The world of motorcycles is always growing and evolving to meet the needs and desires of consumers. But some of that growth might surprise a lot of riders. As a female rider, I honestly would not have estimated that nearly 20% of all bike owners in the United States are ladies. But that is exactly what the Motorcycle Industry Council discovered during its latest poll.
The 2018 MIC Motorcycle/ATV Owners Survey found that 19% of all owners are female, which is a 5% increase in just four years, and a substantial 9% increase over the 2009 results. And though the actual numbers could be considered surprising, this is nothing but great news for all of the ladies out there who are dedicated riders.
Strength In Numbers
One of the greatest benefits to female riders as a result of their increase in numbers is definitely the increase in ladies gear. Its simple supply and demand, but in this case, the increased supply is driven by the greater demand for quality riding gear made specifically for the body types, shapes and sizes of female riders.
For many years, women tolerated the guy’s gear which tended to be too big in the shoulders and length of the sleeves and legs, but too tight in the seat and waist areas. But for the most part, ladies were not investing much in true riding gear, because they were often just a part-time passenger on a bike.
However, as more and more ladies discovered the thrill and enjoyment of actually operating a motorcycle, the need for comfortable, and more importantly, safe gear became apparent.
Ladies on The Job
Bike ownership is not the only place that the gender barrier has been broken. There have also been huge strides made in the motorcycle industry and the gear industry as more ladies are working in the design and development of gear specific to female riders. The result has been a huge improvement in the fit and comfort of riding gear for ladies. And with better fitting gear female riders are safer operators and are enjoying the benefits of better protection and safety from the gear that they are wearing.
Gear for All Sizes
I am very fortunate to have been able to adapt and wear some of the guy’s gear fairly comfortably. At 5’10” tall I never had to worry that even a men’s small was going to be too big. But petite ladies have always had a difficult time finding gear for sports and other activities. In the past, I know it was common for ladies to turn to boys athletic equipment and gear to get a size that was more realistic than a men’s small.
However, motorcycle riding, being an adult activity, meant that even that poor substitute for correctly sized gear was not an option. But with the growing number of ladies riding and spending their hard earned money on ladies gear, the manufacturers have expanded the options to cover not only a ladies line of gear but a line of gear that has a huge range of sizes and shapes available.
Ladies can now shop for gear in much the same way they shop for other clothing. And I know we all appreciate that not only are there assorted sizes and shapes but also colors and patterns that appeal to us. Let’s be honest, guys will wear all black, all the time, but ladies really do care about having other choices.
I will admit that I have even bought some gear specifically because it matched my bike, so color choices do appeal to me. Just to get an idea of what’s out there now for the ladies, I looked at Revzilla’s search criteria which include a sizing qualification. I found options ranging in size from 2XS to 5XL. In addition, there are plus sizes and standard ladies sizes from 4 to 20.
I went to Revzilla and clicked on the tab for the women’s gear. I must admit I was a little surprised, but also very happy to see a full dozen categories to choose from including jackets, race suits, and boots. My first selection was the jackets and vests category, which yielded an impressive 291 options to choose from. Names such as Alpinestars, Cortech, Dainese, Fly, Icon, Joe Rocket and Kilm were among the more notables from a list of over 45 manufacturers.
I checked out a few brands that I am familiar with and found that currently, Revzilla offers 30 different women’s Alpinestars jackets, as well as 30 choices from Dianese. Joe Rocket and Klim offer a dozen ladies coats each and Icon offers 24. Granted, there are over 400 choices for men when it comes to just sportbike jackets, but 291 ladies jackets are a great many more choices now than there were offered just a few years ago.
A Tougher Choice
Jackets are a critical piece of gear for every rider and the wide number of selections for ladies is awesome, but I wanted to check out a piece of gear that might not have a great demand, to see if there really are any more choices than there had been in the past. I clicked on race suits expecting to find one or two selections but was excited to see a dozen choices offered by three great manufacturers.
Alpinestars, Dainese, and Spidi combine to offer nine one piece race suit options and three two-piece choices for the ladies who are looking to get out on a track and really push their bikes and their riding skills to the limit. The suits are very comparable to what is available in men’s suits with the price range of just over $700 to a top of the line model for $2,499.95.
In the case of racing suits, even with less demand, the motorcycle gear industry has recognized that ladies need quality gear that fits and more than just one or two pieces to choose from. This is a major breakthrough for female riders on the track, on the road and on trials everywhere.
