Now that you’ve decided you want to ride a motorcycle, passed that really difficult Traffic Police riding practical test and have purchased your dream machine, here are some ownership tips that I’ve learned from others, or from trial and error over time.
Many people think that owning a motorcycle is easy and low-maintenance, but to be honest, it’s not.
A motorcycle requires a minimum amount of TLC and your personal time because it needs to be road-worthy and safe to ride. It is also easily stolen or vandalized. Many great motorbikes are works of art and deserve to be properly cared for. Some of the tips here may sound shallow but they’ll resonate with more experienced bikers who will get it.
Updated 28 July: Added “Lane-Splitting”, “Modding” and “Upgrading”
Cover your bike all the time
The weather in Singapore is unforgiving. Hot sun, high humidity, torrential rain, the occasional haze… they all work to damage the paintwork and corrode the parts on our motorbikes, especially if you park outdoors.
You should cover your bike even when it is parked in a multistorey carpark, because it will help reduce the chance of theft or vandalism. Unlike cars which are difficult to cover daily, bikes are easy to cover and all it takes is a little discipline to let your bike cool off after a ride, then put the cover on it.
Try to get a cover that has buckles or some sort of attachment that ensure it doesn’t get blown away. A good cover is $20-$50 and is often good for one year’s use before it starts to flake or tear. In my Bishan estate, most of the bikes are covered and that makes my heart swell with pride at the quality of neighbours that I have 🙂
Don’t tie the cover too tightly around your bike though (like an Egyptian mummy). I’ve seen some instances when a neighbour did so – a strong wind came and blew the entire covered bike down as the cover acted like a wind sail. Give the cover some slack so the wind can pass under and around during gusty thunderstorms.
But once you use a bike cover, you will often encounter a new problem…cats.
Train cats to stop pissing on your bike
I like cats, but I hate those who piss and defecate on my bike or bike cover. Now it often starts with one stray cat who decides to mark its territory by pissing on your bike cover.
The next thing you know, all the other strays (both cats and dogs) in the neighbourhood want to own your bike too by pissing on it, and you have a smelly mess to deal with.
Washing the bike cover is of no use, because the smell is permanent. There are other recommended methods – using vinegar, anti-cat sprays, putting orange peels or pepper, ultrasonic sound emitters…. I’ve tried every one and they don’t work as well as getting cheap anti-cat plastic spikes sold at Daiso for $2 for a pair.
Lay the spikes around the base of your bike when it’s parked and ensure there are no exposed gaps. Remove before you ride (obviously) and keep them in a place where they won’t get stepped on by unsuspecting passersby.
Do this daily for at least two months (the stubborn cats take a long time to get convinced they are not the actual bike owner) and after that, they will avoid your bike. No cat likes to get its ass poked by plastic spikes when it hunches and takes a leak or shit.
This is 100% foolproof. Take it from me.
Lane Splitting – Right or wrong?
Lane-splitting is the official term for riding your motorcycle between vehicles. It’s a sticky issue because most drivers hate it but all bikers do it because it’s the key benefit of being able to get out of traffic jams quickly as a biker.
Lane-splitting is never officially taught in Singapore riding schools but it’s not illegal either. It’s legal everywhere else in the world but 49 states in the USA – only California allows it and yet, there’s controversy too.
Some thoughts about it:
It’s always risky because a car can always swerve into your path suddenly to change lanes, and you will crash and/or go flying.
It’s necessary in slow traffic jams because if the cars are not moving or moving extremely slowly, there’s no reason for motorcycles to add to the jam by waiting behind cars. Just weave around the stuck 4-wheelers and get to the front. This way, motorcycles do not contribute to vehicular congestion or air pollution.
It’s often abused by bikers who lane-split at high speeds (which is dangerous whether the cars are moving slowly or quickly). The biggest culprits are riders on small-capacity bikes (Class 2B bikers, especially kup chais) who don’t realize that their bikes are the most vulnerable on the roads due to their small mass. They cannot stop in time if a car swerves abruptly. Please don’t learn from these jerks.
It requires a lot of care and sensory perception – always go slow and get ready to pull the brakes. The whole idea is to keep scanning the roads for unusual driver behavior, and have a telepathic sense of when some driver is going do change lanes even though he doesn’t use his signal light. You can tell by the way the car starts to change course or the movement of the wheels.
It should be avoided on tight roads – eg. Lornie Road, which has very narrow lanes, is where cars often go too near each other. All you need is some blur driver to start straddling lanes and not realize you’re next to him.
Never do it between two moving large vehicles unless you like becoming a meat sandwich.
