Sunday, January 15, 2017

6 Useful and Affordable Motorcycle Upgrades

Stock is just the start...

ALT Rider's interpretation of a BMW S 1000 XR

Story by Jim Foreman

Buying a new or pre-owned motorcycle is an exciting endeavor. It’s easy to fill one’s mind with all the places you will travel to and all the adventures ahead. It doesn’t take long from the point of purchasing the bike to come to the realization that you will want to upgrade it and add a few features.

Aftermarket add-ons can quickly drain your wallet and bank account faster than a blackjack table in Las Vegas. A wise motorcyclist will prioritize additions that increase safety, visibility, and convenience over those that look cool and are more of a novelty.

When browsing the selection of items one can add to one’s motorcycle, it’s easy to break out laughing. Chrome plated gimbal mounted drink holders, light-up air valve covers, and laser projection systems are only some of whimsical items one can install.

Items included in this list are proven to be useful for safety, protection, and convenience.


Perhaps the best and most useful upgrade is to the bike's horn. Let’s face it, the anemic ‘meep-meep’ of nearly all bike horns is pathetic and does little to keep 4-wheelers from merging into you.

There are several effective and affordable options available to you. The added benefit is that they won’t ring out the tune ‘La Cucaracha’ or ‘Dixie’ when you tap the horn button.

Several compact air-horns are very effective at sounding like a freight train and keeping drivers in their lane. They are also helpful in moving animals from the roadway and gleefully riding in a tunnel.

The Denali Sound Bomb is a top choice among motorcyclists. The Sound Bomb brings forth a cacophony of over 120 DB to alert a wayward driver. Its dual tone resonates as a call of danger to the recipient.

Similar products include the Screaming Banshee, Wolo Airhorn, and the Stebel Air Horn. All of these horns do require a wiring harness that includes a relay to drive more power to the horn’s air compressor.

The Stebel Airhorn sounds great. Be aware that many users have reported a rather short lifespan despite carefully following mounting instructions. Any of the other offerings seem to last much longer.

Installation of these horns can be quite tricky, and if there’s any uncertainty, please take the horn, wiring kit and your bike to your dealer or competent mechanic to install.

If space is severely limited, an alternative, which still offers a vast improvement over a stock horn, is the PIAA Sports Horn. The PIAA horns do not require a relay and wiring harness. They are also not as loud as the previously listed horns. The PIAA Sports Horn replaces the stock squeaker utilizing the existing wiring. The PIAA Sports Horn is deeper and sounds more like a car or truck rather than a go-kart.

All of these horns, including possible wiring, range in price from $39 to $179. No matter which option you choose, it will be vastly superior to the stock offering.


Like the horn, most bikes come a with a standard H4 or H7 Halogen automotive headlamp. More and more higher-end bikes come with LED or HID headlights but for now, count on having the regular bulbs.

Since the regular halogen bulbs do burn out and need to replacing fairly regularly, it is usually easy to swap a bulb, by yourself.

The low-beam bulb is the one that gets you noticed while riding during the daytime. It is responsible for a majority of your night-time riding light.

There are three options to help keep you visible during the day and to see more at night.

The first and the most simple option is to go to your dealer or auto parts store and pick up a high-intensity halogen bulb. Look at your owners manual or check online to see what kind of bulb your bike takes. These are typically inexpensive and often come in pairs since cars have two headlights. They are much brighter but do have a tendency to burn out more quickly, so it’s wise to pack the original or spare bulb somewhere safe, on your bike. These are a cinch to install and require no additional installation or wiring. Use gloves when installing any headlamp bulb to avoid getting natural oils on the glass surface.

The results are immediate and noticeable by the rider and traffic.

While you are at the auto parts store, you may also want to purchase a red LED brake light bulb or bulbs, depending on your bike, to serve as your brake light. LED brake lights will significantly increase a driver’s visibility of you, from behind. It’s also a simple three-minute installation job.

Again, look to your Owners Manual to know the correct bulb to purchase. Turn signals are more of a pain to replace with a LED bulb. Unless you add in-line voltage resistance, your bike will think it’s a dead bulb and flash quickly when active. Unless you are determined to install them, leave the turn signals alone.