Not only was I happy to see that most of the major manufacturers are offering a great variety for ladies but also that retailers are equally as interested in winning the dollars of the female riding community. Not too many years ago, only a very few retailers were willing to stock the ladies gear, but that has all changed as more ladies are owning bikes and buying quality gear.
Andria Yu, MIC director of communications at the Motorcycle Industry Council stated in a recent interview that as the number of boomers on bikes decreases, the percentage of female riders is expected to hit 25% very quickly. That is great news for all of the ladies who ride or are thinking about learning to ride as they will certainly be able to find quality gear that is both comfortable and safe.
Be sure to check back with WBW in the coming weeks to read about Ladies Jackets Worth Wearing. This will offer a more in-depth look at several ladies jackets and the features and benefits that they offer in addition to proper fit and comfort.
When you picture your golden years, you might never have imagined that some of your best days would be spent cruising around on a motorcycle, but that is exactly what more and more people are doing later in life.
California Department of Motor Vehicles data shows that baby boomers make up 56 percent of the almost 1.4 million Californians licensed to operate motorcycles, while only 30 percent of Class M licenses are held by people ages 16 through 40. There are many factors that might contribute to the larger number of older riders.
Why Start Riding
After 40 is the time when most parents become empty nesters, which affords not only more time to enjoy hobbies like motorcycle riding but also the disposable income that can make owning a recreational vehicle like a bike or a trike possible.
After a decade or two of cruising around in family-friendly minivans and SUV’s from soccer practice to dance class and every other extra-curricular activity, motorcycles are a great way for a couple to reconnect and begin to explore the sites, scenery, and activities that they didn’t have time to enjoy when raising a family.
A Great Way to Unplug
For most people, a motorcycle represents freedom and even that little bit of rebellion that we all hope is still alive somewhere inside the responsible adults that we have become. Just taking a few hours for an afternoon ride can leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
Riding offers you time to unplug from email, text messages and the rest of the world to focus just on what is around the next curve. And taking a long weekend just to explore and unwind can feel as good as any week of vacation that you can recall. There are actually some very simple reasons why bike enthusiasts experience this clarity after a ride.
Dr. Michael Russell has been riding motorcycles for over four decades and has witnessed many of the mental health benefits of riding over his career. He refers to riding as a meditative activity as he explained in an interview earlier this year.
“The attention needed to ride safely but with ‘energy’ requires near complete concentration,” he explains. “The mental demands of riding can help keep your mind clear and sharp, while the brotherhood that exists among bikers is very genuine. Riding with brothers (and sisters) provides significant psychological relief from excessive worry.”
In addition to mental health benefits, riding also offers some very important physical health benefits. Riders need to maintain at least a minimal level of physical fitness to enjoy riding. There is some walking involved, as well as the fitness level needed to get on and off the bike, don riding gear and to have the stamina for the ride itself.
Riding also requires a certain degree of strength and balance, which is used and practices with each adventure. And possibly the biggest physical health benefit is that motorcycle riders need to have quick reflexes to avoid possible dangers.
As mature adults, we all know and understand that staying in good shape will help to keep our reflexes faster which will also help to keep us alive in the event of a car suddenly stopping or swerving into our lane.
Making Smart Choices
And that same mature thought process is also what we all rely on to tell us when we have reached the time to make some changes in our riding or to close that chapter of our lives. It is critical that each rider be honest with himself or herself about both physical and mental capabilities needed to ride safely.
This can mean electing not to join the group for a ride on a cool day when a trick hip is giving you problems or when you are experiencing some vision issues. Or it could mean that it’s time to trade in two wheels for three.
Trikes are the large three-wheeled motorcycles that many older riders are turning to for the added stability and comfort that they offer. In addition to the added comfort for riders, these larger yet still sporty vehicles offer a multitude of storage and cargo capacity as compared to a two-wheeler. This makes them a great option for an overnight trip or a long weekend.
The Can-Am Spyder and the Polaris Slingshot have also entered the three-wheeled arena as rivals to the trike industry leading Tri Glide and Freewheeler models from Harley Davidson.
Check Out the Market
What might surprise some riders who are considering the addition of a third wheel, is the cost of these bikes. The cruiser touring models of the Spyder line start at just over $26,000 while the Slingshots come in at about $20,000 for a base model. And as always, the Harley holds an impressive price tag at over $34,000 for a new Tri Glide Ultra.
