Thursday 23 May 2013

Caring for your motorcycle chaps

(Note to UK readers, this has nothing to do with feeding ale to your riding buddies.)
Periodically I get requests to publish a guest article on some item of interest to the riding community. This time it was the folks over at Motorcycle House who asked if they could offer up a brief note on how to care for your riding chaps. These can be an expensive piece of gear so why not get the most out of them? And here’s how to do it. (Although I was sceptical about washing leather there are lots of how-to articles online so I will have to give it a try with some of my extra-buggy motorcycle wear.)

Some TLC for your motorcycle chaps
Chaps HottIt seems the conversation these days is all about motorcycle accessories. After all if you are a bike enthusiast and in the company of your biker friends there is time only to talk about the pleasures and woes of biking. A recent conversation involved the care, or lack of it, of leather motorcycle chaps. Leather chaps are expensive and normally a one-time investment for most bikers. My friends who are bike enthusiasts often complain that their chaps (which have a hefty price tag) lose their appearance and become dry after some time. Here are a few tips to care for your chaps and give them some of the tender loving care they deserve for protecting you.
Regular maintenance
While it may not be possible to put leather chaps in the wash every time you go riding it is important to clean them thoroughly. Chaps motorcycle riders wear must be cleaned, after each ride, with a damp cloth to remove all dust and debris. Even if you cannot see it with your eyes, the dust is there. So take out a cloth and first wet wipe the chaps and then wipe them dry. Using leather soap occasionally will also be a good maintenance strategy. Leather oils are available in the market that will condition the chaps and help ensure long life. Always store chaps inside-out to prevent scratches from other clothes and zippers. Air drying also helps leather, but do not expose the chaps to sunlight. Air drying should be a ‘must’ before each storage to prevent the accumulation of moisture which is very damaging to leather. Leather chaps should not be stored in a sealed bag, but must always have some breathing space.
Just like all other clothes riding chaps also need to be washed. Make sure you follow any instructions on the tag of the chaps. Leather should normally we washed on the cold cycle with the addition of a little leather soap. Mink oil is a good conditioner and can be added just the way we add softener to our clothes.
Spend a few bucks
If after one particular ride it seems like you have a few extra bucks and feel the need to treat your chaps well, use a professional service to get them cleaned. The couple of dollars you spend on dry cleaning will pay itself back with long-lasting and good-looking leather chaps you will love to wear.
If you want to learn more regarding riding gear like biker chaps, jackets, leather boots, and motorcycle saddle bags please visit

Friday 17 May 2013

A love-hate relationship

Most of us have a special kind of relationship with our motorcycles. Usually we love them (Why else would I have bought it in the first place?), sometimes we hate them (My ass hurts after 10 minutes in the saddle!) and it varies by day or even hour.

I got to thinking about that third option, that love-hate kind of relationship, as I was reading about Dom’s over at Redleg’s Rides trials and tribulations with Valencia on his Alaska trip. As much as he loves his rig I’m sure there were many days recently when he’d just as soon drive it off the pier into the Gulf of Alaska and hitch-hike home. But as a rational human being (who decided to ride to Alaska in April!) he’ll most likely get her home, fix the issues, and rebuild the trust lost on that trip. We’re all waiting to see how that works out, but mostly just want to see him home safely.

I count myself lucky. Of the many motorcycles I’ve owned I can honestly say I only really hated one. It was my first ride, a Yamaha RD200, and I had no sooner ridden it off the lot than I knew it was the wrong bike for me. I had made a rash, uninformed decision and bought a bike that was too small for me and underpowered. I rode it only long enough to save up the few extra dollars needed to trade up to a Honda CB350 – about a month as I recall. This was 1971, a long time ago, and I still hate that bike.

Most of the rest I have loved. My Yamaha RD350-LC was quick, scary fast, and would throw the front wheel in the air if you but breathed hard on the throttle when releasing the clutch. The Kawasaki Z-1 was just plain AWESOME! Power and looks that couldn’t be beat, THE superbike of the day, as long as you mostly rode in a straight line. The various Honda 4’s were all dead reliable, pedestrian machines that could be counted on to go from A to B and back again carrying ridiculous loads with nary a peep and minimal maintenance. And my current ride, an H-D Low Rider? I love it. Power, style, reliability, and (considering it’s not a touring model) reasonable medium- to long-haul comfort. I expect I’ll keep this one for a while, or until the lottery finally comes through. (I’m due!)

But what Dom’s experiences brought fresh to mind were my Nortons, in particular my ‘74 Commando. Now there was a love-hate relationship. Not unlike Canada’s Sea King search and rescue helicopters,norton2 every hour of riding time required about 35 hours of shop time. If I wasn’t tightening bolts I was looking in the bins for replacement parts for bits that were lost on the road somewhere between here and there. And if I wasn’t lock-wiring every nut and bolt I was trouble-shooting the Lucas electrics, whose company motto was “Get home before dark.” (Why do the British drink warm beer? Lucas also made refrigerators.)

