Things that are simply untrue to get you to spend more than you need to. Here are ten motorcycle myths you’ll regularly hear around the bike traps.
1: ‘If you want to be fast, you need a dedicated sports bike’
The reality: We’ve all heard this one. It’s one of the main selling points for sports bikes and a misconception that motorcycle manufacturers, and dealers for that matter, are quite happy to see persist.
After all, it keeps the ‘revolving door sports bike buyer’ on the treadmill and that’s good for business.
The truth is, in most real world operations, dedicated, full-on sport hardware is not particularly suited to fast running. ‘Whaaat?’, I hear you scream. ‘What the hell is he smoking?’, you ask.
Let me explain.
Race rep sports bikes are made to travel at very fast speeds on very good surfaces.
They are bullet-like in a straight line, with prodigious power available on demand. In areas where the rider can clearly pick his/her approach to a corner, decide on his/her optimum braking point with certainty, see through the corner and apply maximum power at precisely the right moment, a sports bike will be gone before you have got your key in the ignition.
But how many real roads are like that? And, is straight line speed really what sports riding is about?
The truth here is, things like BMW’s R 1200 GS, Triumph Tiger or Suzuki DL1000 with their big wide bars, huge torque off the bottom and lovely compliant suspension will give just about any race rep the heave-ho in twisty, unpredictably surfaced situations.
And doesn’t that describe most of our favourite fun roads?
2: ‘Dirt bikes are useless on the road’
The reality: Tall seat height, limited add-ons, narrow seat. How the hell could a dirt bike be any good for road riding? Well, it’s all there in that first sentence.
Those three elements in themselves are real attributes when dealing with tight traffic.
Seat height: You have better visibility to gauge what is happening about you.
Limited add-ons: This makes for agility and nimble operation, perfect for nipping through small gaps and making the most of limited opportunities when commuting and the like.
Skinny seat: Once again, you are as small as you can be, and tight spaces that a road bike can’t fit through are yours for the taking on a dirt bike.
You can toss in how well a dirt bike copes with a small spill as well.
You won’t be up for the exorbitant costs of new or repaired fairings and the like.
Of course, the bike needs to be fitted with road tyres (knobbies are plain dangerous for anything but limited transport sections on bitumen), and have all the road going hardware that is needed to pass registration (blinkers, lights, mirrors etc).
It’s true that there are some compromises to chooky-operation on the road. They are less comfortable and slower over long distances than a road bike, you can forget pillions and carrying capacity is pretty much compromised.
But, for short run inner urban use, the fact is a dirt bike is just about the most efficient choice there is. Want proof? Take a look at how many city couriers use them.
3: ‘Aftermarket exhausts always produce better performance’
The reality: We all like it loud, don’t we? There is nothing nicer than a booming, rich, note that announces our departures and arrivals like a modern-day royal trumpeter. Yep, we get that.
And, done right, your bike has every chance of being faster for the addition of an aftermarket exhaust system.
Just bung it on and it will sound better, almost guaranteed. Fail to put some thought and analysis into how it affects fuelling and there’s every chance it sounds, and may even feel faster, but has indeed made your bike less effective.
You see, carburettors contain jets, tiny needle like tubes that squirt fuel. When fitting an aftermarket exhaust these often need to undergo adjustment to cater for the characteristics of the new pipe.
Engines can run either ‘lean’ (too much air and not enough fuel) or ‘rich’ (too much fuel and not enough air). This can vary throughout the rev range, so a bike can be running rich low down and lean at the top of its rev range.
Adjusting the needles (there are three – the idle, pilot, and main jet) can work to correct poor fueling following a change of exhaust (which you will notice as flat spots in the bike’s acceleration).
A dynamometer is a very sophisticated device that allows a mechanic to measure and analyse the horsepower, torque, and exhaust temperatures of an engine.
The bike is placed on a rolling road in a dyno room and the engine is started and pushed through the rev range. Using a computer the mechanic can measure the power and torque the engine produces and also the air/fuel mixture, and make adjustments to the mix using the information gained.
In the case of fuel-injected bikes, a small computer is used to govern fuelling.
In most cases a fuelling ‘map’ can be downloaded to suit a particular bike and pipe combination and uploaded to the bike’s computer.
So, a loud can? Great. But don’t forget the follow-up work at fitment or you may be taking your bike’s performance backwards.
4: ‘If you ride a motorcycle, you have to accept that you will crash’
The reality: There is no doubt that a rider is more at risk the less experienced he or she is, and that as a consequence on a pro-rata basis, more riders hit the deck at some stage early in their motorcycling lives.
