Saturday, June 13, 2009

Helmet 101

Helmet 101

In the state of Pennsylvania, we have the freedom to choose whether or not to wear a helmet so long as we are over the age of 21. While I don’t want to get in to the debate over whether or not to wear a helmet, I figured an article on how helmets are made and how they protect your head shouldn’t ruffle the feathers of anyone on either side of the fence.

Helmets have 4 main components in their construction.
• The outer shell. The outside of a helmet can be constructed of fiberglass, polycarbonate or TriComposite material. Either way, it spreads the energy from an impact across a wide area, reducing the chances of head injury in the exact spot where the impact occurred.
• The impact absorbing lining. This is sandwiched between the outer shell and the comfort padding and it is usually made of a dense layer of expanded polystyrene. It crumples to absorb the impact.
• The comfort padding. This inner most layer of soft foam and cloth conforms to your head and is primarily responsive for how comfortable the helmet is.
• The retention system. This consists of the strap—connected to the bottom of the helmet—that goes under your chin and holds it on your head.

Helmets come in a variety of style from small, bowl-shape half-helmets that may protect your brainstem, to sleek fully enclosed helmets that protect everything above your neck. In between are three-quarter or open-face helmets which cover most of your head but leave your face unprotected.

When purchasing a helmet, you want to make sure that you’ll be comfortable riding with it on. You want to make sure that you get a good fit.

A helmet that is too lose will move around in an accident, potentially causing neck injury, and a helmet that is too tight will give you a headache every time you wear it. The best case scenario is finding a helmet that is comfortably tight.

You always can’t go brand-specific, because just like our heads, each helmet is created differently. What you’re looking for is a helmet that won’t slide around your head that is hard to pull off with the strap undone, but one that doesn’t create a pressure spot anywhere on your head.

When you try on a helmet, wear it around the store for a while, and when you take it off, note any soreness or red spots. Some people will pick a helmet they like, even though it may have a pressure point, take it home and pound that pressure point out of the comfort padding. That completely destroys the inner-workings of the helmet and makes it basically useless should you get into an accident.

Never purchase or wear a used motorcycle helmet. Helmets protect your head in an accident by destroying themselves. In a spill, the outer shell will flex and the inner shell will crumple often leaving no visible damage to the exterior. Hitting the damaged area a second time will result in zero head protection

Monday, June 8, 2009


by Rocky Marks
Jesse James may be known for his custom motorcycles, cars, television shows, a fast food restaurant, and his own clothing line in Wal-Mart, but few know him as a humble conversationalist. Fortunately, I got to know that side of Jesse first-hand.
Recently, I had a chance to talk with him for a one-on-one interview for my radio show called “On the Road with Rocky” which airs Saturday Mornings at 7:00 AM on 1250 WEAE-AM. As I prepared for the interview, I became seemingly more intimidated with each piece of information that I gathered on Jesse. I’ve seen his television shows and interviews before, but I was still nervous and not sure what to expect.
I don’t know why I was so nervous. I’ve worked in radio since 1994 and had the opportunity to interview dozens of musicians, comics, actors, and reality television stars. I even got to sing on stage with my favorite band of all time at Star Lake, Poison!
Nerves aside, the show must go on. The morning of the interview, I remember staring at the little red light on the telephone waiting for it to start blinking. Not only did that light designate the direct line into the studio but it also represented my chance to interview one of the most famous names in the sport of motorcycling.
After what seemed like eternity, the light started to blink. This was it, Jesse was on the phone. As I reached for the button, I could feel my face getting flushed from the neck up. My palms were warm and sticky with anticipation as I thought about how I would greet Jesse? How will I start the interview? What if I stutter?
I hit the button and said “Hello?” A voice came through my headphones and said “Hey Rocky, what’s up, brother?” All of the sudden the anxiety disappeared. He called me by my first name. He called me brother. It was at that moment that I realized, he’s a fellow motorcyclist and just one of the guys.
All of the questions that I spent hours preparing went out the window and a fifteen minute conversation between to people passionate about the sport of motorcycling started to flow. The first thing we started to talk about was West Coast Choppers. After all, it was his first venture that helped make him the household name that he is today.
He started the business in the basement of his mom’s house in 1992. Shortly after he moved his operations to a larger garage and the Discovery Channel picked him up for a documentary called Motorcycle Mania. The show was such a success that they created Motorcycle Mania II and III.
During these shows, the world got to see Jesse’s true talent as a metal fabricator, a skill that he picked up in a high school shop class. His love for high quality toys without having any money fuelled his passion for metal fabrication and welding.
It was his passion for creating the most obscure choppers and cars that lead to a new reality show called Monster Garage. In this series, he created everything from flying cars to lawn mower mustangs. Each show created a “monster” vehicle and during our interview, Jesse told me that he kept all of the “cool stuff” and the production company retained the remaining vehicles which eventually sold at an auction.
As out conversation continued, I learned that In addition to churning out 12-14 hand crafted motorcycles per year through West Coast Choppers and producing shows for the Discovery Channel, Jesse launched a new clothing line that caters to the blue collar worker.
Jessie told me that “it seems like manufactures are interested in making more clothes with less quality to cut costs and in the end it’s the working dude that gets screwed.” Jesse James Industrial Wear was created and is available in most Wal-Mart stores.
I was also amused to learn that Jesse has a retro-style hamburger restaurant not too far from his shop in Long Beach, California. It’s called Cisco Burger and runs entirely on solar energy. He uses biodegradable materials and even delivers in a Toyota Prius Hybrid. I asked him if that cramped his style and he replied, “Dude, it’s done WCC (West Coast Chopper) Style.”
This whole interview went very fast. He talked to me like he would a friend. And he loves to talk. Trying to keep him on subject got to be quite the task. Before we wrapped up our interview, I had to ask him about his new show on Spike TV called “Jesse James is a Dead Man.” It airs Sunday nights at 10:00 PM.
The premise of the show is more than showcasing Jesse doing death-defying stunts. Jesse explains it best by saying “The show follows me preparing for the stunt—which can be as hard as the stunt itself. It’s not some cheesy show where they spend most of the hour talking about the stunt and then do it in the final minutes of the show.”
At the end of the interview, he thanked me for taking time out of my day to talk to HIM. Wait, I thought I was the one who was taking time out of HIS day and here he was thanking me. From the opening seconds of the interview to our good-byes, Jessie James was simply a real, down-to-earth person on the other end of a phone line.
The interview can be heard in its entirety but going to and clicking on the “On the Road with Rocky” link.
Rocky Marks is operations manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson in West Mifflin and host of the radio show "On the Road With Rocky," which airs Saturdays at 7 a.m. on WEAE-AM (1250).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Active Scanning