This article on RideApart is pretty comprehensive on this topic too.
So the bottomline for lane-splitting is – do it at your own risk.
Wear more body protection
I say this ad nauseam in all my motorcycle posts: The truth is that when we are riding, we can never wear enough protection. The assumption that nothing will happen to us, is just an assumption that I hope will not be proven wrong in your lifetime.
Now the good news is that once you decide to start gearing up in small ways, you will also think about adding other bits of protection. For example, if you bother to invest in good gloves, you will start considering if you should wear an armored jacket.
The excuse many people give is that Singapore is too hot and humid. Well, would you rather sweat a little every day or be horribly scarred or suffer crippling injuries?
I always try to ride with at least the following on me – armored mesh jacket, full-face helmet, gloves, dedicated riding boots. Yes, it takes me a few minutes to put everything on, but I use that time to warm up my bike too.
To mod or not to mod
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) folks are very strict about modding cars and motorcycles in Singapore.
Generally, most of the coolest bike mods you can do are either banned or highly restricted. LTA has a page on vehicle modification here but it does not contain much information for motorcycles.
One of the local biker FB groups (Spankers) has a much clearer overview from LTA that you can read here
The fines are heavy if you get caught by LTA or the Traffic Police (eg. it’s $600 or $700 for non-approved exhausts, if I remember my fine correctly).
When purchasing mods, most of the time the local dealer or workshop will be very explicit with you on whether it’s road-legal or not.
So you take the risk if it’s not approved, and it’s just a matter of time whether you get caught or have to uninstall it during a vehicle inspection call-up.
Personally, I think that LTA needs to demonstrate clearly why most mods, especially the cosmetic ones, are a danger to the public with actual data. Motorcyclists are getting killed on the roads because they ride recklessly, or other drivers behave like maniacs, and all in stock vehicles no less.
Why would changing a rear-set endanger the motorcyclist if it is made to high standards? What is wrong with installing efficient and sufficiently bright LED signal lights? If you remove an ugly mud-guard, the rain water spun up by the rear wheel will splash on the biker more than it does on the car behind.
But until the LTA decides to change its stance, we all just have to toe the line for cosmetic mods.
For performance mods… like my old friend once said: “Why do performance mods? If you want a better vehicle, just save up more to get a better one that does what you want in stock condition.”
Please don’t make your motorcycle ugly
The biggest sin that one can do to a beautiful bike (eg. a Italian naked bike or Japanese sports bike) is to put an ugly and permanent rear box on it. The owner will say he needs storage space and he can do what he likes with the bike. If so, you shouldn’t buy such a good-looking bike to begin with. It’s like buying a pedigree dog and asking it to wear a clown suit.
There are many bikes designed with panniers and nice storage boxes in mind (eg. Honda NC700X, BMW GS series, Ninja 1000) for touring or commuting, and scooters are designed to have plenty of storage options. To earn a Class 2 licence, buy a beautiful bike and then maul its looks… that’s really terrible in my opinion. I make do with a backpack, and some riders put temporary panniers which are easily removable and packed away.
Another way of making your bike look ugly, is to dress terribly when riding. You may not be as beautiful or as brutal-looking as your bike, but you should at least look respectable and not wear flip-flops and bare your hairy thighs. (It’s also about the body protection thing you know.)
Decal your bike all you want, but know when to stop before it looks like a chaotic mess of brands or Marvel superhero images.
You will drop a bike sooner or later. Accept it.
It can happen for all sorts of reasons (my drops have always happened in a carpark!), but just expect that you will drop the bike and it will suffer some cosmetic damage.
The most important thing here is to get your leg out of the way to avoid getting pinned down. If the engine is hot, you not only risk breaking your bones, but also getting scalded badly by the hot metal parts.
Your body comes first. Bike parts are easy to replace, but not your leg or hip.
Some people install frame sliders to reduce the impact of drops, but in some bad accidents, the sliders actually cause more damage to the bike if it gets caught in something else and rip its attached bike components out. So there’s a risk in using sliders too.
Don’t be a parking idiot
All bikers in SG will end up parking illegally sooner or later when the need arises. Just pray you don’t get caught by the Summon Aunty.
But whether you are parking legally or not, it’s important to park properly so you don’t obstruct other vehicles or people’s passage.
We need people to respect bikers, not hate us.
Poor parking just gives people a perception that we are uncouth and without class, or that we think the world of ourselves.
Challenging big vehicles often leads to death
Just don’t do it ok?
