Steed: Built to Ride

Six is one more. That's why.

Tech Tip Index

Last time I checked, this is still America. The Presidential elections are over. We've survived those political pundits on TV bashing this great country of ours. In just a few weeks we'll have Dub-ya sworn in for another four-more years. The one thing that always remains a constant in America is Americans want MORE; sometimes without even knowing why. More just must be better somehow.

In the classic 1984 mockumentary "This is Spinal-Tap" Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) is being interviewed by Marti DiBergi (Rob Reiner) who asks, "Why does your guitar amp have a knob that goes to eleven?" Nigel, with a blank look on his face, dumbfounded by the inquiry and it's obvious answer, "Because its one more. Eleven is one more than ten."

Marti then asks, "Why can't you make 10 as loud as it goes?"

"Eleven is one more." Nigel responds, oblivious to the lack of any real understanding of what, if anything extra is achieved at eleven.

By now, you've probably noticed the photos of the 6-speed Baker Gear set, and some of you are wondering why you need 6-speeds instead of 5, when 5 gets you cruising around at top speed on your motorcycle just fine. Some of you still have 4 speed transmissions in your machines, and you seem to keep up with your buddies on the toy run just fine too. The fact of the matter is that the interstate speed limit has maxed out at 75 MPH. Most of us believe if you push that unspoken grace zone of 9 more MPH over the limit, you'll certainly get pulled over by a cop for a citation. Besides, you're 5 speed transmission cruises just fine at 84 MPH, right?

You've probably overheard a guy with a new custom bike bragging about having a 6 speed. Some sound just like Nigel, spouting off about having one more gear without any understanding of what is being achieved with the additional sprocket in their transmission. So let me try to shed just a little light on a couple of the reasons why you might want a six-speed tranny in your next bike. Maybe I can give you a couple of good reasons why you might want one to upgrade your current bike with a 6-speed gear set.

How many times have you been accelerating onto the freeway and up-shift into what you think is 5th gear, only to discover that you're already there? Not just because you lost track of how many times you've raised your toe, but also because you seem to be twisting the throttle until your teeth chatter. Motivated by the giant semi-truck steaming beside you to your left. You know that truck, the one packed with the void made by another swimming pool divot. Now you're hoping you might be able to merge in front of that gravel spewing beast, instead of eating dirt for breakfast, so you twist the wick harder. Then you up-shift and you don't have another gear to find. This is a point where you might wish you had a 6-speed.

Highway cruising is where it's at for me. If you're avoiding the cops riding at 84 MPH next to me on the road to Sturgis in 5th gear, you'll be spinning your V-Twin American mill at about 3500 RPM (Revolutions Per Minute). You probably won't see much out of your rear view mirrors, you're hands are going numb from the vibration, and your butt is beginning to let you know that it's time for a rest stop. If you like to ride your bike to a destination further than the corner watering hole, more than once a year, you might wish you had a 6-speed.

On the other hand, if you are riding next to me at the same 84 MPH with 6-Speed OVERDRIVE transmission things seem really different. Now you're engine is spinning at right about 3000 RPM. You'll be able to relax that death-grip on the throttle. You won't feel like you're holding onto a rock tumbler at 84 MPH. Five hundred RPM less makes a huge difference on how your butt feels in the saddle too. If you choose to ignore authority and pump the throttle up over 90, you should still be able to see the blue and red lights flashing in your mirrors. These are but a few good reasons to toss that extra gear into your tranny case.

The downside to that extra overdrive gear is the cash outlay associated with the upgrade. Don't fool yourself into thinking you'll make up the cost difference with all the fuel you're going to save. Even if you pick up one or two extra miles per gallon, it's going to be a long while before you've saved the two or three grand expense to buy a 6-speed gear set. Even with regular gasoline priced at $2.35 a gallon, you don't have to be Einstein to realize that you're not going to win the "economy" argument with your spouse when it's time to shell out for tranny gears. At this point in the game, you're spending your hard earned frog-pelts for pure comfort.

Now I'm going to jump on my soapbox and start waving my American flag. Some of us are riding American bikes out of a sense of patriotism. We all want to support our American brothers by buying American made products; that is until you see the price difference. Many of you have a lapse of patriotism when it comes time to dig into your wallet.

If you're looking for premium drive train products with unsurpassed performance and durability, you've only got a couple of domestic choices. Baker Drivetrain, or Jim's Transmissions, both have a relationship with Andrews Products who exclusively cut the gears for them right here in the USA. Baker Drivetrain is the originator of the 6-speed transmission design for the American motorcycle segment. Baker Drivetrain licensed their designs to Jim's until 2002, which then added a few proprietary tricks for the OEM Harley market.

More than supporting America, I like to support innovators in our industry. That's why we offer Baker 6-Speeds exclusively as standard equipment in our 300-tire equipped Steed Musclebike motorcycles. To the best of my knowledge, any other 6-speed transmission that comes to America on a boat has been reverse engineered from the designs that Bert Baker developed in the mid 90's.

Bert was an automotive engineer who worked for GM, and decided to dedicate his engineering degree to higher-purpose. As the story goes, Bert and his wife quit their cozy union jobs in Detroit and leveraged everything they had to start up the Baker Drivetrain business. Their entrepreneurial risk paved the way for you and me to actually enjoy seeing the country on our bikes at top speed, versus the old-school method of vibrating our way to our destination.

Over the years I've been guilty of installing some of the "Tech" transmissions made in Asia in bikes that didn't have the budget for a Baker unit. The results were not favorable, to say the least. You can save almost 50% of the cost on the imported parts before you bolt them in, and then you may pick up the other 50% of the expense while waiting on the side of the road for a tow truck. The high percentage of rough shifting units, impossible to find neutral gears, and the lengthy recall record the imitator's transmission have speaks volumes for original American innovations.

Our shop has repaired dozens of copycat transmissions with faulty shift drums, binding shift forks, and chipped gears. One unit, fresh out of the box, even snapped its mainshaft within the first 10 miles of a test ride. That same old lesson, "you get what you pay for" definitely applies to this arena. I've got that very same broken "Tech" mainshaft hanging in a bag in my office to remind me not to make another penny-wise decision when building a bike that you intend to trust your life to while riding.

Another innovation developed by Bert Baker was the Right Side Drive, or "RSD" 6-speed. With the demand and advent of bigger and bigger rear tires his RSD transmission was the obvious solution. Until the RSD, just about the only way to pack a big tire in the rear of a custom chassis was to offset a standard left side drive transmission further to the left to make room for belt to tire clearance.

You've probably seen a guy riding his cool chopper with his ass hanging off the right side of his bike trying to steer it in a straight line. This phenomenon occurs to accommodate the big wide tire. The chassis has been designed with the motor offset to the left of center, so the chain or belt will clear the tire. Just a few years ago this was about the only way to pack those new cool fat tires in a frame. If he were riding a bike built on a chassis like our Steed 300 Monotail, incorporating a Right-Side-Drive Baker 6-speed with the engine mounted directly in the center of the chassis, he'd be riding fatigue free straight down the road. Thanks again Bert for being ahead of the curve.

More is more, and that's what we want in America: MORE! But if you want just one more gear in your motorcycle transmission, my advice is to stick with the original American innovators who understand the nuances required to manufacture a quality piece. If you can handle the expense of getting original American ingenuity, go for it. Then you'll be riding your bike 'till eleven, and have the energy to keep rocking.

Keep the rubber side down.
- John at Steeds

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