Wednesday, 19 April 2017

California Superbike School

It's been nearly 6 months since I completed California Superbike School (CSS) level 1.

Time enough for the after affects to bed in and for me to be able to come away with a solid idea of what's what.

It has taken some time for the experience to sink in and for the learnings and drills to become reference memory rather than a focal point. That is to say - I can now reflect on what was taught and execute as needed rather than deliberately try to practice each technique. This last statement is important, read on. 

The content, the instructors and the students: 

CSS runs like clockwork - you'd be hard to find fault in the operating rhythm. 
Instructors are a calming mix of approachable, yet firm - allowing pupils to put their trust in their mentor. 

The day begins with bike scrutineering followed by an introductory theory session in a classroom full of like minded motorcyclists - eyeing each other with a mixture of nervousness and anticipation. 

The diversity is amazing, riders from all walks of life with various backgrounds and vastly different levels of skill. Diversity is one of the most resounding themes with motorcyclists; never expect anything. 

While surveying the room you'll no doubt catch eyes with a repeat CSS student - a level 3 or 4 perhaps (achievement unlocked) - who'll respond to your skittishness with a knowing and sympathetic gaze, as if to say: "Yep, you're shitting yourself now - it's OK mate."

CSS level 1 is broken into 5 theory components, each with a corresponding on track session to practice the drill. The complexity of each technique builds sequentially throughout the day, and it is a long day. Be prepared and well rested - this will fatigue you both physically and mentally - I guarantee it. 

Each drill is closely related to the Twist of the Wrist content and the syllabus follows its mantras as expected. 

We line up for the first session, the location? The World famous Phillip Island MotoGP facility.......oh man, my loins are tingling......yep - definitely shitting my pants now. 

Drill 1 - Throttle control - No brakes, 4th gear only:

The intention of the throttle control drill is to remove distraction and understand that the job of the rider is to 'stabilise the bike' - where the throttle is the primary control impacting this task. 

Getting on the throttle early and rolling on smoothly increases traction and stability by letting the chassis do its job. And brakes? No brakes.

As our instructor drummed into us "if you can't get your speed right without the brakes and only 1 gear in use, how do you expect to get it right with them?"

Good point.

Drill 2 - Turn in point - No brakes, 3rd and 4th gears only:

It was surprising how much wider and later (deep) into a corner we were coached to turn in. It makes a huge difference to the rider perception of the corner and actually changes the aspect/profile of the corner itself. 

Drill 3 - Quick turn - Light braking, 3rd and 4th gears only:

Building on drills 1 and 2, the aim of the quick turn is to control speed and stability with the throttle before sighting a turn-in point - remaining light on the bars - then BAM! One deliberate and direct input to flick the bike over and into the turn.

Oh yes, that will do nicely. 

Drill 4 - Rider input - Light braking, gears 3, 4 and 5:

No surprises here - death grip bad, light on the bars good.
This drill starts the conversation around body position and how to carry your weight through you legs, locking to the bike.

But really, at level 1 - this session is more about letting you have another track session to begin consolidating what has already (hopefully) been learned.

Drill 5 - Two-step - Full braking and gears:

The Ah-Ha moment.
This drill is like sliding a precisely cut key into a well crafted lock. 
The tumblers and pins move about and align as the key snugs home. 

The two-step binds drills 1 - 5 into a cohesive cornering technique by coupling throttle, turn-in point and vision into a fluid and more repeatable method of control. The two-step approach decreases the perception of speed and gives you more time to evaluate and execute the corner. 

Game on.

After affects and conclusions

At first I was keen to get out onto the road to practice what I had (should have) learned. But all was not well. 

CSS is very track focused and relies on you to be able to see clearly through corners and be able to rinse and repeat the process to hone the skills. This is not really how roads in the real world work: Sketchy surfaces, blind corners, debris, traffic, gravel, wildlife, cagers.......etc...

I was struggling to put into practice the drills as there was not a direct mapping or translation for something like quick turn, or two-step in the twisties on tree-lined roads with gravel washouts. 

Frustration was building. I was overthinking everything.
I was riding worse, more hesitant, less in tune with the bike - I felt like I was broken and couldn't ride anymore. 

