9 Bits of biking advice you should ignore
When it comes to improving your bike, everyone’s an expert… but you should steer clear of these ‘helpful’ tips
1. ‘Stiffen the suspension and it’ll handle better’
When bikes were mushy, bendy old beasts, making everything harder helped keep things in line. It wasn’t ideal, but it was sometimes better than the starting point. But bikes now are sophisticated, so whacking the adjusters up to full isn’t always the answer. It’s true that race bikes are firm, but that’s because the load forces are much higher. They’re still using the full range of travel to get the utmost control, it’s just that the damping/springing is appropriate to their speed, not to stop them moving. A rigid bike is not what is needed, anywhere.
2. ‘Scrub your tyres in by hand’
Tyre companies spend millions of pounds devising new tyres, so why the hell would you raid the woodwork supplies and splash vicious chemicals around on a brand new set? Release agent hasn’t been used in tyre production for years – the slight sheen on the surface of new tyres is just a result of the moulding process. Part of the reason you bed tyres in is to settle the compound, and seat the tyre on the rim. Spraying and scrubbing a tyre doesn’t really assist the process – progressively using more of the tyre is all that’s required.
3. ‘Replace everything with stainless’
Stainless bolts have a time and place. The corrosion-resistance and high tensile strength has its advantages, but it also has a number of downsides. The unyielding characteristics means there’s no give in the thread, so when you tighten a stainless bolt into soft alloy parts, all the strain is on the component. Stainless is also a dissimilar metal to aluminium – this means it reacts with alloy if unprotected. It can actually promote corrosion, not prevent it. Research your replacement fasteners carefully.
4. ‘Fit a soft front tyre, and a hard rear’
Race track grip at the front, touring miles on the back, right? Wrong. Road tyres are carefully designed as a pair – the profiles are designed to work together, the compounds designed to respond more or less equally despite the different loadings. Trying to brew a grip cocktail will subject your bike to tyres behaving differently, and if you truly need supersport grip on one tyre, you need it on the other. Sports touring tyres are so good that this old-fashioned mixing practice is redundant as well as counter-productive for high-mileage riders.
5. ‘Start your bike regularly over winter’
The most strain is put on your bike during start-up due to insufficient lubrication, internals expanding at different rates and condensation building inside. Unless you’re using the bike, there’s no reason to put it through all this. A bike running at a standstill does not operate under the parameters it was designed for – the battery won’t properly regain charge lost on start-up, it won’t clear condensation from the crankcases, and the cooling system won’t be working properly. Store and maintain a mothballed bike correctly instead, and only fire it up when it’s time to use it.
6. ‘Fit a different brake master cylinder’
While certain front brake master cylinder swaps can net a real improvement, you need a proper understanding of hydraulic ratios before you splash out on a replacement item.
Motorcycle master cylinders typically come with piston bore sizes ranging between 16mm and 19mm. A bigger-bore master cylinder gives less power, but more feel and a smaller piston gives greater force but less feel. Plus, there’s also the variable of leverage ratios – radial levers give a different ratio to conventional axial types. You might find that a swap from axial to radial lands you with a new part that works no better, or worse, than it did to begin with.
7. ‘Fit this part, from that bike, to another’
There’s some grey area here – it is possible to get an improvement by retro-fitting parts from a higher-spec bike to a lesser bike. But not always. Just because it’s possible, doesn’t mean it’s better. Shock swaps are common, but rarely take into account different linkage ratios, loads and damping requirements. Fitting a more modern front end and swingarm may look good, but if you gain inches of wheelbase and knock the bike’s rake/trail wildly out of kilter, you’re in worse place than you were when you started.
8. ‘Fit a narrower/wider tyre’
It is true that a narrower tyre generally promotes faster steering, but only on a wheel designed for it. Dropping from a 190-section to a 180 on a six-inch rim will result in the tyre being stretched slightly to meet the rim, pulling the crown in for a shallower, flatter profile, which isn’t exactly conducive to good steering. Likewise, going too wide can cause the tyre to ‘mushroom’ or create an overly-triangulated profile. Tyre/rim widths need to be matched correctly – seek handling improvements through proper means rather than bodging ill-fitting tyres on.
9. ‘You’ll be alright without the proper tool’
There are a small handful of instances where a suitable, safe alternative to specialist tools can be utilised. Otherwise, it’s cack-handed bodgery that may cause a bigger problem than you were trying to solve. Take the tale of a man with a leaking engine seal. Instead of heading down to his local motor factors for a £10 seal extractor, our man is advised to lever it out with a screwdriver. The result? A damaged seal housing in the engine casing. The right gear is an investment, not an inconvenience.