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The 10 Most Important Modifications You Can Make To Your Motorcycle: Part 1

Creating A Better Bike � One Step At A Time

Wouldn't it be nice to go to a dealer, select a bike, have it be just perfect the way it is and never ever have to do anything other than standard maintenance to it? Well guess what? That's probably never going to happen, or if you think it already did, you may not have considered certain modifications that will make the bike more YOUR bike than just another xyz unit off the showroom floor.

There are hundreds of modifications you can make to a motorcycle. Some are practical and some not so practical. There's nothing practical about putting a louder pipe on your bike, adding a hot cam kit, dolling it up with chrome and leather or installing a turbo kit. All these things may make your bike prettier, louder or add horsepower, but if you like to ride the bike for a few hundred miles each time you go out, there's a lot better way to spend your money on upgrades so you can enjoy the ride for more hours and miles each time you ride.

In 2004 I bought a stock bike off the showroom floor. I'm not made of money, so I began doing as-needed modifications a short time later, but just one or two each year as my budget allowed. The end result is a far superior bike from the one I originally bought, that fits me like a glove and is comfortable even after 500 miles in the saddle in a single day. There is no one bike on the market that offers that new, so take a look at the list and consider where you might want to take your bike.

  1. Modify Your Seat � I own several motorcycles. None of them have a stock seat. Stock seats are designed for an average type rider of the bike. Whatever the average size rider was determined for each of my bikes � I have no idea. I just know that after a few hundred miles in a stock seat my butt hurts, my hips hurt, my hands fall asleep and my knees hurt, too.

    Note the wide pan on this custom seat providing support evenly across the rider's buttocks, relieving any stress points there may have been in the stock seat.

    So what's going on here? Turns out our bodies like certain positioning over others when we sit for a long period of time. Knees bent more than ninety degrees back start to ache if left in that position too long. That's a common position on most sport and standard bikes. But it can be cured by repositioning the rider in the saddle.

    Then there's the case of someone with a short inseam that can't get their feet on the ground. Often times a good saddleman can cure that issue by removing some of the foam from the original seat and, in extreme cases, cutting out some of the seat pan changing the width of the entire seat to a more manageable narrower perch.

    But suppose you're a bit round. You're going to need more foam under your butt to distribute the weight of your body while sitting so it's not all focused into the inside of your thighs, as is common with most stock seats.

    Another aspect considered in building custom seats properly is getting your elbows bent at about fifteen degrees with a slight downward pointing position on your hands as they rest on the bars. This allows blood flow into your palms to maximize eliminating that annoying falling asleep of the hands as you ride. If your hands are slightly bent in either direction from your lower arm, blood flow gets constricted. A good saddleman will consider this aspect as well while re-constructing YOUR seat.

    Granted, you won't get this kind of customization just ordering a lock-stock-and barrel custom seat off the web like those made by Corbin or Mustang. You'll need to take an appointment with a true saddleman who can contour a seat to YOUR body. Personally - I've had six seats made at Rich's Custom Seats . It's my first stop after I buy a new bike.

    But that's a lot of changes all rolled into seat modification, and it just may be, due to your size and shape, ALL of them cannot be dealt with. If we can solve the issues below the waist with a seat mod, then there is another trick to solve the issues above the waist. Read on to learn about bar risers.

  2. Consider Adding Bar Risers � Considering my torso length and reach, I was able to achieve the bent elbows and straight arm/wrist combo by installing a set of bar risers onto my bike. If you've never seen them before, bar risers are simply extensions that raise the bars of your bike. They come is various sizes so you can pick the one that suits you best. Before you buy, you can actually determine what you need beforehand by doing a simple fitment procedure.

    The bar risers shown here raise the bars 2" allowing the rider to bend their elbows a comfortable 15 degrees.

    With the bike on its center stand, or having a friend holding it upright, sit on the bike. If you had a custom seat made, your legs should have no more than a ninety degree bend and if that's the case, continue on. Otherwise, go back to step one before you do this step.

    Sit up straight with your back perpendicular and reach for the bars, being certain to maintain a slight bend in your elbows. Can you reach them? If so, you're done. But if you can't reach them, determine how many inches away from the bars your hands are for getting a grip. What's the distance between where the bars are currently and where they need to be? In many cases the distance is at an angle and that's no problem because good riders can be angled as well. Whatever that distance is, that's how long your bar risers will need to be.

    But there's a catch here. If you change the location of the hand controls, you may need to replace the brake lines with longer lines and possibly some of the electrical connections coming up to the grips. However, the latter rarely occurs except in extreme cases of four or more inches depending on the bike and rider. If your brake lines need to be extended, continue on to step three.
     

  3. Upgrade Your Brakes & Brake Lines � One of the places manufacturers tend to cut corners is on the quality of the hydraulic brake lines they include on a bike. Often times, middle of the road models ship with nothing more than a rubberized brake line that will eventually crack and fail. Converting your brake lines to the more popular braided style (still uses a rubber hose) or the newer Kevlar lines is a sound investment in you and your bike.

    The sturdier Kevlar brake line shown here is half as thick as a standard rubber brake line, yet twice as strong and won't bulge when pressure is applied to the brake.

    If you're adding bar risers, you'll need to order your new lines to include the added length. Galfer will happily make you a set and they are easy to order. Simply specify the year/make/model for the front or rear brake line and then call out +#" to advise them of the added length. In my case, I upgraded to Kevlar brake lines on my 2004 Yamaha FZ6. Thus for the front I ordered 04/Yamaha/FZ6 +3" front, 04/Yamaha/FZ6 standard rear. Bingo � the lines showed up and fit perfectly.

    The Kevlar is much more reliable than rubber and won't expand like rubber does when engaging the brakes, which can decrease pressure on the pistons at the brake caliper and provide a decrease in braking power.

  4. Adjust Your Suspension or Replace It � Anytime you buy a bike, take a look at the suspension and see how many adjustments are available. If the bike is moderately priced, typically you won't be able to make any adjustments on the front and you'll only be able to set preload in the rear. Which is about as close to useless as you can get. Furthermore, most stock suspensions are kaput within a few years or less than 20,000 miles - whichever comes first.

    Adding a greater amount of adjustability to your suspension, through replacement of the stock shocks, means a smother and ultimately a safer ride.

    Suspension doesn't just kick in when you hit a bump. It occurs when you enter a corner, when you exit, when you give the bike throttle, when you decelerate and when you brake. Being able to adjust preload, sag, dampening and other aspects of both your front and rear suspension is going to result in a much smoother ride and more cornering control.

    This is a not a cheap modification, but if you really want to notch your bike up, it's one worth doing. In the case of my bike, we tossed the front and rear systems and replaced them with far better equipment that had no less than four adjustment options and a far longer lifespan.

  5. Upgrade Your Tires � Some people will tell you to always replace your tires with the manufacturer recommended tires � likely the same kind the bike shipped with. Rubbish!

    Note how the tread on these tires are designed to wick water efficiently. A must for traction when you're riding in copious amounts of rain.

    Often a bike will ship and then a tire manufacturer will build a tire around it to better provide traction, tread life and water shedding. Case in point � when Honda shipped the GL1800 in 1999 it came with Dunlop tires and they still ship them with the same tires today. In the meantime, Avon went to work on a far superior tire and the result was less tire changes and better traction.

    In the world of sport bikes, tire changes are fast and furious. If you own an older sport bike, you can be sure there's far superior product on the market today than what the bike originally shipped with, so shop around and learn all you can. Ditto for sport touring bikes, cruisers, dual sports, commuters and even maxi scooters.

Click here for part 2

PT/Winter 2010


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