Steering is countersteering.

Motorcycle racing games amuse me, there is all this detailed simulation of moving weight around forwards and backwards to manage grip during acceleration and braking, yet the most basic part is utterly wrong move control stick left, bike goes left. This further propagates the misconceptions of how two wheeled vehicles steer.

On a motorcycle (or bicycle) apply a small force to the handlebars turning the front wheel to the right (usually by pushing on the left bar) and the bike will lean over to the left. Stop applying that force and the caster effect will cause the front wheel to turn itself to follow a stable curved trajectory.

At very low speeds, frictional forces between the tyre and road may prevent the castor effect so the rider must both initiate a small amount of lean and then turn the bars to follow the curve himself. It may be the case that a slow turn can be initiated by muscling the bars around and moving the body to balance, this will likely cause a wobble that will need steering input to correct, resulting in a similar counter steering manoeuvre.

Beyond walking pace steering is a brief light push on a bar to initiate lean, then applying no force to either bar as the wheel aligns to the lean angle by the caster effect. Small pushes on either bar adjust the angle of turn. Briefly push the bars so the wheel points further into the curve and the bike will stand up. Of course it’s all about knowing how hard and how long to push for, which is something one picks up with practice very quickly.

My point is the control input the rider makes is a torque (turning force) on the bars, not a degree of rotation as it would be on a four wheeled vehicle.

Furthermore one cannot steer a bike by leaning alone. This myth propagates as changes in body position executed badly cause a torque on the bars and thus turning. The Califonia Superbike school has a bike with one set of bars fixed to the frame of the bike and another fixed to the front forks, turning the front wheel in the conventional manner. It is a tool used to demonstrate to riders that lean alone will not steer a bike as a moving bike is incredibly stable.


If you can’t see it it’s not there.

Two MotoGP stars have ended their careers in recently years, citing invisible illnesses or injury. Casey Stoner I think I have talked about before.

 “…they demand visible proof – a plaster cast, bones protruding through flesh, something they can see. They are not prepared to accept invisible problems…” –Ben Spies on Asphalt and Rubber

I appear to be inadvertently wearing Spies’ helmet colours, partly as I liked the design, partly as the design was discounted on the HJG FG-15 I wanted. This was enough prodding to take enough interest in a the rider in case i was accosted  by a rabid fan. I have not found any in this country yet, but the helmet design gets plenty of comments and questions about who painted it.

I digress, Spies had a number of crashes landing badly on the same shoulder, which contributed to a career ending injury. He left MotoGP a shadow of his former talent, with a large proportion of both the MotoGP circus and fans of the sport unable to comprehend why he’d left because they couldn’t see the injury. I can almost hear the cries of “but you don’t look sick”.

Pirates vs Hipsters

In a land of offensive stereotypes about power rangers and hipsters, I thought I would do my own little anti-type.

Bike: Japanese Retro, shaft drive a bonus, low seat and lightweight. Old and well used. Currently a scruffy 1992 XV535.

Custom Work: Luggage rack, topbox with extra reflective tape. Heated Grips, wider mirrors, fender extensions.

Helmet: White HJC Ben Spies race rep, because animal skulls and damask patterns are cool. And it’s light, cheap, and exhibits Sharp stars.

Eyewear: Black plastic glasses, ironic that they came from specsavers bottom shelf and have a real proscription. Pinlock and Yamaha race rep sunstrip on clear or smoke tint visor.

Facial Expression: Hidden behind chinbar and foggy mask.

Facial Hair: Apathy beard, shaving is time I could be fixing bike or drinking coffee.

Clothing: Black, mostly gore-tex or equivalent, mix of textiles and leather. Occasional stick-on retro-reflective star. Tough and utilitarian touring kit.

Footwear: Retro high-leg motorcycle boots, from Altberg so fully armoured and CE certified

Accessories: flame pattern buff, spare visor

Tattoos: None, due to chronic indecisiveness.

