Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tranquil time out No.2


Would love to have this as my shop

I have not been riding for a few weekends, just catching up on some other things about home as well as spending a lot of time working out my next motorcycle tour plan.

Decided to put my money where my mouth is and purchase some items to try and meet the 10 point visibility as suggested in my last post. Once these arrive I shall review and do a follow up article. Things I have looked at are marker lights, LED taillights and  brighter coloured jacket.

That jacket will be a winter replacement for my Alpinestars leather jacket which while needing a zipper pull lug replaced is otherwise in perfect condition. I simply have put on some kilos around the middle during the many years I have owned it and so while it still fits being a sports cut jacket it now rides up a bit. Not actually designed as a winter jacket it worked fine here in the sub tropics with our mild winters however I will get myself a true winter jacket next to equip myself for other places.

Not been reading many motorcycle reviews of late, quite happy with the Buell still. About time I changed the oil and filter on it – which is all the minor service is really. Not much to worry about, the only item I know needs keeping an eye on with them is wheel bearings however I am not able to access those easy so might put it in the shop for the major services – then again will the mechanics there  actually look closely at them. Very economical motorcycles to own, fuel economy is amazing and if you can handle simple oil change then service costs are next to nothing.

I can see myself on a full tourer one day, perhaps something from BMW, however I ponder what the service costs would be, and how frequent I would have to negotiate time off work to get those done (perhaps more bothersome than the money) Would like to see Harley Davidson update their touring line to go somewhere in between where they are and the class leader BMW, ie keep the big torque push rod twin and keep the retro style but improve the ground clearance, loose some kilos and ensure it has electronic cruise control, trip computer, good suspension and ABS brakes.

Yeah I know I have weird ideas. Read some more of them via the Motorcycle Paradise Facebook page .

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Be Seen, Be Safe

I received an email from a Motorcycle Paradise reader recently who has been injured when an elderly driver pulled out in front of him.

His headlight was on and his motorcycle was brightly coloured yet the driver apparently didn’t see him. He is in hospital now and wrote one handed to tell me his story which has really got me thinking about what studies have been done about this problem.

The Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Centre has some great information for riders. I decided to revisit their site which I came across a few years ago remembering it had some information about being visible to drivers.

There are 20 things listed that a rider can do to make themselves more visible and information on each about how effective it actually is. Headlights on during daytime which I tend to rely on rates rather poorly. Additionally each item has a number of points attached to it and they suggest a rider should aspire towards 10 points to always have good visibility to other vehicles.

Here is the list, click on the highlighted text to read the studies.

1. Fluorescent/Reflective safety vest. 4 points. Studies indicate this is the most effective way to be seen.

I think this is not always true and should be rated fewer points in their scheme. 

You need to be in contrast to your background, and that is not always the case with hi vis for a couple of reasons. Some large bikes simply conceal most of the rider behind fairings. Then in urban environments even bright colours can get blended in to the urban noise of signs and lights especially so depending on angle of sun. Some info here.  And then the glare from some motorcycle headlights can obscure the details of the area around them which is darkened by the brain to deal with the brightness/high contrast from the headlights hard wired on.

I think this can only be claimed as ‘in the right circumstances’ it can be quite effective.

2. White Helmet. 3 points. A study in New Zealand showed riders with a white helmet 24% less likely to be involved in multi-vehicle accident. Test this next time you are on the road, look at other riders and note how much white helmets stand out.

Actually this is something I really notice. Look at oncoming riders and compare how the white helmets stand out against the black road.

3. Brightly coloured jacket. 2 points.  My comment on the vest applies to this also. The effectiveness depends on the light, background, type of motorcycle and if in a country where the headlight is hardwired on. In some cases this is going to be effective in others less so.
I think in urban environment you may not stand out so much but in rural areas then I think bright colours will contrast well if the light is not behind you, better than dark colours which may then blend into the road. The worst would have to be that camouflage military style rider gear as the last thing you want to do is disappear.

4. Strategic positioning. 2 points. Careful lane positioning can keep you in cars mirrors or line of sight, I think we all know this but sometimes forget. I learnt this in advanced rider training years ago but lately I have forgotten it and have put myself in places where I was not visible. Added to this might be something along the lines of strategic pre intersection riding when you see a car edging out to look or you see a driver looking the other way but not towards you.