To put this into perspective, the average sport touring two-wheel bike will run you between $10,000 and $15,000 in the states, while the superbikes are going to come in at anywhere from $15,000 to north of $30,000 depending on the brand and your need for speed.
Live the Dream
Regardless of the type of bike that you choose, the point is that just because you are a little bit older does not mean that you can’t become a motorcycle rider or continue to ride. Older riders simply need to be honest about both physical and mental capabilities and make smart choices about when to ride and even what to ride.
There are many options that can offer more comfort, easier maneuvering and require far less balance and strength sport bikes or large cruises. Riders just need to find the perfect bike to fit their needs later in life so that they can begin to continue to enjoy all of the benefits of motorcycle riding.
I used to fear working on the brake systems of my vehicles because of how vital they are in avoiding becoming one with other cars on the road. If you don’t have knowledge on your side along with some mechanical aptitude and proper tooling, that fear is justified.
It’s not hard to arm yourself with those things if you decide to take the plunge, and this write up will help give you the knowledge portion.
Areas of Focus
For Inspection and Maintenance:
Pads and Shoes
Rotors (discs) and Drums
Brake Fluid Level
Pads and Shoes
Inspection and regular maintenance is paramount when it comes to catching problems early. The brake pads on the left in the photo above came off a dirt bike I purchased a few years ago. The pads on the right are brand new in comparison.
While test driving the bike, nothing seemed to hint that the front brake pads were in such poor condition because the braking power was normal. In fact, it braking was better than normal, which can sometimes be an indication of a problem.
Once all the friction material is worn away on brake pads the metal backing plate of the pad pressing on the disc grips quite well. This yields better stopping power temporarily, until the metal starts to suffer more heat damage and degrade to the point it fails spectacularly.
It also tends to destroy the disc or rotor because the pad’s backing material digs into them better than the pad’s friction material does.
Signs of Trouble To Look For On Brake Pads
Uneven Wear: Pads should wear fairly evenly if they aren’t hanging up on the slider pins. If they aren’t check to make sure the pins aren’t bent or damaged in any way.
Oil and Dirt Contamination: In the picture above you’ll notice how the material left on the pads is dark almost like it’s been burnt. It’s actually fork oil that had previously leaked out, ran down the chrome and wound up contaminating the brake pads.
You never want oil of any kind around your brakes for obvious reasons. This burnt fork oil helped break down the pads’ friction material and accelerate wear.
If you see this happening, first repair the fork seal leak and then replace the brake pads otherwise it’ll keep contaminating them.
Glazing: There are signs of glazing on the friction material left too. Glazed portions look shiny and smeared. It’s caused by high heat and makes braking less effective and squealing or grinding noise at times.
Signs of High Heat: When there’s glazing you’ll usually also find a rainbow or dark blue/purple condition cropping up on the pads and discs. This can be a sign of a seized brake pad on a pin or even caliper piston.
Another sign of high heat would be cracks developing in the friction material or large chunks missing.
When In Doubt: Replace Brake Pads
As a rule, I replace the brake pads on all used bikes I buy regardless of condition, so I can check them carefully and start fresh with the maintenance intervals. They’re not very expensive and peace of mind is priceless.
I’m glad I did in the case mentioned above especially because there were no warning signs anything was amiss. No squealing, pulsating or any other typical warning signs I watch for. I replaced the pads just in time before catastrophic damage was done to the rotor, thankfully.
Brake rotors are wickedly expensive so take the time to inspect the pads at least once a season or more if you’re riding extensively or off road.
Brake dust is hazardous to your health!
Whenever working around brakes use brake clean to wash away the dust and dirt.
Wear nitrile gloves and avoid breathing in anything you clean off friction surfaces.
Even though newer brake linings aren’t asbestos as they used to be, brake dust of any kind isn’t good.
If there’s an extreme amount of debris and dirt to remove use water and then brake clean to remove any moisture left behind.
YouTuber smallengineshop shows how this is done in this video on his Kawasaki KLR650. The procedure will be different from bike to bike and you should definitely buy a repair manual for your specific model to reference before starting to work on your motorcycle. There are many different designs of brake calipers in use today that come apart in totally different ways.
He mentions 0.040” as the minimum thickness for the pads on his bike and that’s a good standard number to gauge yours by. The other general guideline is that the friction material should be thicker than the backing plate. In the end it’s best just to follow your bike manufacturer’s specification.
