Don’t kid yourself. If you race motorcycles, it is likely that you will crash. There are things you can do to try to minimize damage to yourself during a crash, but that’s a different article. We’ve found the easiest way to try to minimize crash damage to the bike is by replacing the stock handlebars with clip-ons with replaceable bars, replacing the stock folding footpegs and mounts with rearsets and solid footpegs, and installing frame savers. And thoroughly race-wiring your motorcycle may help to prevent a crash from occurring, since many a crash is due to a preparation error or improper race-wiring.
Replacing perfectly good stock motorcycle parts with aftermarket substitutes may appear to only make an expensive hobby even more expensive, but there are some sound reasons we replace the stock handlebars and folding footpegs with aftermarket clip-ons and solid footpegs.
Clip-ons: There are a couple of ways that clip-ons (aftermarket handlebars basically consisting of aluminum tubes and clamps to hold them onto the forks) can help you in a crash. Usually, the aftermarket bar is longer than a stock handlebar and can be adjusted to hold the upper part of the bike off the ground when the bike is on its side. The clamp can be adjusted to hold the bar out at different angles as well so you can tune the amount of leverage you have for turning while ensuring that your fingers won’t get crushed against the frame or fuel tank in a lock-to-lock headshake situation.
Also, unlike stock one-piece handlebars, where the clamp and the bar are all one piece, with clip-ons you can replace just the bar, a simple and comparatively inexpensive alternative to replacing the complete stock handlebar. To replace a clip-on bar after a crash you generally only need to loosen the bolts on the controls (front brake and throttle, or clutch, depending on which side you’re replacing) and the bar itself, slide the bar out, slide a new one in, and tighten everything down.
Another benefit of clip-ons is they are generally lower than stock handlebars, which helps you tuck in better behind the windshield without losing that on-top-of-the-front-end feeling.
Footpegs: Solid footpegs can work like clip-ons to help prop the side of the bike up off the ground when it is sliding down the track. We always replace stock folding footpegs with solid ones anyway because we find the footpegs are always folding at just the wrong time, such as when sliding the ball of your foot back up onto the peg after shifting, which is very disconcerting if you are shifting in a left turn. You can get away with just replacing the pegs and using the stock footpeg plates but with rearsets you can change the location of the footpeg to satisfy rider preference (for instance, for riders with exceedingly short or long legs) or necessity (to keep your toes off the ground in turns). Also, if a reverse shift pattern is your preference, depending on what model bike you have you may need rearsets to reverse the shift pattern.
Frame Savers: There’s no reason not to use these. A typical frame saver is (hopefully) made out of a durable plastic like Delrin (the nylon ones tend to just bend instead of slide), with an aluminum sleeve that the attaching bolt slides through. The ones that we’ve used bolt onto either side of the frame using long bolts that replace two engine mounting bolts on the head, and stick out far enough to give the pavement something other than the frame and engine case covers to grind off if your bike goes sliding on its side down the track.
Safety Wire: In order to protect us from ourselves and each other, racing organizations have certain minimum machine requirements that all motorcycles must meet in order to be approved for track use. Each organization has its own rulebook detailing that organization’s machine requirements. The rules vary from one rulebook to another, but all organizations require some level of safety wiring, which involves drilling holes in the heads of critical bolts and twisting wire that you pull through the holes and tie to something immobile.
The theory behind safety wire is that, if a bolt on your bike tries to come loose while you’re on the track, the wire will prevent the bolt from unscrewing all the way and falling off the bike or loosening enough to allow water or oil to leak out or brake calipers to fall off.
Depending on how a given set of clip-ons are designed and/or where the stock handlebars are mounted, you may have to remove the upper triple clamp to install the clip-ons. Woodcraft makes a nice set of two-piece clamps for their clip-ons that bolt right on with the upper triple clamp installed.
Here's one example of a clip-on kit, brought to you by CFM-Woodcraft.
Removing the stock handlebars: Before you can slide anything off of the handlebars you have to remove the bar-end weights. We’ve found the best way to do that is with an impact driver, as often the bolts are installed with thread-lock and the heads strip all too easily. Give the bolts a few good whacks with the impact driver as necessary and unscrew and remove the bar-end weights.
If you don’t have another left bar grip handy you’ll need to carefully remove the grip from the left handlebar. Usually it is glued onto the bar but it is possible to remove it in such a way that can be reused. You can use a long, thin flathead screwdriver and some contact or brake cleaner with the straw that comes with the can. Gently work the end of the screwdriver between the grip and the bar and up the bar a little. When the screwdriver is about halfway up the grip, insert the straw under the grip and squirt a little cleaner in. Work the screwdriver around the bar to start breaking the glue bond and squirt some more cleaner in as you rotate the grip. You should be able to break the glue bond and rotate the grip all the way around, sliding it off as you go. You can use compressed air instead of contact cleaner but we’ve had better success with contact cleaner.
