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Operating the Motorcycle

What’s the preflight inspection?
Before every ride, check...
  • Tire pressures.
  • Tires for wear, cuts, and stones.
  • Engine oil level
  • Coolant level.
  • Headlights, brake lights, turn signals.
When I start the bike, in neutral, push the clutch in and shift into first or second with out letting go of the clutch the bike jerks forward. It's like the gears "punch" in. The engine doesn't stall, the RPMs don't even drop. The jerk isn't very big it's just that it worries me. What's going on?
That's normal and nothing to worry about. The clutch is a wet multiplate design (it runs in the engine oil) and has a little drag to it when the oil cold.
How do I steer/stop this thing?
Please see the section on Rider Training.
What is counter-steering?
Counter-steering is the technique of physically pushing the motorcycle’s handlebars in the direction opposite from that which four-wheeler-based intuition would tell you it should go. It is the most efficient way to steer a motorcycle in everyday driving and in emergencies.
How do I make really tiught, slow turns?
Check out the Slow School.
What’s this about shaft-driven motorcycles not counter-steering or wheelying?
Balderdash. It’s a boring old joke used to start flame-wars and confuse newbies. It’s a misrepresentation of the story about why Boxers can’t wheelie.
What’s SIPDE?
The newbie motorcyclist’s mantra: Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute. (Not, “Shit, I’m probably dead anyway.”)
What’s this Vanishing Point I keep reading about?
It’s a technique for gauging the correct maximum speed for the conditions. Read the article and the illustrations.
What's a decreasing-radius turn?
It's a turn that gets tighter as you ride through it. They are deceiving and potentially dangerous. Your initial estimation of the turn's radius (the inverse of tightness) is fine for the first part of the turn but then it surprises you as it gets tighter. Here are aerial photos of two decreasing-radius turns.
What is a stoppie?
A stoppie is when you stop with the front brake in such a way that you purposely bring the rear wheel off the ground. The opposite of a wheelie.
What’s a high-side/low-side?
A high-side is where the bike suddenly regains traction after beginning to skid and spits the rider over the bike. The rider typically exits on the high side of the bike—the side not closest to the ground. A low-side is simply where the bike loses traction and skids into the ground with the rider remaining on the low side of the bike—the side closest to the ground.
High-sides are usually more severe. The most common high-side accident scenario is where the rider loses traction at the rear wheel (due to excessive power or over-braking), the bike starts to skid, the rider regains traction suddenly by releasing the brake or chopping the power, and the bike immediately regains traction and spits the rider over the bike and tumbles. The key to avoiding this is learning not to chop the power and not to overuse the rear brake.
How does a motorcycle transmission work?
How Stuff Works
Dan’s Motorcycle Gear Box

