Riding Skills Info -
"Common" Frequently Asked Questions from the Newbie about the Blast!
Another source for files, manuals, and such -
Q&A (Questions and Answers)
Q- Why does the Blast vibrate so much as a new bike. Is this Normal?
A- Yes this is normal for most singles. It does lessen after break-in,
and through out it's life. It helps not to lug the engine around.
The Blast does get very smooth in certain RPM ranges,
and at 60-75 mph (in top gear) is extremely smooth.
Q- Is the Blast reliable? I've heard stories of warranty problems.
A- YES, the Blast is Extremely Reliable(as far as any bike goes).
Those horror stories you may have heard are overblown. They also seem
to pertain to the first year of production for certain Buell Models.
Q- I heard the Blast uses alot of oil, is this true and normal?
A- Unfortunately, this is true. Again is lessens after break-in.
But the Blast always consumes more oil than most bikes.
And we have tips to lessen it even more.
Q- I've heard the Blast is slow ? Can it be made to go faster.
A- Yes, for a 500cc bike, it is pretty darn slow.
BUT this bike has many hop up/ speed parts available from Big Bore Kits
to Cams, Exhaust systems etc. (See "Maintenance tip" File for Hop Up)
Q- Is the Blast a good bike to learn to ride on?
A- The answer varies, some say yes- but I tend to say maybe?
When a newbie first learns,
I'd hope it be on a very light bike that is smooth
(The Blast shakes alot at low RPM's).
But this bike is still alot easier than many other bikes,
because the Blast has excellant handling and braking.
Q- I'm a Tall person (over 6 feet), will the Blast fit me ?
A- Well....Kinda (I'm 6'4"). But technically,
it doesn't fit a person well if they are over 6'2".
But you can modify the bike with different handlebars and footpegs
to compensate. (See below for options)
Q- I'm a small/short and petite person, will the Blast fit me?
A- *LOL* Oh my yes, the Blast will fit you excellent.
It has shorter reach controls,
is very low with an optional Lower seat too.
This is the lowest sport(ish) bike on the market.
Q- I've heard that the Blast really goes thru rear tires,is this true?
And, can we install larger tires on the Blast ?
A- Ummm...YES, the Blast really DOES go thru Rear tires(especially)
and front tires, more than any other bike it's size/power.
Some brands of tires are either better of worse(see Maintainence tips file),
it depends on whether you're looking for long life, or maximum adhesion.
As for being able to install larger tires...ummm..kinda?
For the front, you can go taller and wider with no problem.
But the rear has a limit in the height dept. The width is not a problem
really (although rim width is kinda narrow), it's the Height!
You cannot really go much taller with an UN-modified swingarm.
Meaning, even a 120/90-16 series tire will NOT fit(too tall). Also you
cannot use *certain* size 130/80-16 tires either, see below for details.
Kenda has changed
it's dimensions and construction, and this tire is- NO LONGER SAFE to mount
on a Blast rear wheel!
****Problems and remedies****
Oil leak/seep Problems- Early model (yr 2000- mid 2002) :
1. Rocker Box Gasket (infamous paper Gasket leak on pre-03 Blasts/Harleys)
Just replace with a new/current H-D/Buell(one piece) gasket, or one from an
aftermarket company like James or Cometic.
2. Oil line(also wire harness) rubs through on the air box:
The fix (for me) for the Sharp Airbox edge rubbing thru the oil(breather)
line, is to first sand off that sharp edge a bit,and then make a slip-on
nylon sleeve to protect the line from further damage. The nylon
material should be as tough as the air-box, but sanding off the sharp
edge actually takes the brunt off of the problem. I made the sleeve
from Nylon tubing and slit it lengthwise to just pop over the line
with seam side back. It seems to have done the trick.
Cracked/Leaking Intake Boot (aka Manifold coupler)-these fail often.
OEM Replacement part #27433-00Y
Replacement procedure follows, and is rather easy:
You DON'T just Yank it out ! You need to loosen both sides of the
airbox first....then you can pull the airbox with the carb attached -
a little bit away -so THEN you can pop out the Boot ! Ok- on the
left side of the airbox lower down- you locate and remove the TWO
bolts that hold the airbox to the triangular bracket that bolts to
the block- But DO NOT remove that Third Bolt that holds the bracket
to the engine block- that one remains intact ! Then on the right
side of the airbox, remove the one bolt that goes thru that small
metal tab on the underside of the airbox- that attaches it to the
engine block....after that- the box and carb are free to move enough
to safely pop off the intake boot (manifold connector). When you're
done snugging up the boot clamps(don't overtighten and shread the
rubber!) you Then use Blue loctite on the CLEANED threads on the
right side bolt and tighten snugly (there is a Torque value to that
bolt- so don't strip the aluminum threads in the block). On the left
side- the bolts insert into a brass- threaded insert in the airbox-
just use ONE tiny drop of blue loctitie on THOSE cleaned threads and
snug them up really good- but don't strip by over tightening. And
thats all there IS to it !
Optional service products
Air Filter element alternative:
K & N makes one of their oiled fabric filters as a Drop-in for the Blast.
Order part #BU-5000 and don't pay more than $50.00 for the filter.
Oil Filter alternative:
For anyone who has had trouble finding non-factory oil filters for
your Buell Blast, here is a list of part numbers that will work as
direct replacements for the factory filter.
Walmart-SuperTech #ST4967 (formerly same as OEM Buell)-quality/lower cost filter.
**Don't use Fram #4967 , they are Junk Filters!***
Oil Filter Cross-Reference:
H-D / 63806-00Y
AC/DELCO / PF1233
MOTORCRAFT / FL836
PUROLATOR / L14476
STP / S4967
BOSCH / 3311
MOBIL / M1-103
FRAM / PH4967
K&N / HP-1003
BECK/ARNLEY / 041-8066
WIX / 51394
NAPA / 1394
FLEETGUARD / HF6158
Amsoil / SDF10
Alternate Motor Oils-
The Stock H-D Dinosaur oil isn't the best, but their NEW (expensive)
Synthetic "Screaming Eagle Syn3" is pretty good.
The Mobil 1 for motorcycles, in 20w50 (V-Twin formula) is also one of
the worlds best.
Very close in performance for the Blast is the Mobil 1-(Auto Formula)
in 15w50 (thats what I use).
The VERY BEST motor oil you can use in any Harley- is Amsoil...Period !
But any popular Name Brand of Synthetic or Semi-Synthetic in 20w50 is a
good choice for the Buell Blast.
Alternate Trans Fluid substitutes-
It's safe to use ANY(*Motorcycle)quality 20w50 Motor oil in our transmission.
And use of the Superior- Synthetic 20w50's will even aid in shifting.
-DO NOT USE (Hypoid) GEAR OILS IN THE TRANSMISSIONS !
(Especially Don't use Mobil 1 : 75w90 Synthetic Gear Lube)
Those lubes contain sulfur compound additives, which will eventually eat into
the Stator(Alternator) and short it out(PROVEN), causing the need for an
expensive repair !
Spark Plugs :
(Factory Harley) #10R12A
Quality NGK Spark Plugs cross referenced specifically for Buell Blast usage.
*Notice* The NGK Website had been showing the incorrect Plugs for the Blast !
*Side Note*- Plugs recommended below use larger socket/wrench size.
The correct Standard "NGK" Plug is a #DPR9EA-9 (stock #5329)
The correct "NGK" Iridium plug for our Blast, is NGK #DPR9EIX-9 (stock #5545)
*NOTE* - Iridium type plugs are the BEST in the World! (Highly Recommended)
NGK cross-ref recommendations:
NGK DPR7EA-9 hot (not recommended)
NGK DPR8EA-9 medium
NGK DPR9EA-9 cool (equivalent to Buell 10R12)
*NOTE* "DCPR type" are same, except(OEM)socket size....
