V-Twin vs. Inline 4: Riding Impressions

Super Duke Engine
KTM’s big 1301cc v-twin engine from the Super Duke 1290; definitely NOT a beginner bike

Last year I wrote a post about the differences between the various engine types you might encounter in sportbikes, but since then have received a lot of questions about the differences in riding a v-twin vs. an inline 4 motorcycle. The sportbikes I usually recommend for beginners have parallel twin engines, but most sportbike riders eventually want to own a sportbike that has a v-twin or inline 4 and want to know what the differences are when riding down the road. This is not meant to be a nerdy technical exercise, but rather a focus on the riding impressions of each engine type. Continue reading

Yamaha YZF-R3 Joins the Beginner Sportbike Battle

Yamaha YZF-R3
The new Yamaha YZF-R3, available in the U.S. in March 2015

Yamaha has just introduced the brand new 2015 YZF-R3, adding to what is arguably the best era ever for beginner motorcycle riders who want a sportbike. With the Kawasaki Ninja 300, Honda CBR300R and upcoming KTM RC390 to choose from as well, new riders now have the best selection ever of beautiful yet easy-to-ride sportbikes. The R3 should start showing up in dealerships around March 2015.

The R3 has a lot to like for beginners, notably a 321cc twin-cylinder engine producing a manageable 30.9 kW (41.4 HP) and a low 30.7″ seat height. These are two critical factors when it comes to beginner-friendly sportbikes; the smaller engine makes it easier to use the power smoothly, and a lower seat height makes the bike easier to control at stops and parking situations. The bike’s sharp looks don’t hurt either; experienced riders will need to take a very close look to realize it’s not a 600cc supersport. Add the R3 to your wish list if you’re a new rider in the market for a sportbike. This sure beats what I had to choose from 10 years ago when I was starting out.

Lane Splitting Update – California’s DMV and CHP Remove Guidelines from Websites

lane splitting
To split or not to split? That is the question.

Both the California DMV and California Highway Patrol have removed any language pertaining to motorcycle lane splitting from their websites and printed materials, in what appears to be an effort to distance themselves from any perception of endorsing the practice. California is the only state that allows (or rather, doesn’t disallow) lane splitting or lane sharing by motorcycles. For the record, I still split lanes on occasion but do so rather conservatively. You can read the article I wrote about it a few years ago here:

Lane Splitting — Time Saver or Insanity?

Source: Los Angeles Times

Honda CBR300R – Honda’s Updated Beginner Sportbike

2015 Honda CBR300R
The 2015 Honda CBR300R

In an effort to battle Kawasaki’s excellent Ninja 300, a battle that’s producing great things for beginner sportbike riders, Honda has increased the engine size from 250cc to 300cc in its starter CBR model. It retains its single cylinder configuration, producing a slightly different power delivery than the parallel twin of the Ninja. This is great news for new riders, as one of the knocks on the CBR250R was that it lacked a little power on the highway. The new motor has topped 100 MPH in early tests, making it easily imaginable for commuting duty while still retaining very beginner-friendly power. Add it to your checklist if you’re looking for a new starter sportbike.

Track Days are Awesome!

Trackday
My trusty R6 at Streets of Willow Springs last weekend.

Oh man, track days are so awesome. Sportbikes are made for the track, so there’s no better place to experience one than in its native environment. There’s also an incredible side benefit to improving your skills; professional photographers are present at most track days. Looking at photos of yourself in action is an underrated tool for improvement. I’ve poured over countless photos of myself at various track days through the years, comparing my body positioning to those of professional racers and highly skilled riders to see what I could do better. I’m still trying to get things right, but having photos of myself at the track went a long way in improving my skills.

If you’re a newer rider looking to get into track days, you can check out the Track Day Starter Guide to see what it’s all about. (Hint: It’s not that hard to get started.)

That said, I am not a fan of street photographers that hang out at busy mountain roads to take photos of motorcycle riders or people in their cars. I respect their entrepreneurial effort, but have seen so many people crash trying to show off for the cameras or make u-turns in ill-advised locations to get themselves onto camera repeated times. It’s my opinion that a photographer’s presence can make an already dangerous road even worse. If you want to see what I’m talking about, just search for “mulholland motorcycle crash” on youtube and grab a drink… it’s gonna take a while to get through them all.

Riding Canyon Roads Safely

canyon road
One of the endless turns on Angeles Crest Highway

Twisty roads are something many sportbike riders look forward to every weekend, myself included. Here in Los Angeles we have an iconic mountain road right in our backyard called Angeles Crest Highway (aka ACH or The Crest), endless canyon roads in the hills surrounding the Malibu coast and various other excellent mountain roads within an hour’s ride. Perhaps you’ve heard of Deal’s Gap and The Snake, an infamous stretch of curvy forest road in the Smoky Mountains along the North Carolina / Tennessee border. These roads attract motorcycle riders of all kinds; some looking for fresh air and scenery, others looking for the thrill of running turn after turn at speed. These roads can also be dangerous, so it’s important to enjoy them safely by following a few simple guidelines. Continue reading

Best New Beginner Bikes – 2014 Edition

Ninja 300
2014 Kawasaki Ninja 300, fully-faired starter sportbike extraordinaire

This year’s best beginner sportbike is the Ninja 300. Seriously, just look at the thing. Kawasaki has done a tremendous job of making the Ninja 300 a thing of desire; experienced riders (including me) have trouble distinguishing it from its bigger brothers. It can top 100 MPH making it more than suitable for freeway duty while retaining very beginner-friendly power. It’s light, inexpensive, available with ABS, has good ergonomics for a beginner and its high demand means it can be easily resold once you’re ready to move on to something else. Winner. Now that I got the easy part out of the way, on to the rest.

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Motorcycle Suspension: Harder Than It Looks

Ohlins makes excellent but expensive shocks
Ohlins makes excellent but expensive shocks

For beginner motorcycle riders, suspension isn’t usually given too much thought. Considering how much it affects a motorcycle’s performance and riding characteristics though, it should be given a lot of thought. The bikes on my recommended beginner’s list typically have low-tech suspensions with only one adjustable feature, but even understanding just how that one feature affects your riding will make a noticeable difference in how the bike feels. When you’re ready to move onto a true sportbike, their suspension components become more complicated, more expensive and more important to set up correctly.

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Sportbikes for beginners