• Chop To It 2: The Next Cut

    reprinted from BB.com , July 2004
    copyright owned by author

    Chop To It 2: The Next Cut

    I originally intended to have this up last month, but I couldn't get it finished in time so I substituted an auxilliary article I had drummed up in the past for a rainy day. Unfortunately for that cliche, we haven't seen a drop of rain for a few months out here in triple-digits Southern Nevada, but nonetheless that deadline snuck up and hit me like a hail storm.

    So you ask, what more could I possibly write about the legendary chopper mod that wasn't already covered last time around? A lot. In May's edition, I laid out seven ways to spend your weekend and half your salary too. If you decided to take that challenge and go forward with your chopper project, this article will serve you well. In part one, I told you how to build it. Now I'm going to tell you what to expect when you ride it.

    "It's Just Another Bike. What Could Make It So Different?"

    Other than the fact that you'd have to cross five state lines just to find another one that even remotely resembles it? It doesn't just look different, it handles different. I just can't stress it enough that this is no beginner bike mod. Okay I have to take that back, since I'm in the process of chopping a 250 Rebel it's a beginner bike mod too. Let me rephrase that: This is no beginning rider mod. Get some road experience behind you, and lots of it. In fact make sure you have properly outgrown that bike before the transformation. That means master it. If you just recieved your MSF certification, you'd be better served starting out on a big Electra Glide or Gold Wing than starting off on a chopper. I said it before and I'll say it again, choppers are to the cruiser realm as 600+cc supersports are to the sportbike realm. You'd better know what you're doing before throwing a leg over one and thumbing the starter.

    Modified/Lowered Suspension

    I've touched on this topic in the past, but here's a refresher. Anytime you modify a motorcycle's suspension you're modifying its handling traits. Lowering a bike does several things, including reducing ground clearance and lean angle (lean angle is something else I'll touch on again here). Most modifications that shorten a shock will ultimately make the shock stiffer. A shock with a lowering kit that is left on standard preload settings will bottom out easily, so stiffening it up is mandated for a less harsh yet stiffer ride. A shock that has simply recieved a cut spring will also bottom out sooner as well as give a softer feel, unless you bump up the preload. With a lowered bike, you'll have to be more wary of things like speed bumps in parking lots, as well as driveways with steep drops and/or steep entrances. Since a lot of the running gear will be closer to the ground, you'll also have to be wary when leaning the bike in turns, as you'll be scraping pegs or tailpipes sooner than you did at stock ride heights. So you're going to have to slow it down a notch or two in turns and curves. You may also have to adjust belt or chain tension when lowering the rear of a motorcycle, so keep this in mind before your first flight.

    Rigid/Hardtail Handling

    Some chopper owners want the lowest possible seat height and will make the ultimate sacrafices to get there in the name of style. One of those sacrafices is rear suspension, sometimes knocking off an inch or two just won't cut it so the entire rear suspension gets shelved in favor of a much lower stance. Sometimes that rear tire looks even sexier when it's stuffed up into that rear fender, with just the rim showing below the fender lip. So if you've decided to go the rigid route, this paragraph is for you. Just like the suspension mods, the ride is going to be a little stiffer with a hardtail. A lot stiffer. Motorcycle Viagra couldn't make it any stiffer. Without the rear shock(s) out back, you will feel every irregularity in the road along the way, not just bumps and potholes but even seams, small rocks, and the "road snakes" (those lines of filler material that the road crews seal the cracks with). Bumps and potholes will become your mortal enemies, and in that order. Hitting large bumps at higher speeds can pitch the rear off the ground, if you saw the Jesse James "Motorcycle Mania" where he was riding to Sturgis one of the guys riding with him got his tail airborn on a bump on the freeway. It's scary, and the landings don't feel too good. Potholes are even worse, as you drop down and crush your kidneys first, then you get pitched into the air, and then you come back down to crush what's left of your kidneys again. You really start to watch the road more on a hardtail, and you'll learn to take only those streets you are totally familiar with before venturing onto the less travelled roads. I launched my hardtail once on a steep crest in an intersection, let's just say I can fully appreciate why Robbie and Evel Knievel jumped bikes sporting rear suspension. And forget about lean angles, with no rear suspension any irregularities you encounter on the roads can cause your rear end to skip, skate, and pitch in a curve or turn. Loss of traction at the rear wheel is not a friendly thing in a curve. So if you're the type that always tries to beat those yellow lights, don't try it in the left turn lane on a hardtail. But fret not, there are two things that you can do to a hardtail to improve the ride. First off is an old school mod, let some air out of the rear tire. Your sidewalls will flex and act as a "shock abosrber", but be wary of rear fender clearance too, as when that tire compresses on the "ground side", all the air is forced up to the "top side" and with very little fender clearance the tread will scrub the fender...I wore a good sized hole in my plastic rear fender under the pillion of my hardtail. Granted this mod serves to decrease rear tire life, but you'll want something boingier sooner or later on a hardtail so it's inevitable ("boingier" is not just a motorcycle trade term, acoustic specialists use it too so it's a real word). The other hardtail mod that improves riding is carrying extra weight on the rear end. Yep, who'da thunk it possible that adding a passenger could improve a motorcycle's handling, but having that extra weight on the rear can allow better handling in turns and curves, as the unsuspended rear wheel is less prone to losing traction with more weight on it. Weird but true.