FYI, for plugs that don't have a "Fixed" top cap on the stud, red loctite
the center threads to the top stud before installing, otherwise they will
Previously, we had FOUND another *Oversize* Tire size that fit the rear of our
Blast- without swingarm mods or contact.
This was a VERY limited tire size: 140/70-16 made by Avon, Pirelli, Michelin, etc for the rear
use the 110/70 front with this and enjoy superior handling.
For extended mileage and smoother ride from the front tire...
(and this tip WON'T slow steering too much)
Replace that front tire with a taller size from any quality tire
manufacturer, but use the 100/90-16 size -INSTEAD of the OEM
Those (90 series)fronts will then last a few 1000 more miles and
soften the bumps a slight bit more.
Hot Cams for the Blast!
Buell Blast Camshaft Choices :
Like the XB9 & XB12, the Buell Blast uses XL cams that are just arranged differently.
However, in the Blast application, the regular timing cup keyway position is used,
making the fitment of XL cams much simpler. Some of the cams listed below are actually XL
cam sets that we have found to work particularly well in the Blast.
As with the XB, Blast gearcases have a particularly tight clearance issue between the
#2 (front intake) cam lobe and the pinion bearing race. Clearancing of the lobe and/or race
may be necessary when installing high lift cams.
***Also see note further below- regarding tight cam gears****
ANDREWS BLAST GRINDS
Application Timing @.053� Duration@.053� Lift TDC lift
ANDREWS B50 I:16/32 228 .498 .163
*Bolt-In* E:43/15 238 .498 .146
ANDREWS B70 I:22/38 240 .530 .191
Performance E:48/20 248 .530 .156
ANDREWS N9 I:33/53 266 .555 .240
Race E:53/33 266 .555 .240
SCREAMING EAGLE BLAST GRINDS
Application Timing @.053� Duration@.053� Lift TDC lift
Buell I:16/32 228 .498 .163
Pro-Series E:43/15 238 .498 .146
SE "E" cams I:25/44 249 .551 .192
(same as E:59/10 249 .551 .122
*NOTE* Instead of using XB cams just get the new SE cams.
The "E" grind is stock in both the XB9 and XB12 and it's .551 lift.
For some reason, though, the XB version has the timing cup keyway in an odd place.
Fitting these cams to Blast motors was requiring a custom timing cup.
But then HD came out with the the '04 SE cams. I bought a set and not only do
the specs match the XB cams, but they're stamped "E" on the lobes just like
the XB cams. It's the same grind. And the keyway is in the right place for
a P3 Blast.
There is also a 530 version that offers both more power and torque in the SE
RED SHIFT BLAST GRINDS
Application Timing @.053� Duration@.053� Lift TDC lift
RED SHIFT 567 I:24/107/49 253 .575 .210
Street/Strip E:54/107/19 253 .575 .170
RED SHIFT 585 I:24/107/59 263 .580 .205
Street/Strip E:67/115/16 263 .580 .155
RED SHIFT 630/585 I:27/97/41 248 .630 .230
High Torque E:60/109/22 262 .585 .189
RED SHIFT 643 I:27/107/61 268 .645 .224
Street/strip/race E0/116/18 268 .645 .175
Evolution Sportster & Buell Camshafts
91-04 Sportster and 95-02 Buell
Cam gear fit can be an issue in Sportsters and Buells, particularly 1999 and older models.
HD literally had 7 different sizes for each gear, including the pinion gear, and each engine
coming off the production line got a combination of gear sizes specific to that engine.
Gears were matched in this manner to minimize noise.
When changing cams in one of these motors, it's important to check the cam fit and make sure
in particular that the gears turn freely and do not bind. Having gears a little bit
loose is okay, you'll get some clatter but it doesn't hurt anything. Too tight, however,
is a problem, it can cause localized heating of gear teeth and that can cause a failure.
Aftermarket cam sets are supplied on the loose side so they will work in the majority of
engines, but always check.
In the 2000 model year, HD changed to a high contact ratio gear cut between the pinion gear
and the #2 cam and eliminated the need to fit this connection. In 2001, this change was
propagated to all of the connections between the cams. These later style cams can be installed
in earlier engines by using a late model high contact ratio pinion gear.
Likewise, cams with the older gear cut can be installed in later engines by backdating the
Other Performance modifications:
Use the K&N air filter replacement- or Buell Pro series,
and rejet as follows......
Please Note: You cannot run an aftermarket intake (even the Buell Pro
Series) without bracing the carb in some fashion: EZ recommends springs,
one each side of the carb to the head (yes- 2 holes would need to be drilled)
but Ralph recommends a Heavy brace with a none OEM Carb boot.
Carb jetting tips :
Engine Carburation and fuel delivery systems and their repair/maintenance/upgrades.
Stock Jetting : pilot/mainjet
2000 - 2001 42/165
2002 - 2006 42/170
*ALL Aftermarket Exhaust(Except Buell Pro Series)use a 1-3/4" Header.
With aftermarket exhaust, but stock intake, rejet as follows :
Below 5000' Altitude - 45/170
Above 5000' Altitude - 44/165
*Note*-With Kerker exhaust which has a 1 5/8" crossover,use a #165 mainjet
For Aftermarket Exhaust AND a hi-flo intake or Modded Stock (EZ mod)...
...rejet as follows:
Below 5000' altitude - 45/175
Above 5000' altitude - 44/170
Accessing Idle mixture screw-
Carefully remove plug over idle mixture screw (drill it out carefully)
and reset idle mixture screw to 2 1/2 turns from fully seated,or for best
idle speed. If best idle is more than 3 turns out, switch to a 48 pilot
jet and re-adjust idle screw for optimum idle.
Shim the needle a little higher (~0.05".
The best course is to then to run your bike on a dyno equiped with a
wide band oxygen sensor (air/fuel meter). Optimum safe high performance
WOT A/F ratio is between 12.5 and 13.5. Anything over 14.5 is
excessively lean and risks stressing/overheating your combustion chamber.
EZ's Stock Airbox Modification:
Ok -I'm going to lay it out plainly, step by step. While sitting astride
your bike looking foward toward the front wheel,handlebars,tank,seat,etc.
Now facing in that direction look down to the left side of
your bike behind the cylinder and you will see the plastic air scoop that
directs air into the mouth of your intake :
(the black plastic thing sticking out with the wierd shaped
hole). Peek in that hole and you will see your intake venturi
sticking out (that black bugle mouth shaped thing sticking out of the
left wall - your left). Now disassemble your intake - remember where
each screw and bolt goes or ziplock in a bag and label bag w/paper
tape and a pen. I would suggest that you have both a service manual
and parts manual before you do any assembly/disassembly on your bike
so you'll have good references. Now the best tool for this is a
Dremel with a small plastic/wood drill - cutting blade,others have
used hole saws,and there are other choices as well - just be
carefull - there is no redo without buying another intake - lol -
Essentially what you are going to do is cut the bugle/venturi off and
then widen the hole to just before the filter holding circular wall
(that circle of plastic that holds the base of your filter in place -
the base being the large end). Now is the time to reroute your
"Additudes" Site: http://www.bcrider.com
gives very good instructions on this topic,please see the links section.
If at this time you do not wish to reroute your lines,
then do the following at least to help your engine's peformance.
Looking at your carb with only the air boxcover off
(the 5 snaps and philips screw) you will see a spigot aimed
at your carb.s' throat/mouth/opening (this is an epa thing that sucks
and is totally unnescessary) turn the spigot 200 degrees so that it
is now facing away and down from the carb throat - this will safely
vent any waste to the bottom of your air box (now also your catch can
so clean regularly (once per month unless doing serious miles/high rpms
then much more often - once per week). When reassembling, remember that
all screws that go to the engine- NEED to be red Lock-tited (only
engine - not carb or others) in reassembly. Your airbox will still
mostly look stock to the casual observation, however with the K&N you
will breathing at about 90% the efficiency of a stack (velocity stacks are
good as it gets) and anything else such as an exhaust will
appreciate the extra air improving the exhausts performance as well.
