PROTECTION FOR YOUR PRIDE AND JOY
There was a large gathering of riders standing in the forecourt of a local bike shop, awaiting the start of a group-ride. A guy on a Suzuki GSX750, not one of our group, had just had new tyres fitted. As he rode out of the driveway he probably thought he’d make a good impression on the assembled audience, so – despite having just been warned to take it easy on the new tyres – he gassed it up as he swung out onto the road. I heard the sudden rev of the engine and looked around just in time to see the bike go sideways then high-side and fling the rider to the ground. The bike went down, smashed the crankcase side-cover and emptied its oil onto the road. Both the rider and his bike looked pretty sad as the mechanic wheeled it back into the workshop. Those new tyres had suddenly got a whole lot more expensive! Now, you can blame that little episode on ego, showing-off, or just plain stupidity, but dropping your pride-and-joy can happen no matter how careful you are. Two-wheeled conveyances are inherently unstable. If one of the wheels loses traction they tend to fall over. And they can lose traction pretty easily; not just on new tyres, but if you push a bit too hard in a corner, or hit some slippery road-surface, lock a wheel under brakes, and so on. Even when stationary, especially if it’s a big bike, it’s easy to over-balance, or lose your footing, and drop it. One mistake, or one situation that catches you out, and you’ll realise just how easily it happens! I’ve had it happen once in recent years. In my earlier years of riding I was into trail-riding, and of course you inevitably end up dropping the bike from time to time on muddy fire-trails and rocky climbs etc. But the bikes are built to take that. Road bikes, however, are intended to remain up-right. They tend to get damaged when they fall over. And pretty much anything you damage is going to be expensive! Consider the Suzuki I mentioned above; the engine-damage was going to cost – big time! Then there was other peripheral damage, like a broken blinker etc. as well. All expensive things to fix. And that was at slow speed; imagine the damage that happens when you put it down at high speed! As I mentioned, I’ve had it happen to me; although it was a very minor stationary fall. You can read the story here, but basically what happened was that I came to a stop at an intersection, put my foot down, and found the road was further away than I thought. (I was on the end of a speed-hump). My foot hit the gutter trying to save it and the whole show – me included – ended up on the ground. I was unhurt (I had all the good gear on), but the bike sustained a few injuries. As you’ll read in the story, I was lucky in that the damage sustained to the lever, handlebar and mirror was very minimal; and I was mostly able to fix it myself. An engine side-cover was more seriously scratched; (although still very minimal damage) and had to be replaced. That cost $86; expensive for what it was – just a fancy bit of shiny plastic – but it could’ve been much worse. Anything that had oil behind it (as with the Suzuki) would be way more expensive! So I reckon I got off lightly. When I put the story on the web-site I had a lot of readers writing in to say that they had experienced similar momentary lapses of stability, mostly at low speed or while stationary. Sadly, it seems that it’s a fairly common problem! Low speed topples like this can still cause expensive damage, but it's when the bike goes down at speed that the big-cost damage happens. And if you damage any of the major components, like the frame or engine, you're often looking at a total write-off. So, it’s good to have some protection. Anything you can do to stop the expensive bits hitting the ground has got to be a good thing! There are several things you can fit to your bike to protect it in the event of a fall. Engine-protection bars are one thing; although they tend to be very expensive, and also have an impact on the appearance of the bike. A popular alternative is what are known as frame sliders. There are a few different brands of these around, but the best known and most reputable are Oggy Knobbs. I considered fitting Oggy Knobbs after my little “Oops”, (isn’t it funny how you fit these things after the event!), but didn't get around to it. Then the subject came up again in discussions with a couple of readers, so I thought it was something I should look at; not just for myself, but for the benefit of readers as well. I contacted Kenma Australia, the national distributors of Oggy Knobbs, and they were happy to arrange a set to evaluate for my bike.
WHO AND WHAT ARE OGGY KNOBBS?
Oggy Knobbs are manufactured in Australia by Promoto Melbourne Pty. Ltd. Promoto Melbourne is a privately-owned company that was founded in 1998 and has specialised in the manufacturing of crash protection for motorcycles since that time. I spoke to Frank Hajdu, from Promoto, and he told me that they were the first in Australia to manufacture and market this type of product commercially; which made them one of the oldest crash-protection brands in the world. There are other brands of this type of product around, but Frank said that most of the brands you see now are less than 10 years old. Promoto pride themselves on the high quality of the product. They use state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques, like CNC machining, laser cutting and robotic MIG welding in the production process for accuracy and perfect fit. I'll go into more detail of the quality in the "Why Oggy Knobbs...?" section below. If you’re wondering about the name (I was!), Frank explained that it was suggested by their first distributor, in the UK. Promoto didn’t have a name for them at the time, and the distributor suggested they call them “Oggy Knobbs.” Why? Well, “oggy” is a well-known slang term for a Cornish pasty (which has nothing to do with motorbikes!), but apparently it is also a British slang term for someone who is a bit silly – so, someone who might be more likely to drop their bike! Oggy Knobbs aren’t cheap, but then you wouldn’t want them to be if it meant inferior quality and inferior protection. Frank explains: “We use high quality, and hence expensive, materials in the kits. This partly explains the higher price of our product. The other part of the price equation is the labour involved.” The design and manufacture of the kits is very labour-intensive. Prices vary, depending on model, from about $150 to almost $400. (One I saw is actually over $400). The kit for my bike – a Yamaha XJR1300 – retails at $240. It’s worth mentioning here that Promoto also make Axle Oggys, which are knobs that fit to the ends of the axles to keep suspension and brakes from hitting the ground.
