a windshield!
Adding a windshield to your bike makes the kind of night-and-day difference in highway riding that makes you smack your own forehead and ask yourself why you didn’t do it sooner. The main thing the windshield does is deflect the frictional force that hits your body-and-bike “object” as it moves down the road. It doesn’t help you much in the case of a strong cross-wind, but it definitely protects your head and body from taking the brunt of the air’s force as you travel forward. It’s important to note that it doesn’t take a big, wide windshield to reduce this force. Even a small “sport” windshield will dramatically change the way air flows over your bike, reducing the air’s impact on you. Don’t feel like you have to settle for a big police cruiser-style ‘shield if that’s not the look you want.

Problem: Your bike emits a low, efficient “whirring” sound instead of a satisfying rumble

Solution: Pipe up!
Okay, we all know that the main reason to change those exhaust pipes is simple: we love the rumble, and we want to make some noise, good citizenship be damned! And, you can make a pretty good argument for the notion that “loud pipes save lives.” But there’s another reason to change out the pipes: different exhaust changes the way air flows through the bike’s engine, which can give you more horsepower at higher RPM’s. If you change your exhaust, you’ll probably also need to re-jet the carbureator, to account for the easier-breathing engine. One down-side here is that you could lose pep on the bottom end: things may feel a little sluggish when you pull away from that intersection. So, while you might find that shiney new (rumbly) pipes will increase your hp and your overall “wow” factor, they also might change the way you feed the throttle when you take off from a stop.

Problem: your wrists ache from gripping the bars and keeping the throttle open.

Solution: Get a Grip – A hand-grip, that is!
The degree to which your hands, wrists and forearms ache after a ride can be addressed in a number of ways, not the least of which is to simply relax a little… if you’re a new rider, you’re probably using the “death grip” on those handlebars. This will quickly make your forearms ache, and simply relaxing your grip a bit will make a noticeable difference.

Your bike’s handlebars and handgrips might also be causing you problems. Particularly with drag bars, which put your hands in a parallel-to-the-ground position when riding, comfortable handgrips might be an easy change that will make a big difference. If you have drag bars and find your hands aching, try putting on a set of comfort grips to provide some padding as your weight comes down on your hands and wrists. And, don’t forget the wrist-rest! You can attach a simple little device to the right hand grip that allows you press down with the heel of your hand and open your fingers, keeping the throttle open while you relax your grip. This is, frankly, a life-saver on longer trips.

Problem: You have nowhere to put your stuff.

Solution: Bag it.
In the male world, it’s probably bikers who can most identify with women who say they need a place to put their stuff. Those bar-hopping chopper guys aside, bikers who travel on their bikes appreciate their saddlebags, t-bags, and little pouches and pockets of every size and purpose. Fortunately, solutions to this problem are plentiful. Options range from large full saddlebags that mount on the back of the bike, collapsible rolling suitcases that attach to the sissy bar, to pouches that fit on the inside of your windshield or attach to your own belt loops for quick access to frequently-needed items.

Problem: Your bike seems dull, lifeless, utterly without bling

Solution: Go shopping!
This is why motorcycles are the perfect hobby for women who love to shop: there’s always some bit of chrome you can add to brighten things up or some accessory you can add to make things more fun or more convenient. The possibilities here are endless, from a chrome choke knob cover or a fully-chromed engine and transmission case for maximum shine, to leather or vinyl saddlebags or other totes for maximum storage. And here’s even MORE good news: you can pick a theme, and choose bits that dress up the bike in a highly personalized style. Trying to scare the kiddies? Try the skull theme! Want to create at least the illusion of speed, even while you’re still learning? Maybe flames are for you! Finally, don’t ignore yourself: that awesomely courageous, “I am Woman Hear Me Roar” rider – you deserve to outfit yourself in the best protective gear, the coolest biker-babe t-shirts, and anything else that tells the world “I ride and I love it!”

Short Woman Shopping: bike-hunting tips for shorter riders

by on July 24, 2006
in Commentary

by Janet Green, Editor, Biker Chick News
copyright 2006

If you’re under 5-foot-3 and shopping for a bike, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many bikes really do fit you. And chances are, one of those bikes is going to reach out and knock you over the head with its styling, its “cool factor,” and its general overall suitability. But, just in case the bike that speaks to you the loudest doesn’t fit you perfectly the way it sits on the salesroom floor, there are a few simple modifications (“mods”) you can keep in mind that just might solve one of two key height-related problems.

Problem 1: You can’t “flat-foot” the bike.
In order to have the most and best control over the bike at slow or no speed you should be able to sit in the saddle with the bike pulled upright off the kickstand, knees bent, your feet planted flat on the floor. If you’re up on the balls of your feet, or worse, tip-toed, you won’t have complete control when you roll up to a stop and put your foot down or when you’re straddle-walking the bike backwards out of the garage or into a parking spot.

Solution: Lowering the bike.
You can physically lower the bike itself a couple of ways, but they both involve changing the suspension components – namely, the shock absorbers. On most bikes, the shocks are mounted to the frame and to the swingarm. You can purchase a special bracket that will allow you to loosen the mounting bolts, slide the shocks to slide the shock back an inch or so, bringing the frame-with-fender down a bit closer to the tire in the rear, which might be enough to get you flat-footed.

You could also replace the stock shock absorbers with shorter shocks, bringing things down even further. If you go this route, make sure you don’t go so short that the tire is likely to rub on the underside of the fender when the shock is compressed (i.e., you hit a bump, or add a passenger or luggage.)