Well thats it - a simple modification that will really improve the
bikes breathing - thus improving engine performance (if you have a
good ear for tones you'll notice the difference in sound).
I tried to keep it simple, not because I think anyone is stupid,
but because experience has taught me that we all see things differently.
Well - actually - if you do the airbox mod I just posted and you want
to get max power out of your WB exhaust, NRHS(Racing) has found that your
best bet is 23 discs and loose the cone, you will then find more
power on a stock Blast with 45 pilot and 175 main, shim the needle
0.01 (there are a host of other carb tricks as well but they are
either pricy or extensive work in nature). If nothing else please go
to a 44 pilot jet, the (stock)#42 will be too lean,
that is why the extensive blueing on your headers and popping on
Primary Chain Adjustment: at 1,000 & at every 2,500 mi. interval thereafter.
**Note**The Blast is shipped with a spacer between the primary chain limiting
screw and the locknut. The spacer is discarded at the first service interval.
A inch-pound torque wrench is used to adjust primary chain :
Tighten chain limiting screw to 24 in/lbs
Back-off chain limiting screw 3/4 turn = 4 1/2 'flats' *Practical note: 12
flats more (14 flats out from torque spec is usually golden)is the experienced
recommendation by many.
Hold chain limiting screw while tightening jam nut.
Too loose = that box of rocks sound
Too tight = your top end drops to like 65mph and it will throw your idle
off and you can stall out too.
So if this happens after your first service - this is one of the possible
Well thats all there is to it, the inch/lb torque wrench would pay for itself
by the fourth adjustment - but its up to you, to justify the expense.
The following method though not recommended is used by many :
Can this be done without a torque wrench?
To answer your question, Yes. From a cold start, let the bike get to a warmed
up idle, then start tightening the primary chain. When you hear the idle
start to drop, back off 12 flats. I've been doing it this way for the last
few chain adjustments, and it is usually within
a flat of adjusting it with a torque wrench.
BTW, the reason for a cold start is to set the chain tension with a cold
(Note: A hex nut has six sides, six flats, 1/3 of a turn is 2 flats.)
All aftermarket Exhaust for the Blast are loud. And all aftermarket pipes,
include at least a part of their muffling system- with fiberglass packing
(yes- Even the White Bros., and the Pro Series-second half of muffler).
But alot of these glasspacked mufflers CANNOT have the packing replaced ! The
V&H, White Bros., Kerker and Jardine all can be opened, and the Fiberglass
repacked to quiet the tone. BUT the Bub, the D&D, the Force, and even the Pro
Series cannot have the fiberglass protion of their baffles re-packed(without
cutting open and rewelding the muffler!).
Only the Pro Series and the White Bros. also use a mechanical baffling section
to their mufflers as well. The White Bros. uses Oval discs (similar to the
Supertrapp), while the Pro Series uses a very restictive blocking cone
baffle, to re-deflect gases into a perferated inner core -and then back
around into center, and thru an additional shallow 'glass packing in the last
All aftermarket pipes(Except the Pro Series) use the SAME Headpipe(header)
diameter of 1-3/4 inch. In the past, some people thought there were two dif
diameters among headers, but that was a measuring discrepency. The Pro Series
uses a stepped header pipe that starts out as narrow as the Original factory
exhaust: with it's 1-1/2", stepping upto 1-5/8 and then finally to 1-3/4 inch
before being split up- and flowing into a smaller diameter "Y" pipe....all of
which restricts flow- but increases torque.
* Note: Simular to the D&D header
The "Kerker" exhaust is unique, in that it uses a "Resonance Tube", where
sound waves bounce back to give a deeper tone (not very deep though). The
exhaust flow must bounce back- then make a abrupt 90 degree turn into the
real exit pipe which connects to a small aluminum glasspacked canister
muffler. Which has the distinction of being the only canister that regularly
will grind pavement- on hard left hand turns -because of ground clearance
issues. Don't buy!
Everyone of these exhausts, has eventually experienced metal fatigue and
cracked- some componant of it's system. Some were baffles, while others had
mounting tab failures, while still others just cracked their mufflers. So
nothing you buy, will last forever...and some only last a few thousand miles
before something breaks.
One last word of advise. *ALL* non OEM Exhaust systems- violate federal noise
emissions laws...and you can get a ticket and be fined for mounting such
exhausts on a Street legal bike. And also beware, that at highway
speeds..almost all of these Aftermarket exhausts are loud enough to do
hearing damage with prolonged exposure.
This Cross Ref is a guide in locating Fork Springs used in other Bikes, that
appear to match exactly to what we use in our Blast....
This guide has not been proven, just taken from the "Works Performance" Website.
'85-'93 BMW : R65, R80, R80RT
'85-'95 BMW : R100RS, R100RT
'84-'86 Honda : CB700SC (Nighthawk-S)
'88-'90 Harley-D. : XLH883,1200
'88 & up Harley-D. : FXR
'88 & up Harley-D. : FXRS
'88 & up Kawasaki 600 Ninja
Supposedly, forks springs from all the above bikes- will match the Blast.
1/4 mile= email@example.com H.P.= 27.2@6400rpm,Torq= 25.4ft-lb@2800 RPM
Royal Enfield Bullet:
1/4 mile= firstname.lastname@example.org H.P.= 16.0@4500rpm,Torq= 23.4ft-lb@2850 rpm
Suzuki LS650 Savage:
1/4 mile= email@example.com H.P.= 27.8@5300rpm,Torq= 32.8ft-lb@3400 rpm
Kawasaki EX500 Ninja:
1/4 mile= firstname.lastname@example.org H.P.= 52.4@9350rpm,Torq= 31.6ft-lb@7600 rpm
1/4 mile= email@example.com H.P.= 40.7@8500rpm,Torq= 27.8ft-lb@7250 rpm
MZ Skorpion(powered by 660cc Yamaha thumper engine):
1/4 mile= firstname.lastname@example.org H.P.= 44.9@7100rpm,Torq= 35.3ft-lb@4650 rpm
1/4 mile= email@example.com H.P.= 38.4@6300rpm,Torq= 34.6ft-lb@2900 rpm
This Cross referance guide is not official, but will allow for alternate
sources of Brake pads found on other makes/models of bikes.
Starting with other Buell Models, the rear pads will interchange with Buell
XB9/12's. And some brake manufactures list the front pads of the '93-'94
Buell RS1200, as being the same ?
Next up, are a couple of Honda's that not only took the same Front Brake pad size,
but the same REAR pad as well, they were the- '88-'89 CB400F/CB-1, and the
'88-'91 Honda NT650 Hawk GT.
What follows is a L-O-N-G list of Metric bikes, all using the same Front brake
pad size as the P3 Blast....
'04 Honda CB600F, '95-'98 Honda CBR600F3, '94-'03 Honda VT600 Shadow VLX,
'91-'01 Honda CB750 Nighthawk, '94-'03 Honda VF750C Magna, '90-'97 Honda
VFR750F, '89-'90/'94-'98 Honda PC800 Pacific Coast, '90-'91 Honda CBR1000F,
'92-'00 Honda ST1100/'92-'95 ST1100A, '94-'96 Honda Shadow VT1100C,'97-'00
Honda Shadow Spirit, '95-'99 Honda VT1100C2 Shadow ACE, '98-'00 Honda VT1100C3
Shadow Aero, '98-'00 Honda VT1100T Shadow ACE Tour, '96-'01 Honda GL1500C
Valkyrie(all), '96-'99 Suzuki GSF600S Bandit, '94-'96 Suzuki RF600R,
'00-'03 Triumph 800 Bonneville, '03 Triumph 800 America, '96-'99 Triumph 900
Thunderbird, '00-'02 Triumph 955 Daytona, '00-'02 Triumph 955 Speed Triple,
'01 Triumph 955 Tiger..........