Replacing the brake pads is easy when you have them out anyway for inspection.
Additional valuable tips:
Smooth/polish the pins that the pads slide on with fine steel wool, especially if there is any kind of buildup on them. Some people also put graphite dry lube on them, but just keeping them smooth and clean is best.
Put a slight chamfer on the leading and trailing edges of the pad backing plate where they slide on the caliper frame.
While the pads are out for inspection you can take some sandpaper to the friction material just to rough the surface up to help fight glazing and remove any unwanted debris embedded in it. Don’t get carried away and remove material, just scratch up the surface evenly
Follow manufacturer procedures for brake pad bedding. Usually this involves avoiding emergency applications for 300 miles depending on the kind of pads. EBC Brakes has a great write up on it here:
When you replace brake pads bleed some of the brake fluid out of the line(s). More on how to do that later.
These measures help ensure easy application and retraction of the brake pads yielding proper brake life on your motorcycle.
Photo YouTube’s Ichiban Moto
Becoming more rare (thankfully), but still around on many bikes – are drum brakes.
Drum brakes use cables or rods to activate them instead of hydraulics, and those need to be checked for stretch and damage according to manufacturer’s specifications. Poor braking power could be caused by stretched cables or rods.
The “pads” used in drum brakes are called shoes, not pads, if you want to use correct nomenclature.
The same inspection criteria applies to both brake shoes and drums, but the method differs.
Some have a small inspection plug on the cover to remove allowing inspection of the thickness of friction material remaining on the shoes.
Others have an external gauge to reference. The gauge is more convenient because all you do is hold down the pedal and make sure the arrow is still in the usable range.
Adjusting them is fairly straightforward. Turn in or out the adjuster nut on the rod coming from the brake pedal to set the brake activation point. Get the rear wheel off the ground and turn the adjuster nut in until the brake comes on fully when you push the pedal down.
Make sure the brake doesn’t drag when the pedal is released.
Replacing the shoes involves removing the rear wheel from the bike. Not rocket science either, but you’ll have to set the tension on the chain when you’re finished as well.
Importance of Proper Drum Maintenance
Here’s a video from YouTube’s Brandiland as she changes the brake shoes on her dirt bike drum brake.
It gives pretty good guidance of how it’s done, but I would stress how important it is to use Brake Clean instead of just a dry shop towel on the drum and hub assembly to avoid inhaling brake dust. Maybe she used it but didn’t include that footage in the video?
She says the dirt found inside is “regular” but it’s not. Her brake is contaminated with dirt or mud and needs to be cleaned out to avoid accelerated wear.
I also spotted some deep scratches on the friction material of the brake shoes caused by the dirt which she doesn’t mention. It’s good she chose to replace those shoes.
I would say the seal on the brake housing (if there is one) should also have been changed to stop more dirt from getting in. With dirt bikes, contamination is almost unavoidable due to the sheer amount of mud they ride in.
It’s also a good idea to put axle grease on the axle bolt when reinstalling it.
Solid rotors used on bikes are mostly maintenance free, but need to be inspected for damage and wear. You can also clean them with disc cleaner specific solution or isopropyl alcohol.
Some people take Scotch Brite pads on the wear surface to remove any embedded brake pad material too.
Photo from Quora.com
There is a minimum thickness specification for rotors (discs) in order to remain in service. Leaving them in service past this point runs the risk of them cracking and failing catastrophically.
Rotors, like brake pads can show signs of glazing, cracking, heat damage and deep grooves caused by contamination of the brake pads. Any of these will necessitate replacement of the rotors.
If you get grooves worn deeper than 0.5mm in either side of the rotor, replace it or them. You can have the rotors machined flat again but not if doing so thins it past the minimum thickness allowable.
Don’t replace individual pads or rotors from a set of multiples. If you need to replace a single component on one wheel (like one pad out of 4, or 1 rotor of 2) you should change all the same kind of neighbouring parts to maintain a balanced braking system.
The photo above shows a couple of types of floating rotors.
The identifying characteristic is the round rivets connecting the inner carrier and outer friction surface area (blade) where the pads grip. The rivets are the only bond holding the two halves together and you can see a small gap between them.
The rivets, aka buttons or bobbins, allow different types of metal to be used which helps deal with heat expansion and dissipation.
The inner metal carrier is usually aluminum and the outer blade steel.
