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Intelligent upgrades

Cobie Fair

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What are intelligent motorcycle upgrades?  As a school forum, we'll take it as a given upgrades to the rider are good, so what about upgrades to the bike, or a different bike for a similar purpose, like 2 different track bikes?

For the sake of clarity, let's categorize these, starting with separating street bikes and track oriented bikes (all pavement for now).

How would you upgrade your bike, and why?

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Hi Cobie. So I've been lurking here for awhile. This is as good a topic as any to dive in with a first post.  

For street bikes there are several upgrades I usually make.  First I make sure the bike has the right spring rate set-up front and rear for my weight with gear.  I ride a few different BMWs and Ducs and have found front springs in particular tend to be either one or two spring rate levels too soft.  If so, then I'll swap out the springs. Will usually jump on a call with a suspension OEM's in-house expert to make sure I also have the right valving and oil level equation. Sometimes I will upgrade the entire front fork set-up, usually to a set of Ohlins R&Ts.

Next are brakes. If a particular lever / master cylinder combination on a new bike has too much play at the hand controls and it can't be eliminated by simply adjusting lever distance, bleeding lines and changing brake fluid, or the brakes just tend to fade a tad too much during spirited rides (even after upgrading pads) then I'll put a quality Brembo or Magura setup on the bike.

I'm always amazed at how much improvement one can get on a street bike by just dialing in the suspension and brakes so they truly work for you and how you ride. So these two "intelligent" bike upgrades would be the ones that really top the list for me.  

If I move down to what I would call second tier intelligent changes, next are lights. For road bikes I tend to add a set of Skene P3 rear LED brake / turn signal lights to the sides of the rear license plate frame. When you hit the brakes they have a very fast but short lived pulsing action that catches the attention of drivers behind you. The lights are small so they blend into the bike well visually. Over the last few years I've also been adding a set of small Clearwater lights as bright day-time running lights to the front of bikes I ride in heavy traffic.  Atlanta traffic can be nuts at times and I've had situations in intersections where the Clearwater lights have caused a few drivers to think twice (you see a driver lurch their vehicle forward then stop) before pulling out, so they have definitely saved my butt.

I usually add some simple crash protection to both side of the engine casing from the usual suspects - GB Racing, R&G, Gilles Tooling, Sato, Woodcraft, etc. I also like to use as a tank bag on my street bikes so I add a SW-Motech quick release tank ring as my preferred interface for attaching and moving tank bags from bike to bike. Sometimes I will upgrade rear sets if I find over time my leg position with the stock set-up needs some help. Although I do have to confess I have added some beautiful BMW HP rear sets to a few S1RRs and an S1XR for no good reason at all other than they looked great. 

Most of my road bikes also get a set of Tech-Spec tank pads. They not only help with leg lock-on in the twisties but also help protect the gas tank from scratches. If the bike will see more long distance travel I'll get a larger windscreen and change it out when I do multi-day rides. It is nice to get some relief from all the buffeting you get while highway riding. Last but not least, it is tough to do any distance riding without adding some kind of luggage. The majority of the time I use OEM bike-specific bags but have had great success with soft Wunderlisch, TourTech and Mosko-Moto bags. 

I'll add some thoughts about track bikes in a follow-on post.

Carpe diem. See you in Sonoma.


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Track riding is a relatively new endeavor for me so I've only made upgrades to one motorcycle for track use at this point. Upgrades included: (1) stiffer Ohlins front fork springs so preload could be set in the right range for my weight, (2) Brembo Z04 brake pads for more stopping mojo, (3) heavier EvoTech bar ends to reduce handlebar vibration, (4) EvoTech brake lever guard, (5) R&G frame sliders and GB Racing alternator / clutch covers just in case, (6) Stomp Grip tank pads for solid lock-on, and (7) changed out various bolts and oil filler cap with pre-drilled versions so they could be safety wired. Think that is it so far. 


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First off, like the avatar..."Coffeefirst" .  I was the ultimate opposite snob: "Oh, really: you need a half-calf, double latte, blended skinny, breve, espresso, semi-dry, soy, blond machiado, with a twist?"  I smirked and acted superior.

Now, while I claim I don't need all "the caffeine, I like flavor", I do love a good coffee....and just so.

Nice list of upgrades, and why you do them.

Anyone else?

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I upgraded an entire motorcycle in attempt to solve an ergonomic issue. Earlier this week, I sent the check for the Yamaha TT-R125 I ordered to be built so that I can migrate from my Honda XR-100 for Minimoto racing. I'm hoping it solves my problem; it's finally ready and I pick it up this Saturday at the track.

Not much can be done to it in the stock class to further customize it, but the springs and valving have been changed, a tall seat installed and a doohickey installed to make it GP-Shift.

I'll probably change the throttle tube to the R6 to get a quick-turn throttle to make it easier on my wrist.

I've got a custom sticker set in the works just to make all the bikes look more similar, a team theme.