Please NOTE ! That while the above pads are interchangable, some maybe using
different pad materials and compounds. Although in general, the Blast uses
"Sintered Metal" pads- which is one of the more aggressive materials.
Blast Recalls- 02/02/2001
Recall #0822 applies to ALL 2000 Blasts (but not 2001's). The rear pulley,
cover, and belt are exchanged for year 2001 parts, and because that changes
the gearing(more grunt, less top speed), the speedometer is recalibrated.
Part Numbers Recalled:
G0400.T Rear Sprocket
G0556.T Sprocket Cover
G0500.T 135 Tooth Belt
Recall Kit: 94019Y
The original rear yr 2000 sprocket(that was recalled) had 73 teeth on the rear
pulley- the current replacement sprockets have 80 teeth. And if you want to
count the Teeth on the Belt ? The recalled belt had (only)135 teeth, compared
to 139 teeth of the current/replacement belts.
For all of the crap that flows right through your filter, but can
still damage your engine:
Everyone who has driven a motorcycle has experienced it, the MSF classes
mention (but don't explain) it, and motorcyclists discuss it all the time.
But what is it, really? How does it work? Why does it work? All questions I
will try to deal with in this discussion.
At very slow speeds we steer a motorcycle by turning the handlebar in the
direction we wish to go. We can only do that at speeds of less than about 5
MPH. At any higher speed we do the exact opposite, whether we realize it or
not. For example, assuming we want to turn to the right, we actually TRY to
turn the handlebar left. This results in the front wheel leaning to the right
and, as a result of the lean of the wheel, a turn to the right. This is
Why is it that we don't get confused regardless of our speed? Because we have
learned that steering a motorcycle is an effortless chore. That attempt to
turn the handlebar to the left FEELS like we are pushing the right grip
rather than pulling on the left one. It feels like that because the harder we
push it, the more the motorcycle turns to the right and, thus, it feels like
the right grip is pushing back at you that much harder. In other words, we
quickly learn to associate counter-steering feedback with the hand closest to
the direction in which we wish to turn. Further, even a little bit of
experience shows that counter-steering is essentially effortless while trying
to turn the handlebar in the direction you want to go is virtually
impossible. Humans are relatively fast studies, after all.
It takes only a modest familiarity with a gyroscope to understand counter-
steering - at least to understand how most people believe it starts to work.
The phenomenon is called Gyroscopic Precession. This is what happens when a
lateral force is applied to the axis of a spinning gyroscope. The spinning
gyroscope translates the force vector ninety degrees off the direction of
spin. Thus, if we try to turn our front wheel to the left, the force we use
appears as a lateral force forward against the axle on the right side and
this is translated into a force that tries to lean the wheel to the right.
Similarly, trying to turn the wheel to the right results in the wheel trying
to lean to the left.
But gyroscopic precession is not a necessary component of counter-steering. No
matter how slight, if your front wheel deviates from a straight path your
motorcycle will begin to lean in the opposite direction. It is entirely
accurate to assume that even without gyroscopic precession, the act of
steering the front wheel out from under the bike would start counter-steering
in the opposite direction. This is a result of steering geometry - rake. You
can observe it at a complete stop. Just turn your handlebars in one direction
and you will see that your bike leans in the opposite direction as a result.
[Please note that though gyroscopic precession is not a necessary component
of counter-steering it GREATLY facilitates it. Indeed, it is the precession
of the REAR tire that results from the momentary change of direction of the
bike that 'pushes' about 80% of the bulk of the bike into a lean in the
direction you want to go.]
In the case of a motorcycle, your handlebar input is immediately translated by
gyroscopic precession into a lean in the opposite direction. Since your front
wheel is attached to the bike's frame, the body of the bike also attempts to
lean. It is the lean of the BIKE that overwhelms the handlebar effort and
drags the front wheel over with it - gyroscopic precession merely starts the
process and soon becomes inconsequential in the outcome.
If, for example, you had a ski rather than a front wheel, the front would
actually begin to turn in the direction of handlebar input (just like it does
with a wheel instead of a ski) and body lean in the opposite direction would
then overwhelm that ski making counter-steering still effective.
The ONLY WAY to turn a motorcycle that is moving faster than you can walk is
by leaning it (if it only has two wheels). We have talked only about what
starts that lean to take place. Indeed, all we have talked about is the
directional change of the front wheel along with the simultaneous lean of the
bike, both in the opposite direction signaled by handlebar input. So then
Before getting into what is actually somewhat complicated let me say that if
you were to let go of your handlebars and provide no steering information
whatever (or you were to get knocked off your motorcycle), after some wildly
exciting swings from side to side your motorcycle would 'find' a straight
course to travel in and would stabilize itself on that course, straight up!
That's right, your motorcycle has a self-correcting design built into it -
known as its Steering Geometry - that causes it to automatically compensate
for all forms of leaning and speed changes and end up standing straight up,
going in a straight line, whether you are on the bike or not - until it is
traveling so slowly that it will fall down.
This diagram shows a typical motorcycle front-end. The handlebars are
connected to the steering column, which is connected to the knee bone, which
is... Oops, wrong discussion. The steering column (actually called
the 'steering stem') does not connect to the knee bone, nor does it connect
directly to your forks! Instead, it connects to what is known as the triple-
tree (shown as D in the diagram.) This is merely where both forks are tied,
along with the steering stem, to the bike's frame. You will notice that the
triple-tree extends towards the front and that as a result the forks are
offset forward some distance from the steering stem. (Notice the red diagonal
lines marked C and C'.) This is known as the offset.
Now please notice that the forks are not pointing straight down from the
triple-tree, but are instead at an angle. This angle is known as the rake.
Were it not for that rake (and modest offset) the front tire would touch the
ground at point A. (Most rake angles are approximately 30 degrees.)
What the rake does for you is profoundly important. For one thing, it causes
any lean of the wheel to be translated into a turn of the wheel towards that
lean. For another, it slows down your steering. That is, if you turn your
handlebar 20 degrees at slow speed your course will change something less
than 20 degrees. [At higher speeds you NEVER would turn your handlebars 20
degrees - the front wheel is always pointing virtually straight ahead.] Rake,
in the case of higher speed turning then really does SLOW DOWN the
realization of the turn. (We will see why soon.)
Looking at the diagram, imagine that instead of pointing to the right the
wheel is pointing straight at you. (The body of the motorcycle remains
pointing to the right.) You will now recognize that the contact patch which
was B before the wheel turned has now got to be near where C' is at. In other
words, the fact that your wheel is on a rake results in the consumption of
part of your steering input into a displacement of the contact patch of the
wheel. (This is why steering is 'slower' - and the greater the rake, the
slower it is. Note that 'slow steering' is NOT the same as 'under-steer'.)
Notice also that where the red diagonal line marked C' touches the tire is
higher than where B touches the tire. This demonstrates that a consequence of
turning is that the front-end of your motorcycle actually lowers based on
rake geometry. The distance between where B and C (not C') touch the ground
is called trail. (Trail, as you can see, is determined by rake angle, offset
and tire radius.) Some motorcycles will have the hub of the front wheel
either above or below the forks rather than directly in the middle of them.
In effect, these placements are designed to reduce or increase the effect of
the offset in order to increase or reduce trail.
The stability of your motorcycle at speed is a function of how long its trail
is. However, have you ever noticed that the front wheel on bikes that have
excessive rakes (and therefore long trail) have a tendency to flop over (at
low speeds) when they are not aligned perfectly straight ahead? This is the
phenomena that explains just one of the reasons why your wheel actually turns
in the direction you want to go after it begins to lean in that direction.
Any lean whatever of the wheel, because gravity tries to lower the front-end,
receives an assist from gravity in its efforts to move the contact patch
forward along the trail. Further, notice that the pivot axis of your forks is
along C, not C' and that this is behind the bulk of the front-end. Thus,
gravity plays an even bigger role in causing the wheel to turn than at first
glance it would appear. (And now you see why you have steering dampers - so
that a little lean doesn't result in a FAST tank-slapping fall of the wheel
in the direction of the lean.)