Next, loosen the bolts holding the clutch-lever mounting bracket and front- brake master cylinder assembly, unplug the clutch and front brake switches, and remove the bolts holding on the headlight and kill switch assemblies. You can unplug the headlight switch assembly from the wiring harness and remove it entirely from the bike since you won’t need it for racing (unless you feel the need to honk at people while you’re passing them), but you will need to bypass the clutch switch in the wiring harness.
It's easier to wire the clips once than wire the bolts each time you remove the brakes.
If the stock handlebars mount above the top triple clamp, you can now remove the handlebar mounting bolts and remove the handlebars, sliding the clutch lever assembly, throttle and kill switch assembly, and front brake lever assembly off the bars as you remove them. If the handlebars mount below the top triple clamp or the clip-on clamps are one-piece, you will first need to remove the steering stem nut, loosen the upper triple clamp pinch bolts around the fork tubes, and gently tap the upper triple clamp up and off the forks and steering stem. Make sure you detach any handlebar locating screws from the top triple clamp before you remove it.
Sometimes you don't need to resort to whacking on things with a hammer. These bar ends practically fell off with a ratchet.
Installing the clip-ons: Slide or set the clip-on clamps onto the fork tubes and lightly snug down the bolts such that you can still move the clamps with some resistance. If you removed the top triple clamp, you can re-install it now so you know where to locate the clip-on clamps vertically on the forks. Tap the triple clamp back onto the steering stem and fork tubes, and tighten the steering stem nut to the factory torque specification. Then tighten the pinch bolts around the fork tubes, and slide the clamps so that they touch the triple clamp.
Once you have the clip-ons adjusted where you want them, you can mark the triple clamp with a punch to indicate the clip-on position so you can find that right position again easily after a fork r + r.
Next, slide the left handlebar tube through the clutch lever mounting bracket and into the clip-on clamp, and lightly snug the handlebar bolt. Then, slide the right handlebar tube through the front brake master cylinder assembly and into the clip-on clamp and lightly snug the handlebar bolt.
If you look inside the kill switch assembly, you’ll see a little pin that sticks out where the assembly fits around the handlebar. That pin fits into a hole in the stock handlebar and locates the switch assembly on the bar to prevent it from spinning when you turn the throttle.
You will want to grind off this here locating pin for the right handlebar switch assembly. Now you see it...
When you’re replacing a bent handlebar after a crash under a green flag, that pin can cause a lot of grief. Crash repair can go a lot faster if you don’t have to worry about aligning the pin with the hole you would need to drill in your new bar. Our solution is to grind the pin off with a Dremel tool or die grinder and knurl the bar instead (you may want to get a machinist to knurl the bar for you). To do this, first unhook the throttle cables from the throttle sleeve and remove the throttle sleeve from the switch housing. Grind the pin down just past flush with the housing, and reattach the throttle cables. Then slide the switch and throttle assemblies onto the bar and lightly snug down the bolts.
...now you don't.
At this point everything should be bolted-on loosely enough to allow position adjustments. Turn the front end all the way to the left side until the steering stop hits. Grasp the left bar and angle it so that there is about one inch of space (enough room for your thumb to fit) in between the bar and the gas tank or frame, and tighten the clip-on clamp. Do the same with the right side. If you maintain at least a one-inch gap on both sides you can prevent a nasty knuckle-busting headshake as well as avoid crushing your thumbs moving the bike around in the pits.
Save your fingers! Make sure you have at least a modicum of space between the bar and the frame/gas tank/fairing.
Next, adjust the length of the bars by sliding them in the clip-on clamps. Try setting the right bar sticking out at least far enough so that, with the grip at the end of the bar, there is enough room to position the brake lever so the end of the lever is just about even with the end of the bar. Then measure the exposed length and set the clutch side to match. Once you have the bars set at the desired length, tighten the bar bolts. You can then install the left bar grip, using a little contact cleaner on the inside of the grip as a quick-drying lubricant. Slide the grip onto the bar until the end of the grip meets the end of the bar.
A nice cross hatch knurling on the bars keeps the throttle housing from spinning.
Now, adjust the brake and clutch lever attitude (up or down). Set the levers wherever they feel the most comfortable for you, and remember to gauge them while tucked in as well as sitting up. Then tighten the lever bolts. Usually you want a straight shot from your forearm down to the lever when you are in a sitting-up-and-braking position. Aching wrists are usually caused by levers which are set too high.