Honda CB-1 Tranmission Simulation
Why does the shift pattern have neutral between 1st and 2nd?
Actually, there is a specific reason why neutral ended up between first and second gear when motorcycle controls were standardized in 1975: SAFETY.
In the 60s and 70s, there was a growing trend toward placing neutral below first gear. My nephew, for example, had a Kawasaki 100 with a "4 up" shift pattern (N,1,2,3,4). As this shift pattern gained popularity, more and more motorcyclists were developing the tendency to instictively shift the bike all the way down into neutral as they slowed, sometimes accidentally, but most times intentionally. The idea was that you could stay in neutral at a light or stop sign, then clutch into gear and start rolling again when right-of-way was established. The habit was obviously flawed, and riders started getting hurt.
The vast majority of injuries were caused when a bike was inadvertently upshifted from neutral into first gear at a fast coast. The resultant engine breaking caused instant rear wheel lockups, which in turn caused crashes. The mechanical aspects of neutral's location also caused various runability and logistical problems, as well.
By locating neutral between first and second gears, the severity of engine breaking in the event of accidental upshift was reduced, as well as making neutral a relative inconvenience, rather than something riders depended on. It also made first gear the natural first position in the gear box, which is where the transmission should be adjusted whenever the bike is stopped in traffic anyway.—Tim Kreitz
Neutral is in its odd location because that’s where it makes the most sense to locate it. On a bike, you rarely need to be in neutral: you’ve a clutch, which is your primary method of disconnecting the engine from the transmission. Indeed, you could go completely without a neutral gear, if you could stand the monotony of holding the clutch as the bike warms up, and turning off the bike whenever you got more than an arm’s-reach distance from it.
First gear, however, is extremely useful. It’s great for starting in. And it’s great for stopping in. It’s really good for driving slowly, too. So it’s at the bottom: as you approach a stoplight, you start to brake, and you tap your gears down to match your speed. If the light goes green before you get there, you’re ready to rocket. If it’s red, you keep the clutch in, and remain in first gear, ready to rocket. You never do go into neutral when you stop. As you leave the stoplight, you tap your gears up to match your speed. You never do go into neutral when you accelerate.
Now, imagine the situation if neutral were located at the bottom: you start slowing for the light. You begin tapping down. You’re almost stopped, you tap into neutral, the light goes green, you rev the gas, and you tip over because you’re out of gear. The asshole behind you runs you over as your engine shoots a piston through your groin. Damn, that sucks.
As it’s absurd to place neutral between 2nd and 3rd, or any of the higher gears, no example needed.— ((Five Fresh) Fish)
What's the petcock for? How do I use it?
It’s a Main/Reserve fuel valve. Its purpose is to select which of two tubes the fuel pump uses to get fuel from the fuel tank. One of the tubes is at the bottom of the tank; the other is about an inch higher. The normal “On” position gets fuel from the tube with the higher opening. When it runs dry, you switch to “Reserve” which gets that last gallon or so from the bottom of the tank. That gives you enough range to make it to the next gas station for a fill-up.
Why not just run on “Reserve” all the time?
Well, you would get another thirty or so miles out of a tankfull, but then when you run out of gas, you have to push your motorcycle to the next gas station.

Traffic and Road Conditions

What’s the proper technique for waiting at a stop light?
