As long as there have been motorcycles, people have been customizing them. Sometimes the modifications are designed to enhance performance, while some are just to imbue a motorbike with your own personality.
All too often though, these customizations make a dog’s breakfast of a perfectly good motorbike turning it from a precision instrument to an eyesore, a slug or, worse, a deathtrap.
These then, are some of the most common crimes against motorcycles.
A favourite of dragsters from way back in the day, extended swingarms actually have a very important performance role. In drag racing, they stop your front wheel launching skyward so you can accelerate harder and faster.
Many in the custom scene embraced this tech as a way to signify the immense power of their chosen ride, and many went out to throw the back wheel as far backward as they possibly could.
This is all well and good but extended swingarms are not without side effects.
They make cornering difficult, which is bad when you ride on the street. They also look really, really stupid.
Oversize Rear Tires
Hey! Some bikes have huge big rear tires! I like how they look, I should put a huge big tire on my bike! Here’s the problem: wide tires affect handling, making it harder to tip in and therefore change direction.
Narrower tires actually make your bike turn and handle better! Going from a 160 to a 190 might look cool, but it makes your bike handle like crap.
Big tires offer more side grip, sure, but only if they’re matched to the rest of the chassis.
On the subject of edge grip… see those big chicken strips? The un-worn section of your tire at the edges? They’re how you know your wide tire is pointless.
Underglow Lights/Anodise All the Things
Long after this trend died a natural death in the car scene it continues in the motorcycling community.
Ghost lights, UV lights, under-carriage lights, underglow lights – whatever you call them they look like you want to turn your motorcycle into a blue-light disco. They’re also cop-bait.
Don’t do it.
In fairness, these mods have no real impact on the performance on your bike and my bugbear is a pure taste-driven one. Your opinion may differ.
Top Box on a Sport Bike – Especially a Little One
This one I can almost understand. You buy your first sport bike, you like the sport bike position and handling dynamics as well as the style, but you need to carry stuff. A backpack doesn’t work for you, so you get a top box. Problem is, you’re putting a whole lot of weight up really high, and hanging it way out the back of your bike – ruining the looks you adore and the handling that makes your soul soar.
There are other options. A tank bag is a temporary attachment that you can easily take with you when you leave your bike, and it puts the weight more or less central on the bike. It’s better for handling and aesthetics.
Pointy Bar Ends, Pointy Anything Really
Some people enjoy festooning their motorcycle with things that make it look tougher. Just like a dog with a spikey collar, they figure that something which looks like a weapon implies toughness.
Only problem is, on a motorbike, a spike doesn’t look like a weapon – it is a weapon. Body parts have a knack of getting caught between bar ends and the ground in a crash, just ask any one of the dozens of MotoGP riders whose finger tips have been ground away under one. A nice, blunt bar end might leave some extra bruises, a spike might leave you - or worse still - a bystander with a vicious laceration.
Also, they look as stupid as fauxhawks on your helmet.
No. Just no. Not tough, lame. Not ironic. Lame. Lame lame lame. Lame.
Air Pods on a Carbureted Bike, Wired-up Exup Valves
By the time any given motorcycle is released to the general public it has undergone hundreds of thousands of dollars and millions of man-hours worth of testing and designing by extremely clever people with multiple degrees and many years of experience.
They figure out things like the air-pressure needed to make a slide-valve carburetor work, or how to get a street legal exhaust to open up when you really want to pile on the power.
Of course, some people think they know better. Exup valves on Yamahas were a prime example, early-mid 2000 model bikes frequently had a well-meaning backyard mechanic wire up the exhaust valve, leaving it permanently open. More flow = more speed, right? No. Not when the engine has been tuned to operate with it closed under some conditions.
Another example? K&N style airpods replacing airboxes on bikes. Many motorcycles with carbs require a certain amount of pressure to operate correctly, the airbox gives that pressure. It’s been shaped and tuned for that reason. Rip it off and put a set of pod filters on and your bike looks cool, but will now no longer rev past 6,500 rpm….
A better solution for quicker low-end acceleration? Go up a tooth or two on your rear sprocket.
If you buy your parts from an online site for $5 with free shipping, they are not things you should put on your motorbike. LED indicators are among the worst. The appeal is simple: Smaller or even flush-mounted indicators can clean up the lines of your bike enhancing its overall appearance.
Indicators though, play an important role. One they can’t fulfil when they can’t be seen. Smaller, dimmer and less reliable than factory units, aftermarket indicators are often illegal, and almost always more dangerous. Stick with the originals – or make sure you get high-quality, multi-LED units that you can rely on.
Putting a sidecar on a motorcycle seems to make no sense. It’s costly, makes the motorbike not turn anymore and looks a little goofy.
We’re still not sure if these examples of sidecars are fails or wins.