Motorcycle Rider Basics
27Apr/11

Five Ways to Immediately Improve your Motorcycle Ride

Five Ways to Improve Your Ride.

1) Handlebars, 2) Windshield, 3) Foot Controls, 4) Seat & 5) Exhaust

People seem to always adjust everything around them to make things more enjoyable. Remote controls to adjust the TV volume, shoe inserts make our feet feel better, or maybe a couple aspirin to take care of that annoying headache. But when it comes to motorcycles, everybody just wants to jump on and ride. Sure, the motorcycle ride may not be very comfortable but that's what motorcycles are all about anyway, right? Well yes, to some extent, motorcycles are all about getting out in the weather and the wind and enjoying the ride. However there are five things that you can take care of on your motorcycle which will allow you to increase your enjoyment immediately. You can survive without a remote control, shoe inserts or aspirin but if you really want to enjoy your motorcycle ride you need to pay attention to these five things

Adjust Your Handlebars

This sounds like a real no-brainer but it is something that is overlooked all the time by motorcycle riders. Even the simplest adjustment of rotating the handlebars in its clamps and moving the handlebars forward or backwards towards the driver can make a huge difference in the ride. Your motorcycle was engineered for the average body type and the stock handlebars are meant for this statistical imaginary person. On top of that your motorcycle was shipped the dealer in a box partially disassembled so it would fit in the box. The dealer opened the box and reassembled the motorcycle for the showroom floor. The handlebars were positioned wherever the person reassembling the motorcycle decided they belonged. Maybe they got it right, maybe they didn't.

Michael Madsen stars in HELL RIDE. Photo by: Will McGarry/Third Rail Releasing, 2008.

Michael Madsen needs to adjust his handlebars! Or does he?

You're the only judge of the correct positioning of your handlebars. If your wrists or arms and shoulders are getting tired, maybe you are stretching out too far to reach the handlebars. If you are comfortable turning the handlebars, maybe they are too close to you. It is a very easy adjustment to rotate the handlebars by loosening the handlebar clamps. Move your handlebars around to where you think they should be and go for a ride. When you get back, adjust him again where you think they should be and try out your bike again. You will find the optimum position and your body will thank you.

Maybe you want to replace the drag bars that came with your bike with mini ape hangers. Go down to your motorcycle shop and sit on some motorcycles which is similar to yours and try out the different handlebars and see what you think. Changing out the handlebars is not a simple 15 min. deal. Depending on how much difference there is between the existing handlebars and the new handlebars you may or may not be able to use the existing cables. New brake cables means bleeding the brakes and adjusting the front brake. New clutch cables often mean readjusting the clutch. If you are someone handy and mechanically inclined, replacing the handlebars is probably a weekend job as long as you have all of the needed parts ready to go before you start the job. If you're not very mechanically inclined, your local motorcycle shop will be happy to charge you and replace your handlebars.

Handlebars play a major role in the motorcycle driver's position and comfort. The right handlebars, adjusted properly to the driver, can really make a significant difference in your ride.

Windshield

I know, I know, windshields are not cool. But don't just skip over this section, hear me out before you make a decision. If you are just writing to the corner store to pick up a bottle of milk a windshield is probably not going to make or break your ride. But if you commute to work every day on your motorcycle or enjoy long weekend rides, a windshield may be just exactly what you're looking for.
When you get up over 40 mph a windshield will really make a difference. Forget about the looks for a moment and think about what it's like to be riding down the freeway without the wind buffering your face. You can look over your shoulder without your glasses threatening to fly off your face. No more tears running down your cheeks. And at the end of a 300 mile ride you are not all worn-out and beat up. And one more thing, no more bugs bouncing off your face or stuck in the edge of your helmet. You can actually smile while you're riding without catching any bugs in your teeth and leave your toothpicks at home.

Today there are numerous quick release windshields available for every kind of motorcycle. He can put the windshield on when you go on for a long ride and take it off when you just putting around town. Go down to your local motorcycle shop and check these windshields out. Have the salesperson demonstrate the quick release feature by taking it off and putting it on the motorcycle.

Wind Vest on HDFXWG

Keeps the bugs off!