by Rocky Marks
The one thing that I really enjoy about motorcycling is that it keeps my mind active. I can’t truly ‘zone out’ while riding down the road. When riding, you need to constantly provide your brain with input. Because your surroundings are always changing while you ride, you need to continuously update the information you transmit to your brain.
Senses like touching, feeling, smelling, and seeing are all considered brain-input devices. On a motorcycle, unless you are going through a freshly fertilized field on a back country road your primary input device is sight. You get the most information for safe riding with your eyes, which is why you really need to hone in on using your eyes so that you can actively scan your surroundings to give you the most data possible so that you can react appropriately.
It’s important to remember to not let your eyes fix on any one object for more than a fraction of a second. Scan all aspects of your surroundings, and don’t just focus on other traffic. Watch the condition of the road surface. Stay alert for potholes, loose gravel, or oil drippings in the road which can be very slippery. You should also watch for traffic entering the road.
Be careful driving out of driveways, riding in parking lots and going over rail road crossings. All of these obstacles present their own unique dangers to even the best motorcyclists.
As I sit here and write this article, I want to ask you to especially be aware of intersections. Just because your light is green, doesn’t mean that ‘all is clear.’ One of the first lessons that I learned from a friend of mine in high school had to deal with a green light.
I was very much a novice rider. I was just starting out on my dad’s Ironhead Sportie and it was so obvious that I didn’t know what I was doing. I would start out with my kickstand down, I would take my turns wide, and when I would up-shift, I would almost lose my grip on the handlebars.
I needed help learning out to ride, and I found it from a willing friend in high school. He and I went cruising around our little town often. One afternoon during one of my practice rides, we went through a green light. He looked both ways and I cruised on through without a care in the world head forward and feeling invincible. When we got to the next stop sign, my friend unloaded on me.
He made it a point to make sure that I knew you had to look both ways before going through ANY intersection, whether you have a green light or not. I nodded my head, but I never really thought much of the consequences until he was involved in an accident less than a year later. In this accident, someone wasn’t paying attention and he didn’t have time to react. He wasn’t fortunate enough to make it through alive. That particular lesson will forever stay with me.
Because others are careless, we must be vigilant. As motorcyclists, we must be the ones to use our sense of sight to make sure that we make it back to our garages at the end of our journeys. In addition to looking around intersections, keep a look out for animals and pedestrians. Often, they don’t have a set route, and can be very unpredictable when it comes to what path you think they will take. Make certain that you include your rearview mirror in scanning. When moving from right to left rotate your head so that you can check your blind spots.
When driving down the road, focus on your intended path. You should always be looking at 12 to 14 seconds ahead of your path. This will give you enough time to react in an emergency situation. Keep your eyes up because that will aim you vision up. Move your eyes around. By forcing your eyes to move and not fixed on one thing, you will widen your field of perception.
Above all, be alert. Do not zone out. If you feel tired, pull over and get a cup of coffee or an energy drink. When you let your guard down, bad things can happen. The more aware of your surroundings you are and the more you actively scan your route the safer your ride will be.