    Additional Wheelbase

    Bikes with longer wheelbases require more lean at given speeds. By adding extra rake and longer forks (and rear lowering can even add some extra wheelbase, re: belt/chain tension adjustment), you will have a longer bike so both your overall length and wheelbase will be affected. And so will your handling characteristics. With additional wheelbase, the forks need to be turned a little more in any given curve or turn, hence the bike will lean a little more. Your turning radius increases with more wheelbase, just like with automobiles. A sports car can make tighter turns than an SUV, just like a Rebel can make tighter turns than an OCC bike. You won't be able to lean the bike at the lesser angles you were used to back when it was stock. If your stock bike was sporting a 60" wheelbase before and you could take a certain curve at 45mph at a mild 20 lean angle, your lengthened wheelbase will demand a sharper lean (for the sake of comparison we'll estimate 25 in this scenario, each curve and lean angle is different) to maintain that same speed in that same turn. If that sharper lean angle is required, this means you'll be bringing a lot of the running gear closer to the ground, such as footpegs and tailpipes. Sound familiar? I told you I'd say that again...which means that you'll have to take those curves and turns at lower speeds than you used to. So if your chopper is sporting both a lower squatty stance along with extra wheelbase, now you have to be twice as aware. Your days of canyon carving are over with a chopper.

    Got Rake?

    Bikes with substantially extra rake tend to have an anomally to their steering. If you stand still and upright and rotate the forks from side to side, the frame will dip and rise throughout this maneuver, dipping down toward the ground as the forks get closer to full lock position and rising again as they are centered straight. Hence, braking becomes affected on a chopper. Forward momentum can serve you wrong, as that momentum pushes the frame down in front so the forks will try to flop over to their full lock position as the frame presses down, so you have to be very concious about braking. Don't lock that front tire up, as long as that wheel is rolling you'll be able to brake safely, but lock it up and that momentum comes into play. This is where proficient riding comes in handy, and another reason why a chopper is not a suitable beginner bike. Next up is the obvious, extra space allowed for executing a U-turn. I touched on longer wheelbased handling, and this really comes into play in a U-turn. Remember the slow down principle? With a chopper you'll practically be crawling through a U-turn, but with proper technique you can still nail the inside lane farthest from the sidewalk, unless you really went overboard on fork length. And parking the bike can become a challenge in tighter quarters as well, with that wider turning radius your chopper won't be as nimble in the parking lots either so you'll have to make a few extra maneuvers to make it fit in those tight spots. Finally, choppes sporting raked trees will give a different feel that requires some getting used to. What happens with a raked tree is the front wheel rotates on a different axis than the steering stem, so it will hit the lock position sooner than it feels like it should. In other words it turns more than the input suggests, so this too takes some getting used to. So you have to treat it like any other new-to-you bike: treat it like your first bike all over again.

    In summary, riding a chopper really isn't terribly different from any other bike once you get to know it. They still react to counter-steering like a stock bike would, but the main thing is to slow down for those curves and turns and watch that front brake lever. As long as you do the proper research into a chopper project, you'll still end up with a fairly decent handling machine. I just can't stress the research end enough, if you just start throwing things together out of the blue your Franken-bike creation can easily bite back. Get it right and get out and ride.

    Chop it and drop it down low, and keep that tin in the wind.

    When Shadow Shack isn't crawling through U-turns while butchering the english language, he answers email sent through his profile

    Customarily Minded Machine of the Month

    I said it before and I'll say it again, it's not a beginning rider mod but that doesn't mean you can't do it to your beginner bike. This month's magnificent machine is a tribute to the chopper craze in a smaller scale. This nifty 250 Virago sports all the cool chopper stuff, from a generously raked front end to a killer set of upswept pipes. The absence of a front fender is a tribute to old school cool, and that slim-line seat cleans it up on the business end of the bike. It's bad, it's black, it's dripping in chrome. And it's clean, simple, and effective, just what a chopper should be.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Chop To It 2: The Next Cut started by Shadow Shack View original post
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