Keep your motorcycle in gear. Watch the rearview mirror for that idiot who keeps hitting motorcycles that are waiting at red lights.
How do I deal with a Left Turn on Green Arrow Only intersection when the sensors won’t trip the light?
You can’t change lanes: the driver’s handbook makes it clear that that’s not legal. You can’t leave the bike and push the pedestrian crossing button, for that’s abandoning your bike. Common wisdom has it that if you wait through three cycles, then the light is obviously malfunctioning, and you should treat it as a stop sign. The safe thing to do is to wait until there’s a green light for the other lanes and then to proceed. Cops have been known to give tickets in this circumstance. Subpoena them and challenge the ticket in court.
What do I do when it rains?
When it rains, slow down a bit. Be aware that the first rains in the season will cause all the accumulate oil and spooge to float up to the surface and make the roads really slick for the first hour or three.
Keep practicing your panic stops. Be aware that since there is less traction, your rear wheel will even more readily lock up, so be gentle with it until you get a feel for its traction in the wet.
How do I deal with rain on my visor?
On the freeway, alternate between turning your head to the right and to the left. (Keep your eyes looking ahead!) The wind blast will blow the water off your face shield, just like it does from the side of your car.
What do I do in the wind?
Loosen up on the handlebars. Let the bike lean into the wind. Loosen up on the handlebars. The bike will do the right thing by itself. Loosen up on the handlebars.
What is the Wind Chill Factor when I'm riding my motorcycle?
See NOAA’s Wind Chill Temperature Index page. Just use your speed.
What do I do in the fog?
Parts of California commonly get patchy thick fog. Interstate 5 and other highways commonly are the scenes of multiple-car pileups resulting from people driving way too fast in the fog. Often, even if you slow down to an appropriate speed, some other idiot behind you will not, causing big pileups. A motorcyclist was killed this way early in 2002.
First, slow down. Use your brakes so you light up your brake lights. Don’t drive faster than you can see.
Second, dim your lights. The high beam will just illuminate the fog and blind you. If your motorcycle has four-way flashers and you’re going pretty slowly for freeway traffic, turn them on. (25MPH or slower is the typical rule, but use your judgement.)
Third, if traffic slows to a stop, split between lanes of cars and get ahead in the jam. This may protect you from the idiot who’s still doing 75MPH behind you and can’t possibly stop in time before hitting the stopped cars.
What do I do in the winter?
In many places, it gets too cold or snowy to regularly ride during the winter, so you have to lay the bike up for storage. Check your bike’s user manual for how to do this.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, “winterizing” a motorcycle means packing your rain gear in the saddlebags and velcroing closed the vents on your Aerostich.
What should I do on groovy pavement?
Loosen up on the handlebars. Let the bike squirm. Loosen up on the handlebars.
What is lanesplitting?
Also known as lane sharing, it is the practice of riding between lanes of cars.
Is lanesplitting legal?
In California, it’s not exactly illegal. In most other states it’s illegal.
Is lanesplitting safe?
According to a study done in sounthern California in 1996, it is. Read the SFgate article.
How do I lane-split safely?
When traffic is stopped or moving slower than ~20 MPH, you can split between lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. Keep your speed no faster than 15 MPH over what the traffic is doing. Watch out for holes to either side of you because holes attract lane changes. Read Lanesplitting 101. It's sensationalist fluff, but the advice is pretty good.

