Motorcycle Track Day Starter Guide

Motorcycle at Willow Springs raceway

Updated 10/26/21

One of the best things you can do with your sportbike is take it to the local racetrack for a motorcycle track day and really let it loose. Once you’re out there flying down the straights and carving corners without the police, cliffs or SUVs to worry about, you’ll be hooked.

It seems like a daunting task to make it out to a motorcycle track day, but the good news is that it’s really not that difficult. It takes some effort, but I had so much fun my first time out that I knew the effort would always be worth it. Let’s take a deeper dive into our motorcycle track day starter guide.

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Shoei RF-1400 helmet review – long oval heads rejoice

Shoei RF-1400 helmet
My new Shoei RF-1400 helmet, replacing my old Arai Signet-Q

I have what the motorcycle helmet industry refers to as a long oval head, meaning it’s notably longer front-to-back. As a result, it’s hard for me to find helmets that fit perfectly since most helmets are made for medium oval heads. Many times I have excitedly tried on a helmet I wanted to buy, only to discover it was too tight against my forehead. For the last 10 years I have been wearing Arai helmets, specifically the older Profile and Signet Q lines which are specifically designed for long oval heads.

You should replace your helmets every five years due to degradation of the expanded polystyrene foam liner, the part of the helmet that absorbs impact in a collision. My Arai Signet Q was overdue for a replacement, so I started looking for a new helmet earlier this year. By default I was looking to buy an Arai Signet X, the new and improved successor to the Signet Q. Unfortunately I didn’t like any of the available designs, nor was I excited about its $829 price tag. Enter the Shoei RF-1400.

Positioned just below the X-Fourteen racing helmet, the RF-1400 is Shoei’s newest helmet, replacing the outgoing RF-1200. It’s a lightweight full-face helmet design designed for sport riders. It’s impressively priced at $629 for models with graphics, a full $200 less than the Arai Signet X. The only problem for me was that its predecessor, the RF-1200, was not a good fit for my head. On a whim I decided to visit my local Cycle Gear store and try the RF-1400 on, and much to my surprise, it fit very well. It seems Shoei made a slight change to the RF-1400, giving it a little more room front-to-back.

Shoei RF-1400 helmet
Shoei made the new RF-1400 a little longer front-to-back than the outgoing RF-1200. It fits me!

Flush with excitement, I immediately started looking for a design that I liked. Unfortunately Shoei also seemed to have trouble manufacturing enough RF-1400 helmets to meet demand, but I finally got my hands on one. Sure enough, it fits my long oval head snugly, and it also provided a few improvements over my Arai Signet Q:

  • It’s noticeably more aerodynamic, especially when turning my head to check blind spots
  • The visor port is larger, so I have a pleasantly wider viewing angle
  • Shoei has a more straightforward visor attachment system (changing visor on an Arai can be challenging)

I’m looking forward to my next track day with the improved aerodynamics, especially since my Arai Signet Q was unquestionably the least effective track helmet I’ve used in terms of its ability to cut through the air at high speed. It looks like Shoei has a winning helmet in the RF-1400 for sport riders with long oval heads.

What does it mean when a motorcycle rider taps their helmet?

Me tapping my helmet, captured by my friend’s GoPro who happened to be riding in the opposite direction that day

If you’re riding along the road and see your fellow motorcycle riders tapping the top of their helmets as they pass you in the opposite direction, slow down and be cautious. In most of the U.S., this is a warning that the police are nearby.

This of course could be any number of scenarios where the police would typically be present. An accident, a road closure, an officer waiting to catch speeding motorists, or an officer who’s already pulled over a speeding motorist. In any case, be sure to slow down and prepare for anything when you see this warning from other riders.

Newcomb’s Ranch is for sale

Newcomb's Ranch
Newcomb’s Ranch, the venerable motorhead hangout on Angeles Crest Highway

Newcomb’s Ranch has been closed ever since the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, and it looks to stay that way until it changes hands. The ever-popular mountain road restaurant / bar / gathering place has a long history, and another chapter will be added as its current owners look to sell the iconic hangout to the right buyer.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve ridden the 26 miles up the famed, twisting Angeles Crest Highway to arrive at the forested treasure that is Newcomb’s Ranch. Its expansive parking lot is a natural magnet for motorcyclists and car enthusiasts to show off their rides. It’s not unusual for Jay Leno to show up occasionally in one of his McLarens or other rare supercars, all too eager to meet and greet his fellow motorheads. And it’s a wonderful place to grab a bite and relax while soaking in the pine forest air. It’s very strange to arrive there now; the parking lot is still accessible and used as a gathering spot, but the closed restaurant definitely takes the energy out of the place.

I’m grateful that Freddie Rundall was a good owner; he was always polite, engaging, patient, and eagerly shared road condition information with everyone there. It’s not the easiest restaurant to manage, and it definitely has its seasonal swings. I wish him well and hope he finds a great buyer for this classic roadside gathering place just a beautiful ride away from the heart of Los Angeles.

Don’t just plug a punctured tire, replace it

Nailed it! My newish Dunlop Q3+ with a nail in it. Dammit.

After returning home from my last ride, I noticed a medium sized nail right in the tread of my newish Dunlop Q3+ rear tire. I have no idea how long it was there, only that it wasn’t flat and I made it home. I check tire pressures frequently, so I knew it was recent.

My first thought was “shit!”, followed by a half-witted thought that maybe I could just plug it instead of having to spend my hard-earned money on a new one. But once my logic kicked in and slapped that silly idea out of my head, I jumped on RevZilla and ordered a new tire.

