Rally Ready - Preparing you and your bike for the next mototcycle rally

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Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - AMS


Rally Ready - Part 1

Readying the bike

Whatever rally you plan to attend in the future, Rally Ready is a series of articles to make your rally experience safer and that much more enjoyable. Getting to, attending and returning home from a rally can involve many miles in a day. Use these tips to make the most of your trip.

Custom Seat

You may or may not have heard of a custom seat. Just exactly what is it and why would someone need one?

Simply put, stock motorcycle seats don't fit anyone. They are designed with the average size rider in mind, essentially the sum of all people a manufacturer anticipates to be buyers for their bikes. They don't fit any one rider that well.

As a result, stock seats can cause all kinds of problems for a rider who plans to ride more than 100 miles a day. Riding in the same position for hours on a stock seat can result in back pain, leg pain and hip pain, all common issues as well as numbness in the legs, arms and hands. If you're feeling any of these symptoms when riding for long hours, you're a candidate for a custom seat. A well- made custom seat will reduce stress across all of your body and allow you to enjoy the ride and the road for longer hours.

At left: A standard BMW K75 seat on the left, a custom fitted version of the same seat on the right.

Regardless of what you ride – a cruiser, sportbike, touring, standard or adventure style bike – the ultimate riding position is one where your back is perpendicular, your legs are bent no more than ninety degrees at the knees and your elbows have about a fifteen percent bend in them. In some cases, a custom seat can be built to correctly position the rider in all three of these categories. In other cases, you may need a custom seat as well as having your handle bars adjusted and pegs moved around. We'll talk about adjusting the bars in a moment and be sure you read that section prior to having a fitting session for a seat.

Understand that getting a true custom seat isn't going out and buying an aftermarket brand like Corbin or Mustang. To get a true custom seat, you must take a session with a reputable seat maker which typically involves about a day. The process, when done thoroughly, involves taking you and your bike to the maker, sitting up and down on your bike so the maker can measure your current sitting position and determine where it needs to change. Using your original seat, the cover is removed, foam is added and several cutting and shaping moments ensue until the desired seat shape and sitting position are achieved. You then test ride the bike for a while and return to the shop reporting what's right and what needs to change. More shaping may ensue until you and the maker agree it's right. The seat is then covered and you depart with a new seat built just for you! Long range comfort is in your future now.

Back before the advent of automobiles, people rode horses. Smart cowboys had saddles custom fit to their derrière and a good saddle maker was a commodity in many towns. Today custom motorcycle seat makers are few and far between as well. In Seattle there are two, in Oregon one and we know of no makers in Idaho. For more information contact:

By the way, you may wonder – when is the best time to have a custom seat made? Fall, winter or early spring. After that the warm weather arrives and sessions can be booked out weeks in advance.

Raising the Bars

A simple set of ConvertiBars allows the rider of this Suzuki SV1000 to have a far more comfortable ride over a long distance.

But for many of us, we spend years riding with locked elbows and never understand the benefits of having them bent while we ride. With the elbows bent, confidence goes up and a more fluid style of riding is achieved. However because of the ergonomics of our bikes in relation to our own body size, we may not be able to get our elbows bent without having to lean forward. We may also experience numbness in the right, left or both hands. But there is a solution.

Begin by sitting on your motorcycle with your back perpendicular, the optimal long-range riding position. Can you reach your handle bars or are you forced to lean forward to do so? Leaning forward for long hours is no fun. Attempting to sit upright and having your elbows locked for long hours as a result is no fun either. Now try sitting on a maxi scooter such as a Honda Silverwing (good excuse for a field trip to a dealer) and note how nicely your elbows are bent. If you're not able to bend your elbows at least fifteen degrees you're a candidate for getting your handle bars raised and/or repositioned.

It's important to note that if you're going to get a custom seat built for your bike, having your elbows bent at fifteen degrees should be the least of your three concerns when dialing in the seat shape because you can remedy it by adjusting the bars later – like now.

Return to your bike, sit on the seat again with your back perpendicular in the most common area you would be on the seat when riding. Reach your hands forward as if in the riding position, only place them in the space that would be optimal to get your elbows bent at 15 degrees. If you ride a sportbike or standard, it's likely your hands will be behind and above the location of your current hand grips. Make a note of where they are. Two inches back from the bars, one and a half inches above? Whatever it is, this is where your bars should be.

