Home > 1990 Yamaha FJ 1200 > Respect For the Big Bike

Respect For the Big Bike

It all comes down to respect for the bike. I am realizing that the wonders of the big-bike are only now beginning to unfold to me. Although I am an experienced rider, I have not yet fully understood how different this bike is from any other that I have owned. Riding a large street-bike is an inspirational experience, but I realize that I have not been recognizing the extent of the difference in riding style and the maintenance required to minimize danger to the rider. I have been riding it like an overweight dirt bike; bouncing over the bumps and flying with very little patches of tire on the road.

FJ with video mount

After falling down, I took the FJ 1200 to Simon to check the brakes and to try to help me understand what happened. We returned to the scene of the first left-hand slider on the third day after the accident. The pavement at 16th and Cambie is very uneven due to Skytrain construction. The place I fell has a split pavement with each side of the lane a different height. The scraped ridge followed a manhole cover pavement mound, bulging from the road right after the bumpy intersection. The deep scratch, where I bent the foot of my centre stand on the pavement and the patch of gas where I had landed, were mute evidence to how much ground I covered on my side while I fell. I was going slowly and braking lightly, not stressed and hauling in the brake.

It felt like the bike had bounced up in the air, then lay down, and originally, I had thought that the bike had rebounded off of a neglected side-stand. Simon and I agreed that I had come too far from where I last parked to have left the side-stand down unscraped. So what could cause this effect? It was succinctly explained to me that if the front wheel locks up the rider can no longer steer the bike as the front wheel is not turning. The bike will slide in the direction it chooses based on tilt of pavement, direction of travel and other factors. Suddenly, I was really scared.

For some reason, I had never really pictured sliding on my FJ with the front wheel locked and not being able to steer.

Why did my wheel lock up? If I couldn’t figure this out I could never be sure that this wouldn’t happen again with much worse outcome.

Yamaha FJ 1200 dual front disks

I got back on the red and white FJ and drove back to Simon’s. It has a completely different front brake profile than mine as it has an anti-dive mechanism. I have to use all my strength to stop the bike as there is more fluid in the system and the brake does not immediately engage. I took that newly-rebuilt FJ1100 with 1200 top end, through the Night of Broken Bikes and I was more than a little nervous riding that bike around the traffic near the Art Gallery with the clutch disappearing. Then, I got on my FJ1200 after my volunteer shift, drove one block of rough pavement and fell, on the right side this time.

Same symptoms, the brake seemed very soft and as I pumped it, no slowing seemed to occur, then I fell. What am I doing to cause this behavior? I didn’t have a theory at the time, but this week I carried some passengers. The bike sat down on the suspension and hugged the road like a long lost child. When the passenger got off, that bike suspension did not have to work at all to carry me, it remained rigid and the bike bounced a lot more.

My mind goes back to a long ago summer when I tried my first big jump on a Yamaha 250 DT street-legal enduro. I panicked in the air and put on the brakes — without thinking that air produces very little friction — so the bike did not stop until my wheels touched the ground in full lock. Then they stopped immediately. It was an instant, memorable crash.

The uneven nature of the pavement and the inflexibility of the suspension without the designed weight load had bounced the front wheel off the ground. I had not noticed my front wheel was in the air. I was applying the brakes to a wheel that was not touching the ground so it did not slow the bike and offered little resistance. When the front wheel touched down the front break was on enough to lock up the front wheel and the momentum of the rest of the bike caused the crash. This is my current theory anyway.

The pick-up truck in front of me did not notice my fall, but two strong, young men rushed out to help me get the bike up and to the side of the road. I am forever grateful to these strangers who have stepped in to help me when I am in need. Not just this once, but each time I have dropped the bike, at least one person and usually two, have come to my assistance. I have promised myself that if there was ever anything I could do to help another motorcyclist in distress I would make the effort. So far, on the Night of Broken Bikes, I was able to co-ordinate something, but I’ve still dropped my bike way more then I’ve had an opportunity to help others.

After a professional inspection, I found that my brakes are in excellent condition. Then Simon showed me demonstrations of locking up the front wheel. The thought of locking up the front wheel and sliding on that huge piece of metal caused me some mental stress. However, I felt a lot safer trying it out in Simon’s back alley where he could keep an eye on me, than when I am riding on the street alone. It seemed easy and repeatable when I saw it demonstrated — I prepared to stay calm and concentrate on learning something, not on the fear. I started down the alley and tried to lock up the front brake and I was almost relieved when I could not do it. More practice is needed before I can overcome the fear and actually be going fast enough to succeed. I think the lack of weight might also be a factor too.

Simon pointed out to me that the brake was squeaking, as I had tried to apply it to lock status. I had heard it often, but had never realized the significance. He told me to make it stop the noise by braking harder, on or off. IF I lock the front brake, it should stop sliding when I release the brake. After this reassurance, I took the bike and have been riding daily, remembering to squeeze harder when I hear a squeak. I feel my right hand becoming re-trained.

I was terrified the first time it rained, but I rode very slowly. This is very bad in Vancouver because it will start to rain and I must be able to handle it.

I have been paying more attention to when I am in the air and I try to ride slower on rough pavement and stand on the pegs more to force the weight down. I plan to buy some panniers that will add weight and keep the bike higher off the ground when it falls. This should minimize the gas leakage and allow me to get some leverage to use the technique Skert showed me on the video.

I have also received a very earnest lecture from an experienced road rider on the importance of keeping the correct tire pressure maintained. Simon has told me about this before but not in such graphic life and death terms. He tries, but there is so much information for me and I think he doesn’t want me to be too scared to ride. I need to buy a low pressure gauge that reads my tires more accurately as Simon told me the automotive one I bought, after his instruction last year, is not accurate enough. He keeps helping me though, putting air in my tires and checking over my bike.

That’s probably how I have managed to survive this far …

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Categories: 1990 Yamaha FJ 1200
  1. July 17th, 2008 at 03:31 | #1

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  1. August 24th, 2008 at 01:15 | #1