• Sep 28 2011

    Dream Weekend: American Supercamp


    No matter what you ride, bike-handling skills are the foundation on which safe-riding is built. There are books like Proficient Motorcycling, which help develop situational awareness and road-reading skills, but when it all goes wrong, only good bike-control can save you.


    That’s why American Supercamp isn’t just for aspiring motocrossers; it can help anyone who rides a motorcycle. It’s a 2-day camp that helps riders learn the feeling of how a motorcycle behaves on the limit, and how to bring it back under control.


    Campers ride Yamaha 125s on oval dirt tracks and some twistier courses. The emphasis is on bike control. The website mentions that the late Will Davis—a veteran Supercamp instructor and a lifetime dirt tracker—“once admitted that he learned more during one of our ‘mud drills’ than he had in all his years of dirt tracking.”



    The drills were designed by greats like Colin Edwards and Eric Bostrom, and Nicky Hayden has been a guest instructor. Check out the video—it looks like the guys at American Supercamp take fun seriously.


    American Supercamp


  • Aug 01 2011

    The Importance of Fasteners


    We spent a lot of Sunday thinking about fasteners. In the morning, it became apparent that one of the well-made fairing bolts on our 1980 Honda Cub had come loose and fallen off on the road. Four bolts secure the fairing, so it was in no danger of coming off. Even so, the lost bolt raised the question of what torques had been applied to other fasteners while doing maintenance over the years, and which were backing off.


    We use a torque wrench for axles, fork bolts, crank bolts and valve cover studs, but for a fairing bolt? Seems like too much hassle. It probably is too, but the bolt’s loss underlines the importance of regular checking of snugness and torque on fasteners across the bike.


    It reminded us of the time we botched a fork replacement job. A fork tube on a ’74 Honda CB550 had been bent in a crash, and we purchased a torque wrench to help get the reinstallation right. The new fork went in without a hitch, and then it was time to install the front wheel. We looked up the torque values in the manual, set the wrench to the proper value, and set to work cranking down the axle bolts on the bottom of the fork.


    Whoa! The torque wrench was calling for way more force (x distance) than we had ever imagined. It felt like we were learning lots with this new torque wrench. And then the first bolt stripped.


    Our error? Not reading the right value from the manual. We had used the value for the “front wheel axle nut, 47.0 lbs-ft” instead of the “front axle holder nut, 8mm, 13.0-16.6 lbs-ft”! The bolt was destroyed; we disassembled the old fork tube and the new one and swapped the sliders. It was an expensive lesson.


    If you are interested in learning more about fasteners and getting better at visualizing the forces inside them, head to and read The Nuts and Bolts of Nuts and Bolts.


  • Jul 27 2011

    Getting a Motorcycle License, Part 2 – the MSF Course

    Our friend Sarah has earned her motorcycle license! In Part 1 of this series, she got her permit. A month later, she took an MSF course. By passing the two tests during the course, she earned a voucher to take to the DMV to exchange for a full motorcycle license. Below is her account of her class.

    Last weekend I took the 2.5 day MSF course after having my permit for one month and not spending a single day on a motorcycle! I went in on Friday night about ten minutes late. This caused me to miss the initial introductions but I soon came to know my nine classmates. There were four women and six men—most of us had no or very little experience. I was surprised to discover that three men with absolutely no experience has already bought their bikes—one guy is having his custom Harley delivered next week (just in the nick of time)! Two of the women had taken private lessons the week before but both went on to fail the course, so I have mixed thoughts on how necessary that private class is!

    The ten of us spent three hours on Friday going through the first half of the booklet we had been given and went over some of the material that had been on the permit test. I walked away on Friday night without feeling that I had learned anything new but more confident for riding the next day.

    Class started at 7:30 AM on Saturday and the parking lot was filled with shiny black Suzuki 250s. I was relieved that my feet could touch the ground and that I could manage the 300lb bike quite easily. We started by learning how to step astride the bike properly and then spent some time playing around with the levers and throttle.

    Then we were off! Sort of… We put the bikes into first gear and kept our feet on the ground while we crept around the parking lot. I felt relieved because I knew how to drive a manual car and understood a clutch and this felt just like the Honda I had ridden before.

    The rest of the day consisted of switching up into second, light braking and some light weaving. After the morning class we spent the afternoon discussing and studying a riding manual and had to take a test after. I was worried about the test but it was incredibly easy and everyone got above a 90%. I was very excited for Sunday morning’s class and practical test.