The long-suffering spousal unit would often show up in the garage (or the kitchen before I had a garage) and ask if all those parts on the floor meant we wouldn’t be going for a ride to the lake after all. And I’d reply, just as soon as I finish this engine rebuild dear. After a while she stopped asking and would simply come in, roll her eyes, and leave. At those times I hated her. (The bike, not the missus!)

But when Black Beauty decided to be on her best behaviour it was bliss. Carving those TT100’s around curves at 70, 80, or 90 mph to the thrum of a large displacement parallel twin with a shorty exhaust was magical. It was the easiest bike I ever had to become ‘one’ with, where I was a simple extension of the bike, or it of me; I was never really clear which it was. When we were ‘on song’ as they say we didn’t ride around those bends, we flowed around them, and then raced to the next set of twisties to do it all again, and again, and again until we ran out of gas, Lucas lived up to its motto, the exhaust system fell off, or the local constabulary put a halt to our fun for the day – all of which happened on more than one occasion.

I finally sold her but even then it was a case of the head (and the missus) saying it was the right thing to do and the heart saying Noooooooooo! I still miss her even though I know that makes no sense. I’ve moved on (age and experience does that) and my riding style has also moved on. If she were now to suddenly become mine again I expect she’d be quickly added to the hate list. And I don’t want to spoil all the great memories.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

OUCH! Now THAT hurts.

And now for a brief divergence from 2 wheels.

We have been having some trust issues with our politicians here recently (and who hasn’t?) so all the usual suspects are polling, analysing, speculating, and generally wild-assed-guessing why it is that only about 1/4 of the population in Canada trust their government to do the right thing. (Figures are similar for the USA.)

One of those pollsters decided to compare our trust in politicians and governments to other professions. A more in-depth story on the results of that poll can be found here if you’re interested, but what really hurt was this chart.


Really? As bloggers we’re even LESS trustworthy than politicians? Say it ain’t so!
But rest assured my fellow moto-bloggers, I trust you.


Monday 13 May 2013

Rear steer

Ever since I got my Dyna I had been noticing that some times when accelerating out of a corner at speed it would seem as though the back end would shift sideways just a little bit. It was never enough to cause any control issues but always enough to ratchet the heart rate up a notch or two for a few seconds.
And so the hunt for the culprit began.
All nuts and bolts to spec – check.
Tires – replaced.
Tire pressures – check.
Wheel alignment – check.
Steering head adjustment – check.
Rear shocks – check.
Front forks – check.
Front engine mount – check.
Rear engine mount – check.
Swing arm bushings – check.
Everything was to spec but still, on occasion, the seat of my pants would tell me something was wrong. The closest I could remember to that sensation was many years ago when I test rode a Norton Commando on which the rear axle bolt hadn’t been properly tightened, allowing the alignment to change mid-corner causing the back end to swing out just enough to change the tracking. (I noticed this in the first corner after a straight road run of a few miles at 100+ mph!)
I wanted to get a better look at what was happening.
But decided instead just to let Google be my friend. It turns out that this is a not unknown problem with Harleys (and presumably other marques) that have the rubber-mounted engines. What happens is the engine mounts are designed to minimize the effects of the up-and-down vibration and so work best in the vertical plane. However when cornering hard the stresses are being put on those mounts in the horizontal plane. Combine that with some enthusiastic acceleration and the engine mounts can flex just enough to cause the rear wheel to track out ever so slightly. And the rider to say a hasty Hail Mary.
There’s even a term for it, rear steer, which is, as I think about it, a pretty accurate description of what is happening.
Which begs the question: Why doesn’t the MoCo address this issue in their design?
It turns out they did, on the Buell. But for whatever reason that enhancement didn’t find its way onto the Dyna. Perhaps it was too expensive, or they thought most riders riding under normal conditions would never notice (which may be true, but if they do they will REALLY notice). But the fact many Harley riders won’t push their bike that hard doesn’t change that it remains a design weakness, still being propagated as far as I know on current models.
Of course there are products on the market that purport to “solve” this problem through additional engine bracing, but they are not cheap. However since I’ve tried everything else and love this bike except for that one issue I will probably break down and do the handling upgrade. So now it’s a just matter of sorting through the options to find the best solution.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Progress is being made – part deux

There has been quite a delay since my last update on this project, mostly due to a rather long period of time waiting for a specific servo motor to arrive in the post.
Well I finally got it and a few other bits I needed and was thus able to complete putting the package together.
Next test will be to see how it works on the bike. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to try it out this week if it ever warms up and stops raining.
So far this has been quite an experience and a lot of fun. I’m getting way ahead of myself but if the prototype performs as I’m hoping I already have a long list of enhancements I want to make. I want to be able to vary the speed of rotation. I’d like to eliminate the battery by using the bike’s 12V power supply. A wi-fi or blue tooth connection (wireless) for control would be cool. 3-dimensional panning would be amazing. And if I get really creative, a smart phone app to manage the settings like rotation speed and possibly even control the panning function itself. The sky’s the limit – well, almost, subject to time and budget. But hey, dreaming is free!