Bitch: Filthy redhead, has battlecry of ATGATT, missing some kit…

Average ride: Twenty miles down back lanes because through town is being dug up / full of traffic / infested with imbeciles, inevitably a social call or to the supermarket.

Aren’t you hot in all that…

Why yes, yes I am, thanks for asking. And it’s mostly nylon over waterproof membrane stuff and high-tech armour over the bony bits.

It’s been hot this week. 30C. Took hot. Extra fatigue and almost no energy. Activity levels minimal. A great time to have someone else work on the bike.

The XV535 is a classic air cooled V-twin design. Timeless and simple, there’s no fans, radiators or coolant levels to worry about. Air rushing past the finned cylinder heads provides adequate cooling in most conditions. Stopped at a level crossing in winter, gloved hands are warmed on the engine. Stopped for any length of time in summer and the most comfortable thing to do is turn the bike off and get off.

The kit works pretty much the same way, relying on high-speed airflow to cool me down. There’s vents at the thighs in my trousers, and at the wrists and armpits in my jacket. My helmet has an assortment of adjustable vents and the visor can be wedged open a little if the noise can be tolerated.

In weather like this, it’s bearable when the bike is moving fast, town and traffic are avoided if possible.

Today I had things to do. An appointment in a village the opposite side of town, and then dropping the bike off to have the brake caliper serviced and the (probably original) brake line upgraded to a braided steel Venhill part. I took the long way round to my appointment to avoid sitting in traffic, and the bike didn’t seem bothered about being ridden hard in heat. I manage to get stopped at every level crossing though.

On my way back into town the bike begins to splutter and lose power as if it were running out of fuel. Operating the reserve switch does not help. I stop briefly and the problem disappears. I push on and it happens again. The bike cuts out just as I pull off the road onto a farm track. I can hear the fuel pump chattering away. Not good.

I strip my helmet, gloves and jacket off, and realise I am soaked in sweat. The sun is ferocious and if I am stranded here it’s going to be unpleasant.

I pop the pillion seat off, out come the tools, and quickly the rider’s seat is off. I can see fuel in the filter and it looks free from sludge. Off comes the side panel. I unclamp the fuel pump and loosen the fuel pipe between the filter and the pump, petrol streams out so that’s not my problem. The hose clamp on the carb side of the fuel pump is a rusty mess and isn’t moving in a hurry. I refit the fuel pump.

I phone my friend that was going to pick me up from the garage and tell him the story, and then phone the garage. They are really busy and can’t collect the bike. They suggest the fuel pump might be dead, (it’s making noise so unlikely), reserve solenoid might have packed in (again, already stranded me, but I’m getting fuel to the pump) or a trapped fuel line. I contemplate an RAC experience. I’d rather not. I pull off the carb end of the fuel line between the pump and the carbs, empty. I turn the key, the fuel pump whirrs away and a pathetic dribble of fuel comes out of the pipe. Bike off, I curse as I suspect the pipe I am holding has a blockage and I can’t remove the other end easily. Then I realise the fuel pump sounds like it’s running dry. Then I see it.

The usually stiff and impossible to kink high-pressure fuel pipe I fitted between the filter and pump has softened in the heat and has a massive kink in it.

I replace the detached pipe and undo the pump, holding it so the inlet pipe is at a less extreme angle, and turn the key again, instantly the sound of the fuel pump changes to that of one full of fuel. I wrap the section of pipe that is kinking tightly with zip ties, and re-mount the fuel pump, the bike starts at a push of the button. I reassemble the bike and I am quickly at my friend’s. He follows me in a car to the garage.

Looks like it was too hot for the bike as well today, and the high pressure heavy duty fuel line was worse than an unreinforced low pressure motorcycle fuel hose. Nothing that can’t be swapped out once I get the bike back. Zip ties saved the day though.


Are you biker Stig?

/me folds arms and stares through tinted visor

Yes I was asked that, by a child, in the Recycling Centre (i.e. dump) of all places, as I neatly parked the bike, opened the top box and set about disposing of the various bits of small electronics goods that the WEEE Directive says I can’t throw in the bin.