5. Headlight Modulation. 1 point Unfortunately pulsing of headlight would fall under our no flashing of headlights law, but for places where it is legal then good idea. Update, Headlight modulators, surprisingly seem legal on motorcycles. I have been advised that contrary to my initial post they are legal in many places including my former state in Australia. QLD legislation here, obviously check your local laws on this.

I think headlight modulation will just get you a ticket. In Australia police are ignorant to even simple legislation so it is unlikely they would be aware and thus would defect your vehicle forcing you to take it for inspection and I presume court to get fine waived. Then with the current strong anti motorcycle actions by police in Australia you may find yourself subject to all sorts of harassment. The other aspect is given  road rage is sadly unpoliced I predict some bogan (*redneck for North American readers) will get pissed and slam the brakes on in front of you or worse. 

6. Taillight Modulation. 1 point. Legalities for this I am not able to confirm but I would gamble police in Australia would give you trouble since they target motorcycles so heavy handed.

Not sure being seen from the rear is as big a issue except for people commuting in the city regular. I don’t rate it as dangerous as someone pulling out in front of a rider.

7. Reflective Materials. 1 Point. This relates to after dark having reflective tape or decals on your bike or piping on your clothes so you stand out from side or rear more. It won’t help day time. 

8. Movement. 1 point.  Moving about a bit in your lane will draw attention. Vary your speed slightly and position to make drivers not forget you.

9. Auxiliary driving lights. 1 point. This one is interesting. The idea is to draw attention by having extra lights to your headlight to form a triangle a method developed by trains to be noticed by drivers quicker.

I find this gets my attention on motorcycles and should perhaps be ranked higher. A set of day time running lights mounted to create a bigger frontal image in the shape of triangle of lights may have some real value.
10. Hand Signals. 1 point. Illegal in many countries as law states hands and legs cannot leave bars/pegs while riding. Principle makes sense, something not often seen so will bring attention to you.

From here the items get much less effective or practical.

11. Avoid riding at night. ½ a point.  May not be possible but sure fire way to eliminate some risk if you can avoid it.

12. Avoid riding at dawn or dusk. ½ a point. Yep that is a dangerous time even with zero cars as very real risk of wildlife feeding and wandering onto the road.

13. Aftermarket horn. ½ a point. Will not make you more visible, however sure would be handy for drivers that merge into your lane on highways.

14. Marker lights. ½ a point. Most places don’t have this system, some states in the USA have their vehicles indicators on full time. Might be a good thing for motorcycles only in other countries as would be different but then after time I think drivers would tune them out.

15. Avoid riding in poor weather. ½ a point. We all know many accidents happen in the rain due to poor visibility, reduced road grip thus longer braking distances and people not driving to suit the conditions. Not something always possible.

16. Avoid riding during low sun in the sky time of day. ½ a point.  Again difficult to do but a worthy tip as the facing the sun when low can blind both cars and motorcycles, especially entering shaded sections of country road.

17. Bike profile. 1/2 a point. A study has shown the shape of a motorcycle can impact on visibility. Sounds feasible to me that a huge bike like a Goldwing or full dresser HD will be seen more than a supermoto. Not really helpful for most people.

18. Bike colour. ½ a point. The same study then found that motorcycle colour was not a factor in crash involvement.

People seem to get steamed up about this one. Again if your riding a Goldwing then I think a yellow one will be more visible than a black one. But can you see the fuel tank colour of an oncoming naked bike? The front mudguard colour? I sure cannot. Even sports bikes have a very narrow front profile and the glare from the headlight makes our brain darken the area around to compensate and until the bike is closer and slightly side on the colour is very difficult to make out. By then it would be too late to make any difference hence the low rating.

19. High beam in daytime. ¼ of a point. Yep told you it would be a surprise. Most riders think this will make them seen however a study unfortunately found it is not effective. Drivers tune out headlights. I know I have done it myself.

20. Unusual effects. ¼ of a point. Anything out of the ordinary affixed to you or you bike that might draw attention to it.

So there you have it. Not all I agree with but the results of research which you can read by clicking on the links. At first when riding I paid only a passing interest to my visibility. More recently I have tried to do something after nearly being hit.