If that’s still not enough, you can also purchase a kit that lowers the front of the bike by changing the springs inside the fork tubes. Again, make sure you aren’t creating a situation where parts of the bike will rub together that weren’t intended to do so. Alternate solutions: You might be able to flat-foot the bike just by changing out the seat. A bike with a wide seat will spread your legs farther apart before they head toward the ground. A narrow-profile seat might give you just enough extra room to get you flat-footed. And, if you’re just up on the balls of your feet instead of tip-toe, it’s possible you could get by just by purchasing boots with a taller heel and sole.

Problem 2: You can’t comfortably reach the handlebars.
Obviously, being able to reach the handgrips is key to comfortably operating and controlling the bike. From a design stand-point, lots of bikes today have “drag bars” – drag-racing style handlebars that come out in a nearly-straight line from the triple tree, extending left and right but not coming back toward you. These bars can force the shorter rider to hunch forward and reach way out to the right and left, putting body weight on your wrists and causing a burning sensation between the shoulder blades after only a short ride. (Kind of like that old ten-speed you used to ride with the curled-under handlebars – which, not coincidentally, was also originally designed for aerodynamic racing.)

Solution: Different handlebars, or pullback risers.
Depending on how far you have to hunch forward, you can try a couple of things here. Pullback risers are little chromey bits you put in between the tree and the bars to bring the bars up and back toward you in inch-increments. Small risers can make a big difference, so ask your dealer to help you determine how much pull-back you need.

You can also try a different handlebar style altogether. Buckhorn bars (and their next-bigger cousin, mini ape-hangers) bring the hand grips back toward you, and put your hands at an angle on the handgrips so your body sits back a bit and your weight rests on your butt and lower back instead of your wrists. Full ape-hangers will likely raise your arms above shoulder-level, which looks “old-school cool” but might make the upper arms ache. Finally, beach bars form a wide curve back toward the rider – like using half a steering wheel from the city bus. These have a distinct look and bring the grips back toward you, with your hands in a straight position similar to the drag bars (but probably with better weight distribution). Of course, if choosing different bars you’ll want to consider the design and look of your bike, too. Beach bars might look hot on a wide cruiser, but they’ll likely look out of place on a narrower bike.

An important caveat here is that adding risers or changing the bars could also mean you’ll need longer or shorter clutch control cables and/or brake lines to accommodate the adjusted distance.

Shorter riders needn’t fear the bike-shopping experience. While it’s true that making these modifications will change the final price of the bike, it’s also true that making a bike fit you perfectly is actually part of the process – and part of the fun!

Mild temps and giant rodents

by on February 5, 2006
in Commentary, Winter

punxatawny phil the groundhogJanuary was a particularly mild month around here, and folks are asking me if I got to ride the bike. I did – three different times! – and managed to put a little over 100 miles on it in a month when temps are normally in the teens. The next question always seems to be, “Doesn’t it piss you off to be teased like that?” Meaning, predictions are that Feb. will be closer to normal winter time weather. On the contrary, I’m not pissed at all. Those mild January days were a gift, and I for one took advantage of them as best I could. But I’m a realist: I know that February isn’t normally a month for motorcycles, so I don’t expect the whole winter season to just disappear simply because we got lucky a few times. Having the opportunity to ride in January was exhilirating, and I think I can now hunker back down for a month if necessary safe in the knowledge that the end of February is not too far away and that the next month – March – is Spring.

Speaking of February, Punxatawny Phil saw his shadow so according to the legend that means there’ll be six more weeks of winter. Which leads me to wonder: who comes up with this crap?? I can’t help but ask every year why we rely on a giant rodent to reaffirm what we already know: February is a winter month, and it’s always gonna be that way! I think this somehow constitutes cruelty to animals, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t PETA be involved? I mean we’re disturbing the natural hybernation cycle of an innocent animal for our own selfish purposes. Sure seems to me like someone should be standing by, ready to throw paint on those uppity Pennsylvanians who rattle Phil out of his slumber every Feb. 2. I would travel there and do it myself, but I’ve been busy teaching my Parakeet to predict the Lottery numbers. He hit the PowerBall number last week, so I figure it’s only a matter of time.

Dubuque and Highway 151: Future Road Trip!

by on January 24, 2006
in Commentary

Just returned from a car trip over to Madison, Wisconsin to see my brother and his growing family – and discovered a couple of areas that need to be explored on the bike.

First, the city of Dubuque, Iowa. Dubuque is home to the America’s River museum & fresh-water aquarium, which is dedicated to the history and importance of the Mississippi River. I’ve been wanting to go to this new Iowa attraction since it opened in 2004. I think it would be a great family trip.

Also, coming into Dubuque on Highway 151 is really noteworhy – you come around a curve on the downhill, and there’s a dramatic bridge up ahead with a view of the town along the river’s edge that just makes you say “Wow!” All the old buildings close to the river give you an immediate sense of how the town developed, along with the realization of how far and how fast things progressed westward in this country.

The other area I’d like to return to on the bike is just Highway 151 in general. As you cross the Mighty Mississippi into Wisconsin, it’s amazing – the landscape immediately changes to include highways cut out of rocky bluffs, lots of long curves and pretty hills, and those dairy farms Wisconsin is famous for. It was a lovely drive… and the fact that we got to stop-n-shop at J&P Cycles in Anamosa, Iowa was an added plus!

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