So I did what most do - I pushed it harder.
And had some very real near misses I'd rather forget. 
One such incident pushing wide on exit on a tree lined road, hitting gravel and going off the road - I have no idea how I didn't go down other than I remember letting the bars go to do their thing and the bike remained upright.
Adrenaline and poo came out. 

For a time I wished I hadn't done CSS. My brain was full of track technique.

Fast forward to now. To a point where I have finally been able to take what works and realise that not all aspects relate to all situations all of the time - and I'm glad I did CSS. 

Will I do level 2? 
Yep - game on. 

......You've shit yourself, haven't ya mate? 

Thursday, 5 January 2017

AGV K5 review

Over the years I've owned helmets from budget brands such as Fly, through to mainstream offerings from HJC and onto the pointy end of the premium lids by Shoei.

Other than significant price difference, there is a huge difference in the fit and finish, comfort and features offered by any helmet at any price point.

So then, after 5+ years of faithful service from my Shoei XR1100 - coupled with a considerably nasty drop - it was time for a new lid.

In helmet shopping mode I stuffed my pin into as many lids as I could, it is difficult to gain a proper representation of how a helmet will perform just by sticking your head in it - alas, it's the best we can do. Helmets are one of the hardest things to buy.

I don't have an 'Arai head' but retried them anyway to be sure. Nope

Never having owned a Shark I was intrigued by some of the new designs and features from the French company, I gave them a crack. Nope

With the newer ECE helmets now available in Australia I could try some of the Bell helmets - bugger. Nope

Back to Shoei then? Hmmmm. Then I tried the AGV K5

I took the plunge and have now been riding with the K5 for about 2 months including some track time during California Superbike School. Let's take a look. 

The Good.

Aesthetically, this is a very pleasing helmet. Fit and finish is good with a composite shell, sans carbon fibre, or other exotic polymers you'd find in the Pista range. That said, the helmet is appropriately light and weighs less than my old Shoei. 

Rider vision is excellent considering the 'race cut' of the lid - requiring you to look up and out of the visor opening. One thing to note about the race style is that the bottom surface of the helmet has an arc which prevents it from sitting flat on a table. 

Visor attachment is very simple using a similar cam and channel design as found on Shoei helmets - however the AGV offers something else too - visor increment adjustment.

The green component is the 'Road/Urban' visor guide which has a hard stop at the top, a hard stop at the bottom and three intermediate positions in between - also, there is a fine stop opening to allow the visor to vent.

Also included are blue for 'Race' with hard stop fully opened or fully closed with nothing in between and red for 'Tour' which provides open/closed and increments but no fine stop for slow speed venting. Out of the box the helmet is set to red, touring.

Ample airflow and venting provides a relatively cool and fog free experience, and surprisingly, not too noisy. Don't kid yourself, there is no such thing as a quiet helmet, the name of the game is to find one that is 'less bad.' I would report better venting, less fogging and noticeably quieter than the Shoei XR1100. 

Furthermore, with the race cut and small lip at the rear, the K5 is remarkably stable when on the bike at speed - no buffeting or pressure build up which can make other helmets feel heavy or shake when getting on. 

The internal padding uses natural bamboo and latex fibres meaning a comfortable skin feel which won't become humid and sweaty in hot conditions. The bucket of the helmet has the usual memory foam found in most lids and after a few rides this breaks in well. 

The Bad.

Luckily I wear contact lenses, so seeing glasses are not required - however if they were - you'd be shit out of luck.

The K5 advertises a 'Glasses Fit' slot located on the temple of each cheek pad - a fairly standard feature and design and one which fails completely with the AGV. In the past I would often wear riding glasses with a high contrast yellow lens to offset the smoke visor in dim conditions. No longer it would seem.

Something about the angle and height of the glasses channel makes it impossible for me to use glasses of any kind with this helmet. Inserting the glasses arms is painful as you try to force them past the soft piece of your noggin at the temple. Furthermore, if you do succeed, the glasses lens will be hovering somewhere around your eyebrows - not your eyes. Useless. 

Continuing the theme - the internal sun shade is pathetic, both in contrast and position. 

The bottom of the shade terminates just below your eye socket on your cheekbones, delivering distractingly bright reflected light straight into your pinholes. Oh good, that helps........