Take away the ‘avoid riding’ items above and the horn and see how many points you have for a fine days ride. Did you make 10?  I sure didn't but I think I can easy improve my score with a couple of the above ideas.

Quick Update: Here is an interesting article about motion camouflage - Why Motorcycles are Invisible.

Update 2014.
I just revisited this post. Already over 4 years has passed since I wrote it. Along the way I have had time to compare and test myself a couple of the main points. A white helmet really does get you noticed and when you ride, take a look yourself at other riders, you will see the black helmets blend with the background of the tar but white or yellow or orange really stand out and as a reader noted the white has the added power of being the same as worn by police so car drivers do notice you.

The other item is having a jacket with better visibility. I love my classic brown leather jacket but my old Alpinestars one that has a splash of bright yellow on the upper portion stands out much more according to people I have spoken to.

I don’t think visibility from the rear is as big an issue, rear ended at traffic lights is less likely to kill you than someone pulling out in front. Secondary stop lights are compulsory on cars so perhaps the helmet mounted tail lights that are being sold could be something for the urban rider to consider. I used to commute by motorcycle 20 years ago and I had a few close calls. If I had to return to that I would probably go for a hi vis lemon optic yellow vest as peak hour or urban riding in Australia really is a much higher risk compared to a weekend ride in the country side.

Besides not addressing aggressive driving police have openly encouraged anti motorcycle sentiment in Australia to the point where riders are at greater risk because of drivers attitudes fuelled by police propaganda. So never assume the car will see you are even do the right thing. I have twice had people attempt to run me off the road out of spite. Both women drivers so the stereo type that men are the road rage types is just that, be on guard against everyone.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The top 10 Motorcycle tours in the world

Update. Since I wrote this a lot has changed and I have set out to ride the world. Please have a look at my new article "50 rides to do before you die" Original post below with updates.
Have you ever thought about all the great places that exist to ride a motorcycle around the world.
I do, quite often. Much of my international travel has not involved a motorcycle however I have noted when travelling many places with excellent roads. TV travel shows and books and online forums like Adventure rider with the many people riding around the world really get the imagination going.
I have put together a top 10 list of places as of writing I would like to ride in the world. I do so as the first step to actually riding the list. They say if you think about something enough then it can happen!

1. Europe Alps. Probably no surprise but the alps have been attracting riders for as long as motorcycles have existed. So many options here that where to start is a difficult choice. There are a number of motorcycle tour companies offering fully escorted tours which will make this an easy introduction to riding in a new location.
2. North West states North America. Perhaps not as popular as riding route 66 but sure a lot more fun on a motorcycle. Starting in California there is so many options, The Pacific coast or Yosemite national park. Heading north you can string together great roads all the way to the Going to the Sun road Montana pictured above. 
3. Japan. A place still largely unexplored by riders from other countries yet boasting alps as big as Europe with no expense spared perfect roads and amazing scenery. I just got the April edition of BikeJin Japanese rider magazine with the top Japanese motorcycle roads as voted by their readers. Here is a countdown for your information:

10. Chirihama Nagisa Driveway
9. Aso Panorama Line
8. Kouya Ryuujin Skyline
8. (tie) Shimanami-kaido
6. Shiretoko Oudan Road
5. Izu Skyline
4. Shiga Kusatsu Road
3. Yamanami Highway
2. Venus Line
1. Bandai Azuma Skyline
4. Spain and the Pyrenees. Said to be a paradise for riders offering the mountain passes of the alpine regions but minus the cars and cops. Every time I see the tour de France on the TV I want to go here. And then into Spain where the roads are said to be perfect. Andalucía is another destination that I’d like to see but it perhaps is a separate tour being so far apart from here.  
5. New Zealand. What an amazing place New Zealand is to ride. Jaw dropping scenery, friendly people and some of the best motorcycle roads on the planet. It is a long way for most people to travel, as far as Patagonia and as exotic in its climate however if you live in Australasia then you have one of the best riding locations within easy reach. Above photo from an amazing photographer who toured NZ.
6. North America. Yes more in the USA because the East coast is a separate trip being so far away from the West. I’d like to ride from North Carolina to Nova Scotia. See the famous roads like tail of the dragon, the fall colours on the Blue Ridge Parkway and then the much talked about great motorcycle riding roads of Nova Scotia.  
7. Norway. Another destination that is a long way to travel and also one with a limited riding season of just June and July however anyone who has seen the photos of the fiords and the roads snaking there way along the mountains will feel a desire to see the same from a motorcycle.