I think it illustrates perfectly the way that doing everything by bike or not at all seems to perplex those who see bikes as toys for rich people or outlaws. Don’t have a car, a permit is required for pedestrian access to the recycling centre a hundred yards from my house, and some days I can’t walk that far. Certainly not comfortably carry the amassed collection of broken tech and dead batteries that far.

All that remains is navigating the vicious speed humps that seem designed to cause an accident or otherwise deter anyone owning a vehicle with low ground clearance from recycling. Because range rovers are really environmentally friendly. But then if it was actually about saving the environment, perhaps it would be easier for those who can walk to take their refuse there rather than leaving it festering in piles nearby.

Does it hurt?


But less than walking. Less than taking the bus. And everything is going to hurt at some time or another so avoiding it because it hurts a bit seems ridiculous. Agony means time to stop or don’t start.When it doesn’t hurt much, then it’s time to go places and get things done.

Painkillers are something of a bad joke. Aside from when I have damaged myself in a new and temporary way they are a waste of time. Anything strong enough to stop things hurting means that my judgement is probably lacking. If it hurts too much do do something, It’s only going to hurt more if I find a way of ignoring it and doing that something.

That seat is a nice big soft chunk of foam that hugs my arse. I’ve got some bars to hold onto to keep my back in a nice position and a fuel tank to wrap my thighs around. There’s not a lot of weight on my wrists as I lean forward, as my lean mostly balances out the force of the wind on my chest. The whole thing vibrates like a massage chair, the 535 mostly at a fairly low amplitude throb. It’s quite nice. The 125s used to feel a little tingly if riding like I mean it, which on a 125 means pretty much all the time.

I started getting some major wrist pain on the second Suzuki GZ I owned, as it spent a lot of it’s time at Wide Open Throttle (WOT). This used to entail my forearm being horizontal and the back of my hand being pulled back nearly vertical. Not a particularly comfortable position. I got around this by swapping the throttle tube for a Yamaha one that had a larger diameter cam, which reduced the amount of twist to WOT, needed to be a tiny bit more sensitive with it, but I only had 12 horses to play with, which was hardly a bestial amount of power.

I’ve already mentioned aches with prolonged low speed manoeuvres in a previous article. It was the major killer doing my basic training, which I split over several sessions as I knew from the start that I wasn’t up for a 7 hour training day. It was annoying again during my mod 1 training and my incessant U-turn practice. Cruiser style bikes are well adapted to me, but their long wheelbase means the allowed space for a U-turn is very close to their minimum turning radius. Now I’ve passed all the tests I’ll ever need, it’s not something I do, getting lost is a rare event, and when I do need to turn around, it’s usually somewhere where a U-turn is inappropriate. Heavy traffic is something I meet from time to time and I hate it to the point of preferring to stop, in a McDonald’s if it’s the only dry place with coffee,  rather than soldier on through it, although it is nice to be able to filter through really slow traffic.

A long journey can leave me quite stiff from being in the same position for a long time. Getting off the the bike afterwards, that can hurt. Being in a different position having gotten used to that one, that can hurt. Have been known to find a bench, sit astride it, elbows on knees, leant slightly forward and find it stops hurting.

Cold hands. I don’t think anything is worse as hands stop functioning if they are very cold, and it’s a sign that the rest of you is pretty cold too. It’s a generic biker issue and I don’t think I get this any worse than anyone else. It was particularly bad getting to and from the test centres in Scunthorpe (mod 1, rain) and York (mod 2, damned cold). Winter grade gloves are obviously better than summer gloves, and it helps if the rest of your kit is warm and waterproof. Mine is all pretty good now as I like staying warm and dry. Came back from my mother’s once in jeans in the rain. Had waterproof (and armoured) trousers the next time I rode. I have a heated waistcoat somewhere. Used it occasionally on my 125. The 535 has an electrical system powerful enough to run heated grips. They are awesome in winter, turned all the way up the bars are too hot to hold. A big air cooled engine doesn’t let anywhere else get that cold, the rear cylinder head is just in front of my seat, so the insides and underneath of my thighs stay warm. I had to make a small heel guard to keep my left boot on the peg so I didn’t destroy the boot on the engine casing. The 535 has one on the right but not on the left. Sat at a level crossing with the engine off, i’ll warm my gloved hands on the engine if it’s a really cold day. On a really hot day, I’ll put the sidestand down and get off the bike before I bake. Summer cooling is mostly go faster and undo more vent zips. 60mph can be quite cold on a hot day if all the vents are open.

