Inclement Weather (Why Riders Must Lock Their Motorcycles’ Steering Columns)

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Yesterday it rained. It was also windy. So windy that it knocked a motorcycle over. I stopped to pick it up, as any neighborly rider would do. But I could not do it by myself because the handlebars were not locked. If there is any one thing I always do when parking my bike, besides the obvious of putting kick stand down and shutting engine off, it’s locking the steering column. Why?

  • Locking a motorcycle’s steering column deters some thieves from stealing
  • It ensures the most stability while parking

And a third reason while locking it is important:

  • Locked handlebars makes picking up a fallen bike easier

One of the first things I noticed about motorcycles in San Francisco was the insensible number of bikes that are parked with the handlebars turned to the right. It would be fine if the kickstand were on the right (the right side if you are sitting on the bike). But it’s not. Kickstands on motorcycles 99.999% of the time are on the left. Otherwise, the stand is probably a center stand, or it’s missing altogether like on dirt bikes. Because the kickstand is on the left, the bike leans over to left when it’s parked (and not leaning against something other than its kickstand).

Why is this important?

If you remember geometry, the triangle is most solid and strong shape. Triangles are the basis for all kinds of support, such as a brace for building frames, the number of feet on a table that doesn’t wobble, or the location of a backhoe’s center of gravity. (…Maybe I’ll explain the backhoe some other time.) A motorcycle’s most stable position while parked is when the front wheel has its handlebars turned in the direction of its kickstand. This makes its points of contact — where the kickstand and two tires touch the ground — form the widest triangle possible. Turn the handlebars to the right and the front tire’s point of contact with the ground narrows the triangle and reduces the bike’s stability. The more narrow a shape, the closer it is to the properties of a line.

This maximization of stability is so important that motorcycle manufacturers design the steering column lock so that it only locks when the handlebars are turned to the left.

The fallen bike, lying in the rain and dripping gasoline from its cap, was not easy to pick up.

I called out to a passing bicyclist for help, also saying “it’s dripping gasoline” to get him to make haste. Together we stood the bike upright. I left a note so its rider wouldn’t wonder why his tank was no longer full.

Maybe the motorcycle had its handlebars turned to the left and the wind blew it toward the right. (It had fallen on the right.) I would have taken a picture of this bike before picking it up, but gasoline was dripping out.

This motorcycle's handlebars are turned to the right. Bad idea.
This motorcycle’s handlebars are turned to the right. Bad idea.

Triumph Street Triple with handlebars turned left
A wiser way of turning a motorcycle’s handlebars

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