A second option is to replace your halogen lighting with HID or LED Lights. A few years back, it was popular to replace one’s halogen bulb with a HID bulb. It required a bit of work and clever installation to accommodate the power ballast. Often it created more problems than it solved and most people’s results were mixed, at best. Focusing the beam was troublesome and blinding oncoming drivers became a serious issue.

Today, LED headlight replacements are now 'en vogue.' LED lamp replacements come in many shapes and forms. They are solid state and very rugged making them excellent for a motorcycle.

Unfortunately, they also require a power ballast and a means of cooling as they get quite hot. Every bike is different so installation may be simple or be a curse-laden task.

If you have the room, a LED light can dramatically improve your visibility, more than any halogen bulb can. If there is uncertainty about installing a LED low-beam bulb, consult your dealer or mechanic.

Clearwater Erica on a water-cooled BMW R 1200 GS
The third option is adding additional auxiliary lighting to your motorcycle.

Auxiliary lighting has always been quite popular for touring and adventure bikes. They add some much-desired illumination to dark roadways. This is especially true when riding back roads or dirt roads at night. More and more, commuters and general riders are adding auxiliary lights for added daytime visibility and evening commuting. It’s important to know the laws in your state regarding additional lighting. A single pair of lights is legal in all states. Adding more than one pair is where it gets sticky.

There are two trains of thought on which type or brand of auxiliary lighting to purchase and install. One side says, ‘Get a premium brand like Clearwater Lights or Rigid Lighting for your bike.’ This reasoning ensures the cleanest, brightest, and most durable lighting options.

The alternative argument is to get a tier two or second-rate brand of lighting such as 6K LED that costs significantly less. They may not be as precise or have the lumens output of the premium brands, but you can buy them and spares for a fraction of the cost of the premium ones. The reasoning follows that if your bike’s lighting is broken or damaged in a minor impact, tip-over, or a get-off, you’re not looking at many hundreds of dollars to replace the light.

It only takes a good piece of gravel or a miscalculated obstacle such as a fence or pole to destroy or break off your auxiliary lighting.

Added lighting requires special wiring, switches, and likely, an additional fuse block to keep them fed with enough power. They need some intermediate to advanced skills to install correctly. Consult your dealer or mechanic before buying a set.

Engine and Frame Protection

Let’s face it, given the current state of oppressive gravity laws, the likelihood of your motorcycle falling to one side or the other is rather high. Adventure and American V-Twin riders have known this nearly as long as motorcycles have existed.

A good set of frame or engine guards can mean the difference between riding home happy and riding home worried about how much certain damage will cost.

The cost of engine/frame protection varies as much as the bikes they’re intended for. The offerings, brands, and pricing are truly too numerous to mention in any one article. Prices range from around one hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Needless to say, look for quality products sold by reputable vendors made specifically for your motorcycle.

Rizoma B-Pro Engine/Fairing Guards
If you’re on a sportbike, standard, or touring bike consider frame sliders. They mount to the frame or engine and protrude a few inches beyond the fairings to absorb any impact or scrapes when the motorbike decides to take a nap.

Rizoma, Woodcraft, R & G Racing, SW Motech, Puig, and Yoshimura are some of the most popular premium offerings. Avoid cheap sliders or engine guards.  They rarely hold up in a crash and often cause as much damage as they are intended to prevent.  Most protectors don't require any alterations to your fairing and install quickly and easily.

On adventure bikes, a safety cage serves as bike and engine protection and doubles as mounting points for accessories like auxiliary lighting. Touratech, Wunderlich, Alt Rider and SW Motech make popular models.

Big V-Twin cruisers are typically outfitted with large protruding crash bars that often double as footrests for those long interstate journeys. Quality brands include Lindby, Kuryakyn, and offerings from your motorcycle's manufacturer.

Throttle Assist System

Though still rare, more and more motorbikes include factory installed Active Cruise Control that works the same way it does in your car. If you are one of the fortunate who has this feature, you know just how useful it can be. On long rides, one needs to give the throttle hand a stretch break.

For the vast majority of riders, active cruise control is only a fond wish. There are many passive throttle locks or devices designed to hold your throttle open. The first generation of these devices would use friction or a gear lock to hold the throttle open. They are dangerous and not recommended.

These contraptions are easy to use during regular non-stressed riding. When an emergency situation appears, it is nearly impossible for a rider to disengage these devices. In a panic situation, several things happen to a rider. Instantly, tunnel vision and the loss of fine motor skills prevents single finger manipulation or multi-step actions. Big whole hand, whole body, whole foot actions are what's left.