But there is another, more powerful, reason that the lean is translated into a
turn - Camber Thrust. Unlike automobile tires, your motorcycle rides on tires
that are rounded instead of flat from side to side. When you are riding
vertically your contact patch is right in the middle of the tire, at its
farthest point from the hub of the wheel. When you are leaning you are riding
on a part of the tire that is closer to the hub of the wheel. The farthest
parts of the tire from the hub of the wheel are TURNING FASTER than any part
closer to that hub. Thus, when you are leaning the outside edge of the
contact patch is moving faster than is the inside edge.
Imagine taking two tapered drinking glasses and putting them together as in
the next diagram. Does this not bear a striking resemblance to the profile of
your tires when looking at them head on?
Now imagine placing one of those glasses on its side on the table and giving
it a push. Note that the glass MUST move in a circle because the lip of the
glass is moving faster than any other part of it. The same is true of your
tires. This camber thrust forces your wheel to turn in response to a lean.
Thus, both the rake geometry and camber thrust conspire to cause a leaning
front wheel to become a turn in the direction of the lean. Then, of course,
the motorcycle body follows the wheel and it, too, leans in the direction of
So, now you know what counter-steering is, how it works, and why. What might
just now be occurring to you is with all of these forces conspiring to cause
the wheel to lean and then turn in the direction you want to go, what stops
that wheel from going all the way to a stop every time a little counter-steer
is used? And, as I earlier mentioned, how does a pilotless motorcycle
automatically right itself?
The answer to both of those questions is centrifugal force and, again, rake
geometry. For any given speed and lean combination there is only one diameter
of a circle that can be maintained. This is a natural balance point at which
gravity is trying to pull the bike down and centrifugal force is trying to
stand it up, both with equal results. (If you have Excel on your system you
might want to click on this link for a model that demonstrates this concept.)
If the speed is increased without a corresponding decrease in the diameter of
the turn being made, centrifugal force will try to stand the bike more
vertically - i.e., decreases the lean angle. This, in turn, decreases the
camber thrust and the bike will, of its own accord, increase the diameter of
the turn being made.
If the speed had been held constant but the bike attempts to shorten the
diameter of the turn beyond that natural balance point then centrifugal
forces are greater than gravity and it stands taller, again lengthening the
diameter of the turn as described earlier.
Once your bike is stable in a curve (constant speed and constant lean) then it
will stay that way until it receives some steering input. i.e., you again use
some counter-steering or the road surface changes or the wind changes or you
shift your weight in some way or you change speed.
As soon as any form of steering input occurs the stability of the bike is
diminished. Momentum, camber forces and rake geometry will then engage in
mortal combat with each other which will, eventually, cause the motorcycle to
find a way to straighten itself out. That momentum will try to keep the
motorcycle going in a straight line is obvious, but it also works with
traction in an interesting way. That is, because the front tire's contact
patch has traction the momentum of the entire motorcycle is applied to the
task of trying to 'scrub' the rubber off that tire. If the body of the
motorcycle is aligned with the front tire (only possible if traveling in a
straight line) then there is essentially no 'scrubbing' going on. But if the
bike is not in perfect alignment with the front tire, then momentum will try
to straighten the wheel by pushing against the edge of that contact patch
which is on the outside of the curve. As the contact patch touches the ground
somewhere near point B, and because that is significantly behind the pivot
axis of the front-end (red-dashed line C), the wheel is forced to pivot away
from the curve.
I believe you now see why if the bike were to become pilotless it would wildly
gyrate for a few moments as all of these conflicting forces battled each
other and the bike became stable by seeking a straight path and being
vertical. Clever, these motorcycle front-end designers. No?
Form Equals Function: Sportbikes are Not Beginner Bikes
Well, another riding season is upon us and as it always happens, we get lots of inquiries from potential new riders on how to get into the sport, what's a good first ride, where to take safety classes and so on. One particular type of inquiry that pops up with almost clockwork frequency is from a small number of new riders who wish to buy 600cc and up sportbikes as their first ride.
For the past year and a half, I, along with lots of other BB forum members, have entertained this question of 600cc sportbikes for a first ride with patience and lots and lots of repetition. It seems this small group of newbies keep coming back with the same arguments and questions over and over again. As a result, I am going to take the time in this column to try and put into words, answers that get repeated over and over on the BB forums.
Allow me to state first and foremost that I am a sport rider. My first bike was a Ninja 250R and I put nearly 7000 miles on it in two seasons before selling it. I am presently shopping for my next ride and it will almost certainly be a sportbike or sport tourer in the 600-1000cc range. I am also building a track bike in my garage which I hope to complete this season (a Yamaha FZR600). Although I am not an expert rider by any stretch, I have tinkered enough and done enough research along with talking with other riders to be able to speak with some degree of knowledge on the subject.
This column is split into two parts. First, I would like to address the common arguments we see here as to why a 600cc sportbike simply must be a first ride along with rebuttals. Second, I want to cover the rationale behind why the BB community-at-large steers new riders away from these machines.
On about a three month interval, a whole slew of questions pop up on the BB forum from potential riders trying to convince the community that a 600cc sportbike is a suitable first ride and then proceed to explain to us why they are the exception. I can almost set my clock to this pattern of behavior since it is almost swarm-like. I guess the newbies figure by swamping the forum with the same questions in lots of places we might trip up and endorse such a machine. Hasn't happened yet but they keep on trying.
For those of you that come to Beginner Bikes trying to convince us to endorse a 600cc sportbike, I offer you the following responses to your arguments.
I can only afford to get one bike so it might as be the one that I want.
I don't want to go through the hassle of buying and selling a used bike to learn on.
These two lines of reasoning pop up as one of the more common arguments. I am going to offer first a piece of wisdom which is stated with great regularity on the forums:
This is your first bike, not your last.
Motorcycle riders are reputed to change bikes, on average, once every two to three years. If this is the case (and it appears to be based on my observations), the bike you learn to ride on will not be in your garage in a few years time anyway whether you buy it new or used. You're going to sell it regardless to get something different, newer, more powerful, more comfortable, etc.
Yes, buying a bike involves effort and a financial outlay. Most of us simply cannot afford to drop thousands of dollars on a whim every time we want to try something new. Getting into riding is a serious commitment in time and money and we want the best value out it as much as possible.
However, if you can afford to buy outright or finance a 600cc or up sportbike that costs $7000 on average, you can probably afford to spend $2000 or so on a used bike to learn on. Most of the beginner sportbikes we recommend here (Ninja 250/500, Buell Blast, GS500) can all be found used for between $1500-$3000.
Done properly, buying and selling that first bike is a fairly painless process. Buying a used bike is no harder than buying new. I would argue it is a bit easier. No different than buying a used car from a private seller. If you've done that at least once, you'll know what to do in buying a used bike.
Selling a beginner bike is even easier. You want to know why? Because beginner bikes are constantly in demand (especially Ninja 250s). These bikes spend their lives migrating from one new rider to the next to act as a teaching vehicle. It is not uncommon for a beginner bike to see four or five different owners before it is wrecked or junked. There are a lot of people out there looking for inexpensive, reliable bikes and all of our beginner recommendations fit into that category.
If you buy a used Ninja 250R for $1500, ride it for a season or two, you can be almost guaranteed that you will be able to resell that bike for $1300 or so when you are done with it provided you take care of it. And on a bike like the Ninja 250R, the average turnaround on such a sale is two to three days. No joke. I had five offers on my Ninja 250R within FOUR HOURS of my ad going up on Cycle Trader. I put the bike on hold the same day and sold it four days later to a fellow who drove 500 miles to pick it up. My bike never made it into the print edition. Believe me, the demand is there.