8. Corsica, Sardinia & Sicily. These 3 islands are claimed to hold some incredible roads that have riders consistently rating as some of the best riding to be found anywhere in the world. Corsica in particular is rated the next best riding destination after the alps in Europe. Not so easy to get to but can be reached by overnight ferries from Italy and France.


9. Australia. Tasmania. One of the places many Australian riders want to go to but never make it. Always reported as having the best motorcycle roads in the country it is neither a small, simple or cheap journey to get yourself and a motorcycle down there. But watch the Targa that draws famous drivers and their cars from around the world each year say what a wonderful place it is for motoring and you know it must be special indeed.  


10. South Africa. The riding is just part of the reason I would like to go here. There is Cape Town and the famous mountain back drop, the roads hugging the coast, being able to go to the cape itself then at the other end of the country excellent safari parks to make this a special tour.

Update – this was my initial attempt to list some good ride destinations. I have since started to tick these off as you can see in the rides listed in the side menu. With hindsight I would add Thailand to the above list as a must ride. Then looking at things closer I have compiled a top 50 ride list that expands information on popular areas and adds many more options.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Joe Rocket boots review

I have purchased some new riding footwear and have chosen a pair of Joe Rocket Meteor boots.


I am starting at the bottom in putting together an outfit suitable for riding in colder places. That could be southern Australia or New Zealand or beyond. Basically here in the tropics even my full winter setup is designed around the fact that it never is really properly cold.

I decided I wanted to go for a 3/4 boot that was waterproof. Larger than this becomes less easy to walk in and wear under pants. Being waterproof I think is important if touring in a cold place and striking a wet day. I have 2 sets of over boots however they are made to cover shoes not large boots and are a short term solution in my opinion. The neoprene ones are good for getting past a shower or storm but will allow water to sneak past after a few hours, the plastic ones will keep the water out for as long as needed but they do not breath so are not a wet day touring solution either.

The Joe Rocket Meteor boots have a waterproof breathable liner. Now I always think if it is waterproof then is not going to breath that much but first ride test it would seem to be not too bad. I wore them on my last ride and it got to 26 degrees, more than I wanted wearing a boot like this and yet my feet did not perspire too much. I was wearing my ‘coolmax’ walking socks that I obtained from a outdoors shop and which I find work really well to wick away moisture when riding and by days end my feet had perspired some but had not suffered the dreaded ‘swamp foot’

The boots themselves are comfortable and seem well made. The buckle system is fully adjustable and there is no zipper to bother with you adjust how close the upper part of the boot is via velcro which works well for me. On the road I really enjoyed the feel of these boots and they look subtle yet stylish, not like something to go to the moon in. My current riding pants (BMW City Pants) tend to ride up a bit so these boots cover the gap that I have when wearing them.

Moving up the next item will be winter pants.

New Earplugs

My new supply of soft silicon earplugs has arrived. For reasons I am not certain of these style of earplugs mostly used by swimmers are marked up in Australia 3 to 4 times the price they retail for overseas, so I source mine from the Earplug superstore USA.


If you dislike regular foam earplugs or find they do not stay put in your ear then consider giving the silicon ones a try. You can get some at any chemist and you should find they do not isolate the rider from sounds as much as foam earplugs but do reduce the wind noise enough to make riding more enjoyable as well as save your hearing. They are also very comfortable unlike foam or in ear molded things, I also use them on airplanes to sleep.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Helmet Windjammer

I took my previous Shark RSR helmet out for a spin yesterday to revisit an item designed to cut wind noise on helmets I had purchased some years ago.

Called the Windjammer II from Proline Sports UK I first purchased this to use on a KBC helmet I previously owned that was particularly noisy. On that helmet riding the Buell XB Lightning I found little change so discarded the Windjammer until unearthing it recently.