Plugging the tire would be a definite necessity if I was far from home and just needed to get it back safely. It’s even possible to ride a long way on a plugged tire, but understand that once punctured, a tire’s integrity and speed rating are compromised to some degree. If you do plug a puncture, ride home at a safe speed and get it replaced as soon as possible.

That said, I recommend watching FortNine’s excellent video comparing the different types of plugs. And if you’re looking for a decent kit to carry, here’s what I recommend. If you absolutely can’t afford a new tire, a permanent plug is best, not the rope plug kit I just linked. A permanent plug requires the tire to be removed from the wheel so the patch can be applied from the inside.

Stay hydrated when riding motorcyles

Motorcycle fanny pack for holding water to stay hydrated when riding
My Kriega R3 fanny pack easily holds a water bottle so I can take hydration breaks.

Riding a motorcycle safely requires concentration and hydration is a huge help, especially in hot weather. Dehydration contributes to fatigue, impaired judgment, slow reaction times, dizziness, or worse. These are seemingly obvious things to avoid when doing something that requires concentration and balance, so it’s critical to stay hydrated when riding motorcycles.

Here are a few tips to stay hydrated when riding motorcycles, since you can’t exactly grab your Gatorade bottle from the cup holder like you can while driving your car.

  • Drink some water before your ride.
  • Stick a bottle of water or sport drink in your carrying bag of choice. That might be a tank bag, tail bag, motorcyle-specific backpack, or even a motorcycle fanny pack (bum bag for our UK mates). A good place to shop for those things is Revzilla.
  • In hot weather, sweating causes the loss of salt, potassium, and other important nutrients. Grab a Gatorade or similar sport drink to replenish yourself and stay sharp.
  • Schedule strategic stops in your ride to take a few sips.
  • Make more frequent hydration stops when it gets hot.
  • If you feel thirsty during your ride, slow down a little and find a safe place to stop and hydrate.
  • If you feel dehydrated and it’s affecting your riding, slow down, find somewhere safe and shady to stop, and take a long hydration break.

Do not underestimate the danger of dehydration, especially when doing something as demanding as riding a motorcycle. Keep yourself out of trouble and keep yourself well hydrated during every ride.

Motorcycle suspension basics for beginners

Ohlins motorcycle shock absorber
The dirty Ohlins shock absorber on my Aprilia RSV4 Factory

Often overlooked but critically important, the suspension on a motorcycle helps soak up bumps and keep the tires firmly planted. Poorly adjusted suspension makes for nervous riding, but well-adjusted suspension can make every ride better, especially in the turns. This is our summary of motorcycle suspension basics for beginners, namely what you’d see on modern sportbikes or standards.

For excellent beginner bikes like those on our list of best beginner sportbikes for 2021, the suspension is typically not adjustable except for the rear shock absorber’s spring preload. This means you have to live with the suspension as-is, but the setup is generally soft and forgiving. Adjustable suspension components are costlier, so don’t expect to see them until you buy a more expensive motorcycle. But it’s still important to understand what the components do and what type of adjustments are available.

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Best motorcycle helmet, jacket, glove, and boot brands for sportbike riders

A motorcycle rider wearing a helmet and leathers

If you’re a beginner motorcycle rider, it might be hard to figure out which brands of helmets, jackets, gloves, and boots are legitimately good brands for sportbike riders. As with equipment for any activity or sport, there are many to choose from, with varying degrees of price, quality, and cool factor.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor does it mean that brands not appearing here are bad. It’s just a list of the brands that we like, purchase, and believe in. Don’t even think about wearing gear that isn’t made for motorcycle riding. Work boots and gloves are not going to fare well in a crash and will add to your list of injuries.

But enough already, on to the list.

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Check your tire pressure at least weekly

Motorcycle parked

Motorcycle tires have a rounded tread because motorcycles have to lean over in order to negotiate turns, which means the contact patch is quite a bit smaller than that of a flat-treaded car tire. The contact patch for motorcycle tires is famously compared to that of a credit card, meaning there’s very little rubber connecting a motorcycle to the road. This makes it critically important to have good tires in good condition, and part of that condition is the proper tire pressure.

Check your bike’s manual or the tire manufacturer’s website for the recommended tire pressures for your bike, and make sure to check the tire pressures at least once per week. I recommend buying a good quality tire pressure gauge with a hose; the valve stem on motorcycle tires can be a little hard to deal with sometimes, so it’s better to have one with a hose so you’re not trying to jam a big old gauge in between the wheel spokes. Here’s a search for motorcycle tire pressure gauges on revzilla.com.

A couple of extra tips:

  • Many gas stations will let you use the air inflator for free if you go inside and ask the attendant to turn it on.
  • Don’t rely on the pressure gauge attached to the gas station inflator; get your own.
  • Make sure your tires are relatively new and have plenty of tread left; if you buy a used bike and it’s been sitting for year or longer, those tires might be degraded. Buying new tires is a really cheap insurance policy.

How long do you need to ride smaller motorcycles until you can get your dream bike?

Ducati and Aprilia sportbikes
Ducati and Aprilia make some of the dreamiest sportbikes in the world

There isn’t a magic timeline for a beginner motorcycle rider to be ready for their dream bike, but it definitely shouldn’t be their first bike unless they both happen to be something like the Kawasaki Ninja 400 ABS. Chances are that dream bike is something more powerful, more beautiful, and more expensive. My dream bike when I was a beginner was the Yamaha YZF-R6, but fortunately I had the good sense not to buy it despite some unscrupulous salesmen trying to convince me otherwise. So when is a beginner rider ready to make the jump to their dream bike?

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