10 Cheap Tweaks for Your Motorcycle

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10 no-buck-to-low-buck tricks to help cheapskates get more miles and
smiles out of your motorcycles. Making your bike perform better doesn't have to cost a ton of money. In fact, there are
ways you can improve you motorcycle that don't cost a penny. Here are ten good
tweaks that aren't wallet-busters...plus a free bonus freebie.


Tweak #1: Adjust your bike's suspension settings to your weight and riding style
Cost: Zero (OK, maybe a beer for the friend who helps you do this)
Benefit: Improved ride quality and road-holding ability
Although many of us wish we weighed 150 pounds (the
generic weight most manufacturers use to set stock
suspensions), most of us fall to one side of that magic
number, requiring a suspension adjustment to ensure
that our bike handles properly. Bikes offer varying
amounts of adjustability, but most at least have preload
adjustment for setting laden sag (the amount the
suspension compresses under rider weight) to keep the
suspension in the sweet spot during normal riding. The
procedure goes like this: Take a measurement with the bike's suspension at full
extension (topped out), and then another measurement with you aboard in full regalia.
At the front, measure along a fork leg, and at the rear measure between the axle and
some convenient bit of bodywork directly above the axle line. The difference in distance
from topped-out to laden (by the rider) is the sag. You're shooting for 25mm to
35mm—less for sportier handling, more for increased comfort. Sophisticated bikes also
offer adjustments for rebound and/or compression damping. Check your owner's
manual for how to make the changes and what the baseline settings should be. Make
one change at a time and stop fiddling when the bike feels good to you.


Tweak #2: Fork upgrades such as Cartridge Emulators from Race Tech, stiffer
springs
Cost: $100-$180
Benefit: Optimized suspension performance calibrated specifically to your riding style
The biggest performance handicap on a budget bike? Probably the bargain-basement
damper-rod forks, such as those fitted to the 599, FZ6 and SV650 and most other lowto
midpriced motorcycles. Because of compromises, they can be harsh over small
bumps yet too soft when confronted with big hits. There is cheap help, though; scratch
together 150-odd buckaroos for a set of Race Tech's Gold Valve Cartridge Emulators,
tunable valves that make a damper-rod fork act like a shim-equipped cartridge fork.
Installing emulators calls for complete fork disassembly—you must enlarge the old
compression-damping holes (negating their effect) and may have to cut new preload
spacers. While you're in there, consider different springs for a firmer ride; many budget
bikes are quite undersprung in anticipation of light riders and modest scratchin'. Race
Tech has a nice online calculator to help you find the proper spring rates.

 

Tweak #3: Upgraded brake pads and lines
Cost: $30-$50 (pads, per pair), $80-$100 (lines)
Benefit: Improved brake feel, less fade, shorter stopping
distances
Each year more new bikes arrive from the factory with
HH-rated pads and braided stainless steel "hard" brake
lines for optimum braking performance. Braided
stainless steel or Kevlar-sheathed Teflon lines resist
deformation under system pressure for quicker braking
response and firm, mush-free lever feel. If your bike isn't
already equipped with these, make the upgrade. Quality
aftermarket pads use specially formulated compounds
to better bite rotors and hold on longer with less fade. If
less than 2mm of your existing pad material remains or
the pads are worn past the groove in the face, chuck
'em and get good ones. And don't forget to flush and
replace the fluid while you're at it. You'll be amazed at
the improvement.


Tweak #4: Wash and wax your bike
Cost: Nada
Benefit: Looks better, lasts longer, helps you identify problems early before they
become expensive nightmares
OK, so you have to pay for some soap and water, but you'd be surprised how far a
regular wash and wax goes toward protecting your ride. Suds chase dirt and
contaminants off—protecting paint from scratches and chrome and aluminum from
discoloration and damage—and flush abrasive agents away from such sensitive
surfaces as fork legs and swingarm pivots. A good wash and wax also lets you inspect
your bike up close to catch any emergent mechanical maladies before they develop
into serious problems. Things to keep an eye on while scrubbing: tire-tread wear, tire
pressure, chain slack, sprocket wear, oil level, brake-pad thickness, brake mounting
bolts, axle adjusters and brake and shift linkages. Don't forget to give your chain a good
shot of lube when you're done.


Tweak #5: Replace your tires
Cost: $200-$300 Cheaper with fastbikes
Benefit: Better traction, improved handling, safety
Nothing brings back that new-bike feeling like new tires.
Uneven wear (front-tire cupping, squaring off at the rear)
means your tires can be junk well before you hit the
wear bars. Even when you're not riding your bike, UV
light can substantially reduce tire life, so you should
replace your rubber every few years regardless of miles.
Tire technology has made some radical advances in
recent years; if you haven't had new skins since the
1990s you'll be amazed how much a new set will
improve your bike's performance. Even sport-touring
tires are sticky enough for aggressive street riders.