There is simply no substitute for training and experience.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s define crash as a non-fatal fall.
It is entirely wrong to accept crashing as a fait accompli just because you happen to ride a motorcycle.
The fact is it is unlikely that you will crash, and very unlikely that you will die as a result of crashing your motorcycle. Much to the contrary of what some complete jokes of government agencies would have you believe.
There are risks, of that there is no doubt.
But being a good motorcyclist puts you in the risk minimisation business.
We are generally far more competent on the road than the average motorist, understand the physics involved and operate our machines with far greater skills. So, why would we accept that we will inevitably crash?
Okay, this one is a bit of a rant. But the mindset that motorcycles are dangerous death machines is perpetuated by this myth and it needs to be smacked hard on the head.
5: ‘High-performance sports tyres give the best grip on the road’
The reality: A few years ago I owned a pretty hot Honda CB1300. It had all the right go-gear fitted and I loved it.
In order to see what it was capable of, I signed up for a ride day at Phillip Island.
Of course, because I was going to spend the day on the track, I fitted some super-sticky sports rubber to the bike. The tyres were billed as ‘for street use’, but were the most aggressive pattern and compound the brand made. Cost plenty too, but only the best was going to do. After all, I didn’t want to spank the lovely black beastie.
After happily setting off to cover the 130km from my place to The Island, I was about a kilometre from home and gently leaning the bike over to negotiate a roundabout, when, lo and behold, there was the rear wheel, at around a 70 degree angle from the steering head.
‘This is not good’, I clerverly gleaned. Yes, a dirty big slide. ‘Heavens to Betsy’, I thought. (Or something along those lines). ‘That never happened with my old sports touring tyres’. And yes, the new ones were scrubbed in and set to go.
What the hell happened? Temperature, my friend, temperature.
It was a cold day, the road had very little heat in it and my ride was young.
Put simply, very sticky sports rubber simply isn’t until it is brought up to a decent working temperature, and road riding, with all its stops and starts, in addition to lots of straight line running, don’t allow enough heat into an aggressive sports tyre.
Running a pure-sports tyre, without the constant on-brakes and changing directional input needed to retain its ideal operating temp range, can seriously lessen traction compared to running a sports-touring tyre.
In the same sense, running a sports-touring tyre if you use the bike solely for track day sessions is wrong as well.
The right tyre for the right task makes a huge difference in everything from stopping distances to desired grip on demand.
6: ‘You’ll always save money buying a motorcycle privately’
The reality: Sounds like it should be right, doesn’t it? After all, dealers buy at private prices and whack their bit on top right? How can it not be cheaper to buy privately?
Well, sometimes it is. But many times it’s not, and here’s why.
Dealers are often on-selling a trade-in. In many cases they will have picked that trade-in up at a pretty reasonable rate, and they really generally don’t love the idea of a showroom full of older kit.
So, the bike will often have the cost of a roadworthy certificate thrown against it and not much else. That gives you the chance to buy the bike, often supported by a limited warranty in roadworthy condition.
How does that stack up against driving out to a misery suburb, talking with a bloke you will never see again and trusting him to tell you the truth about something he is pretty keen to be shy of quick smart?
Good dealers (and, we admit, there are dealers that shouldn’t be allowed to open their doors, but they are very rare these days), are very wary about having bad machinery for sale.
It is simply bad for business.
The quick quid they may make moving a nail is quickly negated by unhappy customers on the primary level and the word of mouth damage that selling poor product causes hurts them on a secondary level.
In short, a dealer wants you back (servicing, apparel, return bike purchasing, recommendations). A crook private seller hopes he never sees you again (‘phew, got rid of that shitter’).
Now, don’t get us wrong.
We are certain the majority of private sellers are honest and fair human beings and buying privately is a legitimate and fun way to put a bike in your shed. No problem there.
But, the myth is that you will always do better in the private market. And that is absolutely false.
7: ‘The latest is always the greatest’
The reality: You’d think that, if you are buying the latest model of a particular bike, you’d be getting the best that particular brand and/or model has to offer.
The fallibility levels of motorcycle designers has lessened considerably and there are very few dogs produced these days, but there are definitely models introduced over the years that are not as good as some of their predecessors.
For example the 2002 the Yamaha R1 received fuel-injection for the first time, employing a “suction-piston-type” EFI, to allow better fuel/air mixture at low revs. A new two-stage EXUP valve contributed to the resultant torque-boost.
The Deltabox 3 frame was all new and claimed to be 300 per cent stiffer.