Another windshield option is a half height windshield. Depending on your motorcycle in your tastes, you can find one of these small windshields for your bike which will minimize the wind, stop the bugs still leave your bike looking very cool. I use a Wind Vest. What I like about the Windows is that it has a small profile which doesn't look too bad on my Harley Wide Glide, cuts down the wind by about 60% and keeps all the bugs out of my face. I leave it on all the time and I have had a Windows on my motorcycles for the last 10 years.

There are numerous windshield manufacturers. Memphis Shades and National Cycle are two of the most popular manufacturers. You can spend $200 and up but once you have experienced a ride with a windshield on your motorcycle, you will probably think this is a good investment.

Mid or Forward Controls

Mid or Forward controls refers to the location of the drivers foot pegs, shifter and brake controls. Most stock motorcycles come with mid controls which are located straight down from where the driver is sitting on the motorcycle. Forward controls are moved forward 8 to 10 inches from this mid location. The location of these controls has everything to do with how the rider sits on the motorcycle. One extreme example is a super sports bike which has the controls positioned towards the rear of the motorcycle to allow the driver to assume the famous "crouching turtle" position on the bike. In the opposite extreme, the classic cruiser controls which have been moved all the way to the front of the motorcycle allowing the driver to extend the legs almost straight forward and lean back in the seat. For most folks, the best place to locate the controls are somewhere between these two extremes. People with short legs tend to favor mid-controls while people with long legs like forward controls.

Jardine Forward Controls Kit

Jardine Forward Controls Kit

Different motorcycles and even different models of the same manufacturer have different control location options. Most motorcycles offer aftermarket hardware which will allow you to move your controls to the location you prefer. The only way to figure out what location you prefer is to try out different motorcycles which have different control locations. Visit your local motorcycle shop spent some time sitting on different motorcycles with different control locations. Sitting on a motorcycle in a motorcycle shop is not the same as putting three or four hours of ride time in to decide control locations. However, you really should be able to tell the difference after sitting on even just two or three different motorcycles. If your bike came with mid controls and you think forward controls is the hot set up, then shop around and see what hardware is available to move your controls.

Moving your controls is not cheap but if you are long legged person on a mid control motorcycle, moving the controls forward in conjunction with getting a seat that allows you to set further back on the motorcycle, will make all the difference in the world. You will no longer feel as though you are just sitting on top of the motorcycle but that you are part of the motorcycle.

You can find these hardware kits from the motorcycle manufacturer or distributor's who sell aftermarket motorcycle equipment like Motorcycle Superstore.

Lower or Raise the Seat

Every time you get into a rental car the first thing you do is adjust the seat. Not only do you want to be comfortable but you want to make sure that you can reach the break and gas pedals properly and have clear vision over the hood of the car. But when it comes to motorcycles, it seems that a lot of folks buy a motorcycle, jump on it and ride it for the next several years without ever thinking about adjusting the seat. What adjustment, it is

Low Profile Mustang Seat

Low Profile Mustang Seat

what it is. It's true that on most motorcycles there are no adjustments available for the stock seat. And for most folks that is no problem because the motorcycle was engineered to fit most folks. But what about everybody who isn't built like most folks? A lot of people have longer legs or shorter legs than the statistically average human. The same holds true for the torso, some people have extra large torso and some people have extra skinny torso. No matter what your body shape is, you should be able to fit very comfortably into the seat on your motorcycle. If you are only 100 miles into a 300 mile ride and you are already thinking about your seat, it's time to make a change.

When you are riding or even just sitting still on your motorcycle you should not feel like you are "on top of" your motorcycle. You should feel like you are "part of" your motorcycle.  You and your bike should be a single unit. When you are stopped at a traffic light, I believe that both feet should be flat on the ground. You should not be balancing your motorcycle while standing on your tip toes. When you are "walking" your motorcycle into or out of a parking spot, you really need full foot traction on the ground to maneuver a heavy motorcycle around.

So if there are no seat adjustments available on your bike and no practical way to permanently raise or lower the seat, replace the seat with one that fits you. If you have short legs there are not only low profile seats available but there are seats available that have a narrower front section which allows your legs to be closer to the bike and reach down longer towards the ground. If you have longer legs, get a seat that allows you to set further back on the motorcycle giving your legs more room to reach the foot controls.