Tweak #6: Frame sliders
Cost: $50-$100
Benefit: Protect your plastic in the event of a tip-over
Conventional wisdom says sportbikes are so expensive
to insure because they are so gawd-awful fast. This
statement is partially true, but outrageous premiums are
more often related to the fact that sportbikes are so
easily damaged. Even dropping your bike in the garage
can easily result in thousands of dollars of busted plastic
and scratched paint—and a big insurance claim. The
best insurance against this is bolting on a set of frame
sliders: small plastic or metal bumpers that bolt to the
motorcycle frame and save expensive fairing bits—and levers, pegs, turn signals,
mirrors, anything else that sticks out—from being fouled in a tip-over or crash. Plenty of
colors, shapes and sizes are available (even some that light up!), and every last one is
cheaper than even one piece of OEM plastic.


Tweak #7: Regear your motorcycle
Cost: $20-$100
Benefit: A cheap way to quicker acceleration
Explained in detail in our June 2003 issue ("Torque Is
Cheap"), shortening your bike's overall gearing can be
an easy and inexpensive path to quicker acceleration.
This change will come at the expense of a bit of top
speed, but what's more routine—trying to outrun an
SUV bumbling into your lane or trying to nudge the
needle over 170 mph? (We thought so.) A slight
change—down one tooth on the countershaft sprocket
or up three on the rear sprocket—can often be made
without lengthening or replacing the chain, but consider
springing for a new chain anyway; a worn chain can
greatly accelerate wear on your nice new sprocket. This
mod does come with some hidden costs: Your engine will spin faster in any given gear,
which can increase vibration, and if your bike's speedo pickup is on the transmission or
countershaft sprocket, accuracy will be affected. But if you're looking for the cheapest
and easiest path to faster acceleration, regearing is hard to beat.


Tweak #8: Read a book
Cost: $20-$40 (less if you're nice to the librarian)
Benefit: Become a better rider, wrench, or both
We're always extolling the virtues of attending advanced
riding schools, such as the California Superbike School
or CLASS, but let's face it—with entry fees of several
hundred dollars, these are hardly low-buck ventures.
Although it's no replacement for real-time, one-on-one
instruction from acknowledged experts, reading a good
riding-skills handbook like Nick Ienatsch's Sport Riding
Techniques ($24.95 from David Bull Publishing, 800/831-
1758) can teach you an awful lot of valuable riding
techniques you can practice on your own each time you
ride. Similarly, a good maintenance manual to guide you
through simple maintenance procedures (replacing fork
seals, adjusting steering-head bearings, etc.) can
deliver you from $70-per-hour dealer labor rates. On this front, Mark Zimmerman's
excellent, 255-page, full-color The Essential Guide to Motorcycle Maintenance ($29.95,
Whitehorse Press), is the best one we've seen yet.


Tweak #9: Replace your helmet
Cost: $150-$500
Benefit: Cooler, quieter, more comfort—and cranium protection, too
Helmet manufacturers recommend replacing your helmet at least every four years
regardless of appearance— the integrity of the protective polystyrene inner lining, it
seems, degrades with exposure to the atmosphere and UV rays. Helmets also start
fitting funkily as the inner resilient liner compresses with use, not to mention a different
sort of funk from the hours of close contact with your sweaty scalp. Do yourself a favor
and upgrade your headgear to a more modern piece. Like tires, helmets have made
startling advances in the past few years, with space-age shell materials making them
lighter than ever. With improved ventilation and sound deadening, even today's budget
lids send yesterday's top-line buckets to the wastebasket. There is no piece of
motorcycle gear you are more intimate with, and none more directly related to your
safety and comfort. A good helmet is money well spent.


Tweak #10: Antifog for pennies a day
Cost: Zip-$24
Benefit: No more vision-robbing vapor
Steal a trick from our scuba-diving friends: Once you get that new helmet, pull off the
visor and spit all over the inside of it. Wipe the saliva off with a clean, soft rag and voila,
instant antifog coating! Don't like the spit smell? Shaving cream or toothpaste rubbed
on the visor and wiped off has a similar no-buck antifog effect. If you absolutely have to
spend money, a variety of inexpensive antifog solutions are available at most decent
bike shops—our favorite is the oddly named but highly effective Cat Crap for a measly
$3.99. Big spenders should check out Fog City Pro Shield's antifog shield inserts
, which sell for $17 (tinted) or $30 (photosensitive). All are
cheap, effective and loads safer than stuffing your fingers up behind the chin bar to
wipe the shield on the road.


BONUS Tweak: Ride your bike
Cost: Nothin' but fuel Benefit: Keeps your bike working well, improves your 'tude
Just like the human body, your motorcycle responds
favorably to regular exercise to keep the carbs from
clogging, the tires from calcifying, the battery from
prematurely discharging, the cylinder walls from
corroding, and any other myriad minor maladies from
afflicting seldom-used streetbikes. Do yourself and your
bike a huge favor and go ride the wheels off it.

visit fast bikes dot org  for more tuning and techinical info road and product tests

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