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For a street legal track/sport bike, the first two things I'll do are add Stomp Grip tank pads (for good knee lock on tank) and remove the giant license plate bracket at the rear, which typically involves going with an integrated aftermarket tail light + turn signals (mostly for aesthetics and typically a bit of weight savings).

Next is a trip to a local suspension guru to make sure everything is set up properly for my weight and bias toward track riding.  I'll also typically remove the factory mirrors and front turn signals (aesthetics, aerodynamics, weight savings and fewer bits to replace in the event of a crash).  Speaking of a crash, crash protection - front fork sliders, frame sliders, and rear spool swingarm sliders (cheaper than a new fairing, etc.) - I try to minimize weight and maximize function when selecting these products.  For example, rear spool swingarm sliders are one product that serve two purposes - crash protection and rear stand spools.  I also try to find a good balance while maintaining good crash protection that won't add time in the paddock for a tire change and create more work for routine maintenance.

Next, unfortunately, is addressing all the EPA/CARB compliant/Euro emissions stuff.  I'll shave 10lbs + by deleting the catalytic converter, going with an aftermarket exhaust and removing the secondary air system (not only is there a significant weight loss here, but typically more power and lower engine temps as well).  Removing the emissions stuff typically necessitates modifications to the ECU - in the case of my current 2018 RSV4, the factory Corse ECU was my preferred choice as it not only addresses the emissions delete, air:fuel, and aftermarket exhaust but also decreases engine braking compared to the stock ECU.

Tires, good tires set at the right pressure that inspire confidence.  Tires can be like beer, wine or cigars - people have their preferences, so I'll stay away from specifics, but I will say that I always upgrade when necessary to the ones that increase my confidence in the bike's ability.


For a strictly street bike (typically touring in my case) I'd say my "intelligent upgrades" in the past have included: a better seat (for long distance comfort), rear shocks (the stock ones could bottom out and that hurts), upgraded fork springs (counteract the horrible fork dive on braking), and various other items that address use-ability for the bike's specific purpose (e.g. luggage rack/panniers, a powered gps mount) or ones that address known reliability issues (e.g. secondary oil cooler because the bike already runs hot and I'm touring the southwest US in August, upgraded high temp brake fluid and a relocation bracket because the rear brake cylinder is almost touching the exhaust).

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1 minute ago, Jaybird180 said:

Wow! What bike has a rear brake in contact with the exhaust?

2015 Super Duke, rear brake cylinder wasn't touching, but was right next to (maybe 4-5mm from) the midpipe - pretty much made the rear brake useless 20-30 minutes into a ride. Motul RBF 660 solved the problem.

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For my sportbikes I typically add crash protection early in the lifecycle. I often take advantage of a crash to upgrade other parts and have learned the value of hardened engine cases.

I’d say that in my experience the Best Bang for Buck performance upgrade has been steel braided brake lines and brake fluid (to include more regular fluid flushes). Having good and reliable brakes pays dividends in confidence and certainty on street or track. Along with this, I’ve found that levers can be an ergonomic as well as performance upgrade, but stay away from the cheap stuff. I Frankensteined a set of el-cheapos with name brand parts for my CBR1000RR to get the necessary functionality and the aesthetics I was going after when I did my makeover.

I’m an advocate of suspension upgrades and I find that none of my street-only friends can relate; they don’t see the value but will invest in slip-on exhausts, which I also like - the sound helps make the experience “real”.

A windscreen can be a good upgrade to provide better wind penetration as well as being more aesthetically pleasing. I prefer a tinted shield for street looks but a clear or clear enough shield for the track.

I often fit rearsets on my bikes because it enables me to go GP-Shift, a must for me and I use it street and track; one style to eliminate confusion when the pressure is on. It’s not fun backshifting midcorner while defending your position, (BTDT on the MiniMoto). Rearsets also help me lock my knee and thigh into the tank a little better and in some cases prevent scraping the stock pegs.

I changed gearing on my CBR600F4i for street use (-1, +2); never ran it on track like that and felt it provided some of the oomph I wanted but there was a cost so YMMV (no pun intended). Smaller chain size was customary there and often saved a few dollars on the switch without longevity or safety compromise.

I always use StompGrips but there have been a few times when I didn’t have them and I don’t like the loss in lock-on. A tank pad also protects the paint from belt/zipper scratches.

I think that’s about it. Anything else gets replaced as needed. I have a love/hate relationship with mirrors. I wait until I break them.

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On 9/11/2019 at 8:22 PM, Cobie Fair said:

First off, like the avatar..."Coffeefirst" .

Thanks. It actually has a dual meaning.  First, I do love a great cup of coffee and rarely start my day without one. Second, the phrase is a simple self reminder to slow down, ask good questions and listen when diving into problem-solving mode. It first started years ago with a very wise admin I worked with who use to say to me "remember, coffee first" when she knew I was headed into a meeting to deal with a complex problem. The phrase has been with me for several decades now and usually serves me well.  


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