The humble side stand props up your mount when you’re in no immediate need of its services. Simple, right?
Taking A Stand
As the BC Ferries’ Queen of Surrey slides into its dock in Horseshoe Bay, me and my buddy (whose blushes I’ll spare by omitting his name) swing legs over our bikes, preparing to disembark. I’m riding my Triumph ST, buddy his 883 Sportster. The vehicle deck parking rules for motorcycles on this ship are: ‘in first gear, and on the side stand.’
The ST won’t start with the side stand down when it’s in gear, so I have to find neutral before firing the engine. You can maybe guess what’s coming next. Buddy thumbs the starter on the Harley, the motor lights, and the bike lurches forward, t-boning the rear wheel of a Honda Civic. Fortunately, there’s no damage, but buddy gets a pretty good wake-up call. So what’s all that about?
First some basics: there’s a core principle in physics that systems left to their own devices, prefer their lowest energy state. For a motorcycle, that’s when it’s lying on its side. This situation may be agreeable to a physicist, but not typically for the bike’s owner!
For this reason, all street motorcycles are fitted with either a side or kick stand (jiffy stand in Harley-speak), or a centre stand—or both. Recently, it’s become more common for bikes to be sold with just the side stand, while a centre stand is offered only as a dealer option at extra cost. So just a side stand is usually what you get.
Some side stands are easy to use, some more difficult. Some have ignition interlocks to stop you riding away with the stand deployed; some rely on automatic stowage by means of a return spring. Some have neither. Some have a locked position at partial deployment, while others rely on the “overcentre” principle to hold them down. Some are easy to operate, some not. Some are stable, some not. Some will try to spit you off the bike if you choose the wrong place to park. And some will sink into the sod or soft asphalt on a hot day.
For example, the side stand on my 1996 Ducati 900SS is self-retracting. As soon as you lift the bike, the stand springs into its up position. Okay if you’re straddling the bike, but not if you’re trying to move it around the garage. Re-setting the stand requires a tricky two-step shuffle.
Most motorcycles sold now have either an electrical interlock at the clutch, at the side stand, or at the neutral indicator switch; or a combination of two of these; or all three. Their function is the same: to stop you riding off with the side stand down. On the other hand, Buddy’s 883 has none of these. The engine will start even if the bike is in gear, with the clutch engaged, and with the side stand down.
Why such variety? Shouldn’t there be some kind of standard? As far as I’ve been able to determine, Transport Canada has no requirement for interlocks on side stands, leaving that up to the manufacturer. A quick review of the H-D forums reveals that a jiffy stand interlock is fitted in European markets (causing some consternation for ex-pat US riders!) but the attitude from many posters is that they don’t need no stinkin’ sensors; and if you need a sensor to tell you your jiffy stand is down, you shouldn’t be riding a Harley!
And they may have a point. After all, it’s one more thing to go wrong. There’s been a recent recall of various BMW models, because water ingress can cause the side stand interlock to fail, shutting off the engine if it’s already running, or preventing it from starting if it’s not. Not good, either way.
And while a side stand is okay for parking, it’s not much use for anything else, as both tires remain on the ground. Still the most common type of breakdown experienced by motorcyclists is a puncture. While a plug kit and a couple of CO2 canisters will get you going if you have tubeless tires, many dualsport bikes don’t. Get a puncture in a tubed tire and the wheel likely has to come off—tough to do at the side of the road without a centre stand.
There are times when a tubed tire is preferred over tubeless. My 1991 BMW Paris-Dakar came stock with spoke rims designed for tubeless tires—and that’s how I run it most of the time. But what if you get a bad cut in a tire? Carrying a spare tube, a patch kit and a small compressor gives you more options than a tire plug kit. And a spare tube is easier to carry than a spare tire. So when I got a flat in the Baja desert, it was a breeze to park the bike on the centre stand, remove the wheel, pop in a new tube and ride on.
All kinds of maintenance tasks, from cleaning and lubing a chain to swapping tires, checking fork oil levels and many others are easier with a centre stand. Yes, paddock stands work too, but they’re not so easy to carry around.
If I had my way, I’d standardize side stand interlock operation so embarrassing inadvertent launches could be avoided. And all street and dualsport bikes would be sold with both side and centre stands. But I might just as well be micturating into a stiff breeze on that point!