Owners suggest that the bike was demonstrably more comfortable than previous offerings, giving the bike a thumbs up as a touring weapon.
Also in the plus ledger was the fact that mechanics report that this is the pick of the R1 bunch for a used bike purchase, with very few recurring problems.
Another completely new model was released in 2004 boasting a power to weight ratio of 1:1 – 172hp (128kW) and 172kg dry weight.
Problems included plastic fairing screws that loosened and fell out, radiator hoses softened at the clamps and leaked – the rear brake reservoir was heated by the exhaust and cooked rider’s bums.
There was a recall for the Throttle Position Sensor, which was reading incorrectly and sending false messages to the ECU (mapping etc). This could cause the engine to cut out at very inopportune moments.
Now that’s one example, and space stops me from pointing out more, but history is littered with motorcycles that were lesser bikes than models that came before them.
Another reason to think long and hard about buying an all-new model is the lack of proven reliability.
Of course, it’s lovely to have an entirely newly-designed bike, but be sure it doesn’t have an entirely newly-designed bunch of issues to go with it.
8: ‘A good rider can out-brake anti-lock brake systems’
The reality: Let’s get one thing straight right here. Anti-lock brakes may well be the biggest advance in motorcycle safety since the introduction of compulsory helmet wearing.
While you will hear stories that ‘so and so can stop a bike better than any ABS system’, that is comprehensive bulltwang. And it’s just not us saying it.
Extensive testing done over recent years has proved that ABS consistently offers shorter braking distances when applied in an emergency situation.
Even on clean, dry, flat surfaces, skilled, experienced riders (who performed hundreds of emergency stops for the testing on outrigger-equipped motorcycles) stopped in less distance with anti-lock brakes (ABS) than with conventional or linked braking systems.
Though the tests didn’t include samples on surfaces with slick, dirty or wet spots, ABS certainly would have performed even better under those conditions while eliminating much of the risk of crashing.
The other cool thing about ABS on a motorcycle is that it allows a rider to safely practice panic stops without risking a crash caused by lock-up.
There is no instance (on sealed roads) we can think of where not having ABS would be preferable to having it. Yep, we are huge fans and so should you be.
9: ‘Premium unleaded petrol makes a bike much more efficient’
The reality: All that lovely octane, it simply must make your bike more powerful and efficient. After all, oil companies spend a fortune advertising the fact. But is it really true? Hmmm…
The fact is that high-performance bike engines are designed to operate with a high maximum compression, and therefore require fuels of higher octane.
It is a widely held falsehood that power output or fuel efficiency can be improved by using fuel of higher octane than that specified by the engine manufacturer.
The power output of an engine depends in part on the energy density of the fuel being burnt.
Fuels of different octane ratings may have similar densities, but because switching to a higher octane fuel does not add more hydrocarbon content or oxygen, the engine cannot develop more power.
In short, all premium fuel does is resist ‘knock’. This occurs when the fuel in the cylinder ignites before the spark plug ignites it. This condition is ‘pre-ignition’. You really only ‘need’ premium fuel when your bike knocks without it.
If your owner’s manual suggests higher octane fuel, follow the advice.
Usually this will be specified by manufacturers of high compression, high performance engines.
If lower octane fuel were employed in these engines, performance would be lessened because the engine’s computer system would have to retard the ignition timing (reducing horsepower and fuel economy) to stop knocking.
But wait, there’s more…
The higher octane rating of premium fuel does not make it any cleaner than regular fuel.
Oil companies, however, like to advertise that their premium fuels are ‘specially formulated’ to clean fuel injectors, improve output, and, they might just get you laid. Fact is, that any ‘cleaners’ are unlikely to be present in sufficient quantities to do a great deal at all.
10: ‘Cheap helmets are not as safe as expensive ones’
The reality: Fancy lids look great and usually offer greater comfort, washability and higher quality fittings and componentry, so there is a good case for spending a bit more on a nicer helmet. But they are not, as a general rule, any safer than cheaper helmets.
To get a better handle on this, let’s get some idea of the construction of motorcycle helmets.
- The greater majority of motorcycle helmets on the market today are constructed primarily using one of two manufacturing material recipes:
Injection moulded thermoplastic
- Fibreglass and/or Carbon Kevlar composite
There is even a train of thought that thermoplastic helmets may offer some safety advantages over helmets with more expensive construction.
One view places the theory that, because thermosplastic construction offers a softer outer surface, there is a degree of ‘give’ which absorbs a portion of a given impact.
While we are not going to get involved with that political hot potato, the fact is cheaper helmets will have passed the same testing regime as the dearest available.
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.