Thursday, May 30, 2013

Weaker helmet laws increase motorcycle crash injuries

According to recent findings, injuries and deaths increase in states where mandatory helmet laws are weakened or eliminated.

Advocacy groups that push for the elimination of mandatory helmet laws, such as the Motorcycle Riders Foundation and American Bikers Aimed Toward Education of Michigan, make claims that other factors account for the increase in the volume and severity of serious injuries and deaths in states where helmets are no longer required.

However, the data shows an irrefutable correlation between the repeal of mandatory helmet laws and the spike in the number of motorcycle injuries and their severity.
Nationally, motorcycle deaths have risen in 14 of the past 15 years, with more than 5,000 deaths last year, according to an analysis by the Governors Highway Safety Association of preliminary 2012 data.
Many rider advocacy groups fight to remove mandatory helmet laws, claiming that wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle should be an individual choice and not mandated by law. They often claim, however, that riders still choose to wear helmets even when they're not required to do so.

However, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sent observers to states last year to count how many motorcyclists wore helmets, 97 percent of motorcyclists in states with universal helmet laws were wearing helmets compared with 58 percent of motorcyclists in states without such coverage.

Despite claims to the contrary, helmet use saves lives. Furthermore, an individual choosing to ride without a helmet has implications beyond their own lives. Insurance rates and the overall cost to society goes up when they crash because the severity of their injuries imposes a larger financial burden passed on to the rest of us. Wearing a helmet is more than a matter of individual freedom.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: MotoCentric Mototrek Sport Tail Bag, Tank Bag, and Side bags

I purchased a set of MotoCentric soft luggage for my 2012 GSX-R750 in August of 2012. I paid $62.99 for the tail bag, $69.29 for the magnetic tank bag, and $119.99 for the side bags from (I had a 10% discount coupon).

I've since put a few thousand miles on the bike, mostly commuting to work and local day rides, but recently I used them for an overnight trip (250 miles each way) to John Day, Oregon.

Up to this point I've been used to hard luggage, using Givi side cases and top case on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650. The MotoCentric set was my first use of soft luggage. I selected them based on reviews, features, and benefit vs. cost. Before I get into the details of my review, I'll summarize for those with short attention spans:

The MotoCentric Mototrek soft luggage system represents a solid value in soft luggage for sport bikes.

Review Details

The tank bag is used on my Gixxer all the time. Since my AGVSport leathers only have a single interior pocket, I put my garage door opener and cell phone in the tank bag. I also put spare gloves, a rag, and a few other miscellaneous items in it. The magnets are very secure and it's nearly impossible to lift the bag straight up. You have to peal it back from front to back to remove it from the bike -- that approach works easily.

The side bags take a half hour to install and adjust to the bike, but once that's done, they go on and off in a matter of minutes. The tail bag takes even less time to adjust, install and uninstall. Once mounted, both the side bags and tail bag are rock solid, even at high speed.

I've not loaded the bags to capacity yet. The tail bag and side bags have zipped expansion panels that make them wider and add to their capacity. On my recent overnight trip, I was able to carry a fair bit of clothes, toiletries, an iPad, and a few other items without needing to open up the expansion panels. The additional weight in the side bags didn't seem to affect how they hang on the bike at all. I was impressed.

The individual features and details of the MotoCentric bags show attention to detail. Although they are relatively inexpensive, they aren't cheap in terms of features or quality. The zippers work well, fit and finish exceeds my expectations, and the materials used are high quality.

This past weekend I rode up through the Cascades to the small town of Detroit, Oregon. It was raining the first quarter of the journey so I pulled over and put the waterproof covers over the tank bag, tail bag, and side bags. The cover for the tank bag resides in a small pouch on the forward tip of the bag. The cover is permanently attached at one point on the front, then wraps around the part of the bag closest to the rider's chest using elastic. There are no tie-downs or snaps, just elastic. While riding, the cover remained secure.

The covers for the side bags are similar to a shower cap, with an elastic band around the opening. They also feature a springy drawstring that can be cinched tight. The covers flap around in the wind when riding, but that cinch strap keeps them on the sidebags.

Unfortunately, the cover for the tail bag wasn't as secure. It uses only elastic, no cinch cord, and when riding back toward home it came off and now has to be replaced. It's possible I didn't have it pulled down all the way around the tail bag, but I'm usually pretty meticulous about checking those kind of things. A cinch cord on the tail bag cover, like the one used on the side bag covers, wouldn't cost the manufacturer much and would provide a more secure fit.

Other than losing the tail bag waterproof cover, I have no complaints about the MotoCentric soft bag products. I view them as a good value, worth more in features and quality than their cost.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: Shinko 011 Verge sport bike tires

UPDATE 9-18-2013: After purchasing a front and rear Shinko 011 'Verge' tire for my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750, I've since put 5,000 miles on them and absolutely love them. They show hardly any wear, my chicken strips are only 1/4" wide and I've never had any loss or reduction of grip in the corners. I've ridden with them in the rain a couple of times now and they have felt planted and solid.

I paid $221 for the set from, using a 10% coupon from a previous purchase and free shipping. I paid my local motorcycle shop, Yamaha Sports Plaza in Fairview, Oregon, $100 in labor to remove the factory Bridgestones and put on the Shinko's.