Customize your bike

by Rocky Marks
This is the time of the year where the service departments and parts and accessories departments get really busy. Not only does the changing weather bring warmer temperatures and sunshine, it ushers in a whole new season of bike night events, car cruises, and parades.
Many motorcyclists go to these events to see the latest trend in motorcycle accessories. It’s one thing to look at them in a parts catalog, it’s something else to see them on an actual motorcycle. Even though your motorcycle is a reflection of your personality many motorcyclists go with what’s “current.”
The chrome and gold “Live to Ride and Ride to Live” badges once proudly displayed on the derby covers, visors, and mirrors of Harley-Davidsons for the last ten years are making way for the latest trend in dressing up your ride.
The new “chrome” is black. Yep, black. Even though I haven’t given up chrome entirely, I’ve been using much less lately. In ’06 I had a dresser that had every piece imaginable. It was almost hard to tell what color the bike was underneath all of the chrome. Now that bikes that aren’t as flashy, are gaining in popularity, I kind of like where the accessories are going.
Don’t get me wrong, I will still accessorize my bike. That will never go away, but the manner in which I dress up my bike has changed. When thinking about what accessories I want, I try to ‘begin with the end in mind.’ (That’s a term from Dr. Stephen Covey in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”) It makes sense.
As I take a look at my 2009 Ultra, I ask myself the following questions: Do I want to improve a functional aspect of the bike? Do I want to improve performance or do I want to change my bike’s appearance? Those are the three main modifications that one can make to their motorcycle.
I’m actually pretty satisfied with the stock Harley-Davidson’s performance so I can rule out any engine modifications at this time. I just came off of a bike that had thousands of dollars in chrome, so I think that I’m going to lay low on this one. The one area where I think I’ll make a few improvements is in functionality.
In my opinion, the stock Harley-Davidson touring models come with windshields that are just a few inches too high. I like to look over the windshield rather than through it. So I’ll get a smaller windshield. I like back support, so I will add a rider’s back rest. I also need a place to stretch my feet for those long highway rides, so I’ll put on a set of highway bars, and the only other thing I’d add is a luggage rack to go on the Tour Pac. (It’s great to see the looks of people as you unload your entire shopping cart into your bike at the grocery store.)
I think that’s the best way to go about accessorizing your bike. Think to yourself, what am I going to be using the bike for? Is it for showin’ or goin’? Based on that, you can pretty much narrow down your parts and accessories wish list.
I would definitely start out small. Pick one aspect of your bike that you’d like to improve and make incremental changes when possible. This will help you avoid making serious mistakes that will be difficult (and expensive) to correct.

Educate your Passenger

by Rocky Marks

Many people love to get on their motorcycles, head off into the sunset and just ride& alone. It's great therapy for clearing one's mind. Even though I enjoy taking the long way home by myself to blow off steam from work before I walk in the door to see my wife and kids, I prefer to ride with a passenger.
When my wife is available to ride, we are on the road and loving every minute of it. When she can't ride, then one of the Motor Clothes associates will ride with me. (Tough job, but someone has to do it.) I'm not sure why my preference is to ride with a passenger, but it works for me and that's what's important.
Although it's great to have someone along for the ride, adding a passenger brings with it some challenges. The two main challenges are mechanical and physical. The mechanical challenges deal with the way the bike handles with the added weight and the physical challenges are the way in which you, the rider need to compensate for having someone on the back seat.
With a passenger, the weight distribution on the bike is changed. The weight is not only placed very high up on the bike but it is placed at the back of the bike too. This changes the handling dynamics. The bike will turn differently with a passenger on board. You may not be able to maneuver around parking lots and tight spaces as well as you would by yourself.
You most certainly will need more distance to stop. Don't follow too closely behind the vehicle in front of you. Remember the two-second rule? You will have to increase it to the three-second rule when riding with a passenger.
The feel of the bike will be different as well. You can compensate by adjusting your suspension as most bikes have a preload adjustment on the rear shocks. You can adjust the shocks to a firmer setting for carrying a passenger.
You will also want to check the tire pressure. Remember, you are adding 120-160 pounds of extra weight to a 700 pound vehicle. That's a 23% increase. Make sure the tires are properly inflated, because after all, two square inches of rubber are the only thing that separates you and your passenger from the asphalt below.
It may not be a bad idea to go over some of the rules of the road with your passenger. Some of the things that may seem like no-brainers to you may not be as obvious to your passenger. Here is a brief list of things to mention to your passenger:
" They shouldn't get on the bike until you've taken off of the kick stand and are in a secure upright position.
" The passenger should wear the same protective clothing as yourself. Although I encourage the use of helmets, the choice is yours. If you choose not to wear a helmet, but your passenger does, be prepared for a head-but during a sudden stop or even shifting through the gears.
" Holding onto your waist is the best place for your passenger's hands. Even though some bikes have grab rails or back rests to hold on to, you are the best thing your passenger can hold on to. This helps especially when it comes to fighting gravity in the turns.
" The passenger should keep their feet away from all hot parts, especially exhaust pipes and keep them on the foot rests at all times, even when the bike is stopped.
Remember, they may not be as seasoned as you when it comes to riding a motorcycle and this may seem very obvious to you, but it's really important they know what to expect from their riding partner.
Which brings me to another point: Don't try to impress your passenger with your riding ability. I know it's hard not to show off, but you don't want to scare your passenger away. You want them to ride with you again.
If you missed any of this week's show, you can download the podcast on 1250 ESPN or go to to listen to an archived on-demand show with On The Road with Rocky.