    The teachers must sense your confidence because first thing Sunday morning they managed to break mine down within ten minutes. The first drill of the day was practicing U-turns within a narrow box and the objective was not to cross over the line. I crossed over those lines and then some!

    One of the most important things to do when riding a bike is to look ahead and when turning to look where you want to turn. With a U-turn you pretty much have to pull a move from the Exorcist and I truly believed I was going to die if I looked that far over my shoulder while riding.

    After four dreadful attempts of doing this without the proper technique I finally decided to give it a go and lo and behold I managed to do a U-turn. It never ended up being the prettiest maneuver that I did but I am pretty sure I will survive my first U-turn on the road. After the U-turns my legs were shaking and I was nervous about what might be coming next.

    What came after ended up being my favorite parts of the whole weekend. We got to ride over 2×4’s, stop during corners, manage turns and weave at 20 MPH (20 MPH seems really fast to beginners). I could spend all day weaving in that parking lot; it was without a doubt my favorite thing to do. The weaving eventually came to an end and it was time for our evaluation.

    The first evaluation was fast braking—cruising in second gear and stopping as quickly as possible after the instructor waves to you at random. Fast braking can be difficult for beginners because you have to remember to use both brakes hold in the clutch and go into first gear all in what seems like a split second. Not to toot my own horn but I had the best braking time of the class and stopped 5 feet short of the goal. The second exercise was my beloved U-turn and while I did it poorly I did not put my feet on the ground. Even so the U-turn ended up being the only exercise that I had points deducted on.

    After the U-turn we did a fast maneuver exercise which has you start at one end of the parking lot and accelerate briskly before swerving sharply at the last second out of the way of an obstacle. Swerving is fun for me so no problem there. The last exercise was cornering which required us to slow down before a turn and accelerate through it, all without using our brakes. This was an exercise that I enjoyed doing during practice so it was pretty smooth sailing during the test.

    After the final assessment we waited in the trailer for our scores. The three people who had struggled the most all weekend did not pass. One girl who had also struggled received a 20—the lowest passing score. The Harley guy and his friend both received 8s and I received a six along with the experienced rider and another beginner.

    I took away many things from the weekend but some important things I would point out to new riders would be to practice driving a manual car so you get used to the idea of a clutch; try borrowing a friends scooter or small motorcycle and spend a few hours in a parking lot getting used to the weight and balance of a motorcycle; don’t always listen to experienced riders advice when you first start out—they are sometimes doing things that you are not at the skill level to do yet.

    If you are thinking of buying a motorcycle I would highly recommend taking an MSF course. The lone experienced rider in my class had learned some pretty bad habits having learned on his own and taking a class will help keep you from developing bad habits or get rid of them if you already have them. It is also fun to meet such a random group of people—none of whom you would see in the grocery store and think, “man I bet that person rides a motorcycle.”

    In a month we all plan to meet up for a drink and to discuss our adventures on the road at which point I will check in with you and let you all know how it feels for a beginner to ride in the real world rather than in a parking lot. I already have grandiose dreams of selling my car and getting a motorcycle but I will try to keep it to baby steps for now. Ciao!

    To schedule an MSF course visit the MSF Website.

  • Jun 23 2011

    Dressing for the Crash


    Tuesday was the first day of summer, and there are more bikes on the road than we remember seeing in recent years. It may be due to environmental concerns or a quest for cheaper transportation, but we like to think it’s because more people are being turned on to the pleasure of riding a motorcycle. Seeing all those new riders on motorcycles got us thinking about our own safety, and what we can do in order to ensure a life-long riding career.


    It’s been years since any of us has a motorcycle safety course, and so this year we’ve picked up a copy of Proficient Motorcycling—a book about the art of riding a motorcycle on the road—and are making a concerted effort to wear all the gear, pretty much all the time (we’ll make an exception if we are tootling around our neighborhood checking to see if something is adjusted properly).


    Earlier this week, Hell For Leather posted a new video by Mick Doohan that encourages riders to wear proper safety gear. The video was good, but in the comments someone mentioned another video, and we can’t get it out of our heads. It does an excellent job depicting the inability of riders to alter their speed or course once the bike has gone down. Apparently there’s a reason tires are made from rubber: metal, plastic and leather aren’t nearly so effective at stopping a bike!



    We’re going to slow it down a few miles per hour at busy intersections, get some better riding pants, and pick up spine protectors for our jackets—we’ll save the speed for roads without bus stops and benches at every turn



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