Motorman’s Tips, Tricks and Techniques
Here’s a great question and one that I’m asked quite a bit:
Motorman, I just bought my wife a new Sportster Iron. She’s a new rider but she passed the M.S.F. Beginner Course with no problem so I thought she could handle the Sportster. Unfortunately she has serious problems at low speeds. She says the Sportster is very top heavy. She’s dropped it a couple of times already and I’ve had to replace the taillights and the side mount license plate since they broke when she dropped the bike. My question is, what, if anything can be done about the top heavy high center of gravity Sportster? Would lowering the bike help?
First, let me say, the Sportster is not, I repeat, not top heavy, nor does it have a high center of gravity. The real problem is your wife hasn’t mastered the friction zone. Said another way, she’s really having a problem coordinating the clutch and throttle and I’d be willing to bet she’s not using the rear brake to help stabilize the bike at low speeds. And, if she is using the front brake with the handle bars turned at low speeds; that will cause the bike to be pulled to the ground real quick which of course contributes to the bike feeling top heavy.
If she didn’t have this problem at the M.S.F. Course, it’s probably because they do quite a few friction zone exercises before any riding begins. Plus the small bikes used in M.S.F. are very light and generally the clutches on those small bikes are very easy to modulate.
So, what can you do the help her? First, you need to have her practice in a big parking lot. She needs to concentrate on the slow race. That is, have her ride at a walking pace in a straight line with the clutch in the friction zone. To help stabilize the bike, have her put a little pressure on the rear brake. After every few minutes of practice, let the bike cool down for five minutes by cruising around in 2nd gear with the clutch fully engaged and no rear brake. Once she’s comfortable going slow in a straight line, have her start weaving back and forth and turning circles while still in the friction zone and applying a little rear brake.
The only problem I’ve found with the Sportster is the stock clutch has a very short friction zone. That means it’s going to take quite a bit of practice to get smooth with the friction zone.
On the Sportster I use as a training bike, I replaced the stock clutch with a Barnett Unit, Part #307-30-10011. Not only is this clutch a much heavier duty unit than stock, but the friction zone is three times as wide as the stock clutch. That makes it much easier to control the bike at low speeds. If you use the stock spring with the Barnett Clutch, lever pressure won’t change.
I also strongly recommend a set of crash bars with highway pegs mounted on the crash bars. Mount the pegs upside down so they fold down instead of up. Extend them while practicing. That way, if the bike tips over, it will land on the pegs at a 45 degree angle. That will keep anything from getting damaged in case of a tip over.
Lastly, don’t lower the bike. It won’t help and on any of the newer Sportster models that already come from the factory extremely low, lowering the bike further will cause a tire to be levered off the ground when leaned into a turn at low or high speeds.
For more tips and tricks, visit my website, www.ridelikeapro.com or check out my YouTube page by simply typing in ride like a pro. I’ve just released our new Surviving the Mean Streets 2. You can order online directly from my website or call toll free to order, 866-868-7433. Till next month, get out there and practice.