HOW MUCH DAMAGE WILL THEY PREVENT?
The answer to this depends on several factors, including the model of bike and the position of the knobs. Promoto design the installation of the knobs to protect major components, such as frame, radiator, fuel tank, engine etc. They are the really expensive bits to fix; so they are the things that you want protected. Additional protection to bodywork and other components is looked at as a bonus. If you look at the photos of my bike below, you’ll see that the one thing I had to replace after my little “off”, although only a relatively minor part, would’ve been totally protected if I’d had them fitted. The bottom line is that any damage that is prevented is a good thing (as it would’ve been in my case), but if it prevents the major bits being damaged – which, as I've mentioned, often results in the bike being written off – then you’ll be very thankful indeed that you had them!
ARE THEY AVAILABLE FOR ALL BIKES?
Unfortunately, no. At present, some popular bikes that don’t have kits available include any fully-faired BMW, Ducati 1098, Kawasaki 1400GTR, Triumph Sprint and Rocket, and Harleys. But there are many bikes that do have kits available. At the time of writing (late 2010) there are kits available for over 200 models, with new kits constantly being added to the range. So if you’re looking for one for your bike, check their on-line catalogue.They are constantly developing kits for new models as they come on to the market and are always trying to have kits available for new models as soon as possible. They are available through most accessory outlets. A good place to start is Kenma Australia’s web-site (click here to go to their Oggy Knobb page). Here you can read a bit more about the product, then on the top / left section of the page you’ll find a “Dealer Search” box, which is a quick and easy way of finding dealers in your area.
WHY OGGY KNOBBS RATHER THAN OTHER BRANDS?
Oggy Knobbs really are the brand in this type of product. As mentioned above, they weren’t the first to produce frame-sliders, but they were one of the early pioneers and the brand has become synonymous with the product. There are several other brands around, but for me, I like to stick with proven products that have a good name in the market-place. And being an Aussie company, you’re supporting a local manufacturer when you buy from them. But there are other good reasons to choose Oggy Knobbs. An important consideration is ease of fitting. Promoto claim that many of their kits are designed to fit without any modification, whereas other brands require holes to be cut in the fairing. The most important thing though, is quality. Frank said, “The vast majority of our products is directly manufactured by us, not assembled from cheap, poor quality imported product.” He gave me a very detailed description of the quality that goes into the making of these kits – complete with engineering specifications and links to the manufacturers of metals used etc. I won’t repeat it all here (I’ll gladly pass it on to you if you would like all the info and links), but I'll summarise the main points. First the brackets. The brackets are made from a material called Bisplate 80, which is made by Bisalloy, an Australian company. It's a high tensile steel plate that costs almost three times the price of mild steel; but it’s also about three times stronger. Being stronger though, it can be harder to work with. Frank explains: “In some designs we have to bend the Bisplate beyond what it will take without cracking. To get around this problem we send it out to heat treating where they anneal or soften the plate. We get it back, bend it, then send it back for heat treating back to full strength. We get it back again and weld it into the final bracket.” The bolts are special too. Frank told me that they’re the highest grade available in the required size. However they come in a raw (black) finish; which would not only look pretty ordinary, but would also rust. So they send them out to be zinc-plated and clear chromated. However this process causes them to become brittle; so they are then de-embrittled after being plated. The result is that the bolts are as strong as possible while still looking good and not rusting. They say that many of their competitors use bolts of inferior strength. Aluminium parts are made from aircraft-grade material. Frank says that almost all of their competitors use aluminium that is significantly lower grade and hence not as strong. The actual knobs are made of acetal. This material, which most other brands also use, machines well and has good impact and abrasion resistance qualities. And yes, you can buy the knobs separately if you do happen to damage them. So while they are more expensive than many of their competitors’ products, there is good reason for that. It’s all about quality. And considering the job that it has to do, I think it pays to have the best quality you can!