Special Hazards and Other Questions

Argh! I dropped my bike! What do I do now?
Picking Up a Fallen Bike
When should I “lay her down”?
• Laying down a bike to avoid a crash is highly recommended by the IAMBPM (International Association of Motorcycle Body Part Manufacturers), the MMU (Motorcycle Mechanics Union) and the AMAMSG (American Medical Association for More Skin Grafts).
We should all lay our bikes down more often to help support these fine organizations! Very often, stopping or swerving to avoid a crash does absolutely no damage to the motorcycle or the rider thereby depriving the shops and hospitals of repair work. Let's all quit being so selfish and do what we can to help the economy, so lay down your bike for the good of all (except, of course, yourself, but it's a small sacrifice to make)!—XS11E
• On my first long trip on my old used goldwing, I met some friends down in the valley, and they were to follow me. Soon, one of them pulled alongside and notified me that I was losing some coolant and they didn't like it. I pulled over, and determined that rather than get out the toolkit for a 10mm to unbolt the overfilled coolant reservoir,I could simply remove the cap and roll the bike over on the front and rear crashbars, on the soft sandy shoulder without damage, and saved some time. It made a good photo, too.
I could change the rear tire on the road the same way, but havent had to yet. When I hit the horse trailer in Washington, I was on the brakes all the way to impact, which is why I could get up and worry about the damage and finishing my trip.—Paul Calman
• Almost never. Tire rubber has immense traction; plastic, steel, and chrome have next to no traction at all. If you’re on your bike and in control, you stand a much better chance of stopping in time or swerving out of the way than if you just let the bike slide.
One of the tests in the MSF Basic Rider Course practical exam covers swerving. You ride at ~20 MPH directly at the instructor. At the last moment, he points to one side or the other and yoru'e supposed to swerve the bike in that direction. If you swerve in the correct direction, you get ten points for the question. If you swerve in the wrong direction, you get eight. If you fail to swerve at all, you fail the course. The MSF does not teach you how to “lay her down.”
What’s a Tank-Slapper?
A violent oscillation of the front steering. All steering systems on motorcycles have a natural frequency (or speed) where, given an initiating disturbance, they will tend to oscillate quickly from side to side, each oscillation bigger than the previous. At its worst, the steering will be hitting the stops very rapidly—thus the term “tank slapper.” Damping prevents this from happening, by the rider’s arms and sometimes helped by a hydraulic steering damper. The newer sport bikes with their steeper steering geometry are more susceptible.
The most common slapper scenario is to be accelerating rapidly from a corner over broken pavement where the front wheel is barely touching the ground. A combination of bumps in the pavement and the rider attempting to steer the bike while the front wheel is slightly off the ground can cause an initial disturbance that is exactly at the natural oscillating frequency of the steering and overwhelm whatever damping the rider or bike is providing. Most people, however, seem to be able to ride them out.
Of course, worn steering bearings, worn tires, accident misalignment, poor suspension setup, etc. can all make the bike more susceptible to this problem.
Watch this MPEG movie of a tank-slapper.
Anything else in particular should I watch out for?
Avoid Volvos, SUVs, mini-vans, and people talking on cell phones.
  • People in Volvos drive as if they were in the safest cars in the world and seem to be disproportionately dimwitted on the road.
  • People in SUVs drive as if they have super powers, the right of way, and diplomatic immunity.
  • People in mini-vans drive as if they were in little sports cars.
  • People talking on a cell phone drive as though they are talking to the President and nothing else matters.
None of them can see you—or would care if they did.
How do I deal with dogs that jump motorcycle riders during back street tours?
Slow down a bit; let the dog get on its course to intercept you. Just before it gets to you, accelerate away from it.
How do I deal with deer, elk, and other large animals in the road?
Read this article on Critter Crashes.
I have a physical handicap and need suggestions on a bike.
You could try the news group uk.people.disability.bikers and the National Association for Bikers with a Disability.
What do I do in case of an earthquake?
Don’t panic. Slow down. Make sure there’s still road ahead of you. Read the Seattle P-I article. San Francisco is using motorcycles as parts of its earthquake and disaster response plan.
What can you tell me about radar detectors?
Not much. But you can check the Radar Detector FAQ.
Where are good places to ride in California?
Try the California Motorcycle Roads web site.
Any tips & tricks for taking you bike on the ferry?
Keeping the Shiny Side Up: Traveling by ferry with your bike
  • Don’t use your center-stand (side-stand is sturdier).
  • If you leave the bike unattended, chock the wheels.
  • If you leave the bike unattended, part (if possible) at 45 degrees to the direction of travel.
  • If there are high seas, chock the bike under the engine as well.
  • During docking and departing, stay with the bike, and grab the front brake for additional stability.
  • Don’t use the disc lock. Where is the bike going to go?
  • Keep the bike in gear.
Can I ride my motrocycle in the abandoned areas around the nuclear reactor that melted down in Chernobyl?
No.
I quit riding bikes in 1974 (750-Four-K) when I went to Germany because my ex-wife sucks. Anyway, I bought a new one last month and noticed when I was riding down the road and approached another biker he would wave at me in a sorta under handed wave with his left hand down by his side. Back when I used to ride the bikers salute, if you will, was with the left arm extended about 45 degrees in the up direction, sort mocking the go to hell black power movement back then. WTF happened? Some dumbass change the rules? Seriously, this pussified underhanded weak wrist wave has got to go, or have bikers become bitches?
I changed the rule. I'm a member of The Committee, and we had a meeting at Alices up on 35 a couple of years ago. You didn't get the memo because you fell off the mailing list.
If you're a sportbike rider, you now have to give the peace sign. If you're a BMW rider, you have to wave pretty much like you described. Harley riders have special permission not to wave, as does anyone in a steep turn or lanesplitting.
The problem of guys with black gloves waving but not being seen to wave because they're wearing black leathers is being addressed by the Visibility Subcommittee. Last I head they're mandating 1/8" reflective piping on the backs of the gloves, and cute paw-print-like circles on the palm and fingers.
Oh, and your "dumbass" comment has been noted and entered into your Permanent Record.
 
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