Friday, August 17, 2007

New To Motorcycles? Learn The Basics

By Daniel Levy

Interested in motorcycles? Who can blame you! Motorcycles reek of coolness, but before you jump into the motorcycle riding scene, you need to learn the basics of the bike!

Stand Up Straight Please

It's mind boggling how they do it, but motorcycles stay upright while they are moving due to some pretty advanced physics. A still motorcycle will lean over without some sort of support. But a moving motorcycle will stay upright without much effort thanks to a couple of little things called angular momentum and torque.

To see these physics at work, imagine that you're holding a bat in your palm with the heavy end up. It's going to tip over, right? It's too unsteady. Now imagine that you're wiggling your palm in an effort to always keep it directly under the heavy end of the bat. Suddenly the bat is steady. That's how motorcycles stay upright.

Driving forward on a motorcycle thanks to the power and torque provided by the engine, the rider (or the palm in our example) is constantly moving the bike (the bat in our example) to keep it directly inline with the center of gravity (that is, the heavy end of the bat in our example).

Yes, I know I am over-simplifying with this example. But in fact, it's basically the forward momentum and the rider constantly adjusting the center of gravity that will keep the motorcycle upright.

Going, Going, Go

Regardless of the varying motorcycle designs produced over the years, most bikes include some pretty standard operating configurations.

One of those is the arrangement of elements in the steering mechanism (the handlebar). On the right handle is the throttle and twisting it backward will give the engine more gas so the machine will accelerate (as long as the brakes are off). On the left handle is the clutch lever. Pulling it in and then releasing it will enable you to change gears. Some motorcycles have automatic shifting, but they are far and few between.

The gearshift on a motorcycle is normally under the rider's left foot. Riders will squeeze the clutch lever (left hand), ease off the gas (right hand), and move the gear shift up or down (left foot). Releasing the clutch (left hand) and twisting the throttle backward (right hand) will make the motorcycle move forward.

As you can see, there's a lot of left-right hand and foot action going on here and it's going to take a bit of practice to get it right. It'll be difficult to grasp at first, but with some practice, it becomes second nature.

Stopping the Motorcycle

Now that you know how to "go," it's time to learn how to stop! Attached onto the right handle grip is the front brake lever. This lever gives the motorcycle most of the friction it needs to slow down (about 80%). The friction is caused by pads squeezing against a metal disc (or drum in older bikes) in the center of the wheel. Since this particular lever is so powerful, it can even flip a bike if it's pulled too fast especially on downward slopes.

The rear brake lever is next to the right footrest. When it's pressed, it engages the rear brake mechanism. Push it too hard and you will make your rear tire skid.

Both, the rear brake lever and the front brake lever, will eventually bring a bike to a complete (but not necessarily) controlled stop if used individually. It's the correct combination of front and rear break power that will bring a bike to a smooth stop. Constantly pumping either one however will unduly wear your brakes down and loosen their effect ahead of time.

Bikes that have linked braking systems work a little differently. With this kind of system, the rear brake works with the front break because it engages part of it. As with the more traditional types of brake systems on a motorcycle, it's the combination and simultaneous use of both brakes that creates smooth stops.

So now you know how to go and stop. But what about turning the motorcycle off in an emergency? Almost every motorcycle today has a kill switch you can use in case need to hurry up and turn the thing off for whatever reason (failing brakes, you fall off, etc.).

Is that all I need to know?

Of Course not! There's a lot more to motorcycle riding but the above should give you a good idea of the overview.

Not all motorcycles operate in the same manner so some of things will work differently -- especially if you're attempting to ride an older bike that uses a kick starter! Newer models may offer GPS systems, custom suspension, and electronic de-fogging mirrors -- things that I haven't even touched on.

Remember to always wear your protective gear and enjoy the ride!

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