Further failure is observed in the contrast the shade provides - which is not much. Honestly, you're better off not using this (or removing it which is possible) and just installing a smoke visor as I have done. 


The AGV K5 offers some solid features and top notch fit and finish for a mid range helmet. At this price point some shortcomings are forgivable and the lack of a carbon-composite shell is understandable. 

Would I recommend it? Absolutely, unless of course, you wear glasses.

Pin head. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

Riding Solo: MT-09 meets the GOR

I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t yet introduced the MT-09 to the Great Ocean Road (GOR) – one of Victoria's - and indeed Australia’s - must ride roads.

Although it has been raining for 3 days straight and the weather today is less than ideal I am stubborn and determined enough to get the Gimp suit on and get this long overdue introduction done.

Kissing the wife goodbye and giving the little one a smile I hit the black stuff at 6:50 am – there’s a lot of road to cover.

The first 1.5 hour slab to Torquay is completed without incident – stopping for fuel I gunnel the tank and check the radar. High wind – but no rain – I wonder if this will in fact equate to ‘Dry’…….hmmm.

Before one can begin the GOR ‘proper’ the gratuitous Split Point lighthouse stop is required – this is our Mecca and the icons must be acknowledge. Pfffft……..nah.

That said, this lighthouse is a bit of a silver screen star and was the setting of the ever popular ‘Round the Twist’ children's series – a TV show which is a right of passage for my generation of Aussie-Kid.

Right then. Stop faffing about - it's clobbering time. 
Aireys Inlet to Lorne defines the warm-up section of the GOR - with spectacular views left and forward vision filled with a black snake tracing the coastline, the appetite is tending to Braaarp. 
We've had our wettest recorded Spring in Victoria for the last 30 years - oh joy - as such, the GOR has copped a beating. Landslides had closed large sections between Lorne and Apollo Bay, sections now open albeit under repair. 

It must be said, the road surface is shocking. It is pock-marked, pitted and rutted - there are gravel washouts and divots, large stone chips and, oh yeah - single lane road works. Settling into any form of rhythm is farken impossible, and with frustration breeding petulance, things are getting sketchy. 

So we climb a little further out, and head towards the Otways. Maybe we'll have more luck?

The road travelled

And the road ahead

Backtracking slightly I point the 'Niner to some inland delights via Skenes Creek on a coast to farm transition. The low lying Rain Forest road has also seen some heavy rain and is dicey at best - nothing else for it, climb higher and head out to the open plains. 

This looks like a nice spot for lunch

I complete my MT-09 to GOR introduction ride back to Melbourne town, as much as possible, on the roads less travelled. Glad the 'Niner has met the GOR - but I've got a feeling the appetite for Braarp has not been contented. 

Rolling up my driveway at 3pm, I've just spent 8 hours on the bike and completed ~630kms. 
My Girls are having a late lunch and are all smiles. Nothing, else, required. 

GOR, this is the 'Niner, be a better Mecca next time - OK?

Friday, 14 October 2016

Puncture Repair: Nailed it......


There has been a lot of construction along parts of my commute. Melbourne is a very progressive City - as such it is hard to find a Suburban or Metro street which has not succumbed to some form of development.

Great for Melbourne, not so great for a Moto Commuter.

In the past 2 months I've managed to pickup 2 items which would cause a puncture. Luckily the first item was a small staple which was not long enough to penetrate the Tyre carcass and was safely pulled without any ill-affects. I was not so lucky this time.

Time to bust out the 'ol GRYYP repair kit and get to work removing my cheeky little hitchhiker.

Step 1
Pull the item using the needle nose pliers - if you're doing this road side and want to minimise pressure loss, have the rasp tool ready to stop escaping air.

Clearly this nail was long enough to pierce the carcass.......damn. 

Step 2
Use the rasp tool to clean out the puncture site. You are intentionally trying to make the hole larger and, depending on the area of the Tyre, are likely going to need to push through the reinforcing belts/material. 

This can be quite strenuous but don't rush - you need to make sure the hole is clear and ready to receive the plug. 

Step 3
Prepare a wax-cord 'plug' on the insertion tool and drive the plug 2/3 of the length into the Tyre. This is going to require significant force, be determined. 