The idea is the Windjammer affixes to the lower rim of a helmet and is held in place by a combination of elastic and sticky material where it grips the helmet, inside the helmet there is a neoprene skirt that cuts the wind roar. I can vouch the sticky elastic grips well and can be moved from helmet to helmet and has not lost its effectiveness despite being a few years old. I can also say the Windjammer when riding my Buell Firebolt works well.

To experience the idea behind the Windjammer next time you are riding place your left hand palm down below your helmet under your left ear and note the effect on reducing the wind noise.

So why did not not work before? I think the effectiveness is limited by the way the air flow is around the rider related to each model motorcycle. On the Lightning the air blast was crazy, the small screen in front of the instruments seemed to actually focus the wind on the rider’s neck and head. By comparison my Speed Triple and MV Agusta Brutale both had defused wind around the rider’s head thanks to well designed instrument pods/screens. The Firebolt with it’s bikini screen is similar having a defused wind flow at the riders head but at highway speed there is still enough wind to create a that familiar wind roar noise. The Windjammer did reduce this in testing yesterday.

If your not wearing earplugs your damaging your hearing when riding and the noise reduction from this is not comparable. If your using ear plugs then this is probably not needed so where does it fit. Well I guess if you simply cannot wear ear plugs then this is worth a try given the price of just 10 pounds. If you listen to your iPod or use comms devices while riding then this may be of assistance. And if you use lite earplugs or soft silicon ear plugs which still allow some noise then this might be worth a look depending on your bike and helmet.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Hide and Seek

That's the game I think I was playing with the scattered showers today when I decided to do a smaller then usual southern ride.
The weather looked fine this morning and after a slow start I got on the road sometime before 8.00am with no real plan other than south. I know I ride there a lot, I did look at a northern ride last night and the distance to Maleny and Murwillumbah are about the same but going north you are stuck on the same well worn route which I find less enjoyable.
I have not ridden Springbrook for a while and I can advise that they have resurfaced much of the road in the upper section, all corners are now new hotmix.
Much if the hill was damp and I was thinking it was just left over from the evening however as I continued south I realised that there were still some scattered showers about as the road alternated between dry and damp.
I more or less made a beeline towards Tyalgum as I wanted to shoot some photos of the crater before it got too hazy. If you have not been there the photo does not capture how dramatic the ridge is in real life, I wish there were some roads going up there into the clouds! Leaving Tyalgum towards Uki I could see it was raining to the south of Mt Warning however I was planning to ride over to Stokers Siding thus I turned away from the rain just before Uki.
I ran into a lot of cyclists before Stokers Siding today as there was some riding event that was held on the back roads of the Tweed. I like watching the Tour de France on tv each year, those guys really move, but today’s riders who had a police escort were as slow as snails, the peloton was riding at about 30kph the guys in the rear were at walking pace so I was glad to see the end of them within a few km’s as I turned north to Murwillumbah after the railway.
I had an early lunch at the Tweed Gallery. I have not mentioned this place in awhile however it is about time I did again as excellent food and coffee can be had there while enjoying views north to the border ranges from the balcony.
Tweed Valley
Riding south I found the road soaked before Burringbah range where it must have just rained however I again avoided getting wet and the range itself was totally dry. I stopped at Mooball for fuel and nature break at the automatic toilet there and having wondered what might happen if these roadside toilets malfunctioned I can now report. The door electronically closes and is locked for 10 minutes unless you open it earlier. Well this time the door unlocked and opened itself after 2 minutes – fortunately no cars were going past while I had to get up and reclose the door … Some things need not be computerised.
Farrants Hill
Did the criss cross ride north over the highway on back roads and then over Farrants Hill and down to Duranbah where I ran into the cyclists again coming the other way this time before heading back to Tumbulgum. I decided to ride the Bilambil loop over Teranora Rd which I had not done for some time. Again the roads were wet in parts where it had rained seemingly just before I arrived however despite the looming clouds overhead still the rain had not managed to find me.
Looking north to the ranges it was definitely raining but I was betting it was on the Numinbah crossing not where I was riding over  Currumbin and I was right. Ha Ha Mr. Rain you lose today, did not get a drop on me.
Currumbin1 Currumbin range looking back south 

Today’s route here.