Next Saturday go visit three or four different motorcycle shops and sit on a dozen different motorcycles. This may seem like a big waste of time but I think you will discover that one or two of these motorcycles will bring a smile to your face. You will realize that some motorcycles are really a good fit. Now all you have to do is put a seat on your motorcycle that makes your motorcycle a really good fit for your body. Apparently there are a lot of people out there buying aftermarket motorcycle seats because there are dozens and dozens of motorcycle seat manufacturers. Two of the most popular motorcycle seat manufacturers are Corbin and Mustang.  Both of these companies have been making motorcycle seats since forever and they have seen it all. Visit these two websites and you will learn everything you ever wanted to know about motorcycle seats.

Some seats come with a backrest for the driver which can easily be attached and detached. Check these out. This may seem like overkill or very uncool but if you suffer from lower back pain, this option can really make a difference.

You may end up spending $150-$300 on a seat replacement but you may discover that your old motorcycle has just become a real pleasure to ride.

Exhaust Sound: Lower or Higher

The sound your motorcycle makes while you are riding has a lot to do with your enjoyment factor. Loud exhaust may save lives but it can also wear you out. What may sound exciting and powerful for the first 10 miles can become very annoying after the first 200 miles.

Big City Thunder Baffles

Big City Thunder Baffles

I'm one of those motorcycle riders who strongly believed that loud pipes do save lives. I commuted back and forth to work every day through the city, 40 miles round trip, with stock pipes for over a year. During this year I experienced an average of one "close call" per week, usually the SUV soccer mom talking on a cell phone. I replaced the stock baffles with Big City Thunder baffles which gave me a sound very close to just straight pipes. They are loud. I don't like getting dirty looks from people in cars next to me at the traffic light who are rolling up their windows. But, my "close calls" went from one per week to one per month in the same commute.

Increasing or decreasing the volume of your exhaust pipe sound by replacing the baffle sounds pretty simple and it is a pretty simple task. I will even say it's a 10 min. task. However, the baffle in the exhaust pipe plays an important role in the performance of your engine. When you go from stock exhaust pipes which typically have very high back pressure to one of these loud baffles which typically has minimal back pressure, the performance of the engine may be affected. This is especially true if your motorcycle is controlled by a computer and fuel injection. The computer relies upon a computerized "map" as a foundation for its operation. If you make a radical change in one of the elements of this map like the exhaust, you may need to give the computer a new map. Suddenly this gets very complicated. The best thing to do is to talk to your local motorcycle shop mechanic and find out what's involved for your specific motorcycle.

It may not seem like much but changing the loudness of your exhaust system can have a significant positive improvement on your enjoyment.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is to ride safe and that means staying focused on the ride. Eliminate all of these distractions by properly setting up your bike and you will be focused on the ride and ready for that next close call. Cuz you know there will be a next close call.

Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. One of the best ways to improve your motorcycle is to upgrade the seat, for the driver and the passenger.

  2. If you think loud pipes save lives, imagine what learning to ride your motorcycle would do for you.
    Do you really believe in handing your life over to that soccer mom (texting teenager, drunk moron, druggie, etc.), hoping that they will hear you, hoping that they will pay attention, hoping that they will go as far as to spare your life?
    Your belief is mildly amusing …

  3. I do think loud pipes helps save lives. Its been proven…. no matter how hard you try to ride safe it doesnt make the stupid person next to you not stupid…. but if that stupid person can hear me, even if annoyed, thats just more of a chance that whatever stupid thing that person next to you does….. at least they’ll know you’re there because they hear you, hopefully. That doesn’t mean don’t drive defensively cause you have loud pipes. I don’t know how many times i knew a bike was near because i heard it before seeing it. The sound made me look for it and i ride so i’m always looking for bikes…. Defensive driving is a must, true! but that along with loud pipes and there is no way you’ll convience me that your chances of not getting run over haven’t gone up!!!!

  4. Great article! Rode when I was younger and just bought a 1200L Sportster. I was thinking of moving the controls forward. My seat exceeded my expectations on the trip to Sturgis and back so I don’t think I’ll change that, and I’m thinking about a minimal windshield for the long rides. I hadn’t considered adjusting the handlebars so I’ll be checking that out tomorrow.
    I’ve never been a big fan of the loud pipes but mine had Screamin Eagle pipes when I got it. I don’t know about soccer mom’s, but they sure seem to help avoid deer encounters on the country roads I commute on.
    Thanks for giving me more things to think about as I ride the rest of this season and prepare for next year. I’m lovin’ it!


Leave a comment

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Trackbacks are disabled.