The idea is that you want the cord loop to drop inside the Tyre and create an internal plug too large to work its way back through the original hole, similar to how a dynabolt works. 

Step 4
In one swift movement - pull the insertion tool out of the Tyre. You should have the cord remain in place as a plug. 

Use the craft knife to trim some of the excess and leave ~3mm of cord exposed - with riding this will be forced into a kind of 'surface' patch. 

Step 5 
Add air, test pressure.

Step  6
Ride, retest pressure when warm - it should have increased and, if done correctly, should hold steady. 

It should be noted that this type of plug is technically only to be used to repair a Tyre to get you out of trouble. The manufacturers state that, for a 'proper' repair, the Tyre must be stripped from the rim and plugged internally with a mushroom plug or similar. 

I'm only about 500kms from my next scheduled service so will take care of that then. 

\BitSar long, you cheeky little hitchhiker. 

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Evotech Performance: radiator guard

The radiator is a vulnerable component on any motorcycle. Exacerbated by the fact they are almost always located directly behind the front wheel, providing an uninterrupted view to debris. Hmmmm.

A holed radiator will really ruin your day. 
Coolant can be extremely slippery and can take you down before you've realised you have a temperature spike, not to mention the issues with running a bike with a dry cooling system. 

Time to mitigate this risk with a radiator guard. 

Be aware, a radiator guard is not a panacea - it will deflect small rocks and various road detritus, along with bugs - but anything significantly large or determined will get through and cause damage.  

Right then. Introducing the Evotech Performance radiator guard
The company provides a set of 'instructions' via the online PDF (a printed copy is not included) 

For the most part, the instructions are OK - although they do gloss over a fair bit of detail. 

Time for an install post. 

All the required pieces are included, the aluminium brackets are of high quality, as is the hardware and fixings. I appreciate the steel inserts in place of aluminium threads on the guard grill, it shows thought and intent has gone into the design. Gold Star @Evotech. 

First thing to note is that the guard grill is not square. This is not a manufacturing flaw, this is deliberate. 

The grill is a stamped piece of aluminium, as such it is extremely lightweight. The purposeful twist has been created to introduce rigidity when mounted square, thereby providing tension across the face of the guard. Again, thoughtful design. 

Before getting started I recommend cleaning the radiator fins to remove any existing crud and to ensure the surfaces where you will adhere the anti-vibration strips are clean. 

Two brackets are included, one with 2 holes for the right side, one with 1 hole for the left side (rider perspective). The right side goes on first, seated underneath the stock mounting points, in direct contact with the radiator back plate. 

It is important to note - as it is not explicitly declared in the instructions - you must use the supplied hardware when installing the brackets, do not reuse the stock hardware

If you compare the length of the threads, the provided M6 fixings are longer to account for the added offset introduced by the thickness of the brackets.

Get everything in place and finger-tight, do not snug down yet

Next up, cut the anti-vibration strip in half and adhere to the face of the radiator where there is a ridge. Do this on both sides. 

Install the washer onto the M4 hex bolts and locate them on the guard. At this stage, the left side has not been touched at all (other than sticking on the padded strip).

The left-hand side is a bit different in approach. Instead of installing the bracket, then attaching the guard grill, you first locate the grill - attached to the bracket - before bolting the bracket to the rear plate of the radiator. 

This is where the designed twist becomes obvious. Once you align the grill and left-hand bracket with the mounting point there is a noticeable stiffness, giving confidence you've done things right. 

Refit the last (supplied) M6 bolt finger-tight and inspect your work before snugging all fixings down. 

Note - do not over torque any of the hardware. The M6 bolts are threading into the back plate of the radiator and can quite easily strip the treads if over tightened. 

Likewise, the M4 hex bolts are being wound into steal lugs within and aluminium eye in the guard grill - leaning on these fasteners is likely to sheer the lugs out. 

Done and done. 

........only the undetermined are safe, everything else will find a way through. 

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Suspension sorted: MT09 - the way it should be.

I am in no way associated with any vendors, workshops, product distributors or component manufactures cited in this Post. 
All components and workshop costs have been completely at my own expense. 