At this point, everything should be tight except for the kill switch/throttle assembly. Turn the bars all the way to the right and check the clearance between the kill switch and the frame. You may need to rotate the switch assembly around so that the starter button doesn’t hit the frame, and the brake lever, when pulled in all the way, doesn’t hit the throttle cables. If you can’t get acceptable clearance between the switch housing and the frame and brake lever, you may need to move the bar out further by rotating the clip-on clamp. Check clearance between the levers and fairing bracket/instruments when the bars are turned towards them as you do this. Make sure you tighten the switch housing and double-check all of the other mounting bolts when you are done. If you have a remote front brake master cylinder reservoir you may need to either make a new mounting bracket or get a longer hose for it.
After everything is adjusted and tight, you can make forward-facing vertical relief cuts with a hacksaw near the end of the clutch and brake levers to encourage the tip to break off, rather than the whole lever, in case of a crash or contact with another bike. You can also mark the orientation of the clip-on clamps against the upper triple clamp so if you need to unbolt the clip-on clamps, for instance if you are removing the forks, you don’t need to restart the alignment process from scratch.
Once you’ve got the bars adjusted just the way you like them, you can measure the exposed length and cut spares from aluminum stock. We get our stock from McMaster-Carr (www.mcmaster.com, 6061 aluminum tubing, 7/8-inch diameter, 0.065-inch wall thickness, in 3-foot or 6-foot lengths: part #89965K661).
Installing Rearsets and Footpegs
If you bought rearsets, odds are they came with some installation instructions, and maybe even came assembled, but if they didn’t, here are some general guidelines. If you bought footpegs, you’ll still need to remove the footpeg plates to install them so most of these instructions will apply. You will need blue Loctite.
Remember, blue loctite is your friend. Be sure to clean both threaded surfaces (bolt and hole) thoroughly with contact cleaner and allow them to dry before applying loctite to the bolt, and torque the bolt before the loctite dries.
First, unbolt the rear brake master cylinder and disconnect it from the brake pedal. If the brake light switch is still connected, unplug it from the wiring harness and unbolt and remove the right footpeg plate. On the left side, remove the shift rod. One of the locknuts on the shift rod is left-hand thread, so look at the threads to figure out which way to turn the nuts before trying to break them loose. Then unscrew the rod. Unbolt and remove the left footpeg plate.
Next, clamp the right footpeg in a vice. If you are using the stock footpeg plates on your racebike, you can remove the brake light switch. Remove the footpeg bolt and lift the footpeg plate off the footpeg. Then remove the brake pedal along with any associated washers, making a note of how the washers were installed.
Unclamp the stock footpeg and replace it in the vice with a solid footpeg. Smear some grease onto the footpeg shaft where the brake pedal rotates. Then slide the brake pedal, along with any washers, onto the footpeg, and place the footpeg plate or rearset onto the footpeg, lining up the slots in the plate with the tabs on the footpeg. Squeeze some blue Loctite onto the footpeg bolt threads and install and tighten the footpeg bolt. Repeat these steps with the left side footpeg, shift pedal, and footpeg plate or rearset.
Now is the ideal time to drill and safety-wire the footpeg bolt. Even with blue Loctite and plenty of torque we’ve seen footpeg bolts loosen and it’s easier to just drill and wire the bolt now than deal with a loose footpeg during a race. Safety wiring is covered in detail later in this article.
After you’ve finished putting together the footpeg assemblies (if assembly was necessary), bolt them onto the bike using blue Loctite. Bolt the rear brake master cylinder onto the right side using blue Loctite, and reconnect the master cylinder to the brake pedal. If you’re reversing the shift pattern, remove the shifter from the shift shaft and flip and reinstall it. When you tighten the bolt, wiggle the shifter around on the shaft to see if there’s any movement between it and the splines on the shift shaft. If there is, tighten it a little more until no play is noticed. It’s a good idea to drill and safety wire the shifter bolt at this point to ensure the shifter will not come off. Remember, when putting together a racebike, paranoia is your friend.
Next, install the shift rod. If you’re using rearsets that came with a shift rod, use the shift rod provided. Then, while sitting on the bike, check the brake and shift pedal height. If you’re using rearsets, you may need to adjust the pedals. Use the adjuster on the rear brake master cylinder to set the brake pedal height. Screw or unscrew the shift rod to set the shift pedal height, but make sure that at least 1/3 of the threads on either side of the shift rod are engaged. If you can’t get the desired shift pedal height using at least 1/3 of the threads, remove the shifter from the shift shaft and rotate it on the splines and try again. Once you’ve set the shift pedal height, tighten the locknuts on the shift rod.
Some rearsets, like the Graves rearsets, offer additional adjustability such as footpeg orientation—you can change the vertical and horizontal alignment of the footpegs by moving an intermediate plate. We usually end up doing this kind of fine-tuning at the track.
Here's one example of a rearset kit with adjustable footpeg plates, which comes in AOD/NOTB team colors, brought to you by Graves Motorsports.
