If you don’t want to splash out on a new machine, these simple tips will help your bike wind back the years
For less than £20, shortening your gearing is quite possibly the cheapest way to make your bike feel like a newer, quicker model. Standard gearing is very tall – many sportsbikes have the gearing for a theoretical top speed 10-15mph higher than they can achieve. The simplest way to lower gearing is to fit a new front sprocket that’s one tooth smaller than standard. It’s enough to remove the redundant capability for high speed, and make better use of your bike’s thrust lower down. It’s guaranteed to give your bike a renewed sense of urgency, like riding a new bike for the first time.
Brake pads are hard wearing – and that’s exactly what you want. But the long lifespan does mean they suffer a very gradual drop in performance over time. Bleeding the fluid helps, as well as a thorough clean of the caliper pistons and surroundings. But a set of sporty sintered pads will give them newfound urgency. Brake hoses don’t last forever – standard rubber hoses especially, but aftermarket braided hoses diminish too. Keep upgrading parts as small drop-offs have a noticeable impact. Equally, small changes have a noticeable impact.
3. Better rubber
What tyres do you fit? Black, round and reasonably priced from the garage up the road? Try a bit harder. Keep an eye on our product reviews for tyre tests – the latest rubber isn’t just about tyre manufacturers trying to pry a few more quid from you. Gains are constantly being made in steering precision, grip, stability and wear. Fitting the same tyres you’ve used for years is missing out on easy gains. Chassis technology hasn’t moved as much and fresh, modern tyres can often close up the handling deficit between older bikes and new.
4. Turning the screws
High-quality suspension is fitted to most things in the last decade. Blind fiddling isn’t recommended, but incremental changes, while taking notes, are a worthwhile experiment. As long as you can return to original settings and don’t go wild, there’s no danger in exploring. If you’re not confident, a suspension expert will charge you around £100 to measure up, listen to your needs and set your bike up using their experience. The gains are potentially so good you’ll soon forget the modest financial cost.
5. Cosmetic surgery
Admit it. The attraction of a new bike is all its glossy, shiny new styling. If you’re not in the market for a brand-spanker, the next best thing to spice up your two-wheeled life is treating your current machine to some goodies. So why not splash out on a carbon mudguard, or a set of flash rearsets? Increasingly popular are replacement bodykits from the far east – a complete replacement kit in alternative colours can give your trusty steed a new lease of life. Most are surprisingly decent quality and fit well. It’s an easy way to get the race-rep look without irreversibly changing your paint. Just watch out for import duty charges when you purchase a kit mail order.
Remember when we all shunned rider aids, calling them unnecessary intervention? Now we’re demanding every evolution of new bike should feature ever greater and smarter electronic help. But if you own an older machine there’s no need to feel left out. Start with a quickshifter – a few hundred quid and some relatively straightforward set-up will see one on any fuel-injected bike. Auto-blippers are available for some models, too.
The next step is big – aftermarket electronics providing traction control, launch control, datalogging, and on-the-fly fuel mapping. The limit is your pocket and ability to get them all programmed in, but the rewards are there if you’re prepared to put time in, or pay for expert help.
7. That just-built feeling
Time and mileage takes the edge off a new bike’s delicate, slick feeling. Inspect every chassis bearing – clean, and check for wear before applying new grease. If you’re not 100% happy then replace. They’re not expensive, but it’s impossible to replicate the feel of a complete chassis working just-so without everything in top condition. Once you’ve sorted it, a dealer demo bike won’t feel so attractive on a test ride.
8. The little things
Sit on a new bike. Feel the tactile handlebar grips, the smooth controls, and savour the way the footrests grip your boots. Now try yours. Not the same, is it? But a new set of grips, greasing pivot points and lubing control cables is like slathering around a bit of anti-ageing cream. Change worn footrest and gearchange rubbers, and the whole peg if the pivots are sloppy (or fit rearsets if you fancy an upgrade).
9. Direct drive
Chain and sprocket wear, tight spots or dry/rusty links makes a surprising difference to the feel of your bike. Forcing the motor to turn a grotty old final drive kit adds unwanted noise and vibration. A new set is a £100 investment, but one worth considering to tighten up your bike. Check the cush-drive rubbers too – slop will be felt on and off the throttle and affect your ability to get the best from it.