It's part of our fight or flight instinct and is critical to be acknowledged and understood. Skills needed to disable a lock mechanism are not available to you until the emergency passes. Only gross motor or big hand actions are controllable in imminent danger.

Active electronically controlled systems are disengaged by using the brake, clutch or rolling off the throttle and not manipulating a small switch. Most passive devices require fine motor skills or several steps to engage and disengage. Many accidents occur when the bike’s throttle is locked open and is unable to be undone simply or quickly. Evidence in the form of the rear wheel running, despite having already crashed confirms this. If you have one of these types of throttle locks, strongly consider removing it.

Several years ago, Billy, an Orange County, CA motorcyclist recognized these serious shortcomings of the existing throttle locking devices. Being of an engineering mind, he designed the Go Cruise system.

When correctly installed, it holds your throttle open allowing you to stretch, signal or just play airplane in the wind for a short time. It also can help relieve strain on your hands when doing a long grind on the highway. They don’t ‘lock’ but rather 'hold' the throttle open, so it’s easy to override the action and roll off the throttle when needs arise.

If you don’t have one, pick one up and see how straightforward and practical it is. Beware of imposters, though. Stick with the ‘Go Cruise!’ brand.

Tool Kit

Not too long ago, all new motorcycles came with a toolkit that could be used to do nearly everything one could need to, on a bike. These days, what passes for a tool set by manufacturers is a bad joke. A 4-in-1 screwdriver is not a toolkit.

Order or pick up a quality tool kit today. Be the hero who gets a bike working again. Even if you have limited motorcycle repair skills, someone else might and having some tools is the first step to getting back on the road.

Brands to look for include Oxford, Cruz Tools, and Bikemaster.

They aren’t expensive but are worth their weight in gold when you end up needing it.

Tank Bag/Tail Bag/Stash Spot

Whether you are a commuter, weekend rider, multi-day rider or adventurer, you can benefit from having a compact tank bag, tail bag, or stash box that is more useful than under your seat.

A smaller more discreet bag can carry a bottle of water, tire patch kit, first aid kit, and is a good place to stash car or house keys, garage door remotes, maps and other handy items.

Finding a good tank bag can be quite a challenge. You can look to see what your motorcycle manufacturer makes, specifically for your bike.

Recommended quality tank bag manufacturers include SW Motech, Nelson Rigg, Givi, Cortech, Wolfman, and Held.

Easy attachment and removal and a semi-rigid form that doesn't impede steering are the most important aspects to the usefulness of a tank bag.

SW Motech owns Bags Unlimited. They feature bags that mount to a special ring that fits over your gas cap. These mounting rings are easy to purchase and install. The added benefit is that this tank bag moves onto any bike with a similar tank shape and a proper ring mounted. These tank bags are between $150 and $350 with some including 12v charging ports.

Quality tail bags are little easier to find. They are much easier to mount and tend to hold more stuff without messing with the center of gravity. Look to SW Motech, Dainese, Nelson Rigg, and National Cycle for some clean, sturdy and immensely useful tail bag options. Prices are typically between $100 and $200.

Adventure riders tend to have some great options here, too. Touratech and ADVenture Designs make a lockable toolkit that fits behind the luggage rack. Additionally, one of several tool tubes can be mounted to store tools, fuel, water or other useful items.

These lock boxes or tool tubes range in price from $100-$300.

Most of these items including PIAA, Clearwater Lights, Denali Sound Bomb, Rizoma, Nelson Rigg, Held, Cruz Tools, Go Cruise!, Touratech, and more are available and in-stock at Irv Seaver BMW in Orange County, California. Call or come in to see what useful, and inexpensive additions are available for your motorcycle.

Irv Seaver BMW is Orange County’s premier BMW Motorcycle dealer and one of the top dealers in the nation, consistently. Besides new BMW Motorcycles, Irv Seaver has a large selection of quality pre-owned, aggressively priced motorcycles from BMW and other top brands.
Visit or visit to see what’s available and ready to ride away with you.
©2017 Jim Foreman All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Dynamic Motorrad sells a plug-n-play LED turn signal bulb that can be installed in five minutes. It will double the brightness of typical BMW turn signal bulbs. It is self-contained and complete: No problems with resistance or Canbus. I bought a set of four for my F800GT.