Installing Frame Savers
Frame savers should come with directions, but basically you replace an engine mounting bolt on each side of the head with the frame savers and bolts provided. If one frame saver is longer than the other one or has a shoulder that should fit into a countersunk bolt hole in the frame, make sure you bolt each frame saver to the correct side— they should stick out about the same amount. Use the factory torque specification if a torque spec is not provided with the frame savers. You will most likely need to cut at least one hole in the bodywork for the bodywork to fit over the frame sliders, but it’s worth the trouble.
Safety Wire Drilling And Wiring
After loctiting the footpeg bolt, we then drill and safety wire it. Sometimes extra preparation is just the right amount.
For safety wire drilling you’ll need 1/16-inch drill bits, and lots of them. Novices will average three holes for every drill bit, but after lots and lots of tedious practice Experts can increase it to 6-10 holes per bit, depending upon what material is being drilled and how impatient the driller is with the process. We get our drill bits in bulk from McMaster-Carr (www.mcmaster.com), part #29115A711.
Safety wire comes in different gauges or thicknesses. The most popular are 0.025-inch and 0.032-inch. The 0.025-inch wire is a smaller gauge and is very easy to work with as it is very pliable, but it also is more fragile and breaks too easily. Which is why we use 0.032-inch—it is still small enough to manipulate easily but is much more resilient. It is available from racing supply companies like Street & Competition.
Refer to your racing organization’s rulebook for a list of what needs to be wired. If you race with more than one organization, use the most stringent rulebook. If not required in your rulebook, it’s a good idea to also wire your axles, brake caliper bolts, shifter bolt, footpeg bolts, and particularly the steering damper bolts.
We've found these axle clips usually need to be tightened up a little so they pinch onto the axle, but once you bend them closed with some vice grips they won't back out on their own. A little bit of duct tape over the safety wire on the clip keeps the safety wire loop from coming off the clip.
Drilling: Whenever possible, clamp the bolt in a vice to drill it rather than drill it on the bike. If you drill the bolt in the vice, make sure you drill the hole in a spot that is accessible once the bolt is installed. Pick your spot and use a punch to mark it.
Install a drill bit into the drill so that the fingers on the drill chuck almost touch the grooves on the bit. That way the bit won’t flex too much while you’re drilling. Pour a little bit of light oil (like motor oil) into a small container (something handy, like the lid from a contact cleaner can) for dipping the drill bit in periodically to keep it cool. Dip the drill bit into the oil, place it against the bolt in the punched spot, and pin the throttle on the drill while exerting mild pressure against the bolt. Note: The drill must be set on forward for the bit to cut into the bolt. No amount of cursing at the bit will change this rule, and you will feel really stupid when Tim comes over to investigate all the fuss and looks at you dubiously as he flips the direction switch from Reverse to Forward.
If you are drilling a particularly deep hole, pull the bit out as it’s spinning a few times while you’re drilling to remove the metal shavings, and dip the bit in oil again to cool it.
We’ve found that a deep vibration in the bit is indicative of imminent bit breakage so if a vibration develops it is usually a good idea to change bits before the bit breaks off in the hole being drilled, as we’ve also found that it is impossible to install safety wire into a hole that is occupied by a busted drill bit.
Wiring: Once you’ve drilled and reinstalled your bolts, pick the spots on the bike that you will wire the bolts to. Plan it so that the wire will pull the bolt clockwise, exerting a tightening force if the bolt tries to loosen. Cut a piece of safety wire that, when doubled over, is about 1/3 longer than the distance between the bolt you are wiring and what you are wiring it to. If you’re not sure if the piece you’re about to cut is the right length, err on the longer side.
Take your cut piece of wire and feed one end through the bolthole until it is even with the other end. Pull both ends of the wire tightly in the direction of the object you are wiring to, bring the two wires together and clamp safety-wire pliers on them, next to what you are wiring to. Pull the twist knob on the pliers to twist the strands together, and release the knob and pull again until you have a nice, consistent, tight twist down the length of the wire.
Next, take one of the loose ends of the wire and feed it through the hole in or wrap it around the object you are wiring to. Then bring the two wire ends back together, clamp them in the safety wire pliers, and twist again. Unclamp the pliers and trim off the excess wire. Leave about 1/4-inch of wire sticking out so you can loop the end back on itself to prevent it from impaling anyone working on the bike.
For bolts that are always being removed or loosened, such as brake caliper bolts or axle pinch bolts, we use cowling safety pins available from Aircraft Spruce (www.aircraftspruce.com, part #AN416-1). For axles we use hairpin hitch pin clips, also available from McMaster-Carr. You can clip the pin onto a bolt and safety wire the pin so you can reuse it.
An often overlooked and undertightened safety wire candidate. It only takes a couple of minutes now to make sure your shift shaft linkage bolt won't cost you precious minutes on the track.