And look at it this way: For those one or two seasons of riding using the above example, excluding maintenance costs which you have no matter what, you will have paid a net cost of $200 to ride that Ninja. That is extremely cheap for what is basically a bike rental for a year or two. Considering it can cost $300 or more just to rent a 600cc sportbike for a weekend (not including the $1500-$2000 security deposit), that is economic value that you simply cannot argue with.
The beginner bikes you recommend are dated and ugly looking.
I want something that's modern and stylish.
I want a bike that looks good and that I look good on.
I call these the vanity arguments. These are probably the worst reasons you can have for wanting a particular bike.
I will not disagree that aesthetics plays a huge part in the bikes that appeal to us. Motorcycles are the ultimate expression in personal taste in vehicles. Far more than cars. Bikes are more personal and the connection between rider and machine is far more intimate on a bike than a car. On a bike, you are part of the machine, not just a passive passenger.
However, as entry into world of riding and with the temporarily status that most beginner bikes have in our garages, looks should be the least of your concerns. As long as the bike is in good repair and mechanically sound, that is usually enough for most new riders to be happy. Most riders are happy to ride and they will ride anything given the choice between riding or not riding.
If you are looking at bike mainly because of how it looks and/or how you will look it and how others will perceive you on it, take a good, long, honest look as to why you want to ride. There are lots of people out there who buy things strictly because of how it makes them appear in the eyes of others. It's shallow and vain but it is a fact of life. It shouldn't be a factor in choosing that first ride but it is. I won't deny that.
The difference is: a BMW or Mercedes generally won't leaving you hanging on for dear life if you stomp on the accelerator or throw you into the road if you slam on the brakes a little hard. Virtually ever sportbike made in the past 10-15 years will do both of those things given a chance to do so (for reasons that will be explained later in this column).
The population at large may think you're cool and look great on that brand new sportbike and ohh-and-ahh at you. The ohhs can quickly turn to screams of horror should, in your efforts to impress the masses, you wind up dumping your bike and surfing the asphalt. Will you still look cool with thousands of dollars in damage to that once-beautiful sportbike and with the signatures and well-wishes of your friends on the various casts you'll be wearing months afterwards?
You Be The Judge
I'm a big rider so I need a bigger bike to get me around.
I'm a tall rider and all of those beginner bikes just don't fit me the way the sportbike does.
I'll look huge and foolish riding on such a small bike.
My friends will laugh at me for riding something so small.
These arguments are almost as bad as the vanity arguments. The difference being is they simply show a lack of motorcycle knowledge for the most part.
Unless you are over 6'3" tall or are extremely overweight (meaning well over 300lbs), even the smallest 250cc motorcycle will be able to accommodate you without difficultly. To provide an example, the Ninja 250R has a load limit of 348 pounds. That is more than sufficient to accommodate a heavier rider in full gear and still leave plenty of space for cargo in tank, tail and saddle bags. Or enough to allow two-up riding between two average weight individuals.
The idea that bigger riders need bigger bikes is almost laughable. It's like saying small drivers need Honda Civics but bigger drivers only 100 pounds heavier need to drive Hummers to get around. Or Corvettes with plenty of power to pull their ample frames, as the analogy goes. It is only because of the small physical size of bikes compared to their users that this train of thought even exists. It simply doesn't hold up to scrutiny. A look at any motorcycle owner's manual will confirm that for you.
Tall riders suffer more from fit issues than weight issues. On this, they do have a point. I'm a taller rider (6'1"). I do fold up quite comfortably on the Ninja 250 which is considered a small bike. I found it perfect for my frame. Others haven't. Then again, my knees hit the bars on bikes like the Rebel 250 and Buell Blast. Just different ergonomics that didn't fit me.
For taller riders, a much better beginner fit is a dual-sport machine rather than a sport machine. They offer the high seat heights that make them comfortable rides and their power is well within acceptable limits. We have a small but vocal dual-sport community here and they will tell you, quite rightly, that a dual-sport is just as capable on twisty roads as a sportbike. The same properties that give sportbikes their cornering ability is also possessed by dual sports (high center of gravity).
As to peer pressure, I admit to taking more than my fair share of ribbing from my 600cc riding friends. Some of it good natured, some of it not. In the end, this argument falls into the vanity arena. Which is more important: Your safety and comfort on a bike or what your friends think?
The ways to deal with friends giving you a hard time about a smaller ride is very simple. Tell them to ride their rides and you'll ride yours. It's your ride, after all. Most true riders will accept other riders, no matter what they are on. Only posers and losers care that your ride doesn't measure up to their "standards". And if so, do you really want to be riding with them anyway? It's more fun to stand out than to be a member of a flock anyway. And if they don't buy that line of reasoning, try this one: "Well if you don't like my ride, why don't you go buy me something that you will like?". THAT will shut them up REALLY fast. It works too. Unless their name is on the payment book or the title, it shouldn't be their concern.
If your friends can't deal with your decisions, you're probably better off looking for new friends. And if you can't deal with the peer pressure, then you are putting your own safety at risk solely because of what others think. Revisit the vanity arguments above and think about why you want to ride.
Decision Justification Arguments
I'll take it easy and grow into the bike.
I'm a careful driver so I'll be a careful rider and not get into trouble.
I drive a fast car so I'll be able to handle a fast bike.
Other people have started on a 600cc sportbike and didn't get hurt. So why can't I?
These arguments are the most common ones put forth and the ones that are hardest to deal with. These are the arguments that start flame wars. Because it is on these arguments that you have to convince someone the idea of what a beginner bike is over their preconceived notions.
The arguments also often surface in what I call the "decision justification arguments". Many new riders have their heart set on a specific bike and often come to BB to ask about it not to get real advice but to get confirmation that their decision is right. In cruisers, standards, scooters and dual-sports, more often than not these "pre-decisions" are generally good ones. In sportbikes, more than 3/4 of the posters are trying to get the community to approve their choice of a 600cc machine as a first ride. Their shock is quite real when they are barraged with answers that don't meet their expectations and that is when a flurry of oft-repeated discussion ensues.
Let's take each argument in turn since these are the ones that turn up with regularity.
I'll take it easy and grow into the bike.
The purpose of a first bike is to allow you to master basic riding skills, build confidence and develop street survival strategies. You don't grow into a bike. You develop your skills on it. As your skills develop, so does your confidence and with it, your willingness to explore what the bike is capable of.
But you are also entering in a contract with the bike. It is two-way. You are going to expect the bike to act on your inputs and the bike in turn is going to respond. The problem is, your skills are still developing but the bike doesn't know that. It does what it is told. You want a partner in a contract to treat you fairly. On a bike, you don't want it fighting you every step of the way. And like most contracts, the problems don't start until there is a breakdown in communication or a misunderstanding.
In sportbikes, the disparity between a new rider's fledgling skills and the responsiveness of the machine are very far apart. That is a wide gulf to bridge when you are still trying to figure out what the best inputs and actions on the bike should be. Ideally, you want your bike to do what you tell it and do it nicely. You never want the bike to argue with you. Modern sportbikes, despite their exquisite handling will often argue violently right at the moment a new rider doesn't need them to.
Remember, riding is a LEARNED skill. It does not come naturally to the majority of us (save those like the Hayden brothers who were raised on dirt bikes from the moment they could walk). It must be practiced and refined. Riding is counter-intuitive to most new riders. It doesn't happen the way you expect. For example, at speeds over 25mph, to get a bike to go right, you actually turn the bars to the left. It's called counter-steering and it eventually comes naturally as breathing once you've been in the saddle for a while. But for new riders, this kind of thing is utterly baffling.
You want your skills to grow in a measurable and predictable fashion. You have enough to be fearful of riding in traffic. The last thing you need is to be fearful of what your bike might do when you aren't ready for it. It's never a good situation.