The reviews state that the 011's are a high mileage tire and I hope to get 8,000 miles from the rear, more from the front. I'll post again when the tires get within 80% of their tread life, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the Shinko's provide excellent grip with a completely neutral feel. When riding, I'm unaware of the tire, I simply ride as modestly or as assertively as I wish. They present no wobbles or vibration at any speed (I've had them up to 130 mph). Keep in mind these are not Z-rated tires, so it's not a good idea to take them over 150 mph. I've ridden on moderately damp pavement and they performed very well.

My chicken strips are only 1/4" wide at this point. Keep in mind I'm new to sport bike riding and only have 4,000 miles under my belt on my GSX-R. On every turn, these Shinkos have inspired confidence to this relatively newbie rider (as of this riding I've ridden 60,000 miles total, most of it on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650).

I'm a huge fan of the Shinko brand of tires, feeling they are an outstanding value. They provide a lot of tire for relatively little money. The 011 Verge make a great tire for sport bikes, and unless they wear out after just a few thousand miles, I anticipate mounting them on my GSX-R750 for the foreseeable future.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Eastern Oregon Bliss on a GSX-R750

Some rides are utilitarian and have the charm of lukewarm tapwater. Others are sublime extensions of oneself that shall remain in our memories until the day we die, and perhaps beyond.

This past weekend was such an experience.

My goal was to take my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750 on an overnight trip of at least 250 miles each way to see if I can physically handle that kind of mileage on a sport bike, as well as test out my luggage and its ability to carry what I needed. The fact that I would be traveling on some of the best roads Oregon has to offer was incidental.

My route took me over Mt. Hood, down to the Deschutes River rafting town of Maupin, through the hamlets of Shaniko and Antelope, along magical highway 218 to Fossil, through the cowboy town of Spray and along the John Day river to the destination town of the same name. It was windy and the pass at Government Camp would be a bit chilly so I started off with my yellow Nelson-Rigg rain jacket on over my AGVSport leathers for extra warmth. When I reached the lone gas station in Maupin to fill up, I was able to shed that outer layer.

The absence of premium 92 octane unleaded is a concern when riding in rural areas. My Gixxer averages 43 mpg when I ride it, and with its 4.5 gallon tank, I have an effective range of about 180 miles before I'm running on vapors. In Maupin, I not only filled my gas tank, but I filled up a 30 oz. fuel bottle that I kept in my tail bag just in case. As the big-bellied station attendant said, "That will save you a 15 mile walk!" Fortunately, it was never needed on this trip.

I left Maupin for Shaniko via Bakeoven Road, a route I highly recommend to any rider, especially those on sport bikes. The first few miles out of the Deschutes River canyon are technical and require top attention. The curves are great but gravel is common and the stakes are high if you leave the pavement. But, through adversity we grow, and each successful run over roads like that makes you a better rider.

East of Antelope highway 218 shines. The road is in fantastic shape, there are great sight lines and very few blind corners, traffic and law enforcement is nearly non-existent, and the weather was perfect. What's not to love? I really got sideways and the chicken strips on my Shinko 011 Verge tires are now down to 1/4" wide.

By the time I got to Fossil I was ready for lunch. Unfortunately, the Big Timber restaurant was closed -- either for the day or permanently, I'm not sure -- and the only other place to eat was crowded with pirates (cruiser folk), so I continued onward. I stopped in Spray and ate a BLT in the back of the small market and gas station combo. From the looks of their few, sparse shelves, first impressions would indicate they're about to go out of business. Not all first impressions are accurate, however. The two gray-haired gals working the joint rustled up a BLT for me, and 20 minutes later I was back on the road.

From Maupin east, the nearest source of 92 octane unleaded is Dayville on highway 26. It took 3.4 gallons to cover the approximately 145 miles, so the range between fill-ups was adequate. Another hour down the road and I was pulling into the Best Western John Day Inn and unloading my gear into my room.

Things got even better the next day. I left John Day at 8 AM and had the roads to myself. After getting warmed up on the highway 26 leg to the junction with highway 19, I ramped up my pace and really got sideways. Other than a brief snack break in Spray, I maintained a brisk and spirited pace all the way to Maupin. For those who haven't explored the byways of rural Eastern Oregon, I highly recommend taking the time to do so. The topography and rivers have to be seen to be believed.

I fueled up once again in Maupin, this time only requiring 2.3 gallons -- odd -- and went home through Wamic, past Rock Creek Reservoir, and then back over Government Camp and into Sandy and home.

My cheeks are still sore from grinning so much.

But back to the original goal of testing the trip-worthiness of the GSX-R, yes, it's possible. Riding attire is important, and would probably be better served with an Aerostich Roadcrafter or Transit suit rather than racing leathers. Also, luggage space is reduced but with judicious selection of only things that matter, that's not much of a challenge. Fuel capacity is also an issue, but with the what-if inclusion of extra fuel via my 30 oz. bottle and careful route planning, that also isn't much of an issue. Riding a sport bike is a much more physical endeavor so fatigue can be somewhat of an issue. Ironically, my butt hurts more when I ride my V-Strom, but my neck and knees hurt a bit more on the Gixxer. It's a trade off, and frequent rest stops mitigate that adequately.

Having said all that, the V-Strom is more capable for long trips but the Gixxer provides more smiles per mile.