Like many others, I had suffered with the lack-lustre chassis dynamics of the MT09 for too long. It is universally understood that if you intend on pushing this bike - and want to attain the most giggles from the experience, rather than sheer terror - you will need to get rid of the pipe-cleaner fork internals and slinky shock.

For day to day riding, commuting, wheelies and a bit of blatting you can just get by if you're not too liberal with the throttle, you contain your enthusiasm and find inner Zen whilst channelling the persona of a Prius driver.......but, wait! That's not what an MT09 is for, Zen? No thanks.

Something had to be done.

The Parts

Researching potential upgrade paths, weighing up total cost, expected results and anticipated performance was not without its challenges. The choices ranged from cannibalising components such as a ZX10 or FZY-R6 shock for (custom) retrofitting, to complete disassembly, servicing, re-valving and general suspension Voodoo for both the front and rear.

My main issue with these approaches was that the minimal cost saving could deliver a haphazard, untested and ultimately less precise result. The Frankenstein contraption meter was getting too far into the red zone for my OCD. Nope, nope, nope.

Enter the Kit Advanced. A purpose made, specifically designed pairing (with joint R&D) between Andreani and Ohlins.

Oh yes, that will do just nicely. Farken nicely.

As noted, these components are a straight swap for the shock with no modification required and a fork internal drop-out and cartridge drop-in.

The Ohlins YA-335 (S46DR1) shock is a fairly basic emulsion-type unit with easy to adjust rebound damping and pre-load - compression damping is not available.


Up front, the Andreani cartridge offers pre-load adjustment and both rebound and compression damping. A huge improvement over the stock forks.

Installed - Compression leg

Installed - Rebound leg

The People

Being located in Melbourne, I was lucky enough to be able to call upon Phil Tainton Racing to have the suspension upgrade completed. For those who don't know who PTR is/are - they've been in the business for decades and Phil has developed bikes for road racing and factory teams.

So I just had to have the man work on my bike because...........overkill?

Phil is a bit of a Wizard and a bloody nice guy. He took the time to explain things and conducted the process formally requiring rider (that means me) weigh in, suspension dyno - before and after - and chassis set-up. All to ensure the results were not snake oil or due to positive-bias but were in fact measurable.

Documentation provided - the inner geek satisfied, OCD meter in a very happy zone - thanks PTR!

The communication from this workshop was exemplary - Lynne kept me up to date with parts delivery, progress and handled everything seamlessly. Stella work, rarely seen, ever required.

The Progression 

It's been just over 3 months since the PTR work. During this time the MT09 has been subject to upward of 6,000 kms of commuting, blatting, braaaarping and hooligan-ing. 

The results are night and day - seriously. 

Pogo be-gone. That familiar chassis wallow has been eliminated and I am no longer required to ride around the deficiency. I can trust the bike far more - it now has a footprint, it is planted and I am connected - think bare foot running as opposed to sprinting in gumboots.

Corner entry and exit speeds have improved and I am less fatigued after a hectic ride as the chassis is now doing what it should be doing. 

Fork dive under hard braking is greatly improved and trail-braking delivers swift turn-in without the fear of bottoming out. Furthermore, with both compression and rebound damping the fork action upon loading and unloading offers continuous feedback and compliance. 

High velocity compression can be a little harsh due to the valve-porting. Really though you only notice this after touch-down from a ham-fisted wheelie or hitting a pothole at speed.

Rear squat is gone. Just plain gone. 
When getting on the power at corner exit the shock remains taught and does not let the rear go light as it attempts to retreat towards the swing-arm pivot. The slightly longer shaft has also improved handling by lifting the rear, canting weight forward. 

Do not underestimate the impact a relatively small geometry change can have on chassis dynamics. By lifting the rear, the rake has been marginally reduced, while weight over the front axle has been increased - both factors delivering much better front-end feel and feedback. 


  • If you're thinking about suspension work for your MT09.
  • If you take you're riding seriously and enjoy the innate technicality of it.
  • If you've had a moment, more than once, where you wished you could open the throttle and trust it to stick. 
  • If you want to really get the most of the flickable chassis.
  • If you want more giggles and less terror
Get your suspension sorted. 
Done and done. 

-- Pogo be-gone. I ride a motorcycle, not a seesaw.