It is interesting to point out that only one manufacturer, Suzuki, explicitly states in their promotional material that their GSX-R family of sportbikes are intended for experienced riders. This also applies to several of their larger, more powerful machines (such as a GSX-1300R Hayabusa). If Suzuki issues such a warning for its top-flight sport machines, it is reasonable to say that the same warning would apply equally to similar machines from other manufacturers.
Form Equals Function: Part Two
In Part One of this article, we covered a lot of the excuses that new riders give for wanting to start on a 600cc sportbike. This second half finishes off our discussion of this reasoning and discusses why high-powered sport machines are not the ideal beginner machine.
False Logic Completed
Last month, we covered many of the reasons new riders give to justify why they want or should get a 600cc sportbike. Now we finish with the last and most common excuses given.
I'm a careful driver so I'll be a careful rider and not get into trouble.
This is what I call the "I'm responsible and mature" argument. This one is a general excuse and does not apply to sportbikes in particular.
Recent studies have shown that 90% of all drivers feel that they have average to above-driving abilities compared to other drivers on the road. These drivers also said that they think 60% of those on the road are less skilled than they are. It's an interesting perception as it indicates a mentality that everyone else is sub-par, not you. Obviously someone has to be wrong because the percentages just don't add up.
A proper attitude towards driving as well as riding is essential. But these same drivers who see themselves as superior also engage in dangerous driving habits (aggressive weaving, illegal passing, bad merges, following too close, lack of attention to traffic/road conditions, etc). Very few drivers are truly honest with themselves and their ability to handle a vehicle.
The problem is, on a bike, the perception that you are responsible is not enough. On a bike, you must be. You either learn to be or you are going to be in trouble really quick. In talking with other riders I have found that they tend to be much more defensive and thoughtful drivers behind the wheel because riding raises their perception of their surroundings.
Ultimately, responsible and mature does not equate to riding skill. It has nothing to do with it except how you will approach riding in general. You want to know the sign of a responsible rider? Look at their gear. Are they in full safety gear? Watch them ride. If you are seeing them turn their heads to clear their blind spots, making careful and smooth maneuvers, leaving a nice, safe amount space around them and working to maximize your chance of seeing and knowing what they are doing, then you are looking at a responsible rider.
Now do the same exercise and watch the drivers around you. How many turn their heads to check their blind spots, signal lane changes, leaving several car lengths of space in front of them, weave in and out of traffic or dash to the end of a ramp and then attempt to force themselves onto the highway rather than yield like they are supposed to? I'm willing to bet it's not going to be a pretty significant percentage. Now imagine these same individuals on a bike. I'm sure you'll be able to spot more than a few of these types on bikes to (just look for the T-shirts and flip-flops as they blast by you at 100mph on the Interstate on the right).
How you approach the task of driving is how you will approach riding. Attention to the task of riding is the number one way you avoid trouble by not getting into it in the first place. Study your own driving habits. Good habits will definitely keep your chances of getting into trouble but they have little to do with controlling a motorcycle. Any motorcycle. Many lax drivers often become much better drivers as the result of riding a motorcycle. It is far less common for it to go in the other direction.
I drive a fast car so I'll be able to handle a fast bike.
Of all the excuses and justifications, this one is my personal favorite. It is in the top three most common excuses given and it shows a complete and utter lack of motorcycle knowledge. It is a statement made out of naivety rather than ignorance.
Most of the folks who make this statement own fast cars (Corvette, Mustang, Acura, modified Civic, etc) or think they do. The belief is that if you can drive fast in a car you can handle a bike that can go fast. I would argue unless these folks race cars on weekends, driving a car that can go fast does not make them a experienced high-speed driver. And for those that do understand how to handle a car at high speed, it gives you knowledge of braking and traction but even that knowledge is useless for one simple reason:
Bikes are not cars.
Braking, traction control, acceleration and handling are totally different on a motorcycle. Cars do not lean. Bikes do. When bikes lean, it changes the part of the tire contacting the ground (the contact patch/ring) and changes the stability and dynamics of the bike from moment to moment. The physics of motorcycle control are in a league of their own. Even the ability to race cars will not give you instant godhood on a motorcycle.
Are you aware that a racing motorcycle (any 600cc supersport made today basically) when it is turning is touching the ground with an amount of rubber equal to a couple of postage stamps? The same applies to any street bike at deep lean angles except they don't have the advantage of a smooth surface to hold on to or sticky race tires. Now imagine having to control the power and the amount of traction you are getting in that space.
Like being responsible, the ability to handle a car at high speed has nothing to do with handling a fast motorcycle. You are missing two wheels, a cage and a seatbelt on a bike. Turning at 70mph becomes a whole different world on a motorcycle compared to car. Braking is a different experience too. It is fairly hard to stand a car on its front fender if you stomp on the brakes. It can be done with two fingers, a good amount of speed and a moment of panic on a sportbike. The only cars that have brakes equal or better than that of a sportbike built in the last 10 years is a Formula One race car.
The skills to handle the potent combination of acceleration, instant-on power and brakes are best learned on a smaller machine so when you finally get on that ultimate sportbike, you have an idea of what to do and how to handle the machine. Driving a car won't give you that. Only time in the saddle, the more, the better.
Other people have started on a 600cc sportbike and didn't get hurt. So why can't I?
This is probably the number one reason that pops up. However, it isn't so much a reason as an observation. And it is a true one. Every year, lots of new riders go to their local dealerships or scour their local ads and bring home a brand new or used 600cc sportbike. And many of those riders do successfully manage to get through their learning process on these machines.
The purpose of a first ride more than any other is to get the risk of riding for the first year or two as low as possible. You want your margin of forgiveness in the bike to be as wide as possible. A 600cc sportbike gives you very little of that. Yes, a 600cc down low is a tame if sensitive machine. However, it takes very little twist on the throttle to induce a large jump in rpm's. A brief bump on a pothole with a death grip on the throttle can introduce a 4000rpm jump in the blink of an eye (speaking from personal experience). In an experienced rider's hands, this is alarming but recoverable. A gentle rolloff or a little clutch feathering manages the surge nicely. In the hands of a newbie trying to figure out the best reaction to such a scare, a rapid closeoff or a panic brake is often the result and can get you into trouble very, very quickly.
Yes, a new rider can start on a 600cc sportbike. It is NOT RECOMMENDED! The reason this line of reasoning pops up so often is because everyone feels they are the exception rather than just another new rider. It makes sense. It's hard to think of oneself as just another face in the crowd. As a rider, I know I am just another average rider. Although I have track aspirations, I have no doubt as to where my skill level is and it is definitely not in (or ever was) in the "start on a 600cc exceptional group".
In the end, to deal with this line of reasoning is going to involve the new rider, not the one giving the advice. No one can stop that person from going out and buying a 600cc sportbike as a first ride. And maybe they will succeed and crow about all the bad advice they received on starting small. Great! They were the exception.
What you don't hear about are the non-exceptional people. Very, very few new riders who start on 600s come back to talk about their experiences if they aren't in the "I've had no problems." group. On the forums recently, there have been a couple folks who admitted they got 600cc sportbikes to start on and indicated that it had been a less-than-ideal choice. This type of honesty is refreshing and it is very, very rare. I am grateful these riders stepped up.
Most of the time, we never learn the fate of those riders who start on 600s. Some make it and simply never bother to tell their tales except to friends. Some wind up scaring themselves so badly (by getting out of control or by actually dumping the bike and injuring themselves) that they sell off and never ride again. These types can be found. Just troll the ads for new supersports with one owner and low miles. The worst of this class of riders are the ones who become "born again safety advocates". These riders who scare themselves out of riding occasionally become preachers that tell anyone who will listen that "motorcycles are dangerous and should be banned". What they don't tell those they are preaching to is how they got that way. It's bad enough having to deal with the general public (who are at least honestly unaware of what riding is about) but a lot worse to be sabotaged from within by someone who did it to themselves and got in over their head.