FITTING THEM TO YOUR BIKE
The fitting depends, naturally enough, on what type of bike you are fitting them to. In most cases, even on faired bikes, they attach to the engine-mountings. With a naked or semi-faired bike, this process is mostly fairly straight-forward. Now, when I say “straight-forward”, you do have to be careful when working with engine-mountings, so some amount of mechanical aptitude is required. On faired bikes you’d expect to have to cut holes, but you might be pleasantly surprised. As mentioned above, many of their kits are designed to fit without having to cut holes in the fairing. In some cases an option is given, with two kits being available; one that requires no modification and one that does. They say that in these cases, the ones requiring the fairing to be cut are designed more for racing applications, while the ones requiring no cutting are fine for road use. As an example, some of the bikes that you’d expect to have to cut holes in the fairing, but have kits requiring no cutting or modification, include the Honda VFR800, Kawasaki ZX10R, Kawasaki ZX14, Suzuki GSXR1000, Suzuki Hayabusa, and Yamaha FJR1300. The Yamaha R1 is one that comes with the option of the two kits. On some of the faired bikes the procedure is surprisingly simple. On others it’s don’t-try-this-at-home difficult; unless your mechanical ability is very good. As an example, a Suzuki GSXR1000 has a 4-step installation that is fairly simple. At the other end of the scale, the Suzuki Hayabusa has a complicated 17-point installation procedure that involves removing bits of fairing, dismantling the radiator mountings and lots of other daunting stuff. So you’d be best advised to take it to a mechanic – along with a well-packed wallet probably! This of course is no reflection on the product, but on how easy or difficult it is to design a mounting point for it. In cases like the Hyabusa, I think it’s remarkable that they were able to come up with a procedure to do it at all! (Frank told me that it took 200 hours to design the kit for this!). All fitting instructions are available for quick and easy download from the Promoto web-site. So you can check out how involved the fitting is before you buy them. That’s what I did. (And that’s how I sampled what was involved in fitting them to other bikes). The kit comes in one of those typical blister-packs. (The packaging is also made in Australia, by the way). I think the plastic must be industrial-grade stuff too, because I just about had to get a chain-saw to open it! I used scissors, and scratched my hand on a sharp edge of a bit I cut off. I suppose the good thing is they ain’t going to be damaged in delivery! Installation instructions are as detailed as they need to be. (If you need more you probably shouldn’t be doing it yourself!). The instructions include a photo of a kit fitted to your exact model bike; an invaluable inclusion which is rarely seen in product installation leaflets. The instructions for the Suzuki Hayabusa, which I mentioned above as being very involved and lengthy, has several photos with arrows pointing to relevant bolts etc.
FITTING THEM TO MY BIKE
Okay, that’s the general stuff, so how did it go fitting it to my bike? Well, I’ll describe the process. My bike is a Yamaha XJR1300. Much of this – or the basic principles anyway – will be common to most other naked bikes. And even faired bikes will involve the same sort of procedure – with the addition of whatever is involved in working around (or through!) the fairing. The instructions said that the only tool required was a 6mm hex key. That’s to undo the engine-mounting bolts and fit the new bolts. Rather than use a key, I bought a hex-socket. These are important bolts (they hold the engine in!), so I thought using a proper spanner and socket would be preferable. The instructions missed one tool though; you need an 8mm hex key (or socket) to attach the knobs to the mounting bracket. I didn’t bother buying another socket for this; I got it tight enough using a good hex key. The instructions say to always use thread-locking compound. Loctite is the usual brand of this. Make sure you buy the “removable-strength” one; you don’t want to lock the bolts in permanently! On the XJR the brackets mount over the engine-mountings. The standard engine-mounting bolts are replaced with longer (and stronger!) bolts that go through the bracket and the engine-mount. Okay, now, a basic principle. When working on engine-mountings, always support the engine with a jack. (I used a trolley-jack with a piece of wood between the jack and the engine). Yes, it is supported at three other points, but the engine only has to drop fractionally at that point for the holes not to line-up. So always support it. Now, to do the job. You can see some of the steps in the photos below. By the way, before you write in commenting on my spanner-holding technique, the photos were for illustration purposes only, and my hands were positioned to allow a clear shot of what the spanner was doing. So, no, I’m not holding the spanner correctly, or as I would hold it when actually using it. But if you need to be shown how to hold a spanner, you probably shouldn’t be doing it yourself! The instructions say to remove the two engine-mounting bolts. So for the first one that’s what I did. But here’s a tip; I found that I could remove just one bolt, and fit the replacement bolt through the bracket, winding it in about half way, and still have the bracket loose enough to swing aside allowing the second bolt to be removed. The advantage of this is that the engine-mounting is always attached to the bike; so the engine doesn’t move. (When I took both bolts out, the engine – or the mounting – still moved very slightly, even with being supported by the jack). Last thing was to fit the knobs to the brackets. Simple and easy. And there it is; job done! You can see from the photos below how effective they would be in minimising damage. Notice particularly on the left side how it would’ve protected the engine-cover that got damaged in my fall. Oggy Knobbs are like insurance; something that you hope you never have to use, but you’ll be glad you have if the situation arises when you do need them. And I reckon they even look good! I'm certainly pleased to have them fitted to my bike; and I’m sure that guy on the Suzuki wishes he had them on his bike! Having checked them out pretty thoroughly in terms of quality and the thought and effort that has gone into their design, I have no hesitation in highly recommending them.
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