This design compensates for some movement of the outer ring when braking occurs. That flexibility gives smoother and more efficient braking by keeping the pads in better contact with the disc. On semi floating discs this movement is less pronounced while on full floating ones there’s more movement or float.
Most manufacturers equip semi floating discs these days while full floating ones are generally only found on racing motorcycles.
Testing and Maintaining the Rotors
Over time those rivets can seize up due to buildup of debris and brake lining material which causes vibration to be felt by the rider. You’ll find tapping on the rotors with a rubber mallet will produce a buzzing sound from rotors that are still loose and doing their job. That will diminish as they seize up and conversely ring more solid.
There are many videos on youtube of people doing various things to free them up again involving brake clean and drills. Some even use penetrating oil –DO NOTuse any oil around brakes.
If you want to clean out the rivets and service the rotor, remove the wheel from the bike and use compressed air and brake clean, disc cleaner or isopropyl alcohol to do it. While you’re at it take Scotch Brite pads to the blade surface to clean it up too.
This is a useful piece of maintenance to do, but really, if your rotors are causing vibration they’re most likely warped due to high heat and should just be replaced along with the pads.
Drums should be inspected for damage, cleaned with steel wool and brake clean then measured on the inner diameter to determine usability. You’ll have to check manufacturer’s specifications for the maximum allowable inner diameter, but if you find uneven wear just replace the drum.
Photo via JPCycles Whether you have steel braided lines or rubber coated you should take time to inspect them for loose fittings, bulges, cuts and leaks at the crimps. Don’t take chances with them. Replace the lines if you find anything unusual.
If you replace a brake line you’re obliged to drain and replace the brake fluid too. The purpose of bleeding is to remove old fluid or air pockets in the reservoir, lines and calipers.
Some people check the level in the reservoir and then choose to overfill them thinking it should be full to the top. More is not better when it comes to brake fluid. There needs to be some room in the reservoir for expanding fluid to retreat to during heavy braking. Thermal expansion of the fluid can become a real concern in extreme cases.
If the expanding fluid can’t move up the lines into the space in the reservoir it will instead start to apply the brakes by pressing against the piston(s) in the calipers.
Getting it Done
Just as it says on this page from a Honda CBR600RR maintenance manual, maintain the fluid about halfway between the upper and lower marks. When you replace the fluid fill to the halfway point, bleed the lines and then top up to halfway again, and replace the cover.
You’ll need a partner to avoid a lot of mucking about when it comes to bleeding and flushing. You can do it by yourself if you buy a vacuum bleeder tool, but it’s not necessary if you have friends and family members to spend quality time with in the garage.
Brake fluid damages paint and clearcoat. Take care not to get it anywhere on your bike without immediately removing it.
This YouTube video from Sum4Seb shows how to drain, flush and fill the front brake circuit using a helper. It appears he recruited his daughter or wife to help out with the job. Bonding over brakes. Doesn’t that just tug at your heartstrings and bring a tear to your eye?
Use caution with the bleeder screw on calipers which don’t need to be hamfisted or closed super tight. They will easily sheer off if you use gorilla level strength on them.
If you have twin caliper brakes in the front you’ll need to flush and bleed each circuit separately.
Choosing the Correct Brake Fluid
When replacing brake fluid it’s critical to use the correct type of brake fluid and follow the maintenance schedule. Typically this is done every two years and the correct DOT brake fluid type will be stamped in the reservoir cover.
Brake fluid absorbs moisture over time especially when left exposed to air. That moisture can lower the boiling point of the fluid which is a real concern when things heat up.
As mentioned in the video, brake fluid is nearly free of colour when in good condition. If yours appears dark or murky there’s a good chance it’s been contaminated or burnt because of heat and should be replaced.
Usually it’s DOT 4 or 5 in motorcycles. DO NOT mix any different fluid with silicone basedDOT 5 fluid. They won’t mix well and you’ll have big issues. There are non-silicone based DOT 5 brake fluids produced now on the market just to complicate things.
The best idea is to pay close attention the the label and always use the same fluid.
Motorcycle brake maintenance is nothing to shy away from as it turns out. You may need to purchase some torx or allen sockets in order to do the work, but those aren’t exotic by any stretch.
Most important, read and follow the proper procedure in the service manual to do it correctly. YouTube is a great reference, but not completely reliable.
The personal satisfaction gained in doing your own work will put a smile on your face and grow your confidence to tackle bigger projects.
Saving some money never hurts either. Take the money saved on labour and invest it in higher performance parts instead!