Then there is the last group of these "started on a 600cc sportbike" riders that never tell us their tales. They never do because they can't. Instead, they enjoying peaceful surroundings and occasional visits by bereaved family and friends. They made that one mistake, that one error that compounded into a tragedy of inexperience. They can never tell us what that error was so we can learn from it and maybe also tell us that they should have started on something smaller. They were successful right until the point their skills and luck ran out. This can happen to any of us on any bike. But, in the end, new riders on a powerful sportbike can be a recipe for disaster.
Be honest with yourself. Very honest. Take the advice and wisdom of others more experienced than you and consider what they are saying. They may have a point. But if you opt for that 600cc sportbike, be assured you will still be accepted as a rider and still encouraged to act as safely as possible at all times.
The Final Equation
We've covered the reasons why people justify or want to get a 600cc sportbike. But we have one more thing to answer and it is simple: What makes these bad bikes to start on?
Sportbikes are built as racing machines, pure and simple. They are built in response to guidelines laid down by racing bodies for a particular class and made to win races in that class. Ducati, for example, spends most of their existence building bikes to win races. Since 1950, Ducati was always a racing bike manufacturer first and their products reflected that philosophy. A by-product of winning races is the fact that people see those winning machines and want to ride them (if you're going to ride, you might as well ride the best as it goes). It didn't take the motorcycle manufacturers long to figure out that there was a market demand for these machines and reacted accordingly.
Sportbikes represent a technological arms race. This has really become apparent in the past 5-10 years where new models eclipse last years models with better performance and capability with each passing year. To compare a 1989 Honda CBR600F Hurricane (the original CBR) to a 2003 CBR600RR is pointless. There is no comparison except in the model designation showing a distant family relation. The new CBR is lighter by at least 50 pounds and packs 30 percent more power, handling and braking ability that makes the original CBR look like a ponderous dinosaur. But just because that original CBR dinosaur has been eclipsed doesn't make it any more tamable. If anything, older sportbikes are far more temperamental than the descendants.
Consider the fact that this year a privateer (independent racer) bought a Yamaha YZF-R1 off the showroom floor, took off the lights and mirrors, added a race belly pan, exhaust and tires and placed in the top ten at the AMA Superbike race at Daytona. The bike was two weeks off the floor and basically stock (the modifications with the exception of the pipe are required). Since factory sponsored teams tend to take the top slots, any privateer that can break in the top ten is doing well by anyone's definition.
Because sportbikes (and especially 600s since they compete in the most populous racing class out there) are designed first as racing machines, they are built with handling, acceleration and speed in mind. Not just one quality at the expense of others but all of them in abundance! Centralizing the mass of the bike at the center of gravity (CoG) gives the bike neutral stability. The high riding position and the perching of the rider over the CoG gives the bike the ability to flick over rapidly.
The steering geometry and short wheelbase of these bikes is designed to provide short and rapid directional changes. Combined with the higher CoG and mass centralization, the steering setup is what gives sportbikes their amazing turning ability.
Engine designs vary but have settled on V-twins and inline fours as the preferred choices. The sportbike V-twins are liquid-cooled, high-rpm engines designed to generate massive torque (hence acceleration) and power in the mid-range of their design limits. Witness the success of Nicky Hayden and Miquel Duhamel on the Honda RC51 in AMA Superbike as testament to the massive grunt these engines put out. So potent in fact that the AMA changed the rules for the following season to even the odds between the V-twins and inline fours. The inline four equipped bikes simply couldn't outpower the twins on curvy portions of the race circuit.
The inline four is by far the most common engine layout in sportbikes including all 600cc sport designs (the Ducati 620SS has a V-twin but is air-cooled and the bike is not a racing machine). All of the sportbikes that new riders lust after are equipped with this engine design. High-rpm capability (redlines vary between 11K and 16K rpm), liquid cooled and designed to produce peak power at very high rpms. The inline four delivers smooth and increasing power as the throttle is opened. Power tends to build to the peak point, at which power the engine will tend to surge to peak power and fall off as the peak point is crossed. Although nowhere near as bad as a race-tuned two-stroke (which literally double their horsepower as the engine transitions to peak power), the engine displays its roots as a racing thoroughbred.
A 1mm or 1/16 of an inch twist of the throttle can easily result in a 2000-4000rpm jump. You can be cruising along at a sedate 4000rpm, hit a pothole and suddenly find the bike surging forward with the front end getting light at 7000rpm. Definitely unnerving the first time you experience it.
And then there are the brakes. Braking technology has gotten progressively more potent over the past ten years. Even older sportbikes sport twin disc setups with two or four piston calipers designed to get these bikes down from 150mph to 60mph as quickly as possible. Current generation bikes are unreal. These brakes have grown to six piston calipers with massive discs whose sole job is to slow a 180mph missile down to corner speed in the shortest distance possible. If you ever watch racers, notice that they tend to only use two fingers to brake. They don't need anymore than that. The brakes are almost too powerful. And accidents happen on the track a lot due to bad or late braking.
All of these qualities produce an exquisite riding machine. The problem is, all of these qualities are designed to operate at extremes since it is under extreme conditions that these bikes are intended to operate. For the street, these capabilities are overkill. A hard squeeze of the front brake on the street can easily get a sportbike to lock its front wheel. Same applies to an over-aggressive stomp on the rear brake. No matter which way you slice it, highsides hurt.
The powerful engine can literally get you from 0 to 45mph in the blink of an eye in first gear. Come up one gear and you can be at 70mph with the slightest drop of your wrist. Add in one bump at speed without knowing what the throttle is going to do and suddenly you aren't at 70mph anymore. You're at 90+ mph and the bike is tickling its "sweet spot". At this speed, you better not panic. If you botch the slowdown from this error (either by a rapid rolloff or a shift), you can find yourself in serious trouble.
The handling capabilities of sportbikes actually make them wonderful machines to ride once you are used to thinking where you want to go. This actually gives them great beginner qualities (if on the extreme end). The downside is this perfect handling is slaved to amazing power on tap and the brakes that can back it off just as quickly.
In the final equation, a 600cc sportbike is little more than a racing machine with street parts bolted on. They aren't designed for street use; they are adapted to it. But no compromises are made in that transition. The same R6, GSX-R600, ZX-6RR or CBR600RR you can buy off the showroom floor can be converted in an afternoon, be at the track the next day and wind up winning races. And the sportbikes from 10 years ago were the R6s, Gixxers, Ninjas and CBRs of their day. They possessed the same qualities that their modern descendants do just not with the same maximums. Even today on the street, a 15 year old sportbike is little different than its 2003 cousin. The 2003 might accelerate quicker, stop shorter and lean farther but at the speeds us mortals ride at, there will be little difference.
Sportbike technology has gone an amazing distance in twenty years. Performance and ability has almost doubled in that time. But rider ability has not and a new rider from 20 years ago would still have the same challenges then as a new rider would today on an R6.
Sportbike form evolved to meets its function: to win races. Always has, always will. And riders will lust after these technological marvels for that reason. Can you start out on one? Yes. But you can also pretend to be a GP racer on a smaller sportbike that gives up nothing to its bigger brothers where most of us spend our riding days. It is always more satisfying to smoke a 600cc or 1000cc sportbike in the twisties on a Ninja 250 or GS500 than a bigger bike.
But when you are ready to answer the call of the Supersport, they will be waiting for you and you'll be better off having honed your skills on the smaller sportbike. Supersports are not beginner bikes. But they make great second and third bikes.
The choice is yours.
10 more HP for less than a $1000.00
Yes - it is done.
Hi comp 10.5 piston, rings, head-work and upgraded springs, guides and seals, cam, and some serious carb work, a good intake and exhaust, and bam! Your styling.
Putting cams in the engine is no problem, the rocker box has to come off first so there is no tension on the cam followers. When you are in there it is a great idea to get the "High Performance" oil pump drive gear, and to install that you need the crankshaft locking tool available from any of our HD/Buell dealer sponsers or from American Sport Bike, also one of our sponsers.