In rare cases, you may be able to resolve this using the adjustments available on your existing bars. For the rest of us, there are aftermarket bars and accessories available that will allow more extreme adjustments to be made. For most sportbikes, sport touring and standard bikes that use clip-on style bars, you can check out Helibars and Convertabars on the internet and see if they make a system for your model. If your bars are mounted using an old school clamp format (found on older bikes, dirt bikes and most less expensive new bikes as well), you'll want to check out Rok Risers which can add up to 5 inches to your bars' adjustability.

But with any increase in height beyond about an inch, you're going to need to replace your front brake lines with longer ones.

Re-doing the Brake Lines

Are we getting into a money pit here? We've discussed the need for a custom seat, adding height to the handle bars and now we must replace the brake lines to add needed length. Hey – it's your bike – this is all about making it more comfortable and safer for you to ride so stick with me here as we discuss the next step. You could go buy a new bike, but this way is more precise and probably less expensive.

Most bikes that use hydraulic brakes ship from the factory with basic thick rubber brake lines. Over time these brake lines can deteriorate, are susceptible to cutting open in a minor or major crash and can flex more than you want them to, leaving you less braking power. If you need to replace your brake lines (and at some point everybody should) consider upgrading to a Kevlar line that will last longer, is stronger and more rigid. Braided brake lines are better than rubber and look cool, but Kevlar is superior.

If you're going to replace your front line(s) you might as well do the rear line as well since it won't cost that much more to do it.

The procedure is fairly simple. Begin by ordering your new lines the shop. Tell the parts person the year, make and model of the bike and then stipulate how much additional length you will need. Companies like Galfer are all tooled up to take orders like this and when your new lines arrive they will be packaged similar to this: 2004 Yamaha FZ6 +2. That +2 means the front lines have an additional two inches in them to compensate for those nifty bar risers you just installed.

Also be aware that if your system is currently using a single line which is later Y'd near the wheel to accommodate your dual front disc brake system, your kit may include two full length cables and instructions about how to adapt this new and better option.

You can have your dealer install the lines or you can install them yourself. If you can change your own oil, you can change your own brake cables, too. If you're planning to do the install yourself, read on.

Your next stop is the auto parts store. Purchase a good quality brake line vacuum kit. The kind with the gun-style vacuum works best. There are many methods of bleeding brake lines, but this is the best one we've come across to date.

With your new cables in hand, return home and prepare your work space. Begin with having the necessary tools at hand as well as a large sheet of plastic and a roll of painter's tape to protect the paint on your bike. Do not allow any brake fluid to touch your paint, powder-coated wheels or any other coated surfaces.

Place the rubber tube on the bleeder valve with the other end in a can. Open the valve and squeeze your brakes to bleed out the fluid. Remove the old brake lines and drain any brake fluid from the reservoir. Remove the reservoir cap and pour some new brake fluid (use what the manufacturer tells you) in. Flush it through to insure you've got all the old stuff out. Wrench on your new lines and fill the reservoir. Now attach your bleeder vacuum to the bleeder valve at the brake shoe and suck the fluid down into the line. Check frequently to insure you don't run the reservoir dry. If that happens you'll get air in the line, which is what we're trying to remove. Once you think the line is primed, close the bleeder valve and place the cap back on the reservoir. Repeat the same process on the rear brake which typically has a much shorter line.

At this point, it's a good idea to be cautious because there's likely still a bit of air in the line. Walk the bike around and engage the front brake. Is it grabbing the discs and stopping the bike? Ditto for the rear. If not, bleed again. With both brakes engaging, take a short slow test ride. Chances are you'll notice the front or both brakes may seem a little weak. It's almost certain, no matter how well you think you got the air out, that there's still a bit in the lines.

For the front brake, the remedy is simple. Lightly snap the brake lever inward with your index finger repeatedly – at least 50 times. This allows any air in the line to rise into the chamber and escape from the line. You'll notice your brakes will grab sooner the more you do this until you've got all the air out. You can add more fluid to the reservoir now if need be.

If the rear brake is not to your satisfaction, you may need to get a little more tricky since on many bikes the line rises above the reservoir on its way to the brake. In this situation, you may want to remove the rear brake from the frame, hold it up high, squeeze it/snap it several times so as to move the air into the top of the line at the brakes. Now open the bleeder valve, apply pressure to the brake pedal until the fluid flows, then close the bleeder valve. Add more fluid to the reservoir if need be.

continue to part 2 - riding gear

Patrick Thomas/Winter 08

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