Importantly it hurts physically long before I’m mentally tired. If I can get on the bike and get it onto a road without severe discomfort, I’m likely to be in a fit state to ride. It’s something of an expectation that one doesn’t ride unless well rested. I’m fairly sure the same is not true for driving cars. It appears to be quite accepted and often encouraged that I use roadside cafes for a rest as much as for a snack, and most of the friends I vist by bike accept that there is a chance of me overnighting. I was afraid at one point that I might have upset some friends by not staying the night because I felt like riding. I explained later that it meant more to me to know how comfortably I could day trip to theirs.

Working on the bike. That really hurts. Not so much wrenching stuff as leaning over parts of the bike fiddling. It’s ok if I can sit or lie down and work beside the bike, electrical gremlins under the seat are really annoying and a recipe for backache. I don’t do all the work on the bike myself, but small jobs that can be left halfway through and don’t require any great feats of strength will usually be done by me. Loads of electrical gremlins on the 535 that mostly require a bit of patience and logic.

I am a masochist

Don’t you have to be really strong to ride a bike?


Unless you do dangle yourself off the bike like the MotoGP rider you wish you were, or have a massively overpowered bike and no throttle control. Steering takes a really gentle push on the bars in the opposite direction to the direction of turn, and the lean of the bike does the rest. I have never had a wrestling with the bars experience on a road bike. It’s a bit different off road, particularly at low speed.  Braking requires a controlled grip, occasionally quite firm, but infrequently. I don’t think I’ve ever problems with my right hand from braking. My back brake is a drum type, and it’s fairly easy to stand on if required.

That leaves the gears, selection is foot operated and reasonably light touch is all it takes, clutch is hand operated, and not a particularly hard squeeze, but motorcycle drive trains aren’t like cars, neutral is a pain to find on a sequential box, so the bike stays in gear unless it’s being stopped or started. The clutch is (usually) a wet multi-plate designed for controlled slip, slow speed manoeuvres (like crawling along at walking pace) require the engine be kept spinning quickly (for gyroscopic stability and increased torque) and the road speed be controlled by slipping the clutch. Long periods of heavy traffic or low speed manoeuvre training will cause the muscles in my left forearm to ache something horrible. Taking breaks when required and avoiding heavy traffic can mitigate this a lot.

It helps if you have the strength to pick one up if you drop it, but picking up a bike is fairly easy if you you know how, even if it’s 350kg or more of overweight american icon. Backing a bike up a hill is an arse, and you quickly learn to not get into the kind of situations one needs to back out of. Parking wise it’s a ton easier to back down a slope and ride out, or ride up a slope and back out, or find somewhere level to park. If the bike’s broken down then the RAC exist so pushing bikes doesn’t need to happen.

Lifting my luggage onto the bike, that’s probably the biggest feat of strength I perform, followed by getting my leg over the bike. If those look like a problem, I don’t ride.

Working on the bike is a different matter. Some bits of wrenchin’ require a feat of strength to assemble or disassemble a part, or serious application of cunning. I prefer the latter, picking the right size spanner, using my weight rather then my strength (especially with bolt cutters) and improvising with the available tools. Doing the fork seals, it was apparent that neither I nor my mechanic were strong enough to compress the springs whilst the other pried out the retaining ring, so ratchet strap was used.

Of course every biker would like you to think that he or she is the toughest thing around, and Not To Be Messed With, so few will admit this, and most will suddenly find superhuman strength in order to protect their two wheeled life partner.