No matter how fast you think you can go and squeeze past a narrow gap with a big vehicle in the scene, the truck driver often cannot see you and you will be crushed faster than you can blink.
Most fatal bike accidents you see in the news often involve a big vehicle. Go figure.
Wear a really good (and pretty) helmet
Ask yourself one simple question : How much do you think your brain is worth?
$500K? $1m? $1 billion?
No matter what price tag you place on it, it’s probably going to be pretty high. Now think about what a $500 helmet means in comparison to the price of your head. It’s always a small fraction and you should cut down on expensive meals to fund the best and prettiest helmet you can buy.
Why “prettiest”? Well, why stick with a plain black helmet that half the biker population tends to wear? The more colorful the helmet, the more visible you are to other drivers, especially in crowded road situations or poorly-lit conditions. Many bikers think that everyone can see them on the roads when they’re all decked up in hipster black- that’s so far from the truth. A brightly-colored helmet and strong headlight/brake light help greatly to improve your road presence.
I only wear full-face helmets, because I’ve heard too many stories of people having their face smashed in when they crash wearing conventional half-face helmets.
The range and beauty of full-face helmets today is staggering, and you can get a decent one for about $200. It’s not as hot as you think it is, and some like Shoei are truly comfortable to wear for long hours.
Wash and lube your bike regularly
Some bikers spend an incredible amount of time washing and waxing their bikes. For me, I’m more lazy and I wash my bike only when they’re terribly dirty after a ride in the rain, or every fortnight if the bike is relatively clean (since it’s always covered).
Cleaning and lubing the bike chain is especially important, because rain can cause the chain to rust quickly, in turn impacting the sprockets. You can ride with a rusty chain, but I personally hate to do so. I always check the chain to see if it’s properly lubed to protect against moisture.
A clean, well-maintained bike is not just pleasing to the eye, but also easier to sell for a good price when you decide to upgrade to another motorcycle. I don’t wash my car often but I make sure I keep my bike spick and span because it’s just easier and more satisfying to do so.
If you’ve never owned a vehicle before, know that bird shit is highly corrosive (depends on what the birds have been eating too) and you need to wipe it off immediately or it will eat into your paintwork. The same goes for tree sap or other types of bug goop.
Finally I prefer to wash my vehicles by my own hand and not get someone else to do it. Who knows what type of dirty cloth they use that will scratch your tank’s paintwork to death with all the embedded gravel?
Thinking of upgrading already?
There’s a well-known formula for the number of motorcycles one desires to own :
N+1 (where N is the number of bikes you already own)
Compared to cars, motorcycles are relatively affordable to purchase, park and maintain and there is such a huge range of them, you will often feel itchy for a different type of bike compared to your current one(s).
Own a standard motorcycle? Then maybe you’ll desire a sportsbike.
Own a sportsbike? Then how about a scrambler?
Own all of the above? How about a cruiser, motard, scooter, muscle naked bike, sports-tourer, cafe racer…. the list goes on and on.
Some tips when you start to feel the itch
Motorcycle dealers will always give you a less attractive price, whether you are buying from, or selling to them. It’s just business, as they need to make margins to pay their workers, and it does cost money to keep any used bike on their premises. That’s why the online marketplace is great, as it provides an alternative channel to dealers. On the other hand, dealers can provide limited warranty, help with vehicle registration, and onsite servicing to spruce up a used bike.
Take your time to do research. Unless it’s an extremely rare bike, there’s always another new bike or used bike available on the market. Talk to owners of the bike that you desire, read online reviews or bike magazines (they’re all biased due to advertising needs, so read more to get an overall feel), and get to know more experienced bikers who can share their thoughts on what bike to get. Ultimately, only you know what you like, but having a broader perspective on the bike landscape helps you to make a better purchase decision.
Seat height is more important than you think. I see some short Asian bikers today riding over-sized bikes that are designed more for tall chaps. They end up tip-toeing gingerly and that’s not good. Having a sure-footed control of a bike is important, and you’ll understand better when you have to foot-paddle around the Singapore Customs or get stuck in a traffic jam.
Buy and sell at reasonable prices. Nobody likes to deal with a lowballer who wants to buy a used bike at extremely low prices. It shows that the buyer does not appreciate the market value of what he is buying, and is just out to get the best deal possible.
Now if you’re buying a crappy, poorly maintained motorcycle, go ahead. But you paint yourself in a bad light to sellers when you want to pay very little for a well-maintained and high-performing machine. The same goes for sellers who over-price their machines and then wonder why nobody wants to close the deal with them.
If you have any other good tips for bikers, please write them in the comments below. Thanks!